************ Sermon on Genesis 50:20 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 5, 2015
"God Meant it for Good"
As I said last week, when Israel left Egypt in a hurry, they took Joseph's bones with them (Ex 13:19). More than forty years later Joshua buried them in Jacob's field in Shechem (Josh 24:32). We aren't given any more details than that about Joseph's burial. Was there a ceremony? Did someone give a eulogy of this great hero of the faith? If so, what did that person say? Was there a marker at the grave? All these questions remain unanswered.
One of my commentaries makes this suggestion: let's suppose for a moment that there was a grave marker set up in the field in Shechem. What might have been written under the name "Joseph" on such a stone? Well, there is usually only space for one brief phrase, or maybe a sentence at most. So we usually see phrases like "BELOVED HUSBAND," "FAITHFUL MOTHER," and so on. Whatever words we might place on someone's tombstone, they must be brief and they ought to tell us something important about the person buried below.
So, given that set of guidelines, what might have been engraved on Joseph's gravestone? Well, what was the main theme of his life? And how would we state it? What would we put on Joseph's tombstone? I would write the words of our text: "God intended it for good." "Intended" is too long of a word for a gravestone so let's use the word we find in other translations of the Bible: "GOD MEANT IT FOR GOOD." Because this is the main lesson of Joseph's life: "God meant it for good." Joseph lived a hundred and ten years (Gen 50:22). During those years there was so much heartache, frustration, and wrong. But in all of this, "God meant it for good."
I Joseph Forgives His Brothers
A After burying father Jacob, Joseph's brothers fear for their safety in Egypt. It seems they believed Joseph had been kind to them only for Jacob's sake. With the patriarch gone, they thought Joseph might seek revenge and do to them the same thing they did to him (Gen 50:15) -- namely, sell them into slavery or even worse. We know this is on their mind because once again they referred to themselves as Joseph's slaves (Gen 50:18; cf Gen 44:33). Yet, Joseph showed them nothing but love: He kissed them, he wept over them, he provided for their needs in Egypt (Gen 45:1-47:12).
Why would Joseph's brothers think this way? Because most people read their motives into other people's behavior. So, if they are greedy, they see greed in other people. If they struggle with lust, they see lust in other people. If they struggle with pride, that is what they see in other people. Usually, what you condemn in other people says more about you than about the other person. Joseph's brothers struggled with hate and envy and just assumed that Joseph was the same way.
B Now, we also know that Joseph's brothers were changed men with changed hearts. The episodes with the silver in the sacks of grain and the silver cup in Benjamin's sack convinced Joseph that they were converted (Gen 42-44). Yet, Joseph's brothers still suffered from guilt and fear. Do you know why? Because nowhere does Scripture record for us that they asked Joseph for forgiveness. Their failure to confess and receive forgiveness was the big elephant in the room that everyone was ignoring.
On this Preparatory Sunday let me say this loud and clear: Guilt makes us ashamed to face God and the people we have offended until we confess our sin (Gen 3:1-10; Acts 16:25-40). And, a guilty conscience exposes men to continual fright. So let me urge you, congregation, spend time this week confessing your sin to God. And, if you have offended someone, acknowledge your sin and ask for their forgiveness. Those who fail to confess and receive forgiveness make themselves -- like Joseph's brothers -- suffer unnecessarily and rob themselves of comfort and assurance.
C In their fear, Joseph's brothers sent word to Joseph, saying,
(Gen 50:16-17) "Your father left these instructions before he died: (17) 'This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.' Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father."People often lie when they are afraid, and Joseph's brothers may have bent the truth when they claimed Father Jacob said Joseph was to pardon them. Yet, even if they stretched the truth, they do ask for forgiveness.
It is not clear in the English like it is in the Hebrew that the brothers confessed their sin against Joseph using three of the four main Hebrew words for iniquity. Meaning what? Meaning the brothers did not pretend that their deeds were not wicked. Meaning the brothers did not act as if what they did was no big deal.
D When their message came to him, Joseph wept. Joseph does a lot of weeping in Genesis for a lot of different reasons. We are told he wept when his brothers threw him into the cistern and sold him into slavery (Gen 42:21) -- those were tears of fear. He wept when his brothers first came to Egypt (Gen 42:24) -- those were tears of emotion. He wept again when his brothers came a second time to Egypt (Gen 43:30) and when he revealed himself to his brothers (Gen 45:2, 14) -- tears of anticipation. He wept when he was reunited with Jacob (Gen 46:29) -- tears of joy. He wept when Jacob died (Gen 40:1) -- tears of sorrow. And now he weeps when his brothers admit their sin and ask for forgiveness.
Do you know how long Joseph has been waiting for his brothers' confession of guilt and admission of sin? Do you know how long Joseph has been waiting for their pleas for forgiveness? At least forty years!! That's a long time for anyone to wait. The floodgates have opened and Joseph weeps because his prayers have been answered. Finally, he has full reconciliation with his brothers. Joseph weeps because he was not a vindictive man. Joseph weeps because he did not seek revenge on his brothers. Joseph weeps because he fully forgives his brothers. Those were tears of joy. And, they were also tears of sadness that so much time was lost.
E Think about those forty years in terms of the brothers. The brothers waited forty years before they got the nerve to admit their sin and ask for forgiveness. Think of all the agony and the guilt and the shame and the lies and the coverup they had to endure. Think of their constant fear that they may be found out. Think of the sideward glances they gave each other when someone brought up the past. If only they confessed! Similarly, on this Preparatory Sunday, think of all the agony and guilt and shame we suffer unnecessarily because we lie and coverup instead of confess.
