March 9, 2014 Sermon: God With Us: The Profile of Joseph

First Mennonite Church

March 9, 2014

Text: Genesis 50: 15-21

God With Us: The Profile of Joseph

15 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?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘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.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

If you were to write the stories of your family up to the fourth generation, what would be some of the things you’d be proud of?  You possibly might be proud of their success in business, their strong marriages, of some who became influential individuals, of their spiritual legacy, and maybe their simplicity and hardworking character.

But would you include in your writing their pitfalls, their weaknesses, and family secrets?

Joseph was born into an already troubled and dysfunctional family.  His grandparents had showed favoritism toward their children. Joseph’s grandmother had preference for his dad; yet his uncle had tried to kill  dad.  Joseph’s grandfather on his mom’s side cheated Joseph’s father.  His father had lied and cheated big time too. And Joseph had experienced favoritism too from his dad on the one hand, and resentment and vengeance from his older step-brothers on the other.

The story of Joseph is one of sibling rivalry and family rupture but the story does not end in permanent separation, as was the case of Isaac and Ishmael or Jacob and Esau.  Joseph’s family suffered a gradual disintegration.  Joseph was sold, then Judah left the clan shortly after.  But during the severe famine of seven years, ironically when life was under threat, family life for the household of Joseph came suddenly alive. The family was reunited once more but only after God’s greater plan had been set into motion—the great Exodus event.

The story of Joseph is brilliant example of the Immanuel Principle—God with us.  The principle of the Immanuel is the common thread weaved across the colorful tapestry of Joseph’s life.

From the very moment Joseph was violently removed from the comfort of his father’s house and sold to Potiphar, the holy writer states three times:

  • The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered (39:2).
  • His master saw that the Lord was with him (Joseph) (39:3).
  • The Lord was with him; he showed him kindness (39:21).

What is so interesting and comforting about the fact that God was with Joseph is that he never had a personal encounter with God as did his ancestors.  Joseph never had worshiped God nor had built any altar as did Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  But his wisdom, grace, purity, and diligent work witnessed to God’s abiding presence in him. Joseph’s open forgiveness to his brothers is a further witness of God’s presence with him. Through forgiveness, Joseph was able to break the cycle of dysfunctionality that had characterized his family for four generations.  Although Joseph was in a position of power and authority, through forgiveness he broke the vicious cycle of violence, revenge, and brokenness that have characterized his family for four generations.  And this was possible because God was with Joseph.

God was with Joseph according to the promises He made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Gen. 26:3, 24; 31:3; 48:21).

God’s promise and faithfulness to be with his loved ones have not changed. In Jesus, God remains with us.  That is the comforting element in this story about God being with Joseph.

As Joseph grew in power and authority in Egypt, his predictions of a great famine to follow seven years of abundance came to pass.  Not only was he able to decipher his master’s dreams, but his very dreams that caused him pain and grief also came closer to their fulfilment.

The famine forced Jacob to seek food in Egypt not knowing that the lord of the land and its resource was his very son–the one he loved the most, the one whose disappearance had caused him profound grief.

Jacob’s sons buying food in Egypt brought them face to face with their younger brother who they had sold many years earlier.  Unknowingly they bowed before him addressing him with royal respect.  Joseph for his part treated them with harshness to find out whether or not they had changed.  And after his dramatic revelation to his brothers the family was reunited.

The passage for this morning reveals the troubling fear Jacob’s sons had regarding their now powerful younger brother Joseph.  Their fear was revealed in the way they handled their plea for forgiveness. They did not go in person but first sent word with their request.  And only upon knowing of Joseph’s reaction they approached him in person.  And the text reads:

18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

Not too long ago I was talking about family with someone.  And we talked about how deep and lasting are the personal effects family experiences have in each of us. It is remarkable how clear we can remember the occasions of joy we had even when they are far away when we were still young.

I remember one morning I stopped at my grandmother’s house on my way to school.  I needed an “exercise book”, a note pad, that day and mom did not have money to buy it.  So she asked me to go to Mamita to ask if she had.  I remember grandma was washing dishes when I stopped at her place. My grandmother dried her hands with her apron and graciously gave me a hug and then gave me the money to buy my note pad.  I happily went to school.

Another experience of joy that I remember is when I returned my grandfather’s penknife I had stolen.  My grandmother told my parents that my grandfather was not happy, to put it mildly, that his knife is not where he had left it.  My grandmother knew I was the only person who had been close to where the penknife was.  I had it.  Before I went to school I stopped at grandma’s place and to return the knife. I was crying when I said I was sorry I had taken it.  She gave me an orange to comfort me.

Just as we remember those moments of joy we also remember those of pain and hurt.

Joseph’s brothers were bothered by their past actions against their younger brother.  They were afraid that once their dad was dead that he could take his revenge.  They threw themselves to the ground and pleaded to be let alive even as slaves.  But Joseph’s words speak of God’s presence with him: “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.

Joseph acknowledged he was not in the place of God, but God was with him.  That knowledge is the key to transform an experience of hurt into a pathway of healing.  That is the key to restoring family brokenness into building blocks for wholeness in family relations.  The problem with many in situations of conflict is that they take the place of God to judge, condemn, or to execute vengeance.

Joseph was able to discern the presence of God in his life regardless of pain he suffered and regardless of the injustices he endured.  He saw his life as an instrument in God’s hands to bring salvation to many people, including his family.

We all have moments when we think and assess the psychological, emotional and moral wellbeing of our families.  And within the generations of our family that we know we might identify the unethical uncle, the immoral incident of the grandfather, the toxic aunt, and the mentally imbalanced cousin.

The story of Joseph is a good reminder that God is present in our lives. And just as Joseph could not choose the family to be born in, we neither could.  But just as Joseph choose to be morally pure under great pressure, we too can choose purity over immorality.  Just as Joseph sought the common good of others, we too can choose.  Just as Joseph chose to forgive past hurts caused by his family, we should also forgive and bring healing into our family thus breaking the cycle of anger and brokenness.

Someone listening to me today might say, “But, Pastor, I don’t have a troubled past. I was blessed to be born into a wonderful family, had loving parents, healthy relationships. And I don’t have a turbulent present. So how does this message relate to my life?”  I would say to you, “If you don’t have a troubled past, give thanks to the LORD for it!”  If you don’t have a turbulent present, praise God for steering your boat amidst the stormy seas of life.

I would also tell you that you do know someone who has a troubled past, don’t you? You do know someone who has a turbulent present, don’t you?  Tell them a lesson that you’ve learned today from the life of Joseph. No matter how troubled your past can be, no matter how turbulent your present is, God has a good plan for your future.

Let me close with the words of Paul to the Corinthian church:

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (1Corinthians 5:17)

Let God dwell with you today.  He will transform your life.  He will use you to save lives.  Amen.


Pastor Romero