THE LORD IS WITH YOU

Bible stories

Genesis 39

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.

FIRST OF MANY

6.10.18 Pentecost 3B

Pentecost B

Genesis 3:8-15

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”
10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”
The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
14 So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring a and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.

 

 

I find the beginning chapters of the Bible absolutely astounding. Here’s why.  As much as the smartest scientists and philosophers and astrophysicists tell us they know absolutely, completely, for sure that the world is most likely, probably something like 4.5 billion years old maybe, they were not present for the beginning of time and so they have no clue what they are talking about.  There is a lot of intrigue about the origins of this universe and world and a lot of uncertainty if you listen to those “smart” people.

The answer, however, is neatly packaged by the only one who was there before it all began. In the first chapters of Genesis, God tells us that everything came into being from God who made it all out of nothing simply by his almighty Word.  We are not descendants of dumb luck or absurd chances that some cells decided to be little swimmy things in water and then decided to be bigger swimmy things, then little slithery things, then walking things, then hairy and bigger walking things, then less hairy walking and talking things.  How can that possibly be the most sensible belief about the beginning?  If that is the answer then we wonder why there is a problem in our world with bullying, porn, violence, abuse, immorality, arrogance. That kind of thinking about our beginning gives life no value.  It gives us no purpose and no reason to exist.

When a lot of people see Genesis and the Bible as a bunch of nonsense, fairytales and fantasies, anything but facts, I find these first couple of chapters so very enlightening, comforting, and true.  And I think we can help people see it this way.  If Adam and Eve are the very first human beings, then we would expect to find characteristics and qualities that you and I also have.  As we hear about the devil successfully tempting the first human beings into sin – where he tells lies as if they were truth, where they don’t value God the way they should, where they don’t value each other the way they should – we would expect that to be a way that is still effective on humans today.  After they fall into sin we would expect them to handle it in a way that you and I still do today.  And as God approaches them after their sin, we would expect him to deal with them in a way that he still deals with us today.  These first chapters do not tell us things that are peculiar, mythical, or specific to a certain time or place but they tell us something universal.  These first chapters explain so much about you and me.  Like I said, I find that absolutely astounding.

The beginning of Genesis is not a story that you and I have to try and figure out.  It is not like any other book or story because this book, it has us all figured out.  Reading through these first couple chapters, we find out who we are and what makes us tick.  We find out why we treat each other poorly.  We find out why we cope with sin the way we do.  We find out how God intervenes and rescues us from all of those things the way he does.  As we look at this section of the Bible we see all of the firsts – the first days, the first people, the first temptation, the first sin, the first human reaction to sin, the first divine reaction to sin –  but this is just the first of many times that these things happen all the way up to today.

When we pick it up in Genesis 3:8 Adam and Eve have just done what God told them not to do.  The devil tempted them to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and they did.  So, now what?  What is the solution to this problem that Adam and Eve have brought into the world?

Adam and Eve have their own ideas.  They take cover.  They take cover behind fig leaves that they sewed together, because they needed to cover this new concept of shame.  God comes on his normal stroll in the garden, and Adam and Eve take cover in the trees of the garden.  They now need to cover up this new thing called guilt.  And finally, when God confronts them they take cover with excuses, blaming, and even blaspheming against God.

Notice the changes in Adam and Eve that happen because of sin.  In an instant their relationship with God was different.  God was so good to them. They were in perfect union with him.  Now God’s footsteps sound like police sirens, from which they desperately want to hide.

In an instant another relationship was different.  Up to this point the devil had been the one pointing the accusing finger at God, even blaspheming him.  He said, “You can’t trust God. Look, he’s holding out on you with this tree.”  Now, not only had Adam and Eve listened to the devil, but they became fluent in his language.  Adam points the accusing finger at God and says, “The woman you put here with me —she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”  Because of the first sin, Adam and Eve ran from God and were now speaking the same language as their enemy, the devil.  In other words, that first sin made them afraid of their Father and friends with their foe.

Like I said this was the first time that happened, and the first of many times since.  Adam and Eve’s behavior here reveals something that is true for you and me.  As human beings we have a deep-seeded desire for two very important things: to be known and to be loved.  For most of us we would like to go through life with someone, someone to share things with us and to know us.  And we want those people to love, accept, and approve of us.

But when sin comes into the picture, we can’t really have both.   If someone really knows everything about you, then some might not want to love you anymore.  So, we’ve got these two things and, given the choice, you probably would want to be loved, which means you might give up being completely known.  Just like Adam and Eve, we take cover.  We hide.

That’s pretty easy to do, isn’t it?  We hide from people at work, at school, in the neighborhood, at church, with friends, and even in extended families.  We hide stuff and put only the best version of ourselves out there.  Is there a more terrifying thought than if all of our acquaintances, our casual connections, would suddenly know everything that only our close friends know?  What if suddenly all of our close friends knew everything that your family knows?  What if your family knew everything that only you know?  And what if everyone knew everything?

