A sermon by Rev Richard Keith on Genesis 50 on Sunday 15 December 2019.
People say that all good things come to an end. Today, for example, we finish the story of Joseph, the man who saved the lives of thousands of people. And with it, we reach the end of the book of Genesis. Now, remember what we said a few weeks ago, that the name Genesis means beginning. This book records the beginning of the heavens and the earth, the beginning of human beings, the beginning of God’s plan of salvation, and the beginning of God’s people, Israel.
But it seems to end with an end. It’s last chapter records the death of both Jacob and then Joseph. Jacob was buried in the family tomb in the Promised Land. But Joseph was left in a coffin in Egypt.
So is that the message of this book, that no matter how well things begin, they must come to an end, that nothing lasts forever, that even the good things we enjoy must pass away? I mean, you have to admit that this isn’t the way a book should end. Well, maybe a Thomas Hardy novel, but not a book that promised so much in the beginning. For when God looked at all that he had made he saw that it was all very good. What a great beginning! Even when things went wrong with Adam and Eve, God chose Abraham and through him promised to put things right. He said, “I will make you a great nation. I will bless you and all the world will be blessed through you.” And he promised his people their own land in Canaan.
But how does it end? It doesn’t end with happily ever after. No, it ends with Abraham’s family in Egypt, far from home, far from the promised land of Canaan. And Joseph, Abraham’s family’s brightest star so far, taken from them when they needed him most. Is this the message? Must all things come to an end? Will all my good things come to an end as well? Let’s look at the last two recorded events in Joseph’s life to find the answer.
Jacob, Joseph’s father, had died. For twenty years Jacob had thought that Joseph was dead. But his sons had come home to him from Egypt with the news that Joseph was alive and the ruler of all Egypt. Jacob went with them to see if it was true. And there in the land of Egypt, he was reunited with Joseph, the son he loved. “Now I am ready to die,” Jacob said to Joseph, “since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.”
Seventeen years later, Jacob got his wish. He called his sons, he gave them his last instruction, he curled up in his bed, and he died. Jacob was treated like a king in Egypt. For seventy days, the Egyptians celebrated his life and mourned his passing. Pharaoh even allowed Joseph, the one man who had held the world together through the drought, to take his father’s body back to Canaan, where it was to be buried in a cave that Abraham had bought a hundred years before. The only part of the promised land that the family actually owned.
When the funeral was over, Joseph’s brothers were afraid. They were afraid of Joseph. They were afraid, because they were worried that all Joseph’s kindness to them had only been motivated by his love for his father. With their father dead, they were afraid that Joseph would finally take his revenge against them for selling him as a slave. Their problem was that they had never confessed their guilt to Joseph. They’d admitted it among themselves. And they had shown how sorry they were for what they’d done. But they never confessed their crime to Joseph. They’d never owned up to what they’d done to him in words to his face. So despite all the kindness that Joseph had shown them, feeding their families, letting them move down to Egypt, they could scarcely believe that he’d forgiven them.
Five things show how desperate they were to get Joseph’s forgiveness. One, they didn’t dare got to him in person. Instead, they sent word to Joseph. That is, they sent him a message through a messenger. Two, they made up a story about how their father had given his final instructions to Joseph to forgive them. The message said,
“Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers.’”
Three, they fully owned up to what they’d done, calling them sins and wrongs. Four, when they did show up in front of Joseph, they fell on their knees before him. And five, they made no excuses. “We are your slaves,” they said. And Joseph wept to see them misunderstand him so badly.
They were willing to become his slaves, and Joseph had the power to take their freedom away. But he had been a slave himself. And he couldn’t do it. So he reassured them.
“Don’t be afraid. Am I God? You meant to harm me, but God meant it for good to save many lives.”
With these words, Joseph reaffirmed what we heard him say last week,
“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.”
What Joseph reminds us is that God has a plan. God isn’t just making it up as he goes along. God isn’t just doing his best in the face of setbacks and obstacles. God has a plan and everything that happens, for good or ill, has a part to play in his plan. God has a plan. And the goal of his plan is for our good. God sent Joseph to Egypt to save lives. God planned what happened to him for good. And God’s plan cannot be blocked or foiled or frustrated or hindered or delayed by the evil plans of human beings. Joseph’s brothers sold him, but God sent him. His brothers planned evil against him, but God planned it for good. It doesn’t mean that God made Joseph’s brothers hate him and want to get rid of him. But it does mean that he let it happen to achieve the good he planned. God has a plan. It’s goal is for good and the evil of human beings can’t stop it.
The truth of that statement is confirmed by the most evil, most vile act of all time. The crucifixion of Jesus. The religious leaders and the Roman authorities murdered him, but the Father handed him over according to his set purpose and plan to be a sin offering for the world. We don’t have a God who can’t understand what we go through. We don’t have a God who doesn’t know how to suffer the evil that other people plan. We have a Lord, Jesus, who prayed on the cross, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.
We don’t have to believe in some old man in the sky who means well, who is doing his best, who wrings his hands while we suffer on earth. Instead, we have a Lord who still bears the scars of his suffering. The suffering that was the result of the greatest evil on earth, in order to bring about the greatest good of all time. Even in the midst of our greatest suffering, we can put our trust in the God who doesn’t just have a plan, but who was willing to suffer himself to see it work out.
In the last scene of Genesis we witness Joseph’s death. He knew it was coming. So he called for his family.
“I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.”
And when he died, they embalmed him and put his body in a coffin in Egypt.
From one perspective it seems so disappointing. A good man’s mortal remains left hundreds of miles from home, much like the Australian soldiers buried in France. But from Joseph’s point of view it had to happen that way. Joseph’s plan was for his body to stay with his people until they all went home. He was not going to go to the Promised land like his father without them. So the end of Genesis does not teach us that all good things must come to an end. Instead it symbolises the faith of Joseph that God’s good plans are alive and well and working themselves out.
Another way to put it, is that the end of this book is a cliff hanger and it cries out for a sequel to finish it. And Joseph’s story had a sequel. We call it the book of Exodus and, spoiler alert! everything that Joseph promised came true. Although they became slaves in Egypt to a king that never knew Joseph, God sent them a deliverer. A saviour. Moses. Who led them out of the place of their slavery and brought them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. And when they left, they took the bones of Joseph with them. He did not leave without them. Instead he went home with them.
Joseph’s story had a sequel. And Jesus’ story had a sequel too. It didn’t end with his great suffering. It didn’t end with him saying, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” It didn’t end with the tomb. But its sequel began on Easter Day when the women found the tomb empty and Jesus appeared to his disciples alive. And the scars he bears have healed, testifying to both his great suffering and also to the power of his life. A life that has the power to transform your life as well.
So what about your story? Will your story have a sequel? You see this book of Genesis doesn’t teach that all good things must come to an end. Instead, it teaches that God’s good things will never end. And though his people must suffer many things, he suffers with them, and they will live, because he lives. Must all good things come to an end? No. Rather, all things will end in the good things God has planned.