Harold Kim delivered a message in a breakout session titled “Bittersweet Sovereignty in Joseph’s Story and Ours” at The Gospel Coalition’s 2018 West Coast Conference. From Genesis 37–50, Kim addressed three repeating themes in the life of Joseph: sins, sovereignty, and salvation. Driven by sinful, generational family dysfunction, Joseph’s life spiraled into chaos, yet God was sovereign over and working through it all. In the same way, we find hope in the promise that God causes all things—even the horrendous, atrocious dysfunction that often befalls us due to our sin—to work together for our good.
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Harold Kim: So, let’s go right into the Scriptures. If you have your Bibles, let’s turn to the Book of Genesis chapter 37 verses 2 through 8. Let’s begin there and then I’ve just got a couple more verses after that.
All right, Genesis chapter 37, verses 2 through 8, this is God’s word. These are the generations of Jacob, and Joseph being 17 years old was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel, who is also Jacob, loved Joseph more than any other of his sons because he was the son of his old age and he made him a robe of many colors.
But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. Now, Joseph had a dream. And when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed. Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So, they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
And then jumping down to verses 18 and 19. The context is that all of Joseph’s brothers have been working out far away on the fields. Joseph has been pampered and left at home, and the dad, Israel to Jacob, sends Joseph to go find out what his brothers are doing.
So, we pick up at verse 18. They, the brothers, saw him, Joseph, from afar. And before he came near to them, they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer.” And the last, just three verses. It’s actually the conclusion of Book of Genesis, chapter 50 verses 19 to 21.
After many, many moons have passed, Joseph has risen into second in command of the Kingdom of Egypt, like a vice regent or prime minister. All of his family members and his brothers come fleeing to Egypt because they’ve been literally starving to death because of a famine.
And here is the part of reconciliation when his brothers recognize that their long lost brother, Joseph is indeed a ruler of this kingdom. So, verses 19 to 21 of chapter 50. But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear, I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Okay, this is God’s word so far.
This Book of Genesis actually takes how many chapters to talk about creation? Chapters one and two. And then chapter three brings about the complete devastation of the fall. So, two chapters on the creation of everything, the heavens and the earth, and all the plants and all the fields and of course man and woman, Adam and Eve made after the image of God, two chapters.
Some theologians would argue after the ruinous fall and then of course, the flood, you have a story of what we call recreation, God starts all over again with the family of Noah. So, you can say the whole creation of the world and starting all over took us right out until about Genesis 8 or 9.
And again, depending upon what kind of theological background you’re from, some people will say, “Well, the creation of the entire world is or the age of the universe is like 6000 years old.” There’s a young creationist, who believe the universe is very young. Other people who think that Genesis is poetic, but very little about God has created everything will say it’s not 6000 years, it’s at least billions of years or trillions of years, so on and so forth. I’m not here to start debate whatsoever. I’m just trying to make this point.
Whether you believe in thousands of years, or millions to billions of trillions of years, which is covered in the span of two chapters, and then talked about again, within the first eight chapters, we slow down so much on the story of one man, whose name is Joseph, the author spends 14 chapters just on this guy. Thousands of years billions of years, but why do we slow down so much on the life story of Joseph? Is there a gospel that comes shining through according to the life story Joseph?
I do believe there is just tons of tons in riches of here. I hear so many insights. I’m obviously going to try to concentrate just with the time that we have, just three angles or elements of the life story of Joseph that I think is not only personally has comforted and sustained and saved me over and over and over again. But also, it has very much strengthened and saved my life in ministry and I hope it does the same for you.
Three elements from the life story Joseph. First, sins of the family. Second, the title of the seminar, Bittersweet Sovereignty. So, sins, sovereignty. Third, last but not least, salvation. All right, real simple. So, sins, sovereignty, salvation. I’m just going to point out three, three repetitive themes in Joseph’s life.
First, it is unmistakable that Joseph and his dad, Jacob, and all of his brothers suffered from the sin of favoritism, favoritism. Jacob played favorites. Now, why was Jacob a dad like that? Why did he so almost on abashedly, foolishly let all of his other sons know, Joseph was his favorite. That’s because Jacob, I’m not going to do a lot of psychoanalysis, he himself had a very poor dysfunctional father. Jacob, the scriptures recorded was not loved. He was not loved. His father was Isaac, Isaac loved. He saw the hunter-gatherer, the male specimen, obviously hairier, maybe more sporty. He did not love Jacob.
