December 15, 1996
It’s not our emotion, but what we know of God, that sustains us on our journey of faith. Throughout Joseph’s tumultuous life, his hope and confidence remained grounded in God’s promises. As a result, rather than a history of bitter vengeance, he left a legacy of faith, forgiveness, and generosity. Bringing our study of Joseph to a close, Alistair Begg challenges us to acknowledge our human frailty, trust in God’s promises, and establish an inheritance of abiding faith.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Can I invite you to take your Bibles and turn with me to Genesis, and to chapter 50? And we’re just going to read again these concluding words of the chapter.
Genesis 50:22: “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 [up] my bones … from this place.’ So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they [had] embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.”
Let’s just pause in prayer:
O God, you authored this book, and you have sent your Spirit to be the interpreter of the Book as we seek to study it, and so we pray that your Spirit will be our teacher, so that whether we speak, or speak and listen, or just listen, that we might hear your voice, and that the challenge of the life of Joseph may not simply have an impact for tonight but may actually live with us through all our days. For we ask it in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Well, those of you who were present this morning will know that we did not conclude the study that we set out to conclude. We noted this morning by way of exposition, Joseph, who was standing, as we said, the test of time. We found him facing the final curtain, and then in this straightforward verse 26, crossing the great divide. And I said that I had three further points by way of application to which we now come.
I’ve never been involved in any kind of drama. I suppose if I’d like to be in anything it would probably be some Shakespearean drama, maybe one of the gravediggers in Hamlet, nothing very elaborate, certainly not Hamlet, certainly no great part; but I wouldn’t mind trying one of the gravediggers’ parts, or I wouldn’t mind Polonius either in Hamlet. I think I’m verbose enough to be Polonius. But I’ve often wondered what it must be like to play a part like that, and night after night after night in a prolonged run, and then finally, on the last evening, take off the costume and bid the part farewell and return to the normal course of events. I’m sure there is a sense of attachment that goes beyond merely the playing of the part, and if there is any approximation to that in the teaching of Scripture, it probably comes most forcibly when one is engaged over a prolonged period of time in a character study such as we’ve been with Joseph. And I hope that at least for a few of you, you will share with me the sense of sadness that is part of this, and I don’t mean it in any sort of nostalgic way, but a genuine sense of sadness in having, as it were, to close the book—close the chapter—on the life of Joseph, for he has been a companion to us for a number of months now; and actually, although he has died, yet he has still lived and spoken to us through his life. And for many of us our lives will never be the same again as a result of these studies in the life of this ancient patriarch. And we have tried, as best we’ve been enabled, to make application of the truth of God’s Word all the way along the line. And tonight, in drawing it to a close, I want to make these three simple and straightforward further points of application.
Clearly, we are forced to acknowledge the frailty of our own lives on any occasion when we are confronted with the biblical record of death, and that is the first straightforward point of application—namely, the frailty that we acknowledge. It’s not my purpose to go back and rehearse the points that we have made in consideration of the death of Jacob over these last few weeks, but it is simply to be reminded and to remind one another of the fact that each of us, as we have said before, has a shelf life. And in the same way as we find pieces of produce in our grocery stores marked by a date which is the suggested date to be used by, so in the economy of God and in the purpose of God each of our lives are marked in that way. God has not chosen to give to us the date of our demise, but the psalmist tells us that every day of our lives “[was] written in [his] book before one of them came to be,” and he has given some indication of the longevity of life by addressing the issue of what it would mean to live for seventy years. And some of us tonight, by dint of a careful reading of the Scripture and also an ability simply to observe the passing of time, realize that we are beyond our “use by” date; and others of us feel ourselves to be very far away from the “use by” date, of course never knowing what a day will bring forth.
