Grace on the Ark

  • Introduction

Genesis 9:11 –

Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.

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In Genesis 6, we are told that creation was in dire need of a “reset.”  As we learned last week in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve introduced sin into this world, and since then it has spread across all of humanity.  Romans 5:12 says –

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned.

We see this in Genesis 4 with the first murder, as Cain kills Abel.  Eight generations later, we see Lamech kill a man and even boast about it.  Then we get to chapter 6:1-4 and we read that the sons of God were marrying the daughters of men which some have interpreted as the intermarriage of fallen angels with humanity.  Whatever *that* was, it was a detestable thing that broke the heart of God.

Genesis 6:5-7 –

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.  The Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.”

Did the Father truly regret making people in His own image? Did God make a mistake in His creation?  No, God’s pain is not sorrow over His mistake; His pain is sorrow over our mistake.  Sin is not only offensive to God because it robs Him of the glory that He is due, but it also robs us of the joy that He designed for us.  Because of this, in one fierce storm, the likes of which will never be seen again, God blotted out nearly all the life on this earth.  Nearly, but not all.  Because of His great mercy and grace, God preserved a remnant through one faithful servant, Noah.  As we study the story of the flood today, we will see that God’s grace was extravagant, even in the midst of His righteous and terrifying judgment.

  • Build an Ark, Genesis 6

Genesis 6:13-19 –

Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth.  Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch.  This is how you shall make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its breadth fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits.  You shall make a window for the ark, and finish it to a cubit from the top; and set the door of the ark in the side of it; you shall make it with lower, second, and third decks.  Behold, I, even I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.  But I will establish My covenant with you; and you shall enter the ark – you and your sons and your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.  And of every living thing of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.

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Noah is introduced in Genesis as a man that found favor in God’s eyes. The Lord informed him of His plan to flood all of creation because of humanity’s sin.  However, God also tells Noah that he and his family will be spared through the construction of an enormous ark.  Noah is given a baffling instruction to build this enormous sea vessel in the middle of the desert.

I’ve received some strange requests in my life.  Usually they come from my wife as I’m driving past the grocery store.  “Can you pick up some basil, orange juice, and broccoli?”  I have no idea what she’s making for dinner.

I’ve also heard some strange requests from God in my life.  When I was earnestly seeking Him for the first time at the ripe old age of 38, God sent me to Singapore.  I’m sure there was someplace closer where I could find Him.

But Noah’s request was much stranger.  The Lord asked Noah to build a boat longer than a football field, including both end zones, and four stories tall.  Noah’s neighbors must have thought he’d lost his mind.

Noah is appointed ship-maker, captain, and zookeeper all at once.  He is told that at the appointed time, God will lead two of every kind of creature into this boat to ensure the future repopulation of the earth.  But the ark was so large that even with all those animals, there was still room to fit more people.  All the while Noah was building, Noah was also preaching for others to be saved.

  • God Offers Grace Before Judgement, Genesis 7

In 2 Peter 2:5, Peter says Noah was a “herald of righteousness.”  All the while Noah spent in construction of the ark, Noah also proclaimed God’s righteous plan to his neighbors.  Noah surely explained that God was angry and that He was going to pour out His wrath through a worldwide flood.  Noah must have pointed to the massive ark under construction as God’s visible offer of salvation.  But only the eight people in Noah’s family boarded the boat as passengers. No one believed his story.  No one repented.  No one asked to be on that boat with him before the storm.

You know, this story of Noah continues today.  Every day, people ignore a  Noah in their life and the salvation of the ark.  God sends “Noahs” all the time.  Sometimes they are friends, family members, or colleagues.  Other times they are preachers or missionaries. They all are used by God as His “heralds,” proclaiming the hellfire and brimstone to come, but they also point to an ark as a means of salvation.

What is our ark?  Where is our salvation?  Where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord and in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Through faith in Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection, we can be protected from the wrath of God that is to come.  We are offered a new life filled with hope, just like Noah.

Noah’s friends and neighbors were given plenty time to think about Noah’s message and accept his offer.  But eventually the window of opportunity closed, and the floodwaters came.  And today?  2 Peter 3 tells us the world we know will eventually end in fire when that window of opportunity closes.  When will that be?  2 Peter 3:8-9 says,

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.  The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

Peter says Jesus has not returned yet because He is giving us additional time to get on “our ark.”  For most of us, we don’t have 1000 years.  Statistics say I have less than 40 years left.  But many ignore the messengers and the message of the salvation found in Jesus.  The story of Noah reminds us that the window of opportunity will eventually come to a close.  Genesis 7:11-16,

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened.  The rain fell upon the earth for forty days and forty nights.  On the very same day Noah and Shem and Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them, entered the ark, they and every beast after its kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every bird after its kind, all sorts of birds.  So they went into the ark to Noah, by twos of all flesh in which was the breath of life.  Those that entered, male and female of all flesh, entered as God had commanded him; and the Lord closed it behind him.

