Well I hope you’ve had a good summer holiday, and just about ready to return to work and school this week - unless you are lucky enough to be retired! Whatever way you’ve spent the holidays, I hope you’ve done everything you hoped to whether that was sunbathing, swimming, sightseeing, or simply enjoying a “stay-cation” at home! I hope you crammed in everything you wanted to.
Here at St Michael’s we’ve spent the last six weeks looking at the life of Joseph, and its fair to say that Joseph crammed a lot into his life. He went through almost everything you could imagine:
- Strange dreams,
- a colourful coat,
- a spell in a well,
- sold as a slave
- and then imprisoned in Egypt.
And to cap it all, Joseph went from being a prisoner to Prime Minister! (If the same thing happened today, we say he went from the Tower of London to 10 Downing Street! Or from Wormwood scrubs to Westminster!)
If you were here last week, you’ll have heard how Joseph deciphered the dreams of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. With God’s help, Joseph had warned Pharaoh that seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine. Joseph advised Pharaoh to store up food in the good years - when the harvests were plentiful - so there would be enough to go round when the famine arrived. As a reward for his advice, Pharaoh made him his governor - his Prime Minister. It became Joseph’s job to make sure no-one starved!
Joseph saves his family
As we re-join the story today, at the end of Genesis 41, Joseph is hard at work at the task the king had given him. He had gathered huge amounts of grain in the good years, and put it in storehouses. Now the famine had come “Joseph opened the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians.” And not just to Egyptians – people from “other countries” too - because the famine went far beyond Egypt.
One of those neighbouring countries was Canaan, where Joseph’s father and brothers lived. Like everyone else their food was running out and they were getting hungry. So Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to get grain. They bowed down before the governor of Egypt and asked for his help – without realising that it was their brother Joseph – at least until he told them!
It must have been an emotional family reunion. Tears of joy, but also tears of regret, as his brothers remembered how they had once sold him as a slave.
Joseph clearly forgave his brothers - because he gave them the food they needed and told them to bring his father and their whole family to Egypt. They would live in Goshen, and governor Joseph would make sure they never went hungry again!
So Joseph’s family were saved from starvation, his relationship with his brothers was restored, and his father Jacob had twelve sons once again. A happy ending to an eventful story! But what can we learn from Joseph’s life? Well, I think we can learn two lessons for today:
- Firstly, that God is always in control; and
- Secondly, that Joseph’s life leads us to Jesus;
Let’s look at those in turn…
- God is always in control
Firstly the life of Joseph should reassure us that God is always in control.Twenty years had passed between Joseph being sold by his brothers, and his final family reunion with them. During that time Joseph had gone from being 17 to his late thirties. He’d gone from being a teenager to a grown man with a wife and two sons.
Throughout that time God had stayed with Joseph - he had never left his side. Whether he was down a well, in a prison cell, or working for Pharaoh, God was always with him. If we are Christians, God is always with us. We are never really alone - his Holy Spirit has set up home within us, and we can always converse with him in prayer - whether or not we have mobile phone reception!
Joseph’s life also shows us that God keeps his promises, however long it takes. It took twenty years for Jospeh’s dreams to come true, but they did. Twenty years after dreaming that his brothers would bow down to him, they really did, didn’t they?! Take time to get familiar with God’s great promises in the Bible, because we can be sure that one day every one will come true.
And in the meantime, God is able to use every experience we go through for good. With hindsight, we can see that Joseph’s forced labour for Potiphar and in prison both gave him time to use his talent for administration. His responsibilities in Potphar’s house and in prison gave him experience that he would need when he became Prime Minister. Joseph had to learn how to govern a house and a prison before he would be ready to rule a whole nation. God used those tough times to mould Joseph’s character and prepare him for the future.
Joseph certainly learnt this lesson. Listen to what he said to his brothers in Genesis chapter 50: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish the saving of many lives.” When tough times strike us, we too need to trust that “in all things God works for the good of those that love him” (Rom 8). We need to have the same trusting, patient faith that Joseph had. Our good God is always in control.
- Joseph’s life leads us to Jesus
As well as reassuring us that God is in control, Joseph’s life should also lead us to Jesus.
Imagine for a moment that Joseph hadn’t saved his family from starvation. Imagine that he had never become Pharaoh’s Prime Minister. It would have been the end of Jacob and his sons. God’s chosen family would not have survived, they would never have grown into the nation of Israel, they would never have become to Jewish people. And the Messiah, the Christ, would not have been born. God’s plans to save the world through a Jesus, a Jew, would have come off the rails. The life of Joseph literally led to the life of Jesus 1500 years later.
But Joseph points us to Jesus in other ways as well. In fact Bible scholars have identified nearly 30 similarities between events in the lives of Joseph and Jesus. I will spare you the full list, but let me mention just two.
First, Jesus suffered to save his people – just like Joseph did. Over the past month we’ve seen that Joseph suffered in so many ways. After his dreams he experience, disbelief, jealousy and ridicule from his brothers. He then suffered physically when they threw him in a well and sold him as a slave. And then in prison he went several years without his freedom. But as we’ve seen, Jospeh’s trials and tribulations were for a purpose. They put him into a position where he could save his people from starvation.
Jesus too suffered greatly in his life. He experienced humiliation, mockery and ridicule from the religious authorities of his day. He was then imprisoned, tried and tortured by the Romans, before being killed on a Cross. But like Joseph, Jesus’ sufferings saved his people. Joseph saved God’s people from starvation, but Jesus saved his people from their sins. He was punished in our place - he was crucified to take away our guilt.
Think how grateful Joseph’s brothers were for the food he gave them. They came to him hungry, but left with full stomachs and their family reunited. How much more grateful should we Christians be for what Jesus has given us – we came to him with our sin and guilt, and received in return God’s forgiveness and friendship forever.
Secondly, despite his suffering Jesus was ultimately exalted – just like Joseph was. Despite all his trials and tribulations, Joseph’s life ended on a high. He was lifted up to the highest rank in the kingdom of Egypt. His career climaxed when he became, the Governor, the Chief Executive, the Prime Minister of all Egypt. Only Pharaoh himself out-ranked him - he was the king’s right hand man. Joseph’s brothers did the right thing when they bowed before him. Joseph was a man with great power, great character and great faith.
After his own suffering, Jesus too was exalted, when God raised him from the dead. Pharaoh gave Joseph new clothes - but God the Father gave Jesus a glorious new body, and lifted him to his right hand in Heaven. And from that exalted position Jesus reigns over the universe to this very day. He rules over creation at his Father’s side - like Joseph ruled over Egypt at Pharaoh’s side.
And just as Jospeh’s brother’s bowed before him and submitted to his authority, we today should submit to Jesus. As Christians our lives should be shaped by obedience to Christ’s words. Our number one aim should be to serve and honour him. Our heart’s desire should be to praise him and please him.
In fact the Bible tells us that one day every knee will bow before Jesus. One day he will be seen by all as God’s Son. One day everyone will have to acknowledge Christ’s authority as their rightful ruler and judge - whether they like it or not. So let’s make sure Jesus is lord of our lives now, and be sure tell others about him.
You see, Jesus is a great ruler and a loving Saviour – someone who puts even Joseph in the shade!