Joseph: Ongoing Opposition, Unwavering Integrity – Surrendering to God
Who’s excited about reopening and things getting back to normal? Maybe you’ve started to do a few more things. Monica and I and the kids went to the magical land of Connecticut last weekend where shopping malls were open. Obviously we had our masks on-but it was a slightly back to normal feeling at the mall. So we’re getting closer-and that’s exciting. Who can’t wait for all of this to be done-back to real life and the way things used to be-that this time in our world is driving you crazy? Who’s a little nervous and uncertain about returning back to normal? Who doesn’t want to admit it-but you kind of like quarantine and social distancing and aren’t sure if you really do want it to end? You can admit this at home-no one will see you raise your hand-that’s the beauty of social distancing! Somehow the return to society seems intimidating-this social distancing thing hasn’t been too bad for you-sort of refreshing. And you’re thinking-I’m good, let’s just carry on like this. If that’s you-I came across some great quarantine t-shirts you might want to pick up. Check some of these out-social distancing was cool, I heart, say no to hugs, social distancing champion–I’ve trained for this my whole life! Maybe you feel that same way. That without even realizing it you’ve been preparing for social distancing for a long time-honing your skills of avoiding people and staying away! Then there’s nature’s social distancing champion-the skunk! He’s sort of a given! But my favorite t shirt is this-social distancing world champion-Bigfoot! Our friend Sasquatch-he’s even got his toilet paper. He really is the social distancing world champion-and held this title for a long time! Bigfoot’s avoided people and society for decades-other than the occasional snapshot or photograph that emerges!
But whether you’ve loved social distancing and thought it was great, whether you hated it and couldn’t wait for it to end, or whether you’re somewhere in-between-certain parts were awesome but you’re still missing people-we know that we’re on the verge, on the cusp, of it ending and we’ll all take that plunge of re-emerging back into society. And that’s where we’re going to pick up Joseph’s story this morning. We’re going to see his re-emergence back into society and how God used him and his time of isolation to mold his character and shape him into a man of integrity. As we returned back to our sermon series last week that we started way back in January it was called-Joseph: Ongoing Opposition, Unwavering Integrity-now we’re calling it the Pandemic Edition! And I never would have compared Joseph’s situation and the years of confinement that he endured to the confinement we’ve all faced during quarantine. When reading Genesis back in the winter, I wasn’t thinking about pandemics or making the connection to quarantine-I doubt any of us were. But that’s where we’re at now.
If you remember from last Sunday, we left Joseph alone and forgotten in prison. If you have your Bibles you can open them up to the very end of Gen 40-or we’ll have it up on the screen-but look at where Joseph is at-Gen 40:23-41:1. We had said that the cupbearer’s time in prison was exactly the open door that Joseph would have been praying for and longing for. He has this dream that only Joseph can interpret as the Lord enables him-and the dream says that he’s going to be released from prison and restored back to his old job-which was the job of being Pharaoh’s royal cupbearer. There’s no better “in”, there’s no better guy to know or be on good terms with than somewhere who works closely with Pharaoh! The cupbearer is the one guy who can put in a good word for Joseph to Pharaoh-because Pharaoh is the one person who has the power and authority to free Joseph. It was all lining up perfectly! And Joseph would have seen that-Lord, I was faithful to you in avoiding temptation with Potiphar’s wife, You know I was completely innocent-yet I was wrongly accused and tossed into this prison. But I’ve relied on you, I’ve trusted in you-and now I see your plans unfolding by having this cupbearer here to go speak to Pharaoh on my behalf and get me out! Thank you Lord for how you’ve orchestrated this. And the moment the cupbearer is released you can imagine Joseph eagerly waiting by the door for when it will open to announce his release. That day after day-when everyday is the same in prison (much like how everyday seems the same in quarantine) Joseph thinks-this is the day of my release, this is the day I get the news I’ve been waiting for!