After years of construction, God fulfilled His promise.  The floodwaters came for 40 days and 40 nights.  But the water did not just come from the “top-down,” it came from the “bottom-up” as the “fountains of the great deep.  The earth began to gush with water and the earth began to accumulate water at a rate never seen before or since.  Water topped even the highest of the mountains and there was no salvation available apart from the ark.  People on the outside quickly learned that even the patience of God has a limit.

God generously gave years for people to heed Noah’s warnings, but the day came where His warnings were over.  Instead of hearing about God’s wrath, people began to witness it for themselves.  And God’s last word to them was not in the form of a sentence. It came through the form of divine action: He shut the door of the ark.

First, God shut the door to protect those who were inside.  God had promised Noah and his family salvation through the ark.  God personally sealing the door was a powerful message to Noah that God was present and in control.  Likewise, God follows through with His promise of salvation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:13-14

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

When we step into our ark, by grace and through faith in Jesus Christ, God likewise seals us with the presence of His Holy Spirit.  God is with us in the future storms of this life and that our salvation is safe and secure. Nothing can break through and rob us of the salvation that we have accepted from Him through faith.  Our salvation is in good hands.

Secondly, God shut the door because time was up.  Jesus says in Matthew 24:38 that just days before the flood, people were eating, drinking, marrying, and celebrating.  Despite the forewarnings, they were caught completely off guard by the raging storm.  Maybe they ran to that boat in desperation when they saw the waters begin to rise.  But they could not enter the ark because God’s grace had a time limit. They now believed Noah’s warnings, but it was simply too late.  Faith is the key to opening up the door to salvation.  Hebrews 11:6a says

And without faith it is impossible to please God.

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When we die or when Christ returns (whichever comes first), there is no longer room for faith because even the ungodly will see the wrath of God firsthand.  The door to our own ark, salvation, will close.

So, God shuts the door and the rain came.  For 40 days and 40 nights, the heavens are opened and creation experienced a torrential downpour.  Finally after 40 days, God closed the heavens but water continued to rise for 150 days.  As the water finally started to peak, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.  On that mountain, Noah’s family had to wait seven more months for the water to recede fully.  In total, they spent a little over a year on that ark together.

  • A Fresh Start, Genesis 8:15-22

Genesis 8 begins with the floodwaters receding and Noah seeing if it was safe to exit the ark.  Then in verse 15, God gives the all-clear signal –

Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives.  Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

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When God created the heavens and the earth, God’s command to both the animals and then later to man and woman was to multiply and be fruitful.  We can see here that God still desires the best for us, despite our sinful nature.  He still wants us the be fruitful and multiply.  Why did God pick Noah?  Out of the vast sea of humanity that lived during that time, why Noah?  I think one of Noah’s first actions after leaving the ark demonstrated why God loved him.  Noah built an altar to the Lord in verse 20 –

Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.  The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

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Don’t get confused where this sacrifice came from – we remember the story from our childhood that the animals were brought aboard the ark two by two.  But if you back up to the beginning of chapter 7, you’ll see that for some animals, more than a single pair were brought on board.  For “clean” animals, those that have a split hoof or chew the cud such as cattle, deer, goats and sheep, there were actually 7 pairs of animals brought on board.

So Noah’s gratitude and admirations of God’s greatness led him to offer a sacrifice.  A sacrifice, by definition, should cost us something.  Noah too what little he had, and with only 7 of each clean animal that was worthy of sacrifice, Noah risked extinction by sacrificing some of the animals.

But costly sacrifice is pleasing to God.  It’s not the amount; large quantities don’t please God.  Remember Jesus at the temple, watching wealthy people bringing their tithes, when a widow brings two pennies, all she had, to give?  God wants our heart, our soul, our mind, our strength.  The bible also says (Romans 12:1) that we should present our bodies as a living sacrifice, that giving of our resources is a sacrifice (Philippians 4:18), and that we should give the sacrifice of praise to God (Hebrews 13:15).

God doesn’t need our sacrifices.  God isn’t greedy, God doesn’t want to just take stuff from us.  But God sacrificed Himself to us at great cost (Ephesians 5:2, Hebrews 9:26, Hebrews 10:12), and He wants us to be conformed in the image of Jesus Christ who made the ultimate sacrifice.  He wants us to learn to give sacrificially.  He wants us to learn to give away that which we cannot keep.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:2, we should be like Jesus in this regard:

And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

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We have an example in David, a man after God’s own heart, who said in 2 Samuel 24:24 that he would never make offerings to God that which costs him nothing.  The burnt offerings of Noah risked what little he had after the flood, and the sacrifice pleased the Lord.

  • The Covering of Blood, Genesis 9:4-6

Then in the beginning of Genesis 9, God makes some changes to man’s relationship with nature.  In Genesis 9:1-3,

Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.  The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands.  Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

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Up to this point in time, I presume, we were all vegetarians and lived in peace with all animals.  And animals will now live in fear of us.  It reminds me of the days in the future when animals will all live in peace again.  In Isaiah 11, one of the Messianic Prophecies, we read that when Jesus again rules, the wolf will live with the lamb in peace.

