Sermon, Sunday April 24, 2016. Easter 5C.
Story Week 3
Genesis 45:1-7, 14-15
Romans 8: 28-30
Joseph: From Slave to PM
Genesis 45:1-7, 14-15
Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.
3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no ploughing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.[a]
14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.
Have you ever believed that all your plans have been ruined?
I sat for the Army entrance examination when I was 15. I thought the Army would have me and I might even have a career in it. I failed the entrance test. My plans came to naught on that one!
I sit with a woman who has been a committed and faithful wife for two or three decades as she slowly realises that her husband has all along been totally self-interested and hurtful and she knows, even though she does not want to admit it, that there is nothing left of the relationship. She knows she cannot keep playing the game, even for the sake of the kids.
I sit with a young person who has received the devastating news that the sporting career she so desperately wanted and worked so hard for is over. Major knee injury has put an end to the dream.
I sit with a man who was looking forward to a full and long retirement with his partner of 40 years only to have that life-long dream shattered by the insidious disease called Cancer.
So it goes on. Dreams can be dashed on the rocks like a beautiful tall ship in the dark of night in the storm. In the morning, nothing is left and the sense of it is emptiness.
GOD STILL WORKING
And so we enter one of the most outstandingly told stories in the whole Story of God’s plans to win the word back to himself. The plan seems lost and the promises made seem almost dead. But God still comes through and the dream is alive.
There is no one so quite annoying as a ‘know-it-all’ is there? That person who just seems to be charmed with being favoured by others even though they have little experience and little ability to control their seemingly ego-driven words about their greatness! For Jacob’s 12 boys, Joseph is exactly this annoying youngest lad who just seems to think he is God’s gift to humanity. Little did Joseph, Jacob or the other men know that Joseph actually would be just that!
GET RID OF HIM!
Dad does not help the situation. Jacob, one of the three great patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) is the one renamed by the Lord “Israel” – one who fights against God and prevails”. Jacob shows great powers of craftiness and deception all the way along. He displays the most destructive attribute a parent can show – favouritism. He unashamedly favours his youngest boy, Joseph. The other 11 are unimpressed to the point of willing the boy to be gotten rid of by any means.
To make it all harder to take, Joseph seems to have a hot line to God. He has these dreams. They smell of arrogance to his non-plussed brothers. Fancy that. In one dream this young upstart pictures we older, more experienced, wiser and better skilled men ‘bowing down’ to him!
They do find a way to get rid of him, and without having the blood of Cain on their hands. At the hands of his spiteful brothers the young Joseph, aged 17, is sold into slavery. They tell Dad that young Joe has been ripped to shreds by a wild bear (Genesis 37).
DOWN TO EGYPT
At the hands of the descendants of Ishmael, Joseph ends up under the ownership of an Egyptian administrator named Potiphar. Potiphar’s wife in a classic case of entrapment, tries to seduce Joseph and then falsely accuses Joseph of assaulting her.
Joseph ends up doing time. But while rotting in an Egyptian prison he still seems to have that hot line to the Lord. Among the prisoners he gets a reputation for correctly interpreting dreams. “The LORD was with Joseph” is a repeated refrain in Joseph’s story (Genesis 39-41).
FROM PRISON TO PM
Eventually his fame spreads right to the top – the Pharoah: the son of the Sun God, Amon Rah. Pharaoh is having trouble sleeping. He is having troubling dreams that none of his wise men and magicians can interpret for him. By the Lord’s gift, Joseph correctly interprets Pharaoh’s dreams and so, saves Pharaoh from losing face before his people, and also saves a country from devastating famine, the likes of which we seem to be seeing in Ethiopia again.
- Dream #1- Egypt will have 7 years of bountiful harvests
- Dream #2- Egypt will have 7 years of famine.
For his obvious divine gift and organisational smarts Joseph is promoted to Prime Minister (Genesis 41).
SOMETHING SPECIAL NEEDED
All the way through this part of The Story (Genesis 42-50), we are not sure if the Story will continue. It hangs on a knife edge. Something special is needed and someone special needs to stand up. He does.
Joseph’s brothers end up coming to Egypt as refugees looking for serious help in time of economic recession. In the end these old dreams from the Lord come to fruition and these guilty brothers do bow down to Joseph, now age 39, as they ask for a hand out.
THE AVOIDANCE OF PAY BACK
With all the power of Pharaoh in his hands to really make his long-lost brothers squirm, Joseph’s does not do it. Instead, he weeps over his brothers and engages in full reconciliation with them. It is one of the most emotionally touching scenes of the whole bible.
Why doesn’t Joseph pay them back? He says right at the end of this long-play scene says why.
8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt (Genesis 45:3-8).
God has been in this all along, according to Joseph. That is what makes him different. That faith is what enables him to leave pay back and revenge alone and go for peacemaking and shaping.
Joseph is captured by the promises of God. Joseph displays a constant awareness of and a giving of his heart to the Lord’s story of promise in his life. His life and God’s life are intertwined and God has his back, no matter what may happen.
A CALL TO TRUST?
Is this the Lord’s call for you in the dreams that you have had to let go or that you are facing letting go of now because they have just not come to fruition?
Is Joseph the man to ponder in God’s story so that you can trust God’s presence and power in his promises so that you can surely trust that Jesus, the one who has made it possible for all sin and all sinners to be forgiven and restored to the promise of God is at work in the midst of the details of your life, as he obviously was for Joseph, accomplishing his good purposes (Romans 8:28).
