June 14, 2020
Joseph: Ongoing Opposition, Unwavering Integrity – Gen 43
Coming to church wearing a mask! Who would have ever thought that was going to be a reality? Isn’t church the one place where you’re supposed to take off your mask and be who you are? That you’re not trying to hide anything from your church family-but be yourself! Well I say that jokingly because we do have to wear masks to church-at least actual masks for right now. And I’m all in favor of people wearing masks with a lot of personality on them! If you have to wear the normal boring regular mask so be it-but I want to see some unique and interesting masks next week! I like this one-2020 mask. But masks are now a part of our wardrobe-at least they will be for a while-and major retail chains are selling them like Old Navy, American Eagle, Anthropologie and of course Disney. Masks are like the new t-shirt for your face. But we have to wear them and by default we are covered up in public and sometimes it’s hard to identify people. Have you seen someone come by and wondered if it’s someone you know-but aren’t sure because all you have to go on are the eyes and the hair-plus having a good conversation with a mask on is hard so you just say forget it? Or next week we might wonder who’s here with all our masks on. But the question I really want to know is who’s made funny facial expressions behind their mask while the person you’re talking to has no idea? You can admit it! Maybe you caught yourself in a conversation that was really boring and instead of giving that fake smile and looking interested like you normally would you frowned or made a grimace behind your mask. No more keeping your emotions covered up inside, you can keep them covered up on the outside! How about that! I found it ironic this week as I was reading a psychology article from 2015 about the masks we wear and why we hide behind them-and it said we don’t have to do that, to stop wearing masks, don’t cover up-be who you are, stop hiding yourself. Well, now in 2020 we’re all literally wearing masks that we do have to hide behind!
And that’s actually where we pick up Joseph’s story this week. He’s hiding his identity-obviously not behind a mask-we don’t read about a Covid 19 outbreak in ancient Egypt. But he’s hiding behind his fine robes, new haircut and sophisticated Egyptian accent and style. And the reason Joseph is hiding is not because he’s scared or nervous or ashamed about something-but instead for the purpose of blessing and reconciling with his brothers. He’s very intentional. So if you have your Bible you can open up to Genesis 42-or we’ll put the verses up on the screen as we resume our series on Joseph-Ongoing Opposition, Unwavering Integrity. And what strikes me most about this season in Joseph’s life is the opposition has now largely cleared up and been removed from his life-yet his integrity never wavers-but stays intact. And isn’t that often one of the hardest times for us to show integrity? When things are tough and life is bad, responding with integrity is sometimes your only option or response. Everything is on the line and the opposition of life drives you to make honest and upright decisions. But when life is good, when things are smooth sailing or easy going and you’re in the driver’s seat feeling like you got this-that’s when it’s tempting to let your integrity slip. To think it doesn’t matter, no one’s looking, no one cares, won’t be a big deal-so you cut corners and let your character falter. But Joseph shows us that even when life is good, when no one will bat an eye or even notice, integrity still matters because it allows us to be a picture of Jesus to a world who desperately needs Him.
And that’s what Joseph does-check it out-Gen 42:6. Remember that the famine was severe in the land-Joseph’s family are starving-so they like everyone else has to go to Egypt to get food because Joseph was the one who had saved and stored food during the good years in order to provide during the bad years. So the brothers go to Egypt and they have no idea whatsoever that they’ll end up coming face to face with Joseph-for all they know he’s still hanging out with the gypsies they sold him to years ago. So it says Gen 42:7-8. So there’s Joseph keeping his identity hidden. They have no reason to suspect this guy in charge of food in Egypt, this intimidating authority, is their long lost brother. And Joseph wisely uses this opportunity to bring about some much needed healing and transformation in their lives. Joseph is going to orchestrate the events not to get back at his brothers in revenge-which they deserve. Instead he’s going to orchestrate the events to bring about good in the lives of his brothers-which they don’t deserve but desperately need. And that’s the overarching theme we’re going to explore this morning. Maybe you’ve asked the age old question-why do bad things happen to good people? That’s a question our world asks all the time. Why do bad things happen to good people like me?
