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Famous Last Words

From Series: The Hand of God, Volume 2

Even as he was dying, Joseph lived by faith: he encouraged his descendants with the Lord’s covenant promises, reminding them that Egypt was not their home and that God would come to their aid. Likewise, Alistair Begg reminds us that this world is not our permanent residence. Knowing how God has provided for His people in the past and trusting in His promises for the future, we can face even our deaths with confidence.


Sermon Transcript:

Can I invite you to take your Bibles and turn with me now to Genesis 50:22 and to follow along as I read?

“Joseph stayed in Egypt, along with all his father’s family. He lived a hundred and ten years and saw the third generation of Ephraim’s children. Also the children of Makir son of Manasseh were placed at birth on Joseph’s knees. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath and said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.’ So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.”

Father, we pray that, in the studying of your Word now, you will make the Book live to us. That you will show us ourselves, that you will show us our Savior, and that you will make the alive Word reverberate at the very core of our lives so that we might be the people you intended for us to be. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, the young man of 17 to whom we were introduced in Genesis 37:2 is now 110. He has lived long enough to see his great‑great‑grandchildren. Indeed, he lived so long that, in the Egyptian mind, he was a man uniquely blessed. There are significant writings in Egyptian history that pinpoint this very age and beyond as being a distinction of the signal blessing of God; and God, in his providence recognizing this, marks Joseph out here at the very end of his life, as in his middle years, and as in the beginning. With his great‑great‑grandchildren able to meet him and respond to him and then to pass the word on to their children and to their children’s children, you have a period of about 100 years following the death of Joseph where there were still people who could speak with clarity concerning the amazing story of this man’s life—the story that we’ve been considering for some months now and which comes to an end for us, at least, today. As subsequent generations inquired about his coffin in Egypt—and that phrase, “a coffin in Egypt,” is there as the final statement in Genesis … It’s interesting that Genesis begins “In the beginning God,” and that’s the first phrase, and the last phrase is “a coffin in Egypt.” It’s a reminder to us that Genesis begins and then ends as the beginning of the end. It’s not the end of the story, “a coffin in Egypt”; it is simply to point forward. And that coffin was going to point subsequent generations forward, allowing them to recognize that the reason the coffin was being kept was not on account of some morbid interest in bones, but it was being kept in order that it may stand as a vital symbol to the provision of God in the past and to the prospect of a glorious deliverance in the future.

And so, in considering these final verses here, what I’d like to do is draw your attention around three points by way of exposition and then three subsequent points by way of application—although if I do as in the first service, we will only deal with the three points of exposition, which will then demand that we come this evening and conclude with the application—but we’ll see how we go.

Joseph Standing the Test of Time

The exposition then—which it simply means the unfolding of the text that is before us, the stating of that which is there, rather than the insertion of things which aren’t there. Everyone in following the text ought to be able to say, “Yes, I understand that; it comes from the Bible. I realize why it is being emphasized.” First point by way of exposition is that we see here in this record Joseph standing the test of time—Joseph standing the test of time. Now this becomes apparent when we recognize that, in this opening phrase of verse 22, “Joseph stayed in Egypt,” it covers some fifty or sixty years of Joseph’s life.

This is not immediately apparent to us until we work the mathematics out, and we can say with some clarity certain things. For example, we can note that ninety-three years have passed since Joseph was taken out of the pit and sold to the Ishmaelite traders. That’s a long time—that’s a wheen of years. Ninety-three years have gone by since the day that his brothers finally capitulated to the circumstances and said, “Fine. Let’s sell him rather than kill him, and at least we’ll be done with him,”[1] and on that day, they had gathered up his coat, they had marred it with the blood of an animal, they had taken it back to his dad, and they had engaged in this dreadful hypocrisy and lying concerning what had happened to Joseph.[2] That was ninety-three years ago.

It’s eighty years since he had stood for the first time before Pharaoh. You remember how he had become well‑known on account of his wisdom and someone had said to Pharaoh in the face of his dreams which he found so disturbing in the night, “If you get this young guy Joseph, he’ll be able to take care of it for you,”[3] and there in Genesis 41:14, we have Joseph standing before Pharaoh for the first time and Pharaoh saying, “Now I hear that you’re able to do this,”[4] and the great reply of Joseph: “I cannot, but God who is in heaven can.”[5] And, if you recall, we said that is the posture always of usefulness in the affairs of God’s people: the acknowledgment that we cannot, but that God can, and that God chooses to do what we cannot as a result of his great grace. Eighty years have passed.

