Robert Jeffress - Forsaken And Forgotten... But Not Forever
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. I once heard a Bible teacher make this comforting observation. He said, "Robert, nothing comes into the life of God's children, that hasn't first been filtered through his loving hands". That's reassuring, isn't it? Well, some find that statement difficult to believe, because it implies that God allows not only good, but also bad things to happen. Today, we'll see this principle emerging from the life of Joseph. While his situation looked hopeless, we'll see how it fit into God's perfect plan. My message is titled, "Forsaken and Forgotten... But Not Forever," on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
When I was in college, one of my jobs was to be an announcer on our local radio station, KWBU in Waco. And part of the requirements of any radio station is every few months, the FCC requires you to do a test of the emergency broadcast system. You probably heard those on radio, or seen those on television. The announcer comes on and he says, "This is a test of the emergency broadcast system. For the next 60 seconds, this station will conduct a test in accordance with FCC regulations. This is only a test". And then you hear that annoying beep. Now you're probably wonderin' what's going on during that beep. Well, I'll tell you. We're fiddling with the controls, playing like we know what we're doing behind the scenes there. But the end, the announcer comes back on and says, "This has concluded our test of the emergency broadcast system. We now return to regular programming".
You know, I've often thought how nice it would be, if before we go into a major catastrophe in our life, there would be an announcer in heaven who said, "This is a test of your faith. For the next 60 days, your life is going to be absolutely miserable. This is only a test". And then you go through whatever you're going through. And at the end, when it was over, the announcer from heaven would say, "This concludes God's test of your life. Your life will now return to normal". Wouldn't that be nice if that kind of thing would happen? Has it ever happened to any of you? Certainly hasn't happened to me. In fact, what usually happens is, we're sailing along through life very nicely. Things are going our way, when out of nowhere, we get ambushed by a catastrophe, or catastrophes. It may be a health crisis, maybe a disruption in our family, a financial reversal, a job loss. And suddenly we find ourselves in a maelstrom of misery. And we wonder, "How long is this going to last"?
Perhaps you've been in that situation as well. The fact is, it's only when we get through that maelstrom of misery that we're able to look back and say, "Oh, now I see what God was up to". You know, somebody had said God's will is best seen in the rear view mirror. It's only when you're able to look back that many times, you're able to see the hand of God. Philip Yancey, the noted author, says, "Faith means believing in advance what only makes sense in reverse". Perhaps you've been there. Joseph was there. Today we're going to look at an event in Joseph's life that seemingly came out of nowhere, but only years later was he able to look back and see the hand of God. While he was in this time of testing, he thought God had forsaken him, forgotten him forever.
If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn to Genesis chapter 39. Remember where Joseph is? He could have been having a first-class pity party for himself, if he had wanted to. "Lord, look at all I've done for you. You allowed me to be betrayed by my brothers, sold into slavery, taken to this foreign land that doesn't recognize you whatsoever. And look where I am right now. Where are you, God"? Have you ever asked that question? You've done the best you know how to do. You haven't been perfect, but you've tried to please God. And instead, God hasn't rewarded you. Instead he's allowed catastrophe to come into your life. And you're asking the question, "Where are you, God"? Where was God?
Look at what the Bible says in verse 21. "But the Lord was with Joseph". God hadn't gone anyplace. He was right with Joseph in the same way he had always been with Joseph, and he's with you right now as well. Hebrews 13:5, God says, "I promise I will never leave you or desert you". When you can't see his hand, when you don't know what God is up to, you can still cling to the promise that God is with you, just like he was with Joseph. Look at verse 21 again. "But the Lord was with Joseph, and extended kindness to him and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. The chief jailer committed to Joseph's charge all the prisoners who were in the jail, so that whatever was done there, he was responsible for it. The chief jailer didn't supervise anything under Joseph's charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever Joseph did, the Lord made to prosper".
Here Joseph is thrown into prison, and he rises to a place of prominence. And it says the chief jailer didn't have to worry about any of the details of running the jail. He trusted everything to Joseph. Does that sound familiar to you? That's just what had happened, when Joseph was sold to Potiphar, when he became a member of Potiphar's household. He was just like any other slave, but there was something about Joseph that was different. He distinguished himself with Potiphar in such a way that he became in charge of everything in Potiphar's household.
Now here's an important principle I want every one of you to remember. It's a principle about success. It's a principle that only truly successful people understand, and it's this. Write it down. "Success is not determined by our position. Success is determined by our disposition". Let me say it again. "Success is not determined by our position. It's determined by our disposition". Proverbs 18:16, "A man's gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men". Proverbs 22:29, "Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings. He will not stand before obscure men". Translated, cream always rises to the top. It always does. And if you do your work excellently, you go above and beyond, you are such a rare commodity in today's work world, you will receive a promotion. That's exactly what Joseph did. He worked hard, and same thing is true for us. It doesn't matter whether we're the chairman of the apple company, or our job is to take out an inmate's waste from the jail, as was Joseph's responsibility. Cream rises to the top.
Now look at chapter 40:1. "Then it came after these things that the cupbearer and the baker for the king of Egypt offended their Lord, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was furious with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker". Now this sounds like a totally unrelated story. What in the world does that have to do with Joseph? Never forget this. God is always working, even when you can't see it. That's true in your life and my life. God is always working. He's working out a perfect plan for your life. And that's what he was doing with Joseph. The fact is this spat was going on in Pharaoh's court. Joseph knew nothing about it. He was in prison, but look at verse three. "So the jailer put the baker, the cupbearer in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, in the jail, the same place where Joseph was imprisoned". There are no coincidences in God's plan. "And the captain of the bodyguard put Joseph in charge of them, and he took care of them, and they were in confinement for some time".
Now, look at verse five. "Then the cupbearer and the baker, who were confined in jail, both had a dream the very same night, each man with his own dream and each dream with its own interpretation". Now, next Sunday, we're gonna talk about dreams. Does God still speak through dreams today? Well, he did then, and that's for sure, if you had the right interpretation. "So when Joseph came to them in the morning and observed these two men who had had the dreams, behold, they were dejected. So he asked the officials, 'why are your faces so sad today'"? Verse eight, "Then they said to him, 'we have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it'. Then Joseph said to them, 'do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please'".
I think that's such a fascinating response. You know, Joseph could have been very bitter at this point, after falsely being imprisoned. When they told him, "Oh, we've had a dream and we need somebody to interpret it," Joseph coulda said "Dreams? I used to believe in dreams. I had one when I was 17, that I was gonna rule over my brothers and family, and look where it landed me". Or Joseph could have said, "Ha, let God interpret your dreams for you, but I'm not gonna do his work for him. Look at how he's treated me, his servant, thrown me here in prison for something I didn't do. No, if God wants somebody to interpret your dream, he'll have to get somebody else. I'm out of business". But he didn't do that. In fact, one thing you notice from this point on, Joseph never utters one word of bitterness or resentment about his past. God is training Joseph, teaching him to trust him. Instead, he offers to be God's spokesman.
So, these two officials share their dreams with Joseph. First of all, the cupbearer. The cupbearer says, "Joseph, here's my dream. I dreamed that I saw a grapevine with three branches on it. And each branch had luscious grapes, and I squeezed the grapes into Pharaoh's cup. What does that mean"? Joseph's, "Oh, that's easy. Three days from now, you're going to be released from this prison, and you're gonna be restored to your position in Pharaoh's household. Only thing I'm asking you is when that happens, not if it happens, when it happens, remember me to Pharaoh. Tell him my story of how I'm here unjustly". The cupbearer said, "Oh, Joseph, I could never forget you".
Well, the baker was excited when he heard this. He said, "Me next, me next, Joseph. Interpret my dream". He said, "Okay, what does your dream mean? Here's what it means". There were three baskets. The baker says, "There are three baskets on my head with white bread in them". Mrs. Baird's, I think. "And there are also some baked goods in them. And some birds came and started eating out of the baskets. What does it mean"? Joseph said, "Do you want to know? Do you really want to know"? He said, "Yes, I want to know". He said, "Well, here's what it means. In three days, you're gonna be released. Pharaoh's gonna hang you on a tree, and the birds are gonna eat your flesh". "Sorry I asked," the baker said. Not really, but I'm sure that's what he thought.