In the course of the afternoon, if some of you were watching the kind of informational material that was provided on plane crashes, you will have seen, as I did, again, the tragedy of the Potomac River 737 Air Florida flight that went down there some years ago, and it had chilled me when I saw it, but I had forgotten how graphic it was, insofar as so many people who actually survived that crash—although they were surrounded by all kinds of safety vehicles and literally thousands of people who had gathered on the bridge—some seventy-five of them died not as a result of the impact or of the explosion or of the loss in the air, but died as a result of drowning and died of hypothermia. And you have that dramatic moment when that one gentleman, in watching that lady struggling with her one arm through the life belt finally cannot hold it any longer and she lets it go and she slips under the water, and the gentleman with the first name of Jay—like Jay Skeptulon or Scheptulon or something like that—eventually he can stand it no longer and he just hurls himself into the icy waters and he grabs the woman to himself and he pulls her to safety—and the whole world holds its breath and watches that. And the dust of death settles on the minds of people, but only for a moment or two, and then it is shaken off again and the radios are retuned and the stereos are reset, and the band begins to play and life goes on, and folk live with the mythology that, “as flowers never bend with the rainfall, so,” as Paul Simon said, “our lives will never end,” which, of course, we know is just not true.
Now, tonight without being morbid in any way, the Bible here in the record of Joseph’s death, as with others recorded for us in the book of Genesis, is there so that we would think about death. The Bible has a great deal to say about death and about dying. The prophet Isaiah, in the most glorious of passages in Isaiah chapter 40, as he speaks of the wonder of the creation of God and of the dramatic power of God, both in his calling the existence of creation into being, says, in Isaiah 40:6:
A voice says, “Cry out.”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
“All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God stands forever.”
When the writer of Ecclesiastes, be it Solomon or someone else, reaches “the conclusion of the matter,” as he puts it, in Ecclesiastes 12, he has this comic–tragic picture of humanity nearing the end of its days, somewhat sightless and somewhat toothless and struggling along the road with a stiffened gait of a grasshopper that was suffering from arthritis. And in the course of it all, the writer of the Word says, “Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets. Remember him,” that is God, your creator, “before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken”—a picture there of death. Another picture: “before the pitcher is shattered at the spring”—our lives are as fragile as pottery—“or the wheel broken at the well,” the familiar turning of the wheel at the well suddenly gives out one day; so, says the writer, will our lives give out one day, “and the dust returns to the ground it came from and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” And so as we stand, as it were, and gaze at the realistic way in which Joseph approaches death, as we listen to the word of the prophet reminding us of the very ephemeral nature of each of our lives, as we have this graphic picture in the poetic books of the ending of our days and of the reality of it all, it is there in order that we would do what is not customary to do: acknowledge our human frailty.
We sing very little about those facts, and we sing very little about the fact of death and dying. Nobody is writing hymns about these things. It’s not particularly appealing and it is a great lack, you see, in much of our hymnody. When for example, as just a very young man in his twenties, Murray M’Cheyne thought about these things, he penned these amazing words sometime in the early nineteenth century—because his life was over by 1843—and he wrote like this:
When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon [radiant] sun,
When [I] stand with Christ [on high],
Looking o’er life’s [history],
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then, how much I owe.
When the praise of heav’n I hear,
Loud as thunder to the ear,
Loud as many waters’ noise,
Sweet as harp’s melodious voice,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know,
Not till then, how much I owe.
Chosen not for good in me,
Wakened up from wrath to flee,
Hidden in the Savior’s side,
By the Spirit sanctified,
Teach me, Lord, on earth to show,
By my love, how much I owe.
And one of the divine mechanisms in all of Holy Scripture to call the people of God to a due estimate of who we are and to a humble recognition of all that has been provided for us is the record in Scripture of the death of those who die in the Lord. “Blessed are those,” says the Bible, “who die in the Lord.” All of us tonight will one day die. That is not in question, unless of course Christ should come in our lifetime. And the question is: “Will we die in the Lord or not?” That’s the first straightforward and simple point: the frailty that we are caused to acknowledge.