Fifty or sixty years have passed since the last verse of chapter 49, and the last verse of 49 records for us the death of his father, Jacob. So here in this little phrase, “Joseph stayed in Egypt, along with all his father’s family,”[6] we have compressed about sixty years of life. We actually have a lifetime—the silent years, if you like, compared to all of the drama that was represented in the saga of Joseph’s early days, all the things that the Scriptures pinpoint and highlight for us and cast illumination upon. Compared to all of that, these subsequent years, the second half of his life, if you like, while certainly not unworthy of consideration, are actually given no consideration in the Scriptures. We could say that probably they were fairly routine. We might even regard them as being humdrum, at times a wee bit boring. He must have looked back and said, “I don’t wish for those days again, but man, I remember when I was there, and I remember when that happened, and this, and … Basically, every day is just about the same. You know, we get up and we gosh around Goshen and we do some things and it’s okay, but it’s different.”

You see, it’s one thing to have a vibrant and an unwavering faith when we’re in the middle of the battle, when we’re struck by the challenges and the difficulties of life, when we’re in the formative years, if you care. When we’re in the establishing of things, whether it be within the realm of our physical existence or in the realm of business life or family life or whatever it is, and in the midst of all of that coming and going and all the demands upon us, we keep our noses to the grindstone, and we walk with Christ, and we follow hard after him, and we listen to his voice, and we keep on. It’s one thing to have a vibrant faith in the midst of that; it is quite another to live a life of steady obedience in the everyday routine of life. And, frankly, it is the everyday routine of life with which most of us are familiar.

Certainly, none of us can approximate to the life of Joseph. I don’t care how dramatic your life has been. I don’t care if you fell out of airplanes. You can’t come close to what Joseph was dealing with in these first fifty or sixty years. Unbelievable drama! And for most of us we get up and we do the same things over and over again, and it’s all a long slide into the retirement years. And just when you’re happily watching a golf tournament on television, you have to be subjected to Smith Barney and their friends and all these guys scaring you when you’re just trying to have a nice quiet afternoon, scaring you about your retirement and telling you, “You know, you haven’t compounded the interest enough. You’re in deep trouble. If you’re forty-five and you’ve missed the window, do you realize this? Do you realize that?” The sweat is breaking out on your forehead, and all you’re trying to do is live your middle years and watch golf. I’m not talking about being unprepared and foolish.

Let me just stop for a moment on these retirement years ’cause they’re getting a little close for some of us; some of us are in them. Are we going to buy this mythology that what you do in your life is kill yourself for as long as you can, to line the nest in which you plan to hibernate, so that the whole of life is just a preparation for hibernation? And you begin, early on, to think about what the nest will be like, where the nest will be, who’ll be in the nest with me, but it is all focused towards finally having made it to the point where we will be able to take the benefits of all this hard work and these resources, and we’ll be able, essentially, to chill out or burn out—you know, in terms of depending on which part of the country we’re planning on doing it in—and people who have done that, are doing that, and are planning to do that, run the risk—and mark my words carefully—run the risk of living with totally earthbound horizons. Run the risk of expressing only earthly preoccupations, run the risk of ending the life of faith in the routine, humdrum retirement years with a sorry loss of the vibrancy which may well have marked the early part of the 10,000 meters. And I want just to pause for a moment and say, to myself and to you, what are you planning to do between the years of 60 and 110? I mean, are we simply going to hibernate? Or are we going to stay the test of time?

Peter Cotterell, who was director of missions at LBC (London Bible College), came to that task having spent about a quarter of a century as a missionary in Ethiopia. He then went on to serve as the principal of the institution. He was a man of academic standing in the secular word, not simply in the world of Christendom—a highly intelligent man. In concluding his responsibilities as a principal of the theological institution, and in receiving the honorary doctorates which were conferred upon him to mark the occasion, he took the opportunity to let the people know what he was planning on doing next—and he and his wife were heading back to Ethiopia to spend the remainder of their days working with the African church to ground them in the truth of the gospel, to enable them in the challenge of evangelism. But he certainly wasn’t going to hibernate.

