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But God Meant It for Good (Genesis 45:4-8)

November 27, 2022 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2022-2023)

Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: Genesis 45:4–8

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Children's Lesson (click here) 

I. The Worst Thing

Please know this: my aim this morning is to lift your spirit in light of God's precious and powerful word. But allow me to first ask you a question from the other end of the spectrum: “What is the worst thing that ever happened to you?” No, you don't need to answer out loud. Just remember. The worst thing, the worst circumstance, the worst feelings. Understandably, in all likelihood, it's something you'd rather not remember. In fact, your mind might spend a lot of its background processing power keeping that memory contained and separated from your everyday thoughts and feelings.

When it comes to Joseph, the son of Jacob, the grandson of Isaac, the great-grandson of Abraham, there's no ambiguity about the worst thing that ever happened to him: he was badly mistreated by his own brothers, who then sold him into slavery; that betrayal landed him in a foreign country, far from his own family, where, eventually, he was falsely accused by his master's wife... an injustice that finally landed him in an Egyptian prison cell.

How do you even begin to process that kind of years-long trauma? What might Joseph have concluded, at each new, low point of that ordeal about his life, his relationships, his choices, his worth, his future, his God? But please hear this: wonderfully, the most stunning thing about Joseph's story was not the worst thing. It was the fact that God was at work in and through the worst thing. Or to put it another way: the best thing was that God was in the worst thing. Let's unpack that by looking together at Genesis 45:4-8.

 

II. The Passage: “God Sent Me Before You” (45:4-8)

When Joseph (who they only know as the Egyptian governor) is finally reunited with his brothers over twenty years after their betrayal, he shares with them the best thing about his new perspec-tive on the worst thing that ever happened to him. Look with me at verses 4-8 of Genesis 45...

So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. [5] And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. [6] For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. [7] And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. [8] So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.

As Joseph makes clear to his brothers, if he had not ended up in Egypt, he would not now be in the unique position to help them (in fact, to save them) in the midst of a devastating, seven-year famine that had gripped the entire region.

But Joseph is not ambiguous about how the worst thing was also the best thing, is he? It was (v. 5) “God [who] sent me before you to preserve life”. Now notice what Joseph does not do. He doesn't chalk things up to luck or happenstance. He does not quote some Egyptian version of the saying, “If life gives you lemons make lemonade”, or “Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.” He knows his position is not the result of his hard work or cleverness. It is all of God.

Let me quickly mention three observations about this passage and its context:

First, when Joseph encourages them in verse 5 to “not be distressed or angry with yourselves”, he's not suggesting they be unrepentant over what they did to him when he was seventeen. No. Starting in chapter 42, Joseph has been testing his brothers. And that testing has revealed both their contrition regarding what happened to Joseph, and their concern for their father and youngest brother. I believe that's exactly what Joseph was hoping to see in these men. So in verse 5, I believe he's simply saying, “[no longer] be distressed or angry” about the matter.

Second, on that same topic, when Joseph tells them in verse 5 that “God sent me”, notice it doesn't change the previous phrase: “you sold me here”. The fact that God was at work in and through the worst thing that ever happened to Joseph does not somehow make the brothers' betrayal okay. Later, when the brothers were concerned that he had not forgiven them, Joseph restates that 'best thing' in these words: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (50:20). The guilt of their evil intentions was not washed away by the goodness of God's purposes. But thankfully, their evil intentions could never overcome God's purposes.

Third, the source of Joseph's new perspective on his suffering was not simply speculation about what God seemed to be doing. The source of Joseph's perspective was divine revelation. The clearly divine favor that Joseph enjoyed as both a slave and a prisoner was even more clearly confirmed by supernatural dreams given first to Pharaoh's officials, and then to Pharaoh himself. It would have been obvious to anyone that not only did these dreams accurately predict the future, they also paved the pathway for Joseph's rise to power. And Joseph knew the source of this supernatural revelation. When Pharaoh suggested that Joseph had the power to interpret dreams, as if he was some kind of soothsayer, Joseph responded, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (41:16)

 

III. Joseph's God is Our God

Now it would be completely understandable if someone were to say, “Yeah, but that's Joseph, and it was a long time ago. His story was special. It was unique. So what does his story have to do with my story?” I think if Christians two thousands years ago were to question Paul in this way about Joseph's story (which took place almost two thousand years before their time), the Apostle would likely have responded with something like he wrote in Romans 8:28 (turn there)...

[Paul writes...] And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (hold on to that word “purpose”, if you would)

Do you recognize that M.O.? Yes, that's clearly the God of Joseph, the one who can make “all things [even the worst things] work together for good”. But notice who Paul points to as the beneficiaries: “for those who love God”. And it's clear from Romans chapter 8 that Paul is addressing all true Christians as those who “love God”. Therefore, if you a born-again disciple of Jesus this morning, then Paul wants to remind you that the God of Joseph is your God.

What does that mean? It means the best thing is that God was in your worst thing (no matter what it was). It also means that God, by means of divine revelation, wants to give you a new, Joseph-like perspective on what you've endured; or, on what you are presently enduring. Or, he wants to equip you for what you will soon endure. To be clear, He doesn't want you to forget or bury or deny or rationalize or minimize what you endured. He wants you not only to remember it, but to re-see it from a new perspective; one informed by the goodness of his... “purpose”.

