“A Place for You”
Genesis 46:26 - 47:12
August 31st, 2008
Paul Van Maaren
Faith Reformed Church, Lynden, Washington
Today we put the final touches on our study of the life of Joseph. Our scripture text is Genesis 46:26 – 47:12.
Tuesday night I picked up the September newsletter from the Voice of the Martyrs. I read a story about a young man name, who for the sake of his security, was given the name Bobby. Elements of his story, the rejection by his family and the welcome of the Christians set the stage for what God is teaching us and calling us to do this morning. And so I thought I’d share it with you.
Bobby lives in Indonesia. The most populous Muslim country in the world. His family was a Muslim as was Bobby himself.
In 2004, he was a junior in high school when he had three dreams about Jesus and heaven. Coming from a Muslim family he was eager to understand the meaning of these dreams. But he had no one to ask, because as Muslim he cannot question the Koran or investigate any religious books.
Soon, Bobby secretly purchased 3 spiritual books. A Bible. The Hindu book. And the Buddist book. Pursuing a quest to understand the meaning of his dreams. He also read in secrecy by locking the door to his room and hiding the books when he was done.
One day, while he was reading, his mother came in the door. In eagerness to read, Bobby forgot to lock it. His mother became enraged. Soon the rest of his family, all 10 of them, were in his room shouting at him a rebuking him for reading other spiritual books. His dad told him, “You are a sinner.”
His parents called a security guard who came and with plastic bag wrapped hands brought the books outside. Touching a Bible “polluted” a Muslim and was as bad as touching anything unclean like a pig. Bobby was locked in his room while the rest of his family went outside with the security officer to burn the books. Bobby escaped out his window and ran towards the fire. Picked up one book that was doused with gasoline but not burning and ran. His family chased him. He got a ride on a truck to another part of town and continued to run. Exhausted he fell asleep next to a wall for the night.
Bobby woke up in the morning dirty and with messy hair but to a stream of people entering the building that he was reclined against. He said, “They were carrying a little book like mine.” And he went in with them. It was a church. The book he had pulled from the fire was a Bible.
After church he went back outside but unsure of what to do. A woman from the church spotted him and began to ask Bobby how she could help. He went home with the woman and her family. Her family fed him and began to teach him the Bible for several weeks.
With new encouragement, Bobby went back to his own family for a reunion. But it wasn’t the warm welcome he had hoped for. Instead it was plates of food thrown at him and a beating. He was in the hospital unconscious for two days. The third day he escaped through a bathroom window.
He continued in the study of Bible and took a ferry boat to another island to lead other Muslims to Jesus Christ. They found out he had formerly been a Muslim and a mob beat him again. But that has not stopped this young man from bringing the Gospel to his Muslim people.
Notice the huge contrast between the rejection of his family and the welcome of the Christian family? This sets the stage for what God is teaching us and how he is calling us into action this morning.
As we turn our hearts and ears and minds to the scriptures, will you please pray with me?
Father, may your Word be our rule;
You Spirit our teacher;
And the glory of Jesus our single concern.
In whose name we pray. Amen
Listen to these words from the book that we love.
All those who went to Egypt with Jacob—those who were his direct descendants, not counting his sons' wives—numbered sixty-six persons. With the two sons who had been born to Joseph in Egypt, the members of Jacob's family, which went to Egypt, were seventy in all.
Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen. When they arrived in the region of Goshen, Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.
Israel said to Joseph, "Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive."
Then Joseph said to his brothers and to his father's household, "I will go up and speak to Pharaoh and will say to him, 'My brothers and my father's household, who were living in the land of Canaan, have come to me. The men are shepherds; they tend livestock, and they have brought along their flocks and herds and everything they own.' When Pharaoh calls you in and asks, 'What is your occupation?' you should answer, '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."
Joseph went and told Pharaoh, "My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are now in Goshen." He chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharaoh.
Pharaoh asked the brothers, "What is your occupation?"
"Your servants are shepherds," they replied to Pharaoh, "just as our fathers were." They also said to him, "We have come to live here awhile, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants' flocks have no pasture. So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen."
Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Your father and your brothers have come to you, and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen. And if you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock."
Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, Pharaoh asked him, "How old are you?"
And Jacob said to Pharaoh, "The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers." Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence.
So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharaoh directed. Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father's household with food, according to the number of their children.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen
Joseph is doing something God would do. And something that as believers in Jesus Christ God is calling us to do.
