September 7, 2017
The Story of God: God Meant it For Good
I was struck by a thought in the midst of the relief effort of Hurricane Harvey. With all the division in this country, Christians everywhere have been praying for peace and unity. And perhaps, God answered our prayers by allowing this horrific hurricane to take place. For now we are seeing people of every creed and color putting their differences aside to rescue and help anyone in need. And even though thousands lost their homes, tens of thousands have given, volunteered, opened their hearts and their homes to help. And maybe we will never know all that God is up to in the midst of this crisis; but I love how Beth Moore put it when she was interviewed the other day. She said, Right now in Houston Texas the hands of Jesus have wet vacs and saws in them and the feet of Jesus are walking in water wearing rubber boots.
I love her perspective. Because her perspective sounds a lot like Joseph’s perspective all through the story of God. Her words sound like Joseph’s words at the end of his story. He always saw Himself is light of what God was doing. He always saw that no matter what happened to him, no matter came his way – that God meant it for good.
This is why grasping Joseph’s perspective is such a great example for us. For his life shows us what it means to live by faith no matter what. After all, we are called to live by faith – to trust in God, not just when things are going well, but especially when we can’t see how God is working in the tough things of life.
You see, sometimes we can’t see why God allows bad things to happen to us. Sometimes we can’t understand why God allows us to go through times of suffering, grief, betrayal, confusion or pain. And sometimes we can’t see how anything good can come from people who are mean-spirited, selfish or just evil. Our view is limited. We can’t see the big picture of how God is working. But we can walk by faith.
So as we come to the end of Joseph’s story today, let me encourage you to open your Bible to Genesis 47. For as we briefly walk through these final chapters in Genesis, one thing stands clear: Walking by faith in the God Who is For You will change how you see life’s difficulties.
Now as we get into this, we’re not just going to see this attitude in Joseph – we are also going to see Jacob’s faith. For the end of Joseph’s story is uniquely intertwined with the end of Jacob’s story. So that’s where we’re going to dive in – with the end of Jacob’s story. With Jacob’s dying wish. So if you’ve found Genesis 47 follow along with me beginning with verse 27: Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number. Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. Genesis 47:27-28
When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.” Gen 47:29-30a
“I will do as you say,” he said.
“Swear to me,” he said. Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. Genesis 47:30b-31
Jacob’s dying wish was to be buried in the land of promise. God had promised to bless him, to give him offspring, to bring him back to the land. God had done the first two of these. But now Jacob knows he will die in Egypt. So now it will be up to Joseph to bring this final promise about. So Jacob must rely on the kindness and faithfulness of Joseph. And Joseph comes through for him. He makes a solemn commitment to do just what he asks – to bury Jacob with the fathers of Israel. So now Jacob is free to worship his God. His faith has set him free to die in peace knowing that that the people of God are in good hands. Joseph will do his part in fulfilling God’s promises.
Now here’s the part I want us to see about Jacob’s faith. His faith always kept him focused on God’s promises. At the end of his life he held fast to God’s Word. Jacob’s dying wish was fueled by his faith. And because Joseph was also a man of faith, his promise to bury him with Jacob’s fathers, set Jacob free to worship.
A lot of people fear death. Some try to explain it away. Some believe that this life is all there is. Some hold to the illusion that everyone will go to a better place when they die. But there is no certainty to that myth. The only certainty of eternal life with God, comes from God, through a faith in Jesus. That’s the only way we can be free to worship. Because God has already made this promise through Jesus who said: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” John 11:25-26 Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection all who believe in him have this hope. And like Jacob, we can worship God in the face of death. Now, that’s the first way we see Jacob and Joseph’s faith intertwined.
Now let’s look at the next in Genesis 48 where we see Jacob’s gracious adoption of Joseph’s boys. Some time later Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him. When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed. Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’ Genesis 48:1-4
“Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine. Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers.” Genesis 48:5-6
Now Jacob does something here that he does not do for his other 50 grandchildren. On the basis of God’s promises to him, Jacob decides to adopt Joseph’s sons as his own. This means when Israel comes back to the land, both Ephraim and Manasseh will be given a part of the promised land. The land given them will be Joseph’s portion of the blessing – a double portion. This is an incredible gesture of grace, but it’s just the beginning. They now enter into a formal ceremony of adoption. Like when at a wedding and the Pastor asks, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?” That’s what we see going on here, and so we read, When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, “Who are these?”
And Joseph replies: “They are the sons God has given me here,”
Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.” Genesis 48:8-9
Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them. Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.” Genesis 48:10-11
Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground. And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them close to him. But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn. Genesis 48:12-14
Then he blessed Joseph and said, “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm —may He bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly on the earth.” Genesis 48:15-16
With this blessing Ephraim and Manasseh become part of the covenant family and heirs to all of its divine blessings. Ephraim and Manasseh will be reckoned as two of the tribes of Israel on equal footing with all of Joseph’s brothers with all the privileges and protections of God’s favor.
Now at this point, you may be asking, why? Why out of 52 grandkids did these two receive such a gracious adoption? Why did they get an equal share of the land and God’s blessing of fertility and prosperity? Is Jacob playing favorites, or is there some-thing more than meets the eye? Certainly there is some degree of favoritism. Jacob is showing gracious favor to Joseph by including his children in the blessing of God… But isn’t that just what God did with Jacob? Jacob wasn’t special. If anything he was a rascal. He was a deceitful, selfish and fearful man who stole his brother’s blessing. He ran away in fear. He didn’t love Leah. He tricked Laban. But then he finally learned to trust in God. And then God blessed him beyond his wildest dreams.