Secondly, the theology that we are called to embrace—the theology that we are called to embrace. I hope, at least in the course of these studies, you have had reinforced for you, as I have had for me, the fact that biblical doctrine is crucial, that an understanding of who God is and who we are in relationship to God … That a view of the world that is framed by his divine character and purpose is absolutely essential, not only for human sanity, but in order that we might prepare to live correctly and to die properly. And the theology that we embrace now at the end of the twentieth century is the theology which has been emblazoned for us in the life of Joseph and has been aptly summarized here, as we saw this morning, in this simple little phrase, “God will surely come to your aid.”
You will remember that we said that the story of Joseph is the story of God’s providence. And when we introduced the whole issue of providence, we said that the doctrine of providence was grounded in the first book of the Bible and had its name essentially given to it in a phrase in Genesis chapter 22, and you may want to turn there, just for a moment, to remind yourself of this, so that when people say to you, “Well, where do you get this doctrine of providence?” you can take them to this instance in Genesis 22, as Abraham takes the son for whom he had waited all these years and as he takes, in verse 6,
The wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and [as] he himself carried the fire and the knife. [And] as the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and the wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” [And] Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.
And as we said this morning, the great truths of Scripture run all the way down through the corridors of the Old and the New Testament intersecting that which we see in the opening books of the Bible right through to the very end of Scripture, because at the very final verses of Scripture, you have this promise of the coming of God to us in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, and here in the words of Joseph, you have the promise given to these people that “God will surely come to [their] aid,” as we saw this morning. And when Paul writes in his great theological treatise to the Roman Christians in Romans chapter 5, it is this essential truth which undergirds so much of what he says. In Romans chapter 5, he says, in verse 6, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” “At just the right time … Christ died for the ungodly.” And the story of Joseph, the theology which runs through the book of Genesis as it is revealed in the life of Joseph is, as we’ve said, the great and classic expression of Romans 8:28: “and we [then] know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Some of us started our studies in Joseph with a spring in our step, believing that God was in his heaven and all was right with the world. And we end the studies in Joseph having come through hell en route, being confronted with the question, “Do I really and truly believe that?” Some of us began and the thought of losing a loved one was something that other people experience, but we had never known, and tonight we sit in the awareness of that. Some of us had only joy and anticipation filling our hearts in the early days of the year when we opened the book of Genesis and turned to this seventeen-year-old boy, and we knew Romans 8:28. We’d had it on a little card, we carried it in our purse, and we used to say it to people, and we often said it glibly to people. We said it in grocery stores and we said it at the drop of a hat: “Oh well! ‘All things work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.’” It has a kind of Scandinavian ring to it, even in the way that it comes out, as sort of a … We just trot the thing out, and oh!—we were so smart! But we’re not so smart tonight, ’cause along the journey we’ve had our hearts broken, we’ve had our faith tested, we’ve had our insides taken out and reexamined in our homes and in our schools and in our marriages and in our parenting and in our teenage years and in our businesses; and God has been saying to us, “Do you really believe this theology? Do you believe this?” Are you able to say, with Paul later in his life, “I know whom I have believed and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have entrusted to him against that day”? I know of a surety. No matter what I’ve been through, no matter how I have been distressed, no matter how my heart has been broken, still I have learned through the journey with Joseph to affirm again, “God is God, and my trust and my hope is in him.”
Samuel Rutherford, in the writing of his memoirs, provided for a lady by the name of Cousins, who was the wife of one of Rutherford’s ministerial colleagues, the opportunity to write a most glorious hymn along the lines of the theme of providence—a hymn, again, that we sing sparingly. I should stop saying this. It sounds like a judgment on the hymns we’re singing. It’s not; it should be seen as an encouragement of the hymns we’re about to sing when we finally stop talking about it and start doing it. But in the hymn “The Sands of Time Are Sinking,” you have this tremendous third verse:
With mercy and with judgment
My web of time He wove,
And aye, the dews of sorrow
Were lustered by his love;
I’ll bless the hand that guided,
[And] I’ll bless the heart that planned
When throned where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.
Or in a more contemporary song,
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
’Til you see Christ.
