Providentially Secure - Part Two
Scripture: Genesis 38:1– 40:23
Providentially Secure-Part TwoGenesis 38:1-40:23
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Pastor Randy Smith
When Charles II ascended to the throne in 1660, he put an end to the free preaching of the Gospel in England. All citizens were required to attend their assigned Anglican parish. It became punishable by law to conduct any private church services. At least one man chose to defy the King's edict. He felt the need to preach God's Word wherever and whenever he was led. Yet in his refusal to compromise, John Bunyan was thus thrown in jail. He was eventually released six years later only to resume his preaching and then be confined for an additional six years.
Yet while Bunyan sat in that small and dirty prison suffering not for his sin, but only for his righteousness, he made the most of the opportunity. He spent the time composing his classic book: Pilgrim's Progress. Second only to the Bible it is the bestselling Christian book of all time.
The story in Pilgrim's Progress is an allegory depicting a young man by the name of Christian first getting saved (the burden rolling off his back) and then making his journey to Heaven, the Celestial City. It's a book that portrays the life of all true believers, navigating our way through this world as a stranger, a pilgrim, and facing all kinds of trials and temptations that continually seek to veer us off the narrow path that leads to life.
I share this by way of introduction because it reminds me so much about our story of Joseph. He too was persecuted and even twice thrown into confinement solely because of his righteousness. Yet while suffering he faithfully navigated the minefield of trials and temptations, remained true to his God and also made the most of his tribulations for the Lord's glory.
Our situations might not be as severe as Bunyan's or Joseph's, but we too, if we are in Christ, are pilgrims in a foreign land. The Bible even calls us aliens. And we too as we every day march toward the Celestial City find ourselves continually being pulled from the narrow path through trials and temptations. Jesus warned us a lot of people start well and then never persevere to the end. Many start well and then barely make it to the end, finishing the course defeated and much weaker than when they first began. So what is the secret to a victorious Christian life that can triumphantly persevere to the end with joy and vigor and faith in tact?
We'll find out as we continue our study in the life of Joseph by looking at three trials he faced and his response of faith in God to each of them. If you are in Christ, this sermon will have much needed application for you.
1. Abused and Mistreated
The first trial I am calling "Abused and Mistreated." Basically this is a brief review from last week in chapter 37.
We were introduced to Joseph. He is seventeen when he comes on the scene, and he is the special object of his father's affection. Jacob went so far to even make his son a special robe that set him apart as royalty of the family. That didn't go over too well with the ten older brothers.
Later Joseph is given two dreams from God. In a nutshell, both of the dreams depict his brothers sometime in the future bowing down to him. Not to overstate the obvious, but that one, once relayed to his brothers, didn't go over too well either.
Motivated by hatred and jealousy, according to the text, the brothers threw Joseph into an empty well and sold him to a caravan of Ishmaelites who then took him to Egypt where he was sold on the auction block as a common slave. What incredible pain was brought upon him by his family!
Perhaps you are abused and mistreated by your family as well. Obviously we should remove ourselves from any physical violence, but there is the emotional and mental violence that often appears unavoidable and unending. It's the stuff like a son that hates his home or a daughter that turns from Christ or a husband that makes foolish decisions or a wife that never ceases to nag or a parent that is overbearing and controlling or a brother that refuses to forgive or a sister that slanders you to others or a grandmother who is ungrateful or a grandfather who always has a foul mouth with your children. With ease, I could keep going with this list.
How do you deal with the pain in interpersonal relationships in your life, when you have done everything you can, that comes from those whom you love and trust? How do you control these oftentimes uncontrollable situations? How do you treat people with love, respect, gentleness and honor while they seem to inject nothing but affliction in your life? How are you not influenced by your circumstances like a pagan, but are able to rise above the circumstances like a Christian with your faith fully in tact?
The only acceptable answer as we learned last week is an unwavering trust in the Lord's providence. With our compass pointed north, we forge forward in the storms of life knowing that God is sovereign over all the situations that we encounter. And we as His children have that special comfort that He is working all things together for our good. We might not have asked for it. Odds are on the surface we don't like it either. But deep down inside, we cling to the Lord by faith, trusting His invisible hand that is always wise and kind to fulfill His good purposes. That's why Christians and only Christians can obey the command from 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to "give thanks…in everything…for this is God's will for [us] in Christ Jesus."
I'm sure Joseph was tempted to ask, "Where's God?" But there is no evidence he did. Let's stop and reflect for a moment, how would you have acted if Joseph's situations happened to you? Too often when we experience pain from loved ones in our lives we do ask, "Where's God?" I hear it, and if I don't hear it, I see it. A seemingly vibrant Christian life denigrates into self-pity, self-defense, blaming others, overreacting, whining or complaining. My friends, all of these sins are indications that we have lost our faith and are in effect crying out, "Where's God?" through our actions and perhaps a different choice of words. We leave the narrow path and find ourselves floundering (as Bunyan says in his book) in the slough of despond.
