A sermon preached on Genesis 50, November 17, 2019 by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD. Week nineteen of “Genesis: The Big Read,” a continuing sermon series through the book of Genesis, Ordinary Time 2019.
Well, here we are – at the close of Genesis. How do we end such a sweeping and magnificent and yet poignant and personal book? As we close the book of Genesis, I want to offer up a few final thoughts on the closing verses of Genesis itself, looking at death of Joseph.
Genesis began with life – with the sheer goodness and gift of life from God our creator. Here, as Pastor Brian Kachelmeier puts it, Genesis ends with death – with the simple, straightforward words of verse 26: “So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.” But Joseph’s death was not hopeless or meaningless, for the people of God do not grieve as others who have no hope” (1Thessalonians 4:13).
Rather, before his death, Joseph’s words expressed his confidence in the Living God: And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” (v. 24)
The physicians of Egypt did what they could to embalm and preserve the body of Joseph, respected as he was, but his hope was in the Lord’s healing power and in the Lord’s salvation. As we have said many times, Joseph’s life imaged and looked forward to the day of Christ. Joseph didn’t place his trust in the power of kings or bank accounts or his own brothers, but rather, in the Lord. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” as Psalm 20:7 tells us.
So rather, Joseph looked forward to that healing prophesied in Isaiah 53:5:
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
Surrounded by all the technology that Egypt had to offer, Joseph’s last words here show that the Lord was his true healer and deliverer. His death showed once more his living hope in God to heal and redeem, just as Exodus 15:26 tells us: “I am the Lord, your healer.”
And then, we read in verse 25 of how his instructions concerning his very bones show the “by faith” life he that lived. “Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” Hebrews 10:22 tells us that, “By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.”
What a powerful picture! Joseph had lived and died in the midst of the most powerful empire in the world. But here, he plans his own exit strategy – after death! Here, Joseph’s very bones remain in Egypt until the time of Moses, awaiting the rescue of God and, ultimately, the resurrection of the body.
Louis Ginzberg notes that, “Later Jewish tradition did not miss the parallel between Joseph being placed in an ‘arown, and the two tables of the Decalogue also being placed in an ‘arown (Deut. 10:5): All this time in the desert Israel carried two shrines with them – the one in the coffin containing the bones of the dead man Joseph, the other Ark containing the covenant of the Living God.” (Legends of the Jews, 2:183)
Isn’t that a powerful picture? The bones of Joseph follow the Ark of the covenant keeping God, waiting for One who would fulfill that covenant and liberate us from bondage to death. Both of these, Joseph’s coffin and the Ark, looked forward to what Jesus would accomplish on our behalf.
And here’s where it comes to us. We live on the other side of promises given to the Patriarchs in Genesis. We have true and living testimony to the Messiah they longed to see. And yet, with them, we must continue to look forward to the fulfillment of our faith, just as they did. We live and die in the Egypt of this world, awaiting the City to come. Faith remains for us as it was for Joseph: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
At every stage of our lives, God calls us to live a life which strains forward, hoping for the fulfillment and end of all God’s promises in Christ.
If you’re a teenager, God is calling you to live a “by faith” life like Joseph. He’s calling you to live a life that reflects you’re holding fast to the promises you have in Christ, developing your life for Christ, for his glory.
If you’re a parent, God is calling you to live a “by faith” life like Joseph. He’s calling you to do the hard work of bringing your child(ren) up in discipline and instruction of the Lord. To train them in the faith and teach them how to believe upon and live for Christ daily. You must look beyond the idols and priorities of our culture, our Egypt, and seek first the kingdom of God.
If you’re an empty-nester or retired, God is calling you to live the “by faith” life that Joseph led. To know and believe that Christ is still the sustainer of your life, still present with you, still caring for you, and still calling you into fruitful service. God is calling you to a life that’s bigger than just “what’s for lunch?” or “what’s the next vacation?” No one retires in the kingdom of God and we all press forward our common hope