This morning I want to share another bible story with you, like I did last week. We are about to begin the Advent season and the next few weeks are fairly scripted and planned out to deal with the celebration and coming of Christ. We are going to spend one more week in the Old Testament before we begin the Christmas season. This week we are going to talk about the story of Joseph, not the father of Jesus, the guy with the amazing technicolor dream-coat. Follow with me to the end of his story in Genesis 45:4-8.
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. 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 five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 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.
Joseph did not have a great relationship with his family. We are going to spend a few minutes here recalling the highlights of Joseph’s life and what led him to this point in scripture. Joseph was the youngest of 12 brothers, sons of Jacob. He was the most loved and favored by Jacob and that caused a lot of tension. The other brothers responded to him by selling him into slavery and telling his father that he died. He was a slave for many years, then gained favor by his owner for his skills in accounting. He quickly began to rise in favor of the wealthy landowner. However, when he refused the advancements of the landowner’s wife, he was falsely imprisoned. While in prison, he again found favor in the guards for his behavior and responsibility. He was put in charge of the prisoners from within, and here he began to interpret the dreams of his fellow inmates. After correctly telling a member of Pharaoh’s court of his return to service, the servant informed Pharaoh of Joseph when Pharaoh began to experience troubling dreams. After helping the Pharaoh and prophesizing that a famine would soon come, the Pharaoh raised Joseph to second in rule of all of Egypt, behind only Pharaoh himself. It was during this famine that he was handing out grain to the people, that Joseph encountered his brothers seeking aid. Joseph gives them grain and eventually reveals himself to them, bringing his family all to Egypt and securing a large section of land from Pharaoh in which his people would grow and prosper.
It is during this reveal to his brothers that we find this particular passage. Particularly today, I want to focus on one phrase in this passage: “It was not you who sent me here, but God.” Joseph was a truly wise and wonderful person. From all the stories we have about him throughout his life, and if you haven’t read it all yourself, please do yourself a favor and go back and read it all for yourself. I just summarized it for you, but I left out a lot of really great details for the sake of time this morning. Regardless, Joseph was a great person. We see his character and his intelligence continually bringing him favor among the people that he works for. His personality leads him out of prison to be the second most powerful person in the world. He answers to no one but Pharaoh.
However, this rise to greatness did not come without pain. He was physically beaten by his brothers. He lived in slavery and, I don’t know if you’ve ever read anything about slavery but it wasn’t a nice thing. He is betrayed and thrown in jail. Jail, again, not a nice place. He may have ended up in a good place, but the road to get there was not an easy one or a nice one. So when he is finally given the opportunity to confront the very people that set this path of pain in motion in his life, his own brothers, I would imagine the desire to have them flogged and thrown in jail was tempting. He would’ve been well within his right and no one would’ve questioned him.
However Joseph does something different. He doesn’t just forgive them. He basically thanks them for what they did to him. He tells them that without their actions, hundreds would’ve died in the famine. Without their actions, he would have never gotten to where he was. He was able to see past the pain of the world and see that God was in charge all along. He was a part of God’s plan and so were his brothers.
That is a difficult way to look at things and think about them. I know that despite being taken care of and guided by God in my ministry, I still have trouble seeing God’s plan above my own. When I first applied for a job in full time ministry and didn’t get it, I was broken. I didn’t know what I would do. I had spent decades of my life planning for that position and I felt like my entire life had been wasted. I wasn’t able to see that God had a different plan than I did. I couldn’t see that I was still on a path. I just knew that I wasn’t on the path that I had chosen.
I’ve shared with all of you that I believe that God has a plan for this church. I know it in my soul. What I have to remember, and you have to remember as well, is that it is God’s plan and not ours. Whatever God has for us, it may not look like the plan that we want. There may be difficulties and we may go to a place we never intended on going to. God’s plan has to become our plan. That is the challenge.
Often times we don’t know what God’s plan is. That can be frustrating and difficult. I’ve also shared with all of you that I am a planner and I like to know what is down the road. When God asks me to blindly follow his plan, that is difficult for me and I know that it is difficult for many of you. God’s plan is not always clear but it is always in God’s hands. That’s where I can find some sort of peace. I’m betting it was difficult for Joseph to believe he was in God’s plan when he was being shoved into a caravan to be sold in the slave markets. I’m betting it was difficult when he was sitting in prison among murders and thieves that it was all a part of God’s plan.
So where are you in God’s plan? Are you sitting in a prison, struggling to find a purpose? Or are you on a throne, accomplishing all that God had planned for you in your life? Most of us would say we are probably somewhere in the middle of those two points. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter what step of the journey you are on, as long as you are on the journey. If you are open and willing to accept your role in God’s divine plan for the world, you can live with the peace that God is in control. No matter what sort of hardships you face or what kind of setbacks you experience, God is in control of the outcome. Now does God’s plan always place us upon a golden throne, ruling all of Egypt? Not exactly. We all have different gifts and different roles to play in the world. However, knowledge that God’s plan and our plan can be one in the same is a comfort to all aspects of our lives. Joseph was able to see God’s work in his life. So this week, try to look past your own hardships and difficulties to see that perhaps God has something in the works in your life.