That might be simple things like why am I stuck with annoying co-workers or caught in bad traffic. But it could be more serious things like an unexpected illness or health scare, could be getting a pink slip from your boss saying the company’s downsizing and you’re no longer needed, could be one of your kids having a problem you can’t fix, maybe it’s marriage issues that seem insurmountable or bills stacking up and no way to pay for them. It’s easy to ask ourselves the question-why do bad things happen to good people like me. What have I done to deserve this? The Lord knows I’ve tried my best-why this? And that’s been the issue in Joseph’s life-he was a good man, a great man who had terrible things happen to him from the pit to prison. But through it all we saw God’s hand at work-those seemingly bad things were wisely orchestrated and allowed by God in order to transform Joseph into someone of unwavering integrity.
This morning we want to look at the question from the other perspective-which is really the question that confronts each one of us. It’s not why do bad things happen to good people, but why do good things happen to bad people? Have you ever considered that question before? It’s easy to ask the former-why do bad things happen to good people-because we like to think of ourselves as good people deserving good things in life-and any bad things that come should be an anomaly, the exception not the rule. But throughout this series we’ve not just looked at Joseph-we’ve also looked at his brothers-and if there’s one thing we can conclude about them-it’s that they weren’t so good, nor did they deserve anything good. They were bad guys-and yet as we continue to look at their story-good things come their way. The question is why. Why do good things happen to Joseph’s bad brothers? So what happens is that Joseph speaks roughly to them-he’s testing their character and giving them a well-needed dose of tough love-and says they have to come back to Egypt with their youngest brother Benjamin. Remember he was Joseph’s only full brother-Rachel was their mother. Joseph wants to be reunited with his brothers-but especially Benjamin. So he keeps one of the other brothers in Egypt-Simeon-and he sends the rest of them back home to Dad-so that if they want to reclaim Simeon they have to return with Benjamin. But before they go home-what does Joseph do-Gen 42:25. Joseph’s secretly showers them with blessings. The whole point of their journey was to come to Egypt and use their money to buy food. Joseph gives them the food-but puts their money back-and snacks for the road trip! Here is the beginning of good things that start coming to these bad brothers. And remember-they didn’t deserve any of this-quite honestly they deserved to be thrown into a pit just like they threw Joseph into a pit years ago. This is all grace-undeserved blessings and good things.
But when they get home and discover the money they’re all freaked out thinking it’s a trap-they haven’t seen the grace yet-plus their dad Jacob is all worried about them returning to Egypt with Benjamin, fearing that he’ll lose him just like he lost Joseph years before-and has now lost Simeon who’s locked up. There’s a big back and forth between Jacob and his sons about what to do-until Judah speaks up-Gen 43:8-10. He’s promising to keep a good eye on Benjamin-plus they’re desperate for more food during this famine. Judah is demonstrating great faith-we’re seeing this transformation in him (precisely the sort of transformation Joseph is wanting to facilitate). So Dad finally relents-Gen 43:11-12. Notice how their Dad is banking on bribery, not God’s protection or Judah’s faith. He’s hoping this present is really going to sway their fortunes with this “rough talking” man in Egypt (Joseph). I’m picturing the corporate gift basket-let’s get him some pistachios and almonds-if you guys happen across any fancy cheese shops along the way or some fancy chocolates-throw that in too. Make this a really nice present. But Jacob isn’t trusting God, he’s hoping that he and his sons can buy off Joseph’s goodwill-that when they offer this present he will be overwhelmed with gratitude and let all the brothers go free and return home. So I want you to keep an eye on this detail of the present because it’s very important.