And so, with that kind of what you might say father wound to father gap from the day that you were born, where you are clearly disfavored, Jacob will turn around for the rest of his life and he will try to cling on to something or someone that will give him significance, worth, identity and value.
And so, because Jacob was not properly adequately loved by his father, Isaac, he, one day, finds this beautiful woman by the name of Rachel, and he absolutely falls head over heels for her. Because when he sees Rachel, he thinks this is what I’ve been living for. She is going to make my life worth living. And he makes an arrangement with her uncle, by the name of Laban, who’s a trickster. And Laban has Jacob worked for seven years and on the wedding night, he does not give him Rachel. He gives him Leah, the other sister. That’s kind of horrific. It’s kind of a pretty cruel trick.
And then the scriptures go on to say that Jacob worked another seven years. So, he worked another seven years for the love of his life, Rachel, and do you know that the Bible of course understands romance and all the biochemistry of this way better than we do? It literally said in the Book of Genesis that when Jacob worked for Rachel, for the love of his life, “It said, it seemed like days. It seemed like day.” So, seven years went by just in a blink of an eye.
So, let’s just go figure. A young, young child, a young man who is never validated or noticed or proved and loved by his own dad, Isaac, grows up to become a young man and finds the love of his life, Rachel, ends up working 14 years for her. What do you think his life is going to be all about from that point? All About Rachel, the love of his life.
This is important background as to how you and I can better understand that Jacob was not just such an atrocious awful father. He’s a normal father. He’s a normal father. He favored Joseph because Joseph was the son of Rachel. He favored Joseph because he was the son of Rachel, Rachel, the one who made his life complete. And he started to play favorites. He started to play favorites.
Sin is not just doing wrong things. Here at the Gospel Coalition, I’m sure that comes out in many different expressions or forms. Sin is not just committing obviously wrong things. Sin is turning good things into God things. Sin is turning good things into God things. I told you, I’ve got two daughters. I love them both so much, but I love them differently.
But imagine if every day I woke up with my first daughter every morning and said, “Hi beautiful. Hi beautiful. Good morning, beautiful. You’re so beautiful. You’re so smart. You’re so great.” And God forbid with my second daughter every morning, she can hear me tell the first daughter, “Good morning, beautiful.”
I go to second daughter and say something like, “Good morning, butthead.” Or “Good morning, less than the first.” Can you imagine me doing that? We’re going to get into the … That’s actually what he ends up doing. And I know all of our hearts are little sensitive and feeling right now how awful would that be. And I feel so sad for your second daughter if anyone did that. And I can’t think about all the dysfunctions and all the kinds of things that she’s going to have to go through for the rest of her life being called a butthead instead of beautiful.
Can I suggest something else to you? It might be scarier for the first daughter and the kind of dysfunction she will have to face for the rest of her life if all she heard from her parents her entire life and never the reverse. Hi beautiful, hi intelligent, you do everything right.
Now, you know this is a simple rule in parenting. If you make your children feel like they are the center of the world, you are in for a world of trouble. And Joseph was the spoiled, pampered, over-loved child. See, there is such a thing as you can over love. We understand that as parents, if you neglect, abandon, abuse, hurt, you love your child too little, sinful. But did you know you can love your child too much? Where a good thing or a good person becomes a God thing and you begin to see some of the effects of that.
You do begin to see the effects of that right here in the life story of Joseph. It actually said in this passage that Jacob gave his son, Joseph a robe of many colors. The Hebrew commentators tell us, “Oh, it had kind of extended sleeves or very long flowing sleeves or the robe, yes, was very multicolored, maybe rainbow colored, who knows, it’s very artistic.” I’m not quite sure. But no other brother son got that robe.
And in my imagination because I’m a child of the ’80s, I grew up on fine, sophisticated entertainment, World Wrestling Federation, which is now WWE. And if you watch some of these characters, it’s not real by the way. I’m here to tell you, sorry to burst your bubble. It’s not real. It’s showmanship. It’s entertainment. These guys will come in these long, flowing robes that look like Lady Gaga’s costumes. They got their nicknames on the back, like almost lights going off, and it’s just incredibly, incredibly dazzling to the eyes.
I always think reading into the text that Jacob loved Joseph so much, he gave him a robe that looks like that. And Joseph would be parading it around. He’d be wearing it all day. We are to love our kids equally, but differently and wisely. Jacob did not do this. He loved Joseph too much. There’s another tragic story where he loved Dinah too little.
