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By Mark Chen

Preached at Life BPC 8am service, 2003-07-06

Text: Genesis 50:14-21

The story here starts with the return of the chosen family, Joseph and his brothers, from Canaan where they had taken their Father's body to be buried. And although it was a funeral, it was a happy occasion as Israel, that is Jacob, could be buried with his fathers, Abraham and Isaac. The end of Jacob's life was also nothing but sheer happiness as he, after many years, discovered that his son Joseph was still alive and living in Egypt; not merely alive, but also the most important and powerful man, second only to Pharaoh; being, furthermore the Savior of his people.

Many revelations were also given him by God in the twilight years of his life. He was told before he went into Egypt that God would make of him a great nation there. And this promise was already in the process of fulfillment. We can see just in the verses proceeding where we ended off that Joseph was able to see his sons' grandsons. And this blessing also came upon the entire family. We are told in preceding chapters that it was 12 years since the famine ended, and 17 years that Jacob had lived in Egypt. Meaning, that for 5 years, God provided for this family through the drought, and for the dozen years that followed, God prospered them that they grew tremendously. They were not only blessed physically, but also they were looked upon favorably even by the Egyptians, so much so that they mourned with the Israelites when Jacob died, confounding even the Canaanites who looked on. The Israelites even had the esteem of their host. 

But despite these blessings and all the wonders that God had shown them, despite the things they had seen and the instruction they had received from their father, despite their comfort and the assurance they had from God to bless them; despite all that, once Jacob had died, the brothers of Joseph started to fear. They began to think that Joseph would now take revenge upon them for the evil they had done early in life; by mocking him, throwing him into a pit, threatening to kill him, selling him to the Ishmaelites, who in turn sold him to the Midianites, who later sold him to Potiphar where he met the infamous Missus, whose false witness relegated him to the Egyptian dungeons. What great affliction, and all upon one who was innocent! No one was more afflicted than Joseph, in this sense, I believe, than perhaps our Lord Jesus. Joseph faced great trials and affliction by his brothers and also by Mrs. Potiphar.

And when we talk about affliction, we also talk about afflicters. Now, there are many things that afflict us - our illnesses, our jobs, our nightmares, etc. But rather than speaking about afflictions in general, which are many, I would like to speak this morning specifically about human agents of affliction. I would like to talk about people who persecute us and afflict us with great misery. And in turn, we want to see what our response should be to our afflictions and afflicters, in light of God's sovereignty.

Firstly, we want to see how God takes the utter foolishness of man and turns it for our good. How God could have turned the hatred of the brothers for Joseph into something good was something remarkable. And all this hatred started in Genesis 37 when Joseph received the coat of many colors; and in verse 4 we are told that, 'when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.' There was an actual hatred. And I just have to say, and these are not solely my words, that if there are people whom you hate so much that you can't even speak peaceably unto them, that's really not right; it is utter abomination to God. It is utter abomination - and you don't have to take my word for it; we can see it in the life of Joseph, the result of this hatred. And this hatred was the genesis of all the wicked things that they did unto him. In verse 18, we see that they even conspired to slay him, how they wanted to kill him and throw him in a pit. And it was only by the intervention of Reuben that Joseph lived to see another day.

And because of this hatred and sin that they had committed against Joseph, they feared greatly, fearing even to face him that they had to send a messenger, possibly Benjamin, with words of reconciliation. But what was Joseph's response? He said his most famous words in verse 20 of chapter 50, 'But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.' If you were Joseph, could you have uttered these words? Because Joseph, before he said these words, had every ability and 'right' to take revenge upon his brothers, but he didn't. Joseph's desire wasn't vengeance; his desire was to know the will of God and to do the will of God. And in order to know the will of God, he had to understand who God was and how powerful He was. And truly, Joseph knew the power of God.

And when we speak of the power of God, we are really speaking about his omnipotence; that is, the almightiness of God. And Joseph not only knew this power of God, but also God's wisdom; his omniscience. And if I were in my Sunday School class right now, I'd ask all my students to recite the answer to the fourth question in the Shorter Catechism. But thankfully for them, I'm up here and it wouldn't be appropriate. But all of us should know this question and its answer by heart. God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. And this sentence here defines God in all his greatness and might - that he is all powerful, all wise, all knowing, all holy, all just, all good, and all true. There is no one else more powerful or more wise or holier, more just, etc. This speaks of the Sovereignty of God. Now, this sermon has the potential to become a very theological lecture, so bear with this portion if you will. It should shed more light upon our response to our afflicters and afflictions.

To define the Sovereignty of God in absolute terms and to locate its parameters is a Herculean task, even the Westminster Divines had a tough time. The task will never be complete because the range of God's sovereignty far exceeds what we can comprehend. And just when we think we have an idea of His sovereignty, we are yet again dumbfounded by further illumination as to how great He really is. King David, in the presence of all the assembly attributed to God the most comely description of His sovereignty when he said in 1 Chronicles 29:10-12, 'Blessed be thou, LORD God of Israel our father, for ever and ever. Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all.'

