May 24, 2020
Joseph: Ongoing Opposition, Unwavering Integrity – Review Week
Do you remember what you were doing on March 8th? Certainly words like quarantine, shelter-in-place, social distancing and global pandemic weren’t part of your everyday vocabulary-at least not yet. March 8th was the last time we all met together at church. Now I don’t remember who was here and who wasn’t here that day-but if you knew that March 8th was the last time you could come until sometime in the summer I’m sure no one would have missed that Sunday and it would have been packed! We should have had a BBQ-one last big celebration while we could! Can you remember pre-quarantine life? I don’t know about you but it’s starting to seem like some sort of foggy, distant memory. That’s right-there used to be such a thing as sports and concerts and going out to a restaurant. Remember when things used to be crowded and people had parties and get togethers? And no one wore masks except for Halloween! Pre-quarantine life sounds rather nostalgic. Who’s been dreaming about the good old days from March? Wow-we never knew how good we had it back then! For example-there’s lots of March Madness t-shirts you can order of your favorite team declaring themselves National Champions winners since the NCAA tournament got cancelled-I couldn’t find one for my Iowa Hawkeyes who would have most likely won it-but here’s Syracuse-and notice in small print-would have been! Clearly they were planning on a good tournament run this March.
And I’m sure we’ve all had things planned over these past few months-whether it was March, April, May and now into June that ended up getting postponed or cancelled. What’s something you had planned that’s either not happening now or postponed indefinitely? And it’s probably left you bummed out and disappointed. I think we’ve all experienced that in different ways when things that were on our calendar are now crossed off. I know for me-one of the things I had planned was to finish off our Winter sermon series before Easter. Obviously all that changed almost instantly as we went into quarantine mode so we took some weeks to get our heads around this new normal and how God is still in control. And then Easter came and we took a few weeks to examine the hope of the resurrection, the ascension of Jesus and the indwelling Holy Spirit. But before this interruption from a little thing called a pandemic, our series was about a guy named Joseph. Remember him? Here’s the last bulletin we printed from March 8th. Doesn’t that seem nostalgic too-a church bulletin. Feel free to print your own bulletins at home declaring what time everyone has to be in the living room in front of the laptop or tv or what time your home coffee hour is prior to service starting. In fact, let me ask now that we’re several weeks into online church-do you sit in the same place every Sunday when watching the service from home? At church, everyone has their spot where they like to sit in the sanctuary-and if someone else ends up sitting in your spot you’re really confused and thrown by it and have to figure out somewhere new to sit which feels really strange. Is that happening at home now? You’re at this particular spot on your couch or this chair at your kitchen table? Does everyone in the family have their spot for online church? New habits form quickly!
But if you can envision yourself back in regular church on March 8th we talked about Joseph. And we entitled our series with a fitting description of Joseph’s life-Ongoing Opposition, Unwavering Integrity. Now I don’t know about you-but I had to scratch my head to remember all the things we learned about Joseph’s life. It seems like forever ago. But as I was reviewing from back in the winter, I quickly realized that much of what Joseph went through is so applicable to our situation right now in this time of Coronavirus and quarantine. So I’ve decided to amend our sermon series as we take the next few weeks to conclude Joseph’s story and call it-Ongoing Opposition, Unwavering Integrity: Pandemic Edition! This is a first for me-I’ve never amended a sermon series due to a global pandemic! But we’re going to start off this week by reviewing where we’ve been-seeing the highs and lows of Joseph’s life and what it had to teach us back in the winter-but applying that to what it’s teaching us now.