You see, it is not a feeling in our tummies which sustains us on the journey of faith. It is a theology, it is what we know of God, that when the difficult day comes, when we find, as it were, the bone in the fish that we thought was so beautifully prepared, it is in that moment in the finding of the bone, as it were, in the experience of life that we must then revert, very clearly, to what we know of God.
As Jeff and I flew in from Los Angeles on Wednesday evening, we were sitting in two separate rows. I was sitting one space away from a lady from Vietnam as it turns out; this must be my Vietnamese period. If you recall Friday evening around suppertime—five, five thirty—it was particularly cloudy. In fact, over the airport it was downright foggy, and although we had flown in tranquility for most of the journey, as soon as we began to make our descent into the Cleveland area, life took on just that whole different kind of feel. And the pilot told us that we would be on the ground in ten minutes, and ten minutes came and went, and fifteen minutes came and went, and it went to seventeen minutes, and the little lady sitting beside me just kept saying one thing: “I can’t see ground, I can’t see ground,” which was not blessing me in any way at all. And eventually I said to her, “You ought not to be concerned that you can’t see the ground; we ought only to be concerned that the pilot can see his instruments.” For our feelings in those moments had to be brought under the jurisdiction of another, and indeed, our lives were, humanly speaking, entrusted to his care. And we did see the ground seconds before we landed on the ground. And she had then to go to Baltimore, and I was done. So she had to live it all over again, and I just had to make it safely home. The hymn writer says, as I’ve told you before:
I thank you Lord
That all my joys are touched with pain,
That shadows fall on the brightest hours
And thorns remain
So that earth’s bliss may be my guide
And not my chain.
And if I have learned one thing in the course of my studies in Joseph, it is this amazing truth: that God who fashioned us in our mothers’ wombs—Psalm 139—who intricately wove us according to his divine purpose, has ordered all of our days and all of our steps, and our theology is Joseph’s theology too.
So then, the frailty that we are called to acknowledge, the theology that we are called to embrace, and the legacy that we must inevitably leave—the legacy that we must inevitably leave. One of the great questions is simply this: Where did Joseph get this certain faith? In all of the reading of the record of Joseph, I didn’t find anywhere where it is recorded for us that God appeared to Joseph in any direct way or ever of Joseph receiving an oracle of God or a particular message from God at the hands of an angel. Indeed, although his father has these encounters, there is no record of Joseph having these encounters. So where does a boy growing up in that kind of house, by the age of seventeen, get that kind of certain faith? Well, he obviously gets it from God. But he doesn’t get it in a vacuum. He gets it as a result of the training and instruction that is given to him through the lips of those who are his forebears. And for seventeen years, in whatever else happened, although Jacob was particularly fond of Joseph and although he erred in some way by creating jealousy in his other sons, Joseph’s brothers, somehow or another, Jacob must have instilled in Joseph in these early years these great and magnificent truths about God. And certainly by the time that he is reunited with Joseph—interestingly for another seventeen years—he must have affirmed them again and again and again so that Joseph’s certain faith was a result of the legacy, in part, that his father had left to him. He relied upon the word that his father had taught him. He had no written word from God, he had no recorded audible word from God, he only had the word of his father speaking of the truth of God. And that was sufficient ground for his faith and his hope and his sure confidence in the promises that he was now in his dying words reiterating to those who had gathered around his bedside. He was saying what Abraham had said and passed to Isaac, what Isaac had heard and passed to Jacob, what Jacob had heard and now passed to a further generation in his son Joseph.
