Joseph #16 “Instructions About His Bones”
Genesis 49:29-33; 50”1-26 December 26, 2004
INTRO: Every society has funeral customs that most people follow. Most people.
But there are occasionally people who make unusual requests for their funerals. Usually because they want to leave a lasting impression,
they want people to remember them in a certain way.
I read about a man in Tuskegee who was buried at his request in his
perfectly-restored, 1969 pink Cadillac.
I guess he wanted his friends to remember that he was a man of style.
(If you want to be buried in pink Cadillac, please don’t ask me to do funeral !)
Joseph made an unusual request for his funeral.
Bury me in the Promised Land.
Bury me in that plot of ground where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were buried.
That was not the unusual part of his request.
Jacob had asked the very same thing.
Just read how Joseph and brothers honored that request
and took Jacob’s body back to Canaan.
But what was unusual was that Joseph said—
Bury me in Promised Land, but not now!
Wait to take my body there when the God of our Fathers takes the whole
Israelite nation out of Egypt and back to the Promised Land.
When was that going to happen?
Joseph knew the word the Lord had spoken to great grandfather Abraham.
God had told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves in a country
not their own for 400 years before He would bring them back to Promised Land.
So now you see how unusual Joseph’s request was.
Put me in a coffin, but don’t bury me for 400 years.
Just let my coffin sit unburied in a place where it will be seen and remembered
and not forgotten by future generations of Israelites—
Then, after those 400 years are over, God is going to be true to His promise,
He is going to take all the Israelites out of Egypt and into Promised Land.
Carry my bones with you—and then, when get there, bury me with father.
What was Joseph saying with this unusual request?
He was saying: “I believe God is true to His word.”
“I believe God will keep His promises and bring them to pass in due time.”
“I know I will be buried with my fathers because God himself has promised
that he will bring the children of Israel out of Egypt in 400 years, I believe Him.”
That is how Joseph wanted to be remembered—
not for what he had done but for what he believed.
Throughout the next 400 years, as Israelites suffered slavery,
when they saw that unburied coffin with the embalmed body of Joseph inside,
would have wondered, ever going to get wish and be buried in Promised Land?
So the thing they would think about Joseph would not be the great things he did:
like refusing to sleep with Potiphar’s wife,
or interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams,
or reuniting his family,
or saving them all from famine—
The very first thing they would think about
was that Joseph believed the promises of God.
Joseph believed that one day the God of Abraham will take us out of Egypt
and into the Promised Land. He believed that. Look at his coffin. Still waiting.
That would have pleased Joseph.
Because he wanted to be remembered not for what he did, for what he believed.
And that is the last great lesson from the life of Joseph.
It’s a lesson we need to be reminded of every single day.
The heart of the Christian life is not doing, it is believing.
We often lose sight of this. Forget about the believing, content selves with doing.
But it is not doing that matters—believing is what matters.
Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.
Of course there is doing in Christian life.
But as a wise Christian once said:
The only doing that is worth doing is the doing that comes from believing.
It is by taking God at his word, taking his word into your heart,
that you are enabled to do the things he calls you to do.
Only by believing the great and precious promises
do you have access to divine power for moral and spiritual transformation.
We’ve come to the end of our study of Joseph.
What I want us to do is to look back over his life—great things he did.
But to take this passage as our key and look at everything Joseph did,
through the lens of what he believed.
What you will see is that from first to last, the key to the Christian life is faith.
Confidence in things that you cannot see.
Assurance that God will keep his promises and bring them to pass in His time.
That is faith. That is the key to the Christian life.
Let’s look again at five episodes of Joseph’s life. See his life of faith.
1. Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. What an unforgettable episode in Joseph’s life.
He was young and handsome and she wanted him and she made that clear.
Come to bed with me. She said it over and over.
There were several things that made Joseph vulnerable.
He was young, lonely, and far from home.
He had suffered the trauma of being betrayed and sold by brothers.
He was a slave. Potiphar owned him.
He could not leave the house. Every day he had to see her.
This was certainly not something he could tell his master.
He was in Egypt—a pagan culture—surrounded by people
who did not know the true God and his moral law.
In those incredibly difficult circumstances, how did Joseph stay pure? By faith.
It was what Joseph believed that enabled him to resist immorality.
What did he believe? Do you remember what he said?
“How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”
Faith, writer of Hebrews says, is being certain of what we do not see.
Joseph could not see God, but he believed God was right there with him.
He could not see God’s law, but he believed that God is the one who determines
what is right and wrong, not what we want, what other people say.
Joseph’s faith meant that God’s judgment was more vivid to him than Potiphar’s
wife and all of the pleasure that she offered.
So it was faith in God, his presence, his law, his judgments, his rewards,
vivid sense of the reality of the unseen world that enabled Joseph to be godly.
How do many well-meaning people try to encourage morality (eg among teenagers)
Warn them about temporal consequences.
If you are promiscuous could catch a disease. Might get pregnant.
Perhaps go deeper and talk about psychological consequences.
You will build walls against intimacy, hurt future marriage.
All true arguments, all need to be said—but have no power to produce godliness.
Because none of them require faith—all things that you can see.
I might get caught—that’s not going to produce godliness, doesn’t require faith.
What will people think—that doesn’t require faith to believe either.
At best these things will restrain outward behavior, do not change heart.
Without faith, Bible says, it is impossible to please God. By faith alone godly life.
By faith you live a godly life in an immoral world.
2. Joseph in prison.
This was certainly the darkest episode in his life.
He was a foreign slave falsely accused of attacking his master’s wife.
No trial, no appeals. He had been put there to die.
By all appearances, there was no way out of the prison. Three years of this.
But Joseph did not despair.
In fact, point is often made that during this prison episode,
the very first thing told that Joseph said was when he noticed two fellow prisoners
were dejected and asked them both, “Why are your faces so sad today?”
How was this possible?
How was it possible that at the lowest point of life, without any visible
prospect of relief, he was not only not despondent, but asking about feelings
of fellow prisoners? By faith.
What was it that Joseph believed?
He believed, even during that dark time of suffering, that Lord would,
in his time, raise him up out of that place.
What did Joseph say to the butler and the baker when they were worried
about their dreams? Do you remember?
“Do not interpretations belong to the Lord?”
Joseph remembered the two dreams God had sent him years earlier.
In those prophetic dreams God had promised to make him great, brothers bow.
Faith, Hebrews says, is being sure of what you hope for.
Joseph was sure that God would be true to his promise. That kept from despair.
Not to say Joseph did not suffer. Remember how he spoke strongly about injustice.
He suffered, but he did not despair—because he believed God’s promise.
Perhaps you have been in a season of suffering during which seems no way out.
Your mind goes around and around, looking for some relief.
But there is no relief in anything you can see.
Hard people, unchanging circumstances, dark clouds.
But are you certain of what you cannot see? God’s promises?
Are you sure of what you hope for?
“Humble yourself under God’s mighty hand that he may lift up in due time.”
By faith you avoid despair during seasons of suffering.
3. Joseph the Prime Minister of Egypt. Yet another unforgettable episode in life.
In one day he went from prison to the second highest official in country.
After Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, counsel about next 14 years,
No one will lift a foot without permission. You will answer to no one but me.
Heaped honors on him, gave a wife from nobility, servants, power.
Probably never in all of history been a more sudden reversal of fortunes.
Never forget man I knew in Florida who had been for many years servant in church.
Deacon, ministered to so many people. He and family always there.
But over the years he made a fortune, prosperity changed him.
He had leisure time. Took to spending on boat. Resigned from diaconate.
Remember once him telling me, about growing up very poor, father fisherman.
So poor, didn’t have anything to do but go to church. Great then, all changed.
How many Christians drift away because of success?
We pray for fellow believers who are out of work. Pray for job, not discouraged.
Those are the believers who are usually close to him. Praying all the time.
We really need to pray for each other when prosperous in work—
When we hear Christian has gotten raise, new position, successful deal.
Need to pray that faith strong enough not overwhelmed by temptations.
One of the most remarkable things about Joseph—very same man
in prison or second in command in Egypt. Scrupulously honest. Honoring God.
Even in this chapter you see it. Doesn’t ever take liberties with his position.
Asked Pharaoh for every single favor granted to family, even to bury Jacob.
So how did Joseph stay true in his incredible prosperity? By faith.
Faith enabled him to resist the destructive forces unleashed by prosperity.
What exactly did he believe? Many examples. One of best what named sons.
Manasseh: God has made me forget all my trouble.
Ephraim: God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.
Believed that every success he had was right from God’s hand. And he said it.
You can’t see God’s hand. Faith is being certain of what cannot see.
You can see your own hand, your work, decisions, timing, your planning.
But what you can’t see. What takes faith—is to see the hand of God as source
of all your blessings. When do, successes shrink to tiny size compared to
honoring God with all you have, in all you do. By faith alone, stay true.
