Providentially Secure - Part Three
Scripture: Genesis 41:1–57
Providentially Secure-Part ThreeGenesis 41:1-57
Sunday, October 20, 2013
Pastor Randy Smith
As we are approaching a year into it, I hope you like I are enjoying our adventure through this wonderful book of the Bible. Genesis begins with creation and then deals with the most ancient people we have on record. And though our lives are separated by a different culture and thousands of years, we still come to realize that people at the core do not change. So much of your feedback to me over the series was how these people came alive and how much you could identify with these individuals.
Those professing to be God's children were characterized by both successes and failures. We identified with them and learned from their temptations and their poor decisions and their setbacks. And through it all we saw the need for God's grace, grace that forgives and heals and empowers to grow. We saw that even among the most prestigious of God's children that none in their own merit are capable of earning salvation, and all are totally dependent on an upcoming Messiah that would crush the head of the serpent and would one day wash away all their sins. Every story in Genesis foreshadowed the arrival of that Savior named Jesus Christ.
The final fourteen chapters of the book cover the life of a man named Joseph. In my opinion, he shines as the brightest of all the human figures we've studied. He serves as a good example for us. And as we have been learning the past two weeks, his life's story serves as a visible lesson of God's providence - God is in control and He's running His universe according to His perfect plans.
We need to hear this because barring a few masochists, few people enjoy pain. We fear it, despise it and run from it. We struggle with why God would allow suffering. We see no purpose in it. We make ourselves out to be a victim and with bitter hearts blame the world for our misfortunes. We fret, overreact, whine, and complain. We throw massive pity-parties. We lose peace and joy and move further away from God.
We know the common response I just mentioned characterizes those in the world when they encounter trials. Sadly I believe it characterizes most in the church as well. It is entirely unbiblical, and there are many professing Christians that take on the name of Christ, but then act like uninformed spiritual babies. And whether they know better or act out of ignorance, they fail to demonstrate a radical transformation of their heart.
On the other hand, Christians know from the Bible and experience that God sovereignly permits suffering to enter our lives. We trust His goodness and wisdom and remain under the trial until it accomplishes God's designed work in our lives. Since His primary goal is to make us holy, God gets our attention through the trial and then is continually refining our character. We don't minimize the pain and sorrow, but know deep inside through faith that good will come out of it. We can therefore give thanks for all things and maintain our joy and peace despite apparently unfavorable circumstances. Do you see the diametrically opposed contrast to the world?
Over the past two weeks we have examined the suffering of Joseph. He was abused and thrown into a pit by his angry and jealous brothers. He was sold by them and carted off to be a slave in Egypt. He was falsely accused of rape. He was forgotten in prison for over a decade. Every time it appears it's going to turn around, the young man is again slammed to the ground. The more he obeys God, the worse it seems to get. God has been silent and the only words he had from the Lord was a distant dream that his brothers would one day bow before him. In his present condition it appears he couldn't be more separated from that reality.
Yet remarkably he didn't complain or quit or blame the church or demand an explanation from God. He joyously and productively always made the most of his circumstances, refusing to give into the temptations and demonstrated and proved his strong faith by living an obedient life.
So let's continue our study of Joseph in the book of Genesis by continuing our series on God's providence that we too might learn to trust God and walk by faith in His goodness.
Let's begin. We left you last week with Joseph forgotten by the cupbearer in the Egyptian jail. Now chapter 41 tells us that Pharaoh had two dreams of his own. The first one is mentioned in verses 2-4: "And lo, from the Nile there came up seven cows, sleek and fat; and they grazed in the marsh grass. Then behold, seven other cows came up after them from the Nile, ugly and gaunt, and they stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. The ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven sleek and fat cows. Then Pharaoh awoke." The second dream is mentioned in verses 5-7: "[Pharaoh] fell asleep and dreamed a second time; and behold, seven ears of grain came up on a single stalk, plump and good. Then behold, seven ears, thin and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up after them. The thin ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears."
Obviously these were dreams unlike any Pharaoh's had in the past. Pharaoh is "troubled" (verse 8). He calls for "all" the "magicians" and "wise men" in Egypt (verse 8). No one can interpret the dream. Their religion is worthless. It then dawns on the cupbearer. He recalls a Hebrew man named Joseph who rightly interpreted his dreams two years ago. They clean the man up and rush Joseph to Pharaoh's presence (verse 14). Joseph replies there is nothing he can do for Pharaoh, but does say with the true God there is hope (cf. Gen. 40:16).