How do we do that? Well, as I mentioned before, we need divine revelation. But when you look at Romans 8:28, the verse is somewhat generic. It simply says that “all things”, including your worst thing, will “work together for good”. But what might Paul mean by that word; the word “good”? Can the context help us here? It can! But before we look at that context, allow me to pull in another of Paul's letters. In the letter we call 2 Corinthians, Paul touches on this same idea and provides more specifics in terms of God's good purpose in our suffering.

Look with me at a few verses or passages from 2 Corinthians that can help us unpack the “good” that God is accomplishing through even the hardest and most painful of circumstances. Let's start in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9. Paul writes...

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. [9] Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death [if this isn't Paul's worst, it's pretty bad, isn't it?]. But that [that suffering] was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

So there's insight #1: God's good purpose in our suffering teaches us to rely on him and not ourselves. Could there be a greater “good” than for a creature to be taught how to rely firmly and fully on his or her Creator? As Solomon wrote in Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” Why does God want us to rely on him in the midst of our suffering? Because he has power as (v. 9) the “God who raises the dead”. That's not only reassurance in light of God's power. It's also reassurance in light of God's plan. When we see no way out of our darkness, one way or another, God will always shine his miraculous light. He's calling us to believe that.

Another gem of divine revelation is actually found a few verses earlier in 1:3-4. This is how Paul introduces his discussion regarding suffering, his own and theirs:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, [4] who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

That's insight #2: God's good purpose in our suffering brings us a comfort that we are called to pass along. It is “good” for you to experience God's comfort in your affliction. But it is even better for you to take that comfort and use it to comfort others. That's not a suggestion that you ignore your hurt and distract yourself by serving others. No. Not at all. But if suffering can make us more others-focused, if it can help us move further away from a me-centered mentality and closer to godliness, then brothers and sisters, that is certainly for our eternal “good”.

If we jump ahead in this letter, over to 12:8–9, we find yet another insight. Paul writes there:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this [affliction], that it should leave me. [9] But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

We discover in these verses insight #3: God's good purpose in our suffering helps us experience more of Christ's power. Now, to be fair, this is in some sense just an expansion on insight #1. But think about what's emphasized in this expansion: the absolute sufficiency of God's grace in any and every situation you face, AND, the pathway to experiencing that strength by means of your weakness. Did you notice the conclusion at which Paul arrives in the second half of 2 Corinthians 12:9? He is not going to simply admit to his “weaknesses”. No. He's going to “boast” of his “weaknesses”! And why in the world would he do that? In order to more fully experience “the power (or strength) of Christ” in his life. You see, it is a boastful attitude toward our weaknesses that nurtures a humble attitude toward the strength of Jesus in my life (2x). And surely experiencing more of Christ's power in my life is eternally “good”, right?

But let's rewind for a moment to chapter 4, where we find a final, but related insight. Look back with me at what Paul reveals in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10. He writes...

But we have this treasure [i.e., new life through the Holy Spirit] in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. [8] We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; [9] persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; [10] always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

What is Paul describing here? First, he's describing how (4:8) “we are afflicted in every way”. But his main point is heavenly, not just heavy; and this insight, insight #4, flows right out of our third insight. Here it is: God's good purpose in our suffering is for the strength of Christ to visible to everyone through us. What do we have here? We have another others-focused aspect to God's sovereign work through even our worst moments. Those around us need light. They need to see “treasure” that is clearly not of us, since we are just “jars of clay”. But surely it is for our good as well when God shines the light of Christ through us, so that others can see.

Okay, now it's time to look back Romans 8. As I asked before, can the context help us better understand the generic word “good” in verse 28? The answer was “yes”. Let me show you how. Look again at verse 28, but also verse 29. Paul writes...

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. [29] For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

What is relying on God and not ourselves, what is passing along divine comfort, what is experiencing divine power, so that others can see God in us... if not conformity to Christ's image? Divine revelation helped Joseph understand how God worked through his 'worst thing' to accomplish the very best thing for himself and others. This morning, through the divine revelation of Scripture, God wants to give you a similar perspective by showing you that the very best thing, for you and those in your circle, is for you to become more like Jesus. And God is using even the worst things to do just that. What happens when we don't have that perspective? Well to the degree that new perspective is truth (and it is), then we invariably believe lies about our worst thing. But Jesus Christ suffered the worst (thing) affliction anyone will ever suffer; and we rejoice this morning that his suffering was not in vain. No. God meant it for good. In fact, the greatest good; so that through his cross and resurrection, we can walk with God, in truth, forever and ever. We began this morning talking about your worst thing. But we finish with the best thing. And if you belong to Jesus by grace alone, through faith alone, then the best thing is that God is in your worst thing. And as we saw with Joseph, that perspective changes everything.

 

More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2022-2023)

January 29, 2023

A Pure Worship of God (Deuteronomy 12:29-32)

January 22, 2023

On a Scale From One to Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 4:12-14)

January 15, 2023

Holiness and Love (Leviticus 19:1-2, 18)