By faith you stay true during times of prosperity.
4. Joseph and his brothers. Most dramatic episode in Joseph’s life.
Where do you even start with Joseph’s family?
So dysfunctional, so complicated. Generational sins ingrained in family.
During our study we looked at the family history—don’t have time now.
Just remind you—12 brothers by four different mothers.
One unloved wife, mother of 6 sons.
Two ignored concubines, mothers of 2 sons each.
One loved wife, mother of 2 youngest sons.
Father Jacob whose favoritism and unwillingness to address sinful patterns
led to the near destruction of the family.
Years of jealousy, deception, and hatred.
It culminated in the older brothers selling Joseph into slavery.
Then, 22 years later, after Joseph was Prime Minister—brothers showed up.
And you remember the remarkable decision Joseph made when saw them.
To work for their spiritual restoration.
To work for repentance and reconciliation.
He wanted to unite all the brothers as family of God in mutual love.
How did Joseph have the courage, the patience to work toward that?
He had faith in the Spirit of God to change people from inside out.
He had faith that these brothers could be transformed, not just change behavior.
That faith that enabled Joseph to carry out the work to the end.
It cost him lots of tears. Lots of pain. Even in this reading, still painful.
After Jacob’s death, brothers started to worry Joseph would get revenge.
Tore wound open for him. Thought we had covered this ground.
But Joseph patiently covered the ground again.
Perhaps you have family member, want spiritual restoration, repentance.
So tempting to force things. Try to force behavior that hope will change heart.
Doesn’t work that way. Only way you can work for that by faith.
Because dealing with things can’t see. Can’t see Holy Spirit changing heart.
Promises that you must cling to.
By faith you work for spiritual restoration.
5. Joseph the theologian.
May not know what episode I mean, Joseph always saying things about God.
Talking about those two remarkable statements Joseph made to his brothers.
First one was in that tremendously emotional moment when he finally
told them who he was and they were shocked and terrified.
Do you remember what he said?
And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you . . . God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.
Then he repeated this 17 years later after father Jacob died. When brothers scared Joseph would get revenge:
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
How could Joseph look at the evil that his brothers had done to him—
selling into slavery and say, God was in this and God intends to use it for good?
How could he say, your hateful act of selling into slavery become has become
your passport to life and food during a famine, more spiritual restoration?
By faith. Only by faith you can testify to the sovereignty of God.
Many of you know of Elizabeth Elliott, have read her books.
You know her story—hard years as missionary, first husband killed by Indians,
second husband lost to cancer—listen to what she wrote:
“The experiences of my life are not such that I could infer from them that God is good, gracious, and merciful necessarily. To have one husband murdered and another one disintegrate, body, soul, and spirit through cancer is not what you would call a proof of the love of God. In fact, there are many times when it looks like just the opposite. My belief in the love of God is not by inference or instinct, it is by faith. To apprehend God’s sovereignty working in that love is—we must say it—the last and highest victory of the faith that overcomes the world.”
The only way you can talk that way about God is by faith.
But what power. Those words are just an echo of Joseph’s and countless
believers like him through ages who have lived by faith in what cannot see.
By faith you testify to the sovereignty of God.
CONC: We’re done with Joseph. Let me ask you a question.
If you were to pick one episode to summarize Joseph’s life, which one?
Isn’t it interesting what the writer of Hebrews picked—
not any of the episodes we reviewed, but one first mentioned.
Just one verse about Joseph in great faith chapter of Hebrews 11
“By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt
and gave instructions about his bones.”
People need to see your Christian doing.
Friends and family need to see you obeying and serving Lord.
Parents, your children need to see you doing all the things God requires.
But more than that—they need to see you believing.
They need to see you believing that God is present to guide steps in what is right.
They need to see you believing in the promises of God, even when things dark.
They need to see you believing and saying that every good thing comes from Him.
They need to see you believing that he forgives sins and changes people.
They need to see you believing that all of life is guided by his sovereign hand.
They need to see you believing that this world is passing, word of God is forever.
And then, when you are at the end of your life, you will be able to speak
as Joseph did of those great unseen things that you are certain of,
and have hoped for all your days
Of heaven, and Christ’s return, and the world to come,
and the resurrection, and the restoration of all things.
And you will leave your friends and loved ones,
your children and your children’s children with this lasting legacy of faith:
“God will surely come to your aid, and take you out of this land
to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”