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Further In and Deeper Down: Growing in the Valleys (Gen. 40:1-23)

ImageOn Oct 14, 1987, in Midland, TX, there was a 2.5-year-old girl named Jessica McClure, playing in her backyard. Her aunt had left her for only a few moments but that’s all it took. When young Jessica stood up, she fell 30 feet into an abandoned well. When the toddler fell, her right leg became wedged alongside her body in the narrow crevice, pushing her foot next to her head. Doctors on the scene feared that sending down food and drink could be harmful if she were injured or might cause her to choke. As the hours dragged on, and TV coverage drew in viewers, people began to fear the child wouldn’t survive.[1] Everyone started to call her, “Baby Jessica.”

Rescuers were dispatched with heavy equipment to free her. They drilled a parallel shaft next to the well for someone to go down and save her from underneath. A man named Robert O’Donnell was assigned as the primary rescuer. After more than 50 hours, he was able to cut through the rock and was able to touch young Jessica and even to take her vital signs. But then she suddenly slipped further in and deeper down. They pulled O’ Donnell up from the shaft and rethink their strategy.

The pediatrician said, “We only have a few more hours. She won’t last much longer.” So he went back down. He clawed his way through the dirt of the rock. O Donnell could hear from the top, “This time pull hard! You may have to break her in order to save her!” O’Donnell pulled hard and young Jessica began to cry. He knew he was hurting her but he kept hearing the voice from above. Harder and harder he pulled and in pulling, he damaged one of her toes, but he kept on pulling. Her head and face were getting scraped. Finally, he dislodged her from the potential grave. Baby Jessica was rescued. No one accused him of being rough though they amputated one toe and she ended up having plastic surgery on her face. Everyone knew that he had to scar her to save her.[2]

Every now and again, God pulls on us ever so severely because He knows there are times when he has to break us in order to save us. We have been looking at the Gospel according to Joseph. Life has a way of taking us further in and deeper down. It is often very painful. When he was just a baby, he was strapped on to the back of a camel because he was dad was running away from his ruthless uncle Laban. When he was young maybe 11 or 12, his sister was raped. His brothers massacre a city in retaliation. One of his brothers, Reuben, has an affair with a concubine. Joseph is not even yet 17 and has seen more adversity than anyone could see in a lifetime, and it was only beginning.

He also had his own issues of pride. We saw how spoiled he was and how he used it to get this sense of superiority over his brothers. He ends up getting sold to merchants and becomes a slave to one of Pharaoh’s top officials, Potiphar. He grows up a bit and does everything right, even refusing the advances of Potiphar’s wife, who tries to entrap him sexually.  But his integrity gets him into adversity. He is now in a prison.

Trouble just seems to find a way to find Joseph. He seems to be going further in and deeper down. Life seems to be getting better one moment, only to find that he slips deeper down and further in to difficulty. Ever felt like that? That job offer looks so promising and then it isn’t the right fit. There seems to be healing, but then they find a growth somewhere else in the body.  That potential person you have been talking to looks promising to be that spouse, but suddenly the bottom falls under and you are back to square one.

What is God doing? What Joseph will only see at the end of his life is that just when he sees life is taking him deeper down and further into trouble and hardship, God was actually taking Joseph deeper down and further into God’s heart and God’s purposes. God severely pulls him and scars him, but only to save him. Save him from what? Save Joseph from Joseph. God’s growing Joseph, slowly, but surely.

Listen loved ones, God grows His best fruit in the valleys of life. What we often need is not just to get out of the valley, but to see that right there is where our great Gardener setting up shop, cultivating the ground, pulling the weeds and watering the seeds, because He is far more interested in what we are becoming than what we are doing or what season of life we are in.

Today we are going to look at how Joseph falls even deeper down into trouble, but God working in the midst of it to grow him to be the man he would one day become. Only one point today that we will break down, that is adapted from Joni Eareckson Tada:

I. God often allows the very thing He hates to accomplish what He loves

I want to look at three things that God loves that He is already working in the life of Joseph. Though his outward circumstances have not changed and actually is getting worse, God is doing some inner change that will be preparing him for greater usefulness. Here is the first thing we see:

a) Selflessness (vv.1-8)

Let’s look at the text. We don’t know how long Joseph spent time at Potiphar’s house and how long in prison. But we do know that the total period of slavery and imprisonment will be thirteen years (see 37:2; 41:46).

