Second Reformed Church

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Joseph" Sermon: Hebrews 11:22


[Hebrews 11:22]

Hebrews 20, 2013 Second Reformed Church

            Faith is a gift of God by which we receive what God has said.  We receive what God has said about His promises with assurance that they will come to pass, because they are God’s promises – the God Who cannot lie or change.  And we receive what God has said about things which had happened which we did not see – such as the Creation – and about beings which are invisible – such as the angels – which have rarely been seen, being convicted – again because God Himself has told us that these things happened and these beings exist.

            Last week, as we looked at the death bed blessings of Jacob, we mentioned something of the life of Joseph, as well.  We saw that he was favored above his brothers by his father, Jacob, and that this made his brothers so jealous that they sold him into slavery, and Joseph ended up a slave in Egypt.  But, in the Providence of God, Joseph not only was freed from prison, but was made the right hand man of Pharaoh – second only to Pharaoh in power over all of Egypt. And we noted that due to a famine and Joseph’s preparations for the famine, his family came to Egypt, they reconciled, and they all stayed in Egypt, where they could not only have food, but prosper due to Joseph’s status.

            When Joseph was 110 years old, he knew it was his time to die, and so we read in our text this morning:  “By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.”

            In this short account, we see two things:

            First, we ought to seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.

            Second, we ought to let our life and death be a witness to our faith.

            Let us hear the first part of the account of Joseph’s death from Genesis 50:

            “So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father's house. Joseph lived 110 years. And Joseph saw Ephraim's children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph's own. 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.’

            First, we ought to seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.

            We may recognize this as something Jesus said in what we call, “The Sermon on the Mount”:       

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:25-33, ESV).

Notice, Jesus does not say that we ought not to care about food and dress and shelter, but He says that we ought not to be anxious about them – we ought not to be obsessed with worry about them – they ought not to be foremost in our mind.  These things – at best –are secondary – penultimate – items of concern.

We are to seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.  We are to seek first after what God has called us to – that salvation that is in Christ Jesus – and the becoming like Him through the work of the Holy Spirit in us.  We are to have as our first concern our being like Christ in holiness and righteousness – in loving God and doing what He has told us to do  and not sinning.  Our chief concerns are to be found here in the Bible as we as individuals and as this community – part of the Body of Christ – part of the Bride of Christ – live them out and become the men and women that God has called us to be as Christians.

Then, God promises to provide all that we need – what we need will be provided.  We won’t get everything we want, but we don’t need everything we want.  And not everything we want is good for us.

What does this have to do with Joseph’s reaffirming that the nation of Israel would leave Egypt one day and return to the Promised Land of God – Canaan?  What does this have to do with Joseph prophesying the Exodus?

We see this first point played out in four ways:

First, we see that we ought to be willing to leave everything behind for the sake of the Kingdom and God’s Righteousness.

At the time of Joseph’s death, he was a wealthy and powerful man.  The nation of Israel lived peacefully and prosperously in the land of Egypt.  Everything was coming up peaches and roses for Isreal, but Joseph was given to prophecy the future for them and told them that the time would come when they would leave.  God would take them away from everything that seemed wonderful to them now and take them to the place that God promised them.    The Exodus was coming.  Egypt was not what they needed.  What they needed was to seek the Kingdom and God’s Righteousness.

Peter began to say to [Jesus], ‘See, we have left everything and followed you.’ Jesus said, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first’” (Mark 10:28-31, ESV).

Peter reminds Jesus that they have left everything behind to follow Him, and Jesus tells Peter and the others that it was right for them to leave anything and anyone behind that needed to be left behind to follow Jesus, but He told them to understand that no matter what they left behind for Jesus’ sake and for the sake of the Gospel – they would receive back in this life multiplied – and they would be persecuted.  And there would be reward in the age to come.

Nothing is lost when we leave things behind for the sake of Christ and His Gospel, because we will be blessed in this lifetime.  Now, understand, Jesus is not saying that if you give up something for Him you will get a hundred fold back – if you give up a job paying $10,000 a year to follow Christ and proclaim His Gospel, you will not likely get a $1,000,000 job.  No, what Jesus is saying is that anything that has to be left behind in order to receive salvation through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, will be replaced by all that is found in Jesus and His Gospel.  The difference between a dishwasher who doesn’t believe and a dishwasher who does believe, is that the dishwasher who does believe is far richer spiritually that the one who does not believe.