We’ve seen the love of Jacob for Joseph. The hatred of his brothers, who want to kill him but opt for making a quick buck. Joseph is brought into Potiphar’s house and by God powerful hand is put in charge of the house. Potiphar’s wife falsely accuses him. Joseph goes to jail and by God’s powerful hand is put in charge of the jail even as a prisoner himself. He interprets dreams for the cupbearer who will be restored to his position and for the baker who will be killed.
The cupbearer forgets Joseph until Pharoah has a dream. Joseph is called up from the prison into the throne room. He interpret’s the dream. 7 years of bounty and then 7 of famine. Joseph is put in charge of the land. 2nd in command. With a plan to save Egypt and the world. Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt looking for food. They don’t recognize Joseph, but he recognizes them. Joseph provides them with food on 2 occasions and finally the second time he reveals his identity. I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egpyt! Pharoah gets wind of Joseph’s family and invites them to Egypt.
Joseph directs his family to the land of Goshen. Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen. When they arrived in the region of Goshen, Joseph has his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel.
So, Joseph’s family heads straight to the land of Goshen. It Goshen is a bountiful part of Egypt with plenty of green pasture for the flocks of Jacob and his sons. Pharoah calls it the best part of the land.
The land of Goshen is a very fertile place. It lies on the eastern part of the Nile Delta. I’ve got a Google Earth picture. Here is the land of Goshen as seen from space. You can see today that it is a green oasis in the middle of a dessert. Back in the days before the construction of a dam, the Nile flooded each year bringing rich nutrients and soil to the delta and water. They say in some spots the top soil is 70 feet thick. The rest of the season, water from the Nile is used to irrigate plants for cultivation.
Joseph sends his family there even before Pharaoh grants permission to do so. But Joseph knew Pharaoh would grant his request. Joseph gives his brothers instruction, When Pharaoh calls you in and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ you should answer, ‘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.
Goshen was a place out of the way for Joseph’s family to live. A place apart from the rest of the Egyptians. Pharaoh is making a political move here to keep the peace. Should they move anywhere else the might be protest.
So Joseph is making possible for his family to move to Egypt. He makes sure they get the place that is the best for them. First, it is a place of bounty where their flocks can pasture on rich green vegetation. But the land of Goshen is a place of separation from the rest of the Egyptians. They won’t have any trouble with the Egyptian people there. But even more, they won’t have the cultural and religious trouble that happens as a result of intermingling with the Egyptian people.
In short Joseph is preparing a place for his family. A place that is a bountiful land and a secure land.
And this is what God is doing in his mission to save the world. He is preparing a place for his people a place that not only is bountiful but is secure as well. A place that is a land of plenty and a place where people know where their next meal is coming from. A place where the threat of evil is extinguished and the trials of life are over. A place of welcome and rest. A place of friends and peace. God is preparing a place for his people.
Joseph’s actions with his family give testimony to what God is doing. A little taste. A little morsel. And God himself is giving even greater glimpses of the great place he is giving to his people.
Joseph’s family prospers in Egypt until a new Pharaoh comes to power. This Pharaoh knew nothing of Joseph and what he did for the people of Egypt, even as a foreigner. This new Pharaoh begins to oppress the people of Israel and forces them into slave labor. For hundreds of years they are oppressed. Building cities and monuments. Until the cry of God’s people reaches a fevered pitch and God begins to act. What does he do? God raises up Moses. And with him to deliver the people of Israel out of Egypt to where?
The promised land. Again another place that is bountiful and secure. Or at least it would become secure. Though enemies lived in it God was promising the land to Israel and he would drive the enemies out. If they people of Israel would only trust God and take his at his word.
Again. Now several years later, when the people of Israel had rebelled against the Lord and done what was evil in his sight. God couldn’t take it any longer. He sends the people into exile. But after the exile, he promises to bring them back to their land and let them prosper once again. He promises them relief from their enemies and bounty in the land. Again bounty and security.
All these point forward to the great and final land which God promises to bring all his people into some day. His land. With him as the King. With his presence as the temple. His land. His place in heaven. You remember what Jesus said?
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
Do you see it? Jesus is preparing a place for his followers. A place with him. A place in heaven. And we know a few things about heaven. And the place that God is preparing for us there.
We know that heaven is a place of rest. A place of rest from the labors of life. Will there be work to do? Some. But it won’t be marked by the toilsome. 3 steps forward. 2 steps back. Kind of work that sin has corrupted in this world. This work in heaven is a joyful work. Tending to a renewed creation. Like Adam was given charge to do in Genesis 2.
Heaven will be a place of rest from worry and uncertainty. There is no cause for alarm when the Almighty is standing by your side. Nothing can match the security that his presence brings.
Heaven is a place of rest for evil. Christ has defeated death, evil, and the Devil in principel by his death on the cross. Now we wait for the coming day when these will be done for in reality. Heaven in as place of rest from evil.
