Embryonic stem cells: Where are the cures?

Have you noticed that there’s not much news about embryonic stem cell research these days?

Oh, yes, we all remember the fanfare of publicity around the Superman-inspired hype of a decade ago. Skeptics who questioned the ethics and impracticality of therapeutic cloning were bullied and humiliated as leading medical journals held out the prospect of “universal healing” and even of “eternal regeneration.” Hans Keirstead, of the University of California, said, ”I have never seen in my career a biological tool as powerful as the stem cells. It addresses every single human disease.”

Even some of those who agreed that embryos were human beings, argued that the greater good of relieving so much human suffering would justify experimentation upon them. Ethical alternatives, such as working with adult stem cells, were ruthlessly dismissed.

Ten years on, where are the cures?

There are none. Not one person has been cured. Instead, as Michael Cook reports over at Mercator, there is grossly under-reported failure and fraud:

In the past ten years the single most memorable event in embryonic stem cell research has been setting a world record for scientific fraud. In 2004 and 2005 Science published two papers by Hwang Woo-suk, a South Korean scientist. He claimed that he had successfully isolated human embryonic stem cells. Korea printed stamps in his honour and he was feted as an international celebrity. But he was a charlatan, his results were bogus and he had obtained human eggs unethically.

The recent announcement in Cell, that researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University had cloned human embryos and successfully extracted embryonic stem cells was also quickly mired in scandal when the journal announced that it was investigating allegations of image manipulation in the article.

There is one bright spot. Japanese researcher, Shinya Yamanaka, who had rejected embryonic stem cell research as unethical, and who won last year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine, has pioneered the creation of stem cell lines from skin cells without destroying embryos. Consequently, with hardly a whisper and certainly no apologies, most stem cell scientists have now turned their backs on embryonic stem cell research to follow Shinya’s lead.

Ten years on.

Thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of lives killed under microscopes.

Not one cure.

Not one apology.

Read more at Not with a bang but a whimper.


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The Most God-like Man in the Old Testament

Yesterday we looked at four ways to get from Joseph to Jesus. Let’s now look at a concrete example of how to do this by considering Genesis 45, one of the most beautifully Christ-like chapters in the whole Old Testament,

We’ll look first at the desire of Joseph brothers: “Can we get out of here?” (v. 3). Then we’ll look at Joseph’s desire for his brothers, “Come near to me” (v. 4).

Can we get out of here?

They were convicted by Joseph’s providence

The brothers had already been convicted by providence in previous chapters (42, 43, and 44), as Joseph tested them to see if they had learnt their lesson from the sinful way they had previously mistreated him.

Joseph so ordered events that the brothers were repeatedly brought face-to-face with their previous crimes and the consequences of them. They were convicted by providence, by the memory of their past misdeeds.

They were convicted by Joseph’s words

When Joseph saw their humbled reaction to providence and the distress they were in, he burst out crying, so much so that despite putting out all of the Egyptians from the room, his wailing was heard throughout the house of Pharaoh (Gen. 45:1-2).

In the midst of this extraordinary display of grief, Joseph managed to blurt out, “I am Joseph, does my father yet live?” If the brothers were distressed by providence, and by Joseph’s weeping and wailing, how much more when they heard these awful words, “I am Joseph.” Don’t they remind us of the words Jesus spoke to Saul of Tarsus after providence had done its work of convicting him: “I am Jesus whom you persecute.”

They were convicted by Joseph’s presence

“The brothers could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence” (3). They were speechless and terrified. This was the most uncomfortable place in the world for them at that moment in time. They would have given anything to be anywhere else but Joseph’s presence.

Joseph’s dealings with them, Joseph’s words to them, and Joseph’s presence with them combined into a perfect storm that deeply troubled them. “They were troubled at his presence.” “Get us out of here!” was all they could think of.

Application

Isn’t this how God often deals with sinners? The same Holy Spirit that actuated and motivated Joseph in his skillful spiritual dealings with his brothers is the same Holy Spirit that acts through God’s Providence, Word, and presence to convict us of sin and to bring us to grief about our past life. So much so that we cannot but long to escape from the presence of the God who is dealing with us in this way. “Get me out of here!”

Come near to me

Despite this desire to escape, to run away, Joseph uttered the last words they expected to hear, “Come near to me.” Not “Get out of my sight.” Not “I never want to see you again.” Not “Arrest and kill.” But “Come near to me.”

His obvious desire was to comfort his brothers as quickly, as deeply, and as unmistakably as possible. He passeed on comfort in various forms.

First, he comforted them with his presence. Yes, the very presence they feared most, the presence they wanted to escape, that presence was actually their best and only hope. He didn’t keep them in suspense any longer but gave a full and free invitation to draw near into His protective personal presence. Come near, take a closer look, enjoy who I am.

Second, he comforted them with God’s plan. Three times he said “God sent me here” (5, 7, 8). He was not denying their sin. No, he was saying, “You sinned, but that was also part of God’s plan. You sinned, but God overrules sin for good.” In essence he was saying, “You sent me here for evil, God God sent me here for good.”And the good was not just the preservation of life in general, but the preservation of the seed of Abraham from whom would come the Messiah (7).

