“ON THE GOD CHANNEL”

GENESIS 45:1-15

FEBRUARY 15,2009

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Most everyone loves the story of Cinderella.  I do, especially Walt Disney’s rendering of it.  The first time I saw the Disney version of Cinderella was at the Alex Theater in Glendale, California, my home town.  I was nine at the time, and it was the very first movie I saw without one of my parents.  It was shown on a Saturday morning and the line to see it stretched around the block.  I attended the movie with a friend and the two of us really felt like hot stuff, buying our own tickets, and sitting where we wanted – being nine we chose the front row of course – and after the movie my friend and I both agreed that other than the mushy stuff at the end, we both thought it was one of the best movies we had ever seen. 

Well, today we come to the conclusion of another Cinderella story.  We have been viewing this one for the past month, and it is the Cinderella story of Joseph.  Joseph didn’t have a mean stepmother and step-sisters, but he did have some pretty mean half-brothers and today we are going to look at Joseph’s triumph over them.

We pick up the story in the 45th chapter with Joseph’s mean brothers, the ones who sold him into slavery some 22 years earlier, standing before him.  But before we begin reading about what transpires between Joseph and his brothers, we need to keep a couple of things in mind.

First, we need to remember that Joseph’s brothers still do not recognize him.  Even though this is their second visit to Egypt and their second encounter with Joseph, they still do not recognize him.  And last week we looked at some reasons for that.  One reason was the passage of time.  Twenty-two years have passed since they had sold Joseph into slavery, and Joseph was only a teenager when it happened, and now he is pushing 40 and people change quite a bit between the ages of 17 and 40.  In fact, depending on your present age, I wonder how many people would be able to recognize you today from your high school graduation picture? 

Another reason they did not recognize him was his attire.  When his brothers last saw him Joseph had a beard and was dressed like a Hebrew, but now he is clean shaven and dresses as an Egyptian.


But there is yet another reason why they did not recognize him and it has to do with “The Red Six of Spades Phenomena.”  Are you familiar with this?  The phenomenon has to do with our expectations.  For those of you who play cards, you know that a spade is black and not red.  Well, to ascertain whether our expectations influence our perceptions, two researchers from Harvard took a regular six of spades out of a deck, painted it red, slipped it back into the deck and gave the tampered deck to a group of subjects.  The result?  Hardly anyone saw the red six of spades!  The point?  What we expect to see or do not expect to see affects what we see.

The brothers did not expect to see Joseph in this powerful position so they didn’t see him.  After all, who would have guessed that Joseph would rise from slavery to become governor of Egypt?  Certainly not them.  They thought he was dead or serving some household as a slave.  It never entered their minds that Joseph could be in a position like this.

So one thing to keep in mind as we turn to this 45th chapter is that even though this is their second trip to Egypt, Joseph’s brothers still do not recognize him.  But there is one other thing to keep in mind before turning to this chapter and that is the mental state of Joseph’s brothers.  As the chapter begins the brothers are in a state of panic and this panic has been orchestrated by Joseph.  Let me remind you of what Joseph did to them.

To ascertain whether or not his brothers had changed any over the past 22 years, Joseph decided to put them through a little test, and it involved his youngest brother, Benjamin.   You might remember from last week on their first visit to Egypt, how Joseph had devised a little plan to get Benjamin to Egypt – Benjamin didn’t make the first trip because their father refused to let him go, fearing something awful might happen to him.

Well, that plan of getting Benjamin to Egypt succeeded, and the brothers brought Benjamin, their youngest brother, back with them on their second grain buying trip to Egypt.  But after selling them more grain, Joseph pulled a fast one on them.  Before his brothers returned to Canaan, he snuck – is that a word?  Sneak, snack, snuck?  – he placed a silver cup into Benjamin’s sack, and then he sent his steward after them, who accused them of stealing, searched their belongings, found the cup in Benjamin’s belongings and arrested him.

Now wasn’t that a brilliant scheme to put the cup in Benjamin’s sack?  Think about it.  Benjamin is Jacob’s favorite son, just as Joseph had been Jacob’s favorite son.  And such parental favor was what prompted these brothers to get rid of Joseph.  They were so envious of the attention Jacob lavished on him they got rid of him, sold him as a slave and told their father he was dead.  Now there is another favorite son, Benjamin, and their father Jacob is not hiding his partiality for Benjamin any more than he hid his being partial to Joseph and what will the brothers do?  Here is a perfect opportunity to dispose of Benjamin, just as they had disposed of Joseph.  Will they abandon him?  Will they sell him out or will they put the parental favoritism aside and stand up for Benjamin?  Joseph is all eyes and ears, watching them, testing them.

Well, you can read about it in chapter 44, but to make a long story short, they stood up for Benjamin.  They even offered to switch places with him and take his punishment instead, and as this 45th chapter begins, the brothers have just finished pleading their case to Joseph, whom they still do not recognize, to allow one of them to take Benjamin’s place, so that Benjamin could go home, and so that their father’s heart would not be broken once again.  It is at this point, after hearing his brothers stand up for Benjamin, that we pick up the story.

