Sermon for Epiphany 7
February 24, 2019
Denise and I were greatly blessed as we attended the Best Practices conference in Phoenix this past Thursday-Saturday. Yes, we had to deal with rainy days and highs in the 40’s. The mountains around Phoenix that rarely see snow are now capped with snow. We tried not to grumble too much as we kept an eye on your weather back home. We gained many insights to ministry and we hope to share these ideas and possibilities with you soon. The primary aim of the whole conference was reaching the lost for Christ as we recognize that we are all ambassadors for Christ. It was inspiring. Words can’t well express this wonderful experience. An added bonus was seeing friends from across the church who have touched our lives over the years. It is very humbling to see how the Lord brings peace and joy to so many through His Body, the Church. The reunions were truly joy-filled.
In the OT lesson we read about another reunion. Joseph reveals that he is still alive as his brothers have come to Egypt to buy food during a devastating drought in Israel. He discovers that his father, whom he has not seen for a very long time, is still alive. You can be sure that Joseph must have wandered from time to time what the Lord’s plan was his life as he went through some pretty low points in his life. His brothers had caused deep hurt to him.
Let’s review a few of the ways that Joseph might have had reason to consider his brothers enemies. Their father, Jacob, considered Joseph his favorite child. This was in part due to the fact that his favorite wife, Rachel was Joseph’s mother. He gave a very special gift to Joseph in the form of a robe. Brothers were jealous of Joseph. The Lord also gave to Joseph a series of dreams with images of grain sheaves and, sun, moon, and stars bowed down to him. The sheaves of the brothers were bowing down to Joseph sheaf. As he told the dream, they teased and taunted him. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. Genesis 37:4
One day when the brothers were out tending flocks, Jacob sent Joseph out to check on his brothers. They saw this as an opportunity to kill him. They bound him and placed him in a dry well. Thankfully, Reuben, the oldest brother convinced them to spare his life. Some passers by were willing to buy Joseph as a slave. The brothers then fabricated a story to tell father Jacob. A wild animal attacked and killed Joseph and here is the blood covered robe to prove it. So they sell Joseph and then lie to Dad, permitting him to mourn his favorite son who is not actually dead.
Joseph served Potiphar, an officer of Pharoah and lived in the palace. Everything he did was a success and became overseer in Potiphar’s house. Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of assaulting her. He is imprisoned. While in jail, he tells the meaning of dreams of fellow convicts, the baker and the cup bearer. The cup bearer is restored to his position with the king. The baker is executed. He tells the cup bearer to remember him before the king. Later the king has a dream of which no one is able to interpret. The cup bearer remembers that Joseph was able to rightly interpret the dream. Here’s what that looked like.
After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, 2 and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows, attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. 3 And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. 4 And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And Pharaoh awoke.5 And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. 6 And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. 7 And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream.
Joseph reveals the meaning of the dream. There will be seven years of blessing and abundant crops in Egypt followed by seven years of severe famine. Pharoah then appoints Joseph as project director to survive the next 14 years. Joseph orders that granaries be built to store up grain during these years of blessing.
Enter years of famine. Back in Israel the famine has grown extreme and Jacob’s family is out of food. Several brothers are sent to Egypt to buy food for the family. Joseph recognizes his brothers and “toys” with them to test them. He finally reveals that he is the long lost brother and clearly tells his brothers that the Lord was working his will to save his people all the while. It was all part of God’s plan of deliverance. Jacob and family are brought to Egypt where Joseph provides for them abundantly.
Perhaps you can relate to Joseph’s account. You wonder why life seems to be so unfair.
Genesis 45:4-7 – So Joseph said to His brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.”
It’s a question that every Christian faces if we live long enough—”Why did this terrible thing happen to me?” Theologians call this the problem of evil. How can a good, loving, all-powerful God let horrible things happen?
There is no truly satisfactory answer to that question this side of heaven. We go on as Christians, not because we understand God, but because we see His true heart in Jesus our Savior. In spite of evil, we know God is good—because we see Jesus. We know He loves us—because Jesus died and rose for us. We continue to walk, even through darkness, because of Jesus. There is no other answer.
But there is another question. And that question might be phrased this way: “What can God do with this evil? What new, good thing can God create using this terrible thing?”
That is the question Joseph was dealing with. Many years before, his jealous brothers had sold him as a slave in far-away Egypt. There Joseph learned what it meant to suffer. He worked hard and was treated badly. He was even falsely accused and thrown into prison. He had every reason (humanly speaking) to stop trusting God. Who could blame him?
Joseph must have been tempted to lose faith. And yet, in our passage today, he is victorious. At last, he sees one very good thing that God has brought out of all his suffering. Joseph’s family will live through the famine—they will do more than that, they will prosper! Because long ago, Joseph was sold as a slave into Egypt, today he is in a position to offer them a home with all the food they could ever need.
This doesn’t make what Joseph’s brothers did to him any less evil. Kidnapping is kidnapping; selling your brother as a slave will never be on the list of good, moral examples to imitate. And yet God used that great evil to bring about salvation for nearly a hundred people. From those people eventually came the whole nation of Israel—and from Israel, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
God can bring good out of our own evils as well. We may not see how He can do this right now; we may never see it in this world. And that is hard. But in the end, it’s okay—because we know God’s true heart toward us as we see it in the life, death, and resurrection of our dear Lord Jesus Christ. God is for us. He loves us. And He will redeem all our evils.
Joseph is a type of Christ, one sent to redeem his people. Jesus would follow a similar path as His life was threatened. He too, spent time in Epypt. He would be stripped of His robe and left for dead. Jacob was convinced that Joseph had died and mourned for him. Jesus actually died and His Father accepted His sacrifice as payment for the sins of the world, your sins and mine. As Joseph was restored to his father, we have been restored to our heavenly Father and robed with Christ’s holiness.
Joseph shows us how to deal with really tough situations in life. Rely on the Lord. He has a plan and He is with you. The other great example we receive from Joseph is his forgiving heart. He doesn’t hold a grudge or point back to those dreams of his youth saying, “See, I told you that you would bow down to me.” We are quick to blame others for our mistakes. We also sometimes seem to enjoy focusing on the sins of others. We sure like to tell others how rotten the other person is. With Christ’s strength we are called and empowered to forgive even our enemies as Christ has fully forgiven as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”
The Lord brought Joseph through trials toward triumph. He has done the same for you. Jesus loves you. He provides for you, especially in times of trial. He shed His blood and died on the cross in order that you might be restored as brothers and sisters in Christ. On the third day He rose, victorious over sin and death. Your sins are forgiven. Relationships are restored. An even grander reunion in heaven awaits all who trust in Him.