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A Pilgrim's Progress

From Series: The Hand of God, Volume 2

While life’s humbling events remind us of the gravity of our sin, its encouraging ones reveal the immensity of God’s grace. We see examples of both as Alistair Begg traces Jacob’s journey from Canaan to Egypt to reunite with his long-lost son, Joseph. Although he was eager to see his child, Jacob first sought God’s assurance. Similarly, when we focus on eternity, our present desires should remain subservient to God’s trustworthy guidance.


Sermon Transcript:

Can I invite you to turn with me to the book of Genesis and to chapter 45, 46? And as you turn to that, let us just turn to the Lord and seek his help in prayer.

O God our Father, we do pray that you will now come and speak to us through your Word—that beyond the printed page and the words of a mere man, that you will speak into our lives today in a way that is unmistakably clear so that unbelieving people may come to trust in you, that those who believe may be established in you, and that those who wander and waver may be called into the very pathway of your plan and purpose for their lives, even as you called your servant Jacob, in whose footsteps we follow and from whose story we seek to learn. And we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The end of chapter 45 gives to us this amazing picture of the brothers heading back now to their father in Canaan with the carts and the clothes and the provisions and the donkeys and the prospect of having to greet their father and speak to him. They had been sent with a word of warning from their brother Joseph in verse 24 of chapter 45: “Don’t,” he said, “quarrel on the [journey]!” He didn’t want them to spend their time aggravating one another, and so they must’ve spent their time in some form of conversation.

Doubtless, there would have been somebody who said, “You know, the thing that had struck me with such terror was when someone opened that bag of yours, Benjamin, and they pulled out the cup. And I knew in that instant we were in trouble.”

“Yes,” said another of the brothers, “but you know, it was amazing: I could never in my wildest dreams have imagined that the Egyptian official would stand up to us and say those incredible words, ‘I am Joseph.’”

They must’ve looked at one another and said, “Yeah, wasn’t it amazing when he took his headdress off and we began to identify him?”

“Yeah,” and says someone, “you know, when he said, ‘Come close to me,’ I noticed that nobody was actually stepping up to the front of the line. What did you think he was going to do when you got up there?”

And said another, “I don’t know what I thought, but I can’t believe how kind he was. I couldn’t believe the compassion in his voice, especially when you think of all the things that we had done to him, all of the cruel way in which we treated him, and then he spoke with such tenderness and such care.”

“Yes,” said someone, “but what are we going to tell our father? How are we going to tell him? How are we going to tell him in a way that preserves us and encourages him? Because it’s impossible for us to tell him that Joseph is alive without having to acknowledge the fact that we had lied and have lied over twenty years in an act of total deceit?” Presumably, they worked out some form of plan and some way that they could unfold the news to their dad that wouldn’t find him dropping down dead.

Now, as I’ve read this section from the end of 45 all the way through to the end of actual chapter 47, and as I try to wrestle with the broad sweep of time and personnel, I find myself thinking in terms of, sort of, camera angles. I do this from time to time; I don’t know why—I’ve never made a film, my home videos are horrible—but I suppose that somewhere in the back of my mind I cherish the idea of being able to make a movie. And so I think in terms of crucial scenes, and I always like, when I see films, clever cuts and the way that it fades and moves and so on, and so as I thought about this, I thought of it in terms of four scenes that if you were directing this, either as a stage play or as a movie, then these are scenes that you would definitely not want to miss. These are occasions when the camera angles are crucial, when you’re using lenses that you can take the people in very close; you’re not shooting from up on the hills or from vast distances; you’re not using wide angles; you are actually focused on these four dramatic encounters. And it is to these four dramatic encounters that we’re going to give our time this morning.

First scene is at the end of chapter 45, in which Jacob’s sons inform him that Joseph is still alive. The second scene to which we’ll turn is at the beginning of chapter 46, in which Jacob sacrifices to God and is reassured in a vision. The third scene is in the region of verse 30 of chapter 46, in which Jacob meets his son Joseph and declares himself ready to die. And then the final scene to which we’ll turn is around verse 12 of chapter 47, in which we have, interestingly, the patriarch Jacob blessing Pharaoh, the man who’s in charge of the totality of Egypt.