Third, he comforted by his promises. In verses 10-12 Joseph promised them a special place to live, a special provision for their children and animals, and a special nearness to him. No ill will, but tons of good will. “I will give you the good of the land of Egypt, and you shall eat of the fat of the land…the good of all the land of Egypt is yours” (18, 20).

Fourth, he comforted by his power. He emphasize his place and prominence in Egypt to assure them that ha had both the ability and the right to do them the good he promised them (8, 9, 13, 26).  He could accomplish what he promised.

Fifth, he comforted by his passionLook at the way he embraced and kissed not just Benjamin, but all of them, and he did so with tears (14-15). Look at his urgency as he pushed the brothers to get the whole family from Canaan to bring them to Egypt as fast as possible (9, 13). This was full-hearted, passionate longing to bless his brothers and the wider family too. He wanted to be with them and hung around chatting with them (15).

Sixth, he comforted with his provision. He sent them off to Canaan to return with his father and sent with them a huge caravan train of supplies – lots of clothes, silver, animals, corn, bread, meat, etc. When the brothers told their father that Joseph was governor over all the land of Egypt, “Jacob’s heart fainted, for he believed them not” (26).

They kept telling him all that Joseph had said and promised, but still Jacob would not believe them nor be comforted by them. But, “when he saw the wagons which Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob their father revived” (27). He believed them when he saw Joseph’s generous provision, and agreed to go to Egypt on that basis.

Application

The original Israelite readers saw Joseph as perhaps the most God-like man in their Bible, and here they see how the most God-like man deals with the most ungod-like men.

What an encouragement to Israelite sinners as they read this story of what God is like and how God deals with sinners. How this must have helped habituate them to the coming Deliverer who would be exalted over all His enemies to bestow salvation on His people.

God’s anointed Deliverer, His spirit-filled Savior, still comforts trembling sinners. He still says, “Come near to me!” and encourages us to do so by His presence, His plan, His promises, His power, His passion, and His provision. Don’t run away. Come near!


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4 Ways to Get From Joseph to Jesus

Some people develop phobias to things that are good and helpful. For example, a child might develop a phobia to milk, or to meat, or even to eating altogether!

Psychologists will often help these children by introducing them to small amounts of the food now and again, then gradually increasing the size and frequency of the food until the child is able to swallow and even enjoy what was previously unpalatable.

In some ways, this is what was happening in the Old Testament. God was gradually habituating His people to accept not only an unpalatable deliverance but an unpalatable deliverer.

Unpalatable Salvation
The deliverer was unpalatable because, like all sinners, Old Testament sinners wanted to deliver themselves and did not like to admit that they needed outside help.

The deliverance was also unpalatable because it was not going to be a glorious straightforward smashing of their enemies, but the deliverer would suffer pain, humiliation, and death in order to smash their sins.

Thus, from Genesis 3 onwards, we have the institution of sacrifice that pointed people away from themselves to a substitute in their place, and that also underlined in red how suffering and death were necessary for salvation.

Further, from Genesis 3 onwards, God raised up numerous deliverers of His people, but all of them experienced pain and humiliation on the way to delivering God’s people. The three greatest examples of that are Joseph, Moses, and David.

All of these were God’s way of habituating His people, of preparing them gradually to accept, embrace, and believe His plan of a coming Deliverer whose deliverance would involve humiliation and suffering before glory would eventually arise. As Leyland Ryken says in The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible:

It seems clear that a “narrative typology” lies behind the composition of these texts. The author wants to show that the events of the past are pointers to those of the future (p. 110).

That’s one way we can get from Joseph to Jesus – by seeing Joseph as part of God’s gradual habituation of the people for His ultimate deliverer.

How can we be sure?
Some might look at the Joseph story and say, “Well there are indeed many parallels between Joseph and Jesus, but how can you be sure that God meant this to be part of His preparation of His Old Testament people for Jesus?”

Well, consider this. In the New Testament, God explicitly picked out less obvious parallels in the Old Testament (like Melchizedek and Jonah) as part of His preparation of His Old Testament people for Jesus. If He is explicit about these less obvious parallels, how much more easily should we conclude the same for the more obvious and major Old Testament characters like Joseph. Clearly, Jesus and the New Testament authors saw Jonah, Melchizedek, Moses, etc., as samples of a larger body of prophetic parallels (or “types”).

The Spirit of Christ
Also, we know that the Spirit that was in Joseph was the Spirit of Christ, shaping and forming his character in such beautiful Christ-like ways. Joseph did not become such an outstandingly gifted, godly, and gracious man by natural personality or by his own efforts. There’s no more extraordinary story of human forgiveness in the whole of human history, and that could only be accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit filling him and fueling his wise and loving dealings with his murderous brothers.

So how do we get from Joseph to Jesus? Three ways:

  1. By God’s gradual habituation of His people
  2. By arguing from the lesser to the greater (if less Christ-like characters were types, how much more Joseph).
  3. By the work and indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Joseph’s life conforming him to the image of Christ.

“But your headline said four ways.”

Yes, but I’ve explored the fourth way in a previous post: By asking “How did Mr. & Mrs Israelite read Ruth?”


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