And, persecution is promised – suffering is promised.  And the reward of salvation in the life to come.

Second, we ought to be prepared for suffering for the sake of the Kingdom and His Righteousness, but look forward to glory.

At the time of Joseph’s death, all was well in Egypt for Israel.  But Joseph received by faith the Word of God given to him with firm conviction that the day was coming that Israel would suffered at the hands of the Egyptians, but, then, the Exodus would occur.  Were it not for God giving Joseph the prophetical knowledge – to what degree we don’t know – that the Egyptians would turn on Israel and enslave them for four hundred years until they were delivered by God through Moses to head back to the Promised Land, Joseph would never had a reason to tell them that the Exodus was coming – that they were going to go back to the Promised Land – Canaan.

God’s plan for the salvation of His people included the suffering and death of His Son, and Jesus said that anyone who followed Him would suffer.  And so we are called to suffer – not to look for suffering – not to desire suffering – but not to be surprised when suffering comes for us as followers of Jesus.

            “And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, [Jesus] said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels’” (Mark 8:34-38, ESV).

            The United States does not currently practice crucifixion, but would you be willing to suffer crucifixion for the sake of your faith?  Would you be willing to stand on what you believe and receive whatever comes your way, knowing that the Exodus into the Kingdom of God is coming for all those who believe?  Is the Kingdom and His Righteousness so glorious to you that you are willing to suffer whatever comes for the sake of your profession?  Or do you hide what you believe from others?  Do you want to keep your family safe from being called “narrow-minded right-winged bigots” – (which has nothing to do with the Gospel or being a Christian)?

Peter explains, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:13-17, ESV).

If we are centered on Christ and His Gospel, seeking the Kingdom and His Righteousness, we will be able to stand whatever comes our way for doing so.  We will be able to look forward in hope to what is coming with great assurance and in the conviction of those things which are not seen.  Knowing that God has made these promises and will bring them to pass.  We can count them as nothing compared to the riches we have received now and the greater riches we shall receive at Christ’s return.

As Paul writes, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18, ESV).

Third, if we seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, no difficulties will weaken our faith.

Joseph received the word from God that Israel would suffer in some way and then go through the Exodus from Egypt and return to the Promised Land – promised to Abraham and his believing descendants.  And Joseph did not despair, but remained strong in his faith.

As we have just considered, our faith will stay strong – we will continue to receive what God has promised and hold fast to it in hope.

As Paul wrote:  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, ESV).

Even if our persecution for the sake of Christ leads to our death – as it did for many of the apostles and disciples and continues to be so for many Christians today around the world – because we believe in the Gospel and know that death for the believer is a blessed thing – and we will be raised to glory in the Kingdom – our faith need not waver.

Which leads to the fourth point:

Fourth, we ought to be ready to die – and have words to speak, even in the moment, which show we are seeking first the Kingdom and His Righteousness.

Joseph was about to die and gathered his brothers and family to him, but he did not fret about his death.  Instead, he pointed them to faith in the promises of God – holding fast with assurance and conviction to those things which God had promised – especially to their return to the Promised Land.

Some of us will not have the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Kingdom and His Righteousness in the moment of our death, but you may.  Have you considered what you might say on your death bed – with your family and friends around?  What message would you like to have be your final words?

Stephen – the first martyr – as he was being stoned to death for preaching the Gospel and turning people to the Kingdom and His Righteousness – as he died, witnessed to his faith, saying,  “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59b, ESV).

We do well to consider what we might say in those final moments.  What word would you want to leave with others?  What message would you like them to remember?  What hope would you like them to have?

Joseph spoke in faith, warning his brothers of suffering to come, and urging them to keep before them to promises of God that God would keep.

The second part of the history of Joseph’s death reads:

            “Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.’ So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt” (Genesis 50:22-26, ESV).

            Second, we ought to let our life and death as a witness to our faith.

            On his deathbed, Joseph made his descendants swear that they would return his bones to the Promised Land.  He did this as a witness to what he believed by faith – that Israel would return to the Promised Land, just as God promised.

            Joseph died as he had lived – witnessing to the faith of Gospel, believing in the promises of God for those things which would assuredly come in the future.