People often speak about the church as if the great resource of the church is in its youth. The future of the church, is admittedly, in its youth, but its resource is not in its youth. Youth are untried. Youth have no experience. Youth have no resources, bar the resource of their exuberance. The real resource of this church, as in any church, begins around the age of 50, 55. And just at the point where people have put themselves in a position—financially, emotionally, familially—to become an incredible amount of use, they start to talk hibernation. You can’t find them. You can’t count on them. And so I want to just give a word of warning and encouragement to all who are beginning to think in that way. I want to ask you: What are you planning to do between the age of 60 and 110? Are you just gonna sit on the resource? Or are you gonna use it? The gifts of administration that have made you strategic in your sphere of influence—are you planning simply to wait on the clock, the Rolex watch, and then chill out in Florida? Or, how about bailing out now and utilizing your resource with some of the great Christian organizations that are represented both in the Eastern Block and in the Western Block and give the rest, the last 50 years of your life, to service for Jesus Christ? Doctors, nurses, school teachers, biologists, carpenters, engineers—investing yourselves for the kingdom. I don’t want to set for you a standard higher than that which I live by, or want to live by, because I can only speak to you in recognizing that the Scriptures speak to me, and I’ve been asking myself this question: What do I really want to do? And what would I do if I had the opportunity to do it, and if I was completely free? How many games of golf would I want to play? The answer is a lot, as many as possible, in as nice a climate as possible. Now that’s the want question; then there is the ought question. What ought I to do? It’s the same question that confronts us in every consideration along the journey of life, but peculiarly so when we think in terms of the opportunity that resource and a life well spent brings to us.

And here we see, in this little phrase, Joseph stays the test of time. His horizons are way beyond Egypt. His horizons are not focused on himself, they don’t begin and end with him, his little world isn’t bordered on the north and the south and the east and the west by Joseph. He’s looking way ahead. His responsibility, as he sees it, is to ensure that those who are his children and his children’s children’s children do not settle down in Egypt, that they don’t become comfortable in Egypt, but instead that they remain unsettled enough so that one day they might be truly settled in the land of promise. You see, if you try and think in contemporary terms of what had happened here, you’ve got a refugee people who, in much the same way that as we’ve seen in the scenes of Rwanda, have been moving, migrating across vast tracks of the country. They didn’t sort of relocate in Egypt; they went to Egypt because they knew if they didn’t go to Egypt, they were dead, and they went there for food. And having taken themselves into Egypt, in the experience of famine, they have worked through these days. But now the famine is history, now the famine is past, the famine is forgotten, and the refugees have grown accustomed to life in Egypt. They’ve grown accustomed to living in this nice section of Goshen. They have begun to multiply. They have begun to enjoy the benefits of this refugee existence, and in contemporary terms, it’s often like people, for example, from Vietnam. I remember meeting somebody in Toronto when I was waiting in line to go up the CN Tower, is it? And in the course of conversation, when you wind your way through those roped off sections, I engaged this family in conversation, and the gentleman, it turned out, was from Vietnam. And I said, “Are you enjoying your visit here?” And he said, “Oh no, I’m not visiting here. I live here.” I said, “Well, how long have you lived here?” “Well,” he said, “I’ve lived here since I was four.” “And what do you do.” “Well,” he said, “I came with nothing, and when I say nothing, I mean nothing.” “And what do you do now?” “Well, I have Dairy Marts,” I think it was, or “Convenient Marts,” he said to me. And it wasn’t in the singular; it was in the plural—“Marts.” And it turned out to me that he had a significant little stash of Convenient Marts, and he’d done very well, and I asked him, “Do you miss Vietnam?” He said, “Oh no, America very nice. America so kind to me; America very nice.” How about your kids? “Oh, they don’t know anything about Vietnam.” Your grandchildren? “They don’t know Vietnam. It’s America now. We live in America. Very kind in America.”

Joseph’s responsibility, in staying the course of time, was to ensure that the root structure only went down so far.

Now that’s exactly, you see, what they were facing. “Hey, what about Canaan?” “What?” “What about the land of promise?” “Excuse me? No, we live in Egypt. I went to school in Egypt, met my girlfriend in Egypt, got married in Egypt, had my kids in Egypt. What are you on about?” And you see, Joseph’s responsibility, in staying the course of time, was to ensure that the root structure only went down so far. It mustn’t go so deep that when the trumpet blew, as it were, when the wagons began to roll, and when the opportunity came for them to head for the place of God’s appointing, the people would be up and ready for the task.