So open up your Bibles to Gen 37 or we’ll have it up on the screen-and I want us to remember how his story begins-Gen 37:1-2a. Now pause there just a moment-because that short little phrase will go on to explain a lot of the reasons for the disfunction he grew up in. Jospeh was the son of Jacob-and right away we’re seeing that Jacob his father had more than one wife-in fact he had 4 at the same time, which created lots of siblings-and lots of tension. Jacob was in love with Rachel-and worked 7 years in order to marry her-but on their wedding night Rachel’s father swapped out Rachel for the older sister Leah. So Jacob ended up marrying Leah and then had to work another 7 years to marry Rachel. So here’s Jacob married to two sisters-unbelievable and stressful in itself-but then Leah starts having children first which creates jealousy between her and Rachel. Leah has 4 sons for Jacob, so Rachel gives Jacob her maidservant Bilhah to be his wife and he has 2 more sons with her. Leah is then mad and gives Jacob her maidservant Zilpah to also be his wife (that’s wife #4 if you’re counting) and he has 2 more sons with her. So that’s 8 boys-until Leah ends up conceiving 2 more times-so now there’s 10 boys. Finally God allows Rachel to conceive and she gives birth to Joseph, son #11. Just even try to get your head around that! You’re son #11 from your father’s favorite wife out of 4! It’s absolute chaos and disfunction through and through-and poor Joseph, when he’s 13, his mom Rachel gives birth to another son, Benjamin but she dies from the childbirth. So Joseph loses his mom at an early age, only has one other full brother, and 10 other rough and tough, mean and ugly older step-brothers.
You can read some of the backstory in Genesis to hear about the awful things these brothers got up to-but suffice to say-Joseph’s words are fitting-Gen 37:2b-4. This sibling rivalry is just part and parcel of Joseph’s life. His brothers can’t stand him-can you imagine how many times they tried to beat him up as younger brother #11? I bet Joseph took a pounding-especially as his dad gave him the technicolor dream coat to wear! But getting beat up is exactly what happens-Gen 37:5. And contrary to what a lot of people assume, I don’t think Joseph was bragging or strutting around in his colorful coat telling his brothers how great he was, I believe Joseph was someone who spoke truth. We see him committed to the truth throughout his life, being that man of unwavering integrity, so as God gave him a dream of the future, Joseph is faithfully communicating that message. Unfortunately it means that God is going to one day raise him up and his brothers will bow in humility before him-and at this juncture in the story-humility is about the furthest thing from their minds. In fact, pure jealousy and rage is what they’re at. Look at what they decide the next time Joseph heads out to the fields-Gen 37:18-20. And the first thing that struck me as I reread that passage this week is how futile it is to try and stop God’s plans. God had given Joseph these dreams of his future-and yet here’s his brothers trying to take matters into their own hands and foil it. We’ll see what becomes of his dreams! But when they’re dreams from God and you’re faithfully following God as Joseph was-there’s nothing that other people can do to you-not even 10 bad brothers-to thwart God’s plans. And it’s the same with us-we might not have such clear dreams of the future like Joseph-but as we’re faithfully following God there’s nothing other people can do to us to stop His plans. Look at Ps. 118:6-7. That promise is true for you and me-the Lord is on our side as our Helper. In fact, when we talked about the Holy Spirit a few weeks ago-that’s exactly how Jesus referred to Him-as our Helper. If you’ve trusted in Jesus then He is on your side, in your heart. And this truth is exactly what will happen to Joseph-he will look in triumph upon his brothers who hate him-but it will take a while to get there because for Joseph-and for us-God’s timetable is not always our timetable.