It is a reminder to us of the fact that “We have —” in the Scriptures, as Peter says in 2 Peter 1:19—“We have the word[s] of the prophets made more certain.” We don’t have to rely or seek the visitation of angels or dramatic experiences that are beyond the Scriptures, but we find ourselves affirming the words of John Calvin when he said, “Unless the hearing of the Word of God is sufficient for our faith we don’t deserve that God should condescend to deal with us.” “Unless the hearing of the Word of God is sufficient for our faith …” Do you know how many believers are running hither and thither looking for “a word from God”? I meet them all the time. “Oh, I went there to see if I could hear, and I went there, and I went to the next place …” and I want to say to them, “Brother or sister, you’ve got a word from God. You’ve got all the Word from God you’ll ever need. There is no other—” “No more can he say than to you he has said, to you unto Jesus for refuge have fled.” Anytime you find yourself running here and there wanting to hear from God, I can guarantee you that you have lost confidence in the Scriptures. Joseph had no written word, no audible word, he had the word that his father had spoken; and we have the same in a sense, the Word that our heavenly Father has given to us, “the word[s] of the [prophet] made more certain.”
Now, the wonder of it is this: that what God pronounces through the voice of a mere man in the preaching of the Word of God, he seals on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. This is the great mystery of a teaching ministry from the Bible. I say to you enough to know that surely I believe it, that it must be the greatest of futilities simply to engage a period of time in the course of the Lord’s Day to let a well-meaning individual, relatively intelligent, to speak to another intelligent group of people with a certain amount of emphasis. Unless something other than that is taking place, it’s a dreadful waste of time. And, loved ones, in many cases nothing other than that is taking place. What passes for preaching is nothing other than a man standing behind a wooden podium voicing his thoughts and opinions, vaguely related, tenuously linked, to the Bible or otherwise; and there sits a group of people wondering and hoping that somewhere along the line there may be an intersection between what is passing through his brain and what his engaging their minds at the same time. But when the Word of God is proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit, something else happens because the Spirit of God says into the life of a person, “What is being said is true,” and inside of the listener is this confirmation. It’s not as a result of the emphasis or the vehemence of the speaker. The person may be very quiet and gentle in the way he speaks. He may be exuberant. That is all about personality; that should not be confused with reality. But the reality is that the Spirit of God seals the Word of God into the life of the listener, and that’s how people are converted through the preaching of the Word of God. They’re not converted as a result of the ability of a man to articulate truth; they are converted because the Word of God itself is powerful. And the voice of a mere man giving testimony to the truth of Scripture is backed up by the Spirit of God and the divine transaction takes place, and thereby the believers are nurtured as well. They are nurtured because the Spirit of God chooses to seal the spoken Word into the life of those who are his own. And that is why, for a genuine preaching event to take place, there has to be an expectant, praying congregation and an expectant, praying preacher because then the Spirit of God comes in answer to our prayers and does this great mystery. And in that we leave a legacy also.
Paul understood that he would leave a legacy to those who had been under his care. Well, all of us will leave a legacy of one kind or another. 1 Corinthians 15:3, he says, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter and then to the Twelve.” He said, “Let this be my legacy to you, what I received—and it was passed to me—I also have passed on to you. This is of primary importance: the truth of the death of Jesus Christ for sin, that it was in fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures, and the reality of his burial and his resurrection, and the truth of his appearance.” So much so that, when he writes to Timothy as a young man and he urges upon him the responsibilities of his calling, he says in 1 Timothy 1:13, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” And “Here,” then he says, “is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance …” And all the way through his letters, he leaves to Timothy this rich legacy. In the same vein, in chapter 1 of 2 Timothy, he says, “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching … Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” That’s the message of Peter to the believers to whom he writes in the scattered regions of his world. He says, “I intend always to remind you of these things so that after my departure you may be able to bring them back to mind.”
So, there is a frailty then that we’ve got to acknowledge: we’re all going to die, and we’d better be ready. There is a theology that all of us embrace—either a theology of truth or a theology of error—but everybody tonight has got a concept of God and a view of the world. It is imperative that our theology is the theology of this Book. That’s why we need to study it, individually, daily, on our own, in small groups, in homes, in colleges, everywhere we get the chance, that we would be men and women of the Book. And then there is a legacy that we’re going to leave. Joseph’s legacy is really quite wonderful. He left memories of faith in the face of extreme trial. He left a graphic picture of forgiveness in response to bitter jealousy. He left such a wonderful testimony to generosity that was in repayment of cruel neglect. What kind of legacy will we leave?
