2 The LORD was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD gave him success in everything he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. 5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the LORD blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the LORD was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6 So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.
Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!”
8 But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. 9 No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” 10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.
11 One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.
13 When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14 she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”
16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”
19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. 20 Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.
But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.
We heard Jesus say today, “Take up your cross and follow me.” This is not an encouragement for Christians to build a heavy, wooden object and carry it all the time or find a nice pendant to hang on a chain around our necks. This is also not Jesus’ way of telling you that you have to participate with him in the work of salvation. It is not possible to help Jesus save you from hell. There is nothing for us to do in the eternal life equation. We are saved by God’s grace alone through faith in Jesus. But that does not change what Jesus says to us today. Following Jesus means you and I will have to carry something in life, and I think this Bible story helps us figure out what that is.
Joseph was a man who had already been through a lot. The family he was born into was a little dysfunctional. Joseph’s dad, Jacob, had 12 sons and one daughter…from the 4 different wives. If you read through Genesis 30-38 you will see that this was not a good recipe for a family unit. On top of that, Jacob was not always a good father. He loved Joseph more than any of his children and everyone could see it, literally because Jacob made an ornate robe just for Joseph, almost as if to parade him around the house and the fields. The brothers took notice and hated him for it. The Bible says that they could not speak a kind word to him.
Things only got worse to the point where the brothers plotted ways to kill Joseph. They didn’t go through with it, because they saw a caravan of merchants heading south. One of his brothers, Judah said, “Why kill Joseph and cover it up? Why not sell him, he is our brother after all, and make a little money on him? We can still make it look like he is dead.” So that’s what they did; they sold their brother and made everyone else believe he was dead.
That’s where we pick things up in Genesis 39. Joseph is now a slave in Egypt, sold to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. And then we read this little line, “The Lord was with Joseph…” Doesn’t this detail seem out of place to you? Most people tend to think that bad things happen when people turn toward evil. There is some wiring in the human brain that see things as cause and effect, something bad happens because someone was doing something bad. Even spiritually, we might think, “Well, Joseph had it coming because he was getting too full of himself, and God had to put him in his place.” But that’s not the case here. All of these things happen to Joseph while the Lord was with him, watching over him, protecting him, loving him.
It seemed to be taking a turn for the better. Joseph was a slave, but he wasn’t brutalized. He was put in charge of the house. Joseph was responsible for everything Potiphar had. But it all comes crashing down, again. Potiphar’s wife comes into the picture with an offer, “Come to bed with me.” Joseph is an honorable man and refuses. But the reason is not because he didn’t want to have sex with her – someone else, maybe, but just not her – or because she was another man’s wife or because he was afraid of what Potiphar would do.
No, listen to his reason. “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” Joseph sees this is a spiritual issue. It is wrong because God says it is wrong. God says certain things are sinful. Plain and simple, we don’t get to decide what’s right and wrong. Joseph does a good job of seeing this from a faith standpoint. Believers listen to the Lord and follow him earnestly, faithfully, carefully. Believers should not listen to the Lord and then grumble about following him. Believers should not choose for themselves what to follow. Believers should not get lazy about listening to the Lord when it seems old-fashioned or strict. Believers should not grow careless and wander off. That’s how believers end up falling away from Jesus. It’s their own fault, not God’s.
Maybe the way Joseph reacts to this temptation will turn things around for him? Maybe this is when the Lord will reward him? But when he refuses, she doesn’t back down. She continued to pressure him day after day. Then, she actually got a hold of him, so Joseph had to leave his shirt behind and run out of there. But that’s not the story that Potiphar gets. No, he gets the version where Joseph is the immoral and abusive one.
Now, we could stop here to talk about sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace or at home, about the MeToo movement, about false allegations, about all this kind of stuff that comes up in our oversexualized society. I don’t want to ignore this topic or lead anyone to think that this type of stuff is off limits. We have to talk about these kinds of things. We have to listen to what God says. We have to be filled with love and compassion. We have to be willing to listen and help whenever possible.
