But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I God? You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it…” – Genesis 50.19-20 CEB
Becoming saints is a life-long process of being transformed from our selfish desire into a surrendered vessel that God can use. Last week we were in Hebrews where we listed the faithful of God and heard what the author instructed for the believers who had given up. He informed them to run the race marked at for them! The sermon today highlights the life of an Old Testament character named Joseph (Heb. 11.21-22, Gen. 30, 37-50). We will begin at the end of his life and recapture his faithful journey.
Joseph died old and full of years at 110 (Gen. 50.26), after being a son of Jacob/Israel, a grandson to Isaac, a great-grandson to Abraham, a brother to Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Dinah, and Benjamin, a father to twins Manasseh and Ephraim, and a grandfather. From a very young age Joseph was gifted spiritually and mentally. Although Joseph is Rachel and Jacob’s first child, he is Jacob’s 12 child. What a large family to be born into! Family systems are everywhere!
There’s really no reason for us to assume we can discern why God gave Joseph the spiritual blessing of prophetic insight when he did. But somehow there’s comfort in knowing that God was working behind the scenes in Joseph’s life to guide and direct his brothers’ actions to preserve his life rather than killing him. Jealousy between two wives drove the children into madness. What brother would sell their younger (immature) brother into slavery?
How many times have we intentionally thrown someone in a well or sold them down the river? Usually those people we dismiss are close friends and family members, and often carry a God-given purpose that we disagree with. Sometimes our arch-nemesis will be someone who God calls to ministry that is opposite of the ways you would do ministry. But nevertheless, they are called and God has a plan for them. Yet, you or I will hold them at arms’ length in distain. In the family of God we often do this and continue to hold pleasantries with each other, or even sweep things under the rug when a new pastor comes to town in hopes of never having to be reconciled to that person. So I ask you: Who have you disregarded? Who have you tossed into the cistern?
If we are going to experience a move of God among us, we must engage those in relationship that we have refused to walk with. We are to choose to join together with people that we would rather not be associated with in a deeper way. The brothers collectively told a story about their brother Joseph that was deceitful and eventually they would have to own the truth about what they had done. The most difficult places in our lives are the untruths that we have told to cover up our own actions.
Joseph’s life has many twists and turns much like our own lives. Becoming a Saint entails persevering in hardships and surviving the tests that come our way. When we are young we belief our lives should be a flat road, moving forward without any resistances to our hopes, dreams, and plans. We are confounded when our lives take a different turn than what seems profitable for us. We get stuck and resort to selective remembering about the “good old days” or we talk about the “if onlys” in our journeys.
We fantasize about our greatest sources of pride or victimize ourselves when we have failed to succeed. When we journey through a life altering situation, it is important to take time to reassess and gain a bigger picture of our live narratives. Joseph could have easily fallen victim to his circumstances and reminisced about his childhood or found himself sorting through all the “if only” things that could have happened.
When we look at Joseph’s life we see the Great Reversal of a plot-line. Joseph was born with all the struggles of families, yet he was gifted with administrative skills and a supernatural spiritual awareness of God. Joseph struggled to relate to his brothers, and found them lacking in good moral decision-making and godly ethical behavior.
Perhaps before we are too hard on Joseph for calling out his brothers, perhaps we should assess the poor judgment of the family system. Their moral-ethical standards were low enough to sale their brother into slavery and plot to deceive their family indefinitely in the disappearance of that brother. Healthy families would not consider the evil they perpetrated, they would work through their differences even accepting correction.
Joseph’s life is bookended with family, and in the middle of his days, he leads a life of trials and tests, waiting patiently for God to move him into a position of authority as he had promised in his dreams. When he rises to authority to become the caretaker of the family, Joseph is sold to Midianites and walked to Egypt with his robe having been removed and used as evidence against him (Gen. 37.31-33).
He has been placed in a home in Egypt as a slave where he is sexually harassed daily and eventually assaulted leaving his garment behind to be used as evidence against him (Gen. 39.10-23). He is imprisoned, and given responsibilities to care for the other prisoners. Joseph remains in the care of government officials until he is appointed by Pharaoh to become the administrator over all the lands of Egypt ensuring that people would not starve during a great famine lasting seven years.
Joseph’s spiritual gifts flourished in the seasons of trials and tribulations; he remained faithful to the voice of God. When Joseph gains an opportunity to share his understanding of God with others, he quickly steps in to interpret the dreams of the wine steward, chief baker, and pharaoh himself. Joseph will find himself elevated to great power in Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh himself. Joseph remained faithful to God’s voice and God’s leading in the middle of his mess.
To be sure Joseph’s brothers would not have viewed 17-year-old Joseph as following God’s leading. But his brothers will find themselves prostrate before him offering to enslave themselves to his care before they are fully restored in their relationship with Joseph. Joseph learns that the call of a prophetic voice requires more than shepherding and managing people. It requires more than godly moral decision-making and ethical behavior. It requires the experience of forgiveness.
Hardship reveal our true character and moral grounding. The amazing story of Joseph’s tale is how his life was joined to God’s Greater Drama of forgiveness. He was betrayed, sold for a price, accused, imprisoned, and abandoned. Sound like someone else we know? Perhaps Jesus. But his scars became the wounds that saved the multitudes of people during the great famine of seven years. His scars carried him to success of saving many lives.
God’s loving kindness (hesed) surrounded Joseph (Gen. 39.21, 40.14). Joseph understood that he couldn’t earn his freedom from prison or fulfill his dreamy destiny of becoming the leader God required of him to become. But he humbled himself and asked for those around him to show him favor in the midst of false imprisonment. Joseph didn’t give up on God’s faithful plan even when it looked hopeless. Joseph continued to find meaning and hope in his suffering. When he felt forgotten, he continued to watch for opportunities for God’s favor. Joseph never relinquished the fight to be faithful.
By the end of the story Pharaoh has put Joseph in charge of everything in the land of Egypt. Joseph will marry and have children of his own. I love how Joseph names his children! His first child Manasseh means to “forget” and his second child Ephraim means “fruitful” (Gen. 41.51, 52). Joseph believed that God was the one helping him in his troubles and it was God who would make him fruitful in his despair. To be sure God has been co-authoring the story of Joseph’s life. There is no earthly way possible for Joseph to write his own story.
As Joseph’s family is restored to him in the land of Goshen in Egypt, Joseph’s will eventually bury his father. At that time his brothers will become fearful once again. They have not resolved the pain of their sin in their hearts, but Joseph will assure them. Hear these words, “Don’t be afraid. Am I God?’ he asks them, “You planned something bad for me, but God produced something good from it, in order to save the lives of many people, just as he is doing today” (Gen. 50.19-20).
Where do you find yourself in Joseph’s story? As the victim or the perpetrator? God’s plan is for both to be reconciled and made whole. No one is left outside of the God’s plan for restoration. There is good news! God is faithful, showing us loving kindness when we don’t deserve it. God empowers us to resist being offended by family, friends, and strangers. God through his sacrifice of Jesus Christ empowers us to forgive the unforgiveable and love the unlovely.
What amazes me about Joseph’s countenance is how joyful he seems to be when he declares forgiveness for his brothers! Rather than holding on to the bitterness of offense, Joseph let it all go. He held nothing back as collateral damage toward his brothers. He didn’t have a tally sheet of wrong-doing stashed away in his pocket to pull out and remind others that they had made a bad decision. The act of forgiveness was complete – gone forever! Hear the Good News! Christ died while we were yet sinners that proves God’s love toward us. In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven!