Welcome, Bible, sermon text, pray
So, it’s been a particularly good week in the Evans household. This past week it was our 9th wedding anniversary! Han and I were married on 7th August 2010, and as she walked down the aisle, I remember thinking that I couldn’t believe I’d pulled it off. I still can’t.
And so, this past Wednesday we were sat there in our living room, eating our take away, watching Homeland, and it’s just a really chilled evening, and I turned to Han and sighed, and said, “Do you remember this time last year?” And she looked at me and said, “Don’t remind me of that absolute nightmare”.
Because last year, August 7th, 2018, was the day when both of us, both of us, forgot our wedding anniversary.
We were in the final stages of moving back to the UK, and I can honestly say that if we live to 100 years old, our lives will never be as chaotic as those few weeks before we left America. There was MOUNTAINS of paperwork. The constant emotional turmoil of a seemingly endless stream of goodbyes. I was finishing my thesis for my masters, I was still working for church, we had to pack our entire lives into a suitcase, whilst still trying to look after 2 small boys. Our tenants in the UK decided not to pay the final month’s rent so we were waking up at 5am to call back home to sort them out. We had to figure out how to sell all our furniture, or give it all back, shut down utility bills, phone bills, bank accounts, move out of our apartment, THE IRS – oh, don’t talk to me about the IRS – then we all got hit by the WORST vomiting bug we have ever had, all four of us, and it wasn’t just one end, if you know what I’m saying.
We were totally overwhelmed. And then we woke up, one sunny Tuesday morning, noticed that we had a stream of messages, and Han said,
“Oh my gosh, it’s our wedding anniversary. I forgot it.” And she instantly burst into tears.
And all I could think was, “God, I am so grateful that she forgot too”.
It was like coming back from the dead. For a moment I thought my life was over – and then, I lived again.
We forgot our anniversary. It was awful. One of the most special celebrations in our year was missed because life was totally overwhelming.
And I’m sure we all have similar stories to tell. Moments where life simply gets overwhelming, you feel like you’re drowning under the weight of everything that’s going on, so that important things are getting missed, you’re dropping the ball. Maybe it’s the sheer volume of stuff that you have to deal with, or perhaps it’s that there’s just one really huge thing that you simply can’t face. Something that’s crushing you. Life, for all of us, just gets too much at times, doesn’t it?
And it’s in these moments, where we feel so overwhelmed, that really what we want is for someone to say, “Don’t worry. I’ve got this. I’ll take care of it.” It’s that person at work who offers to cover your shift, or the parent who calls by and fixes the washing machine, the friend who offers to babysit the kids, the doctor who prescribes pain relief. “Don’t worry. I’ve got this. I’ll take care of it.”
And the relief, is huge, as we release that anxiety, that burden seems to drop away. Because, and this is where we need to begin this evening,
We all need someone to take care of “it”
Whatever it is for you. We all need that.
In fact, that’s exactly what Jacob needed in Genesis 46-47. A bit like Han and I, he’s undertaking a huge transition. He, and his entire family, are relocating to Egypt. There’s famine in his homeland of Canaan, and his son Joseph, who is now ruler of Egypt, sends for his father. But unlike Han and I, he’s 130 years old. He’s not the man of action that he used to be. In fact, his sons have to bring him down to Egypt in a cart, he’s too frail to make the journey by himself. It’s a very overwhelming experience.
And Jacob must have been filled with anxiety about how this was all going to work out. What sort of welcome could they expect? Would they be welcomed at all, or would they be rejected, sent back to starve? On the other hand, there was the great danger that Egypt wouldn’t just welcome them, it would swallow them. They were just a small family emigrating to the most powerful nation on earth. How would they remain distinctive? There was a good chance that Israel the nation would cease to exist as quickly as it had begun.
And if they managed to avoid that – how would they continue to relate positively to their powerful hosts? All it took was one faux pas, and goodness knows his sons were good at that. These were the boys who had murdered an entire city in their younger days. But more than that, Jacob knew that “not screwing up” wasn’t the bar here. God had told him that all the peoples of the earth would be blessed through him and his offspring. How could he hope to achieve that when he had nothing, and Pharaoh had everything?
And then what about his land? God had promised them Canaan. It was the land that he would bless them in. As he sat on the back of his cart, watching his home disappear over the horizon, Jacob must have wondered whether they’d ever return. Egypt is so alluring. Would they ever come back?
