Sunday, June 25, 2017


It is almost vacation time… some of our members might be on vacation already! Victor Borge told a story about a couple going on vacation:
Standing in line waiting to check their bags at the airline counter, the husband (a musician) said to the wife, "I wish we had brought the piano."
The wife replied, "Oh honey, this was supposed to be a vacation! And we've already got six bags!"
The husband: "Yes, I know-- but I wish we’d brought the piano: I left the tickets are on the piano!"

It’s a silly story, but it reminds us that the important thing is to prioritize the important things. And that’s the theme of our text this morning, because we will be looking at the Old Testament book of Haggai. Now Haggai is one of the shortest books in the Old Testament, second only to Obadiah. It starts with these words:

In the second year of King Darius, on the first day of the sixth month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai ...

The second year of King Darius... with these words, Haggai clearly wants to situate his prophecy in history, so I hope that you don't mind if I give a bit of historical background. Way back in Deuteronomy, when the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River to enter the promised land, one of the first things that they were to do was to shout at each other. Seriously (you can find it all in Deuteronomy 27): six of the twelve tribes were to gather on Mount Gerizim, and the other six were to gather on Mount Ebal. The banks of these two mountains are almost a kilometer apart, but the two of them form a remarkable natural arena -- words shouted from the bank of one can be heard on the bank of the other! And Moses gave the people these instructions: those on one side would pronounce blessings, and those on the other side would pronounce curses. And these were the first words to be shouted (Deut 27:15):

“Cursed is anyone who makes an idol—a thing detestable to the Lord...—and sets it up...” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!”

As you are likely aware, avoiding idolatry is a big deal in the Old Testament. The first of the ten commandments is, after all “you shall have no other gods before me.” And because of their idolatry, the people of Israel met their downfall. Only a few centuries later, the prophet Isaiah could write (Isaiah 2:6,8):

You, Lord, have abandoned your people, the descendants of Jacob….
Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands,

Now before we become smug about how much better we are, we need to appreciate that idolatry continues undiminished up until the present -- just in different forms: idolatry can be subtle. David Foster Wallace said, “There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” Paul describes the dynamics of idolatry clearly in Romans 1:25:

they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creat[ed] rather than the Creator

And we do that all the time. Knowing how susceptible we all are to this tendency, Paul also wrote (1 Cor 10:14):

my dear friends, flee from idolatry.

But back in Deuteronomy, God had made the consequences of such idolatry clear:

(28:15)...if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today…(36) The Lord will drive you a... to a nation unknown to you or your ancestors.

And that, of course, is precisely what happened. The people of Israel were taken into captivity by the Babylonians in the sixth century BC. But this was not the end. God had not fully abandoned his people. In chapter 30 of Deuteronomy, God anticipated the whole thing in advance! We read:

10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 9 Then ...The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, 8...the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you….

And, sure enough, after the Persian empire conquered Babylon, the Persian King Cyrus encouraged the Jewish exiles to return to the land of Israel and rebuild the temple, as we read in the first chapter of Ezra:

Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites—everyone whose heart God had moved—prepared to go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.

But shortly after laying of the foundation for the temple, the people encountered opposition, resulting in a delay of about twenty years mentioned at the end of Ezra chapter 4:

Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

So that’s the history; that catches us up to Haggai… But that twenty year delay -- a delay between the laying of the temple foundations and getting to work on building the rest of the temple -- will help us understand Haggai, where we will (finally!) turn (1:2):

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this (my) house lies in ruins? 5 Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts, “Consider your ways! 6 You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.”

Hold on. That’s not right. In Deuteronomy, Moses had promised prosperity! It’s right here: after being gathered from the nations, Deut 30:9 says:

the Lord your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land.

And yet Haggai is reporting just the opposite! So what’s going on? Well, in the next few verses, Haggai explains it all.

7 Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Consider your ways! 8 Go up to the mountains, bring wood and rebuild the temple, that I may be pleased with it and be glorified,” says the Lord. 9 “You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?” declares the Lord of hosts, “Because of My house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.

“Consider your ways,” says the prophet. That seems to be one of his themes. He wants us to be aware that our behavior and our experience could be closely related. Do we want to know why things aren’t working out for us? Do we want to know why our efforts seem to be ineffective? Do you want to know why we put so much in and get so little out? -- because we have our priorities wrong. God’s House lies in ruins, while our houses are receiving all of our time, and resources, and energy.

Now of course there are always all kinds of forces conspiring against the building of God’s House -- just like the opposition encountered by the people in Haggai’s day. After all, the building of God’s House requires work. It requires dedication. God understands this, and that is why He is encouraging us through Haggai this morning:

(2:4) Be strong, all you people of the land declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, [echo of 1:13]... My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.

And the people obeyed the words of the Lord (this is what Haggai writes -- 1:14,15):

All the remnant of the people... came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the month, in the sixth month, in the second year of Darius the king.

(Notice: it took a little more than three weeks for them to get their act together toward obedience.) But the task is not easy. The task involves sacrifice and investment. The task involves setting our face against the tide of corruption and self-worship. God is aware of all this, too, and so He challenges us through Haggai (2:10):

On the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, … “Now then, consider from this day onward. Before [work began on] the temple of the Lord, 16 how did you fare? When one came to a heap of twenty measures, there were but ten. When one came to the wine vat to draw fifty measures, there were but twenty. 17 I struck you and all the products of your toil with blight and with mildew and with hail, yet you did not turn to me, declares the Lord. 18 Consider ... Since the day that the foundation of the Lord's temple was laid, [remember: that was twenty years previously] consider: 19 Is the seed yet in the barn? Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.

Did you notice that God waited three months to deliver that blessing? They got to work on the twenty-fourth of the sixth month, and now it is the twenty-fourth of the ninth month, and now God says that he will start to bless the people. I wonder how often we are impatient for God’s blessing. Do we come to church expecting -- perhaps even demanding -- to be blessed in the moment, when it is God's preference to provide the blessing at the end of a long obedience. What kind of obedience? Well, God is instructing us this morning -- telling us through Haggai to work on his House.

But how does that look in ‘real life’? Well, the key question is clear: how do we understand the Temple today? In the time of Haggai, God put great value on his Temple. What is it that God puts such value in today? Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that the modern equivalent of the Temple is the building that we meet in. After all, the early church met in homes and on hillsides and anywhere they could. Rather, the New Testament tells us that (Col 2:17):

These [things -- including the Temple! --] are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance [that is, the reality] is found in Christ.

And remember those famous words of our Lord? (John 2:19)

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” [and John explains that] He was speaking of the temple of His body.

The reality is found in Christ. The New Testament equivalent of the Temple is the body of Christ. But the Bible has more to say about the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27):

Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.

Or how about (Romans 12:6):

so we, who are many, are one body in Christ

Or how about (Ephesians 4:15,16):

we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

That’s right: we are the body of Christ; we are God’s Temple. The proper understanding of the Temple for today is the church! It is us! And scripture even makes it explicit. 1 Cor 3:16,17 says:

Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? ...God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.

And the word “you” in all these verses is the plural form, so that the NIV renders it “you together are that temple.” As Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” The fact that the church is the true Temple is also found elsewhere:

we are the temple of the living God (2 Cor 6:16)

the house of God... is the church of the living God (1 Timothy 3:15)

you are ... members of the house of God…., Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2)

So we can’t escape it: the New Testament equivalent of the Temple is the church -- not the building but the people! In the Old Testament, it is clear that God had great concern for His Temple. It was a place to meet Him; it was a place to gather. It was a place to worship and to be challenged and to experience community. And today, God’s concern is for the church. The church is now where God prefers people to meet him. God wants people who encounter you to see God in you! The church is now where God prefers people to gather, to worship, to be challenged -- "spurring one another on to love and good deeds" -- and to experience community.

Now if that is not your experience at Bethel, may I offer a humble apology on the behalf of us all, and on behalf of the elders. If that is not your experience at Bethel, then too many of us are giving too much thought to our own houses at the expense of God’s house.

God isn’t asking for a “trickle-down” investment in the House of God -- as if God is grateful with our leftovers -- the message of Haggai this morning is that the real blessing occurs only when we make the House of God a primary rather than a secondary concern! If we aren’t experiencing the blessing of God, it might simply be a question of our priorities.

God wants to bless us, but he also wants us to appreciate that the path to the greatest blessing is counter-intuitive. “Whoever wants to keep his life will lose it,” says Jesus, “but whoever loses his life for the my sake, will find it.” And that’s the principle in play here: if we primarily invest in ourselves (or even our families), those investments may not return all that we hope them to.

Scripture is clear: we are not to bring leftovers to the House of God. We are not to bring discards. Instead, we must bring our firstfruits: the best portion of our resources. As it says in Exodus 23 and again in Exodus 34:

The best of the firstfruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God.

Now I know that this is a challenging message. But let’s face it, when Jesus introduced the church, he made it clear that it would be in direct conflict with the gates of Hell -- so we should expect challenges! And, of course, knowing that doesn’t discourage us. Rather: we can legitimately be energized. As Jesus promised: “the gates of Hell will not prevail" -- the church wins!

In fact, Haggai’s message makes it clear that the new Temple will be greater than the old Temple (2:7):

I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts.... 9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts.

So let me repeat the words of God to Haggai as the message to the church this morning:

Be strong, all you people of [Bethel] declares the Lord. Work, [God knows it takes work. If we see someone struggling, it is always so much easier to go home to our 'panelled houses' and forget about our brother or sister. Work: become the people who represent God to the world. Work: become a people of worship, and a people of challenge, and a true community] for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, [echo of 1:13]... My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. (Haggai 2:4,5)

Or, as Paul puts it:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

So what are we doing to build up the church this week? Haggai tells us to “consider our ways”. He challenges us to put God to the test. If we commit to the construction of his House, the church; if we’re willing to invest in those beyond our families and our close friends, if we are willing to share his vision for a church and make it our primary, rather than our secondary investment, then his blessing will follow. Let’s recommit ourselves this morning to an investment in God’s Temple -- even in the lives and the concerns of the people seated all around you this morning.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Joseph and Jesus

Good Morning - this morning, we’re going to return to our series of sermons on seeing Jesus in the Old Testament. As you recall, we started with Adam, then considered Abraham and then before taking a break for a few weeks, we looked at the scapegoat ritual, and how it prefigured Jesus. And this morning, we’ll be turning to Joseph, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham.

Joseph is, without question, one of the most important figures in the history of the Jewish people. Without him, the people of Israel would never have survived. Of course, without that survival, they would never have been put into slavery in Egypt. But on the other hand, without that slavery, there would never have been experienced God’s miraculous deliverance, and with it, freedom and recovery of the promised land. Life can be complicated, can’t it? Well, Joseph’s life certainly was complicated. Let me remind you of his (most remarkable) story (which can be found in Genesis 37-50):


Joseph was the beloved favorite son of his father. And Joseph had a strong sense of what was right and what was wrong, which unfortunately resulted in his tattling on his brothers when they weren’t behaving well -- and that didn’t go over so well. Joseph was also given special treatment by his father -- famously receiving a “coat of many colors” -- and his brothers didn’t like that, either. Joseph was also a dreamer. And not just one of those dreamers that you can roll your eyes at and safely ignore. No: Joseph was one of those dreamers who thinks that you, too, must participate in his dreams. And one day, when Joseph was seventeen years old, his father sends him off to find his older brothers. He needs to go on quite a hike, because they had moved the family sheep around to greener pastures. But he eventually catches up to them, and this is what we read (Genesis 37:18-20):

But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.
“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”


He came unto his own, but his own did not receive him. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Jesus was killed by his own, and it certainly seems that Joseph might also have been killed -- his brothers only changing their mind at the last minute because some slave-traders came along and his brother Judas, I mean Judah, convinces them to sell Joseph for a few pieces of silver. So Joseph received a second life, but ended up being hauled off to Egypt at the end of a slaving caravan.

