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One night Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it they hated him more than ever. - Genesis 37:5 (NLT)
Have you ever had a vision of the future? Many of us might squirm uncomfortably around talk of “visions,” “dreams,” or “prophecy.” Living in a post-enlightenment world we are conditioned to treat the mystical with a healthy dose of skepticism. Nevertheless, in the words of my favorite prophets/poets, U2, “The Spirit moves in mysterious ways.”
If this sounds a little far-out for you, consider for a moment the entire hope you cling to as a follower of Christ. We believe there is a future moment when Christ will return, when all of Creation will be restored and reconciled to God, and when the Kingdom of Heaven will fully and perfectly come to bear on Earth. This is the vision we believe in and the hope we carry. Right now, however, we live in what theologians refer to as the “already but not yet.” We have already received the promise and the inheritance of Heaven, but it has not yet come to pass in its fullness. The hope and longing we experience now is due to the vision we’ve been given of this future reality. In the meantime, life is often hard and we just want God to get on with it.
Joseph lived most of his life in this “already but not yet.” As a teenager he received multiple visions pointing to a future where he would be elevated to a position of grandeur. Then life happened and Joseph spent a few decades bouncing between imprisonment and upper-management, a roller-coaster life, to be sure. In the day-to-day grind, it would have been difficult for Joseph to imagine that God was at work; yet there He was, patiently waiting for the fullness of time to come to pass before bringing Joseph’s vision to fruition in the present reality.
What hope do you need to cling to today? In what circumstance do you need to believe that God is patiently at work?
Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him for twenty pieces of silver. - Genesis 37:28 (NLT)
There is a scene in The Patriot, a Revolutionary War epic, that gets me every time. For much of the movie Mel Gibson’s character, Benjamin Martin, has a distant relationship with his youngest daughter, Susan. Regardless of how much Benjamin wants to connect with Susan, she continually pushes him away. No talking, no hugging, nothing. She keeps him at a distance and he has no idea why.
The rejection Benjamin feels every time his daughter ignores him is palpable. Our hearts break for him because we know there are few things more devastating than the distance created by a shattered relationship. As viewers, we crave reconciliation for the father/daughter duo almost as much as we want the protagonist to find victory on the battlefield. When the scene finally comes for the two to reconcile, I’m always a blubbering mess.
Joseph knew all too well the pang of broken relationships. As a seventeen-year-old lad he was beaten by his brothers and sold into slavery, effectively cast aside as dead.
I can’t know for certain, but of all the hardships Joseph faced during his time in Egypt I imagine the loss of his family caused the most intense and lingering turmoil in his spirit. Hard labor, being framed for a crime he didn’t commit, even broken promises and years spent in prison: none of these trials carry the kind of sharp pangs of longing and regret as the betrayal and rejection of his own flesh and blood.
Can you relate? Have you ever felt the rejection or loss of a loved one? I’ve been in ministry long enough to know that of all the regret people have at the end of their lives, nothing aches as profoundly as the distance between souls.
We’ll get to the happy ending soon enough, but for now let’s be willing to sit with the pain. It is a good thing, albeit a hard thing, to lament honestly.
Pharaoh's chief cupbearer, however, forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought. - Genesis 40:23 (NLT)
Today’s verse represents a low point in Joseph’s life: beaten by his older brothers, thrown into a cistern, sold into slavery and exported to Egypt, wrongfully imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, and now forgotten by a friend who promised to help work for his release. The dreams he once had of power and authority were lingering like a cruel joke in the recesses of his mind, the memories of his youthful brotherhood hovering as hopelessly and bleak as the shadows cast on the prison floor by his own shackled arms.
But here’s the thing about shadows: they remind us that something more substantive is always close at hand.
In traditional Polynesian culture, every person and thing was believed to be imbued with a life force called mana. Various taboos, they believed, could nullify a person’s mana. Even to step on the shadow of another person was to cause harm to his/her mana, and was a punishable action. We’ve largely lost that kind of mysticism in Western culture, but perhaps we can learn something from the Polynesians. See, a shadow only exists when something of real substance is present. When light shines on a thing, a shadow is cast. This dark and formless projection is not insignificant, but it can only exist when the combination of light and substance are present.
Joseph had no way of knowing, but his life was a shadow of a greater light and substance that would not be fully understood until the life of the Word brought light to everything. Even Joseph’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad life would be held up to the Light of the Gospel in order that future generations might see the glory of a suffering Savior who reconciles all things to Himself.
You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. - Genesis 50:20 (NLT)
I recently watched through the television series The Flash with my kids. One of the principal storylines of the series is that Barry Allen (The Flash) is haunted by the bizarre murder of his mother when he was just a child. This single event motivates and informs decisions throughout Barry’s entire life, so when he gains power that allows him to run faster than the speed of light—fast enough, even, to travel back in time—Barry becomes obsessed with stopping the bad thing from ever happening. What he fails to realize, however, is twofold: first, everything he changes in the past has consequences for the future; and second, he only became the person he is as a result of his own past - the good, the bad, and the ugly.
We all have a little Barry Allen in us. When things aren’t going well, the easy temptation is to rethink the past, wondering how different things could be, if only… The Genesis account doesn’t tell us whether or not Joseph had these thoughts. Seeing as he’s human, I imagine he did. I’m sure that on more than one occasion when he was bound in chains, he must have thought to himself, “If only I kept my mouth shut about those dreams and left that gorgeous coat in my closet.”
Lingering regret over the past, however, does not honor the God who is from everlasting to everlasting. Joseph’s story highlights for us the sovereignty of a God who is bent on reconciliation. When his brothers—the ones who sold him into slavery—show up at his doorstep pleading for help, Joseph can suddenly see what Barry Allen wasn’t able to: When God is in control, the narrative is always moving towards wholeness. Even things that are intended for evil can be used by a good God to bring about reconciliation.
Memorize Proverbs 16:3. God can work everything out according to His purposes, but it certainly helps us when we willingly submit our plans and actions to Him.Share Tweet
Then Joseph kissed each of his brothers and wept over them. - Genesis 45:15 (NLT)
I grew up in the 80s with theatrical masterpieces like The Neverending Story. The movie follows a young hero, Atreyu, on a quest to save the fictional realm of Fantasia from utter destruction. After many trials and PG-rated horrors, Atreyu finally makes his way to his endpoint: the Ivory Tower and the Childlike Empress. As he approaches the tower on the back of a flying luckdragon named Falkor, Atreyu exclaims with wonder and awe, “It’s more beautiful than I imagined!”
Such are the works of God. Let’s recall: Jacob’s favorite son was beaten near to death and then sold into slavery by his brothers; Joseph spent years as a slave and then a prisoner; the brothers carried the guilt of their betrayal for decades and watched as Jacob, the patriarch, slipped further into depression and anguish over his lost son; and finally, a severe famine came across the land threatening to starve the entire family.
As the brothers head to Egypt to plead for assistance, the best they could have hoped for was salvation from their plight. But when God moves, the results are better than we could ever imagine. They came looking for help, but they found a home. They came hoping for rescue, but they found reconciliation.
We often talk of faith in terms of salvation. By grace through faith we are saved from death and given the promise of Heaven. And this is true. But the work of Jesus is so much greater than that. We aren’t just rescued from our fate, we are reconciled to God. He adopts us as sons and daughters, and we are given a home and an inheritance with Him forever.
The grace of God is more wonderful than we ever could have imagined!
Salvation isn’t just about a future destination, it’s about a present transformation. Our goal at Southland is to help you embrace and engage in that transformation. Click here to find out steps you can take today.Share Tweet