Look at Gen 43:15-16. Joseph hasn’t revealed his identity to his brothers yet-but he certainly wants to have a delicious meal with them-and it’s still in the midst of the big famine. So this wasn’t an ordinary bbq-this was an elaborate feast-butcher the fattened calf, let’s have steaks and burgers-at a time when food was otherwise scarce. Now Joseph’s done an incredible job of overseeing the food distribution for the nation of Egypt-but he’s planning a grand lunch for the arrival of his brothers because they’re finally here-all 11 brothers including Benjamin gathered in one place after so long. The last time these guys were together was over 20 years ago-this is the perfect occasion to have big juicy steaks. But it doesn’t make sense to the brothers-at least not yet. Instead of seeing more grace, they assume suspicion-v. 18. They still haven’t seen Joseph’s grace-so they try explaining themselves to the steward-We have no idea how the money got in there-seriously, it was so weird. We got home, opened up our bags and there it was. We’re not thieves or trying to steal anything-you’ve got to believe us! They’re like the little kid trying to explain how he has no idea why the money or the candy got into his pocket-It just showed up I don’t know how it got there. But in this case the brothers were innocent. And I love the steward’s response-v. 23. It’s all good-no worries. God has blessed you guys-enjoy it. But to the brothers this doesn’t compute! None of this does. They were the recipients of an overflow of grace by having all their money returned, along with the food they needed, then their brother was returned to them no questions asked-and now they’re sitting down to a delicious meal of steaks and burgers. To them good things don’t happen to bad people. There must be some kind of catch, there must be something written in the small print they missed, some trick up the Egyptian’s sleeve or some angle he’s working. Good things don’t happen to bad people.
And maybe that’s how you think too. Maybe that’s how you operate-or even how you treat others. Good things happen to good people-but bad things should happen to bad people-because that’s what they deserve-that’s how it works. What comes around goes around. These brothers had been bad dudes their whole life-now it’s time to pay the piper, get what’s coming to them. And maybe you’re hoping that for the bad people in your life, the bad people you hope get what’s coming to them. It’s about time they get a taste of their own medicine-time for the other shoe to drop! Maybe you say things like that-or think that-I can’t wait for the other shoe to drop-they’ve got it coming to them. I’m not sure who’s dropping these shoes-but a lot of us think that way-but that’s not how grace works. It’s not what the steward said. When these brothers returned with the money to pay it back-the steward didn’t say. That’s good-because you guys are in trouble. I hear the prime minister really has it out for you. You guys have a target on your back-good luck getting out here alive. Not at all-what did he say-v. 23. Which is a remarkable to thing for an Egyptian to say-clearly Joseph has been a godly influence on this steward because he’s defining grace. He’s saying that sometimes good things do happen to bad people-because that’s what grace is. Your God has blessed you with treasure. But it’s going to take awhile for that truth to sink in-v. 25-26. What are these guys doing? They’re trying to pay Joseph off.
They’re trying to get their present all arranged and looking good? Stack the almonds over here-put that honey in the middle, get that goat cheese around it-put the pistachios on the side? Anybody get some meat or salami-this platter looks pathetic! I picture these 11 brothers trying their hardest to make their little snack platter look good-when meanwhile Joseph has the steaks sizzling on the grill. Who cares about the almonds and pistachios? But that’s what they’re banking on. It’s all they’ve got. Maybe you’ve prepared a present for your spouse after a big fight-thinking this will make them come around. Or maybe you’ve prepared a present for the neighbors-especially after your dog tore up their flowers or broke their fence or did it’s business in their yard-hoping your nice present will smooth things over. That’s these brothers. And what did Joseph say when he arrived-Look at this! Are those smoked almonds? Gentlemen, you know the way to my heart! And are those pistachios? You guys are too much! Thank you-we are even here. Your account is settled! Not at all-v. 27-29. Talk about Joseph seeing his dreams once again being fulfilled before his eyes-all of his brothers are bowed before him just like God said they would so long ago. But most importantly, Joseph is seeing his brother after all these years. Imagine reconnecting with your brother or sister who you haven’t seen for 20 years-what would that be like-and don’t say not long enough! Look at-v. 30. Joseph was deeply moved because of his love, deeply moved and ready to break down weeping because of his compassion for his brothers-it had nothing to do with their present. When did the present make amends or garner Joseph’s affections or smooth over this situation? Nowhere. We never read about the present again. Maybe the platter of almonds and pistachios just sat there uneaten. Joseph’s response has nothing to do with what his brothers offered him or how they hoped they could pay him off. It had everything to do with his compassion and love for them-and that’s exactly how it is with God. Pt1:Joseph’s grace highlights God’s grace: we can never earn it or buy it.