Jacob had a daughter. She was violated and abused, in some of the worst kinds of ways. You have no mention about Jacob doing anything about that. And that of course trickles down where the brothers have to take that into their own hands. First, the pattern or the sin of favoritism.
Here second, sibling rivalry, sibling rivalry. Joseph is the 11th of 12 brothers. And we read in the first verse, what is he good at? What is he good at? Well, he’s 17 years old. He’s pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy, da-ra-ra. And here’s what he’s good at. He brought a bad report of his brothers to his dad. That’s what Joseph was good at. He was a tattletale. He was the teacher’s pet. Why wouldn’t he be? He’s wearing the robe. He’s clearly feeling confident he can get away with anything he wants. He can do no wrong in his father’s eyes.
And so, we begin to story that at the age of 17, that Joseph was the good kid, always the good kid. And he tells bad things about his brothers to his dad. We only read for the sake of time. The first dream that Joseph has, he actually has two dreams. And these are truly charismatic God-inspired, God-revealed dreams. I mean, really it was God gave them these dreams.
So, there was nothing wrong with the content of the dreams but hear me close. When you’re 17 years old, you don’t communicate too good. I mean, God could give you a dream, a vision for your life and actually change the whole world. But when you’re 17, it might come out just a little bit arrogant, like kind of showy, bragging. And so, we just read the first dream as well. She was bowing down to his. And then the second dream is about basically all the stars bowing down to himself. It’s a clear picture. Not only his brothers, but his parents would one day come in bow before him.
And so, this was sibling rivalry at its best. A bratty, ambitious, driven, good moral kid, and he brags about it openly. Rivalries, rivalries. So, this is what’s going on in Joseph’s family. He was clearly favored. And then there was rampant sibling rivalry.
We have tons of rivalries, right, tons rivalries. Political spectrum, of course, we have the right versus the left. We have democrats versus republicans. I’m not going to talk too much about that beyond that, but it is maybe as polarizing and as vicious as we’ve seen in some recent history. We have sports rivalries. Right? I love God, I love you. That’s why I’m not watching a game. I’m here with you. There’re sports rivalries. I lived on the East Coast for 10 years. It’s East Coast versus West Coast. They were like rappers in conflict versus which one’s better.
This even gets into churches, doesn’t it? It’s like theological camp rivalries. At least as long as you’re within scriptural evangelical core beliefs, there’s denominational rivalries, there’s confessional rivalries, there are so many peripheral petty things that can get in the way that actually destroy witness as Christians together. There’s rivalries.
And I don’t think this is particularly a cultural thing endemic to a certain culture, you’re of a certain personality type, or it’s just a traditional thing you’ve been used to, or America just fallen into the worst of times only at this generation. No. It’s been throughout the all of time, from all of humanity, because it’s not just a biochemical cultural thing, it’s a sinful thing. It’s a sinful thing.
Because again, when we make good things into God things, and if anything else but God replaces what he deserves, I can make anything into a God thing. And I can look down and criticize and divide and scoff against and dismiss anyone who does not have this God thing. Or I can continue to envy and lust after and get very angry and resentful. If I don’t get what I think is a God thing and that person has a God thing and I don’t have it. That’s rivalries. Right? Brothers, sisters, sons and daughters, cousins, uncles, aunts, you name it. You can be rivalries about anything.
At our church, people are civil enough and sophisticated enough because we’re upper middle class, very suburban church. In a suburban church, it is so obvious that people are trying to keep up with status, keep up with, “Oh, did you hear about so and so? I saw it on Facebook. I can’t believe they went there for vacation.” They’re talking about how much it would have cost. Talking about what kind of resort they would stay at. They were talking about how much the planes would cost.
And secretly in our hearts, “Oh, wow, they can vacation like that” Or we talk about other people’s marriages, or talk about other people’s kids. Oh, they make more money. They get more recognized. They got that award. Oh, people just like this person more. People doubt and kind of spoil this kid, not me. And the rivalries go on and on and on and on.
Here is what is a little bit eerie about the story of Joseph. I hope you caught it because I pause them and I read it. Hebrew storytelling usually is very straightforward. It’s very simple. But he said a word three times and we only read the first like seven or eight verses. The word hate came up three times. Remember that? Because of favoritism and sibling rivalry, it says they, the brothers, hated him even more, hated him even more. They hated him even more.