This is the time of year again where we sometimes are tempted to write those Christmas letters, and we certainly all know about getting the letters. Such is the perversity of our souls that, if we write them and receive them, we assume that the ones that we wrote were not full of all the schmaltzy, sentimental, highfalutin nonsense that was true of the ones that we received. I mean, for just once in my life, I’d like to get one Christmas letter that said, “1996 has been a dog. Were it not for the providence of God, there would be no letter. My kids are driving me nuts. I’ve thought twice about divorce. I’ve read my Bible only fifty percent of the time, although I told others I read it a hundred percent of the time. I’ve been a walking contradiction, and I’d like you to pray for me.” I’ll tell you what, a few more letters like that would be a few more expressions of honesty, and they’d be a real encouragement because most of us who get these other letters that are all about, “And Jeremy is now, you know, the leader of the such and such, and Fiona is top of her class and straight As, and is designing furniture on the weekends, and Rodney is, you know, appearing on Broadway and is having his photographs taken for a modeling agency.” It’s all like—oh, give me a break, you know. I’ve met your kids! Don’t give me that garbage. And all these letters of unblemished, beautiful life, you know, that make those of us who are struggling feel a hundred times worse! Don’t they? I mean you get those things, you go, “Goodness, gracious, I’m screwing up everywhere. I mean, my kids are throwing food around the table, and they’re teenagers. I mean they … I kicked the cat into oblivion fourteen times in the last three days, and now I got to read this stuff from the guy that I thought was my friend!”
Now, this was triggered in my mind because somebody gave to me in the last few days a little piece that actually addressed this issue in relationship to Joseph, and said, “You know, what if Jacob had written one of these Christmas letters?” There’s two ways that he could have done it. One way would have read like this:
Dear friends: I guess our son, Joseph, tops all. This year he’s been promoted to a new high even for our family. He moved to Egypt some years ago. Really likes it there. Loves the urban life and has always been a sharp dresser and [a] creative thinker. He now holds the highest political position in the country, second only to the Pharaoh himself. He’s never forgotten his roots … [he’s been really] generous to us. In fact, you might pray about this; we may be moving to Egypt ourselves! So come visit us anytime and we’ll show you the sights.
We really praise God for all his goodness and hope your year has been as fruitful as ours. Blessings, Jacob.
Now, if he had had a shred of honesty in him, he would never have written a letter like that. He might have said, you know, “This year I had to flee for my life, my kids are totally nuts, they’ve been butchering people all over the place,” and so on. Of Joseph he might have written instead as follows, says the author:
I’ve hesitated to write, as life hasn’t gone the way [I’d] hoped it would. My sons have tried me in so many ways, but perhaps the worst is what they did to their brother, Joseph. They’ve always been jealous of him. I did pamper him a little, but what they did has broken me. My sons sold him into slavery and he was taken down to Egypt. They brought his beautiful coat home stained in blood, claiming he must have been killed by a wild animal. I believed them.
Lately [we’ve] suffered from the most severe famine and have lost nearly everything. But with it came the only good news in years. My sons went down to Egypt looking to buy food and learned that Joseph is alive and holding a very influential position there.
I hardly dare hope. They say Joseph wants us to move there and live with him. They say [he’s] forgiven them for what they did. I only pray that this might be so.
Pray for us as I’m old and we’re packing for a long journey. May God give me strength and show us mercy.
And then the author says,
The God of scripture does not spare his people by giving them glittering images. The hearers of the Bible were men and women with feet of clay and I for one am thankful to know it. Despite the sadness and sin in their lives, many of them are included in the book of Hebrews as examples of great faith, those who understood God’s promises, and those who at the end of their life were still worshipping God. And even more compelling is the love God demonstrated in keeping his covenant with Jacob and never shrinking from this very real man whose personal troubles are written down for all the centuries to see.