And as I went through all of this, the recurring phrase that was in my mind—which is the sign of a partly misspent youth—was, “There are places I’ll remember all my life. Though some have changed, some for good and some for better, some have gone and some remain.”[1] Lennon and McCartney talking about Penny Lane and all of those places in their life which marked certain events in their journey. And each of us have such places, and they are points either to remind us of the gravity of our sin, and thereby humble us, and/or the immensity of God’s grace, and thereby pick us up. But each of us have these places—and certainly Jacob, too.

Jacob Was Stunned

So, let me give them to you, and I’m going to summarize each scene under one word, and the first word is stunned—stunned. Because that is exactly what Jacob was at the end of chapter 45. Indeed, we’re told that when they arrived and spoke to him in this way, “Jacob was [absolutely] stunned.”[2]

Now, the brothers had been dispatched by Joseph with the directive in verse 9 of chapter 45: “Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt.’” So they were in no doubt as to what they were supposed to do—go back, get their father, and tell him this: “Jacob, listen, here’s the deal: Joseph is alive, and he is the lord of all Egypt.” Now, presumably there was some kind of preamble which led up to this, which is not recorded for us in the Scripture. Presumably they didn’t blurt it out—although that is distinctly a possibility. But they got to it, and as they speak these words, two things to notice.

Number one, Jacob was confused by what he heard. He was confused by what he heard. Because what he heard was, “Joseph is alive.” Now, if you had met Jacob in a bazaar somewhere, and he was sitting there having coffee, and you said, “You’re an old man; tell me some of the things you’ve seen, and tell me some of the joys and sorrows of your life,” there is no question that he would have described with great passion and detail the day that he sent away his seventeen‑year‑old son to find his other sons in the region of Dothan. And he would have been able to describe with all the passion of a father’s heart how, when he said goodbye to Joseph, he anticipated that he would be back before too long; how, in waving goodbye to him, and recognizing the apparent dangers that were represented in his boy making a journey like this, he had watched him go off into the distance, and perhaps had stood and waved, and his boy had turned back and waved, and especially if there was a vast open terrain they would have been able to wave to one another until just that point where you go over the horizon.

If you ever have done it in a railway station, you know—for example, in British Rail—many of the platforms are very long. The trains start off slowly, and you can wave and wave and wave until one of two things happens: either you get your head knocked off by a signal box, or the train track turns and you go ’round the corner, and as soon as you go ’round the corner, it’s all over. You can stand and look if you wish, but you’ll never see their face again, at least not now. And Jacob had stood and watched his boy go there. And then he’d waited for him to come. And he had never come. And instead what had happened was that his brothers had returned, and they had returned carrying the lovely coat that Jacob had given his boy, covered in blood and mangled, apparently as a result of the activities of a ferocious beast, and Jacob had been absolutely devastated as he fell on the ground, grabbed big clods of dust, threw them in his hair as a symbol of his absolute terror and tragedy at the loss of his prize boy.

And now, these same characters who had brought to him some twenty-two years ago the bloodied coat are standing in front of him saying, “Your son, Joseph, he’s alive.”[3] So he was confused by what he heard, because twenty-two years of his absence had convinced him of one thing: Joseph was dead. And now into the mainframe of his computer is inserted the information from this disc, and it does not jive, he cannot make sense of it. The images of Joseph’s going are fixed in his mind, and as he tries to process this it just does not make sense; it is total confusion. If they’d come to him and said, “Abraham has risen from the dead,” or “Isaac is alive from the dead,” it wouldn’t have been any more stunning to him than this information.

And they add another unbelievable layer to the story. They said, “Not only is he alive, but he is the ruler of all Egypt.”[4] Your boy is alive, and he’s the prime minister of Egypt. Now, just try and get under the story for a little minute. One, you think your boy’s dead; then you find out he’s alive; and then you find out that he’s actually living in the big house and he’s in charge of the whole operation. One minute you’re picked up, wanting to believe it, on the wave of a great optimism, and the next minute you’re caught in the undertow as you’re dragged down. You say, “This can’t possibly be true. I don’t know what to believe from these kids anymore. I don’t when they’re telling me the truth and when they’re not. I don’t know if they were lying then or they’re lying now.”