Question. What do you think that kind of hatred comes from? How does it originate? I suggest you it’s from jealousy. It’s from simple rivalry. It’s envy. It’s constant comparing in comparison and measuring your worth or status or what you have versus what everyone else has and doesn’t have.
And these brothers, who were clearly exposed to the favoritism of their father, felt envy and jealousy and it got out of control. It festered. It was never addressed or resolved. And it turned into murderous hate, murderous hate. Back to the story, I’m going to read for us in verse 12. Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel or Jacob said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.”
So, again, what are you doing Jacob, Israel? How do you allow all your other brothers, all the other sons to go out and work? But Joseph is just safely at home? Verse 14, so he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.
And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ ” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.
Then we picked up at verse 18 and 19. What do the brothers instinctively feel as soon as they see Joseph come from afar looking for them? Now, their hatred has taken actual plans and they’re conspiring to kill him. And this is just like Cain and Abel part two. So, much of why you and I may not really like that person, why you and I have an initial emotional, very hard reaction when that person’s name comes up, why you may avoid or diminish that person’s reputation or character to other people. If you look under the hood, it might be envy and envy unresolved can become full blown hate. This is what the brothers did.
I want you to notice [inaudible 00:21:59] when we just read these verses, I don’t know who’s dumb and who’s dumber. The father not only kept his son, his favorite son aside, but when he sent him out, we just read, what clothing was Joseph wearing? He went out of those WW robes. He went out parading with like Lady Gaga costume and feathers coming out of his shoulders. No wonder the brothers conspired to kill him. Not only because of a dysfunctional fool as father, who makes good things into God things but Joseph at his young tender age was very bratty, egocentric, ambitious and didn’t know any better.
Two patterns we’ve seen so far, favoritism, second sibling rivalry. Here’s a third just last one. There’s so many, but we’ve only got time for a third. The sin of cover up, the sin of cover up. Later on what how happens is that the brothers actually sell him off. Instead of actually killing him taking his life, they sell off Joseph to a pack of travelers or traders going down to Midian or to the land of Egypt. Reuben, one of the oldest brothers, returned and he saw that Joseph was not there. He was really grieved. But he did figure out that his younger brother, Joseph, had been sold for 20 pieces of silver.
Now, the brothers all had to concoct a plan to cover up their crime, to cover up their offense of actually betraying and literally selling off their brother. What they did is they took the coat, they slaughtered a goat, dipped a coat in the goat’s blood, drag that coat back to their aging father, Israel or Jacob, whom they knew favor Joseph and would have his heart tone apart.
Now, here’s how brutal and sick this story gets, and I like it because there’s so much realism here. The brothers, their hatred for Joseph was so great that it far outweighed watching the heartbreak of their dad. Their envy had become so murderous and so vicious they would rather watch their dad fall apart, they would rather cover something, fake it, lie about it, than to come clean that he was not killed, he was sold. This is how great their hatred goes.
And this is just like Adam and Eve, who got fig leaves to cover themselves. They hid. They tried to hide because of the guilt and the shame of sin. We have an awful tendency to cover up things rather than come clean and confess and repent to them. All but my dear friends this afternoon, I do want you to know, you cannot outrun or you cannot escape scriptures. If you cover over crimes, you cover over sins, you’re mounting more sin upon sin. If you lie, you got to lie some more. If you’ve gotten into trouble, you don’t come clean with that, you mount more trouble upon trouble. It just escalates.
And a lot of us do this, we do do this, especially in Asian and Eastern cultures, which by the way, that’s the culture we’re speaking to here. In Asia and Eastern cultures, so often I might say, kind of Asian American ministry 101, one of the greatest difficulties in trying to reach those of Eastern cultures and ministering to those in Eastern cultures is, I will usually be the last person to find out when a problem is really that bad. I will only hear about as a pastor when it’s almost too late.
So, there could be a marital issue, there could be an addiction issue, there could be a suicide issue, there could be a depression issue, there could be a mental health issue, there could be a relational falling out issue, and it has absolutely wreaked havoc at our church. We’ll never really get over it. But we do want to get better at it. It’s become a part of us. And I tell you, ladies and gentlemen, in the life story of Joseph, nothing gets better as long as it’s covered. Nothing improves here when people don’t come clean. And that’s what Jacob’s family, his sons all did.
So, when they come back to Jacob, his story is closing in verse 36. He weeps aloud. He goes through the whole mourning and grief demonstration. But notice how the brothers would care less, that their father is being ruined as long as they can get rid of Joseph.