What do I like about Joseph's answer? He stood for his God to this pagan king who could have executed him on the spot. Pharaoh could have said, "Who does this "smart-aleck" think he is?" He risked insulting Pharaoh who thought he himself was God. "How dare this slave question my divinity?" He didn't use this as a bargaining chip for his own release despite waiting over ten years for this opportunity. "I was prepared to give you whatever you wanted." He made it not about himself. "Please tell me what your God has to say."
Pharaoh relays his two dreams to Joseph (verses 17-24). Joseph interprets that the two dreams represent the same event. There will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine (verses 25-32). Joseph suggests a plan. Someone "wise" and "discerning" (verse 33) needs to take control. He will need to oversee the grain produced in the land so that some will be put away during the years of plenty. In this way a reserve of grain will be available in the years of want.
And who could that guy be? In Pharaoh's mind, all fingers point to Joseph. Verses 41-43, "See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh took off his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph's hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put the gold necklace around his neck. He had him ride in his second chariot; and they proclaimed before him, 'Bow the knee!' And he set him over all the land of Egypt." When the famine hit, Egypt was cared for and people came from all over the earth to Egypt to buy grain (verse 57).
Two thoughts of application before we move on as it applies to God's providence.
First, do we agree upon the fact that Joseph suffered to a large degree, arguably beyond anything any of us have ever experienced? Yet do we not see his faith unwavering and His love for the Lord shown through His obedience? Despite his hardship His mind was forever on the Lord. This is evidenced through the birth of his sons. In chapter 41, verses 51-52 we read, "Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, 'For,' he said, 'God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father's household.'" "He named the second Ephraim, 'For,' he said, 'God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.'" He continually honored God with his thoughts and actions because He was able to see by faith the greatness of God that transcended the awfulness of his circumstances. His trust in his providential Lord enabled him not to be consumed with his trials.
As we said, there was no pulling away from serving God or blaming others or defending himself or complaining (like his descendants would do when they eventually left Egypt!). Rather he permitted God to use the trials to shape his character for good and the man then through the wisdom and humility and integrity forged in the flames of affliction became a shining example for Christ.
Remember the pagan Potiphar said of Joseph in 39:3? "Now his master saw that the LORD was with him and how the LORD caused all that he did to prosper in his hand." And when pagan Pharaoh needed to appoint his new Prime Minister, he chose Joseph and said (41:38 and 39): "Can we find a man like this, in whom is a divine spirit?" For "there is no one so discerning and wise as you are." And in his response to trials, he made the faith attractive. Joseph trusted in the Lord's providence. Are we doing the same?
A second point of application as it relates to God's providence is to ask ourselves the question: In times of trial do we act like an atheist or do we really believe there is a God that is working all things together for our good? You see, when we experience life dominating trials like Joseph, I have only seen people respond to them in three ways.
The first way is they escape entirely from the trial through suicide. They think it's over and obviously disbelieve there is any future hope. You can't get any more selfish and demonstrate a greater lack of faith than taking your life. The atheist response. Not a good option.
Option two is we deal with the pain as if God were not involved. Another atheist response. We don't take our lives, but we live the rest of our lives as an empty, depressed, defeated soul. We find no pleasure in living. The minimal tasks become burdens. We are of little use to God or others. We mope around with long faces and oftentimes self-medicate ourselves with chemicals, spending addictions and withdrawal from others. I think it also goes without saying that this lifestyle shows no faith in God's good providence, brings Him dishonor and ourselves a miserable life.
The third option, the God-glorifying option, the joy-seeking option is to trust God's promises from the Bible by faith, even when we find ourselves in situations that are painful. Look at the "verses of hope" I included in your bulletin.
- Romans 8:28, "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."
- Romans 5:3-5, "And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us."
- Romans 8:39, "[Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
- Deuteronomy 8:16, "In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end."
- Deuteronomy 31:6, "Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you."
- Psalm 46:1-2, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change."
- 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, "Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
- 2 Corinthians 11:8-10, "Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
- James 1:2-4, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
- 1 Peter 1:7-9, "So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls."
- Hebrews 13:5, "I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you."
- Jeremiah 29:11-13, "'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me> and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.'"