And so they tell him the story, and as they tell him the story—presumably using the words of Joseph very much, how Joseph had been compassionate and forgiving in the hope that their father, Jacob, would follow suit—Jacob listens. And what he hears is then combined with what he saw. And if he was confused by what he heard, then secondly, notice that he was convinced by what he saw. Because “he saw the carts [that] Joseph had sent to carry him back.”[5] You say, “Well that’s not much, is it? Seeing a few carts? What would that mean?” Well, he knew that they didn’t have these carts, he knew they got them somewhere, and he then had to presumably determine that they had gathered up all these carts so that they could come up with this elaborate hoax, and why would they possibly do that? Furthermore, these carts weren’t Canaanite carts. The steering wheels were on the wrong side, if you like; they weren’t the usual thing. They were marked in a certain way, or the wheel arches were different, or there was something that said, “These are not Canaanite carts,” and he suddenly says, “You know what? I think they’re telling me the truth. This is an elaborate story. My heart is absolutely breaking as I try and receive it. I can’t hope to believe it all, and yet I must believe it all,” and then he says, “Okay.” Then he says, “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is … alive. [I’m going to] go and see him.”[6]

“My son Joseph is alive.” Now, I want to just stop here for a moment, and say that this ought to be the great longing of every father’s heart in relationship to his boys and his girls. Because the real “aliveness” that we long for in our children is not the aliveness of physical life, for which we’re thankful and which we enjoy in the interaction of our daily pilgrimage, but the great aliveness for which we long is the aliveness of spiritual life. You see, because Jacob and Joseph could hang out together for a while as they did—they could enjoy that—but both Jacob and Joseph were going to die. And fathers and sons and fathers and daughters can go to picnics and parties and stroll and talk and listen to music and read books and take trips and do everything, but father and daughter and father and son will all die. And unless there is spiritual life in both father and children, then the prospect of life is so gloomy, so empty; and these transient elements of our days cannot begin to counter the balance for the deadness of spiritual emptiness in the lives of those who are our own.

You see, because when a sinner is brought back from his wanderings to God, then he or she is alive from the worst kind of death.

You see, your mind rushes forward, does it not, to Luke 15 and the words of another father in the story of Jesus: “This my son was dead, and [he’s] alive again; he was lost, [now he’s] found.”[7] And the stunned experience of Jacob in the anticipation of the reunion with his son—because whom he regarded as dead is now alive—is nothing to be compared with the joy and the reality and the immensity of a father being able to rejoice in the spiritual life of his children. You see, because when a sinner is brought back from his wanderings to God, then he or she is alive from the worst kind of death.

The great need for aliveness is to be made alive spiritually so that when we die physically we may then live eternally.

Last night on the Discovery Channel there was a thing on cryonics, or whatever you call that—about freezing people and hoping that you can get them back out of their frozen state when you discover the answer to life and so on. And it was a matter of some discussion between myself and my daughters. And I was explaining to them, “This is an irrelevancy, you understand. No one has spoken one word about a soul. No one has acknowledged the fact that God has placed within the framework of man this great issue.” And these poor, wretched people hoping that they might live forever, never giving a thought to the fact that the great death with which to deal is spiritual death, and that men and women live dead in their trespasses and in their sins. And that spiritual death combined with physical death equals eternal death, which the Bible calls hell. And therefore, the great need for aliveness is to be made alive spiritually so that when we die physically we may then live eternally.

“I’m convinced! My son … is alive.” That is the great longing of every Christian father’s heart. There’s not a business deal can compensate for that. There’s not a vacation. There’s not nothing can compensate for that. That’s a double negative; that is horrible English. May, then, passion be allowed to compensate for being inarticulate. I’m not talking in the wind, loved ones.

Jacob Was Strengthened

Now, let’s move the trolleys, the wheels, the apparatus, and go on to Scene Two. Chapter 46, we stop at a place called Beersheba. I’m sure if we could hear them say it, they would say it a little better than this; I’m sure the anglicized version of it just doesn’t come out right. Anyway, it was a significant place. It was a significant place in Jacob’s family. If you go back to chapter 21 at your leisure, you’ll find that Abraham had “planted a tamarisk tree” there, and he’d “called [on] the name of the Lord”[8]—that was his grandfather. His father, Isaac, had also had his servants dig a well there, he’d “pitched his tent” there,” he’d “built an altar” there, and he’d “called on the name of the Lord.”[9] And so, on his journey Jacob stops purposefully at this point. This is a place of stopping. And they stop deliberately and purposefully, and in stopping here, notice two things.