Heaven is a place of rest from self-dependence. Meaning that it will not be a place where we pull ourselves up by our boot straps. But it will be a place where God provides all we need.
He also know heaven is a sure thing for every person who belongs to Christ. Jesus himself said it, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
For every person who puts their trust in Jesus Christ to save them. Everyone who believes. That person is assured a place in heaven. A place among the eternal. That person receives life that has no end but goes on and on forever.
While people in this world make promises and break them. Right now we are in the middle of promise making season. Politicians make promises that their followers hope they will keep. But inevitably some of those promises, if not many, get broken.
But not with God. He is a promise keeper. His faithfulness in the past testifies to his trustworthiness for the future. God does not go back on his word. But once it is spoken, he carries it out to completion. Try him out. And you will find that he is faithful and trustworthy. So when Jesus says, whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. We can believe its true and it will be.
When we believe and receive this promise. No one can take it away. People can steal from your home. People can burn your home down. Authorities can put you in prison. They can even take your life. But they can never take away God’s promise of eternal life. Satan has no power to take it away. This is what frustrates the persecutors of the church. Their churches burn down. They are imprisoned. They are tortured. They are killed. But the promise of eternal life can never be taken away.
Now we could say a few more things about what heaven is like. But there is still something very wonderful about this place that God is preparing for each one who believes.
That is, he prepares it for us who were once his enemies. Like Joseph who was once at odds with his brothers. They did some evil things to him. Joseph had the power and authority to pay them back and then some. But he didn’t he choose grace and forgiveness. And provided a place for them.
In the same way God prepares this place in heaven for us. Not because we are great people. Not because we’ve earned it. Not because we are good enough. No because he has chosen grace and forgiveness. Listen to what God says in the scriptures.
Since we have been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him. For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
We were once enemies. But Christ has reconciled us back to God. And now he prepares a place for us in heaven.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sigh, without blemish and free from accusation
We were once enemies. But Christ has reconciled us back to God. And now he prepares a place for us in heaven.
God is preparing a place for every believer with him in heaven. A restful place. A secure place. A bountiful place. Much like a expecting mom and dad prepares their home for their coming little one. So God prepares a place for everyone who trusts in his Son.
Sow what does this mean for us and our lives today?
I ran across a couple of stories this past week. Stories of real people in real places. Who, kind of like Joseph, points people forward to what God would do to prepare a place for his people. The stories of these people point to God and what he is doing. They stand as a witness to God.
The first is the story of Bobby which I told earlier. He was welcomed by the Christian family. And stayed with them for several weeks. They made a place for him in their family. It points to Jesus.
Another story I overheard was one of a young woman in one of our high schools. This young woman did something that was perhaps a little out of her regular character. When she spotted a new student, another young girl across the cafeteria seated by herself. This young woman filled with a little boldness walked over and befriended the new girl. By her actions saying. You are welcome here. You have a place here. It points to Jesus.
I was reminded of another story. These people you know. Bill and Lois Shagren. I don’t know all of the story, but I do know this and likely you too. They welcomed Justin Merrill into their home for 2 years. Welcoming him in. Loving him as one of their own sons. Providing a place to live and security. Today alongside the pictures of Susan and Craig and Sally and Traci’s kids is a picture of Tressa. Justin and Kristi’s daughter. I’m sorry I’m crying. But that just points to Jesus. It’s a witness.
The world is crying out. Is there a place for me to belong? Is there a place where I am accepted? Is there a place for me?
Gangs are so popular because young people often have no other place to belong.
Now we are not talking about mere friendliness here. We are talking about hospitality. Welcoming people who we didn’t plan to have stop by. Welcoming people who may be our enemies but because they are people they have value. We are talking about taking risks and providing a place for people at one’s own cost.
We’re not talking about having a party and making sure the house is clean. The table is set. And the dinner is perfect. But we are talking about welcoming people who have no place to go.
God wants to form in us the character of hospitality. Welcoming the people who are in need. And may not deserve what we can give. But because God has welcomed us and prepared a place for us we do the same for these people. Providing a place that is restful. Secure. And bountiful.
My story of Manuella from Chiapas. Hospitality
God wants us to know that every believer has a secure place with God in heaven that cannot be taken away by any earthly power. God makes it secure. And the life of his Son, Jesus Christ, in not only the payment but also the collateral.
God wants us to welcome people into our lives who may need what God has given us to give. To provide a place to belong. As a testimony to what Gd has done for you and for all who believe and will believe.
Brothers and sisters, thus says the Lord. Amen.