Before we get into sovereignty, I just want to make one note to differentiate later on when these same brothers who backstabbed and betrayed, they did not have their brothers back. You see, that is what Joseph learned firsthand from his brothers. They betrayed him. They didn’t have his back. Later, you might be confused because it’s 14 chapters, how elaborate and how long it takes for Joseph to reveal his true identity to his long lost brothers. He actually purposefully tricks them. He doesn’t show them who he really is from the start.
Why does he do that? Why does he do that? Because there’s a big difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. Of course, it’s for racial reconciliation as well. Forgiveness, Jesus calls us to forgive not to hate from the heart and to pray for your enemy and to basically not hold that debt over someone. That’s forgiveness. It’s hard. It’s hard.
Reconciliation, however, is an absolute different extended process, where even though you have forgiven someone, you don’t want them inside your house. Like when we used to have babysitters for my two precious daughters, and I figured out that my babysitter did something inappropriate with my daughters. We caught it on our security video camera.
As a Christian brother or father or person to this babysitter, depending on at least if it was not a crime, hopefully, if it’s a crime, I probably got to report it. I can forgive the babysitter, but I’m not going to hire the babysitter again anytime soon. I’m not reconciled with the babysitter until that babysitter has gone through real repentance and change of life. You’re not going to be best friends again. You’re not going to be remarried after your divorce a spouse. You’re not going to go close to someone until you can forgive from the heart, yes. But you cannot reconcile until you see change of heart and the other person.
And here’s what Joseph had to see from his brothers. And you know the great test that sends Joseph over the edge in which he is provoked. He has to cry behind the scenes and he actually comes forward and reveals himself to all of his brothers. Do you know what sent him over the edge? It’s when he tests his brothers. Are you going to get your other brothers back? He actually hold back their youngest, Benjamin, also born of Rachel.
And when Joseph sees that his brothers, who used to sell him out, who betrayed and backstabbed him, someone actually steps up and is willing to sacrifice himself for the life in the welfare of another, Joseph’s heartbreaks and they are reconciled.
Oh, but these are sins of the family. I don’t think they’re unique to Joseph. Favoritism, rivalries, and a constant, constant covering up. But thank God, this story does not end here. There’s another marvelous overarching theme that is revealed and that is the sovereignty of God, the sovereignty of Joseph’s God. Whose sin? Whose sin? Whose sin is this? Whose sin was all this ginormous mess? It’s not God. It’s never God’s. God does not tempt you.
He does not rejoice in any of the evil doing. He does not even rejoice in the consequences that come from my sin. It’s not God’s. It’s all of ours. It’s because of our envy, our insecurity, our jealousy, dysfunctions passed down into us, which we turn around and do the same, hatred, pettiness, bitterness to go and destroy one another. It is all our fault. It really is all our fault. It’s all of Joseph’s fault. It’s all of Joseph’s parents’ fault. It’s all of Joseph’s brothers’ fault.
But question, even though it’s all our fault, is God sovereign enough that he can overrule it? That somehow God can even use it. Sovereignty is always better played out backwards and forwards. It’s better read backwards. That’s one of my seminary professors used to tell me. In different languages, especially in Hebrew or in Korean, you know you actually you do flip the pages of the scriptures backwards. But you want a better handle on the sovereignty of God in life, please, please, my friend, don’t ever try to read it from the present into the future. You’ll never figure it out.
But after some time, if you’re able to trace it back to the lens of God, you go backwards. Sovereignty can be better discerned in. Sovereignty literally comes from two words, supra reign, supra reign. What that means is, listen, the mess is mine. The fault is mine. The lying is mine. The deceit is mine. The envy is mine. I grew up in an absolute messed up family. That’s all mine. But God is still working and reigning at all times, all times, in all conditions, all cultures, all situations.
Romans chapter 8:28 promises us, God causes, works together all things to those who are called according to his purpose and to those who love him. It does not mean that God only gives you good things. But it does say God causes and work together even atrocious bad things, fallen things to work together for your good. God is doing this in explicit ways or subtle ways, upfront or behind the scenes.
For instance, this afternoon, these are guaranteed, these little factoids about yourself. I gave you a little factoid about myself. But here’s some factoids about you. You did not determine your birth. None of you did. You did not determine the day you’re born. You did not determine the color of your hair. You did not determine your race. You did not determine what cultural location in which you’d be born. You’re actually not even going to determine the days of your life. You don’t determine the date of your death. You don’t determine the opportunities that will come your way.