He reigns over all, and controls all things - and in Psalm 76, which we read in our responsive reading, we saw how no one can stand in his way, that those who oppose him, will surely be routed. So when we speak of God's Sovereignty, we are saying that God is the supreme Ruler over all. Everything is subject to His sovereign will and purposes. He is ultimately in control. God is involved in everything and in everything He does, He is sovereign; He is sovereign in his exercise of His mercy, delegation of power to others, exercise of His grace and exercise of His love. So how does this apply to us? 

You see, Joseph, understood all of these things. He knew that God was a sovereign God; and he saw, despite all the wicked things which had been done to him by his brothers and the wicked things that followed as a result, all these things, God had turned around - God had taken what the brothers had done - the foolish and wicked things of the foolish and wicked brothers, and turned them around that an entire nation could be saved. So the very first thing we can learn from God's sovereignty is that God can use the actions of our afflicters, which we will most often see as only resulting in evil, that they may be of good and of a blessing to us and even to others. 

And as we go through the afflictions that we are afflicted with by our afflicters, how do we see them? Can we see that the Lord can take them and change them to be a blessing? Joseph certainly could. And that is the promise that is given to us in Romans 8:28 'And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.' Not only is God, in his sovereignty, able to change these things to be a blessing, but he will change them. All things, all afflictions, all afflicters, will be used by God to be a good for us, whether or not we can see it. And the comfort we have here, is that God doesn�t leave us to be afflicted without hope of a good ending. He, as our heavenly Father, gives us help and will reward us for our patient endurance of the affliction. Jeremiah 29:11 says, 'For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.'

We may be going through a tremendous trial now. We may, at the moment, be receiving the brunt of the actions of an afflicter. Suppose your colleague at work, a horrible jealous lady, as jealous as Joseph's brothers were, dislikes you for no apparent reason. And there are people like that. In her meanness as a person, her pettiness, she just hates you; and at every turn she gets, in a staff meeting, she will make snide comments, at the tea room, she ignores you and even pushes you aside when she reaches to stick something into the microwave. She gossips about you behind your back, saying things which are blatantly untrue, but yet things concocted so sinisterly that they might be believed by those to whom she is lying. She arranges a meeting and conveniently leaves you out of the loop, making you look incompetent. She mutters under her breath every time you walk past her, but loud enough so that you can hear her unkind remarks. And she does this because she knows you are too meek, and rightly so, to talk back at her and to do the same evil to her as she has done to you. But can God turn this evil into something good? Now we may not be able to see it right away, but indeed he can and he will. We might not be able to see in what manner he will do it, but He has promised to. God is sovereign, he can do anything - even to change that which is bad into that which is good.

But that is not the extent of God's Sovereignty. There's more. Not only can God take the utter foolishness of man and turn it for our good, but would you believe that God himself has brought this afflicter and affliction into your life? He did. If we say that God is sovereign, that he is the supreme ruler of the universe and that nothing happens without his permission, desire, or will, then the afflictions that come our way also have been placed there by God. When Joseph said his famous words in verse 20, he not only recognized that God had the power to change situations, but that God himself was the author of the situation from the beginning to the end. After all, if God is all powerful and all wise, is there anything that happens that is outside his power and his knowledge and his desire? You mean, God brought the afflictions and afflicter into my life? Yes, he did. 

How short-sighted it would be for us, who are faced with our afflictions, not to see the whole picture from a kingdom perspective. It is very natural, of course, when we go through our problems to see it only from our minute perspective, how we've been hurt and how we're being treated. But God demands more of us - that we see it from His perspective. And that is exactly what Joseph did. He saw all of what happened to him as being from the Lord.

So what should our attitude be to our afflictions and afflicters? Let me quote from Andrew Murray, a South African minister who died in 1917 and is recognized as one of the great writers on the spiritual life: 'Learn today the secret of never suffering loss in the soul by the sufferings of life (and that means our afflictions) - yea, rather, of always making them your greatest gain. Link them to God and Jesus. It is God who sends them. He sent them to Jesus and perfected Him through them. He sends them to thee in the same love, and will make them thy highest gain' In every trial he will give strength and blessing. Let but this truth be accepted, in every trial, small or great: first of all and at once recognize God's hand in it. Say at once: My Father has allowed this to come; I welcome it from Him; my first care is to glorify Him in it; He will make it a blessing.' What Andrew Murray is in effect saying is that we should welcome our afflictions and afflicters, because they are from God, and seek to glorify God through them.