One, the attitude that he revealed—the attitude that he revealed. In offering sacrifices to God, he revealed the fact that he knew himself to be a sinner in need of pardon. Every time the patriarchs offer these sacrifices, they are acknowledging their sense of the demerit of their offenses, and they are acknowledging their hope of forgiveness through this better sacrifice which would one day come, which of course we know to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”[10] And so he stopped, and as he looked back down through the corridor of time, there was certainly much for which he needed to be forgiven. And he offers sacrifice to God as an expression and a pledge of his obedience. His attitude is that of a sinner in need of pardon; his attitude is that of a worshipper before the only true God.

“Why are you doing this?” the others must have asked. “Why are we stopping here? Don’t you think we should hasten on? Aren’t you excited to see your boy Joseph?” Goodness gracious, of course he was. Why did he stop? Because he was a worshipper, and worshippers worship. They don’t worship because the bell rings. They don’t worship because the trumpet sounds. They don’t worship because someone stands up in the prayer tower and says, “Now it’s time to turn east.” The kind of worshippers the Father seeks are those who worship “in spirit and in truth.”[11] And Jacob worshipped.

His attitude was that of a sinner in need of pardon, a worshipper before the only true God, and a pilgrim in need of guidance—a pilgrim in need of guidance. What is all this business here, where God comes and speaks to him to assure him? Well, you need to read back in the story—and again, at your leisure—but in Genesis 26, Isaac had had God appear to him in a vision, and God said, “Do not go down to Egypt; and live in the land that I give you.”[12] And so Jacob in the awareness of that was concerned lest his desire to be reunited with his boy should put him in a place of disobedience. Interesting concern, is it not? In other words, that his passion and his compassion in relationship to the concerns of family affection were to be, in the life of Jacob, subservient to the clear mandate of God.

Now, unless that’s too much of a mouthful, let me pause and unpack it for you for just a moment. This is what Jacob is affirming here: that no matter how excited he was about seeing Joseph, no matter how much that meant to him in terms of his earthly pilgrimage, a good conscience towards God was ultimately more important to Jacob than ever seeing his son again. In other words, you see, he allowed eternity so to fill his mind that time took its place where it should, rather than that he allowed time so to fill his perspective that eternity had to fight for a place.

How does this come out in our time? It comes out in this way, at least: that when the call of God comes to us and says, “Now listen, we want you to take all that you have; we want to take your bachelor’s degree at Case Western Reserve University, and your master’s degree from Chicago, and your master’s degree in theology from Columbia; we want to take all your musical ability, and all of your talent, and all of your expertise as a couple; and we want you to go and bury yourself in Macedonia for the sake of the gospel.” “Well, what about my mom and dad? What about my brothers and my sisters? What about this, and what about that, and what about the next thing?” Here’s the issue: the issue of obedience to God takes precedence over the matters of family affection.

Obedience to God does not set family affection in opposition to his obedience; it simply puts it in its place.

Now, obedience to God does not set family affection in opposition to his obedience; it simply puts it in its place. And I believe in these days that God is speaking to people in our congregation—young individuals, people in their middle years—saying, “You know what, you’ve done pretty well. You’re set. Now I want you to get up from your settled position. You’re financially secure, you’re looking at the rest of your life. What are you planning on doing—just kind of sitting around? Are you prepared to give up your small ambitions? And are you prepared to go for God, wherever he says, whenever he tells you, to do whatever he wants in the cause of the gospel in the light of eternity?” And the response comes, “Well, you know, I got a lot of things here: I got my family, I’ve got this, I’ve got that, I’ve got…” God understands all of that; he doesn’t ask us to go in obedience to him somehow to denigrate that, but in order to put it in its place. And Jacob reveals that.

How we need to learn from his attitude that we might be pilgrims in need of guidance, worshippers before the only true God, and sinners in need of pardon. And then we can rejoice as did Jacob, not only in the attitude that he revealed, but in the assurance that he received—in the assurance that he received. “I am God, the God of your father,”[13] he said. Why does he say, “the God of your father?” He said, “Because I was true to your father all the days he lived his life. You know that, don’t you?” And Jacob would have looked back and said, “Yes, I know that.” And he could have added to that his grandfather—and he saw his grandfather through. And he said, “Well, I am the God of your father. Don’t be afraid to go down to Egypt. In fact, I’m going to make you into a great nation there.”[14]

