Thursday, February 2, 2017

Genesis, Part 3 - Joseph

Introduction
            Last week we talked about Father Abraham.  Abraham had Isaac, Isaac had Jacob, Jacob had twelve sons—including his favorite Joseph. All these men are known as the Patriarchs, because they are the fathers of our faith.  One thing Genesis shows us is how God’s plans play out over many generations. Genesis tells the fascinating stories of individuals, but the grand story sweeps through the generations right down to us today.
            God said in Isaiah 55:9 – “For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”  Our thinking is so small, but God has a grand plan. You are part of it, but never forget you are not the whole of it.  Perhaps the Patriarchs could imagine how their lives might affect their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren; but Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could not even begin to imagine that 4,000 years later, you and I would be sitting in a sanctuary—with central heat and air conditioning, electric chandeliers, and visual illustrations of their story on our televisions.
            You are part of God’s story—your life, your family, your struggles, and your hopes and dreams. But always remember, your story has more significance than just what you can see and imagine. It will reverberate through the generations to come, possibly for thousands of years. You can only see a small part of what God is doing—and that only if you are very perceptive. So, you must trust God with it all—especially that part you cannot see or understand.
            Today we will pick up the story of Jacob’s son Joseph. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son.  He was born into a dysfunctional family.  His father had two wives, concubines, and twelve sons.  If that were not already a recipe for disaster, add to it Jacob's favoritism for one wives over the others and on son over the others.  Furthermore, Joseph was a punk little daddy's boy who, in arrogance, liked to taunt his brothers with his status as the "golden boy."
             Joseph had a big-headed dream.  In the dream (which he promptly told his family with selfish-pride), he said, “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me.”  The sun and moon represented Joseph’s father and mother; the 11 stars his 11 brothers.  Even Joseph’s father was offended by Joseph’s arrogance in telling the dream.  "Will even your mother and I bow down before you?"  When I was a kid, my mom used to refer to this episode any time I got to conceded or sassy.  She would say, "So, you think the sun moon and stars bow down to you."
            Joseph dream came from God and would eventually come true, but in his youthful arrogance, Joseph didn’t realize the trials that would lead up to the fulfillment of that dream. He would endure decades of hardship and humiliation before anyone would bow down before him. Joseph would need to learn humility, leadership, integrity, and endure the cost of remaining true to God before he was ready to be used as God’s instrument for God’s glory, not his own.
            One day, Joseph's brothers saw him coming and the seized him, beat him, and threw him in a pit.  Rather than kill him, they decided to sell him into slavery and lie to his father and say a wild beast killed him.  So, Joseph was taken to Egypt where he became a slave in Potiphar's house.  But God was with Joseph and he prospered in Potiphar's house so that Potiphar put him in charge of everything.  But Potiphar's wife often sexually harassed Joseph.  And when he wouldn't play along, she accused him of trying to rape her--even though he was completely innocent.  Potiphar had Joseph thrown into prison so he became even lower than a slave.  Yet God was still with Joseph.
            All together, Joseph spent 22 years as a slave or in prison in Egypt before one day Pharaoh had a troubling dream than no one could interpret.  Word came to Joseph about the dream and he was able to interpret the dream for Pharaoh, saying Egypt would experience 7 years of bounty followed by 7 years of famine.  This pleased Pharaoh to the point he made Joseph his second in command and put him in charge of the famine relief efforts.  They stored away surplus food  during the 7 good years and lived off the stores during the 7 years of famine.  Additionally, they were able to sell food to some of the peoples and tribes surrounding Egypt.
            The famine even drove Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to buy food and his dream was finally fulfilled.  Joseph’s brothers bowed low before him, though they don’t recognize him.  Joseph finally reveals his identity in Genesis chapter 45. 

Slides - Genesis 45:3-8
“I am Joseph!” he said to his brothers. “Is my father still alive?” But his brothers were speechless! They were stunned to realize that Joseph was standing there in front of them. “Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt.But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.