If you are saying, "You made your point. You didn't need to read such a long list," you miss my heart on this one. There have been several times in my life, most of them related to being a pastor, when I have absolutely nothing to hold on to other than promises from the Word of God. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you are either running to other sources than Scripture or you simply have not suffered enough yet in life. To me these aren't just verses. They are my lifelines that keep me connected to God with joy and obedience. They are very precious to me because often, despite having a great family and friends and church, they are all that I've got.
So if you immediately, as you rightly should, rule out the suicide option, you have two choices to deal with the painful events in your life that you cannot change. You can make the most of your situation, or you can spend the rest of your life, the only life you have, running around as an overwhelmed, bummed-out, mad-at-the-world individual. One produces joy, the other produces sorrow. One honors God, the other dishonors Him. If you are in Christ, option three is possible and expected. The choice is yours. How do you want to live your life?
We've seen in Joseph's life the steadfast trust in God's goodness through His promises and character despite the incredible suffering. We saw how God used the trials to mature him into an attractive young man of the faith. We saw his unwavering and unconditional obedience. We saw him make the most of his painful situations with a life of joy and productivity despite not having a Bible or a church or a prayer partner as a young man living in a foreign country. We saw him place God first, simple as that, and despite his unjust pain put the needs of others before his own.
I want to be compassionate to the pain other Christians are experiencing, but I am not one of those pastors that will sit back and provide worldly comfort while people are enabled to continue in flagrant disbelief through their gossip and bitterness and complaining and apathy. It serves as a horrible example to other believers also suffering. It nullifies your testimony to a watching world, and it fails to provide the peaceful and joyful and grateful hearts that God commands and deep down inside I have to believe you want. I love you and the Lord too much to do otherwise.
We've seen Joseph's trust in God's providence and the wonderful result of it.
How about the apostle Paul? Beaten with rods, thrown in the prison and feet placed in the stocks. But what are he and Silas doing? "About midnight [they] were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them" (Ac. 16:25).
How about the puritan John Bunyan that we considered last week? While in jail for simply preaching the Gospel, he only had two books in his possession: The Bible and Foxes Book of Martyrs. Yet while serving twelve years of confinement in a small cell he wrote many books we still enjoy today and made a violin out of tin and a flute from a leg of his stool so he could praise the Lord.
How about the Willis family? Their minivan hit a piece of metal outside of Milwaukee in 1994 on I-94 and burst into flames killing all six of their children that were traveling with them. What was their response? "Our strength rests in the Word of God. The Bible is sure and gives us confidence. Everything God promises is true. We're not special people. We're sinners saved by grace. But we're not taking a short view of life; we take a long view of life. We realize that someday we'll stand before the Lord, and the things that are here will matter very little. God's grace is sufficient for everybody." Their life verse? Psalm 34, "I will bless the Lord at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth. O, taste and see that the Lord is good."
How about all-pro running back, Adrian Peterson, of the Minnesota Vikings? His two-year-old son was beaten and subsequently died last week. Peterson said, "Anything bad, I try to take good from it. That's the way I approach life in all situations. I never thought about not playing. It was all about just going out there and praying that I have the strength to get through and help my team. That was my focus. You may ask why? God wants good to come from it."
And I have so much respect for brothers and sisters in the faith right here in this church who are suffering immensely, but can rise above their circumstances because their focus is on God and not themselves.
I believe the great preacher, C.H. Spurgeon, said it best, "I find myself frequently depressed - perhaps more so than any other person here. And I find no better cure for that depression than to trust in the Lord with all my heart, and seek to realize afresh the power of the peace-speaking blood of Jesus, and His infinite love in dying upon the cross to put away all my transgressions."
My friends, when we put Jesus Christ first as we ought, it's amazing how our lives are filled with hope. We continually recall that He alone has delivered us from hell with His death on the cross and that our blessed future eternity is secure in His hands. We continually recall the grace He has poured into our lives - the forgiveness and patience and goodness and love, and likewise, we are then prompted to extend these things to others.
Jesus is our ultimate example in trials. He suffered more than any of us could ever imagine. He emptied Himself of the divine use of His rights. The Son of God kept entrusting Himself to the Father of God. Yet the only difference was Jesus Christ was momentarily forsaken by the Father when He was bearing our transgressions. That was necessary so our sins could be atoned for, and we could be eternally forgiven and never forsaken. Thanks to Jesus Christ we have a God who will always be with us in the good times and yes, even in the bad times, providentially working all things together for our good.
May we act in such a way that shows we really believe this!