“A great nation there”? I mean, get serious: there’s only sixty-six of them. When you roll in a few extras, we get it up to seventy—seventy in a bunch of borrowed carts, used clothes, few donkeys, and bits and pieces. And God says, “Hey, Jacob: I’m going to take you down into Egypt and I’m going to make you a great nation.” What was the nation about which he was speaking? What was the ultimate fulfillment of the promise to Jacob? It’s Revelation: “A great company that no man could number, from every tribe and background and language and tongue.”[15] This was the promise that he was affirming. It was the promise that he had made to Abram, and through Abram’s seed to Isaac, and through Isaac to Jacob, and Jacob to Joseph, and the sons of Joseph, and all the way through to the fulfillment in the person of the Messiah Jesus himself. Jacob could never have grasped all of this. But he had God’s word to go on: “I’m gonna make you, I’m gonna take you, I’m gonna be with you.”

Unless he picks us up, speaks into our lives, assures us with his presence, then we better stay where we are. But when he does, then we may go boldly.

“Well,” you say, “I’d do that if God said that to me. If he flat out came in a vision to me, I’d do it.” Don’t be cheeky. That’s not true. God has said it. He said it in this Book. 2 Peter 1:19: “We have the word of the prophets made more certain.” There is nothing else he has to say; it is all in this Book. All we have to do is read the Book and obey the Book. “I will,” he says, “take you up and I will make you.”[16] You see, that’s the great wonder of God’s dealings with us. Who are we? What are we? What do we have to offer? Nothing. What do we have to say? Nothing. So, unless he picks us up, speaks into our lives, assures us with his presence, then we better stay where we are. But when he does, then we may go boldly.

Jacob Was Satisfied

Okay. Move the trolleys again, let’s go to the next scene. Genesis 46:28–30. Set up the angles, get that black and white board out, click it once: “Take one.” Actually, the long angle shot would’ve been of this great pilgrimage coming with all the carts and stuff. The kind of Beverly Hills trip. You know, this is The Beverly Hillbillies in the, you know, four thousand years before Christ—two thousand years, four thousand years, however‑many‑thousand years. The people looking at him saying, “What are you doing, Jake?” Said, “Guess what? I’m a millionaire!” “You are?” “Yeah, my boy,” he’d say, “I’m going to see my boy. He’s big time! Yeah, he’s the head of the whole thing. He wanted us to come down; that’s why we got these new cars with the steering wheel on the other side. That’s the thing. I mean, why do you think Benjamin’s walking around the way he’s walking around? All these clothes; he changes clothes every twenty-five minutes! He’s got—unbelievable! Buying everybody stuff. This guy, he’s fantastic! We’re going to see Joseph!” And so the Beverly Hillbillies go rolling on their way towards their own little version, in Egypt, of Beverly Hills.

And so the carts inexorably rumble on into Egypt. And with every turn of the wheels the anticipation mounts, in the same way when you make these transpacific or transatlantic flights to be back in the company of those from whom you’ve been separated by time, or whatever it is— children who have gone far away, people who are in the forces, whatever it is—you know that feeling on the plane when you suddenly get across the point of no return, and you know it’s all down from here, and you check your watch, and you add five and take away five, and you begin to think and anticipate, “Well, what will I say when I get off?” and you go to the bathroom for the fourteenth time and comb your hair, then you come back and mash it all up against the window, and then you go again, and you think of, “Well, what’ll I … ? And how will it be?” and all the time, and then through the customs, and…

And that’s exactly what was going on in Jacob’s mind. “How do you know?” you say. ’Cause he was a dad. You like to see your kids? You love seeing your kids! I just watch the people in my office, listen to them talk: “Gotta go, so‑and‑so’s on the phone! ‘Scuse me just a minute.” Why? Anticipation. And all of that is bundled up in this. And then all of a sudden, in an instant here—and you bring the camera in real close, you’re tracking him—and all of a sudden Joseph appears in the horizon. Last time he saw him, he walks off into the distance, a seventeen‑year-old boy, gone, gone, gone, gone, gone. Now he looks into the distance, and this speck with the dust behind the wheels gets larger and larger and larger, and he sees it; it’s not a cart, it’s a chariot. And he sees the accompanying entourage, and he looks and he looks and he looks, and all of a sudden, the eyes meet, the arms reach, and they’re embraced in a cosmic hug, caught up in one another’s arms.