But for our purposes today, I want you just to consider Joseph’s reaction. He didn’t do anything wrong and is falsely accused, but when Potiphar gets a different story from his wife, what does Joseph do? It’s right there in verse…verse…verse… Actually, there is no reaction from Joseph recorded. No press conference, no hiring of a lawyer, no plea for the other slaves, who all worked for Joseph, to speak up, nothing like that. And I get it, he’s a slave, what can he do? But still! He just goes to prison. For never complaining once about all these horrible circumstances, for being a good and honest slave, for being honorable in the face of temptation, for putting God first, Joseph’s suffering only gets worse.
And strangely enough what does verse 21 tell us? “The Lord was with him…” How come the all-powerful God didn’t step in? If God is so loving and kind, why would Joseph have to endure all this? When is enough, enough? Aren’t those some of questions that a Bible story like this raises? Aren’t those some of the questions you hear or ask from time to time? I’ve been in the hospital, I’ve sat in my office, I’ve been at a cookout or a ballgame and talked to people who have these kinds of questions.
And the answer comes back to the cross Jesus is talking about. A cross is not meant to be enjoyable. It was a terrorizing instrument of death. The cross is pain. The cross is persecution. The cross is all the hardships you endure because you believe in Jesus. Every Christian has a cross to carry. It’s not an option. Plain and simple, the cross has to be part of the life of Jesus’ followers. This is not because God is unkind, but he knows there is something better for us than what this world has to offer.
The cross of suffering and persecution forces us to see that this world the way it really is. This is the place that is ravaged by sin. This is the place where sin dooms people to eternal death in hell. No fancy ornate robe like the one Jacob gave Joseph can cover my sin. No job where I’m put in charge of everything can pay for my sins. This is the place where suffering happens, not because God doesn’t care or doesn’t love you, but because sin is a destroyer.
Just think of what sin did to Jesus. He suffered more than being sold into slavery. He was sold for thirty pieces of silver into death. He suffered more than imprisonment because of false accusations. He was crucified. That is the punishment for sin. My sin and yours earn and deserve death. But God stepped in for you. Jesus paid the price so that we would not suffer what we deserve. Jesus gave his life so that we could have life with him in heaven, where there is not suffering, no pain, no persecution.
Heaven is the home for God’s people, not this world. So, suffering the cross of persecution and hardship here forces us to keep our eyes where they need to be, on the one who saves us from suffering, on the spiritual and eternal blessings that are more profound, on the home that was purchased for us by the suffering and death of Jesus.
If you aren’t willing to take up this cross, if you want everything in your life to be easy, if you want it my way or it’s the highway, if you want to avoid the questions, if you don’t want to deal with the pain, then how can you be a disciple of Jesus? How can you bear the name of the one who died and rose to save you? You are trying to save yourself from hardship and suffering, and only the Lord can do that. You are trying to save yourself from what the Lord intends to be a spiritual and eternal benefit for you. You are trying to save your life on earth, when the Lord wants you to be in heaven with him. How could that possibly be what a child of God does?
Do you know what the Lord accomplished through Joseph’s suffering? He went to prison for more than two years, until the Pharaoh needed someone to interpret his dreams. It just so happened there was a Hebrew slave in prison who had been given that gift from God. God raised Joseph up from the suffering to be second in command of all Egypt. God used Joseph to save the sons of Israel from a famine. God used Joseph to be a beautiful example to his brothers of forgiveness and love. God, then, went on to rescue Israel from Egypt and restore them in the Promised Land. God kept his promise to deliver his people and save the world when he sent his own Son to take our suffering away for eternity. That’s why this Bible story about Joseph keeps saying, “The Lord was with him…” Despite the cross of suffering and hardships, Joseph was not alone.
When suffering is yours to endure, when persecution is the cross you must carry, the Lord is with you like he was with Joseph. Followers of Jesus may lose things in this life, maybe it’s comfort, maybe friends or family, maybe a job, maybe health, or maybe even this life on earth is taken away, but Christ is with you. And so your life is saved for eternity through his cross. And that’s what matters. That’s what we focus on.
I had the privilege keeping the focus on Jesus as I visited a couple of our members in the hospital this Friday. I’ll conclude with the same words of God that I shared with them, words that give the encouragement we need as we carry our crosses. From 2 Corinthians 4: 16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Brothers and sisters, God bless you as you take up your cross and follow Jesus. Amen.