That prune of a lady in the office is being sent by God as an affliction - not out of malice or chastisement, provided of course we're innocent, but he sends it out of love for our edification. Now, the lady doesn't know she's being used of God for your benefit. If not, she'd probably not torment you. But God uses her wickedness for a good purpose. Proverbs 16:9 tells us that 'A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.' So the lady out of her own wickedness wants to torment you, but ultimately God is the one who directs her steps. And that is what Psalm 76:10 says, 'Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.' God uses the wicked for his purposes, even to bless you and to bless others. Joseph's brothers did not know they were being used of God, but God used them in the thing they most wanted to do, in order to fulfill his loving purposes. Imagine looking upon the suffering of life, the searing, body-wrenching, heart-breaking suffering and seeing God's loving hand in it. It's tough to swallow isn't it? But that's the truth. 

And God doesn't leave us alone however in our trials. He helps us. We are told in 1 Corinthians 10:13 that 'There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.' Along with the trial that God gives unto us, along with the afflicters, God gives us help and a means to endure. 

Some of you might say, Mark, you're preaching a very hard sermon. I agree. First you tell me that God is sovereign and that the afflictions and afflicters that come into my life are for a good, since God in his sovereignty can change the situation and make it good. That much I can accept. But then you tell me that I might not even know or foresee what kind of good can come out of it. You expect me to swallow that? Then on top of that, you tell me that actually God was the one who sent this tormentor into my life. And the icing on the cake is that I must be happy about it? Are you insane?!

Dear brethren, these are God's standards. And they are not grievous to keep. Of course, we struggle because of the sin that resides within us. And although we might not be able to see immediately all the good that comes out of the situation, there is one thing that is promised us that is good. We are told in James 1:2-4, to 'count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.' We are told in Romans 8:29 that all things work for our good in order that we might be 'conformed to the image of his Son.' To be perfect is to be like Christ; and all things which come our way, especially trials and temptations, are for that purpose - they work to our good, to our spiritual growth. Imagine if you could manifest the fruit of the Spirit consistently, being a forgiving person, with much Godly wisdom, with understanding; imagine if you had constant hope of the Lord's return, that you have victory over your sins and worldliness, you are fruitful in your works, you are a prayerful person, knowing the will of God, happy to serve, filled with the Spirit, humble, with great love for your brethren, etc. What kind of Christian would you be? A joyful one, right? You would truly understand what enjoying God means. Which of us does not want that? Which of us does not want this kind of perfection? If we do, would we not welcome our tormentors? For God brings them into our lives for our perfection. And this is a promise. 

The theme for this quarter's messages is 'Promises to Live By.' In the insert advertising this series a few weeks ago, therein were some words written. I'd like to read them out. It says, 'There are thousands of promises in the Bible. Some of these promises are in the nature of fulfilled prophecies, where God's promises of Old Testament times find their fulfillment in the events of Christ and the Gospel while others concern the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church and the blessings of the believer in the age to come. God is always faithful to His promises. He has given added assurance of this by giving the Holy Spirit to the believer as a guarantee that He will do what He has promised. God's people likewise should be faithful to their promises, even when it involves them in personal inconvenience.' 

So what shall our response be to our afflicters in light of God's sovereignty? Well, firstly, sovereignty frees us from all bitterness. This is clearly the message of Genesis 50:20. If ever any man had the right to get even it was Joseph. We get bitter because we doubt God's goodness and we don't see his invisible hand at work in our lives. We think God isn't involved in our situation and that's why we get angry and try to get even and hurt the person who has hurt us. If you really believe God is at work in your situation, you can just stand back and let God do whatever he wants to do. Secondly, sovereignty gives us new perspectives on our trials. In other words, that in the great issues of life we will generally not have an answer to the question 'Why did this happen to me?' But we are promised that God is involved with us even in the worst moments of life. And so with this promise, we are comfortable in being happy with our ignorance. Lastly, sovereignty should cause us to respond the way God wants us to. And this we see in the example of Joseph - he was gracious, he was patient, he was kind, he was loving. He was not petty, he did not turn his back on the messenger, he did not give the silent treatment. He had character, magnanimity, a forgiving spirit. After all, the purpose of trials and tormentors is to make us more like Christ, why do we not practice Christ-likeness as we go through it? Holding a grudge and being bitter is a very tiring thing. And although we as Christians may not have done anything wrong to deserve the affliction, but how we handle it in light of God's sovereignty is important and a mark of our understanding, it is also a test of how we keep our promises to God. Let us in our affliction not fall into the trap of sinning. 

We may be at the moment under affliction. Have you handled it in a godly manner? Have you surrendered to God and to let him mold you to be more like Christ? Are you pliable? If we are resisting God's grace, how can we ever be perfected? No matter how hard, and I know how hard it is, let us humble ourselves even though we are the afflicted ones, to be reconciled, to forgive, take the first step, show our love. Amen.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25