            We see this in three ways:

            First, Joseph believed in the promises of God, not the Egyptians. 

As we saw earlier, everything looked great for Israel in Egypt, but God told Joseph that Israel would have the Exodus and return to the Promised Land.  That’s what he believed in life and he witnessed to it in death by making them swear to bring his bones to the Promised Land.  He did not want to remain in Egypt, because God told them they were to go to the Promised Land.  Even though Joseph was going after death, he wanted his bones to be in the land that God had promised.

Unless the Lord returns first, we will all die.  What do our plans say about our belief in God’s Promise to us?  Do you remember the promise?

Jesus told the disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:1-3, ESV).

Jesus promised that He is preparing a place for all we who believe savingly in Him.  Do your arrangements or lack of arrangements for your death reflect that belief?  Have you received that promise by faith?  Are you sure – convinced – that there is a place for you if you believe – and Jesus is there?  Do your final arrangements reflect that faith – what you believe is true about death and the life after?

Second, we notice that Joseph’s witness to his faith was public in life and in death.

Joseph was known for his belief – and he made Israel swear to him that in death his bones would be taken to the Promised Land.  Joseph declares before the whole people of Israel the promise he had received by faith and his requiring of them that he be brought to the Promised Land after his death.

When we die, it is the last time we have the opportunity to share our faith – to make a public profession and call people to faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Most of the funerals I have done – when I asked the families what they wanted me to speak on or say – they said they didn’t care.  Do you care what impression is left at your funeral?  Do you care what message is given?  Do you want it to be more than putting you up on a pedestal?  If you have received Jesus Christ by faith, don’t you want one last chance to call all those in attendance to faith?

My brother’s mother-in-law knew she was terminal and didn’t have long to live, and she ordered two booklets which explained the Gospel and instructed that they be handed out to each person at her funeral.

Let us make sure our faith is declared publically in our death, as, Lord willing, we do in our life.

Third, in making Israel promise to bring his bones to the Promised Land, Joseph sought to participate and witness to the communion of saints.

Joseph made Israel swear to bring his bones back to the Promised Land.  It would – minimally – involve a group of people – and they would be burying him with his ancestors – linking them together in the promise that was made to Abraham.  In bringing his bones back to the Promised Land, Joseph was witnessing that he is part of the Kingdom and a partaker of the riches of salvation that all those who believe receive and inherit.  Joseph was witnessing to the fact that his physical death did not make him any less a member of the Kingdom.  All those – living and dead – who believe in the promised Savior – are members together with each other in the promises, the salvation, and the witness of the Gospel.

That’s a statement of hope for us, is it not?  In life and in death, we are members one with another in Christ, we are still members of the Body of Christ, we are still members of the Kingdom, we are still members of the Church, we are still all the Bride of Christ.  The Gospel and its promises are for all those who receive it by faith and that continues after death.

In conclusion, let’s notice something interesting:  when were Joseph’s bones returned to the Promised Land?

            Joseph’s bones were not immediately taken back to the Promised Land.  Although the Egyptians allowed Israel to take Jacob’s bones back to Canaan – the Promised Land – right away – they did not allow them to take Joseph’s bones back right away.  Instead, he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt – for four hundred years!

            In the history of the Exodus, we read:

            “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, ‘God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here’” (Exodus 13:19, ESV).

            The bones of Joseph were taken in the Exodus by Moses to be returned to the Promised Land – it was actually Joshua who brought them into the land.  Do you think anyone wondered why this one coffin was being dragged along with them as they escaped from the Egyptians?  Do you think anyone told the history of Joseph’s making them swear to take it – and then discuss among Israel – all six million of them – why Joseph made them swear to bring him back?

            Let us seek first the Kingdom and God’s Righteousness.  And let us seek to live and die as a witness to what we have received by faith and believed.

            Let us pray:

            Almighty God, we live in a day when many deny existence after death.  Help us to live lives the seek Your Kingdom first and Your Righteousness first.  Help us to understand that in death we have one last chance to point people to salvation through Jesus Christ and to witness to our faith.  May we take seriously our lives and our deaths, being willing to prize You and the salvation we receive from You as more than everything else we have, and may we seek to show You to be faithful and Your promises to be true every day that You have given us.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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