Lent 4a

Preached: March 2, 2008

Confidence for Life Flows from the Lord's Promises
Genesis 37:1-11

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit stirs our hearts and moves our lives is Genesis 37

Jacob lived in the land where his father stayed as a stranger, in the land of Canaan. These are the family records of Jacob.
At the age of seventeen Joseph was a shepherd with his brothers in the field. He was a young man with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives. Joseph brought a bad report about them to their father.
Israel loved Joseph more than his brothers, because he was his son of old age. He made for him a special coat. His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all the other brothers, and they hated him. They couldn't speak a peaceful word to him.
Joseph had a dream and told his brothers, and they hated him even more. He said to them, “Please listen to this dream which I had. Look, we were binding sheaves in the the field, and look my sheaf rose up and stood straight, and look your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.”
His brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign as king over us or so lord it over us?” And they hated him even more because of his dreams and because of his words.
He had another dream again. He told it to his brothers. He said, “Look I had a dream again, and look the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed down to me.”
He told his father and his brothers, and his father scolded him. He said to him, “What is this dream that you had? Will I and your mother and you brothers really come to bow down to the ground before you?”
His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the message.

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in Jesus' blood:

Does God have a plan for your life? I don't want to say, “No.” That makes it sound as if God doesn't care about us. So life just randomly happens and we're the victims of luck and chance. Or else it means that we have to take control of our destiny, be the masters of our own fate, in essence become our own god, since he has no plan. I'm sure you see that all this contradicts what God's Word says. It brings worry and uncertainty, the opposite of faith. So I don't want to say, “No.”

But I'm not comfortable saying, “Yes,” either. To me, to say, “Yes, God has a plan for my life,” also leads to worry and uncertainty. Am I following the right plan? What happens if I make a decision, not a sinful decision, but a decision different than what God had planned? Have I ruined his plan for me? On the other hand, a yes can also lead to false security or hopeless despair. If God has a set plan for me, then what does it matter what I do ? That plan will force me to follow whatever path is laid out, so why bother? You can see that none of these is the attitude of faith. This, too, contradicts God's Word.

It doesn't work to try and straddle the fence by saying, “Yes, God has planned out the big things in my life, but the little ones he leaves for me.” That's not the God of the Bible who is concerned about every detail of our life even the number of hairs on our head

In my opinion, the problems lies in the question. So let's change the question. Rather than talking about a plan, let's talk about the plan, God's saving plan. That's not what most people are thinking about when they ask whether God has a plan for them. But that's the plan God is thinking about. That's the only plan he has made known to us. This plan so concerned him that he had it written down for you. That's what the Bible is. So you can say with confidence, “Yes, God's saving plan is the plan for my life. He has told me so in his Word.” Anything that goes beyond what Scripture says here is trying to delve into God's hidden mind, and that is not right.

Now how does God's saving plan deal with us? Through his promises. So rather than asking, “Does God have a plan for me?” ask, “Does God have a promise for me?” And you will find that he doesn't just have a promise but many promises for you. He brings them to you through his Word and Sacraments. Let's think about God's promises as we consider Joseph and his life.

A. Confidence even in messiest situations

1. How do God's mercy and promises shine through the messed-up family life of Jacob and Joseph?

If you want to see a messed up family, look at the family Joseph was born into. And if you only remember Joseph and his father Jacob from Sunday school, you don't know the half of it. We're going to mention some of those sordid details, but not so that we can look down on them.

Rather, when we look at our own lives, we see mess-ups as well. We're tempted to explain them away or excuse them because we're worried. Have I wrecked God's plan for me? Have I ruined my life? Is there any hope? See the danger of thinking in terms of some unknown plan rather than your Savior's revealed promises? God's promises are faithfully even when we fail. We see that illustrated in Jacob's family. So that's why we mention their mess-ups to see how great our God's mercy and promises are, even for mess-ups like us.

Jacob's family started when he married Rachel. Well, it was suppose to have been Rachel. He had worked seven years for Laban, her father, to earn her hand in marriage. He loved her. But on their wedding night, Laban substituted Rachel's older sister, Leah. Laban also let Jacob marry Rachel in exchange for seven more years of work. So began a competition between these sisters to give Jacob children and win his affection. They even resorted to having him sleep with their servants, Bilhah and Zilpah, to claim children through them. And Jacob followed along.