We look forward to annual reports of joy and good news. But we’re also heartened by those who dare to share, appropriately, the sorrow and comfort God has given as we live in this fallen and sinful world. For we are a great company of Jacobs. Who would want us? Our feet are clay and yet God has graciously redeemed us and called us his own. And after all, we still worship our Lord as the God of Abraham, Isaac, … Jacob.
So what legacy will we leave? What pictures will our sons and daughters remember of us? With this I close—I’m quoting someone else. Says this individual, in thinking this question out,
[I have] resolved to give fewer lectures,
to send fewer platitudes rolling [the way of my children],
to give less criticism,
to offer fewer opinions.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
From now on, I’ll give them pictures they can live by,
pictures that can comfort them,
and keep them warm
in my absence.
Because when I’m gone, there will only be
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I could give
to make their lives a little fuller,
a little richer,
a little more prepared for the journey ahead of them,
[of all that I might give them,]
nothing compares to the gift of
pictures that show …
… that they are loved.
Pictures that will be there
when I am not.
Pictures of the abiding, unfolding grace and mercy. The grace and mercy of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and the rest.
In facing my frailty, I need to pay attention to the challenges of believing faith. And in thinking of leaving a legacy, I need to beware of holding others to a standard that I can only talk about but can’t live. And maybe you feel kind of similar. Let us pray.
Let’s just take a moment in silence and thank God for his Word, particularly for lessons learned in the life of Joseph. Each of us will have, hopefully, little notations in our Bible or somewhere, where the Spirit of God sealed the Word of God to our hearts, probably not on every occasion, but hopefully on some occasions. And so let’s thank God for his grace in providing for us the Bible, and in speaking to us through it. Let’s thank him for the way in which the story begins, with great hope and assurance that what we have at the end of Genesis 50 is the beginning of a whole new chapter of the unfolding grace and goodness of God, so that the people of God would arise in subsequent generations to declare his greatness, to sing out, as it were, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” “who was, and is, and is to come,” whose strength would be found in the joy of the Lord, and whose songs, even sung “in a strange land,” would speak to the wonder of his providence.
Thank you, heavenly Father, for leaving to us the record of Joseph. And grant that the fragrance of his memory and the legacy which he has left us may cause us to follow hard after on the journey of faith, for we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
 Psalm 139:16 (NIV 1984).
 Psalm 90:10.
 Paul Simon, “Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall” (1966) (paraphrased).
 Isaiah 40:6–8 (NIV 1984).
 Ecclesiastes 12:13 (NIV 1984).
 Ecclesiastes 12:6–7 (NIV 1984).
 Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “When This Passing World is Done” (1837) (paraphrased).
 Revelation 14:13 (paraphrased).
 Genesis 50:24, 25 (NIV 1984).
 Genesis 22:6–8 (NIV 1984).
 2 Timothy 1:12 (paraphrased).
 Samuel Rutherford and A. R. Cousins, “The Sands of Time are Sinking” (1857).
 Esther Kerr Rusthoi, “When We See Christ” (1940) (paraphrased).
 Adelaide A. Procter, “My God, I Thank Thee Who Hast Made” (1858) (paraphrased).
 2 Peter 1:19 (NIV 1984).
 John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis. vol. 2, trans. John King (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1850), 491 (paraphrased).
 George Keith, “How Firm a Foundation” (1787) (paraphrased).
 2 Peter 1:19 (NIV 1984).
 1 Corinthians 15: 3 (paraphrased).
 1 Timothy 1:13–15 (NIV 1984).
 2 Timothy 1:13–14 (NIV 1984).
 2 Peter 1:12–15 (paraphrased).
 Margie Haack, “Christmas Myths,” World Magazine, November 16, 1996, http://world.wng.org/1996/11/christmas_myths.
 Ibid. (paraphrased).
 Ken Gire, A Father’s Gift: The Legacy of Memories (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 51, 53, 57.
 Psalm 113:2 (KJV).
 Revelation 4:8 (NIV 1984).
 Psalm 137:4 (KJV).
Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.