Friday, March 4, 2016

Is God Good When Bad Things Happen?

“Whenever a teacher in school gave you a test, they never had much to say during the test. Things were silent during the test. The teacher had nothing to say because the test was designed to show what you knew based on what the teacher had already taught you.”


“Once you get a test, you might not hear much from God. It may be silent. Knowing this, it would be wise for you to have a lot of conversations with Him before He administers the test!”


“Some people have problems passing their tests. In fact, they keep failing. They quit school. We have a lot of dropouts in Christianity today because people either get discouraged due to not passing the test or they decide they don’t want to study.”[1]


Tests will come. If you are spiritual, tests will come. If you are not spiritual, tests will come. If you are a church member, tests will come. That is just how it works. Whether or not you are spiritual or worldly determines whether you will pass the test. Your spiritual maturity determines whether you will experience victory or defeat when the tests come.


Joseph went through many trials and tests. Joseph was raised in a dysfunctional family. He was his father Jacob’s favorite son, the one he gave a coat of many colors. When Joseph was a teenager, he had two dreams about the future, when he would rise and rule over his eleven brothers and parents.


1. God did not protect Joseph from distress, but rather in the midst of distress.


Joseph’s ten older brothers took him and sold him into slavery. What Joseph’s brothers did to him warranted the death penalty. When Joseph became a house manager for an Egyptian leader named Potiphar, Potiphar’s wife unsuccessfully tried to seduce him. However, Potiphar had Joseph thrown into prison.


Genesis 39:20-21 And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. 21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.


In prison, the warden placed Joseph in charge of other inmates. Just as with Potiphar, Joseph took care of everything with excellence.


When you soak a sponge in water and then press down on it, what’s inside comes out. A trial is pressure on our lives that shows what we have been soaking up. Trails show us what is on the inside.


Joseph had been in communion with God. The challenges he faced made his love for God come through.


2. Unlike the cupbearer and chief baker, Joseph did not suffer for doing wrong, but for honoring God.


Pharaoh’s cupbearer and chief baker were thrown into prison with Joseph for offending Pharaoh. One night, these two prisoners each had frightening dreams. Joseph, concerned about the cupbearer and baker, asked the men about their sad appearances. Joseph interpreted the cupbearer’s dream in Genesis 40:8-15. The cupbearer’s dream, Joseph said, revealed that he would be released from prison in three days. In Genesis 40:16-22, Joseph mentioned that the chief baker would be executed in three days.


The cupbearer promised Joseph that he would plead his case before Pharaoh, to get him released from prison. However, two years passed and the cupbearer forgot his promise to talk to Pharaoh about Joseph.


I used to love Pop Tarts. You put them in the toaster and wait for them to pop up. I like mine crisp. So, I often have to push them back down so that the heat can finish doing the job.


Sometimes in severe trials, God puts us back down in the heat until we are ready. He has to complete his purpose in making us into what he intends for us to be.


3. The story of Joseph being forgotten in prison for an additional two years is familiar to many who have had high hopes and been let down.


Many have cried out to God while waiting for him. Jesus himself cried out on the cross, seeking the Father.


Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”


Then, Pharaoh has two unsettling dreams back to back. In his first dream, seven fat cows appear out of the Nile River. Then, in a strange turn of events, the seven fat cows are eaten by seven skinny cows. In Pharaoh’s second dream, seven healthy heads of grain were consumed by seven thin heads of grain.


Pharaoh knew that these dreams had spiritual significance. The Egyptians believed that sleep placed people in real and direct contact with the other world where not only the dead but the gods dwell. None of Pharaoh’s wise men were able to interpret these dreams. The cupbearer overhears Pharaoh’s dilemma. Guess who the cupbearer remembers? He remembers Joseph.


Pharaoh has Joseph brought in before him. Pharaoh expects Joseph to understand the purpose of his terrifying dreams. We have every indication that Joseph was a man of prayer and faith. Joseph explained that knowledge like this is from God.