But God has a restriction; the animals may be eaten, but not the blood of the animals.  In the blood is life, and lifeblood is important to man and God.  The same restrictions are given in more detail later in Leviticus 17 and Deuteronomy 12.

The importance of blood to the Lord is shown by how often the word is used in the bible.   In the New King James version, it is used 424 times in 357 separate verses (in the New King James Version).  That blood represents life can be shown in the following passages –

      • Blood was the sign of mercy for Israel at the first Passover (Exodus 12:13)
      • Blood sealed God’s covenant with Israel (Exodus 24:8)
      • Blood sanctified the altar (Exodus 29:12)
      • Blood set aside the priests (Exodus 29:20)
      • Blood made atonement for God’s people (Exodus 30:10)
      • Blood sealed the new covenant (Matthew 26:28)
      • Blood justifies us (Romans 5:9)
      • Blood brings redemption (Ephesians 1:7)
      • Blood brings peace with God (Colossians 1:20)
      • Blood cleanses us (Hebrews 9:14 and 1 John 1:7)
      • Blood gives entrance to God’s holy place (Hebrews 10:19)
      • Blood sanctifies us (Hebrews 13:12)
      • Blood enables us to overcome Satan (Revelation 12:11)

The covering of innocent blood has been given to those who accept the ultimate sacrifice and blood atonement of Christ Jesus.

  • The Covenant, Genesis 9:8-17

After Noah’s altar and sacrifice, God creates a covenant with Noah.  Genesis 9:8-11,

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you – the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you – every living creature on earth.  I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

 God established a covenant with mankind (Noah and all of his descendants), and even with the animals.  God promised He would never again destroy all life with a flood or cover the earth with a flood to eradicate evil.  However, we are approaching what Matthew called “the Days of Noah,” Matthew 24:36-39,

“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.  For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.”

When we reach the “days of Noah,” and God’s patience reaches its perfection, then God will again destroy earth – but by fire, not by flood (2 Peter 3:3-7) –

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires.  They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”  But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water.  By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed.  By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

Then in Genesis 9:12-17, God provides a sign of His covenant:

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.  Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

Every time we see a rainbow, we should remember the faithfulness of God and every one of His promises.  He even says His covenant of peace with us is just as sure as His covenant with Noah and all generations.  Isaiah 54:9-10,

For this is like the waters of Noah to Me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed, says the Lord, who has mercy on you.

The other mentions of a rainbow in the Bible are set in the context of God’s enthroned glory.  Rainbows are mentioned in Ezekiel 1:28, Revelation 4:3, and Revelation 10:1.  It is amazing to see God, in His glory, setting so close to Himself a reminder of His promise to man.

What exactly, is a covenant, and why is a covenant important?  For people, we think of a covenant as a contract.  It is an agreement between two people and involves promises for both people involved in the contract.

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The concept of a covenant between God and His people is one of the central themes of the Bible.  In the biblical sense, a covenant implies much more than a contract or a simple agreement between two parties.  The word for “covenant” comes from a Hebrew word that means “to cut” or “to bind”.

It is remarkable that God is holy, omniscient, and omnipotent, but He consents to enter into covenant with man, who is feeble, sinful, and flawed.

  • Conclusion

The covenant with Noah was sealed with a rainbow, a reminder that God would never again flood the earth and destroy every living thing.  Many centuries later, the New Covenant was sealed with blood, a reminder that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son so that you and I could live.  Noah had a fresh start – the evil that surrounded him, that taunted him while he built the ark was gone.  Noah’s heart for the Lord led him to worship and praise.

But you and I have that same fresh start.  Like the evil men that surrounded Noah, we too, were once surrounded, unable to escape.  Like the flood that destroyed the evil, we are baptized into Christ and our sins are washed away. And every day is a fresh start, a new sunrise, a new beginning with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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A rainbow is a sign of God’s forgiveness, but then again, so are we.  We are a sign of God’s forgiveness and grace.  Forgive one another as God forgives us.  Extend grace to one another as God has given us grace.  Love one another as God loves us.  Arise and greet the new day every day and approach it with confidence, knowing that we are symbols of God’s grace and mercy to this fallen world.

Accept the new beginning and the promise that is in Christ Jesus.

To God be the glory.

Reconciliation

Sweet treats for everybody; I’d like to pass out some candy favors today; little pieces of sweetness as a symbol of the wonderful friends we’ve developed in this class.

(For my illustration today, I’ll pass out little candy favors to everybody, but “accidentally” overlook Margaret.)

Sometimes big conflicts can fracture a relationship. Sometimes, little things do. Perhaps it’s something as simple as accidentally overlooking somebody, or even perhaps intentionally overlooking somebody. Everyone except Margaret received a piece of candy. I know I’m partially at fault, but maybe I’m ashamed that I overlooked her. Perhaps the look on her face let’s me know she’s upset and I don’t want to deal with her emotions. Left unchecked, a little thing can fester into a big thing, and then one day we find we’re no longer on speaking terms.