Now interestingly, Jacob’s been doing a lot of hugging in the book of Genesis. In fact, I went to check, because I was so struck by this hug; I said, “This has got to be one of the great hugs of the Bible.” As you know, of course, I’m really into hugs. And I determined that I would look. And you can go and study this yourself—it’d make a sermon somewhere. But in Genesis 29, Laban gives him a big hug after Jacob has been kissing Rachel; and not every guy—not every, you know, dad—hugs the guy who’s been kissing his daughter. But anyway, he gets a major hug in 29. In 33, he gets a super hug from Esau—33:4. In 48, he’s doing some major hugging later on with his grandchildren, and in 50, he dies in the embrace of his son Joseph.

But all of those, cumulatively, do not even come close to this here. I don’t think there is any question that this is the crowning moment of the earthly pilgrimage of Jacob. Because over twenty years of life are squeezed into this hug. In this hug—in this happy, most unexpected surprise—past sorrows are forgotten, evil deeds are forgiven, and he is able to express, “How satisfied I am.” “Now,” he says, “I am ready to die.”[17] In other words, there’s nothing to top this; there’s nowhere else to go, there’s no trip to take, there’s nothing to do. This is the absolute best.

Does your mind flash forward to a similar scene? Isn’t this like the nunc dimittis, for those of you who come out of an Episcopalian background? Luke chapter 2: Simeon in the temple. He takes in his arms the child and he says, “Now let your servant depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”[18] And Jacob looks into the eyes of Joseph, and he feels essentially the same way, and in realistic terms, the boy whom he takes in his embrace is in the lineage of that which would make possible the statement of Simeon in the temple in Luke chapter 2. So he is satisfied, first, in the puzzle of his life.

Are you satisfied—am I satisfied—in the puzzle of our lives? In all the changing scenes of life—our disappointments, our failures, our wanderings, our rebellions, our awareness of God’s providence, the death which has come into our lives, the things that we have got no explanation for at all—can we look at all of that and say, “I am satisfied in face of those puzzles; indeed, I’m ready to weep for the way in which I formerly shed tears in rebellion against your providence, because I recognize now, Father, that you were preparing me for this day so that I might be satisfied in the puzzle of my life, and also that I might be satisfied in the prospect of my death. Now I am ready to die”? This is the only ultimate satisfaction in life.

Can I just ask you this morning: Do you know this kind of satisfaction? This is not a satisfaction that materialism brings. This is not a satisfaction that is ushered in by earthly success, by fame, prominence, by having achieved certain things. This is a satisfaction which is grounded in something far deeper. This is the satisfaction towards which the psalmist looks when in Psalm 17:15 he says, “In righteousness I shall see your face, I will be satisfied when I awake with your likeness.”[19] John, in 1 John 3:2, says, “And when we see him, we will be like him, because we will see him as he is.”[20]

Why do we live in such a dissatisfied world this morning when we have so much to enjoy—so much of freedom, so many opportunities to go, and to come, to earn, to relax? Never has there been an opportunity quite like this, probably, in the history at least of this nation, no matter how glowingly painted in the past. And yet are men and women satisfied? No, they are not satisfied: “I can’t get no satisfaction, but I tried, and I tried, and I tried, and I tried.”[21] And Jagger in the nineties is no more satisfied than he was in the sixties, ’cause he’s still down the same dead-end streets looking for the answer, “Lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.”[22] Looking for peace in all the wrong spots. Hoping that if I can just get that car, buy that house, secure that job, start that business, marry that girl, fix that retirement, make that stock come up to the point that I’d hoped for, then that’ll be it, I’ll have it there. It’s not gonna happen.

It doesn’t matter what level you’re moving at. I was with someone on the West Coast recently. They took me for lunch in their executive jet, a Hawker 700, which was news to me—two engines in the back, and leather and walnut, and really nice. And off we went to lunch, out over the Pacific Ocean. And when we landed at a small airfield and the captain and the copilot opened the doors to allow us to disembark, we came down the steps full into the face of a Gulfstream IV—which those of you who know executive aircraft will know, it doesn’t get any better than a Gulfstream IV. And the gentleman with whom I was flying stepped alongside me, and looked at that and said, “I’m going to upgrade to one of these.” And then what? “Well, there’ll be a new model, I suppose, and then another.” Are you satisfied?

