Wednesday, February 12, 2014

God is with Joseph--and with us

There’s an incredibly remarkable phrase in Genesis 39:2. The Bible says, “The Lord was with Joseph…” Taken on its own, with no context at all, that doesn’t seem to be too special. What makes it remarkable is the story that surrounds it. Back in chapter 37 we’re introduced to Joseph; he’s 17 at this time. We’re told that Joseph was his father’s favorite son and as a symbol of favored status his father gives him a very expensive, very ornately designed robe. This does not help Joseph’s standing with his brothers. In fact we’re told that they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. Next we see that Joseph is a dreamer. In his dreams he’s the main character and everyone else plays a supporting role. Best of all his dreams follow a simple theme. He is exalted above his family and they bow down to him. To the surprise of no one at all, this makes his brothers hate him even more. They decide that the best course of action is to sell their brother into slavery—initially they wanted to kill him but one of his brothers convinced them to just throw him in a pit.
Now let’s just stop for a minute and consider where we are at this point—how messed up is your family if this is what happens? You’re the favorite son and you can’t shut up about how you think you’re going to run the show. Your dad makes no secret that you’re the favorite and this drives your brothers so crazy that they are ready to end your life and only the intervention of an older brother saves you. However, you’re still sold into slavery. Best of all, this is how they spin it to dad-they kill a goat and dip Joseph’s fancy robe in the blood and take it back to Jacob and say, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.” Pretty heartless isn’t it?
That’s what makes 39:2 so remarkable. We’re supposed to believe that God is with him even after all he’s gone through? Surely he’s been abandoned by God, right? Or, if this is what it means to have God ‘with you’ then maybe its best to ride solo. Hang on, it gets worse. Joseph is sold to a man named Potiphar, an important official. Everything is going great until his wife notices that Joseph is pretty handsome. She begins to try and seduce him. Day after day, scripture says, she offered herself to him. Finally she accuses him of rape and he’s thrown in prison. And then we see that remarkable phrase again in 39:21, “But the Lord was with Joseph…” Again we might ask, ‘How can scripture say this? How can we say that God is with Joseph when he’s obviously not living his best life now?’ Here’s a couple things I think Joseph’s story reminds us of, very important things to keep in mind when we face the inevitable hardships of life.
--God Has a Plan. We’re going to come out of the gate with a cliché. I can hear the eyes rolling as you read that statement. But while that sounds tired and trite there’s something we have to acknowledge—God does indeed have a plan. Not necessarily a plan that involves everything going easy for you, which we’ll get to momentarily. But God isn’t up in heaven wondering how things are going to turn out. He is working out all things according  to the mystery of His good and sovereign plan. Joseph is in Egypt so that he can one day save his family from a famine; which will preserve the nation of Israel; which will one day produce Jesus. The point is that God is at work, even when our hearts are broken.
--Your Circumstances don’t Affect your Standing with God.  God is with Joseph when he’s home with his father. God is with Joseph when he’s sold into slavery. God is with Joseph when he’s in prison. I think the point God wants us to get is that He is with us. No matter what we face in life, no matter what we’re going through, God is with us. The great thing about grace is that it’s undeserved—and that’s great because if I didn’t do anything to earn it, I can’t do anything to lose it. My standing with God is not based on what I do (or don’t do). My standing with God was settled when I repented of my sins and placed my faith in the finished work of Jesus. All my sin was placed on Christ and all His righteousness was given to me. My standing before the Father, then, is as secure as Christ’s standing before the Father. So when things are good God is with me and I rejoice. When things are bad God is with me and I rejoice. What I’m going through has no bearing on where I stand with God. “But if God is with me”, we might ask, “why am I suffering?” Great question. Here’s the answer.
--God May Want You to Suffer. If there’s anything we don’t want to hear, it’s this isn’t it? Nobody likes to suffer, nobody likes to face hardship. But the reality is that God may want you to suffer. God may bring things into your life that are unpleasant. Why? The short version is that sometimes it’s correction for sin. Sometimes God is using that hardship to shape us and mold us into the image of Jesus. Sometimes it’s just because we live in a world that has been broken by sin. Scripture doesn’t always make plain why God allows suffering—look at Job’s life. Nobody ever told Job why he lost everything. The point is that the suffering we face doesn’t mean we’ve been abandoned by God. We simply must learn to accept that there is no guarantee of east in God’s kingdom. That’s a hard word. How do we learn to embrace that truth?
--God Uses Your Suffering. Now I know this sounds like a cliché but here’s the thing—God actually does use our suffering. He uses our suffering to further conform us to image of Christ. God uses our suffering to help us demonstrate to others that Jesus is greater and more glorious than anything else we face. Sometimes He uses our suffering to advance the gospel. None of those things take away the pain that we feel when we suffer. But being reminded helps us to hold fast and continue to trust even through these times. Joseph had no way of knowing it but God was using the suffering he was facing to prepare him for the place of leadership He would one day bring him to. But He had to prepare Joseph for that place. Now I know there are tons of objections to this. I imagine someone asking, “So you’re saying God allowed my heart to be broken, my family member to die, my job to be taken away from me for my good?” I would say that the answer isn’t that simplistic, and I’m certainly not insinuating that we ought to jump up and down and be happy when our hearts break. I’m saying that we have to keep in mind that God is so great and good and sovereign that even in the midst of pain and heartache and loss He is still at work in our lives, still bringing things around to a conclusion that will be for our good and His glory.
So what do we do? How do we face these times of suffering? I think Joseph shows us the answer—we continue to serve and continue to trust. Now that’s not easy to hear is it? We want something else. But here’s the reality-what else are we going to do? As I see it we have two choices-we can abandon our faith or we can cling to our faith. That’s pretty much it. We can trust in the one who loved us and gave Himself for us; we can believe that even if we don’t know what’s going on, He does. We can believe and hope and trust that He’s going to work it out for our good and His glory.
Or we can turn our back on Him. We can decide that the cost is too high and the pain too much to bear. Those are our choices. So I think it's crucial that devote ourselves to a careful meditation of the goodness of God, that we ask God to continue to reveal to us His matchless splendor so that we'll see that no matter what we face, Jesus is worth it. God has never turned His back on us, and I pray that we’ll never turn our backs on Him.  

No comments:

Post a Comment