Now there were two factors which worked to this end. One was the fact that the Egyptians themselves did not like fraternizing with these people from Canaan, and we saw that back in chapter 46, when Joseph says to his brothers, “Now let me tell you what to say when Pharaoh asks you what your occupation is.”[7] You see the skill and wisdom of Joseph here; he’s crafty. “What is your occupation?” Pharaoh says. “Let me tell you how you answer that. Tell him this: ‘Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did,’ then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians.”[8] In other words, “Don’t tell him anything except the truth. Just you tell him that you were shepherds— they don’t like you, they don’t like shepherds, and they’ll be glad to put you over in this corner here, and it’s a really nice corner.”[9] So that worked in their favor, and then there was the constant reminder of Joseph himself.

And clearly, the last words of Joseph would be expressive of the kind of theme song of his life. In verse 24: “God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land …”[10] In verse 25: “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must [take] my bones up [out of this land.]”[11] Did you have a relationship with your grandpa when you were a kid? One of mine was gone before I was born, so I only had one, but he and I were real close. He would take me places when my father wouldn’t allow me to go places. He was a great grandpa, and we would do all sorts of magical things. Indeed, I was recalling just this week the unbelievable simplicity of my life as a kid—that my life was so ordinary that a good day for me was my grandfather taking me on the bus, public transportation, to the terminus. Didn’t matter where the terminus was. We would choose names that were appealing to us like, “Auchenshuggle,” and he would say, “Do you know where ‘Auchenshuggle’ is?” and I’d say, “No. Is it really a place?” He’d say, “Let’s find out.” We’d get on the bus; we’d go to Auchenshuggle. We would eat toffees on the way there and toffees on the way back, and that was it. And every so often, we would do dramatic things like get off the bus and go into what we thought was a really tall building—you know, like ten stories, at that time, which was the biggest around—and we would go in and we would ride the elevator up to the tenth floor and then we would look out over the balcony and then we would get back on the elevator, we’d ride it back down to the bottom again, and then we’d get back on the bus. That was a big day for me. But you see, I didn’t care, really, where we went or what we did—this is a hard thing for us to learn in this high‑tech computer age, grandpas, dads—I didn’t care where we went or what we did, I just cared that I was with him. And in those journeys, he taught me about life, and he taught me about God, and he said things over and over and over and over again. I don’t think he did it deliberately; he never had a Daytimer—I’m sure he didn’t put it up—but you, can all do the same. You can reiterate things.

And it would be no different for these grandchildren. “Where you over at Grandpa’s house?” “Yes.” “Where were you?” “I went over to see Grandpa Joseph.” “What was he saying?” “Same thing he always says.” “Was he singing his songs?” “Oh, he was singing his songs.” “What songs was he singing?” “Same songs he always sings.” “Was he doing his favorite?” “He was doing his favorite.” “Can you sing it?” “Yes, I can.” “How does it go?” “We’re on our way to Canaan, we shall not be moved. On our way to Canaan, we shall not be moved …”[12] And so, when the passing of Grandpa goes, and the grandchild goes down the road, he remembers. He says, “You know, I remember standing there with my grandfather.” He says, ‘You know what, Son? We’re going to go to Canaan one day. Don’t you like this place too much ’cause we’re leaving. Don’t you get yourself too embroiled in this ’cause we’re going somewhere else.’”

It’s interesting—when the writer of Hebrews records, out of all the things that might have been recorded concerning Joseph’s life, in the great testimony of his experience, this is what it says in Hebrews 11:22: “By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.” Doesn’t it strike you as interesting at all? I mean, when you think of all that we’ve discovered in this saga of Joseph—in the pit, out of the pit, Pharaoh, Potiphar’s wife, the cupbearer, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, all that stuff—and here the guy says, “And Joseph by faith, when his end was near spoke about the exodus of the Israelites and gave news concerning his bones.” Why? Because it was so phenomenally significant.

You see, Joseph bore an Egyptian title, Joseph married an Egyptian wife, Joseph enjoyed an Egyptian lifestyle, and yet he never bought the whole package. Hebrews 11:13 is a classic illustration. “All these people—” in fact, turn to this and read it, will you? Hebrews 11:13:

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them … from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on [the] earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”[13]

And this marks out Joseph at the end of his days. He has stayed the test of time. He’s living in an ancient civilization—the most advanced civilization. He’s living under the shadow of the pyramids. He is dwarfed by the sphinxes. He is part and parcel of the whole political, social, economic structure of the place, and yet when he gets with his kids and with his grandchildren and when they get into their huddle, they don’t do despite to the culture, they don’t condemn it, they simply remind one another: “This is not it, you know.” “Our security does not lie in my job,” he tells his kids. “Security does not lie in the resources that I’ve been able to put away. Our hope for the future is not tied to what will happen to the economic prosperity of Egypt. We don’t have to worry about that. God has helped us in the past. All of our hope and all of our focus is on somewhere else. We’re going to Canaan; we’re going to the land of promise.” He would have said it again and again and again, and then just to reinforce it, he says, “And by the way, when I die you make sure that you carry my bones up from here.”[14]