4. Joseph relied on God for direction and strength.


Genesis 41:16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”


By God’s wisdom, Joseph explained Pharaoh’s dream.


Genesis 41:28-31 It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, 30 but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, 31 and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe.


Joseph proposed a plan to tax and store up grain for seven years during the bumper crop and ration the grain during the famine. Pharaoh knew that Joseph was inspired by the Spirit of God and telling the truth.


Genesis 41:38-40 And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” 39Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.”


A skeptic might say that this story is all fabricated and not history. However, a text from Siheil in Southern Egypt dating from the second century BC also tells of a seven-year famine followed by years of plenty in the timeframe of the biblical Joseph.[2]


Pharaoh gave his signet ring to Joseph, clothed him in robes of the elite, and put a gold necklace around Joseph’s neck. Joseph, an abandoned immigrant slave and prisoner, arose to the rank of second in command in one of the most powerful civilizations in world history.


Genesis 41:55 When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.”


Joseph rose through the ranks of hatred, slavery, and prison, demonstrating his reliance and trust in God every step along the way. Joseph’s prison experience became a stepping stone to the palace. Joseph married a woman from an influential family and had two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Joseph became a wise man without peer.


Joseph’s story is about one righteous man who suffered to save not only one nation but many. Joseph even had the grace and humility to tell his brothers in the end that their evil was used for God’s purpose.


Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.


Joseph’s story reminds us a lot of another person’s story. Joseph’s experience was a neon sign pointed to Jesus. As Joseph suffered and kept his integrity, he provided an example for us, much like Jesus Christ. We can learn many moral lessons from Joseph’s life. However, Joseph’s experience prepares us to hear the most important news of all.


Around 2,000 years after Joseph, God took on human flesh. Jesus came to this earth to redeem us to God. As Joseph would live a righteous life and suffer for Israel, Jesus came to die as the sinless Lamb of God for the sins of the world. As Joseph suffered and was later elevated, Jesus was crucified and then exalted.


Philippians 2:9-11 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


Joseph’s life is proof that God is in control. God has a plan. However, he also points to Jesus. Jesus is the way we are reconciled to God. The hope of the Gospel is that because Jesus came down to the “Egypt-land” of this world and suffered, even though he had done no wrong, he was exalted to save us. As Joseph was able to sit at the right hand of Pharaoh, Jesus died and rose again, and sits at the right hand of the Father.


You came here today because you have or are seeking hope. Perhaps like Joseph, you are looking for hope in the midst of inexplicable suffering. Many Christians believe that hope is wishing for something you are never going to get. The Bible teaches us that this hopeless thinking is all wrong!


Not too long ago, I had a late meeting. I was on the way home from the meeting talking to my wife and kids on speakerphone as I drove home. Seventy-five miles from home, I was looking forward to getting home early enough to get a warm shower and relax before bedtime. The problem was that I got caught up in talking and driving; I forgot to check my fuel gauge! My car began to shudder and sputter. For the first time in my life, I was on the side of the interstate out of gas.


Imagine my horror at being out of gas on the interstate! Trucks were zooming by me. It was freezing cold outside. I swallowed my pride and asked my wife to leave home late at night with a five-gallon gas can and bring me some gas. She was having trouble finding me on the road at night because of issues with the cell phone. Finally, it was a great sight to see her car pulling in behind me on the side of the road.


She helped me get enough gas in the tank to make it to the service station. She bought me a cup of coffee while I fueled up the tank the rest of the way. She followed me home and helped me to bed. The best part, she has never mentioned it since.


Jesus is so good to us. He finds us broken down, embarrassed and lost on the highway. He warms us by his love. Jesus rests us in the grace of his forgiveness and mercy. He does not keep bringing our past mistakes and failures to our attention.


2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.


God is demonstrating his patience. He wants to take you from the prison to the prince’s house. God wants to save you from sin because of what Jesus has done for you.






[1]Tony Evans, Tony Evans Book, (Chicago, IL: Moody, 2009), 317.
[2] Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 2, 393.