I need to get things right; I’m sorry I left you out. Would you like a piece of candy?

Loss of friendship hurts. It hurts us, it hurts them. Dealing with the hurt is hard; sometimes there is mistrust or pain from verbal abuse and name calling. And if neither side apologizes or owns up to their contributions to the argument, the friendship is never healed. We just sort of coexist on the same planet. If somebody has caused pain to us or to a loved one, if hostility has been expressed by the other person or let’s face it, by us, reconciliation may seem a long way off.

If we feel the hurt was intentional or insensitive, we just don’t feel like reconciliation. In fact, sometimes we’d rather seek revenge. “They don’t deserve my friendship.” After a while, the separation becomes semi-permanent. Some want to just leave well enough alone; perhaps it’ll work itself out all by itself. Or perhaps, we just completely ignore the other person, avoiding any contact, because is there really a need to go through all that emotional pain again? Or perhaps we spend months or years waiting for the other person to come apologize to us. Each of these approaches end with a permanently broken relationship.

Q: Why do we ignore or avoid the other person rather than work toward reconciliation? Is reconciliation something you say, or is it something you do? Why?

Reconciliation is not the same thing as forgiveness. Usually before you can reconcile with somebody, you have to forgive them. We often get confused about what forgiveness is; often we think we will forgive them if they ask for an apology, as though forgiveness is something we are offering to them. Forgiveness is not for them; who is forgiveness for?

Reconciliation comes after forgiveness and requires both parties to participate. Reconciliation is a change in both people who were once at odds with each other. While forgiveness is something we should always do, reconciliation is only something we can initiate, and also depends on the other person to reciprocate. Chris’s lesson last week talked about how to decide if the other person is ready for reconciliation and today we’re going to build on that. God wants us to take whatever steps are necessary toward reconciliation with anybody we’re alienated from. Let’s turn to Genesis 43 and sort of summarize what’s going on so far.

In Genesis 42, Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to buy grain, all except the youngest, Benjamin, who stayed home with Jacob. Since Joseph was the governor of Egypt now, the brothers came to see him and bowed down with their faces to the ground, fulfilling the prophecy of the dream Joseph had as a boy. Joseph recognized them, but the brothers didn’t recognize Joseph in return for a lot of reasons. They had sold their brother into slavery years ago, and would not have expected him in this position and dressed so richly.

Joseph challenges his brothers to see if their hearts have changed, and accuses them of being spies. When the brothers mention that the youngest is still at home with their father, Joseph devises a test; he agrees to sell the brothers the grain they need, but they’re going to have to leave one of the brothers behind as hostage. Secretly in each brother’s sack of grain, Joseph puts the silver they used as payment back in their sack. Joseph then throws Simeon in jail and says that Simeon won’t be released unless the youngest brother is brought to him as well.

When the brothers arrive home, they discover the silver in the sacks and become frightened; they’re certain they’ll be accused as thieves if they return. Then Jacob starts complaining. First, years ago, he lost Joseph. Now the brothers have lost Simeon, and they want to take Benjamin away, too. Jacob refuses to le them go back to Egypt.

Then in Genesis 43, all the grain is gone, and Jacob finally says, ok, you must return to Egypt for more food. The brothers remind him that all the brothers must go, including Benjamin. Jacob complains, why oh why did you tell him you had a younger brother. Their answer is simple; the man asked, we told him.

Ok, Jacob says. You can take Benjamin. But take a lot of gifts with you this time, some balm and some honey and spices and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds. Also take along double the amount of silver. And Jacob places all his trust in the Lord in verse 14, “And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you.”

By verse 19, the brothers had arrived back in Egypt and brought to Joseph’s house. They’ve been invited to dinner, and they’re scared.

So [the brothers] went up to Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. “Please, sir,” they said, “we came down here the first time to buy food. But at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver—the exact weight—in the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us. We have also brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in our sacks.”

“It’s all right,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.

The steward took the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys. They prepared their gifts for Joseph’s arrival at noon, because they had heard that they were to eat there.

When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground. He asked them how they were, and then he said, “How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?”

They replied, “Your servant our father is still alive and well.” And they bowed low to pay him honor.

As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.

After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, “Serve the food.”

Joseph wants to desperately for his family to be reunited again, but can he trust his brothers? This last time he tested them, they delayed their return. Perhaps they weren’t ready. Are they ready now?

Genesis 44:1-5,

Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house: “Fill the men’s sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack. Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the silver for his grain.” And he did as Joseph said.

As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward, “Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid good with evil? Isn’t this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicked thing you have done.’ “

Why do you think Joseph put the silver cup in Benjamin’s bag? Joseph is seeking confirmation that the hearts of his brothers have changed. The brothers are now caught with the silver cup in Benjamin’s bag. What are the possible responses Joseph could expect?