Look at what happens. The brothers ease up the attack and compassionately decide not to kill him, just throw him in the pit and sell him. Isn’t that what good brothers do for you? Sell you to some traveling gypsies! Look at Gen 37:23-25. But this is the worst! Here’s Joseph stuck in a pit, probably cold and shivering and afraid. They’ve stolen his coat, disgraced him and mocked him. With no water he’s wondering if they’re going to leave him there to starve and die. And they’re sitting down to have lunch! They’ve got ham and swiss, maybe a tuna melt, clearly the oldest brother Reuben is eating a reuben! But this detail of eating lunch while their brother is in the pit crying out just showcases how cold and heartless they are. In fact, later on the brothers admit how scared and distressed Joseph was. Look at Gen 42:21. Joseph was begging them, crying out from the pit. Help me guys! Save me. Get me out of here! Don’t do this to me-please! But they didn’t listen or respond-they were too busy eating lunch. And that’s when the caravan comes by, they sell Joseph, make a few extra bucks on the side-and then return home to dad with his coat all bloodied from a goat killed saying a wild animal devoured Joseph. Their dad is holding the frayed pieces of the coat, feeling crushed by the news, and they let him wallow in misery for years thinking Joseph’s dead. It’s just a horrible tragic tale-and yet listen to how this chapter ends-Gen 37:36. That wasn’t coincidence or a stroke of good luck that happened to come Joseph’s way. God knew exactly what He was doing in Joseph’s life-just as He does in your life.
Whatever you’re facing, whatever you’re going through right now isn’t happenstance. These descriptions of opposition and unjust treatment might be the very thing you’re dealing with. And maybe like Joseph you’re facing them at home during this time of quarantine with your family or extended family-which is often the hardest place to face opposition. Or maybe you feel like you’ve been in the pit for awhile-and there’s people eating lunch up top ignoring you just like Joseph’s brothers ignored him. You’ve cried out-Hey I’m down here. Help me! Anybody hear me? Anybody up there? And there’s no response. Zero care from other people. Let me encourage you by saying the pit isn’t the end. As a follower of Christ the pit isn’t where you stay, the pit isn’t the place where God drops you and leaves you without a ladder. The pit is God’s starting place. The pit is where His plans will begin to unfold as you wait on Him and trust Him. The pit is a momentary spot on the spectrum of God’s magnificent story that He’s writing in which you have a part to play. When we studied this part of Joesph’s life-that was exactly the point we made-so it is amended-Pt1:Sometimes the pit (or the pandemic) is God’s starting place.
We’ve said over and over that this situation, this pandemic is a reset, a restart. How’s it going? This time of quarantine and stay-at-home can actually become a time of spiritual growth, a spiritual oasis in your life-not something miserable to endure. Look at-Lam 3:22-25. That’s what we’re called to do-especially now in this strange and unique time-to wait on the Lord. We have no more control over where the world is going and the decisions that are being made than Joseph had control over being sold as a slave in Egypt. And yet we don’t have to struggle with wanting to be in the driver’s seat and fight about having control because we’re called to trust in the God who’s already in control. And He’s in control no matter what happens-pit or pandemic! Back to Pt1. God isn’t playing catch up with this pandemic, trying to restore order because COVID-19 got away from Him and spiraled out of control. He knows exactly what He’s doing and what He’s going to accomplish through a time such as this. More than ever before our role is to trust Him and be a people of unwavering integrity through it. And no one can take that away from you. Sure the government can take away our ability to attend school and work and restaurants, even baseball games and church services-and we hope and pray that ends soon. But no one can take away your integrity-who you are and who you trust in! That was true of Joseph throughout all he experienced. No matter how bad it got no one could take away His character-or the God he trusted in. Because for Joseph the old saying is true-out of the frying pan, into the fire!
Take a look at what happens next-Gen 39:1-4. So here’s Joseph-a young man of 17, sold as a slave, away from home, living in the foreign country of Egypt-and what’s the description about him? Joseph grumbled and complained about being there and hated every minute of it-food’s weird, place stinks. Couldn’t wait until he could escape and return home. Not at all. I’m sure Joseph had moments of missing home and feeling uncertain about his circumstances, longing for things to return to normal-but the overarching description of this time in Joseph’s life was that the Lord was with him. In fact, Joseph was able to thrive and prosper during this time and be a witness for the Lord as Potiphar saw so clearly. What about this time for you? Have you spent more time grumbling about Coronavirus and quarantine and the government’s decisions and restrictions, longing for things to return to normal-or have you prospered and thrived during this time as you’ve trusted in the Lord who is with you? And that was the point we made back then and here it is now amended-Pt2:Joseph’s Self-talk: Alone in a distant place (alone in quarantine), I’m never alone because my God is near. It doesn’t matter where you go or what happens to you-global pandemic or not-you are never alone because your God is near. And He wants you to prosper and thrive right where you’re at now. That’s the joy of walking with the Lord. He doesn’t promise you that you’ll prosper and thrive when things get better and your circumstances ease up and normal life returns. He wants to see you grow and flourish in Him now. He wants to shape you and mold you and transform you right where you’re at stuck at home and living in a world of social distancing. We have a God who’s an expert at causing His people to thrive in any and every situation, especially the bad ones. And no one shows that better than Joseph.
