This is a series of three messages I gave a camp for foster boys at Teen Reach Adventure Camp in Nebraska. This is not an exact manuscript, but it has the general form and content of the actual messages.
A Messy Family (Day 1)
For the next three days we are going to be spending time in the Bible. We need to get to know it. The Bible is composed of 66 smaller books and is divided into two sections called the Old Testament and the New Testament. There are 39 books in the OT and 27 in the NT.
The Bible has one big story throughout: God rescuing his people and adopting them into his own family. The main character of this story is not you or me. It is Jesus. Jesus is fully God and fully man. He has been God for eternity and he became man when he was born as a human being on this earth. Every story in the Bible points to Jesus, either in big or small ways. The climax of the Bible is when Jesus gave up his life on the cross in our place in order that we might become sons and daughters of God.
God wrote the Bible through ordinary men like you and me in different languages. So what you see is a translation and interpretation. We do not just believe what it says, but we also love it what says–even when it says hard things (and it says many hard things!). The Bible is God’s way of speaking to us. This weekend, we came to TRAC to hear what God has to say, so we will read from the Bible.
As I said, Jesus is the main character of the Bible. There are four biographies of Jesus within the Bible and they are called “The Gospels,” Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. In the book of John (5:38-39), Jesus was talking to some men who thought they were religious, but they really missed the point of the whole Bible. They thought it was a book of rules. But Jesus told them, “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” If you want to have true life–both now and after your body dies–you must listen to what the Bible says about Jesus.
I love the Bible because it is the most brutally honest book you will ever read. Life is brutally honest, and if we want to learn how to deal with life God’s way, we must know the Bible.
For the next three days, we are going to look at the story of Joseph. Because the Bible is all about Jesus, however, we are going to look for Jesus in Joseph’s story, even though he isn’t mentioned by name. Actually, God seems to be curiously absent in this whole story. This weekend, I will never tell you to “be like Joseph,” because Joseph was not perfect. The point of Joseph’s story is that it points to Jesus, who is the true and better Joseph.
So who was Joseph? Joseph was a part of a nation called Israel. And he was the son of a man named Jacob. Jacob had 12 sons (big family!). Jacob had two wives named Rachel and Leah. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son because he was the first son of Rachel, the wife he loved more. The first thing we need to know about Jacob is that he is not a good boy. He is kind of a snotty kid. Let’s look at what Genesis 37 says.
Read Genesis 37:2-11.
[Summarize the story.] Clarify v. 2.
God is going to take Joseph and save him from his lying, deceptive, proud heart, and use him to save all of Israel.
A few days later, when his brothers were working with the sheep, Joseph went to see if they were doing okay. His brothers saw him far off and they wanted to kill him. One brother convinced them not to and instead they threw him into a pit (37:12-24)! While they were eating lunch they saw a group coming toward them and they sold Joseph to them as slave for 20 pieces of silver. This group then sold Jacob again in Egypt to a man named Potiphar. Potiphar was the right hand man of the king of Egypt, called “Pharaoh.” So Joseph is sinful and he has done bad things. And bad things have happened to him. Let me be clear: Just because Joseph is sinful, it does not mean that his brothers had the right to hurt him and sell him like they did. But think about your own life. People do bad things to us–very hurtful things–because they are bad. But we also do bad things to them. This whole world is broken–it does not work the way it should work.
The depth of sin that is controlling this family is unbelievable. Can you see it? Joseph is a liar and a school-yard snitch. He is spoiled by his daddy (a daddy who plays favorites–which is never a good thing) and all the other brothers hate him for it. So his brothers take matters into their own hand, threaten to kill him, and eventually sell him as a slave, and they lie to their father saying he was actually killed. What a mess!
Now it would be easy for me to say, “How have you been betrayed and abandoned?” And then I could tell you how to live your life better or overcome your struggles. I could tell you that everything worked out fine for Joseph and so if you just hang in there God will help you too. But that is not what I’m going to tell you. The Bible was not written so you would know how to live a good life. It was written to show you how God’s grace breaks into your life and saves you from the sin and brokenness and suffering that you would not otherwise be able to overcome.