Now some people, having just been mugged and sold as a slave by your family might be a tiny bit bitter about the whole experience. Some people might even have blamed God for it all. And since he was only human, it likely took Joseph a while to be able to handle the whole slavery thing. But we know that he eventually came around, and concluded that if God was with him, and he was in Egypt, then God was also in Egypt, too.

Now being a slave has never been fun, and being a slave in Egypt no different. Joseph was sold to a guy named Potiphar. That was a good thing: Potiphar was wealthy and powerful, so he could afford to treat his slaves well – especially the good slaves. And Joseph turned out to be one of the very best slaves that Potiphar had. That’s already a good indication that Joseph was trusting in God. When we trust in God, God often helps us do our work better, even when it could so easily be getting us down. So after a while, Joseph’s life wasn’t so bad.

But just when Joseph was about to get comfortable, Potiphar’s wife comes along. Now I told you that Joseph was a tattle-tale. But there are two types of tattle-tales: the first type tells those things that you’d prefer to be kept secret. That’s the kind of tattle-tale that Joseph was with his brothers. But Potiphar’s wife was the other kind of tattle-tale: she made up lies to tell Joseph’s master in order to get him into trouble. And who is Potiphar going to believe, this slave he bought from the camel traders, or his wife? Well, he believes his wife, and Joseph gets thrown in a dungeon.

Now some people, having been thrown into a dungeon because someone made up lies about them might be a tiny bit bitter about the whole experience. Some people might even have blamed God for it all. And since he was only human, it likely took Joseph a while to be able to handle the dungeon smells. But we know that he eventually came around, and concluded that if God was with him, and he was in a dungeon, then God was also in that dungeon, too.

Can you imagine? Joseph gets thrown into a well, sold as a slave, wrongfully accused, thrown into a dungeon… Joseph might have been tempted to imagine that God had abandoned him altogether. But the Bible says that God was with Joseph this entire time. And since the Bible story almost certainly comes directly from Joseph’s telling of it, it is remarkable that Joseph recognizes God in the depths of his suffering.

But that’s an important lesson, isn’t it? Just because we don’t think that God is around to look after us, doesn’t at all mean that he has left us alone. When God says “I will never leave you, I will never forsake you,” he doesn’t sneak in some fine print “as long as you do such and so.” As long as we live, God is there watching out for us, and showing his grace to us. The Bible says, “In him we live and move and have our being,” and “in Him all things hold together.”

It is common for people today to claim that there is too much suffering in the world to believe in God. Strangely, this claim often seems to be inversely related to the amount of suffering that the person making the claim has actually experienced. Joseph, having experienced incredible injustice and suffering, knew that God was there beside him.


And so as a picture for us, as an illustration of His love that we can learn from almost four thousand years later, God came and rescued Joseph. It only took thirteen years from the time that he was thrown in that old well. Thirteen years! How did it happen? It was all about dreams.

Joseph found himself between two criminals in that dungeon. Both of them had dreams. Neither understood what their dream meant. Joseph interpreted their dreams for them. One of the dreams meant that Joseph’s companion would be executed. The other dream meant the deliverance of the other criminal beside him. Almost like Jesus on the cross, who famously told the criminal beside him, “you will be with me in paradise.”

So the butler was reinstated to the coveted position of waiting on Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Years later, when Pharaoh had some troubling dreams, the butler remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh that this guy in the dungeon could interpret dreams. So Pharaoh hauled Joseph out of the dungeon and asked for the meaning of his dreams. The dreams indicated that the whole land was going to have seven years of good crops followed by seven years of famine. And Pharaoh was so pleased with Joseph for the warning he provided, that he made him the ruler of the entire land. And it was a good thing, too, because Joseph had the people store away food before the famine, they had enough to survive when the famine came.