Overwhelming. How would this old man overcome such huge challenges? Maybe you feel the same.
And then Joseph appears.
The text says,
When they arrived in the region of Goshen, 29 Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.
The phrase used in Hebrew to describe Joseph appearing is only used elsewhere in the Old Testament to describe the appearing of God, such was the power and glory of the arrival of Jacob’s long-lost son, emerging from the Nile delta clothed in the beauty of Egypt. The sight for Jacob is without doubt the greatest moment of his life. And father and son weep as they reunite, and Jacob declares,
Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.
It doesn’t get any better than this.
And as they embrace, I can just imagine Joseph reassuring his overwhelmed father:
“Don’t worry. I’ve got this. I’ll take care of it.”
Because that is exactly what Joseph proceeds to do.
Look with me. Verse 31 of chapter 46 through to verse 12 of chapter 47, he takes care of his family’s personal circumstances.
Joseph knows what his family need. They need the power and protection of Egypt, but they need to be separated so they aren’t swallowed and assimilated.
So says to his bumbling brothers, “Listen to me. You’re going to stand before Pharaoh, and this is what you are to tell him. Repeat after me: ‘We are shepherds, just like our fathers were.’ That’s all you gotta say, let me handle Pharaoh.”
And handle him he does. He incepts him, just like Leonardo Di Caprio did to Cillian Murphy in the film “Inception”. He plants an idea in his head there in verse 1;
“My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen”
Goshen is the perfect place for Israel. It’s a region on the east of the Nile delta. There’s great pastureland, but it’s a good distance from the capital Memphis. And so the brothers say their piece, and Pharaoh gives Joseph exactly what Joseph intended.
And we read in verse 11;
So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharaoh directed.12 Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their children.
Provision without assimilation. Flourishing in a foreign land. Joseph took care of it.
Wouldn’t it be awesome to have someone to help us like that? Who could provide for all of our needs, who is wiser than we are – who knows exactly what we need, and the best way to achieve it? Often our personal lives are a mess. We struggle with mental health, or our relationship with our family of origin, or our relationship with sex, or money, or our career, or our future plans. We need a Joseph. Someone who can take care of it all, provide for all we need.
But more than that, as Christians we often keenly feel that we need someone who can help us in our mission.
We have this unusual interaction between Jacob and Pharaoh in verses 7-10. Jacob is given an audience with the most powerful ruler of the ancient world, but unlike his sons he doesn’t refer to himself as Pharaoh’s servant. Instead, he blesses Pharaoh twice.
It’s clear that Jacob remembers his God-given mission, that all the peoples of the earth would be blessed through him and his descendants. So this frail old man blesses the all-powerful king. But beyond words, the question is, where is this blessing going to come from? It’s like if you’ve ever prayed for something big in public – in the back of your mind you’re thinking – how is God going to deliver on this one?
In Jacob’s case, the answer is: Joseph. You see, we read in verse 13 that Egypt stands of the brink of calamity:
There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine.
Pharaoh is the most powerful ruler in the world, Egypt the most powerful nation, and everyone is about to die. And Joseph saves them. He has stored up grain in advance of the famine, and in verses 14-26 he sells the Egyptians food for their money, and then once the money runs out he agrees to exchange food for their animals, and finally their land and the people themselves.
And Pharaoh becomes immensely powerful – all the wealth, belongings, land and people of Egypt now belong to him. Jacob’s blessing is fulfilled for Pharaoh and his dynasty through the actions of Joseph. As the narrator notes in verse 26, the laws that Joseph established regarding Pharaoh’s ownership of the land and the people giving him a 5th of all they produced were still in force at the time of writing almost 500 years later.
And, even the people themselves are blessed. To be bond slaves to Pharaoh for just 20% of their crops was, by ancient standards, extraordinarily generous. The people themselves declare in verse 25:
“You have saved our lives!... May we find favour in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh”
Mission impossible becomes mission accomplished. The small, starving family blesses the most powerful nation on earth, saving them from certain death and providing stability for the throne for generations to come. What an impact!
As we look at our city, of almost 3 million people who don’t know Jesus, our nation, our world – or even just our best friend. Wouldn’t we love to have such an impact? Wouldn’t we love to see them turn to God in faith? To experience the blessings of knowing him? Such a task can be daunting, even overwhelming. We need a Joseph to help us achieve it.