But that day doesn’t come. That day doesn’t happen-because what did happen-back to v. 23. This seemingly perfect set of circumstances this unmistakably open door in Joseph’s life did not open, but remain closed. And how long did it stay closed-v. 1. Two never-ending years-whether you do or don’t love quarantine, 2 years of this would be an extremely long time to endure! But that’s what Joseph endured! 2 years locked up in prison. He should have been awarded Social Distancing Champion in Egypt! Not because he wanted to-but because he was forced to. And the question is why, what happened-did God forget about Joseph, did God put him on hold while He had some other things to do? Did God say-Let me get back to you on this Joseph-that cupbearer had a short memory-he would have forgot his own head if it wasn’t screwed on-I should have used someone else. Let me figure this out and come up with a new plan. Not at all! If there’s one truth we see throughout Joseph’s life, one thread that’s woven throughout his story-it’s that God’s plans have always been at work. There’s never been a moment where God hasn’t been at work. And that’s so evident right here-this little detail is so important and central-v. 1. Joseph remains in prison 2 more years so that he can eventually interpret Pharaoh’s dreams which then results in Joseph being promoted by Pharaoh as prime minister of Egypt-which then ultimately fulfills the dreams that Joseph had as a young man so long ago of his brothers one day bowing before him. And of course they’re bowing before him because they’ve come to Egypt to get food during the famine (the essence of Pharaoh’s dream) as Joseph is there in Egypt and in charge of the food distribution because the brothers sold him to gypsies years before and the caravan happened to go to Egypt where they sold Joseph. None of this is happenstance or coincidence or good fortune on Joseph’s end-this is all the sovereign, underlying, perfectly orchestrated plans of God taking place. And Joseph couldn’t see any of this ahead of time. He couldn’t anticipate that the closed door from the cupbearer would lead to an open door from Pharaoh. Joseph didn’t know how his story was going to end. At this juncture he might have assumed that he was going to be stuck in prison the rest of his life. That the door of opportunity never opened, he missed his chance, it’s all over from here. He couldn’t see any of the things that were going to happen to him. These two verses are back to back in our Bibles-but they’re separated by 2 years in Joseph’s life. Two years of waiting and trusting and relying on God who knows exactly what He’s doing. And it’s no different for us. Pt1:Just because our eyes can’t see it; doesn’t mean our God isn’t accomplishing it. He knows what He’s doing in your life just as He did in Joseph’s life. Interruptions, obstacles, struggles, trials, prisons, pandemics and problems aren’t a problem for God. He’s an expert at using all those things to mold you and prepare you for what’s ahead. In fact, God’s preparation often comes packaged as painful circumstances. For Joseph being forgotten in prison was undoubtedly painful-probably one of the most painful seasons he had to endure in life. And yet in God’s perfect will, in His perfect timing, He had His perfect reasons for keeping Joseph there. God knew Joseph wasn’t ready to leave the prison after the cupbearer did-God wanted him there 2 more years to do His refining, transforming work in Joseph. And He’ll do the same with you.
This pandemic and quarantine may feel like 2 years in prison-all locked up and isolated at home. You might be wondering what in the world this is accomplishing-if anything. That this is just a wasted season in your life, a pointless pandemic that’s come upon our world that we have to endure. But back to Pt1. Whatever He’s doing in your life right now is exactly what He wants to be doing. The big question is if you’ll let Him. Will you surrender to God during this time? Will you let Him take this unique season in our world to do something unique in you? I like what pastor Craig Groeschel says-Pt2:Often our greatest disappointments lead to God’s divine appointments. And this pandemic and all that’s come with it may have been a huge disappointment. Life was going so well, your job or your business was going well, school was going well, your senior year and graduation was on the horizon, relationships were going well, finances were going well, even church or your ministry was going well-and then this hit! And you’re still digging out and trying to figure out what reentry or reopening looks like. But back to Pt2. That what seemed like a an obstacle or a problem, what was a pandemic can be used by God for something incredible. Joseph’s disappointments in prison and the pain of being forgotten was preparing Him for a divinely ordained appointment with Pharaoh. And this was God’s plan all along. Joseph didn’t have to invent it along the way or take matters into his own hands, He just had to trust in His God who already had this whole thing in His hands, according to His timing. What might be God’s divine appointments in store for you? How is He using this time right now, right where you’re at to prepare you for what’s coming up in life-and how you’ll serve Him?