One day, long before, Joseph left his father's house wearing his fancy coat, but he ended that day with his coat stripped off him and having been thrown into a pit, to begin thirteen years of slavery and abuse. But on this day, he woke up in a pit (the Hebrew for dungeon and pit are the same), , but he ended that day wearing royal robes in charge of the greatest civilization in the world at the time. If that isn’t a picture of resurrection, nothing short of coming back from the dead could be!


After those seven years of bountiful harvests, the famine came to Egypt and all the surrounding area. It was so bad that people from all over came to buy food from Joseph. And one day, ten men arrived from a long distance away to buy food. Joseph recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him (it had been twenty years, after all). That’s right: it was his brothers who had come to ask for food. You can picture it: here is a ruler in the greatest kingdom on earth, flanked by squads of guards. And his enemies come groveling before him. These are the same enemies who had come “this close” to killing him the last time they had met. Instead, they just sold their own brother as a slave. Now Joseph is the boss, and they are nobodies. But Joseph ends up being really kind to them, and talks the entire family into staying in Egypt (where there was food). And Joseph makes sure that they live in the best part of the entire country.

In Romans chapter five, we read that Christ died for us, and elsewhere, we understand that this death meant life for us. But we are told that Christ died not when we were already God’s friends, but while we were still his enemies -- while we were still sinners. Similarly, Joseph took a punishment he didn’t deserve; he suffered remarkable hardship; but by the powerful intervention of God, he is raised up to sit on a throne in order to provide life and peace for his enemies, and turn them into his family.


So everyone lives “happily ever after,” more or less. But the best part of the lesson of the story comes a little later on. When Joseph’s father Jacob became old and died, Joseph’s brothers all got together and came to Joseph, and the Bible says that they threw themselves down before him, expecting that he would deal with them harshly now. But listen carefully to what Joseph says in reply. He says two things, and both are so important. First, he says, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?” Now Joseph is, of course, implying that “no, or course not, he is not in the place of God.”

It is so easy, so convenient, and so seductively empowering to take the place of God, isn’t it? And it all goes back to the Garden of Eden. What did the serpent say to Adam and Eve? He said, “if you eat of the fruit, you will become like God, knowing good from evil.” This is the most primal of human temptations – it always has been and it always will be. We want to be in the place of God. We want to decide what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil. We want to judge, we want to be in control. But we all need to come to the place that Joseph came to, where he knew that it was not his place to judge, it was not his place to decide what is right and what is wrong. He was not in the place of God, and neither are we.

But here’s an interesting twist: the Pharaohs of Egypt were actually given god-like status. Their absolute rule was the grounds for the practice. And Judah explicitly says that as far as they are concerned Joseph was “like Pharaoh himself (44:18).” So by the custom of the land, it would have been natural to have treated Joseph as God. But here he is humbly acknowledging that he is by no means God. As we read in Philippians chapter 2:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not cling to equality with God, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

How very much like Joseph, who also did not aspire to equality with God. And Joseph also was highly exalted and given a name second only to Pharaoh, just like Jesus has been and will be exalted:

9 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.

The second thing that Joseph says is found in Genesis 50:20, as his brothers are groveling before him after the death of their father, Joseph says to his brothers, “Even though you might have meant it for evil, God meant it for good.”

“God meant it for good.” Being thrown in a well? “Yes, God meant it for good.” Being sold as a slave? “Yes, God meant it for good.” Being wrongfully accused? “Yes, God meant it for good.” Being thrown in the dungeon? “Yes, God meant it for good.” Now it is one thing to recognize God’s work in your life when He has picked you up and dropped you on the throne of the greatest civilization in the known world, but it is quite a different thing to recognize God’s work in your life when you are still in the dungeon. But this trick here is just this: if Joseph wasn’t able to recognize God’s work in his life while he was in the dungeon, God never would have elevated Joseph to the throne in the first place.