We also do not know what the cupbearer and the baker actually did to land them in prison. Both are responsible for meals. The potential for assassination attempts through the king’s food was real and constant. The cupbearer would taste the wine to see if it was poisoned (if you remember Nehemiah). Both men had to be men who were loyal and of high character to serve Pharaoh and also good judges of character, constantly looking to see if an enemy infiltrates through the staff. The text is silent concerning their offense, but since both were responsible for meals, it seems logical to speculate that the king may have gotten sick from a meal.[3]

We may think this prison is some dark prison in the middle of nowhere, but notice it is in “the house of the captain of the guard.” This is in Potiphar’s house (unless Potiphar died or left). The prison in which the chief butler and baker are detained would be a room attached to Potiphar’s house…Confinement is probably no more than house arrest, but prison is prison, and it is bad enough that Joseph refers to it as a “dungeon” (bôr, v. 15).[4]

These guys are not yet convicted of any crime. A sentence has not been passed against these men. They were being held under investigation. They are in custody. And wouldn’t you know it, they happen to end up right where Joseph is. Once again, God’s providence is working behind the scenes. Notice that Potiphar appoints Joseph to watch and take care of these men. He attended them (see Gen. 39:4). This term is used most frequently as the special term for service in worship. The Levitical priests “stand before the Lord to minister unto him” (Deut. 10:8).[5] Joseph became the servant of men accused of treason and attempted regicide. As the slave of these prisoners, Joseph was at the bottom of the bottom—a servant of infamous felons.[6]

Joseph is serving them. In Gen. 40:5-8, we see that two royal officials have two dreams with two meanings on the same night. Gordon Wenham notes that  “As prisoners, they were trapped and uncertain of their future, so intimations about their fate in the form of dreams were especially important to them. The Egyptians shared a belief, widespread in antiquity, that “sleep puts us in real and direct contact with the other world where not only the dead but also the gods dwell. Dreams therefore are a gift from the gods” (Vergote, Joseph en Égypte, 48). Their interpretation, however, was a complex science entrusted to learned specialists; while a dreamer might have a hunch whether a dream was auspicious or not, he had to rely on experts for a detailed explanation. In prison they had no access to such expertise; yet being prisoners they were most anxious to know their fate—hence, their despondency.”[7] So a dream w/o interpreter is like a diagnosis without prognosis.

Look at Gen. 40:6. Joseph came to them in the morning and they look deeply troubled. This doesn’t mean they were down or even discouraged. You can sense that so severe was the anxiety that they could not contain it. But look at Joseph here. He shows kindness and expresses a concerned interest in them. What a huge change from the egomaniac-spoiled brat who loved his robe, the attention he got from it and who watched people work instead of working. Joseph has matured into a selfless man of God.

Think about it. He could have forsaken God. “I tried to obey and do things right and look at where it got me.” Joseph had every reason to be down himself. “I got problems on my own. Let them figure it out themselves. And don’t tell me about dreams. I had dreams once.” He could have brought it all back to himself. Bitterness has not calcified Joseph’s heart. Resentment did not detract his sensitivity to people.

Joseph had carried many wounds, but his woundedness did not make him self-absorbed.  I can think of times I did not want to serve because at some point in the past I was underappreciated, overlooked and/or criticized.  And we say things like, “Never again will I make myself vulnerable to other people!” And we don’t see it right? We see it in others, but we don’t see it in ourselves. Have our wounds kept us from serving others? Have you been overlooked, criticized and underappreciated? Has that made your heart preoccupied with yourself instead of serving others? Has bitterness calcified our hearts? Has resentment taken away sensitivity toward people?

 In March of 2012, Nadine Schweigert stood before 45 friends and family members to get married…to herself. Before taking off on a solo honeymoonImage, she made a vow at the ceremony in Fargo, North Dakota “to enjoy inhabiting my own life and to relish a lifelong love affair with my beautiful self.” She goes on date nights with herself, blowing kisses into her mirror before leaving saying, “Goodbye sweetheart, have fun!”  It seems extreme and absurd but it could be she was simply honest enough to do what many of us try to do secretly without all of the fanfare

Martin Luther, who stood up to the Catholic Church when they had deviated from God’s Word once said,

“I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, Self.”[8]

God wants us to bear fruit in the valleys of life. But fruit is never for the tree. Fruit is always for others.

In the midst of adversity, many wounds, Joseph serves others and points them to the God of the universe (Gen. 40:8). He says essentially, “The future belongs to God.” Also, he doesn’t say first, “Dreams?! That’s me!” When given a chance to self-promote, he points to God. And God has not given Joseph any dreams in the prison and Joseph could have been absorbed with that as well, but he doesn’t.

Perhaps you are struggling in your season of adversity where you feel like you are going deeper down and further in. Things have not changed. You are carrying a heavy load. But God is accomplishing what He loves. What does He love? Selflessness. What does it mean to be selfless in adversity? It means to be willing to serve even when you have been disrespected. It means to be willing to serve even when you see no results. Joseph was willing to interpret the dreams of these two prisoners even though his own dreams had not had any results yet. Do we not serve because of our past service had poor results? Because our dreams and plans and programs saw little fulfillment and little fruit?

