Christ Covenant Church
Series — Joseph: Stories of God’s Providence for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Text – Genesis 40
May the grace and peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
As you know we are doing a series on the life of Joseph from the book of Genesis, looking at stories of God’s providence for the good, the bad, and the ugly.
God’s providence is his presence, ability, and control over all things. God’s providence is what shaped and sustained and steered Joseph’s story. And it is what shapes and sustains and steers our story as well.
But do we really believe that? It is easy to believe when things are going well and life is comfy and cozy. But what about when things are not going so well and life is cracked and chaotic?!
About ten years ago I went to an immigration office in Oaxaca, Mexico to get visas renewed for my whole family and I. When I arrived at the office I saw a notice on the door that read Closed for Holiday. That would not have been a problem, except our visas were due to expire before the office planned to re-open. Not sure what to do, I stood at the door and re-read the notice and started to write down times and dates. All of a sudden a large military truck turn the corner and pulled up right in front of the office. Soldiers jumped out of the cab and off the sides. A man barked orders and the tailgate was lowered and the canvas top was pulled back. Other men started yelling and several men were pulled out of the truck. Suddenly a guard inside the office opened the door and all the men were ushered into the building. In all the chaos and frenzy I was caught up in the mob and swept into a waiting area along with them. I sat down in the first chair I saw. The military police were shouting and pushing and threatening the men. They were intimidating. They told us all to take off our belts and shoe laces. One man asked if they were going to feed us and a guard replied, “You’ll be lucky if you live through the night.” I sat as quietly and calmly as I could. I felt like I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I can only imagine how Joseph felt, sitting in an Egyptian prison on false charges.
In the last episode we saw that Joseph was accused of sexually assaulting his master’s wife. His master was angry at his wife (not at Joseph) and angry about the situation, so he took Joseph and put him into a medium security white-collar prison, where (it so happens) Pharaoh’s prisoners were kept, and where (it so happens) the prison-guard was under the authority of the captain of the guard, who (it so happens) was none other than Potiphar! On top of it all, the Lord was with Joseph and showed him covenant love and gave him grace and made the work of his hands proper and flourish. That’s providence, and that brings us to this week’s episode in Genesis 40.
First, I want to read the whole story. Second, instead of walking back through it section by section, I want to make a few basic observations. Third, I want to show you what this story has to do with Jesus. Finally, I will end by making a few applications.
Now, please stand and pay close attention to the reading of God’s word from Genesis 40.
May God add his blessing to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word.
The story and its meaning are pretty clear and straight forward. Joseph is in prison, along with the cupbearer and baker of the king of Egypt. It appears that they are all under some form of house-arrest; and that they are in prison in the house of Potiphar, the captain of the guard.
Knowing that Joseph was trustworthy and reliable, Potiphar appointed Joseph to abide with and attend to the cupbearer and the baker.
These men were trusted officials who served the king. They were responsible for bringing the king his food and drink, and making sure that it was not poisoned or harmful to the king. (Like Potiphar, they might have been actual eunuchs; but, whatever the case, they were official servants.)
As you know, the cupbearer and the baker each had a dream that seemed more like a nightmare. Their dreams disturbed them.
Like Joseph’s dreams, one dream was earthly and one dream was heavenly; one was about things that grow from the ground, and one was about things that go up and hang in the sky.
Unlike Joseph and his family, the cupbearer and the baker could not interpret their dreams on their own. They needed God’s help, that help came through Joseph. Why?
One reason is because the cupbearer and the baker were natural men without the Spirit; but Joseph was a spiritual man with the Spirit.
As Paul explains, the natural man — the man without the Spirit — does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man — the man with the Spirit — judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. (1 Cor 2:14-15)
Like a prophet, Joseph imparted a secret and hidden wisdom of God. He received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that he might understand the things freely given by God. And he impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual with spiritual — not spiritual with natural or carnal. (1 Corinthians 2:7, 12-13)
So, Joseph told the cupbearer what his dream meant: “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. (Genesis 40:12-13)
And he told the baker what his dream meant: “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days. In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you!—and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you.” (Genesis 40:18-19)
Like a pastor, Joseph proclaimed the word of God in season and out of season, when they wanted to hear it, and when they did not want it hear it. (2 Tim 4:2-3)
He was the aroma of Christ to God among those who were being saved and among those who were perishing; to the baker he was a stench from death unto death; to the cupbearer he was a fragrance from life unto life. (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)
I have experienced these things in my life an ministry as well. I have found that it is easier to tell someone good news than bad news; much easier to counsel someone with “God loves you in Christ and forgives your sin” than “God hates your sin, and you must repent or perish.” Yet both are true and both must be preached when it’s cool and when it’s not.
I imagine that after Joseph interpreted the dreams he rejoiced with the one who rejoiced, and grieved with the one who grieved. I also imagine that the three days in between the interpretation of the dreams and the fulfillment of the dreams were the longest three days of their lives. Why?
If three days passed and the cupbearer and baker were not released from prison, Joseph would be taken by them as a false prophet.
If they were were released after three days passed, they would be closer to knowing if his interpretations were true or false.
If Joseph is right, one has everything to lose, the other has everything to gain. If Joseph is wrong, he has everything to lose and nothing to gain. And who knows what might have happened to the rest of the men?!
As it turns out, in God’s providence, on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a feast for all his servants and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them. (Genesis 40:20-22)
Sadly, even though Joseph had asked the cupbearer to remember him to Pharaoh, the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. (Genesis 40:23)
That means Joseph had to spend even more time in the pit.