Now when Joseph says that God meant it for good, it shows that he understood God. One of the greatest of all human experiences is simply to be understood. And I expect that God appreciates being understood, too. Joseph understands that God’s purpose is to turn evil into good. And if we let him, God wants to be with us, too, and similarly redeem our lives from destruction. The most vivid illustration of this in history, is, of course, the cross. We meant it for evil. God meant it for good. The greatest act of injustice ever committed -- the greatest punishment ever imposed on the one who deserved it the least. Yet God used this event for the good -- in order to bring many children to glory, in order to provide life and peace for his enemies and turn them into his family.


So Joseph’s life is central to the story of the people of Israel. In fact, his story spans almost one quarter of the entire book book of Genesis. Almost as much ink is devoted to Joseph’s story as is given to the story of Abraham. But strangely enough, mention of Joseph is almost absent from the New Testament. Abraham is featured again and again in the writings of Paul - almost seventy times! but Paul never mentions Joseph at all!

Mentions of Joseph in the New Testament are usually references to other people: Joseph the husband of Mary, Joseph Barnabas, or Joseph of Arimathea. Apart from the final address of Stephen the Martyr in Acts chapter 7, the only mention we have of Joseph the son of Jacob in the New Testament is found in the famous eleventh chapter of Hebrews, the Hall of Faith, or the Faith Hall of Fame. And this is what it says (11:22):

By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones.

Say what? Joseph, the man who trusted God in the pit, who trusted God as a slave, who trusted God in the dungeon, and who was raised by God to the highest earthly position. And what does he get commended for in the New Testament? Instructions about his bones. It is a reference to one of the final acts of Joseph (at the end of the book of Genesis -- 50:24):

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will deal with you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” 25 Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely deal with you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.”

And, sure enough, the people of Israel took this vow very seriously. From Exodus 13:19 :

And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had made the children of Israel swear, saying, God will surely visit you; and you shall carry up my bones from here.

A story that came to its conclusion in Joshua 24:32:

And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, were buried in Shechem....

This clearly was a big deal. But what is this telling us? Two things. First, God is primarily interested in what we’ve done for him lately. Sometimes it might be tempting to imagine that past service is of some important, or a prayer prayed in the past is enough. But that isn't the model of the Christian life the Bible presented to us. In Colossians 2:6 we are told that "in the same way that you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to walk in him." The Christian life is a continual present business. Considering that it is only the very last thing that Joseph did in his life is called out as an example for us, let’s plan our lives to end well, starting even today. Let’s get in the habit of faithful commitment to his word today, so that we’ll not be taking chances with the future.

But second, let’s also take God’s promises really seriously. This is what made Joseph insist that his bones be returned to the land of Israel, wasn’t it? He had heard from his father, and perhaps even from his grandfather, that the land of Israel has been promised to his family. He was certain that God was going to keep his promise, and he wanted his bones to end up in the right place.

And if we want to end up in the right place after we die, we, too, would do well to follow Joseph’s lead and pay close attention to God’s promises. After all, in Joshua 21:45, we read:

Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.

And if God’s promises were good to the rebellious house of Israel, how much more will he keep his promises to his beloved children. That’s why Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:1:

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

But the promises of God don’t just drive us to purify our lives, they enable our purification:

2 Peter 1:4 [Jesus] has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

What promises are these? Well, this book is full of them. Let me encourage you to find them for yourself. And not just find them, but apply them to yourself. Take them seriously. Take them personally. It could change your life.

But I’ll close with one example, from the book of Isaiah, God promises (41:10):

Fear not; for I am with you: don’t be dismayed; for I am your God: I will strengthen you; I will help you; yes, I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness. - Isaiah 41:10

You could take a lifetime taking a promise like that seriously. And that might, in fact, be exactly what God intended. Let God mean this for good in your life this morning.