While suffering thanks to his family, Joseph never lost his faith.
2. Tempted and Tested
Let's move on to the second point and see if things start turning around for Joseph.
By the beginning of chapter 39 Joseph has finally arrived in Egypt. He is, verse 1, bought as a slave by a very influential man in his proximity to Pharaoh. The man's name is Potiphar. It appears within a short amount of time, Joseph starts to see God's blessings. The Lord is with Joseph, verses 2-4 and Joseph through the Lord's blessings becomes very successful. Potiphar sees him as a hard-working, trustworthy and prudent man. As a matter of fact, verse 6 indicates that Potiphar puts Joseph (the foreign slave) over everything he owns (gave him the keys to the Ferrari, allowed him to drive the kids to little league practice and school, presented him with a couple credit cards - amazing!). He trusted him with everything, verse 6, "except the food which he ate."
Again, Joseph could have wallowed in the mud. He's far from home in a pagan land that didn't speak his language. But instead of blaming God and giving up, he chooses to make the most of his circumstances. I believe Joseph knew the lesson that we might need to learn ourselves for a content Christian life. God's primary concern is not to change the circumstances, but to change His children in the midst of the circumstances. The excuses Joseph could have used are numerous. "Where's the fulfillment of my dreams?" "The world is evil and I'm a victim." "I have been overcome by my environment." It's none of this! His trust in God transcended his circumstances and therefore we do not witness bitterness or apathy or self-pity or resentment or anxiety, but rather the man is shining as a faithful testimony for Christ through his obedience and diligence and wise choices. He made the faith attractive. Even Potiphar, the unbeliever, had to exclaim in verse 3 "that the Lord was with him."
Everything is great, right? Guess again. Another curve ball is thrown Joseph's way (not everything in the Christian life is a "lob pitch!"). Remember, this is the Christian life. It's a spiritual journey where we are called to abide in Christ and faithfully persevere until the end. But along the way there are all kinds of trials that the evil one uses to pull us off the narrow path. These temptations seek to cut us dead in our tracks by promising greater fulfillment in unchartered waters. Oftentimes we fall for the baited hook and don't realize it until it's too late. The trial here is sexual temptation. Let's see how Joseph does.
Verse 7, "It came about after these events that his master's wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, 'Lie with me.'" So you get the picture. Potiphar is out of the house. Verse 6 tells us Joseph was a handsome man in form and appearance. Potiphar's wife is used to getting what she wants. She doesn't seduce Joseph. She simply commands him to be intimate with her.
Joseph replies in verses 8-9, "Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?"
Hmmmm… As a slave this could be my only chance to be with a woman, yet who knows how many other guys she's been with. But with her on my side I could increase in power, yet if Potiphar finds out I'm a dead man. But if I refuse she can execute me, yet what if she gets pregnant? Actually Joseph didn't go down any of those roads that many use to resist temptation. He, in verse 9, simply held fast to his integrity, "After all you husband has done for me how can I betray him in this way?" And he held fast to his faith in God. "I obey a higher Master and He has forbidden me of these actions." Evidence of faith! He doesn't make it about himself. He makes it about concern for others and obedience to the Lord.
Joseph doesn't negotiate. Though verse 10 says she "spoke to Joseph day after day," she couldn't wear the man down. Why? Because as we have been learning, his eyes were continually on the Lord. Everything was sifted through the grid of a desire to please Him. With his eyes steadfast on the Lord, his feet remained glued to the narrow road and not the pastures which appeared to be more fulfilling to his senses. Do you see how the man continually walked by faith in God? Do you see how his successes were directly tied to fighting the good fight of faith?
The woman, like sin our lives, is persistent. She comes up to him again in verse 12, this time by force (grabbing his coat) prompting Joseph to run, like we should with our temptations, away from the situation. His coat is left behind. The woman both fuming and humiliated calls for her husband, Potiphar. She creates a series of lies and then manipulates her husband with emotions and personal accusations against "his slave." Potiphar, without ever hearing from Joseph, apparently sides with his wife and verse 20, threw Joseph into the dungeon.
The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 105 about this situation. "He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave. They afflicted his feet with fetters, he himself was laid in irons; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him" (Psm. 105:17-19).
So what was Joseph thinking now as he sat in a disease-ridden smelly dungeon with his body chained to cell? What did he do to deserve this? It's hard enough to suffer for our sin; without God it is impossible to suffer for our righteousness. The more he obeys God, the worse it seems to get. From the object of his father's affection to a pit in the ground. From the object of Potiphar's affection to another pit in the ground. How could a teenager survive this emotional roller-coaster without closing himself off from the world and playing eight hours of video games each day? At what point does he give up? After all, where was the fulfillment of the dreams God promised him? The narrator says the Lord was with him, but Joseph never heard that affirmation from God Himself? It sure didn't seem like God was with him! Where does the man go from here?