The brothers make a rash promise in verse 9; they believe they are innocent, so they say that if any of them is found with the cup, they will die and the rest of the brothers will be slaves. Fortunately in verse 10, the steward says that whoever has the cup will be a slave and the rest will be set free, and of course Benjamin has the cup.

Once, these same brothers threw Joseph in a well. They left him for dead, but then changed their mind and sold him into slavery. Their motive was probably jealousy and envy since Jacob clearly favored Joseph by giving him his Technicolor dreamcoat. Now the other favored son is in trouble. Joseph has an ideal test. Will the brothers sacrifice Benjamin, or will they try to save him?

The next several verses are very touching and show the changed hearts of Joseph’s brothers; in verse 16, Judah says that since they cannot prove their innocence, all of them will be slaves. The brothers will not abandon Benjamin. Joseph says that’s nonsense, only the youngest is a slave, the rest can go.

Judah came forward. He said, “Please, master; can I say just one thing to you? Don’t get angry. Don’t think I’m presumptuous—you’re the same as Pharaoh as far as I’m concerned. You, master, asked us, ‘Do you have a father and a brother?’ And we answered honestly, ‘We have a father who is old and a younger brother who was born to him in his old age. His brother is dead and he is the only son left from that mother. And his father loves him more than anything.’

“Then you told us, ‘Bring him down here so I can see him.’ We told you, master, that it was impossible: ‘The boy can’t leave his father; if he leaves, his father will die.’

“And then you said, ‘If your youngest brother doesn’t come with you, you won’t be allowed to see me.’

“When we returned to our father, we told him everything you said to us. So when our father said, ‘Go back and buy some more food,’ we told him flatly, ‘We can’t. The only way we can go back is if our youngest brother is with us. We aren’t allowed to even see the man if our youngest brother doesn’t come with us.’

“Your servant, my father, told us, ‘You know very well that my wife gave me two sons. One turned up missing. I concluded that he’d been ripped to pieces. I’ve never seen him since. If you now go and take this one and something bad happens to him, you’ll put my old gray, grieving head in the grave for sure.’

“And now, can’t you see that if I show up before your servant, my father, without the boy, this son with whom his life is so bound up, the moment he realizes the boy is gone, he’ll die on the spot. He’ll die of grief and we, your servants who are standing here before you, will have killed him. And that’s not all. I got my father to release the boy to show him to you by promising, ‘If I don’t bring him back, I’ll stand condemned before you, Father, all my life.’

“So let me stay here as your slave, not this boy. Let the boy go back with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? Oh, don’t make me go back and watch my father die in grief!”

Do you think Joseph sees the evidence of changed hearts? The brothers are all united here, even though they were allowed to go. Judah’s words and actions indicate that they are not willing to repeat the act they committed against Joseph many years ago. Judah originally had the idea to sell Joseph to the caravan. Now Judah is showing that he’s learned from his past mistakes. He’s learned how his actions have hurt his family, how his father grieves, and he’s reevaluated his life. Joseph can now see that Judah is a changed man.

Joseph spent much effort is seeking their hearts. His efforts will be different than the effort we should produce, unless you’re a servant of the Pharaoh of Egypt. Our efforts should include prayer, first of all. What other efforts can perform to see if another has a changed heart?

And now, the happy ending in Genesis 45. Joseph breaks down crying and reveals to his brothers that he is Joseph and asks if his father is still alive. Verse 4-7, instead of blaming his brothers, he demonstrates that he’s forgiven them and gives all the credit to God, who had a plan all along.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 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. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

This is the first occurrence in the bible of the word “remnant.” God’s people are rebellious, over and over again, and yet God always spares a remnant of righteous people who will survive.

Joseph urges his brothers to bring their father to Egypt, and then in verse 14, Joseph finally gets to hug his little baby brother after 22 years.

And they all lived happily ever after. And the moral of the story is…?

God is teaching us through the story of Joseph about the great joy there is in reconciliation. More than just forgiveness, reconciliation is restored relationships. In our married class, God has provided us with a spouse with whom we can express our love to each other. Sacrificial love, agape love, serving love, affectionate and intimate love. Such closeness can bring hurt, though. Uncaring words to a stranger bounce off; uncaring words to a spouse hurt. Thank our heavenly Father that we have such wonderful Christian spouses that share the same goals; how much more difficult in those marriages that do not share a love of Christ.

And when we fight with each other, we are given a chance to forgive each other, such as God forgives us of all the many things we do that could bring judgment on us. But with our spouse, His grand design is more than just forgiveness. When we wound each other as we eventually do, lingering unforgiveness can lead to distance in our marriage. We think somehow the distance will keep us from getting hurt even more. But is God’s plan for us merely to live separate lives in the same house, or are we to cleave and become one flesh? The lesson God teaches us through the story of Joseph is that changed hearts lead to reconciled relations. We learn these lessons first hand with our spouse. If there is coldness, bitterness, separateness, then changed hearts are needed. We should be seeking reconciliation daily to be as close to our spouse as we possibly can.