And finally, look at the verse 27-31 with me. We need someone who will care for us beyond the grave.
Jacob is dying, and even though his family are flourishing in Egypt, his gaze turns to Canaan, the land God has promised them. Jacob wants to know that he has a share in that inheritance, even after his death. In faith, he wants to be buried in the promised land.
So he asks Joseph to do what he couldn’t possibly achieve himself. We read there at the end of verse 29;
Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.
And when Joseph swears to him, Jacob worships God. He is overjoyed that his son would bless him beyond his death, by granting him a share in the fulfilment of God’s promise.
Death may not be something you think about an awful lot, but it’s an overwhelming reality that will touch us all at some stage or another in our lives. We will all die, and there is nothing we can do about it.
We need a Joseph. We need someone who can promise us that after we die they will take us to the promised land. We need to know that we will still experience God’s blessing even when breath leaves our lungs and our bodies decay.
Don’t you long for that?
Listen, there’s good news for us here today. As we’ve said many times over the past few weeks, Genesis is more than history, though it is that. It’s also points us to a greater truth.
Joseph points us to Jesus. And so, what I want you guys to leave with today is this thought;
Whatever it is, Jesus can take care of it
He helps us in our personal circumstances. He knows what it is to be hungry, to be tired, to be stressed and overwhelmed. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, had compassion on the harassed and the helpless. He taught the confused, he gave courage to the fearful, he rebuked the wayward and promised power to help. He didn’t always give people what they wanted – he always gave them what they needed. He is God’s wisdom revealed, knowing what we need and how best to achieve it. Is it any wonder then that the apostle Paul declared in Philippians 4:19:
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
He empowers us for the mission he sends us on. He calls us not simply to be a blessing to others, saving people from famine and bringing stability to nations, but to make disciples, bringing people into relationship with him. We care for the physically starving, we love our nation through political engagement, but we do so that we might point people to the one who satisfies their spiritual hunger. It’s a task we cannot achieve on our own, but He sends us His Spirit to give us words to say, to illuminate the Bible so that people understand it, to raise spiritually dead people to life. When we feel the nerves rising when about to open our mouths to speak, or when we feel like our words are falling on hard ground and making no impact, we need to rely on the one who says,
Surely I am with you always, to the end of the age – Matt 28:20
And as we face the great enemy, death – we need to remember that our Joseph doesn’t swear an oath to bless us beyond the grave. He walked out of the grave, as our confirmation to us that Canaan will be our reality too. As Jacob worshipped as he leaned on his staff, so we are able to worship in the face of death knowing that, if Christ has died for our sins, we can face the overwhelming reality of our mortality with confidence. Blessing, rather than destruction, awaits for those whom Jesus loves. It is not a promise our bones will enjoy, but we ourselves with resurrected, perfected bodies. Our Canaan is the new creation, when the world will be forever restored by Christ.
You know, I think we’re in a fairly overwhelming season as a church right now. An exciting one. But it often feels overwhelming. We’re planting a church, we’re growing so fast we’re starting a second service, we’re seeking to appoint a new elder, bringing in new members. I speak to so many of you and I’m so encouraged to see you pressing on with God and desiring to share his gospel with people in our city and across the world.
But I think it’s worth saying that, with all these encouragements happening, we’re taking a kicking for it. I don’t know if you see that, but I do. There is a lot of struggle in this room right now. So many of you are overwhelmed by what you’re going through. Some of you are dealing with desperate personal challenge. Others face the seemingly impossible task of leading friends, colleagues and family members to Christ. Still others – you’re wrestling with death. What will there be for you beyond the grave, or for those that you love? It’s overwhelming, and I’m with you, I feel overwhelmed, often. Han and I just sat and prayed together on Friday night, just broken for so many of you, so aware of our need of Jesus.
Because what we need right now is not to see Joseph, clothed in the glory of Egypt, but Jesus Christ, enthroned in his ascended glory. The reason he stretched out his arms on the cross, bleeding and dying for the forgiveness of the sins of those who trust Him, and then rose again in power, was so we might come to him, to embrace him, as Jacob embraced his son all those years ago. And Hebrews 4 says, we approach the throne of grace, to find grace and mercy in our time of need. And as we cling to Christ, admitting our weakness, telling him that we’re overwhelmed, he says, “Don’t worry. I’ve got this. I’ll take care of it.”