God’s grace is favor from God that you could not work for or earn, and it is given to you solely because God loves you. He gives it to you not because you are good, but because he is good. And he desires that you know him and treasure him because he is the best thing in the universe. That is what God is going to do for Joseph and his family in this story. This story is a picture of what God would do for the whole world when he sent his Son Jesus.
Let me leave you with this today: Just as Joseph will be a savior for his brothers later in the story as we will see in the next couple of days, so Jesus will be the Savior of the whole world. And hopefully we will see that Jesus is the true and better Joseph over the next two days. I want you to think about where you need God’s grace to break in to your life in order to be healed and changed. Where does God need to show up in your life?
God Sent Me Here (Day 2)
After Joseph had been sold to this Egyptian man named Potiphar, he started to impress Potiphar so much that Potiphar made him his personal attendant. That means Joseph was in charge of everything Potiphar owned except Potiphar’s wife.
But then something terrible happened. Potiphar’s wife told a lie. In Genesis 39:6-18, Potiphar’s wife said that Joseph tried to have sex with her and one day she cried and pretended that he was attacking her. Joseph, again, was thrown in another pit, this time, a jail. Just like earlier, God had favor on Joseph even while he was in prison. Joseph ended up becoming in charge of all the prisoners (39:22).
The biggest thing Joseph is known for is that God gives him the ability to interpret dreams. He interprets some dreams of a few guys in prison, and one day, Pharaoh (the king of Egypt) has a few confusing dreams. In Genesis 41, Pharaoh dreams that 7 healthy cows are eaten by 7 thin cows! Then he dreams that 7 plump heads of grain are eaten by 7 heads of shriveled grain! The cup bearer was in prison with Joseph and remembers that he can interpret dreams. He tells Pharaoh about Joseph. Joseph interprets the dreams and tells Pharaoh that there will be 7 good years in Egypt and then 7 years of famine. Pharaoh is so pleased that he puts Joseph in charge of all of Egypt to take care of things in order to get ready for the famine! So, Joseph gets to sit at the right hand of the king. He goes from jail to second in command.
Read Genesis 41:37-43 [quickly summarize]
Well, 7 good years came just like Joseph said, and then the 7 bad years started. This famine was so bad that it even affected Joseph’s family in his hometown. His father (does anyone remember his father’s name?) heard that there was food in Egypt, so he sends his sons (the one’s who sold Joseph) to go get food in Egypt. You see where this is going. The little boy who was helpless and crying at the hand of his brothers is going to use his power either for or against them. What do you think is going to happen? Let’s find out.
So the brothers go to Egypt, and as soon as they get there, Joseph recognizes them but they don’t recognize him. Joseph takes them into custody, puts them in jail. They are so freaked out and they believe that this is happening to them because they sold Jacob years earlier. They said, “Clearly we are being punsihed because of what we did to Joseph long ago. We saw his anguish when he pleaded for his life, but we wouldn’t listen. That’s why we’re in this trouble” (Gen. 42:21).
After 3 days Joseph’s lets them out, they buy some food, but when they are on their way back home, they discover that their money is still in their bags because Joseph had his servants put it back! They tell their father Jacob when they get home and he says, “You have to go back.” Well, this is like a 400 mile trip–one way! But they go back to Egypt to get more food and bring TWICE as much money to pay for the first batch of food. When they got to Egypt, Joseph finds them again and he throws them a party! When the brothers get ready to leave, he puts his silver cup in Benjamin, his youngest brother’s, bag. Well, when the brothers leave, they are shocked again. How could Benjamin steal Joseph’s cup?! First the money, now the cup. What is going on! So they go back.
When the oldest brother Judah was pleading for Benjamin’s life, Joseph could not keep his secret any longer.
Read Genesis 45:1-8.
I want you to notice just one thing from what I read: Joseph said, “God sent me here.”