It is hard to be a selfish follower of selfless Savior. We cannot muster up selflessness. Our hearts must first be captured by the selfless love of a selfless Savior for selfish sinners. As FB Meyer once said, “”The only hope of a decreasing self is an increasing Christ.” Let that fill your heart and your heads will open to give when you feel like keeping, praying for others when you feel like you need prayed for first, you can hurt with other people even when you feel like your hurt cannot be spoken and being faithful, when you feel like to run away. Jesus, magnify and increase yourself in our hearts so we may decrease ourselves.

 Second thing here we see God loving to accomplish in our adversity:

b) Authenticity (vv.9-15)

We have the dream of the cupbearer shared with Joseph. And Joseph is quick to interpret them. By the way, only Joseph and Daniel in the Bible seem to have this unique gift of interpreting dreams. Though I believe God can speak to us in our dreams, let our primary way of hearing God’s voice always come from His Word.

And Joseph tells the cupbearer basically, “Your innocence will be recognized and charges will be dropped and you will be back to work on Monday.” But then once he helps him, he thinks perhaps he can help God out by getting out of the situation. I help you, but you must help me. “Just remember me and talk to Pharaoh for me will you?” And his request is tempered with modesty. Joseph is a man of God, but he’s a man, not a superman. He wants to get out! Wouldn’t you? And it comes out of his mouth about what happened and how undeserving he is. Why share this? To show the cupbearer that Joseph is just like him. I love his humanity here as well as his confidence in God. Do you see that life is not always black and white? We are walking paradoxes.

Sometimes in our adversity, we act like we have it altogether and we think we are the only ones struggling. I grew up like that. We should just, “Pray and praise the Lord.” I actually had the boldness once to say, “I’m not doing well with the Lord” and someone said, “This is why you went to seminary?” Because people going to seminary are not allowed to not do well right? So I often hid and pretended. But I felt so unbiblical and counter-Gospel to doing so.

Actually, I see authenticity as a strength here at LH. Of course, we can always grow in it. Authenticity is bridging the gap between who I am and who I appear to be. We need to grow in that. But I read an article the other day and got me thinking. In this article, the question was raised if our transparency is unbalanced. We share our sins and brokenness with each other. We talk about church being a hospital for sinners and not just a museum for saints. But the blogger writes, “…though I may find community in these similarities, am I challenged or inspired to actually live differently? When I intuitively relate and identify, sharing my own ‘less-than’ moments, or my own sin, am I encouraging my friends to do better, to pursue Christ harder, to put sin to death and to seek godliness? Is our transparency unbalanced? Are we too willing to share the ways we mess up, and somehow hesitant to share the ways that we have known incredible victory and grace? If there was a tendency for some in previous generations to share only that which was polished and respectable, perhaps we in the younger generations have swung to the other extreme.

Do we talk too much about the parts of us that are yet ugly, while not nearly enough about the ways that Christ has already made us (and is making us) beautiful? There are breathtaking ways that we are being transformed into the likeness of God’s Son. Do we have the humility to talk, in specifics, about how His grace has changed us, about the lovely things He is doing through us?”[9]

Yes there is much in our sanctification is that painstakingly slow, but God is working, loved ones. I see that our transparency and authenticity is not balanced. There is much grace and love poured into us as well. Do we celebrate and share that? Let’s do that too in our prayer meetings, small groups and in our conversations with each other. Let us not swing to the other extreme where we just see the ugliness of our sin and not enough of the beauty of Christ working in us. Yes you may seem to be going deeper down and further in to trouble, but God is taking you further in to bridge the gap between who you are and who you appear to be. It is in this gray balance of trusting in God’s sovereignty and wishing out of adversity that we must live, seeing God work in our hearts.

Thirdly, I see something else that God loves to grow in us:

c) Perseverance  

So the baker is like, “Hook me up too!” when he heard how great an interpretation that the cupbearer received. It is interesting that the cupbearer was very quick to share his dream. Was his willingness suggesting his innocence? That he had nothing to hide? But the baker waited until Joseph interpreted the other guys dream. And then Joseph interprets the dream and the baker wishes he had never asked. The baker would have his head lifted up all right—right off his body! And more, his body would be impaled so that the birds could have their own gourmet’s feast.[10]

 

Remember the Egyptians like to mummify their dead, hoping that it will transition to the after-life but this treatment was designed to prevent his spirit from resting in the afterlife.[11] Joseph could have been tempted here to lie and be like, “You have nothing to worry about!” Besides, he would be dead in three days and no one would know. He tells him the truth.