That is true for one person; he knows it all.  When we are confronted with that truth, then we can become very good at speaking the language of our enemy.   We point the finger at God and blame him.  “God, your plan for my life, the way you want me to live, your guidance for the so-called good life about how I should think, speak and act, well it just is not right.  It’s not exciting.  It’s not fun.  It’s not fair.”  It’s like the irrational hope of a someone caught red-handed in sin, thinking that hiding behind the lies and finger-pointing will somehow help them escape their guilt.

That’s what happened for the first time here in Genesis 3 to Adam and Eve, but it was just the first of many.  This is what sin does to us.  It makes us afraid of our Father and friends with our foe.

There they were, Adam, Eve, and the devil newly allied with each other against God.   The three of them should have been placed like bottles on fence posts.  Boom, boom, boom.  1,2,3.  Blown to bits.  But God stepped up in a different way.  God says, “I’m going to rearrange things here. I’m going to bring Adam and Eve back to my side.”  He looks right at the devil and says this: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

This is a big verse in the Old Testament.  This is God’s declaration of war against the devil, and it’s the first indication of how God is going to win that war.  One of Eve’s own descendants, one born of a woman, would crush the devil even though it would come at a great cost to himself.  This verse is the first promise of our Savior, Jesus.

You might look at those words and say, “I don’t know if I see that!”  Why would God be so cryptic and vague?  Why didn’t he just come out with it: “Jesus Christ will die on the cross to forgive your sins?”  This promise was exactly what Adam and Eve needed in that moment, nothing more and nothing less.  God basically gave them an empty bowl of a promise that, over time, would be filled with more and more and more details.

When God said that one of Eve’s descendants, one born of a woman, would crush the head of the devil, it happened.  The fulfillment of that promise was a male born of a woman, just a woman with no human father, so that he was both true man and true God.  When God promised that he would crush the head of the devil, and the devil would strike his heal, it happened.  Jesus defeated the devil not with brute force but hidden behind weakness and suffering when he died on the cross.

God went on to describe what life would be like for Adam and Eve in a sinful world, how everything that had been perfectly good would now be bad, how their work would be frustrating and hard, how childbearing would be painful, how their marriage and relationships would now have strife.  That would be too tough to hear, if it had not been for the promise that God had spoken.

And this promise worked for Adam and Eve.  A little while later Adam and Eve had a child, and sure enough it was a boy.  Adam and Eve looked at their son and thought, “Here is the one. This is the answer to God’s promise, the Savior.”  They were a little soon.  Jesus would not come for a couple thousand years, but it shows that God’s promise worked.  Two people who had been afraid of their Father had been given faith in their Father instead.

In contrast, think about what God’s promise did to the foe, the devil.  God says to the devil, “One of Eve’s descendants is going to crush your head.”  Can you image the thoughts that filled the devils head after that promise was made?  “Who!?! When!?! Where!?!?”  But God didn’t give those details.  I can only image the devil wanting to be present for every birth after that, waiting to see if it was a boy and wondering, “Is he the one?”  How that promise taunted and tormented the devil from that point forward.

Look what our good and gracious Father is doing.  He finds people who are afraid of their Father and friends with the foe, and he gives them faith in their Father while putting all the fear on the foe. In the garden was the first time God did this, but again it’s just the first of many times after that.

You and I are so good at being the person who irrationally hopes that they can hide behind lies and finger-pointing and escape our guilt.  Part of the reason we do it is because we often forget that there’s a better solution.

God steps in with his promise to us.  He says “I am not charging you with any sin.  I declare you innocent of all guilt because I have already charged it to my Son.  The punishment you should pay, I have already given to him.  Not only are you fully forgiven and free, but, because that sin is paid for, no one can ever bring it against you again.  No one can every charge you with it because the penalty has already been paid.”

God has spoken that word to you, and every time we see a little bit of water connected to that powerful Word of God he speaks it again.  “You don’t need to be afraid of your Father anymore.  I have given you faith.  I have made you a part of the family forever.  The foe is the fearful one.”

For all who have this faith in Jesus we have undeniable and unending comfort and peace.  And that means we have no reason to hide behind excuses, lies, and finger-pointing.  God has provided the real solution to sin’s problem.

In fact, with God’s word of promise we find out that we have those two things that we desire deep down, the desire to be known and the desire to be loved.  With our Father in heaven we have someone who knows us, better than anyone, better than we even know ourselves.  And yet he still accepts us, approves of us, and loves us more than we could ever imagine.

All of this is ours from our Father through his Son, our brother.  That’s why family is most definitely and always will be better than the foe.  To God be the glory.  Amen.