Now here's something about Joseph's integrity. At this very point, Joseph could have told the baker whatever he wanted to hear to make him feel good, but he was a spokesman for God. He felt an obligation to tell him the truth. So what happened after he interpreted those dreams? Look at verse 20. "Then it came about on the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that they made a feast for all of his servants". And so the Bible says, "He lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer, and the head of the chief baker among his servants, and he restored the chief cupbearer to his office, and put the cup into Pharaoh's hand. He released two men from prison. One man he exalted, the cupbearer, but he hanged the chief baker just as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him".
I want to pause here, and talk to some of you who feel like you are stuck in the prison house of testing. You're going through a problem, and you're wondering, "Is any end in sight? Is this going to go on forever and ever and ever"? Maybe you cry out to God, and the heavens are silent, and you're beginning to doubt God's love, care, or even his existence. If that's true of you, and if it's not now, it will be true of you at some point in your life.
Let me share what you four timeless truths to remember when you are experiencing testing in your life. First of all, remember God's sovereignty. What does God's sovereignty mean? Sovereignty means rules. God rules over all. Simply put, God is in control of your life. What is happening to you right now is no accident. God not only knew about it ahead a time, he planned it ahead a time. There's nothing that comes into the life of a child of God that has not been sifted through the loving and perfect will of God. That's what God's sovereignty means. God is in control of your life. Don't forget God's sovereignty.
Secondly, remember God's sufficiency. II Corinthians 1:4 tells us that, "God comforts us," literally. He strengthens us in all of our afflictions so that we can strengthen others with the same strength we have received from God. God strengthens us, not in some of our sufferings, but in all of our affliction. Paul experienced that himself. Remember he suffered from that thorn in the flesh. We don't know what it was, some kind of physical malady. And Paul said in II Corinthians 12, he prayed for the Lord three times to remove that physical suffering. But each time God said, "No, my grace is sufficient for you". And that's true for you and me. God's grace is sufficient, not for tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. Like manna, it's good for today and today only. God gives us that strength as we need it.
Thirdly, don't forget God's timetable. God doesn't operate according to our schedule. Have you found that out? On God's timetable, nothing is too long or too short, too early or too late. Instead, Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, "God has made everything appropriate in his time". For Joseph, his period of testing was two monotonous years he spent in that prison. He thought it would never end, but on a certain day, of a certain month of a certain year that had been written in indelible ink on God's calendar before the foundation of the world, at that precise moment, Joseph's prison door was opened, and God said, "Enough". And the same thing is going to happen to you. At some undetermined point in the future, written on God's calendar, God's going to say, "Enough, your test is over". Don't forget God's timetable.
And finally, when in that time of testing, don't forget God's purpose. God had a reason for not freeing Joseph earlier. Just imagine what would have happened, had the cupbearer remembered Joseph, and presented his case to Pharaoh, and Pharaoh feeling especially excited over his birthday, said, "I'm gonna pardon this guy, and I'm gonna pardon him today, let him go," what would have happened? Joseph would've been hightailing it back to Canaan to be reunited with his family. And if he had been released, and left and gone back to Canaan, he would not have been in the place he needed to be two years later, to interpret this dream of Pharaoh's that we're gonna look at next time, an interpretation made by Joseph, that would not only impact Pharaoh, it would impact the entire world. It would impact you and me even today. God had a purpose, a worldwide purpose. He was working through Joseph's testing, but there was also something else going on. God was not only doing something in the world through Joseph's imprisonment. He was doing something in Joseph's life as well.
If you don't hear one other thing I say today, remember this, God is much more interested in what is happening in you, than what is happening to you. God is much more interested in what is happening in you, than what's happening to you. Think about this. What difficulty are you experiencing right now that God couldn't change or end in an instant, if he wanted to? Couldn't he do that? He could say, "That's it, over". No, God can change your circumstances. What he's interested in is what's going on in your heart right now. Remember the promise in Romans 8:28? "And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to his purpose".
Every circumstance in our life, including that test you're going through right now, is working together for good. What is the good thing he's working it together for? It's not your comfort. It's not your vindication. It's not your deliverance. Verse 29, the next verse says, "For whom God foreknew, he predestined to become conformed to the image of his son, Jesus Christ". What God is doing in you right now through this trial, is making you more like his son, Jesus Christ. Have you discovered, it's through the difficult times that our character is sharpened and refined, not through the easy times? That's what God is doing. He's shaping you into the image of his son. That's what God was doing in Joseph's life, through his test. And that's what God is doing right now in your life, through this test.