Remember what I said a moment ago-out of the frying pan and into the fire. Well Joseph quickly faces the fire-and it’s in the form of Potiphar’s wife-Gen 39:7-10. This would have been the easiest thing in the world for Joseph to give in to. He’s a young man in the prime of life, she’s a rich, sophisticated Egyptian woman pursuing him-the master is gone all day, Joseph is in a foreign land where nobody knows who he is-everything points to him giving in to temptation. But what’s the reason for his refusal and standing strong? How could I do this great wickedness and sin against my God who loves me! Joseph is saying-Look, I follow the Lord, He’s been with me in this hard time of life. Thankfully he’s blessing me-so how could I sin against Him-the God I worship by sleeping with you? This isn’t God’s plan for us-the answer is no! And day after day there at the house she comes after him. And you might feel that same way-day after day at home especially during this time of quarantine-temptation is coming after you. Sin is trying to grab a hold of you and take you down a road you know you shouldn’t go-even if it looks or sounds alluring in the moment. That could be an action or a decision or an ongoing habit, it could be an attitude-maybe even something as tempting as sitting home all day feeling sorry for yourself and being stuck in a state of constant grumbling and negativity. Remember, that whenever you sin, and whoever it affects, it’s always and ultimately against the God who loves you as Joseph says.
Now Potiphar’s wife grabs hold of Joseph one day, rips the shirt right off his back-and Joseph wisely flees the house. But unfortunately, Potiphar’s wife accuses Joseph of being the one trying to take advantage of her-and Potiphar foolishly chooses to believe her instead of Joseph in whom he saw God’s hand at work. There was no reason for Potiphar not to believe Joseph who’s been so godly and upstanding this whole time-but he doesn’t. So poor Joe-instead of being honored and rewarded for his unwavering integrity throughout such intense temptation-gets chucked into prison-Gen 39:20. It’s all so backwards and unfair! I don’t know about you but it’s really easy to think that God owes us when we’re obedient to Him. That after a good week of following God, doing our devotions and not giving in to temptation He’s going to reward us. Have you thought that way before-maybe even recently as you’re trying to faithfully follow God in this time? Okay Lord, I’ve been on a good streak, I’ve been super obedient to you-can’t wait to see what blessings you’ve got coming my way! And then we get discouraged when the blessings don’t come. We wonder why we were so obedient in the first place if God’s not going to notice it. Have you felt that way before? Maybe you’re feeling it now during this pandemic-Lord, life was going so well, I was following you so closely-and then you let this happen! Now I have no idea about my job, how to pay my bills or my mortgage! I didn’t do anything to deserve this! It would have been very easy for Joseph to think that way. That all of his obedience and integrity were for nothing because look at where it landed him-right in prison. I don’t think any of us would have blamed Joseph for complaining to God-This is how you’re rewarding me, Lord! I fought off that woman’s temptations everyday and this is how you treat me! Chains and shakes in prison! Look at Ps 105:17-18. That’s what Joseph’s experiencing-all because he stayed obedient. He went from the pit to the palace of Poitphar’s house to prison! Failure and discouragement could have easily gripped Joseph’s mind. Who wouldn’t feel that way in his shoes-or in his shackles!