Now, think about those forty years in terms of Joseph. In waiting this long Joseph was showing the patience of God. And, he also showed the forgiving nature of God: Joseph reassured his brothers -- twice saying, "Don't be afraid" (Gen 50:19,21); Joseph also promised again to provide for them (cf Gen 45:11); and, Joseph spoke kindly to them (Gen 50:21). In Joseph we see a picture of Christ!
Joseph never sought revenge on his brothers. Notice what he asked: "Am I in the place of God?" (Gen 50:19). In asking this Joseph indicates that revenge is best left to God and not to him or any other man (Rom 12:19). Are we willing to do the same when we are sinned against? And, would we be willing to wait forty years for someone to repent? Would we be willing to forgive those who have hurt us regardless of how long it takes?
II The Sovereignty of God
A Our text explains to us why Joseph was so forgiving and loving. Joseph said, "God meant it for good."
(Gen 50:20) You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Many Christians reject Reformed theology precisely at this point. They are shocked at the idea that God is in charge of everything. They cannot accept that God's sovereignty even determines who will be saved. I'm afraid they have too low an opinion of God and too high an opinion of themselves.
Joseph passionately believes in God's sovereignty. Joseph passionately believes God is in charge. Joseph, the second most powerful man in Egypt and perhaps in the entire world, passionately believes that he is not in control of his own destiny. "God meant it for good."
Didn't Joseph say something very similar when he made himself known to his brothers? Listen to these verses:
(Gen 45:5) And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.Again I say, Joseph passionately believed in the sovereignty of God.
(Gen 45:7-8) But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. (8) "So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.
B Because of his belief in God's sovereignty, Joseph was able to forgive the terrible wrongs done him by his brothers. Why? Because, "God meant it for good." Joseph is saying that our sovereign God overrides the intents and deeds of wicked men to bring about good. Or, as Paul puts it in his letter to the Romans,
(Rom 8:28) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.Isn't this a beautiful and wonderful teaching? God blamelessly works concurrently with men, even in their evil intents, to achieve an ultimate good.
Look at how this teaching is worked out in the life of Joseph with all its ups and downs:
• Had Joseph not been sold into slavery, he would never have ended up in Egypt.
• Had Joseph not ended up in Egypt, he would never have gained distinction in Potiphar's house.
• Had Joseph not gained distinction in Potiphar's house, he would never have been falsely accused by Potiphar's wife.
• Had Joseph not been falsely accused by Potiphar's wife, he would never have ended up in jail.
So far, things do not seem to be working out for good, do they?!
Let's continue following how the sovereignty of God is graciously worked out in the life of Joseph:
• Had Joseph not ended up in jail, he would never have interpreted the cupbearer's dream.
• Had Joseph not interpreted the cupbearer's dream, he would never have been called upon to interpret Pharaoh's dream.
• Had Joseph not interpreted Pharaoh's dream, Egypt would never have been prepared for the coming famine.
• Had Egypt not been prepared for the coming famine, many in that part of the world would have died -- including Joseph and his brothers!
• And had Joseph and his brothers died, there would have been no Israel and, therefore, no Messiah!
Joseph's whole life is one long trail of evidence that demonstrates how God uses the worst of circumstances to bring about good.
C "God meant it for good." But in no way or no form does this lessen the evil done Joseph by his brothers. Their actions, in selling him into slavery, had nothing but evil intent written all over them. Their wickedness can in no way be lessened by the knowledge that things turned out for good.
"God meant it for good." This teaching means God is sovereign over evil. Sin and Satan do not have the last word -- God does! Sin and Satan and wicked men are not in control -- God is! Our almighty God is able to use wickedness to further His plans. Meaning what? Meaning leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty, life and death, all things in fact, are in His fatherly hand. God has a plan and He carries it out -- even through the actions of sinful men. God upholds, directs, disposes and governs all creatures, actions, and things to accomplish His purposes.
D "God meant it for good." We learn that, even when others are harming us, God is allowing it for our good -- and therefore we can forgive, as Joseph did! We learn that God is in control, and can be trusted even in the darkest hours. And we learn not to judge our circumstances too quickly! If Joseph had measured God’s love simply by what he could see in the here and now, he would have lost his faith.
"God meant it for good." This statement, congregation, needs to be engraved onto our hearts! So much of the Christian life is wrapped up in believing this truth! The ability to forgive is attached to our acceptance of this truth. The ability to cope with hardship is tied up in believing this truth. The question of why God permits evil is directly related to this truth.
"God meant it for good." Think about this in terms of Stephen, the first martyr of the New Testament church. As the disciples carried and buried his lifeless body they had to think beyond Stephen's untimely death. They had to think beyond the hateful actions of the men who stoned him to death. They had to think beyond their grief and the grief of Stephen's family.
"God meant it for good." What is the good that came from Stephen's untimely death? Listen to what Scripture says:
(Acts 8:1,4) On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria ... (4) Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.Did you hear the good? Stephen died, persecution broke out, the church was scattered, the Gospel was proclaimed, and the church grew.
But there is also another good. Standing there, giving approval to Stephen's death, was a young man by the name of Saul. Stephen's witness to Christ prepared Saul for his own encounter with the risen Lord.
"God meant it for good." Even understanding the Gospel itself is difficult if we do not understand and believe the message of this truth. Consider the suffering and death and crucifixion of Jesus. What a horrible way to die. But "God meant it for good." Namely, "the saving of many lives" (Gen 50:20).
The story of Joseph is so much like the story of Jesus! In both cases, God allowed one man to go through tremendous suffering in order, in the end, to bring about rescue for all God's people! This is simply the way God works.
So when you struggle and when you suffer, remember Joseph. Remember that his brothers meant evil against him, "but God meant it for good." And more than that, remember Jesus Whose suffering was more excruciating than anything you or I will ever endure, yet Who brought about the world's greatest good! Remember the death of Jesus, and all the good it brought about.
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