When I was a kid, I had a much different perspective on the world than I do now. I was aware of what was going on in the world around me. I would watch the news, read newspapers and magazines, and watch TV shows and movies. But those other things didn’t really have a direct impact on my personal life. The things that really did impact me were the things that happened to me personally: what happened when I went to school, or on our family farm, or in my family’s home. Those were the things that made a difference in my life.
Over the years, as I have grown up and became an adult, I have noticed something that, even now, feels a little bit strange to me. And that strange thing that I have noticed is that things that happen in the greater world around me, things that I have no interaction with , those things have the potential to make a major impact on my life. Our local municipality sets their annual budget for the year and the property taxes on my family’s house go up. The Bank of Canada increases lending rates and the interest costs of our home mortgage go up. Russia invades Ukraine and it costs me more to fill up my vehicle at the gas pumps.
And even though these things feel strange to me, this is actually how things work in this world and they have been working that way for centuries. Something interferes with the shipment of grain across the Mediterranean Sea and riots break out in the streets of ancient Rome. In the 1500s, St. Peter’s Basilica was being built in Rome, and people stop confessing their sins to their local parish priest in Wittenberg, because they bought a piece of paper at a fundraising event for the Basilica that says they don’t have to. More recently, on the other side of the world, in Wuhan, China, a new, and previously unknown, illness began to spread, and now, two and a half years later, more than 6 million people around the world have died from that disease and the economic impact was staggering. Some businesses closed, never to re-open, some people lost their jobs, temporarily or permanently, and supply chains are still being disrupted. Many things are much different now than they were before the pandemic hit and they may never be the same again.
So how do we live with this uncertainty that is constantly hanging over our heads? The reality is that our possessions could perish at any moment through fire, flood, theft or some kind of financial disaster. We could lose our income stream through illness, office politics, or an economic downturn. How do we live with all these uncertainties that are lurking in the background of our lives? In other words, how can we have resilience when our possessions perish? To answer that question, we are first going to look at the life of Joseph in the book of Genesis.
Joseph’s Focus on the Lord Gave Him Resilience
Joseph’s Possessions are Stripped Away
Joseph was the first-born son of his father, Jacob’s, favorite wife, Rachel, and so Joseph became Jacob’s favorite son. Joseph was part of a large and prosperous family and he had a beautiful coat which his father had given him. Joseph was given some powerful dreams by God, dreams which would become very important later on. And yet all his possessions and his position within his family were stripped away from him when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery.
As bad as that was, things eventually got worse for Joseph. He was sold to a captain in the Egyptian army, a man named Potiphar, and though Joseph eventually rose up within the ranks of Potiphar’s household and became his attendant, that all came crashing down when Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of trying to take advantage of her. Potiphar then had Joseph thrown in jail.
The Lord was with Joseph
Again, the pattern of Joseph doing well wherever he was placed repeated itself in jail. This is because the Lord was with Joseph and he was giving Joseph this special favor from others all along the way. You see, God had a plan that would that would take what others meant for evil–Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery because of their jealousy over him, Potiphar’s wife falsely accusing Joseph of inappropriate actions because of her lust for him–God would take these evil actions, turn them inside out and use them for good.
God can do that. He does it all the time. He took the greatest evil one could ever imagine–the horrible suffering of an innocent person–and God turned that evil into the greatest good thing that has ever happened in all of human history. This is why Romans 8:28 is a favorite Bible verse for so many people. It says, 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. (Romans 8:28)
Being in the Pharaoh’s jail was part of God’s plan for Joseph because it was there that he met two of Pharaoh’s officials who were also thrown in jail: Pharaoh’s wine steward and his baker. When these two men had disturbing dreams, Joseph interpreted their dreams, revealing to them what God had revealed to Joseph, that these two dreams foretold the future. In three days, the wine steward would be released and restored to his former position and the baker would be executed. When things happened as Joseph said that they would, the wine steward, upon his release from prison, promptly forgot about Joseph, who languished in jail for two more years.
Put yourself in Joseph’s position. You have been stripped of all your possessions, you have been separated from all your family and friends, you are falsely accused and thrown in jail. Along the way, you have always tried to do the right thing, and all it has done is cost you your freedom, your reputation, and your relationships. Now you are all alone, a stranger in a strange land. You are in jail, and the one lifeline you thought might lead to something ends up going nowhere.
What do you have at this point? You have God,… and that’s it. But the God was all that Joseph needed, and God is all that you and I need too.