For the love of God, often we pray, God, I wish I could determine to get away from those failures and rejections and closed doors. No, we want the other thing but God actually determines a lot of that. And on the one hand, your life and my life is not random, nameless chance like we’re not just sitting on the afternoon. This room is a little bit hot and the microphone is not working thing, random wasted moment. Christians never believe in that. Nothing is random and aimless.
On the other hand, we’re not fatalist. Fatalists believe God is so sovereign, that’s why I like TGC. I like reformed things because that means even if I have a test tomorrow, I don’t have to study. I can just pray, Lord God, God of Isaac and Jacob and Abraham, God of Jesus who rose from the dead, just show up tomorrow. I’m going to study nothing. I’m just going to sleep and trust in you.
Fatalism is a fatal attitude in which we believe our choices, our responsibilities and decisions and efforts don’t matter at all. But what is Christian life? It’s where even in the midst of devastation, heartaches, even when your own family members forsake you and hate you, those who have been closest to you have betrayed you, those who gave your heart to broke it. Even when your own brothers try to kill off God’s dreams and the dreamer himself, they can’t, they can’t.
Listen close. God is so sovereign that in Joseph’s brother’s own attempts to kill off the dreamer, that actually is used to fulfill the dream. God is so sovereign, he’s so super reigning, although the mess is mine, in their attempt to kill off the dreamer, the bragger, it actually makes his dreams come true.
John Newton, old commentator, once observed, everything is necessary that he sends. Nothing can be necessary that he withholds. I don’t know if you believe that. But it’s absolutely true in the life story of Joseph and it’s true in your life, if you’re a follower and believer in Jesus Christ. Everything is necessary that he sends. Nothing can be necessary that he withdraws. And I’m talking down to the details. I’m not talking about generalities. We’re down to the details.
Joseph could not be killed. God would not allow him to be killed. He had to be taken. He had to be sold to travelers going to that particular location, not just some other random nation. Joseph had to be imprisoned under an officer by the name of Potiphar, whose wife was crazy. Joseph had to be mis-accused. Joseph had to interpret someone’s dream perfectly and the first guy forgot that Joseph interpreted his dream perfectly in prison.
We’re talking all the way down to the details that Joseph’s God is that sovereign. And it’s really, really easy to believe in God when things are going well. Hallelujah, give all glory to God. Every good and perfect thing comes from him. All the cleric credit, all the honor belongs to him. Very easy and healthier, happier, wealthier times.
But can I ask you, my friend, this afternoon, if you have a hard time believing in God, when things are hard, when things are falling apart, when things are failing, when things are actually breaking your heart, then I would suggest if you have a hard time believing God then, I don’t know if you have Joseph’s God. I don’t know if we’re believing in the same God as Joseph did.
Because, Joseph, if he did not continue to believe and follow after God, his whole family would have died. A greater son called Jesus Christ would have never come. Because the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who went down into Egypt as a family of only about 60 people would have never been saved from famine and starvation during that famine unless Joseph continued to cling to and believe in and be faithful to an absolutely sovereign God.
I have somewhat of a younger church, probably average age is maybe early 30s. Had lots of weddings, lots of young kids. It’s crazy. I look at this crowd, of course, is more diverse in age and it’s great, more diverse and backgrounds. And I don’t have to tell this audience, is there anybody here who has never faced evil, like you’ve never suffered a loss?
And I say that to younger folks because they say, you haven’t lived long enough, sorry to be such a downer. But if you just lived longer, Joseph’s story is not abnormal. It’s not a typical. Who here hasn’t been lied about or stolen from or betrayed or taken advantage of or forgotten, or marginalized, dismissed, thrown away, spat upon, ridiculed, not loved, never favored, you just feel all alone? Who here has never felt that?
I want you to look deeper into the life story of Joseph. Do you know in his prime years from the age of about 13 to 30 is when he was locked up in prison, 13 to 30. And Joseph somehow continued to cling to and believe in the absolute sovereignty of God. This young man’s life has predominantly been spent being sinned against, harmed, violated, evil has been continually been done to him.
And yet, he doesn’t get bitter. He does not give up. He does not give up. He does not give up. He does not give up. He does not wallow in self-pity. He does not doubt to the point of absolutely giving up all faith and hope in God. He never curses God. He never takes it out on anybody else. He just doesn’t give up. He won’t stop believing in the sovereignty of God. Because somehow, somewhere, God allowed him to believe. God is so much bigger, so much better, so much better, so much more beautiful than all of the sins that are heaped upon him.
