Serving Christ and sharing the Gospel

Joseph in prison (Gen 40:1-23)

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On our family holiday this month, we were lucky enough to go to Disneyland Paris. One of the highlights was going on some rollercoasters - Indiana Jones and Space Mountain were my personal favourites! The thing about roller-coasters is that they include big highs and lows, they take you up and down – and leave you dizzy and disorientated at the end.

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen that the life of Joseph was something of a rollercoaster – a life full of dramatic highs and lows:

  • Things started off on a high, when Joseph had some wonderful dreams, and was given a multicolour coat by his father.
  • But then things went downhill fast, when his jealous brothers threw him in a hole and sold him as a slave!
  • In last week’s passage things went well at first - as Joseph was promoted to head of Potiphar’s household - but then went badly wrong when Potiphar’s wife lied about him and he was thrown into an Egyptian jail.

But as we left the story last week, things were starting to pick up again. Because even though he was in prison, God was still with Joseph - and gave him success at all his tasks there. Joseph was even given responsibility for the welfare of his fellow prisoners - including two influential men (a baker and a cupbearer) who had fallen out with the king.

Two strange dreams…

You see, Joseph was in no ordinary prison. He was in the royal jail - the place where Pharoah (the king) put his personal prisoners. Two of those prisoners were Pharoah’s chief cupbearer and baker. We don’t know what they had done to upset the king, perhaps they had served him some sour wine or stale bread! Or maybe he thought they were guilty of something more serious - perhaps Pharaoh thought they were foreign spies or had been plotting to kill him.

Whatever the reason, they were both behind bars, and must have felt pretty sorry for themselves. They became even more sad when they both had strange dreams on the same night. Two vivid dreams that they could not understand. Two dreams they suspected were significant, but could not hope to understand on their own.

Thankfuly Joseph was able to come to their aid, thankfully Joseph was a man with a plan! Joseph knew someone who had the power to explain their dreams. Joseph knew that God was with him, and had faith that God was willing and able to intervene. So Joseph said to the cupbearer and the baker: “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams”.

Do you notice that Joseph wanted to make sure that God got the credit? He wanted the cupbearer and the baker to be clear where Joseph’s wisdom came from. He wanted them to give credit where credit was due!

I hope we have the same attitude today:

  • For example, whenever we are praised or complemented on our talents our character or our accomplishments, I hope we recognise that God ultimately deserves the credit. I hope we all recognise that our talents and abilities – indeed our life itself - are all gifts from God.
  • And as we admire brilliant athletes at the Olympics, or look in admiration at our gifted friends and colleagues, we should thank God for the talents he has given them.
  • And whenever we tell people about our Christian faith be sure to give God the credit. Be sure to tell people that our salvation is a gift of God, not something we could ever earn or deserve on our own. The Christian Gospel is all about God’s grace and Christ’s cross, not our efforts or achievements.

Dreams de-coded!

As well as going to Disneyland, one other thing I did on holiday was watch a film called The Imitation Game. It describes the life of Alan Turing, the Cambridge mathematician who decoded the German Enigma machine during World War 2.

Turing was a genius, who was able to build a machine to decode the secret messages that the Nazis were sending to their armed forces during the war. Turing’s code-breaking skills meant that Britain and her allies were able to fight back more effectively - ending the war approximately two years early, and saving an estimated 14 million lives. What a wonderful day it must have been when the Enigma code was cracked for the first time!

In a similar way, the cupbearer and baker must have been delighted to hear that God could decode their dreams. They must have been keen to tell Joseph their dreams and let him decipher them!

The cupbearer was first to tell Joseph his dream. He had dreamt of a grape vine with three branches. He took some grapes from the vine and squeezed them into Pharoah’s cup. On hearing this dream, Joseph gave the cupbearer good news. He said: “The three branches are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do. But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison.”  

Next up was the baker. He had dreamt that there were three baskets of bread on his head. But there were birds who came and ate the bread. Unfortunately Joseph had to give bad news to the baker. This is what it means,’ he said. ‘The three baskets are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree.” Sadly, the poor baker was going to be executed for his crime against Pharaoh, whatever it may have been.

The king’s verdict…

Sure enough, we’re told that three days later the cupbearer and the baker were both taken out of their prison cell and summoned to stand before king Pharoah on his birthday. The cupbearer was forgiven whatever he’d done wrong, and restored to his position. He was Pharoah’s friend once again. But the baker wasn’t so lucky. Just as Joseph had predicted, the baker was condemned for his crime, and hung on a tree. He was dead - never to bake bread again.

The Bible tells us that one day we too will all stand before a great Ruler, before a powerful Judge, just like the cupbearer and the baker had to stand before King Pharaoh. That great Ruler and perfect Judge, will of course be God himself. We’ll all meet our Maker. And like Pharaoh, God will either forgive us or condemn us for all we’ve done wrong. He will either welcome us into his kingdom, or keep us out forever.

If we stand before God on our own, our chances are no better than the baker’s before Pharaoh. We’ve all done wrong, and deserve God’s just judgment.

But the message of Christianity – the reason it such great news - is that if we have faith in Jesus, we can be absolutely confident of forgiveness when we meet God face to face. If we are Christians we can become God’s forgiven friends forever. We can be restored to a right relationship with the King of the Universe – just like the cupbearer had his relationship restored with the King of Egypt.

And the reason is simple – Jesus took the condemnation we deserve for our sin. When Jesus was nailed to his wooden cross, he was hung on a tree just like the baker was. As he hung there he took the blame for our sin, he was punished in our place. Jesus died so we can receive God’s forgiveness and friendship forever. All we have to do to receive that forgiveness is turn from sin and put our faith in Christ.

Joseph’s patient faith…

That brings us to one final lesson we can learn from our passage today – and that’s the value of patient faith. Joseph asked the cupbearer to tell Pharaoh about him when he was restored to his role. But the cupbearer forgot all about him. Poor Joseph had to languish in prison for a further two years before God’s good plans for him came to fruition. During that time Joseph had to trust that God wouldn’t forget about him – even if the cupbearer had.

When we go through difficult, uncertain or challenging times in life, we face a similar challenge to Joseph. We are to keep trusting that God is with us, that he hasn’t forgotten about us, even if it may sometimes feel like it. We are to keep trusting that God’s good plans for us will come to fruition on his timescale, not ours. Above all, we’re to patiently wait for that great day when our faith will be vindicated. That great day when we’ll see our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, face to face.