Noting the change that has taken place in them, Joseph cries out to his attendant,


“Send everyone away from me.”  So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.  And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.  Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph.  Is my father still alive?”  But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

 

That makes sense doesn’t it, that they were scared speechless?  They are not aware that they had passed the test.  They are not aware that Joseph has forgiven them.  All they know is that before them is the second most powerful man in Egypt and at one time they treated him ever so harshly and they expected an eye for an eye.

 

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.”  And they came closer.  He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.”

 

Note, this is the second time Joseph has had to identify himself.  The red six of spades phenomena is still at work.  They still have difficulty recognizing Joseph because they did not expect to see him, so Joseph invites them to take a closer look and then, when they are about to faint in utter panic, Joseph says,

 

“And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.  For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.  God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  So it was not you who sent me here, but God....

 

And in the rest of the chapter he tells them to go home, get their father, pack all their belongings, and move here to Egypt where he can take care of them and they live happily ever after.  Well almost.  They get along as well as twelve brothers can get along.  And next week we will end our sermon series on Genesis, but this morning I want to close by asking some questions:  Why is Joseph considered a great biblical patriarch?  Why did the Spirit of God hover over his life more than any other person in the Book of Genesis, even more so than Abraham?  Why did the author of Genesis devote more time to Joseph than any other person in the Book of Genesis?

Joseph, after all, was not superhuman.  He never walked on water.  He wore no halo.  He never performed a miracle.  Oh sure, with the Lord’s help and by his own admission, he interpreted some dreams, but he made no awesome prophecies.  And unlike the other two major people in the Book, we never see him talking to God like we saw Abraham and Jacob talk to God. 


So, why was he so great?  Well, I’ve already answered part of that a few weeks ago.  You might recall the sermon from three Sundays ago.  It was titled “Impact Players,” and in the sermon we looked at three characteristics of Joseph that contributed to his making a positive impact on the people and situations around him.

First, Joseph was resourceful.  That is he had the ability to make the best of a bad situation.  Second, he was reliable.  You could count on Joseph to do what he said he would do and not do what he was not supposed to do, and thirdly, Joseph was relational.    By that we meant, he had the ability to make other’s agendas his agenda.  He noticed people and took a great interest in them.

This morning I want to add one more “R” to Joseph’s list of qualities.  He was also respectful of and responsive to God.   I guess that’s two R’s.  Respectful of and responsive to God. 

Did you notice, in all the weeks we have been studying his life that not once have we ever heard Joseph bad-mouth God or lose his faith in God?  Not once, and if anyone had just cause to tell God a thing or two it was Joseph.  I mean, he was ripped out of his family home and sold into slavery.  He was falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison.  He helped a fellow prisoner out of a jam, but the prisoner forgot what he had done for him.  After all that we would expect to see a bitter and angry man, but what do we see?  We see a man with a deep love for and trust in God.  Potiphar saw it.  The warden saw it.  The cupbearer saw it.  Pharaoh saw it and now his brothers see it. 

Note Joseph’s awareness of and his willingness to accept the movement of God in his life, even when it was personally painful for him.  Joseph says to his brothers, verse 5,

 

Do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.  (And verse 8).  So it was not you who sent me here, but God ...

 

Did you catch that?  God sent me here.  God sent me here.  Joseph was great because of his faith.  He was responsive to and respectful of God’s movement in his life.


Did you hear the story of the man who went for a job interview?   Back when the telegraph was the fastest method of long-distance communication, a young man applied for a job as a Morse Code operator.  Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the office address that was listed.  When he arrived, he entered a large, busy office filled with noise and clatter, including the sound of the telegraph in the background.  A sign on the receptionist’s counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office.  The young man filled out his form and sat down with the seven other applicants in the waiting area.  After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in.  Naturally the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on.  They muttered among themselves that they hadn’t heard any summons yet.  They assumed that the young man who went into the office made a mistake and would be disqualified.  Within a few minutes, however, the employer escorted the young man out of the office and said to the other applicants, “Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has just been filled.”

The other applicants began grumbling to each other, and one spoke up saying, “Wait a minute, I don’t understand.  He was the last to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed.  Yet he got the job.  That’s not fair!”

The employer said, “I’m sorry, but all the time you’ve been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse Code. ‘If you understand this message, then come right in.  The job is yours.’  None of you heard it or understood it.  This young man did.  The job is his.”

The world in which we live is like that office.  It is full of  clatter and it’s easy to become distracted by all the noise around us.  But some hear the voice.  Some still see God at work and we have a word for people like that – Great.   The late great preacher, John Henry Jowett, used to say that a minister does not deserve to preach a sermon unless he or she can give it in one sentence.  So let me give you this sermon in one sentence: Greatness is revealed in one’s ability to respond to and be respectful of God.  

Joseph was great and some of you sitting here this morning are great.  You are not great because of some achievement or accomplishment in your life.  You are not great because of the balance in your checkbook or because you live in a gated community.  You are not great because your child was student of the week at his or her school or because of some academic degree you have attained.  You are great because you respond to and are respectful of God.  If one doesn’t have that, one doesn’t have much.