As Paul proclaims too in Romans 8:28,
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
THE STORY LINE CONTINUES
Friends, God’s story line is unfolding even in bleak and confusing times. His active promises working themselves out in the details of our relationships, work, home life, student life, sporting life allow us to live freely, being able to forgive those who sin against us.
Jesus the Messiah, the one given over to death for us and risen from it for us also assures that suffering of any kind, whether it is self inflicted or contributed to by others is not meaningless or something to run away from. As it was for Joseph, so it for all who put their life in the Saviour’s hands. God tests his people in order to build our faith in him and strong character in us and keep his promises alive.
Jesus, the Saviour, is at work in this new nation of faith called the church. As he did through Joseph, the Lord has made provision through you and I to sustain this new community of promise, even in times of severe testing (Genesis 50:19-20).
By Jesus’ power and love for you, you are Joseph for those around you. You are God’s agent to save the world from itself and bring them back to God’s plan of gracious acceptance.
By God’s grace, within Egypt the Israelites grew to a great nation of over a million people. Joseph had 21 years of a hard life, but 71 years of a blessed life. The promise stayed active and alive and we have seen it and heard it in Jesus, the new Joseph.
Chapter 3, Joseph: From Slave to Deputy Pharaoh
Timeless Truth: Though man fails, God’s plan prevails.
Chapter Summary (Have someone in your group read the summary section.)
The Story continues with Abraham’s great-grandson, Joseph. His story doesn’t get off to a very good start and it goes downhill from there. In the process, we see very clearly that God’s plan of redemption cannot be thwarted by man’s evil intentions and feeble efforts.
Joseph was the 11th of 12 sons, so he had little to expect by way of blessing or position through seniority. Even so, he was his father favorite and Jacob gave him a beautiful gift to demonstrate his preference. This gift, coupled with Joseph’s prediction that his 10 older brothers would one day bow down to him, guaranteed an intolerable case of sibling rivalry. The 10 plot his death at first, but wind up selling him into Egyptian slavery instead.
The road to Egypt rid the brothers of their nuisance, but landed Joseph a job as manager of Potiphar’s household. God blessed Potiphar because of Joseph and Potiphar was therefore pleased with Joseph. It turns out Potiphar’s wife was also pleased with Joseph, but for different reasons. After rejecting her advances and refusing to sleep with her, she accused him of rape and he got a prison sentence in exchange for his integrity.
But even in prison, the circumstances start to look familiar. Joseph’s good character was noted and, once again, he was promoted to manager within the prison. He ended up interpreting some dreams for two of Pharaoh’s court officials who were doing time with him. Pharaoh eventually hears of Joseph’s talents and summons him to unravel one of his own dreams and ends up promoting Joseph from prison manager to Deputy Pharaoh.
Hard times were on the way, so Joseph initiated a plan to storehouse food to sustain Egypt during a coming worldwide famine. This famine was felt back home by Joseph’s family as well, and they made their way to Egypt to buy food. It had been 20 long years since they sold him into slavery, but sure enough, Joseph was right: there they were, bowing at his feet. Sometimes, dreams really do come true.
Joseph’s entire family was saved. The Hebrew word actually means preserved as though God had something in mind here; and indeed, He did. Jacob, the brothers, and all the extended family moved to the safety of Egypt where they would survive the famine, and God would in fact safeguard his people and his promises. Joseph saw the Upper Story, the big picture. He declared to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done” (p. 42). There it is: redemption in a sound bite. The Messiah would not come for centuries, yet God’s storytelling had begun. Joseph’s life is a precursor, reminding us that though man plans for evil, God redeems for good. Beauty for ashes. Life from death. Man fails, but God prevails. Every time.
Icebreaker Question: What’s the best promotion you ever received? How did you earn it?
- If Jacob had learned from his parent’s mistakes, he might not have torn his family apart by showing Joseph favoritism. What are some practical lessons families can learn from their stories? Are there any “family history” issues you need to overcome or avoid? Any items you want to preserve for your family? Do you have a “victory” story that you could share?
- As a teen, Joseph had two dreams that indicated he would one day rule over his brothers. List Joseph’s character qualities that demonstrate why he was God’s choice for a leader. Which of these character qualities are important in a leader today?
- Even though Joseph experienced betrayal, he went on to enjoy a full and purposeful life in Egypt. What factors or spiritual understandings do you think made this possible? How was it possible for Joseph to forgive his brothers?
- What are the benefits experienced by Joseph’s employers, Potiphar and the prison warden (p. 31-32)? How would your workplace benefit if you allowed God to work through you there?
- List the injustices Joseph suffered. What sustained him? Recall a time in your own life that you suffered unjustly for doing the right thing. What sustained you?
- Twenty years after his brothers sold him into slavery, they came to Joseph to buy grain. Do you see evidence they had changed over the years?
- Why do you think Joseph did not reveal his true identity at first? What was he waiting for?
- Over the course of twenty years, Joseph had risen to a place of power and prestige as Pharaoh’s governor. Why do you suppose he never returned to his home?
- Jacob’s whole family lived in Goshen for seventeen years before he died (p. 41-42). Do you think the family relationships were every truly restored?
- Ponder the whole life story of Joseph. As a group, list the ways God’s sovereignty came to light. How does God’s sovereignty impact your personal faith in Him?
In the time remaining ask your group members to share any of their personal reflection insights from their journal entries.