Preach your own sermons.
Although that’s a good rule to follow, I plan to break it in this sermon. I’m going to preach a sermon by someone else.
In seminary they told us not to do this, but I’m going to do it anyway. I have three good reasons for doing this:
First, I’m telling you up front what I’m doing.
Second, the man who preached this sermon has been dead for 177 years.
Third, it’s a very good sermon.
Let’s start with the man who first preached this message. Though the name Charles Simeon is mostly forgotten today, he was considered one of the greatest preachers of his generation (See John Piper’s excellent summary of his life). He pastored Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, England for an amazing 54 years. During his pastorate he prepared detailed sermon outlines from all parts of the Bible. These detailed outlines have been gathered in a massive 21-volume set that costs around $400 if you can find it for sale. Though his style reflects his own age, the sermons stand up very well because they are both biblical (rooted in the text) and evangelical (pointing the reader to faith in Christ).
Charles Simeon published a sermon on Genesis 45 called God Viewed in Joseph’s Advancement. Though the title may sound stuffy, the sermon itself is actually very contemporary in the best sense. As someone has noted, we do not have to “make the Bible relevant.” The Bible is already relevant because it speaks to our universal need to know the God who made us. Our task as preachers is simply to show how relevant the Bible already is.
Simeon begins his sermon by talking about the “hidden secrets of divine providence.” If that sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve already discussed this principle several times in this series on the life of Joseph.
When we are going through the ordeal of being unfairly attacked, when we are being lied about, when our reputation is being publicly smeared, when our friends betray us, when a spouse abandons us, it may appear impossible that such things could accomplish anything good, but they do. The key is the word “appear.” We see far less than what God sees. The good that may come from the treachery of others is not planned by the hand of man, is not seen in advance, and is not seen at all except by faith.
That leaves us with one very important question: How does God bring God out of evil? Simeon uses an unusual word to answer that question. He says that God “interposes” in every situation so that he is able to bring good out of the worst that happens in this world. The dictionary says that to “interpose” means to place or insert between one thing and another. Used in this sense, it means that God actively involves himself in the worst moments of life.
I freely admit that when I consider the evil and heartache in this world, I cannot fathom what it means for God to “interpose” himself in those situations. My limitation is not simply a lack of creative thinking on my part. No one on this side of the “keyhole of life” can say with certainty how this works. But we can rest assured that God in his wisdom knows what he is doing. I find it a great comfort to know that in a world marked by sudden death and every sort of cruelty that man can devise, our God is not merely a passive observer. He works behind the scenes to bring about ends that are for our good and his glory.
“God Sent Me Here”
With that background, we return to the story of Joseph. He had been hated, envied, betrayed, sold into slavery, falsely accused and unfairly accused. Joseph sends the Egyptians away and reveals himself to his brothers who are understandably terrified to meet the brother they sold into slavery 22 years earlier. Now he has them firmly in his grasp. He can order them killed and it will be done. Or tortured. Or thrown into jail. Or anything else he desires to have done to them.
If anyone had a "right” to be bitter, it was Joseph
I pause to comment that if anyone had a “right” to be bitter, it was Joseph. He has “lost” 22 years of his life. The temptation to get even must have been great. But this is how he summarizes the whole affair:
“I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry.’” (Genesis 45:4-9).
His words point to an enormous irony. The very thing used against him (their betrayal) results in his exaltation so that he can now save the brothers who betrayed him. We see the central truth in verse 8: “It was not you who sent me here, but God.”
Joseph had a great God!
Those are either the words of a madman or a man of faith. He mentions God five times in six verses so his brothers won’t miss the point. “I know what you did. I haven’t forgotten your treachery, but that’s not the issue. You did what you did because you wanted to hurt me, but God allowed it to happen so that I would end up a ruler in Egypt so that at the exact moment when you needed me, I would be here to save you and your descendants.” His vision of God was so great that it dwarfed the sin of his brothers.
You can read the rest of the sermon online.