Joseph Becomes Powerful
Joseph continued to serve the Lord with his life, even though he was falsely imprisoned. And God was still at work in Joseph’s life, even though God seemed to be silent. God working in Joseph’s soul, preparing him for the future role he had in mind for him. And God working in the surrounding circumstances, by placing the wine steward in a position where he was close to Pharaoh.
And when the time was just right, God created the catalytic moment, the precipitating event, the God appointment, that changed everything both for Joseph and for the entire world. Pharaoh had two disturbing dreams which no one could interpret for him. That was when the wine steward remembered Joseph. Joseph was brought from the jail, cleaned up and brought before Pharaoh. Joseph then gave to Pharaoh the meaning of the dreams God gave to Joseph. There would be seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine. Joseph suggested that Pharaoh put a program in place to store up food during the good years so that there would be enough food in the lean years. Pharaoh agreed and put Joseph in charge of the program, making him the second most powerful person in all the land of Egypt. When the famine hit, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food. Eventually, Joseph revealed to them who he really was and he invited his family to move to Egypt where they could be safe throughout the remainder of the famine.
Now let’s pause and put ourselves in Joseph’s place again. What does he have now? He has freedom, he has a position of prominence, he has power, he likely has possessions, and he has a family because he is married and he and his wife now have two sons.
Nothing had Changed for Joseph
All these things had changed for Joseph, and yet, in a very important way, nothing had changed. The main thing in Joseph’s life when he had nothing was still the main thing now that he had everything. What was true for Joseph through all the years when he was growing up with his family in Canaan, and when he had faithfully served as a slave in Potiphar’s household, and when he took care of the other prisoners in jail, was still true now. The Lord God was with him, and that was all that Joseph needed when he had nothing, and when he had everything..
If I were Joseph at this point, it would be a great temptation for me to be satisfied with my possessions. But Joseph’s heart didn’t rest on his possessions. Joseph’s hope, his identity, his comfort, his security, his sense of meaning and his purpose in life all came from his relationship with God. That is evident in the names that he gave to his two sons. In Genesis 41, we read, Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh [which sounds like the Hebrew word for “forget”] and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” The second son he named Ephraim [which sounds like the Hebrew for “twice fruitful”] and said, “It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” (Genesis 41:51-52) Joseph’s focus was still on the Lord when he was rich in possessions just as it was when he had nothing.
That enabled Joseph to continue on the path where he could eventually see the larger purpose that God had in mind. Joseph knew that his life story wasn’t about or for him, it was about and for God, and his grand story of redeeming and restoring all things for good, forever. When Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers came to him fearful that Joseph still held a grudge against them and would take his revenge now that their father was gone. But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:19-21) Joseph’s focus on God enabled him to have resilience when he had nothing, and when he had plenty.
Parallels Between Jesus & Joseph
If you think about it, Joseph’s focus on God allowed God to work through him to save more than just the lives of Joseph’s family and the people of Egypt. Joseph’s focus on God allowed God to work through him to also save us, and millions of other people down through the centuries all around the world. Soon after the world fell into brokenness and corruption because of the disobedience of our first parents, God promised that a descendant of Eve would come to defeat evil and undo all the harm that has been done. Out of all the people groups in the world, God chose one particular family, the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to be the family from whom this promised Savior, the Messiah, would come.
By faithfully keeping his focus on God, Joseph preserved both his family and the promise of a Savior that would come through his family. And centuries later, when the time was just right, God the Father kept his promise and sent his Son, Jesus Christ, into this world.
I don’t know about you, but I know that I really like to dig into those parts of the Bible that talk about how God blesses us with good things in our lives, and I tend to skim over those parts of the Bible that have any mention of suffering in them. And while God does love to bless us with good things, he is also with us and blesses us in the hard times. And we see that in the life of Jesus and how it parallels the life of Joseph.
Both Jesus & Joseph had Nothing but Their Focus on God
Prior to coming to this world, God the Son had it all. He was fully divine with infinite power, knowledge and glory. And yet he left the use of all those things behind to come into this world as a helpless, humble human baby. Jesus was lowered into a manger instead of a pit like Joseph, but they had two things in common: they both had nothing, and they both had their primary focus on God.
Like Joseph, Jesus continued to be faithful to his Father during his time of humiliation. Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead and taught how the kingdom of God was available and accessible to all people through him. As with Joseph, God gave Jesus favor at times. Large crowds of people followed him during certain seasons of his ministry.
Like Joseph, Jesus Experienced Betrayal
But also, like Joseph, Jesus experienced betrayal. The leaders of his own religion conspired to have him killed. One of his closest followers sold Jesus into the hands of his enemies for thirty pieces of silver. Most of his other followers abandoned him. His government had him flogged and condemned him to death, even though he was innocent. This time, there was no rescue by a benevolent Pharaoh. There was no holding back on the suffering that Jesus experienced.