I was playing golf with some guys up the road here in Chagrin a few years ago, three stockbrokers and me. Why they were all stockbrokers I don’t know; it had nothing to do with anything I was talking about. But in the course of lunch, I asked the gentleman who was my neighbor if he knew many of his clients who were contented. You would have thought I asked some very difficult mathematical question, you know, of a group of high school students, because the silence was deafening. “Yes,” I said, “do you have many clients who are contented?” And each of them sat for a long time, looked at one another, and everyone answered the same: “No, I do not know a single contented client.” Are you satisfied in the puzzle of life, in the prospect of death? Jesus died to deal with that sense of disenfranchisement.

Jacob Was Settled

Finally, he was settled—settled in the dying moments. Chapter 47. Consider his prime site. Those of you who have been taking notes, if you’ve tracked with me, it went like this: Stunned—he was confused by what he heard, he was convinced by what he saw. Strengthened—the attitude he revealed, the assurance he received. Satisfied—in the puzzle of his life, in the prospect of his death. And finally, settled. Two things: consider his prime site, and consider his pilgrim status.

We’re told in verse 11 and 12 of chapter 47 that Joseph settled his [father] in the best part the land. Without the word from Pharaoh, the Egyptians might have been aggravated and jealous, they may have protested. So Joseph exercises great wisdom. He’s convinced that Pharaoh will respond as he does; that’s why he gives to his brothers and his father the outline of how to approach things. And you have this wonderful picture, now, of them coming out of all of the famine, and coming on their journey, and finally reaching the place, being met by this boy in the chariot—this man in the chariot—and then he says, “Now, I’ve got a nice place for you to live. I want you to live here. It’s a super place. In fact, it’s the best place.”

Now, there’s a kind of perversity which would say that Joseph shouldn’t have put his dad in the best place—because, you know, you just don’t do that. Baloney. You do that. For your dad, you do that! “God gives us all things richly to enjoy.”[23] “Dad, I’ve got a really great place for you! For twenty-two years…” And this is how I feel in the absence from my own father for thirteen years. For the last thirteen years, I’m unable to buy him a lunch, buy him a breakfast, buy him hardly anything, because we are separated by all that time. So anytime I’m in his presence: “Whatever! Let’s do it. I mean, let’s have fun! Let’s do it! ’Cause we got thirteen years here that we haven’t been able to do these things, so let the good times roll!” And so Joseph says, “Hey Dad, for twenty-two years I couldn’t even buy you an ice cream cone; don’t say this.” And you can imagine Jacob saying, “Oh, I don’t need this stuff.” He said, “I know you don’t need it, but it’s going to be great. Let me show you where you’re going to be. Look at this, look at the view, look at the house, look at the place. Isn’t this nice? You’re my dad! I can’t tell you how wonderful this is!”

Care that we take of our parents in their old age is an expression of the transforming power of God in our lives.

Thank God for every wonderful example of those children who care for their parents. And may God forgive those of us who are stingy with our parents, who make them live in a little hovel somewhere down in Florida. We think ’cause the sun shines all the time that that’s fine. Get them a nice place. Think of all of their sacrifices for us. Now, wouldn’t it be the greatest joy of life to sacrifice for them? Do you call when you say you’ll call? Do you write when you say you’ll write? Do you give? Do you give generously? Do you give out of your abundance, or do you give abundantly? This is an expression of godliness. The care that we take of our parents in their old age is an expression of the transforming power of God in our lives, and Joseph was delighted to put his dad in a prime site.

And his dad responded to it by acknowledging his pilgrim status. He says to Pharaoh, “The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. I’m a pilgrim. I’m a pilgrim. This is a nice place my boy has me; I like it here, but I’m not staying here.”[24] You see, the way in which you and I respond to our prime sites gives indication of the extent to which we understand our pilgrim status. The way in which we drive our cars, pay our mortgages, take our vacations, it all gives an indication of whether we are bound by earth or whether we are living in light of eternity. And although Jacob was not around to sing the song, he would have gladly sung the song,

This world is not my home,
I’m just a-passing through.

“It’s a nice place, Joseph—super! But,”

My treasures are laid up
Somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels are beckoning me
From heaven’s open door,
And, hey, I can’t be at home
In this world anymore.
 