Craig introduced our new class motto this week, Ephesians 5:33. Here’s how God wants us to live, verses 22-33, from The Message,

Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.

Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands.

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor—since they’re already “one” in marriage.

No one abuses his own body, does he? No, he feeds and pampers it. That’s how Christ treats us, the church, since we are part of his body. And this is why a man leaves father and mother and cherishes his wife. No longer two, they become “one flesh.” This is a huge mystery, and I don’t pretend to understand it all. What is clearest to me is the way Christ treats the church. And this provides a good picture of how each husband is to treat his wife, loving himself in loving her, and how each wife is to honor her husband.

Does that sound like we’re merely supposed to coexist with each other, or does God see our relationship with each other as special?

Reconciliation with our Christian brothers and sisters is also important to God. God tells us in Matthew 5:23 that gifts and service to God are secondary to our relationships with each other.

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

God knows it’s not always possible. It requires changed hearts, and God allows us to harden our hearts. But Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” As far as it depends on you. Seek a changed heart for yourself. Seek a changed heart in others. Then reconcile with each other.

And what reconciliation does God wants most of all? Our reconciliation with Him. We are born with hardened, selfish hearts. God watches, waits, calls to us, waiting for a sign that our hearts have changed. Jesus tells us in Luke 15:10 that there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. God wants more than just to forgive us for our sins. God wants to reconcile with us. God wants a relationship with us.

When Joseph reconciled with his brothers, there was joy in the reconciliation. There is joy when we reconcile with our spouses, our families, our friends. And there is joy in heaven when we show a changed heart and seek a relationship with our Creator.

And then, they all lived happily ever after.

When All Hope Seems Lost

Coptic-Arabic manuscript, Ayyubid period, AD 1249-50. Images depict Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene, the kiss of Judas, the arrest of Christ, his appearance before Caiaphas, Peter's denial at cockcrow, Christ before Pilate, and the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.
This week we follow Joseph into prison. If we’re headed to prison with him, let’s recap how we got here. We know that Joseph was born into a family that was trying to follow God’s will but at the same time was highly dysfunctional. Joseph had eleven other brothers, born to four different women. His own mother had passed away. His father Jacob showed favoritism to Joseph because Jacob learned that from his father Isaac.

Joseph has a dream that God will make him ruler, and Joseph’s family will bow down to him. Joseph’s brothers are less than enthused by this dream, and they throw him in a well, expecting to kill him. Now, when I was growing up, my brother and sister and I fought, but we never threw any of us in a well. At least not that I remember. At least not for very long. And we never sold one of us to the Egyptians which is what Joseph’s brother decided to do, rather than kill him.

When Joseph was at the bottom of the well, things looked pretty hopeless. No food, no water, and the only people around that could get him out of the well were the same ones that threw him into the well in the first place. Joseph knew God’s plan for him held great things in store for him, but how were they possibly going to come true if Joseph is dying at the bottom of a well? I think we can learn from Joseph about how to handle serious setbacks in our life and how we should respond. I came up with four ways, but I’m not going to tell them to you yet because the lesson would be over and it’s too early for lunch.

Instead of killing Joseph, his brother decided to sell him to the caravan to Egypt. I was always amazed at that caravan to Egypt that “happened” to come by, right at that moment, while Joseph was at the bottom of the well. How many months had that caravan been traveling to reach that exact spot at that time? From Joseph’s perspective at the bottom of the well, things must have looked bleak. Things must have looked hopeless. But God was in control all along. He knew Joseph would be in a well that day, so months earlier he sent a caravan to pick him up and take him to Egypt to fulfill His plan.

And for a while, it certainly looked like Joseph was living the dream. Head servant to Potiphar, officer to the Pharaoh himself, Joseph is given great responsibilities and freedoms because of his faithfulness and trustfulness. But then, Joseph is a victim of seduction and false accusations. Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph, but Joseph denounces the seduction as a wicked sin. Potiphar’s wife isn’t named in the scripture; she’s one of the unnamed people in the bible, like Lot’s wife or David’s mother or the Magi. Scholars believe her name was Zulieka, married to Ptahwer, an officer of Pharoah Ahmenemhet III of the Twelfth Dynasty of Egypt. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, Zulieka’s shade is observed by Dante in the Eight Circle of Hell. She doesn’t speak, but Dante is told the Eight Circle of Hell is reserved for perjurers that violate the ninth Commandment not to bear false witness and she will spend all of eternity with a burning fever. And this is the kind of thing that sidetracks me when I’m studying and I need to get back to Joseph. Joseph flees from the sin of temptation but he leaves some article of clothing behind, and because of this evidence, Potiphar has Joseph thrown into prison.