Is this not one of the great challenges of trying to stay the course in Christian living today? It certainly is for me. Paul writes to the Romans—after he has given the doctrinal indicatives and he comes to the ethical or moral imperatives—and he says in Romans 12, in light of the gospel that he has laid down,

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.[15]

In other words, as Phillips paraphrases it, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its mold.” Just because everybody else says that’s what you’re supposed to do—that’s how you live, that’s how you retire, this is the next thing on the journey—just because everybody says that, doesn’t mean that the believer has to buy it. You see, the great challenge is, as it was for Joseph, to have an Egyptian title, to marry an Egyptian wife, to live in the Egyptian culture; to have an American title, to marry an American wife, and to live in the American culture, and yet at the same time to be saying to our children and our grandchildren, “This is not it.” See, some of us can’t say “This is not it” because everything that we’re doing with our time, our talents, and our money says to our kids, “This is it! This is all there is! That’s why I’m working seventy-five hours a week. That’s why I don’t come home. That’s why I can only take two days of vacation. That’s why I’m sorry that I was not at your game. That’s why I won’t be at the grandchildren’s concert. Because this is it.” (That’s one of the grandchildren that was sad that you didn’t come to the concert.) Colossians 3: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, [seek these things which are] above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”[16] Don’t get embroiled in this. Don’t get stuck with the earthbound stuff. 1 Peter 2:11, he says, “You guys are aliens and you’re strangers. You’re living in a culture, but I urge you to abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul. Live, instead, as aliens and strangers.”[17]

Now, I’ve said this to you a hundred times—but it is the truth, is it not?—that it’s easy to become an extremist on these things. You know, buy yourself a toga, a pair of sandals, put flowers in your hair and go to San Francisco or wherever else you want to go, set up your own kind of compound, and condemn everybody else who still wears suits, still goes to business, still lives in the culture, you know. “We are the ones that have got it right. Come over and be an alien and a stranger with us” or “Let’s give out plastic noses as you’re going out this morning, and then everybody that wants to show that they’re an alien and a stranger, you know, you can wear a plastic nose.” And when someone says, “Hey what’s with the nose?” You can say, “Hey, I’m an alien and a stranger, that’s why I wear the nose.” Now there may be an advantage in that—I’m not suggesting it as a strategy—but the far harder thing is to drive the same jolly cars, wear the same kind of suits, shop in the same supermarkets, go to the same schools, engage in the same pursuits, and somehow or another live as an alien—and the future of the church in America is directly related to finding out how to do this. The future of our church is related to finding out how to do this. Because the contemporary world, in asking the question as it did on CNN, or MSCNN, Microsoft CNN this past week, spent a whole week asking the question, “Is God alive?” And it was fascinating. And they had people from here, there and everywhere, from hither and yon, answering the question, “Is God alive?” But there was never a thought, in the midst of it all, that the church of Jesus Christ would be able to answer that question and would be able to establish the factuality of it by their lifestyles. Because what are we? We’re a subgroup, we’re an economic environment, we’re a political caucus. We have allowed ourselves to become all of these things, ’cause we stepped up to the plate and did it. And Peter never did it.

He didn’t get involved in that in relationship to the Neronian persecutions. Paul did not get involved in that in relationship to the problems that confronted them morally and sexually in Corinth. He determined to know nothing among them save Jesus Christ and him crucified, and the people said, “You know if you did dramatic things, or if you spoke with eloquent words, you’d be far better off.” And Paul said, “I understand you feel that way, but I have determined to do, to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I’ve got one string to my bow. It is the cross of Jesus Christ. I’m going to proclaim it everywhere I go and every opportunity I get,”[18] and people said, “You know what? You are weird. You’re an alien. You are strange.” And Joseph was strange because he was a stranger, and strangers are always a wee bit strange. How strange are you? How strange am I prepared to become so that I might stay the course of time?

Joseph Facing the Final Curtain

Okay, we see him standing the test of time. I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time on that so that I could see whether you can stand the test of time, I guess. But let’s go to facing the final curtain—facing the final curtain. It’s one thing to stand the test of time; it’s another to be able to face the final curtain, as does Joseph. “Then Joseph said to his brothers,” verse 24, “I’m about to die.”[19] There’s a kind of realism about this, something striking about the matter-of-factness of it.