As you can imagine, even a medium-security white-collar prison-house can seem like a pit when you think that you are in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Again, up ’til now everything in his experience seems to contradict the promises he saw in his dreams. He was stolen out of his homeland, and sold into slavery, and sent to prison. Up ’til now he has waited for the Lord to bring about some non-natural resolution and fulfill his dreams. Up ’til now he has trusted the hand of providence to shape and sustain and steer his life.
It seems like Joseph is in the wrong place at the wrong time, but in God’s providence, Joseph is in the right place at the right time.
Lord willing, we’ll come back to visit him in prison next week. But for now I want to show you what this story has to do with Jesus.
+ INTERPRETATIONS: JESUS IS TRUE AND BETTER JOSPEH, CUPBEARER, BAKER, AND KING
Now, we have been together long enough that you have learned how to read these stories and listen for echoes and look for Jesus. So what do you see and hear about Jesus today?
Here are some things about Jesus that I see and hear in this story.
First, Jesus is the true and better Joseph who emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, and being found in servant form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient. (Phil 2:7-8) As Joseph served the cupbearer and baker who sinned against their lord, so Jesus serves people who sinned against the Lord according to his Father’s command.
Second, Jesus is the true and better Joseph who was concerned about the downcast men on his right and left. They were accused of crimes (just as he was), yet he cared for them and counseled them. He spoke God’s truth to them — one was saved by mercy, the other was condemned by justice; one was lifted up to Paradise, one was not.
Third, Jesus is the true and better Joseph who marked the third day as the day of reckoning and rising up: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the religious leaders, and be killed, and on the third day be raised up.” (Luke 9:22)
Fourth, Jesus is the true and better cup-bearer who was lifted up, and lifted the cup of salvation (Psa 116:13), and gave thanks, and gave it to us, saying “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. Do this in remembrance of me. This cup poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:17-20)
Fifth, Jesus is the true and better baker who was lifted up, and took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it and gave it to us, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:17-20) As the baker’s body was broken to feed the birds of the air, so Jesus’ body was broken to feed the nations of the world. His blood is real drink and his flesh is real food, and he gave them for the life of the world (John 6:53ff).
Sixth, Jesus is the true and better prisoner who was lifted up and took the cup of God’s wrath and drank it down to the dregs (Isa 51:22); who was lifted up and hanged on a tree until death and cursed for us (Gal 3:13), who was lifted up between heaven and earth on the cross, laid low in the tomb, and lifted up from the pit on the third day. And when he was lifted up from the earth, he drew all kinds of men to himself — Egyptians and Hebrews, Jews and Gentiles. (John 3:14-15; 12:32)
Seventh, Jesus is the true and better Joseph who asked to be remembered, yet is often forgotten; and when he was asked to remember, he never forgot (Luke 23:42-43). When you come to the Lord’s table today, remember Jesus; remember that suffered to serve you, and he sacrificed to save you; and remember that he never will forget you or forsake you.
Finally, Jesus is the true and better king who conquered death and celebrated his new birth from death to life on the third day; he is the true God on earth, God-in-flesh, Lord of heaven and earth.
Earlier I was telling you a story about my experience with the military police in Mexico. Things were intense and tense for a few minutes. But when things calmed down I slowly took out my passport and raised my hand and said, “Excuse me. I am a US citizen.” A soldier came over and looked at my passport. He informed another guard that I was not one of the un-documented immigrants they had arrested. They took me aside and asked me what in the world I was doing in there and how in the world I got in. After I told them what happened, they sent me to an immigration official who apologized and told me it was all a mistake and that he was more than willing to help me with my visa. He expedited all my forms and renewed our visas and gave me twice the time that I expected to get when I left home that morning.
So, it turns out, in God’s providence, I was in the right place at the right time after all.
As we go forward with these stories of God’s providence, I want you to keep in mind this recurring theme — Joseph is raised up and cast down again and again and again. He is dressed up and stripped down; he is thrown down into a pit and raised up in a palace; he is exalted and humiliated.
In other words, Joseph walked in the rhythm of dying and rising in union with Christ. Joseph was a cross-bearer.
And we must learn to take up our cross and follow Jesus every day no matter where he leads us, no matter what he calls us to do, whether that means serving in a prison-house or a palace.
But why does it all have to be so hard? Why do we have to struggle and suffer so much?
Answer: God’s providence — his presence, ability, and control over all things — is what shapes and sustains and steers our life-story.
God’s ultimate plan and purpose for us is to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ.
The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way: The most wise, righteous, and gracious God often leaves his own children, for a time, to manifold temptations and to the corruption of their own hearts. He does this to chastise them for their past sins, to humble them by making them aware of the hidden strength of the corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, and then to raise them to a closer, more constant dependence upon himself for their support, to make them more watchful against all future occasions for sinning, and to fulfill various other just and holy purposes.
That is the story of Joseph in a nutshell.
God’s providence — his presence, ability, and control over all things — is what shaped and sustained and steered Joseph’s story.
Next time you feel like you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, next time you feel like God has forgotten you or made a mistake — repent and remember that in God’s providence, either you are in the right place at the right time. The Lord has you right where he wants you, for everything works together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.
Next time you feel like giving up, next time you feel like quitting, remember Jesus, the author of your story and the perfecter of your faith; remember that for the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, despising the shame; remember that he is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Remember Jesus and all the hardships he endured, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.