I think sometimes we tend to think that if we follow God’s will, we will only see God’s blessings. Or perhaps we think that if we’re going through some challenge, we’re in some dark well or we’re in prison to our sin that God has forgotten us. Joseph had been in a tough position, what would be sexual harassment today, a daily temptation. If he resists Potiphar’s wife, she’ll be mad, and if he gives in, Potiphar will be mad. God will be offended. Clearly, Joseph had no choice that was without serious consequences. Joseph chose to do the right thing and was thrown into prison for it. And again, where was God? Would God send the equivalent of another caravan to rescue Joseph? Let’s read Genesis 39:21 and see.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that being the best darn prisoner in all of Egypt is not what Joseph expected when he decided to follow God’s will. But when all hope is lost, when we’re in a well or we’re in some prison and we don’t know how we’re going to get out, we can learn the first way we can respond to serious setbacks in our life. How many ways are we going to study? Four, that’s good, just checking to see if you were paying attention.)

I. We can trust God

We can trust God, that He has a plan and He will see His plan done. While Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him. We might be tempted to ask, well, if the Lord was with him, why was he in prison in the first place?

Well, the Lord doesn’t seem to work like that; there is a place for suffering in the lives of Christians. Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-5 that suffering will produce perseverance, character and hope. James 1:2-4 tells us that the trials we face gives us spiritual maturity. Faith in an all-benevolent, gift-giving God is easy; to increase our faith, God grants us trials so we not only believe in Him, but we learn to rely on Him. God is interested in our circumstances, but He is far, far more interested in our response to our circumstances.

Joseph was in a place of hopelessness, a life imprisonment. The only he had going for him was the fact that Potiphar didn’t execute him, the customary punishment for adultery. Potiphar must have believed him, but it didn’t keep him out of prison. Joseph has no family to comfort him; it was his family’s actions that setup this circumstance in the first place. He’s a slave, in a foreign land. Joseph had one thing and one thing only. Scripture says the Lord was with Joseph.

Sometimes, when things look bleak to us, this is the only thing that can sustain us. The Lord is with us, even when we can’t see it. Family members hospitalized, troubled marriages, abuse, traumatic accidents, lost jobs.

Q: What does it mean to you to trust God? How does the promise of God’s presence build your trust in Him?

We know Joseph’s future. Joseph only has his knowledge of what the Lord has told him in a dream. If Joseph knew what we knew, having faith in prison for a crime he didn’t commit would be easy. Joseph didn’t have such knowledge, but he did have faith that God is true. And that’s the same thing we have. We have God’s word that He is with us, no matter what. You’ve heard it said that if it is written once in the bible, it’s important, but if it’s written twice, better sit up and pay attention? Look at Deuteronomy 31:6 –

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

And Joshua 1:5 –

No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

And Hebrews 13:5 –

…because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

And Matthew 28:20, Jesus says,

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

God is with us. Emmanuel. God is with us. What’s our first step to dealing with troubles in our lives? Trust in God, for He is with us.

II. We can serve others

Let’s read Genesis 40:1-8 –

Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them.

After they had been in custody for some time, each of the two men—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own.

When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?”

“We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.”

Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

Joseph could have been wallowing in self-pity. He had a lot to wallow about. He could have used his situation as an excuse; “I can’t help you know, can’t you see I’m in prison? Sheesh!” But instead, Joseph looked to serve others. In verse 4, the term “served them” or “attended them” or “ministered to them” could mean he performed menial service, but Joseph’s care goes further than that. It was Joseph that noticed their faces were dejected. Joseph took the time to care about them, inquire about their welfare, and taking the time to listen to their stories.

And Joseph credited all the dream interpretation to God. Just like Joseph, even when we’re troubled, we can still find a way to minister to others. Joseph used his faith to reach out to others in their need, just as we can serve others in the Lord’s name as a way to comfort others.

Helping others is a sure fire way to take your mind off your own troubles. If you can do nothing else for somebody else, just take the time to listen to them.

One of the reasons we suffer is so that we may understand others who suffer. People afflicted with cancer relate better to a cancer survivor. Recovering alcoholics attend AA meetings to be with other people with the same struggles. A large reason Diane relates so well to the elderly is because many of the aches and pains they have, Diane identifies with them because she’s had them, too.

Nobody understood that better than Jesus. Jesus suffered, died and was buried for our sins. Do you think Jesus can’t identify with your pain? The humanity of Jesus gave him direct access to the worst pain that can be inflicted on a man, and His anguish troubled Him so much His sweat was like blood. Jesus knows suffering. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 –

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

Q: What kind of things can we do today that makes a difference in somebody else’s life?

III. We can seek help

So Joseph offers to interpret their dreams, and the chief cupbearer goes first. Genesis 40:9-15 –

So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.”

“This is what it means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.”

Just giving comfort to others helps us, consider that getting comfort from others blesses them, too. Joseph saw an opportunity for somebody to help him, and he wasn’t afraid to ask. Joseph’s ordeal had him in prison for the rest of his lift, and the prophecy of this dream coming true gave Joseph hope for the future. He was not afraid to ask for help. “Mention me to Pharoah and get me out of this prison.” Sometimes there is a solution to our problem that’s available if we just ask for it.

