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August6, 2017

Sermon Genesis 35:16-19 . . .“People to meet in heaven:  Benjamin”

“People to meet in heaven:  Benjamin”

Genesis 35:16-19

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

In his book, The Birth Order Book:  Why You are the Way You Are, author Kevin Leman writes:  “Have you ever wondered why your sister or your brother is so different from you?  After all, you grew up in the same family, yet you act so differently and see things so differently.  You often view the same childhood experiences through completely different lenses and have opposite responses.  How can that be?”

And he writes:  “Do you wonder why you feel compelled to act a certain way—like you’ve been programmed?  Why you pick the friends you do?  Why you’re attracted to a certain type of person to marry (and who’s really best for you)?  Why you always find yourself being the one to mediate between two warring parties at work?  Why you struggle day to day with never being good enough?  All of the answers to these questions have everything to do with birth order.”

If you’re a perfectionist, reliable, conscientious, a list maker, well organized, hard driving, and a natural leader, you’re probably a firstborn.  If you’re a mediator, compromising, diplomatic, independent, and used to not having attention, you’re likely a middle child.  And if you’re charming, precocious, tenacious, a people person, engaging, and love surprises, you’re probably the youngest child.

How can you tell who’s the youngest child?  They’re happy to sit in the back seat.  Always have been, and always will be.  They don’t mind buying used cars, second-hand clothes or “vintage” furniture.  They won’t make their fiancée sit through an evening with the family photo album, because there aren’t any pictures of them in the family photo album.  They answer to almost any name.  Literally, any name.  They’re expected to do dishes anytime, anywhere, at any event.  They stay under the radar and they get away with murder.

What do Billy Crystal, Drew Carey, Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz all have in common?  Not only are they all celebrities, they’re also the youngest children.

No wonder they are the way they are.

The book of Genesis tells a story about a family, a large family, of one daughter and twelve sons, from Reuben to Simeon, Levi to Judah, Dinah, Issachar and Zebulun, all the way down to the youngest one of all, a boy named Benjamin.

If you would, please turn in your Bible to page 37 to see how his story begins.  I’ll start at Genesis chapter 35, verse 16:  “Then they journeyed from Bethel.  When they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel went into labor, and she had hard labor.  And when her labor was at its hardest, the midwife said to her, ‘Do not fear, for you have another son.’  And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.  So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem).”

The story began some six chapters before when his father, Jacob, dreamed of a ladder reaching up to heaven, with angels ascending and descending on it.  Then as the Lord appeared to him in that dream, He said, “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.”  

Then as Jacob travelled east, he came to a well.  That’s when, lo and behold, he met a beautiful girl named Rachel, who came to water her sheep.  And sure enough, before long, they fell in love, and planned to marry.

The only problem was, she had an older sister named Leah.  And in that culture, the older sister always married first.

So what to do?  It’s one of the craziest stories you’ll ever find in the pages of the Bible.  You see, their father, Laban, gathered everyone together for a wedding feast.  And as day turned to night, he snuck Leah, (not Rachel!), into Jacob’s tent.  Then in one of the funniest verses you’ll ever find, we read, “And in the morning, behold, it was Leah!”

Yeah!  Surprise!!

So began a very complicated story of one man, four women, one daughter and twelve sons.

Fast forward a few years and you’ll find one of them, Joseph, sold as a slave in Egypt, then as a servant in Potiphar’s house.  Then came seven years of plenty, and seven years of want, and, by the grace of God, he became prime minister, second-in-command of all of Egypt.  That’s when his brothers, all eleven of them, came and bowed beneath his feet.

Now turn with me to page 49, to see what happened next.  I’ll start at chapter 45, verse 1:  “Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him.  He cried, ‘Make everyone go out from me.’  So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.  And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.  And Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph!  Is my father still alive?’  But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.”

Now skip down to verse 9:  “’Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, “Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt.  Come down to me; do not tarry.  You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have.  There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.”  And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you.  You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen.  Hurry and bring my father down here.’  Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck.  And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them.  After that his brothers talked with him.”

It’s an amazing story of God’s love, God’s grace, and how His hand moved through the lives of Rachel’s sons, Joseph and Benjamin.

Most people think bowling perfection is a 300 game, but it isn’t.  Any good bowler can roll twelve strikes in a row.  Every night, somewhere in America, someone bowls a 300 game.  But only a master can roll three 300s in a row—thirty-six straight strikes.  That’s what’s called a “perfect series.”  According to the United States Bowling Congress, more than 95 million Americans bowl, but only 21 have bowled a 900.

Forty-eight year-old, six-foot tall Bill Fong and his run at perfection started as most of his nights did, with practice at 5:30.  It wasn’t unusual.  He bowled in four different leagues, twenty games a week.  And that night in January of 2010, seemed like any other night.

His first roll in lane 27 was a loud, powerful strike.  His ball obliterated all ten pins.  And his next roll, in lane 28, was another violent strike.  So it went for the rest of the game.  He said, “It felt like driving and catching a green light, then the next one, then the next, then turning, and still catching every green light everywhere you go.”

He switched balls in his second game, one that hooked less and rolled straighter.  But that worked just as well.  After he finished his second game, another 300, he said, “It was like Moses parting the sea.  I’d move my hands and everything would get out of the way.”

For his third game, he switched balls again.  By the sixth frame, a crowd had formed behind him.  Dozens of people stopped to watch.  Some sent texts and posted status reports on Facebook, and the audience grew.

Each time he approached the lane, the entire alley was silent.  And each time he struck, the room erupted with applause.

And as he entered the tenth frame of his third game, he had thirty-three strikes in a row.  A crowd of a hundred people was watching.

That’s when he said the magic left him.  Suddenly, he felt numb.

He was dizzy as he walked back to the ball exchange and began to sweat.  Thirty-five strikes down, one to go.

But as the last ball hit, the pins scrambled, all except number 10.  It wobbled, but it didn’t fall.  He wanted to say something, but couldn’t make a sound.

When he returned home that night, he suddenly had a stroke, then a little later, he had another stroke.  His doctor told him that if things had gone differently that night in the bowling alley, he could have died.

A teammate asked, “Would you rather be alive with an 899, or dead with a 900?”  

His life was spared by an imperfect game.

What can we learn from this boy named Benjamin?

Maybe this—just as God can take a child whose mother died at birth, and use him for His purpose and plan, He can take and use us too.

Remember what Rachel called him?  With her dying breath, she called him, “Ben-oni,” a name that meant, “son of my sorrow.”

And Jacob, who refused to remember her death every time he called him by name, changed his name, and called him, “Benjamin,” “son of my right hand.”

As one author put it:  “From our perspective, it may look like heartbreak and sorrow, but remember the rest of the story.  God works in even the most dysfunctional families, like Rachel’s, and with even the most sinful of people, like us, to accomplish His plan.”

Even more, just think, two thousand years later, a man named the apostle Paul would write in his letter to the Philippians:  “If anyone thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:  circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin…as to righteousness under the law, faultless.”

How is all this possible?  Only because our Savior Jesus died, rose, ascended, and now sits at the right hand of God.  And someday, He’ll welcome even us to sit at His right hand and say, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

In the words of a hymn:  “At God’s right hand in countless numbers, the just, made perfect, joyful stand; freed from whate’er on earth encumbers, they’ve gained the promised, heavenly land…Then in His presence I forever with the redeemed shall sing His praise; O make me ready, blessèd Saviour, to leave this world and see Thy face.”


We thank You, dear Father, for this lastborn, this youngest son named Benjamin.  Grant that, by Your grace, we too may someday stand at Your right hand, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen


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