The mess gets worse. Levi and Simeon, Jacob's second and third sons, massacred an entire town, killing all the males, because the prince of that town had raped their sister, Dinah. Reuben, Jacob's oldest son, slept with Bilhah, the mother of his younger brothers. Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher (the sons of Jacob through Bilhah and Zilpah) had done something that warranted Joseph reporting to their father. We don't know what evil they did, but considering their brothers, it was no small matter.

With sons like these, it's no wonder that Jacob loved his good boy, Joseph, more. And yet this favoritism made things messier. His brothers hated Joseph all the more. They couldn't say one kind word to him. And to top it all off, this family was God's representatives on earth, his church. But they acted worse than unbelievers. What a messed-up family!

We might wonder why God doesn't through up his hands and say, “I'm through with you guys. I don't care what I told Abraham. You've blown it. I'm going to find a different family for the Savior.” God is faithful. He is the Lord. He keeps his promises. In fact, at this time he made another promise to this family. That's the promise he made in the dreams he gave Joseph.

2. What promises will bring us confidence even though we mess up?

So also when you mess up, go to the Lord's promises. For like this family, you and I are sinners. Simeon and Levi acted in anger. We have sinfully acted and spoken in anger. Reuben acted in lust. Our lusts makes us guilty of adultery. All of Joseph's brothers were jealous, and we have struggled with jealousy when feeling unfairly treated. See your mess-ups for the sin they are. They damn us.

But go to the Lord's promises. You don't have to wait for a special dream. You have an advantage that Jacob and his family did not have. You have God's promises written down in the Bible. No book of the Bible had yet been written in Jacob's day. So don't expect a special dream. Rather go to the Word. Hear what the Lord says to mess-ups like you and me.

“‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool’” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV).

“When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly . . . God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6, 8 NIV).

“The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7 NIV).

Turn to the bloody cross of your Savior and see how our God has cleaned up our messes. Believe his promises that the Scriptures and Sacraments bring to you. His promises give us the confidence to work through even the messiest of lives.

B. Confidence to serve under any circumstances

1. Describe how Joseph served.

And these promises give us the confidence to serve under any circumstances. Jesus talked about that in the Gospel. “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave -- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28 NIV).

Think of how Joseph must have relied on the Lord's promises during the years ahead of him. He knew the promise of the Savior that the Lord had made to his fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Joseph knew that the Savior was coming for him. He knew God had a role for him to play. Those dreams of his family bowing down to him were the Lord's promise of special work for him

How Joseph's faith in those promises was tested! His brothers soled him as slave. Later his master's wife in Egypt falsely accuses him. He ends up in prison. Things seem to go from bad to worse. Yet Joseph keeps holding on to the Lord's promises. And as he holds on, he serves. He serves as a slave in Potiphar's, doing his work well. Even when thrown into prison, he serves doing the work the jailer gave him. Joseph knows that Lord will keep his promises.

2. Where and when do we serve as we hold on the Lord's promises?

Find your strength to serve by holding on to the Lord's promises. The Apostle Paul writes, “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13 NIV). God himself says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 NIV). The very Son of God served you by dying as your ransom. Can we not confidently serve doing whatever good the Lord has placed in front of us? Don't think about how you could be serving if you had different gifts or more money or lived somewhere else. That's not confidence in his promises.

Rather believe that he has placed you where you are and has prepared good for you to do. Show kindness and love to those around you, serving them, even as Jesus has served you by giving himself for you. Joseph served wherever he was. I doubt he knew what was ahead of him as he served in Potiphar's house and then in prison. But he faithfully served, even though he didn't know how the Lord would work it. He simply trusted the Lord's promise. And look at how the Lord used his service! Through Joseph the Lord kept the family from which the Savior came alive in Egypt during seven years of famine. Through Joseph he saved many lives, including ours. Who knows how the Lord will use your humble service?

So keep your eyes on his promises. Don't wonder about some unknown plan God might have. Keep your eyes and his promises that show you his saving plan. Those promise give you confidence to make through no matter how messy life gets. Those promise give you confidence to serve one another.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313