Sunday, May 2, 2010

Heroes of the Faith: Joseph – Hebrews 11:22 and Genesis 37:15-28; 50:22-26

Today we are continuing our preaching series entitled, Heroes of the Faith where each week we will focus on one significant person from our faith history and explore not only why they are now considered a hero of our faith, but what we can learn from them. Two weeks ago we looked at Noah and his incredible, and thought of at the time, outlandish faith he had in God and how his actions can be a model for us today. Last week we focused on Abraham to see how he navigated several crossroads in his life and how he did did not let fear or uncertainty deter him. Today we are going look at Joseph to see how our timing is not necessarily God's timing and how we can find solace in that fact.

God's Daytimer
I have an organizer that I write everything down in. I have my appointments, my tasks that have to be done, my thoughts on future things I would like to get done, my calendar, everything. If I lost this it would take a great deal of time for me to re-create all of this and whoever opened it could find out a great deal about my plans. With that in mind I have a question for all of you. Have you ever wanted to get your hands on God's organizer? Have you ever wanted to see what God has planned for you...or maybe rearrange a bit of it to suit your ambitions and ideas.

One of my favorite bumper stickers says, “Attention all 18 year olds, move out now while you still know everything!” When I was in high school, by the end of my junior year, I had my life planned out. I was going to graduate high school, finish college in four years, become an accountant, marry my high school sweetheart, have two children, a boy and girl, boy first, make a lot of money, and live happily ever after. I was also confident that this plan was written in God's Daytimer. But as you all can tell, that is not quite what happened. My timing, my ambitions, were not exactly in line with God's. And the situation I am in now, is far better than what it could have been if I had my own way, back when I was a teenager.

I think we all have had the thought at one time or another that we have it all figured out. That all God needs to do is simply listen to us and obey our wishes. But our hero for today, Joseph, understood God's plan and God's timing was far better than anything we could create.

The Story of Joe
I have always been fascinated by Joseph, especially after I learned that this Joseph was not the carpenter that was Jesus' earthly daddy. You see Joseph lived a truly remarkable life, that many of us today probably would not wish our our worst enemy. Joseph, the son of Jacob, spent a good portion of his life enslaved, in prison, or in service to another. Eventually he rose to become Pharaoh’s second-in-command in Egypt.

So how did Joseph get his great confidence and understanding in God’s timing and perfect plan? To understand that we need to go back and explore several episodes from Joseph’s life where God’s perfect timing was made known to him. This lesson was one that he had learned well, starting at a fairly young age.

Brother Sell Him Into Slavery
Joseph was the great-grandson of Abraham, and the child of Jacob and his wife Rachel. Although he had ten older half-brothers and one younger full brother, Joseph was his father’s favorite. Whereas all his older brothers had to work in the fields, Joseph was allowed to stay home. Whereas all his older brothers wore the traditional plain sleeveless tunic of the day, Jacob had a special full-length colorful robe made for Joseph. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Joseph had a special gift from God for dreams and dream interpretation. He had two dreams as a teenager about all his older brothers bowing down to him, and he told them about it. So one day when Jacob sent Joseph out into the fields to check up on his older brothers, the brothers decided they had had enough. They took Joseph and stripped him of his colorful robe. Then they threw him down into an empty cistern. Some of them wanted to kill him, but his brother Reuben spoke up for him. So instead when a caravan of traders came by, the brothers sold Joseph into slavery. Then they took his robe, smeared it with animal blood and returned home to tell their father that his beloved Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

Jailed on a False Charge
Well if that was not enough, when the slave caravan ended up in Egypt, Joseph was sold once again. This time to one of Pharaoh’s officials, Potiphar, captain of the royal guard. However, God blessed Joseph in Potiphar’s house, and eventually Potiphar was so pleased with Joseph that he made the young Israelite his personal assistant, putting Joseph in charge of the entire household and the rest of Potiphar’s slaves. But this would not last. You see Joseph was an attractive young man and eventually he caught the eye of Potiphar’s wife. Several times she tried to seduce the young man, and several times he denied her. This angered her and as revenge she made false accusations against him and Joseph ended up in the royal prison.