O Lord, you know
I have no friend like you.
If heaven’s not my home,
Then Lord, what can I do?
The angels beckon me
From heaven’s open door,
And I can’t be at home
In this world anymore.[25]

 

Ultimately, see, loved ones, when we cut to the crux of that—it’s hard to do when we’re caught up in the materialistic generation in which we live, I’m the first to admit that; I live there with you—but sometimes in a moment of wonder, when we sing as we sang this morning, “I stand, I stand in awe of you,” when, in just a moment, the light of eternity breaks into the experience of time—“Holy God, to you all praise is due, and I stand in awe of you”[26]—suddenly in those moments all of the perspective of time is broken into by the inrush of heaven. And they are precious moments. Gather them, grab them, put them in a bottle, hold them, remember them, because it will not always be that way. When you’re walking in the street and in your neighborhood, and suddenly it’s as though the divine power picks you up from underneath and lifts you up and says, “You are my own, and I love you,” that is a great moment, because it shows to us a little glimpse of where we’re going, you see. We’re not sticking around here, no, no. No, no.

You see, why is everybody so concerned to heal everybody now? Because we’ve given up on heaven. Why’s everybody trying to get it all politically fixed up now? ’Cause we’ve given up on heaven. Why’s everybody trying to make America the perfect place to live? ’Cause we’ve determined this is the only place we’re going to live. But we’re not going to live here, we’re going to live there. We’re going to live there forever.

When we were kids, we used to go camping. And they took us on these “treks,” they called them, into the hills. No toilets, no nothing. It was absolutely pathetic. “Dreadful” is not a good enough word to describe how I felt on those lousy journeys. And the guy would tell us, “You know, when you get to the top of this, it’s going to be brilliant, you know.” And I was, you know, one of the more positive of the group, saying, “Yeah, and it stinking better be, you know, because this is horrible!” And so he would come back and beat me around the ears. And he taught us these little songs we used to sing. In fact, I wrote about one of them in the chapter of the book, and it went like this:

A few more marchings weary,
Then we’ll gather home!
A few more storm clouds dreary,
Then we’ll gather home!
 
O’er time’s rapid river,
Soon we’ll rest forever;
A few more marchings weary,
[And] then we’ll gather home.[27]
 
It will be worth it all
When we see Jesus.
Life’s trials will seem so small
When we see Christ.
One look at his dear face
All sorrow will erase,
So bravely run the race
Till we see Christ.[28]

What you have in these four scenes is the progress of a pilgrim. May we put our feet in the footprints that he’s left to us.

Father, for your Word, which shines as a light on our path and as a lamp to our wandering feet, we thank you. Apply your Word to each of our lives today to pick up the fallen, to redirect the wandering, to encourage the brokenhearted, and to rebuke the sinful. We want, Lord, in righteousness to see your face. We want to be satisfied when we awake with your likeness.

And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each of us, today and forevermore.[29] Amen.


[1] John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “In My Life” (1965) (paraphrased).

[2] Genesis 45:26 (NIV 1984).

[3] Genesis 45:26 (paraphrased).

[4] Genesis 45:26 (paraphrased).

[5] Genesis 45:27 (NIV 1984).

[6] Genesis 45:28 (NIV 1984).

[7] Luke 15:24 (KJV).

[8] Genesis 21:33 (NIV 1984).

[9] Genesis 26:25 (NIV 1984).

[10] John 1:29 (NIV 1984).

[11] John 4:23 (NIV 1984).

[12] Genesis 26:2 (paraphrased).

[13] Genesis 46:3 (NIV 1984).

[14] Genesis 46:3 (paraphrased).

[15] Revelation 7:9 (paraphrased).

[16] Genesis 46:3 (paraphrased).

[17] Genesis 46:30 (NIV 1984).

[18] Luke 2:29–30 (paraphrased).

[19] Psalm 17:15 (paraphrased).

[20] 1 John 3:2 (paraphrased).

[21] Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (1965) (paraphrased).

[22] Wanda Mallette, Bob Morrison, and Patti Ryan, “Lookin’ for Love” (1980).

[23] 1 Timothy 6:17 (paraphrased).

[24] Genesis 47:9 (paraphrased).

[25] Albert E. Brumley, “This World Is Not My Home” (1934) (paraphrased).

[26] Mark Altrogge, “I Stand in Awe” (1986) (paraphrased).

[27] Fanny J. Crosby, “A Few More Marchings Weary” (1904).

[28] Esther Kerr Rusthoi, “It Will Be Worth It All” (1940) (paraphrased).

[29] 2 Corinthians 13:14 (paraphrased).

Thankfulness: A Mark of Grace
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