It was God
            Joseph says something incredible to his brothers. He declares them innocent saying, “Don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here, not you!” (45:5, 8)  Consider the faith it takes to make such a statement.  Such faith sees that God is in charge of everything.  This great faith believes that God can even take the evil plots of other people and turning them into good.  Furthermore, it is a great faith that recognizes God has the right to subject us to suffering for the sake of His plans.
           You are His creation. He has all rights to you. Why do we ever think God must always treat us well?  You are an instrument in His mighty hand. Your purpose is to serve Him. Why should the God of the universe need to justify Himself to you if He chooses to use you as the hammer that pounds in a nail to His master plan?  Or suppose He decided you should be the nail that is hammered?  How can you rightfully object?
            Consider Jesus. Jesus was nailed to a cross and died a cruel, agonizing, and humiliating death for the salvation of the world.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed—“Father, if there is any other way to accomplish Your plan, please remove this cup of suffering from me. But not my will but Yours be done.”  Ultimately, Jesus was willing to die, because he trusted God and knew his crucifixion would wash the sins of the world clean forever and and reconcile us to God. 
            Jesus is the only one who didn't deserve to be crucified, yet he was willing for the sake of our salvation.  We do not deserve good, but we usually get it anyway.  Why should we complain if we receive trouble instead of a life of ease?
            In faith, Joseph saw God made a way to preserve his whole family. Furthermore, all of Egypt was spared from the ravages of the famine.  And how many lives of people from neighboring tribes were spared?  Were all these lives--and ultimately God's plan which came through Jacob's decedents--worth the suffering Joseph endured?  You decide.  But also consider how sending Joseph to Egypt as a slave refined his character and ultimately save Jacob and his 12 sons and all their wives and children and servants and livestock.

Do You Have Faith in God?
            Do you have the faith to trust God to accomplish His master plan for you—even if it is hard?  Do you trust God to use suffering to humble you and refine your character?  Joseph was a good boy with great potential. But he was also full of pride and arrogance. He could also be cruel—flaunting his status as “the favorite” in his brothers’ faces on purpose even though he must have known they were already wounded by their father's favoritism.  So God used those 22 years of slavery and prison in Egypt to humble and refine Joseph’s character.  Does your suffering make you bitter and resentful or does your faith enable you to see God is making you a better person?
            Do you have the faith to forgive those who have wronged you?  Do you trust God enough to relinquish your claim to vengeance?  Do you trust God to punish those who have done wrong (even to you or the people you love) according to His great wisdom and mercy? Do you trust Him to be fair—to forgive those who need mercy and to punish those who need justice? (Isn’t it ironic that we want mercy for ourselves, but punishment for others?)
            Do you have the faith to reconcile with those whom you have forgiven?  Forgiveness is one thing. It is wiping away the debt someone owes you.  Reconciliation is another thing. It is rebuilding a new relationship with someone after the debt is forgiven.  Joseph did more than forgive his brothers. He reconciled with them. He loved them again—caring for them, protecting them.  Jesus does more than just forgive us. He reconciles with us. Rev. 3:20—“ “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”  Do you have the faith to reconcile with those who have hurt you?  (Not everyone can be reconciled; and some it may not even be possible or healthy to reconcile with.  But if it is, are you willing?)

Conclusion
            I suppose not many of us think we would do such a despicable thing as sell our brother or sister into slavery.  (Although there might be some…)  But listen to the Word of God in Psalm 14:2-3 – “The Lord looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God.  But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt.  No one does good, not a single one!”
            Brothers and sisters, we have all sinned.  We have all turned our backs on our brother Jesus.  We have all betrayed him, by what we have done or left undone.  Sometimes, by our very attitudes, we have nailed him to the cross.  We crucify him whenever we prefer the comforts of this world over the calling of God.  We crucify him whenever we are ashamed of what someone might think of us if they find out we are one of those “church people.”  We crucify him whenever we give in to the temptations of the flesh—whether it is sexual sin, or gossip, or cheating, or lying, or eating too much, or indulging our ego.  In those occasions and more, we are little better than Joseph’s brothers (according to God’s holy standards).  So do not think yourself innocent or better than any other sinner in this world.
            There may be a few here who feel as though they have done worse.  Perhaps you feel about as low and vulnerable as Joseph’s brothers as they bowed before him.  Perhaps you feel as though God is standing over you poised to execute His terrible judgment at any moment.
            That is why the message of Christ is called the Good News. It is Good News to everyone who realizes their sin and repents because God does not give us what we deserve.  Instead of punishment, He gives us pardon.  Instead of banishment, He gives us a new relationship.  Instead of death, He gives us eternal life.  Instead of sorrow, He gives us joy.  And in faith, even the suffering we face is a blessing because we know God is working out His master plan for us and for the whole world.
            So I woul like to invite you to listen to God and respond to Him.  Perhaps you can respond by trusting God through Jesus Christ instead of depending so much on yourself, others, or the things of this world.  Perhaps you can respond by forgiving someone or forgiving yourself.  Or maybe, God is calling you to reconcile with someone.  Whoever has ears to hear, listen to the Word of the Lord.