And that too was part of God’s plan. For Jesus not only experienced the suffering of being beaten, whipped and crucified. He also experienced all of the guilt we bear for our sin, and all the suffering we experience as we live as broken people in a broken world, for all those things were lifted from our shoulders and also placed on Jesus. As he hung there on the cross, Jesus suffered for our sin and brokenness in addition to the physical pain he felt. Just like Joseph, Jesus did not deserve to suffer in the way that he did, but he went through it, with his focus firmly on his heavenly Father, because he knew that following his Father would open the door to life for others. Joseph didn’t know what God was going to do with his faithfulness, but Jesus did. The end goal for Jesus was more than food for hungry bellies or a bountiful land in which to live. The end goal for Jesus is the new creation family of God living in the new heaven and earth forever with him. And he is inviting you to be part of that new creation family of God, right now.
When Jesus is Our Greatest Treasure, We Have Resilience
Dear friends, in those seasons when we experience great loss, the natural thing for us to do is to grieve what we have lost. And it is important that we do that. But let us not forget that we have something infinitely greater than any possession, position or power we could ever lose. We have Jesus, and he has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. Sometimes, when everything is stripped away and all we have is Jesus, it is then that we realize that Jesus is all we ever need. With that truth firmly entrenched in our hearts and minds, we will truly be resilient and able to deal with whatever comes our way because we know that what is truly important to us, which is Jesus, can never be taken away from us. With Jesus as our prized possession, we willingly give God more freedom in our lives to do the great things he wishes to accomplish through us.
On June 8, 1972, warplanes from South Vietnam dropped napalm on the village of Trảng Bàng. Among the villagers who fled their homes that day was 9 year old Phan Thi Kim Phúc, who had third degree burns because her clothing caught on fire from the napalm. Associated Press photographer, Nick Ut, took a photograph which became the World Press Photo of the Year for 1973, and you can see that famous photo by Googling “Napalm Girl.” But Nick did more than that. He also took Kim and several other injured children to hospital in Saigon for treatment for their wounds. Kim’s burns were so severe that she was not expected to survive. After 17 surgeries, including several skin transplantations, and a 14 month stay in hospital, Kim was released. She had planned to study medicine, but she was pulled from university by the Communist government of Vietnam so she could be used as a propaganda symbol. Because of the constant pain she experienced, Kim considered suicide. But in 1982, she found a New Testament in a library which led to her becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. In 1986, she was given permission to continue her studies in Cuba and there she met another Vietnamese student who became her fiance. They married in 1992 and during a refueling stop in Gander, Newfoundland, on their way to their honeymoon in Moscow, Kim and her husband left the plane and asked for asylum in Canada. They now have two children and Kim and her family live near Toronto.
Kim and Nick have stayed in contact with each other over the years, and here is a recent photo of the two of them.
In her testimony, which you can find on ChristianityToday.com, Kim writes:
Nearly half a century has passed since I found myself running—frightened, naked, and in pain—down that road in Vietnam. I will never forget the horrors of that day—the bombs, the fire, the shrieks, the fear. Nor will I forget the years of trial and torment that followed. But when I think about how far I have come—the freedom and peace that comes from faith in Jesus—I realize there is nothing greater or more powerful than the love of our blessed Savior.
My faith in Jesus has enabled me to forgive those who have hurt and scarred me. It has enabled me to pray for my enemies rather than curse them. And it has enabled me not just to tolerate them but truly to love them.
I will forever bear the scars of that day, and that picture will always serve as a reminder of the unspeakable evil of which humanity is capable. That picture defined my life. In the end, it gave me a mission, a ministry, a cause.
Today, I thank God for that picture. Today, I thank God for everything—even for that road. Especially for that road.
Dear friends, the voices of Joseph, Kim and Jesus are calling out to you to live life in a new way, to turn away from giving first place in your heart to your possessions and turning toward giving that center spot to Jesus. The way to resilience with respect to possessions comes when we hold them lightly in our hands and even more lightly in our hearts.
In a way, many of us already know this. The most popular Bible verse in the YouVersion Bible app in 2021 was Matthew 6:33, where we read these words from Jesus, But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33) I think that the popularity of this verse indicates that God’s people are hungry for the comfort it brings. We want to know that we are part of something that is bigger than ourselves, and yet we also want to know that our needs will be met. You have all that in Jesus. The challenge I want to give to you today is to Make Jesus the main focus of your life and trust him to do what is best for you and for the world. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on May 29, 2022. For more info, please go to wglc.org.)