Verses 21-23 are amazing, "But the LORD was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. The chief jailer committed to Joseph's charge all the prisoners who were in the jail; so that whatever was done there, he was responsible for it. The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph's charge because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made to prosper."
Joseph is back to making the most of the situation. Folks, can you feel it? Apart from God's grace who in the world could persevere through these circumstances? Where is the complaining and mental breakdown and pity-party? Where's the running away and blaming the church and demanding an explanation from God? God has given us an illustration in Joseph that it can be done God's way when we trust in Him.
Job 13:15, "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him." Psalm 23:4, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 27:1, "The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?" Psalm 16:8, "I have set the LORD continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken."
This is not to say that we don't have pain and sorrow in our trials. Most of the Psalms were written in times of affliction. All I am saying is that we must believe God's Word and trust His promises that He is with us as One sovereign over our circumstances. We must believe like Joseph that even when we can't see Him or feel Him that He is with us and always extending kindness to us. It's faith. It's knowing all things are working together for good! Folks, do we really believe this and are we teaching this to our children? Or are we selling them the lie that with God you'll get whatever you want and when you do not, forget God and respond to your situations no different than a pagan. Maybe I should say, with all due respect, no different than mom and dad.
3. Neglected and Unloved
Let's briefly go to the third point, "Neglected and Unloved." So it appears God can indeed work all things together for good, even in a dungeon. It finally looks like everything will only improve going forward.
Joseph has now been in the prison faithfully serving for eleven years, just about all of his 20's. In chapter 40 we learn two of Pharaoh's most prominent men are also thrown in the same dungeon (verse 3). One is the cupbearer and the other is the baker (verses 1-2). Joseph is in charge of them (verse 4). Over time both of them have dreams and they are both "dejected" (verse 6), not knowing what their dreams meant. Joseph sees them miserable and asks why they are so sad. Notice how his own trials made him not bitter, but compassionate. Faith!
Verse 8, "Then they said to him, 'We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.' Then Joseph said to them, 'Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.'" Another display of Joseph's faith - God is always forefront in his mind and therefore forefront in his comments. It shows he is still trusting in God and holding to the promises given to him in his dreams. The interpretations were the opposite of each other. The cupbearer would be released in three days to freedom (verse 13) and in three days the baker would be released to be hanged (verse 19).
Good news for at least one of them, and all Joseph asked the one was for a single favor. Verses 14-15, "Only keep me in mind when it goes well with you, and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh and get me out of this house. For I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon." The dreams from God came true. The baker was hanged (verse 22) and the cupbearer was restored to his office (verse 21), but the cupbearer (verse 23) "did not remember Joseph, but forgot him."
More disappointment for Joseph, but did you know that disappointment is essential for spiritual growth? Sadly too many Christians have horrible theology and allow the disappointment to consume them. Instead of growing, they backslide. Joseph held to God's promises despite horrible circumstances. And though Joseph did not specifically know the good that God was doing, he simply trusted God in faith that God was doing something good. Belief can never be predicated on understanding. If so, there would be no need for faith. Little did he know that God was in the process of making this young boy a man. God's purposes for Joseph would stand despite the long delay. Yet there was a purpose in that delay for God to polish His instrument through affliction.
You think it would have been tough to be Joseph, just imagine what it would have been like to be Jesus? He wasn't even permitted to make a single mistake if He were to remain qualified as our sinless substitute - No succumbing to temptation, no complaining, no anxiety, no running from the course set before Him. And He experienced trials and pain that far surpass anything that Joseph or we will ever experience. Yet He was faithful because he never doubted, always entrusting Himself completely to the Father's faithfulness.
Incredibly, God the Son, even entrusted Himself to God the Father when God the Father turned His back on Him (Mk. 15:34; Lk. 23:46). You see for Jesus to be our Savior and qualify as the substitute for our sins, He needed to stand in our place and face the judgment we deserved. Thanks to Jesus being momentarily forsaken, we have the assurance that we will never be forsaken.
Just as when Israel departed from Egypt and were heading to the Promised Land, they needed to learn this lesson about Joseph that the Lord would be with them during the tough times. In the same way we too have an even greater promise that God is with us in the Person of Jesus Christ, Immanuel, always, to the very end of time (Mt. 28:20). No wonder Paul could write in Romans 8, "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, 'For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:35-39).
It is an indictment on our pride to think as the created, we can question the Creator's faithfulness. God is faithful - He's shown it in the life of Jesus Christ and He declares it cover-to-cover in the Bible. A better question to ask is whether or not we are faithful to Him in tough times with words and actions of obedience that demonstrate it. Are we joyously and productively making the most of the trials with our faith in tact, feet on the narrow path pointed toward the Celestial City, overcoming temptations, eyes firmly fixed on Jesus Christ who is the "author and perfecter of faith" (Heb. 12:2)?