“Ol’ Blue Eyes” had his eighty-first birthday as he celebrated in Beverly Hills while they lit the top of the Empire State Building blue. Did you notice? It’s kind of nice. I call that an achievement. “It’s up to you, New York, New York—”[20] and leaving it up to them, they lit it blue because of the contribution that he has made to the world of drama, and particularly to the world of music. And he has become totally identified with the song which begins, “And now the end is near and so I face the final curtain—”[21] that proud, brave, arrogant, dismissive, defiant stance before the curtain of death—and indeed, gives no indication that he has made final preparation for the final curtain at all. Indeed, when he collapsed on stage two years ago singing the very song and they had to bring a wheelchair on, put him in the wheelchair, and wheel him off, I thought perhaps, in that moment, there would be some flash of insight—and maybe there was, how could I tell? Except that the song continues.

It’s one thing for our faith to stand the test of time, it’s quite another for it to be able to face the final curtain. You see, dying men and women will often be unwilling to believe that which is apparent to everybody else. But interestingly, in contrast, Joseph is in no terror. There’s no grasping at shadows, there’s no clutching at vain things. Instead, his words are brief, they’re to the point, and they’re not in the least self-focused: “I am about to die. But God will … come to your aid”—“your aid.” [22] “I’m dying, you’re living: ‘your aid.’” So this tells me something about Joseph. It tells me something about [the] way people die and the way you and I will die.

Because of what I do, I’ve been with many people in the last twenty-plus years as they have died. I was thinking about it this week in terms of the approach to death and all the different things that I’ve seen, many of them harrowing and difficult, but one stood out to me more than any other. My mind took me way back to 1976 to a hospice on the outskirts of Edinburgh. I went there to visit a lady who, along with her husband, had been a missionary in China for the vast chunk of their life. They were now very elderly. She had piercing blue eyes and gray hair which she always kept long, but was always tied up. She had terminal cancer; she was in the hospice. There was no hope for any earthly recovery, and I had gone in the routine of my responsibilities as the assistant minister in the church to visit this lady, Mrs. Lechler. And I went and I spoke with her on this particular afternoon. She was very lucid. She lay in the bed. I took her hand; she squeezed mine. She asked me about my wife; she asked me about the prayer meeting which had taken place on that Monday evening prior. She asked me about a whole variety of things in relationship to the church. We read the Scriptures and we prayed together, and I left and came back into the center of Edinburgh to tell the people that I felt that Mrs. Lechler was rallying a little bit and that she—I mean, she was so interested, she didn’t have a consideration about anything; she only inquired about myself and my wife and the ministry and the gospel and every other thing—and when I was voicing this to the individual, they let me finish my sentence, and then they said, “Mrs. Lechler passed away between the time you left her an hour ago and arrived back here at the office.” Now you see, all of her dying concerns had to do with everybody except herself. There was no paralysis, no paranoia, no undo fearfulness. And that’s what we find in Joseph.

Joseph is encouraging those that he leaves behind with a strong reminder of the covenant promise of God to his people.

Joseph is encouraging those that he leaves behind with a strong reminder of the covenant promise of God to his people, and he says it twice in 24 and then in 25. “God will surely come to your aid”; 25: “God will surely come to your aid; he’s going to take you up.” All he is doing is reiterating the promise that God had made to Abram, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and in case you’ve forgotten it, let me tell you where you can find it. Genesis 13:14:

The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, ‘Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, [and] east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.[23]

 Now, we read this with great familiarity because we know the story of Abram, but for Abram, it was a complete freak‑out. He couldn’t even have a kid, and the promise is that “You will have so many offspring that you won’t be able to count it; it will be like dust.”[24] And they didn’t have a place to call their own, and he said, “Walk through the length and the breadth of the land, and I’m going to give this to you.”[25] And on the strength of nothing other than the promise of God’s word, Abram proceeded. You find the same thing reiterated in the life of Isaac. Genesis 26:3: “Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and [I] will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abram. [And] I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky,”[26] and so on. You find the same thing in the next generation: 35:12. The word that comes to Jacob—first to Abram, then to his son Isaac, then to his son Jacob—35:12: “‘The land I gave to [Abram] and Isaac I [will] give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.’ Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.”[27] And now, you find Joseph on his deathbed, and he says, “Listen. God said it to Abram, he reaffirmed it to Isaac, he promised it to my dad, and I want you to know that it’s not in question,”[28] and so he makes them promise, “When you go, ‘carry my bones up from this place.’”[29]