That’s why we concluded the life story Joseph in chapter 15 verse 20. He actually told his brothers, “Hey, you know all the evil you did against me, you know all that mess, you know all that heartbreak, you meant it, for evil against me. But God meant it for good, to bring it about many people should be kept alive as they are today, as they are today.” God meant it for good for Joseph. By the way, he’s no longer spoiled and brat. He’ll never brag again. And literally, his whole family can eat and they won’t starve to death.
Here’s the third last thing, sins, sovereignty, shorter salvation. I think Joseph’s life story is one of my favorites because I’m going to say it carefully, it demonstrates to you and me, do you know that the end meaning or conclusion to your life is not going to be based upon how many times you sinned? Do you know that the end evaluation or summary of your life in my life is not how many times have you sinned and how many times that other people sinned against you? That is not going to sum up your life, not if you’re in Jesus Christ.
Because what matters into eternity and we find it from Joseph’s story is not how many times you sinned or how many times other people sinned against you. It all just boils down to who’s going to save you. Who is your Savior? Because God loves, loves to actually not only rewrite stories. He’s going to rewrite a better story of your brokenness. It’s through the weakness and heartache … You know your greatest worry or your greatest weakness, you know that thing that you’ve been struggling like the thorn in your flesh, if you just stay in ministry or church a little bit long enough, you’re going to wake up one day and find out.
You know God, I never knew that my battle with depression or anxiety or tragedy or trauma was going to be my greatest asset, was actually going to become the greatest strength in ministry. And people are somehow going to be flocked and attracted and healed by that, not my strength, but what God in his sovereignty did to save me and continue to save me and my weakness.
Do you know how I know God always does this? Not only Joseph’s story but mine and yours? Because ultimately, God himself came in the person of his son, Jesus Christ, who got rejected, forsaken, spat upon, thrown down and left for dead. There’s a lot of parallels between Jesus and Joseph. Twelve boys, 12 disciples, sold out for silver coins, sold out for gold. I think most glaringly similar is that just like Joseph was forsaken by his own people, the very brothers and chief priests and Jewish elders conspired the same in Matthew chapter 26 verse 4.
Just as Joseph suffered but continued to believe in silence, so did our Savior. And the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that God used evil deeds against his anointed chosen one and he used it to actually save the very people who killed him. God uses evil deeds, or the very brothers and enemies of Jesus Christ, to actually come and save his people forever.
Midlife is for real. I’m in my mid-40s, on the tail on the second half of mid-40s. People warn me about midlife, but it’s like them warning you about. What’s it like to have kids? It doesn’t matter what they tell you. Because when it hits, you’re like, “Oh, this is way harder than I thought it was and better at the same time. It’s the experience of it, it’s just crazier than theory.”
Anne Lamot is an author up in NorCal, and she revealed this about her midlife, about what midlife crisis. Here’s what I’ve come to learn in my midlife crisis. Number one, everything falls apart. Number two, I keep trying to put it back together, trying to be my own savior. And then number three, the greatest difference between God and me is he never thinks he’s me. The greatest difference between God and me is he never thinks he’s me.
In 2011, I had two pastor friends, one closer to me, another I knew just by as a colleague, by contact. But within the span of three or four months in 2011, both pastors had to bury their wives at the age of 40 because of illness. The first pastor, he said goodbye to his lovely wife because of scleroderma, which is an autoimmune disease. And she died around the age of 40.
And the second pastor in the name of Daniel Chong said goodbye to his first wife, Maria, spunky, incredible girl from Brazil. And at the eulogy, he shared this, which I will never forget. He said, “In your early 30s when you go visit a hospital as a married couple, this is an exciting journey. You’re hoping for good news, hoping for good news. That life has been conceived and life could be born and by the miracle of God.”
But for Daniel and his wife, Maria, every hospital visit was a dread. Because she had stage four breast cancer. And every hospital visit was just anxiety filled and as draining as could be. Because so many of those visits was about remission, so many visits was just temporarily saying, “Oh, it’s going to get a little better.” But of course, ultimately, they knew, they knew what the conclusion would be when you have stage four cancer.
And on one particular day, Daniel shared how his very strong, spunky wife just fell into his arms at home. And she just wailed and she said, “Daniel, I can’t take this anymore. I can’t take this anymore. There’s no way God could love me to put me through this.” So, a pastor’s wife, of course being so honest and in touch with what she’s feeling, “There is no way God could love me through this.”