The cupbearer received good news from Joseph’s dream interpretation. The baker now asked for Joseph to interpret his dream. Genesis 40:16-19 –

When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.”

“This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat away your flesh.”

Well. Sucks to be the baker, I guess. Actually, there is a lesson here. Joseph approached the cupbearer for help because he knew the cupbearer would eventually be in a position to help him. It’s important to use discernment when seeking help. Seek those who can provide Godly wisdom and comfort or who may be in a position to help. And don’t be a baker in Pharaoh’s prison.

Q: How did God use others to encourage Joseph? How has God used others to encourage and help you?

IV. We can be patient

And lastly, we can be patient and wait on God whose timing is perfect. Genesis 40:20-23 –

Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand, but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation.

The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

Patience is hard; patience is a virtue. Patience takes practice. There are many places we wait in life. We wait in traffic. We wait for the microwave to finish. We wait for the right job to come along. We wait for the right spouse to come along. We even wait on our spouse to become the spouse God intends, just like our spouse waits on us. We’re waiting for children to grow up, we’re waiting for children to move out, we’re waiting, waiting, waiting.

Have you ever considered that we’re sometimes just waiting in God’s waiting room? We see a situation in our lives or the lives of someone close to us, and we wonder why God doesn’t fix it now. Surely it is God’s will for this thing to happen. Why is He taking His time?

God has great plans for Joseph. Plans to prosper him and not to harm him, plans to give him hope and a future. But for now, Joseph is in God’s waiting room. And sometimes, we are, too. God has a plan for each and every one of us. He wants us to love Him, He wants us to love one another. He wants us to grow spiritually in a closer relationship with Him. And sometimes He uses time to accomplish His will.

Are you waiting on God for something? For somebody to come to faith, for somebody’s heart to soften, for somebody to apologize, for the pain to stop, for the health to improve? I understand, waiting is hard. God understands waiting is hard, but sometimes it takes time for God to work His will, not because God is slow, but because people are slow to respond. As Joseph is getting to depend on the Lord and serve the Lord, he’s waiting in prison. His hope for the chief cupbearer to tell Pharaoh at the birthday party about Joseph’s innocence did not happen. The chief cupbearer forgot. But God remembered, and when His timing was right, we’ll see Joseph delivered. But he has two more years to wait on the Lord.

Be patient. Whatever you are waiting on is a small part of the picture. God sees the whole picture in the fullness of time. When God acts, it may look like good timing, or bad timing, or no timing at all, but its God’s perfect timing. Keep Romans 8:28 in mind,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

God will act when He knows the time is right. In the meantime, we continue to grow in Him by serving and studying and being obedient and praying. Timothy must have asked Paul about the persecutions and the injustice he saw, and Paul told him in 2 Timothy 3:14 to just continue.

Q: Why do you think the cupbearer forgot Joseph? Why is it so hard to wait when facing a hopeless situation?

Q: Which one of these four steps is the easiest to do? Which one is the hardest?

These four steps take practice. Pray and lean on Him when you’re going through difficult times. Our human nature often leads us to respond incorrectly and in ways that are ultimately destructive. Joseph could have responded with anger and bitterness. He could have said ugly things about Potiphar’s wife. He could have been mad at Potiphar. He could have harbored resentment towards his brothers. Joseph’s life so far includes abuse, abandonment, hatred, slavery, false witness, and now prison, all while Joseph tried to do the right thing. Can you picture Joseph years later, a 90 year man, eaten up with bitterness about how he was treated? Anger and bitterness are not the solution.

Or Joseph could have turned his back on God and taken the situation into his own hands. Joseph could have gossiped about Potiphar’s wife, you know how many slaves she sleeps with, she’s such a tramp. And that Potiphar, what an idiot for believing her. Sometimes we want to take charge of the situation and change it, only to make it worse. Some people see trouble and turn their back on God, not understanding the pain and the waiting could possibly be from a loving God. And they seek other sources of comfort in alcohol, drugs, infidelity, materialism, whatever. Others see the same pain and waiting and understand God’s perfect timing as a time of spiritual growth and develop a deep confidence in waiting on the Lord.

In an Expositional commentary to Genesis, I read this story told by Billy Graham. Billy Graham told a story of a friend that went through the Great Depression who lost his job, all his savings, then his wife and then his home. But he was a believer in Jesus Christ and held onto his faith even through he fought with depression about his circumstances. One day he stopped to watch some workmen doing stonework on a huge church. One man out front was chiseling a piece of stone into a triangle. Curious, he asked what the triangle was for.

See that little opening on the top of the spire? I’m chiseling this down here so it’ll fit up there. And his friend left with grateful tears; God was doing the same to him, shaping him for heaven by chiseling him through his ordeals.

So trust in God. Continue to serve, and to ask for help, and be patient and wait on God’s perfect timing.