I go back to that funny Groundhog’s Day spoof video-where every day is the same. And you may have felt that way over and over-yeah it’s the weekend-not all that different from the week! But maybe God is wanting to teach you patience, to teach you steadfastness. To teach you to thirst for Him in an otherwise dry time. To realize that He and He alone is your satisfaction and joy-not all that stuff you used to chase after before this pandemic started. Maybe God is wanting to teach you what it means to find your identity in Him. Or to not be so impulsive or quick, always rushing around in life-but to slow down and trust Him with what He brings into your life. Quite honestly, during this time I think God is teaching all of us that what we once thought was control in our lives was really just an illusion. That this pandemic is so out of our hands, and the decisions being made on a federal and local level are so beyond our control, we’ve been reminded that surrender to God is our only option. And it’s a good option! That when it comes to God, surrender is a good word! Often surrender is a bad thing-like about 10pm when you surrender to your hunger and eat a bowl of ice cream or a bag of Oreos or snack on a bag of chips and afterwards wonder why did I do that! Or when you’re cheering on your favorite team but finally surrender to the fact that they’ve lost the game, they’re too far behind, not enough time on the clock-and surrendering to a loss is a defeating thing. But when it comes to God, surrender is not negative or defeating, it doesn’t mean you’ve given up or thrown in the towel or lost your identity or your control (which we said was an illusion anyway). But instead Pt3:True freedom is always found in surrendering to God. It really is! That no matter what you’re going through-even 2 years in prison like Joseph-when you stop fighting and struggling and shouting at God-but instead surrender to God-you’re set free-and new life begins in Him!
This is a theory to literally test out in life-because no one is ever sad or full of regrets when they surrender their heart to God. When you say-Okay Lord, I’m done trying to do this on my own, I’m done trying to fight this battle or overcome this struggle on my own, I’m done kicking and screaming and fighting against you-I surrender to you. When you say that new life begins, freedom is found and your soul is satisfied! Have you ever heard anyone say-You know that’s the last time I surrender myself to God; that’s the last time I lay my life down before Him. I’m better off taking matters into my own hands! No-we all know what a disaster that is! And we’ve all been there and done it-probably far too many times. We’ve all gotten worked up and made a train wreck of things and got caught in this vicious cycle of fighting against God. But back to Pt3.
I get a variety of emails from our denomination-the EFCA. And one that I got this week asked a very challenging question-Over two months into this pandemic, how much surrender have you seen? I would maintain that the freest people aren’t those getting their old lives back, but people that have surrendered to the will and purpose of God in these days-people not waiting for the trial to pass but seeing the opportunity to imitate and speak of Jesus. I love that quote! The freest people aren’t those getting their old lives back, but people that have surrendered to the will and purpose of God. That’s where freedom is found-not being able to do your own thing and whatever you want or whatever you think best, but freedom is found in being surrendered to God. How much surrender have you seen during this pandemic? And even more challenging-How much surrender have you seen in your life? That’s the question to wrestle with. Has this pandemic and quarantine been a season of surrender to God-or a season of fighting against God?
And that’s what Joseph shows us so vividly! We don’t actually get to read about a moment in the prison where he knelt down in surrender, where he laid all of his disappointments and pain before God-but we do get to hear the results of it when he reflects back on this time. Remember we said that God had sovereignly orchestrated the events in Joseph’s life so that he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream about the upcoming famine-and then Pharaoh released Joseph from prison and appointed him as prime minister of Egypt-2nd in command. Look at Gen 41:38-41. God knew exactly what He was doing-just as He had promised so long ago through the dreams He gave Joseph as a young man. And yet it didn’t happen overnight. After Joseph had his dreams at age 17, he didn’t turn 18 and become prime minister. Instead look at Gen 41:46. That’s 13 years later! That’s 13 years of God faithfully and sovereignly shaping and molding Joseph, 13 years of taking him through some deep ruts and dark valleys, through pits and prison in order to become the man He called Him to be. And Joseph was surrendered to God throughout the process, throughout those 13 years-so look at where it led-Gen 41:50-52. And we talked about this pre-pandemic. Joseph didn’t name his boys Frankie and Mike, he didn’t name them Kevin and Doug. He named them Manasseh and Ephraim which are the Hebrew sounding words for Forgetful and Fruitful! Those are the names of his boys-imagine how he introduced them. Here’s my firstborn son-Forgetful and my second son-Fruitful. People would wonder-what-strange name choices! But that is exactly what happened in Joseph’s heart and who he became as he was surrendered to God during those 13 years of preparation and training. These were intentional names!