How often are we like these brothers? Instead of a platter of snacks we try to bring our good works, our efforts, the ways we’ve been obedient and religious; or our background and upbringing-how we came from a good family and had parents that prayed for us, how we’ve tirelessly served the church all these years and helped out our neighbors, all the things we think make us acceptable to Him-but it’s nothing more than a platter of almonds and pistachios. And God says I’m not after those things. You can never buy my grace or earn it-it’s a gift you receive by faith, and it’s based on my love and compassion for you-not what you’ve brought to me. Look at Eph 2:1-2a, 4-5. It’s all of God’s doing-you and me and the rest of the world were stuck in our sins and headed for spiritual death-just like Joseph’s brothers were stuck in the famine and headed for physical death and starvation. But God-in His compassion and mercy-reached out and saved us through His Son Jesus. Just like Joseph reached out in mercy and compassion to save his brothers-Eph 2:8-9. The whole point is that we can’t bring a gift to God-at least one He’ll except. We can try to prepare a present like the brothers prepared their assortment of almonds and pistachios, saying-Okay Lord, here’s my assortment of good deeds, random acts of kindness, here’s all the money I’ve given to charity, the ways I’ve sacrificed in life and been a good person. In fact, I’m doing a lot better than most people so you can see how worthy I am of a place in heaven. But it doesn’t work that way. You didn’t bring a gift to Him-His saving grace is the gift to you-the very gift you need. I like what Bridges says-Gospel, 102. Back to Pt1. There’s never going to come a point in your life when you’ve finally paid God off by your efforts or made yourself acceptable to Him by what you’ve done. It will always be based on His love for you.
It makes me think of when Monica and I were paying off our student loans from college. And after we were first married we had moved to Texas where we both taught school and I went to seminary-and our student loan payment was a hefty check we had to write each month. But we dreamed of the day when our loans were completely paid off. And living in TX there were lots of really good steak restaurants-and we talked about how we would go out and order a big steak the day we put the last check in the mail. Well, when that day finally came and we mailed off our last check we weren’t living in TX anymore-I had graduated from seminary and we had moved to England. And England is not the land of big juicy steaks-the beef is weird-so we never got to celebrate the accomplishment of paying off our student loans. But when it comes to our spiritual lives, we don’t celebrate paying off God’s grace either! We never come to spot in life where we don’t need His grace anymore because we’ve earned it or somehow reached some religious standard where God says you’ve moved beyond grace. You’re not awarded some spiritual degree where you get the title papers to your own salvation. Congrats-you did it-paid in full. Jospeh’s brothers couldn’t pay for his grace in their lives-and we can’t pay for God’s grace in our lives. It’s a gift freely given to us by Him that we accept by faith! What we celebrate isn’t our moral attainments but how we’re always dependent upon Christ forever and ever-in this life and the one to come. Have you ever thought about that? You are dependent on Christ’s saving grace now in order to be saved-but you’re also dependent on Him for all of eternity. There’s never a time when you don’t need His grace, when you won’t celebrate that grace, when you won’t cherish the depth of that grace. It’s not about what we bring to the table-it’s about what He’s done for us.
Look at Luke 18:9-12. Here’s my gift to you, Lord. Here’s my platter of almonds and pistachios-aren’t they something! But what does Jesus say-Luke 18:13-14. This guy didn’t try to buy grace or earn it. He realized he had nothing to offer, nothing to give. As a sinner, he was empty and spiritually bankrupt-just like we are. But in God’s economy-good things happen to bad people. And that’s not because we’ve earned it or cleaned our act up or turned over a new leaf and started living better-but because God’s grace reaches out to bad people like you and me-and transforms us. You see if God doesn’t want our gifts or our presents or our good deeds-then what does He want? A humbled heart ready to used by Him. Pt2:God doesn’t want us trying to silence our guilt by bringing Him gifts, He wants to transform our hearts by His grace. This tax-collector had a transformed heart-and it’s what Joseph’s brothers are beginning to reveal too-Gen 43:33-34. They were seated before Joseph, amazed at the grace he’s shown them. And we should be amazed by the grace Jesus has shown us! When was the last time you were? When was the last time you sat before the Lord not trying to prove your worth to Him-but in awe of His love for you? The gospel is all about that message of good things happening to bad people-because that’s what God’s grace does! The question is does that include you? Just as Joseph longed to have a meal with his no good brothers, so Jesus longs to have a meal with you-meaning a relationship with you-Rev 3:20. Have you humbled your heart and opened the door to Him?