At this point I would have been like, “God, I wish I had an idea when the dreams you once gave me where going to come true.” But I do have my back up plan right? The cupbearer is going to help me! The cupbearer and baker get released. Can you see Joseph as the grateful cupbearer joyfully departs? “Hey, royal cupbearer, remember me. God bless you!” “Sure, Joseph! How could I ever forget?” The cupbearer is restored and the baker is executed, just like Joseph said.

The next day, when the morning sun began its eastern ascent, Joseph stood at the prison’s portals with rising expectancy. [12] Joseph is waiting in prison. “Anytime now. Warden! If a messenger comes by, it will be for me.” Joseph waits for the call. One day turns into one week turns into one month turns into several months and then two years (Gen. 41:1). What happened? Look at Gen. 40:23. The cupbearer did not remember, actually literally, “He completely forgot him.” The proverb has come true, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Prov. 13:12).

What is God doing? Developing perseverance. Joseph will not get out of prison because God will get him out, not because of man. God will get the glory not a cupbearer. Though the cupbearer forgot Joseph, God had not. Isn’t that our hope? The Lord has not forgotten you and will never forget you. Listen to this promise in Isaiah 49:14-16: “But Zion said, ‘the Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman forget her nursing child? That she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved (tattooed) you on the palms of my hands…”

Isaiah’s argument is how can a parent walk away from his/her own child? How can a parent ignore the cry of his/her own flesh and blood? Even if they did, I will never forget you or walk away from you or ignore you.  I think I shared this with you before, but I remember right before Abbie was born, I was laid off from Moody. We had a baby shower and had gotten so many clothes. But I still did not have job. We had to move in with my in-laws. One day I was really discouraged. I have a baby coming and no job. We had some convictions about Jenny working part-time and serving in ministry. As I was sitting in the bedroom, I looked up at all the clothes Abbie was going to wear. Jenny had arranged it according to month. By this time, we also had a play yard for her and tons of diapers. I laughed and thought, “If only Abbie knew that all of these things are already provided for her even before she was born!” Then it hit me. “Robin, as an earthly father you have taken care of your child even before she born, but how much more have I already taken care of you?”

So persevere. We are always in a hurry. If we don’t have busy lives, we have busy hearts, constantly filling it up with something, adding fuel to the fire of our impatience. Have you ever noticed that one of the things Jesus continually commends the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 is perseverance? It is always high on His list.

Conclusion

God often allows the very thing He hates to accomplish what He loves. Do you know where that rings most true? 2,000 years ago, Jesus came down from glory and was the most innocent person in the world. He was a greater Joseph. He was the most authentic person. He had no sin, but we did not receive Him not. In fact, all the people that were healed by Him or fed by Him forgot Him. His disciples left Him. One of them betrayed Him and another denied Him. Yet knowing all this, He was the most selfless person this world has ever seen. He became a servant, despised, rejected and forgotten. He was a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. His own Father placed all of our sin on Him and walked away from His Son. He allowed what He hates to accomplish what He loves. Why? For us. So we know He will never away from us. So we know that He will always remember us. So we realize that He has tattooed us on his hands. So we can persevere knowing our Lord persevered for us in the midst of the worst kind of adversity. So we can be selfless, knowing our Lord was selfless to the end, like Joseph, even saving people on the cross.

At the cross is where we must bow our knee. It is where selfishness dies. Our wounds make us self-absorbed, but looking at His wounds for us causes us to be selfless. The cross is where we see authentic love. It is where we experience the God who persevered to the end for us. It is there I welcome you loved ones. When you see the beauty of the cross, you will receive grace to welcome adversity as your friend, since your greatest friend has already taken on your worst adversity.

 

 

 


[1]Hubbard, Amy. “Baby Jessica rescue: 25 years ago today, the nation celebrated,” http://www.latimes.com/news/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-baby-jessica-rescue-anniversary-20121016,0,5654245.story accessed 1 November 2012.

[2]Adapted from Azardia, Arturo’s sermon, “The Finesse of Providence,”  http://spiritempoweredpreaching.com/downloads/Genesis_37_The_Finesse_Of_Providence.MP3 accessed 1 November 2012.

[3]Walton, J. H. (2009). Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament) Volume 1: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (128). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4]Hamilton, V. P. (1995). The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18–50. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (475). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[5]Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. (1996). Vol. 1: Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (152). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.

[6]Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: Beginning and Blessing. Preaching the Word (469). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[7]Wenham, G. J. (1998). Vol. 2: Genesis 16–50. Word Biblical Commentary (382). Dallas:

      Word, Incorporated.

[8]Taken from http://www.brainyquote.com/words/po/pope204964.html  accessed 2 November 2012.

[9]Galotti, Elisha. “An Unbalanced Transparency,” http://goo.gl/rszji accessed 2 November 2012.

[10]Hughes, R. K. (472).

[11]Wenham, G. J. (384).

[12]Hughes, R. K. (472-73).

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