But he doesn’t respond that way because what happens to Joseph in prison-Gen 39:21-23. Same story as before! This is exactly how the chapter started in Potiphar’s house-the Lord was with him. Back to Pt2. God hadn’t abandoned Joseph-and He won’t abandon you. He didn’t bring Joseph all the way to Egypt just to leave him in prison. God knew exactly what he was doing-and He knows exactly what He’s doing with you. Just as God sovereignly used prison in Joseph’s life-so He’s using this pandemic in our lives. With God there’s nothing wasted or superfluous in your life (I love that word!) But there’s nothing unnecessary or pointless-even a stay at home pandemic like this. These aren’t wasted days just to grin and bear and get through. God doesn’t waste your sufferings and struggles-just like He didn’t waste them with Joseph. In fact, it’s in the struggles-and dare I say-the mundane times like this where your character is truly built.
If you remember, Joseph was in prison-and one day the royal baker and cupbearer got chucked into prison and wouldn’t you know it they had some dreams they couldn’t interpret. So God sovereignly used Joseph to interpret them-the baker would be put to death, but the cupbearer would be released. So Joseph tells him to tell Pharoah-I’m an innocent man stuck here in prison-and the fortune of helping out the royal cupbearer was great because he was close to Pharaoh. This was the open door Joseph had been longing for-his moment of freedom! And what does it say-Gen 40:23-41:1. Let that statement sink in! Joseph has already been in prison for a while, he’s already risen through the ranks and been put in charge of the other prisoners. He’s been faithful to God-but instead of being remembered and rewarded for it, he’s overlooked and forgotten-and for a long time. This phrase is written very intentionally-two whole years or in Joseph’s words-two long, seemingly never-ending years. So we made the point-and this is our final one this morning-Pt3:Doctrine from the Dungeon (Corollary from Quarantine): Character is built in the mundane, meaningless parts of life when no one is looking.
And doesn’t it often feel like this is a mundane time-time to just get through, time to forget all this quarantine and get back to normal life. It’s easy right now to say-What does it matter? Who cares if I complain too much-there’s a lot to complain about? Who cares if I give in to temptation or indulge myself-I’m stuck at home all day? What does it matter if my heart grows bitter and I become full of anger and frustration-there’s nowhere to go, nothing to do. This season of life isn’t accomplishing anything-it’s just been a big interruption-the world’s on pause-so why should I be joyful about it? Why should I bother to praise God or honor Him right now? I’ll just grin and bear it-and get through it. That’s exactly the opposite of what God would say. The pit or the prison or quarantine isn’t a meaningless or mundane time in your life. This isn’t a phase that’s accomplishing nothing, it’s accomplishing great things when you allow God to shape you into the person He’s calling you to be. This is exactly the place God wants you at-whether it’s 2 more weeks of this, 2 more months or 2 more years like Joseph (please let it not be 2 more years!) Your character doesn’t just magically arrive in the big moments of life. Your character doesn’t just rise up in the big decisions you have to make or the big things you’re supposed to accomplish. Instead your character is built day by day in all of the small decisions you make at home. It’s built by how you handle all of the little inconveniences that have come your way as you’ve had to get used to a new normal. As you’ve had to adjust to a new way of doing school or work. Your character is pounded out and molded during the mundane, meaningless moments of life-when no one is looking-because that’s who you really are-and that’s what God wants to shape for His glory. Look at Luke 16:10. Joseph was faithful to God during the small, very little and seemingly mundane moments of his life in prison-therefore he went on to become faithful over the whole nation of Egypt. Our little review has brought us right up to that turning point in his life. What about you? Are you faithful to God right now, at home, during this pandemic in the little everyday moments of life when no one is looking? Or do you write it off, saying no big deal, I’m stuck down here-who’s watching? Take a look at one last verse-Eph 2:10. That is just as true now as it always is. We are God’s workmanship-created to do what-to grumble and complain during this crazy pandemic? No-created to do those good works that He’s prepared for us! What does that include for you?