Why did Jacob do this? It’s simple: When God blesses you with His irrational grace when you know you are completely underserving, His grace changes you. Don’t miss this. God’s irrational grace to Jacob transformed him into a man of irrational grace. And the result of Jacob’s irrational grace was to adopt these foreign children as his own and lavish them with the blessings of God.
Sound familiar? It should. Because this is what God did for us through Jesus. Let me just read it: In love He predestined us for adoption into sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. Ephesians 1:4-6 It pleased God to adopt us as His own. He’s always wanted you to be part of His family. He is the God of grace. His love overflows in irrational grace. So God, in His love still adopts rascals like Jacob. He adopts deceitful, willful and fearful people. He wants people who fail at love to experience His love. He blesses the least likely, the unlovely, the broken hearted, the burnt out and bummed out. He takes people who would never have a place at the table and seats them in the place of honor. Our God is a God of irrational grace, because He chose to include you and bless you in his family with blessings beyond your wildest dreams. This is why Jacob adopted Joseph’s boys – because God changed him by His grace.
This is why we must always be a people who do the same. Maybe not by officially adopting children… but by welcoming anyone to sit at the table with us: To include, embrace and make outsiders feel welcome in God’s family. That’s our mission. So I’m glad to see Jacob’s irrational grace. This grace ought to mark everyone whose been changed by God’s grace. That was Jacob. It pleased him to bless these boys. And now Jacob’s faith is forever intertwined with Joseph’s. But Jacob’s not quiet done.
Jacob has just blessed Ephraim and Manasseh and now he gives A Final Blessing to each of his sons. Some like Reuben, don’t get much of a blessing because of his sin against his Jacob; but others like Judah get an amazing blessing because the completely turned his life around. In fact, each son receives a blessing appropriate for him; including Joseph. Here’s Joseph’s blessing: “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall. With bitterness archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility. But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and womb. Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers.” Genesis 49:22-26
So Jacob blesses Joseph above his brothers; and he acknowledges God’s Mighty hand in protecting and prospering Joseph. And with that, Jacob is ready to die, and with his final words Jacob gives us… A Faith-filled Finish He says, “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite.
There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.” When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people. Genesis 49:31-33
Jacob’s final words were faith filled words. Jacob who fought his way into life departs life just as dramatically. And He leaves as a man full of faith: Without wavering, he looks forward to Israel’s divine destiny in the land of promise. And then renouncing even his love for Rachel, his last words instruct his sons to bury him with his unloved wife, Leah, so he can rest in the faith of his fathers. Then he breathes his last. At this,
Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him. Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days. Genesis 50:1-3
And after this, Joseph and his brothers honored Jacob’s dying wish and took his body to the land of Canaan, where they buried him in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Abraham and Isaac. And then Joseph and his brothers returned to Egypt where at last Joseph reveals the quality of his faith that carried him through life: God Meant it For Good
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” Genesis 50:15-17
When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. Genesis 50:17-18
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:19-21
As we wrap up Joseph’s story in these parting words, Joseph show us what’s at the heart of a faith that can sustain you through any of life’s troubles: “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? Here Joseph models humility. The brothers may have seen him with God-like power. But Joseph never saw himself that way. Joseph saw himself only as an instrument of God’s plans. That’s how he lived: as an instrument willing to do his part in God’s Story. Wherever he ended up, whether in Potiphar’s household, or in Pharaoh’s prison, of as Pharaoh’s Prime Minister, Joseph simply walked with God and served with the gifts God gave him.
Humility and service are the benchmarks of a Christ follower. You and I have a place in God’s story. And Joseph shows us how to play our part. No matter where you find yourself, you can just walk with the God who is for you, and serve with whatever gifts and talents God has given you. Now the gifts God’s given you may not lead you to save a nation, but God has a part for you to play if you’re simply willing to be His instrument of grace right where you are. That’s the first thing we see. Now the second:
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” Here Joseph models faith. His faith in God allowed Joseph to not just save his family, but forgive them. Joseph’s faith didn’t excuse their behavior. He knew what they did was wrong. But Joseph doesn’t hold a grudge. And he doesn’t judge them. He is simply believed that God’s hand was on his life even when things went bad for him. His faith sustained him. His faith allowed him to forgive the wrongs suffered and serve God in spite of them.
Can you imagine what a difference we can make if our faith is focused on the good God wants us to do, rather than on the bad that happens to us? That’s when we can become the hands and feet of Jesus. That’s how Joseph lived. He didn’t focus on the wrong suffered, but forgave and lived. He didn’t wallow in self-pity, but walked with the One who loved Him. That’s what it means to live by faith. God intended it for good. And finally,
“So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” Here Joseph models love. He wants his brothers to know they have nothing to fear. He forgave them long ago. So now expresses his love by saying, I will provide for you and your children.” That’s what love does: Perfect love drives out fear. That’s how God had been with Joseph the whole time he had been in Egypt. God had been with Joseph and prospered him with Potiphar, in prison and with Pharaoh. And now Joseph promises to be there for them. That’s how faith acts. Faith acts in love. “So then, don’t be afraid. As God has been good to me, I will continue to be good to you.”
That’s Joseph’s legacy. That’s how his story ends. Joseph played his part in God’s story no matter what came his way – and he walked by faith with the God of his fathers. And because he did, Israel prospered in Egypt and became a great nation. What will be your legacy be? Will you walk by faith like Joseph? Will you be the hands and feet of Jesus? Let’s pray.