A sermon preached on Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28, September 29, 2019 by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD. Week fourteen of “Genesis: The Big Read,” a continuing sermon series through the book of Genesis, Ordinary Time 2019.
I. Introduction: The Gospel – One More Time
In Genesis, what we have seen again and again, is that God enters into human history, takes the sin of humanity, and makes out of it redemption! The last part of Genesis is no exception. Genesis 37 opens the final portion of the book with these words: “These are the generations of Jacob.” Meaning, this is the story of his line. Immediately, the spotlight goes to one particular son – Joseph. I think we could accurately label this part of Genesis as “Joseph’s Gospel.”
Over the next month, you’re going to hear from some very gifted speakers, including Bishop John. But, as was start this portion of the book, my goal today is to queue them up by helping you to frame the account of Joseph’s Gospel in three ways. 1) It’s a story of suffering. 2) It’s a story of sovereignty. 3) It’s a story of salvation.
II. Suffering (v. 28)
“They took Joseph to Egypt.”
Now, at this point, you might be thinking, ah geez, again with the suffering! But hey, don’t shoot the messenger! If the Bible’s story so often includes lessons about affliction, then it must be pretty important! This is one reason why preaching must closely follow Scripture, rather than merely “topics” – it’s too easy to gloss over the hard stuff!
And how critical is it for us in the culture we live in to hear about suffering? Our culture wraps us in an expectation that our lives should be cushy and comfortable. We think that’s what we’re entitled to! When, in fact, what we’re entitled to us is the curses pronounced on Adam and Eve back in chapter 3 of Genesis.
John Piper points out something very interesting from Paul’s missionary journeys in Acts 14. At one point, Paul returns to Christian disciples at Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, and Luke summarizes the content of Paul’s teaching to them like this: “[Paul strengthened] the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
How often are we tempted to keep any form of rejection, or affliction, or suffering out of our proclamation of the Gospel and our discipleship? And yet this is the one thing Paul leaves them with! If my preaching makes you better prepared to endure rejection for Christ or suffering in Christ, then I will have done something right, because this theme is so integral to the Scriptures.
Looking more closely at the text, we see Joseph’s story teaching us about suffering in two ways:
- Joseph will suffer as a righteous man. Joseph is exemplary in every stage of this story and yet for a long time, he is poorly repaid for it. He will be cut off from his family for 22 years, sold into slavery, wrongly accused of adultery in Potiphar’s household, thrown in jail, and then forgotten in jail! And yet, in every stage, he trusts in the Lord. He never wavers.
- We’re taught about suffering in the whole direction the narrative of Genesis is going in. Let’s rewind and go back to Abraham for a second. In Genesis 15:13-15, when God made his covenant with Abraham, he foretold that this journey into Egypt would happen. Read it yourself:
“13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.”
Joseph’s story tells us how God provides for, preserves, and grows his people through and in the midst of great suffering. Joseph goes to Egypt in this purpose, and we have to wrestle with that! We have to wrestle with the fact that the road to the Promised Land always seems to run through Egypt.
III. Sovereignty (v. 10)
Right from the beginning, the entire story of Joseph begs the reader to ask the question how much do you trust God?
Chapter 37 opens with a sad beginning. Jacob, who apparently is still learning, displays outright favoritism toward Joseph, and his brothers respond by trying to kill him. And this is the promised line of the Messiah!
Things often happen in pairs in Joseph’s story (having fun hunting for that!) and so we’re told that Joseph had two dreams. In the second dream Joseph says, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” (Genesis 37:10) And for his honesty, his brothers attempt to murder the dream and the dreamer. And what happens? In God’s sovereign purposes and in his election of Joseph, they end up fulfilling the very dream Joseph proclaimed to them. As we see God’s sovereignty displayed in the story of Joseph, it should cause us to cry out with Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33)
And I ask you, if he could do this in Joseph’s life, what mess can’t God walk you through? What can’t you trust him in?
As you listen to the preaching on Joseph’s gospel over the next two months, you need to understand that there are two verses that control the entire story. Here they are:
- Joseph’s words to his brothers when he meets them 22 years later: “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” (Genesis 45:15)
Think about those words and wrestle them. God was over all and working in all.
- Joseph’s words to his brothers after the death of Jacob: “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.” (Genesis 50:20)
Again, here we see God’s sovereign purpose of live and salvation overshadowing and overpowering every other will. This leads us to my third point.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, every part of the account of Joseph is meant to be a pointer to One greater than Joseph. So, as you hear Joseph’s story, you ought to ask yourself, “how does lead me to Christ?”
Pastor Tom Baker, host of the radio show Law & Gospel, gives us just some of the comparisons between Joseph and Jesus. It’s my hope that these will serve to get your mind thinking about other similarities:
…is the favored son of Jacob.
…wears a coat of many colors.
… had a dream of reigning in power.
…is sold for twenty pieces of silver.
…was handed over to gentiles.
…was stripped of his robe.
…is the favored son of God.
…is clothed in splendor at his Transfiguration.
…received all power in heaven and on earth.
…is sold for thirty pieces of silver.
…was handed over to the Romans.
…hung naked on the cross as our savior.
Lastly. we see Christ particularly in the way that Joseph absorbs the sin of his brothers. How he, in a sense, bears their sin – the sin of murderers. The salvation of God comes, as John Piper puts it, not just through sin, but spectacular sin! And that sin is dealt with and absorbed in the mercy of God, resulting in reconciliation and rescue for the offenders.
Joseph was lowered and Joseph was exalted for the purpose of God’s salvation. Christ Jesus was lowered (think Philippians 2) and he was exalted for the purpose of God’s salvation. We didn’t read the rest of “emptying” passage in Philippians 2, so I’ll read it for us as we close:
“9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)
In Joseph’s story, we see the work our King, who was lowered for a time, but now exalted, drawing all peoples to himself.
And so, to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be all praise, honor, and glory now and forever! Amen.