And then Daniel shared just moments of silence passed. And he really does think that the Spirit of God came down and fell upon his wife. And then she looked up, blinked, and said, “No, but that can’t be true. Jesus died for me. No, that can’t be true. Jesus gave up his life for me.” And Daniel said, “As a minister of the gospel, the word in sacrament, he’s never heard the gospel better than that.” Have you? Have you heard? Do you really believe and can you cling to gospel like that? It’s the life story of Joseph.
The theme of TGC this year is faithfulness and during faithfulness, getting all the way to the end and I count myself as very much still on the newbie rookie side. I’m going through maybe midlife crisis even as a minister. This is my second full-time pastor so I’ve been at it maybe now close to 16, 17 years so I’m still kind of young and midlife. But, man, I cannot tell you in how many different ways that without the actual functional and I would include the feeling of God’s sovereignty and comfort, I have no idea what else would get me to the end.
How can we finish well? We’ll come back upon the bedrock of Jesus Christ. It was crushed for us, forsaken for us. This story is not about, “Oh, don’t you want to be a little more like Joseph?” It’s okay. Be like Joseph as much as you can Joseph is never going to save you. Only Jesus got up from death. Only Jesus ascended to heaven’s throne after his crucifixion and resurrection to proclaim and show he rules all of history down to the details, every person, everything, every seeming chance, event for his own glory and for his children’s good.
And if you find Jesus, really, if you find Jesus, whether you get married or not, whether you’re once married and you can’t get married, whether you have kids or not, you can’t have kids, whether you live well or not, if you find Jesus, your life is never plan B. You are never on plan B. You’re God’s dream come true.
Jesus, a sovereign Savior, who can even use evil and sin and crime and hurt, that’s all mine. But he can overrule it and use it for good. This is what it means to become a Christian. You pray Jesus saved me from my sin. I give up sovereignty. I give up reigning and controlling and running my life. I want you to do that, because you do it so much better, and you do it with so much more love, your life or mine.
Let me conclude with the words of the Heidelberg catechism. Question and answer number one, I don’t know anyone who’s ever put it better. Here’s the question. Here’s the answer. We’re done. What is your only comfort in life and in death? There’s the question. There’s the question. What would you say to other people. But you know what, here’s more important to you and to me, when you’re going through the worst of times, what do you say to your own heart? What do you say to your own heart?
At our church, we’re going through a series of how do you find and follow Jesus in the midst of all kinds of feelings. We went through grief, anxiety, depression, we’re going through everything. And one of the themes that I’m trying to teach and teach myself. Do you know the most important influential preacher you’ll ever listen to? Do you know who that is? Do you know who that is? I can’t wait to hear Ligon Duncan tomorrow. I love Stephen Um. There’s a guy by the name of Tim Keller. He’s not famous. So and so Piper. So and so Mr. Edwards. Wonderful.
But do you know the most influential, important preacher you’ll ever listen to? It’s you. It’s you. It’s you. The only question is, are you a good gospel preacher to your own heart? Because your heart is going to rage. You are going to listen to and talk so much nonsense and lies your own heart for the rest of your life if you don’t learn to put biblical gospel words and be able to get ahold of your heart and preach to your heart, apply it to your heart, rebuke your heart, come for your heart, soften your heart, love on your heart the way that God wants to love you.
So, here’s what we should say. What is my only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own, but belong body and soul in life and in death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven. In fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him. Amen.
Thank you for the life story Joseph. But thank you God for bringing the life story of Jesus, sovereign saving Jesus, even amidst and through an overall.
Listen, let me pray for us as we close. Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we thank you for the riches of your word. We thank you for all the different ways that you come and you seek us out to touch us and teach us and change us and comfort us, rebuke us, correct us in ways that only you know about and it’s in the ways that we need most.
Lord, I pray for every brother and sister here. Thank you for bringing them to the conference. We thank you that you’re sovereign enough you brought us all together to spend a little bit of time before you and by the power of your spirit, Lord Jesus, please take ahold of our wayward, tiring hearts. Heal it and soothe it. Resurrect it in union with Christ so that we might look upon the one, who died to turn it around for our life and now he can rule and use it even all the evil, for our good and for your glory.
Help us to not only believe these things, but to feel them and to share it, share this gospel with many others in need. Hear us, we pray. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.