It was an evil thing for Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery. But that is what God used in order to save Joseph’s brothers. We don’t see a lot of God in this story, but Joseph knows who is in control of everything that happens in the world. If Joseph would have never been sold into slavery, never been thrown into prison, never been rescued from prison and made the Pharaoh’s right hand man, everyone would have died. Including his brothers.
Has God sent you somewhere through a series of evil events? Maybe you don’t think you should be there. Maybe you are suffering. Maybe you are causing the suffering. You think God is silent. But he’s not. I don’t want you to be like Joseph. But I want you to learn from this.
If you believe that sometimes God doesn’t seem to be answering prayer, but He actually working out some other way, how strong you would be?
Very often, God sends his people to places they do not want to go to accomplish something that would not be able to be accomplished otherwise.
Think about this: God sent his Son, Jesus somewhere that was hard, just like Joseph. He had to endure suffering. But he went to a much harder place than Joseph. He didn’t go into a pit or into jail, but to a cross. And he went to a cross for all the suffering you cause and all of the suffering you go through. Jesus suffered for us and with us on the cross. So when you feel like God isn’t with you, you have to look a the cross, where God screamed, “I am dying with you and I am dying for you.”
God Meant It For Good (Day 3)
Joseph moves his whole family to Egypt, but after a little while, Jacob, his father dies. We’ll move to the end of the story and read one of the most powerful sections in all of the Bible.
Read Genesis 50:14-21.
This is the end of the story of Joseph. The last thing we read about is that Joseph and his brothers officially “make-up” and put the past behind them. The brothers thought that maybe since their dad was dead, Joseph would take this opportunity to treat them harshly and repay them. They expected revenge! But that is not what Joseph gives them. He gives them mercy. Mercy is what we don’t get when we deserve it. Joseph’s brothers deserved to be treated harshly. But Joseph did not do that to them.
And why? Because Joseph is a nice guy? No! Joseph says in verse 20–one of the most important verses in this whole story, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” The reason Joseph had mercy on his brothers is because he knows God had a greater purpose. If we are honest, most of us are not merciful like that.
Hundreds of years after Joseph, in the book of John, it talks about Jesus. It says, “He came to his own people, and even they rejected him” (Jn. 1:11), just like Joseph’s brothers rejected him. Just like Joseph was sold to slave traders for silver, so Jesus was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver by one of his best friends. Just as Joseph was a savior for his human family, Jesus is a savior for God’s family.
Many of you have probably had people in your life like Joseph’s brothers. You have been hurt by them. And things that have happened to you should not have happened to you. However, if you are honest, you have hurt people, too. You have caused suffering. You are not merciful. You have thought, said, and done things that God does not like. But do you realize that God has purposes for evil things? It says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” Does good work out for everyone? No! Only those who love God and are called according to his purpose.
What does it mean to love God and be called according to his purpose? It means to believe in Jesus. Many times in your life, you might feel alone. You feel that you have suffered wrongly. But remember that Jesus was perfect, and he deserved no suffering. Yet he suffered in your place on the cross. You aren’t Joseph. You are his brothers. Jesus is Joseph. Jesus is the perfect one who sits at the right hand of the King and says, “You meant evil against me by sinning, but God meant it for good, because it sent me to the cross, and that will be the very thing that saves you.” He says, “You deserve to be punished because of your sin. Your lies, your anger, your hatred, your fights, your attitude. But I will give you mercy. I will take care of you and your children, if you would just come to me.”
One of the most tender verses in the New Testament is Matthew 11:28-29. Jesus says, “Whoever has a heavy burden, come to me and I will give you rest.” Are you weary? Do you have a heavy burden? Have you suffered and caused suffering? I have. Jesus is the only answer.
God gives mercy to you. And when that happens, you will be free to give mercy to those who have hurt you. You see, Joseph was turned into a merciful man by the end of the story because God has mercy on him. God had mercy on you when Jesus died for your sins.