Dream Interpretation Nets New Role
But again, God was with Joseph and blessed him, even in jail. The prison warden was so pleased with how Joseph carried himself that he eventually made Joseph his personal assistant, putting Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison and everything that happened there. In the prison were two of Pharaoh’s own servants who had offended their master – his chief cupbearer whose job it was to taste his food, and his chief baker. While in prison they each had a dream, and Joseph was able to interpret them. In time, the baker was executed and the cupbearer was restored to his position. He promised Joseph that he would put in a good word for him, but he forgot. Two years later Pharaoh begins to have some strange dreams about 7 skinny cows eating 7 fat cows and 7 skinny heads of grain devouring 7 healthy heads of grain. None of Pharaoh’s people could interpret his dreams. Finally the cupbearer remembered how Joseph had interpreted his dream in prison and his promise of putting in a good word about Joseph to Pharaoh, and he speaks up and tells Pharaoh about Joseph and his ability. So Pharaoh sends for Joseph. God enables Joseph to interpret the dreams – there will be seven good plentiful years of crops followed by seven horrible years of drought and famine. Pharaoh is so pleased with Joseph that he elevates him to second-in-command in Egypt and puts him in charge of a plan to store up surplus food during the good years so there will be food to ration out during the years of famine.

Family Reunion
The seven prosperous years go by and Joseph has the Egyptians store up plenty of food in warehouses. Then during the famine he is in charge of rationing out the food to the Egyptians and those desperate and hungry from nearby lands who come in search of food. Some of those who travel in looking for food are Joseph’s own family – the brothers who had so many years ago sold him into slavery. At first they don’t recognize him, but when it is revealed who Joseph is, they are greatly afraid for their lives. But instead of taking revenge, Joseph forgives them. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph is reunited with all his brothers and his father, and has the entire family come and live under his protection in Egypt.

Is Joseph Heroic?
Remember that the beginning of Hebrews chapter 11 speaks a great deal about what constitutes heroic faith. It tells us that faith, heroic faith, has three main components: First you have to be FOCUSED, grounded in God alone. Next you have to be CONFIDENT, certain of what we do not see. Finally, you have to be OBEDIENT, as demonstrated in our actions.

So with all that Joseph went through, was he focused, confident, and obedient?

No matter what Joseph faced, God was with him and blessed him. Time after time Scripture tells us that God prospered Joseph or blessed him. Through slavery, imprisonment, or in leadership. That fact that God was a constant force in his life tells us that Joseph was always looking to God. When Pharaoh tried to give him the credit for interpreting his dreams, Joseph said God allowed him to do it. When Joseph and his brothers were reconciling, all those years later, he tells them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is not being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen 50:20). Joseph never turned his focus from God, not in slavery, prison, or treatment of those who wronged him. God was always at the front of Joseph's mind, he was very focused.

Now let's look at his confidence. Joseph's confidence in that which he could not see came to a head at the end of his life. Earlier we read from Hebrews 11:22, the only verse in this chapter about Joseph, “By faith Joseph, when his end was near, he spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.” Joseph was so confident in God’s timing and perfect plan, that he knew God would eventually lead the Israelites up out of the land of Egypt. And he didn’t want to get left behind. He made his brothers swear an oath that when God came to their aid, they would carry his bones up from Egypt and back to the land promised to their ancestors. Joseph was so confident in events that had not yet happened he made plans around them. To me that is a wonderful statement of confidence in that he could not see.

Finally, how is his obedience. Well, Joseph's obedience was found in his conduct. Joseph went through some terrible ordeals in his life. But instead of asking “why?” or becoming pessimistic, he asked “What shall I do now?”. With his slavery, imprisonment, and servitude periods he could have rebelled, left God, and done things his way. But he didn't. Rather he used those situations for God's glory rather than his own gain. That shows great obedience.

Joseph is a great hero of the faith. His life was full of ups and downs. But he never said woe is me. He never doubted God's plan. He understood that God's wisdom, God's timing, and God's plan were perfect. He understood that no matter what he was facing that God was there to lead him and guide him.

My prayer for all of us today is that we are given the strength to stayed focused on the One who created us, the One who guides us, the One who loves us. I am here today to tell you to lean on God, stay focused on God, and allow God to be your guide, He has been where you are going and will never lead you astray.

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