Joseph Crossing the Great Divide

Now that brings me to my third, and what will be my final, point and I’ll deal with it just briefly. We see him standing the test of time, facing the final curtain, and crossing the great divide. Verse 26: “So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.”[30] Like his father, chapter 49:29, he was gathered to his people. Unlike his father, he did not have an elaborate funeral. Instead, all he asked was that his body would be embalmed and that it would be placed in a coffin and that it would remain there in Egypt. Why? Because he recognized that the coffin itself would be a memorial to the fact that the prospect of them going to the Promised Land was as certain as any promise that God had ever made. He didn’t want his bones to be buried; he wanted to be at the ready: As soon as the wagons were ready to roll, he was gonna roll. And when the difficult days came, as he knew they were going to come—as he probably sensed in his spirit, as they grew in strength and in influence as a refugee family within this larger family—in those days of difficulty when they came, he wanted them to be able to look somewhere and affirm again the promise. And when you get into Exodus 1:8, “Then a new king, who didn’t know Joseph, came to power.” He decides that the people of Israel have grown too large: “We’re going to have to subjugate them, otherwise if war breaks out they may join with our enemies and fight against us,”[31] and so in verse 11, they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor—and so everything was about to change. Joseph was about to go, and some of the glory days were about to depart, and the Pharaoh was not going to be as kind, and oppression was going to come, and he said, “I want you to keep my coffin with you there in Egypt, so that it will be a reminder to every subsequent generation that Egypt is not our permanent home.”[32]

So when the grandchildren said, “Why do we keep this mummy with us?” They said, “That’s not your mummy; that’s your great‑grandfather.” They said, “No, I know that,” you know. I’d say there’s a kind of teaser there somewhere—but how was Joseph with his mummy in Egypt?—but we’ll leave that aside. But the embalming processes of Egypt made it possible for them to go in, take out the organs that would putrefy, etc., do the kind of taxidermist thing on it, and then put it in one of these things that we’ve seen in the Treasures of Tutankhamun at the London Museum and in other places, and then all the time, they would make sure that they had them. You know, you can imagine the mothers saying, “Look, don’t annoy me just now. Why don’t you go over and play with your great-grandfather for a while?” And they would go over there, and they would marvel that Great-Grandpa’s bones kept getting wheeled around. And why was it done? It was done so that every generation would look at that and would say, “Joseph was sure that we’re leaving. If he hadn’t been sure, he wouldn’t have us cart his bones around like this.” If it had just been rhetoric, if he had just said, “God’ll surely take you up. Sayonara!” that would have been one thing. But he said, “Now I want you to embalm my body. Keep my bones, and move them; and when you go, I want to go.”[33] And for us this morning, it’s not a coffin full of bones that speaks of God’s provision in the past and his promise for the future. It’s not a coffin, but it’s a cave. It’s an empty cave.

What is the strength of our conviction that we could stand the test time? That we could face the final curtain? That we could cross the great divide? On the basis of what?

Because he lives,
I can face tomorrow.
Because he lives,
All fear is gone.
Because I know—

I know—“he holds the future, and life is worth the living” and death may be faced “because he lives.”[34]

“God will surely come to your aid.” Isn’t that the message of the whole Bible?.

You see—and we’ll come back to this tonight in words of application—but the thing that was so precious to me as I looked at this phrase and as I thought about it: twice he says to these folks gathered around him, “God will surely come to your aid.” Isn’t that the message of the whole Bible? He could never know the totality of what it meant. He couldn’t even see as far as Moses in Exodus 3, and God speaking to Moses who had been stashed in the bulrushes, and the great trauma that’s involved in that, you know—it’s fabulous stuff—and God says to Moses, “Now, I want you to go and say to Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go.’”[35] “God will surely come to your aid.” And then they walk out, and they cross the Red Sea, and with the armies behind them, and all of the tyranny in front of them, God surely comes to their aid. And he parts the Red Sea, and they walk through on dry ground, and then he folds it in on top of Pharaoh and his armies afterwards, and they look over the thing, and they said, “That’s what our great‑grandfather was on about! ‘God will surely come to your aid.’ By golly, he did it there, did he not?” That is fantastic! And then in the wilderness wanderings: “I’m stinking thirsty, are you?” “Yeah.” “Hungry?” “Yeah.” Spring water! Better than the best bottled water you can buy today. “Where did we get that from?” “God came to our aid.” “And the manna every morning?” “God came to our aid.” “But how are we going to get out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land?” Joshua. “God came to our aid.”

