June 30, 2010

Secret Service

By Steve RileyI believe the story of Joseph provides a most clear reflection of the life and times of Jesus Christ. As we reflect on Joseph’s story, it is possible to draw similarities between his life and the ministry of our beloved Savior. Jesus is seen everywhere—indelibly etched on every page, sketched on every chapter of Joseph’s life.

The Dreamer and the Dream
I2010 1523 page10n fact, we could say Joseph was led in such a way that his life might reveal the life of the One who was to come. If this is so, then the real dreamer in the story was not meant to be Joseph, but Jesus. 

It was Jesus who chose Joseph as a depositary of His dream. And when Joseph dreamed about what would happen to him, he was actually dreaming about what would happen to Jesus. 

To Fulfill the Dream
Joseph was hated because Jesus was hated. Joseph was isolated because Jesus was forsaken by His very own. Joseph was tried and tempted because Jesus was tried and tempted. Joseph was put in prison for a crime he did not commit because Jesus died a death He did not deserve. 

Nothing that happened to Joseph can be considered fortuitous, for Joseph’s entire life was led by a providential hand; his rejection and subsequent isolation were part of a divine script.   

God never revealed to Joseph what would happen in the pit, or what would happen in Potiphar’s house, or what would happen in prison. Joseph’s dreams concerned the palace.

The lesson is quite simple. In the eyes of divine providence, humility is the antecedent of greatness, and humiliation is a prelude to exaltation. The cross precedes the crown and the pit is oftentimes the pathway to the pinnacle.  

Peter said: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” ?(1 Peter 5:6, NKJV).* And sometimes the cost of such humility and humiliation would not be defrayed without the currency of rejection and isolation, because the dream could not be fulfilled without it.

Before exaltation comes a period of trials, testing, and temptation. Yet temptation is part of the dream.

Before exaltation you sometimes need to be confined to a position; held back from an office; imprisoned in a district; denied promotion.

And sometimes before innocence can be authenticated you must be sentenced unjustly by unfounded accusations. But that incarceration is also part of the dream.      

Therefore rejection—as painful as it might be—is sometimes part of the script for our lives, written by the Divine Director. And to think it all started when Jacob bestowed favor upon his son with a coat of many colors. I have discovered that some folk who are gifted with the Father’s favors usually become the target of two types of people—the envious and the sensuous. And because of those favors, both groups will try to strip them away. Some do it surreptitiously and others, maliciously. But their objective is the same—to disrobe us of our Father’s favor.

But underneath his coat of many colors, Joseph had an undergarment that could not be torn away from him. That garment of integrity was stitched with dignity and woven together with fidelity to God. God was intimately intertwined into the very fabric of Joseph’s being, guiding him every step of the way. Truthfully, the story of Joseph’s life is about God working behind the scenes on behalf of all men. In short, what we see is how God used the life of one man to impact the lives of many.

Genesis 42:7, 8 says: When Joseph “saw his brethren . . . he knew them, but made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them. . . . And Joseph knew his brethren, but they knew not him”(KJV). Joseph’s demeanor denounced his true pedigree. He was a stranger, but still their brother.

God Makes Provision Secretly
God sometimes hides His most treasured blessings in unsuspected places. Consider the following:

  • God can cause a reservoir of refreshing springs to be hidden in a rocky place.
  • An unnamed captive maid can help bring about deliverance to a prominent leper.
  • Elijah can take a widow’s last meal during an economic meltdown and transform it into the first meal of her financial recovery.
  • A banquet for more than 5,000 people can be held with just five loaves and two fish.
  • Elijah can be fed vegetarian food from an unclean raven.

Yes, God’s most treasured blessings can be hidden and disguised in strange places!

Joseph may have dressed differently, talked differently, and behaved differently, but he was still their brother. And though he recognized his brothers, before he could reconnect with them, he needed them to repent.

God’s Presence Is Revealed
Joseph couldn’t reveal himself too soon for many reasons. I believe Joseph was secretly trying to cause his brothers to confront their sins that they might palliate their faults no longer. By now, their conscience had been in hibernation for more than 20 years. And their callous hearts had become immune to the heat of conviction, lulling them into a false sense of security. This is what sin does—it separates, severs, and settles us into a spirit of apathy.

2010 1523 page10Joseph then spoke roughly to his brothers.

God must sometimes deal harshly with us in order to provoke our gagged conscience.

But while Joseph dealt harshly with them, he was hurting. God never chastens us without hurting for us, because chastising His very own is never pleasurable for the One who loves us with an everlasting love.

Is it possible then that when we deem God unfair, unjust, and uncaring it is because we witness His work without seeing His bleeding heart?

Oh, how little we know of Him!
Joseph longed to reveal himself in order to embrace his long lost brothers. There are several moments in which he weeps, then masks his feelings in a desperate attempt to restrain the volcanic emotion threatening to erupt. So much so that in the midst of treating his brothers harshly, he blessed them in different ways.

Oh, how Jesus longs to ravish us with His love. After all, God’s greatest desire is not to bless us with what He has, but with who He is! 

During the brothers’ second visit to Egypt, Joseph initiated a conciliatory plan by planting a treasured silver cup in Benjamin’s sack.

That day when Joseph first saw his brothers again, I believe he never wanted to lose sight of them again. Now, fearing they might all leave for good, never to return again, Joseph planted the cup in Benjamin’s sack. And once they had something that belonged to him, he was not going to part with them because of it. Joseph set it up so that he wouldn’t have to let them go!

God doesn’t give up on us that easily either. That’s why even when we mess up, His goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives, because there’s something in us that belongs to Him.

God Reconciles Secretly
“Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, ‘Have everyone leave my presence!’ So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers” (Gen. 45:1).

Sometimes God must get us alone, for there are times when He works through us, in us, with us, and for us, secretly.

We may not always see His providential hand but we can always trust His tender heart. The very things that worked against Joseph, God secretly used in his favor. From the pit of rejection to the palace of reconciliation, God worked behind the scenes to recover, restore, and reconcile man with God.

And today, the reconciliation continues.

*Bible texts in this message are from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Steve Riley, pastor, Stanmore Avenue Adventist Church, Port of Spain, Trinidad; and also assistant communication director, South Caribbean Conference, Port of Spain, Trinidad