And I am so challenged by them-especially Forgetful. Joseph wasn’t forgetful about household chores or where he left his car keys-or chariot keys-but forgetful about the way people treated him. And he endured a lot of mistreatment and hardship-a lot! From the cupbearer who forgot him, to Potiphar’s wife who wrongly accused him, to Potiphar who didn’t believe Joseph despite his integrity but threw him into prison, to his brothers who beat him up, threw him in the pit and sold him. Joseph had a lot of people he could have kept adding to his list. That when the day finally came to get out of prison there would be paybacks! Joseph could have easily been stewing over thoughts of vengeance, planning and plotting his vengeance on all these people as he sat there in prison for 2 years with nothing else to think about but how people wronged him and mistreated him and slandered his name and accused him of stuff he never did. And think of the power Joseph now had to make that vengeance possible-he’s 2nd in command behind Pharaoh. The cupbearer-and Potiphar’s wife-even Potiphar himself-now look up to Joseph. He had all the power in the world to condemn them, to get back at them, to ruin them and have the satisfaction of revenge. But he doesn’t do it. Joseph forgets. Meaning that Joseph forgives. Of course he remembers all that happened and what people did-but forgetting is his way of forgiving. He’s leaving that in the past and moving forward in grace. Joseph vividly displays the words of Rom 12:9, 17-19, 21. That’s what Joseph is doing. If he had a list of people-he’s torn it up, thrown it away-forgotten it. And this wasn’t in his own strength-remember what Joseph said-Gen 41:51. What about you? Are you allowing God to help you forget all the ways people have wronged you? Are you surrendered to Him, allowing His grace to permeate your heart. Or are you stewing over thoughts of vengeance? Dreaming of all the ways you’ll get back at certain people? Your list of people may be building during this pandemic as you’ve had time to sit and stew over the wrongs committed against you-or maybe your list has been building for a long time, many years. And like Joseph, you may be very validated in that list and the ways people wronged you. Think about it, these were legitimate wrongs committed against Joseph-might be the same for you. But Joseph didn’t go down that road of keeping his list, growing bitter and seeking vengeance; he went down the road of forgetfulness. What wrongs do you need to forget? When we looked at this section of Joseph’s life several months ago-we asked the question-where does the road to resentment lead? What good comes from it? And we said there’s no reward for resentment you receive at the end of your life! No one says to you-Congrats! You’re bitterness was spot-on, well-warranted and highly effective. Some of the best bitterness and vengeance we’ve seen in years-so we’re here today to award you the honorary Medal of Malice! That doesn’t happen-and yet how often do we live as if it does? Oh-I’ll never forget what they did to me, I’ll never let it go-you can be sure of that. No-we need to forget like Joseph forgot because that’s what God has done for us. He has forgiven and forgotten our sin. Look at Ps 103:12; 1 John 1:8-9.
You know, your list of how people have wronged you may be growing during this pandemic-but maybe your list of sins against God has been growing during this pandemic too. That this quarantine has resulted in a lot of mistakes, bad attitudes, things you’ve done wrongly. There’s no better time then now to come to that place of forgiveness and surrender. To do exactly what this verse is saying-and confess your sins to be forgiven and cleansed. Back to Pt3. There is freedom in forgetfulness. When you surrender to God, He puts aside and removes your sins, He forgets them-all of them, every single one-not because He forgets they happened-but because He remembers that His own Son paid for them at the cross. And that’s what you have to remember too. What did it say in Rom 5:8. Your sins are removed as far as the east is from the west, they are forgotten and forgiven by God because they were punished and put to death at the cross. You don’t have to work hard to pay off your sins, you have to simply trust in the One who’s already paid for your sins-and that’s Jesus. Have you done that? And if you have-then because you’ve been forgiven-so you now are called to forgive others. Remember the Lords prayer-Luke 11:2-4. That bring us to Pt4:You can forget all the hardships and wrongs committed against you-because you remember that Jesus died for you. Joseph couldn’t see that-but he beautifully displays it by his forgetfulness. You and I see it fully when we look to the cross. We see a Savior who’s forgiven us. The big question is if we will display that forgiveness and be forgetful too!