 And then through the line into the kings and the provision of rulers; and in the prophets, and the word that it was to come; and the words of prophet, standing on tiptoe, saying, “God is surely going to come to our aid.” Looking back to the Passover events, and all that took place in the exodus from Egypt, and looking forward to the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world,[36] and the prophet stands and he says, “But you Bethlehem though you be least among the rulers of the princes of Israel, out of you will come forth one who will rule my people Israel.”[37] “God will surely come to your aid.” And the angel comes to Joseph and says, “And you will give him the name ‘Jesus.’” because he will come to your aid.[38]

See, the great message of the Bible is that God comes to the aid of the helpless and the hopeless and the needy, but he never comes to the aid of the arrogant, the self-assertive, and those who face the final curtain declaring, “I did it my way.”[39] And that is the great divide. “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to your cross I cling.”[40] Then he comes to aid. But to the stiff‑necked, the rebellious, the intellectually arrogant, it is a hopeless life followed by a hopeless death with no one else to blame but my own proud heart. You wouldn’t walk away from such a great story, would you? Stiff‑necked in your rebellion? Surely you would come and say, “Oh, come to my heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for you.”[41]

Let us pray together:

God, our Father, we thank you that in this story of Joseph we find ourselves thrust forward again and again to the wonder of your Son, the provision for our great need. We thank you that you have come to our aid. “O God, our help in ages past,” we thank you that you are “our hope for years to come,” that you are “our shelter from the stormy [blasts]” of discouragement and death, and that you are “our eternal home”;[42] that you are the rock of ages; that you are the one who is the Prince of Peace for all of our confusion and our chaos; that you are the mighty God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and all who truly believe. And we thank you that as we follow the line forward into the provision of your Son, we are able to say “All’s well that ends well,” as we think of the wonder of his coming and his dying and his rising. Grant that before we leave this place today, we might do so in such an assurance that all is well with our souls. To this end grant us grace that we might cry out to you for mercy and for forgiveness and for the very gift of faith itself, for we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


[1] Genesis 37:27 (paraphrased).

[2] Genesis 37:31–32 (paraphrased).

[3] Genesis 41:12–14 (paraphrased).

[4] Genesis 41:15 (paraphrased).

[5] Genesis 41:16 (paraphrased).

[6] Genesis 50:22 (NIV 1984).

[7] Genesis 46:33 (paraphrased).

[8] Genesis 46:32 (paraphrased).

[9] Genesis 46:34 (paraphrased).

[10] Genesis 50:24 (NIV 1984).

[11] Genesis 50:25 (NIV 1984).

[12] Traditional Gospel song.

[13] Hebrews 11:13–16 (NIV 1984).

[14] Genesis 50:25 (paraphrased).

[15] Romans 12:1–2 (NIV 1984).

[16] Colossians 3:1 (NIV 1984.).

[17] 1 Peter 2:11 (paraphrased).

[18] 1 Corinthians 2:2 (paraphrased).

[19] Genesis 50:24 (NIV 1984).

[20] Leonard Bernstein, “New York, New York” (1944).

[21] Paul Anka, “My Way” (1969).

[22] Genesis 50:24 (NIV 1984).

[23] Genesis 13:14–17 (NIV 1984).

[24] Genesis 13:16 (paraphrased).

[25] Genesis 13:17 (paraphrased).

[26] Genesis 26:3–4 (NIV 1984).

[27] Genesis 35:12–13 (NIV 1984).

[28] Genesis 50:24–25 (paraphrased).

[29] Genesis 50:25 (NIV 1984).

[30] Genesis 50:26 (NIV 1984).

[31] Exodus 1:9–10 (paraphrased).

[32] Genesis 50:24–25 (paraphrased).

[33] Genesis 50:25 (paraphrased).

[34] Bill and Gloria Gaither, “Because He Lives” (1971) (paraphrased).

[35] See Exodus 3:9-10.

[36] John 1:29 (paraphrased).

[37] See Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6 (paraphrased).

[38] Matthew 1:21 (paraphrased).

[39] Anka, “My Way.”

[40] Augustus M. Toplady, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me” (1776).

[41] E. S. Elliot, “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne” (1864).

[42] Isaac Watts, “O God Our Help in Ages Past” (1719) (paraphrased).

Thankfulness: A Mark of Grace
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