As Marshall indicates in his introduction, few people ever rummage around in the final few chapters of Genesis. But the final events recorded there set the tone for tragic times to comeand all because of a simple lack of trust. Watch as Marshall drives the listener through major sections of Scripture, masterfully weaving together the many layers of trust and distrust. By the time the audience arrives at application, they have intuited the significance of Genesis 50 already: mistrust that is born out of a desire for safety actually gives birth to something infinitely more dangerous. This point is emphasized with a closing litany of personal stories that bridge the ancient text with the listener's modern circumstances.
I want to focus on the word "trust," because even if you're not a pilot or a skydiver, trust is something that every one of us has to exercise every day. It's at the core of what it means to please God and to follow Jesus. The Bible says: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart" (Proverbs 3:5, NLT). Even our currency, which isn't inspired in the biblical sense, echoes this theme: "In God We Trust."
Have you ever thought about what it means to trust in God? The words "trust," "faith," and "believe in" are all synonyms. When the Bible says, "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31), it's another way of saying, "Trust in the Lord."
Trust is an important part of a living, ongoing relationship. Trust means knowing someone well enough that you can count on him or her and acting in accordance with that trust. Believing, having faith, trusting are the fundamentals of life with God. Trust, however, does not come naturally for most of us.
Today we're going to look at an interesting and often overlooked Bible story that shows us the difference between trusting and not trusting. It's in the last chapter of GenesisGenesis 50. Joseph is a key character in this story. We've heard about his coat of many colors, his being resented by his brothers who sell him into slavery, his imprisonment in Egypt, and his eventual rise to become the second most powerful person in all of Egypt. From there he saves the known world from famine, and he provides food for and has an emotional reconciliation with his brothers. This is the story of what happens at the end of Joseph's life.
Jacob trusted Joseph, who is trustworthy.
Pharaoh, Joseph's boss, invites Joseph's whole family (70 of them by then) to come to Egypt, and he provides them with a fertile section of land called Goshen. This is where the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat ends the story. I only wish that were the end! But it's not. Have you noticed what happens after that joyous reunion? Jacob and his family go to Egypt for famine relief, courtesy of Joseph. The Bible tells us that Jacob lives in Egypt for 17 years. That's at least ten years after the famine was over. He's old, nearing death, but he hasn't forgotten where he belongs. At least three times he reminds his son Joseph where his land is and where he wants to be buriedthe land God had promised him, the place he belongs. Consider this passage in Genesis 47:28-29:
Jacob lived for seventeen years after his arrival in Egypt, so he lived 147 years in all. As the time of his death drew near, Jacob called for his son Joseph and said to him, "Please do me this favor. Put your hand under my thigh and swear that you will treat me with unfailing love by honoring this last request: Do not bury me in Egypt."
Jacob had been reluctant to leave the Promised Land in the first place. Genesis 46 tells us that even after he'd heard the stunning news that his son Joseph was alive and was inviting him to come to Egypt, Jacob wasn't sure he wanted to leave the land that God had given him. God reassured Jacob that going to Egypt was okay and that he would bring Jacob back after he's been reunited with Joseph. Seventeen years later, as it's getting close to the time when Joseph's hand will close Jacob's eyes in death, Jacob once again makes Joseph promise that he will bury Jacob in the Promised Land.
When Jacob dies, Joseph remembers the promise he had made to his father. He remembers that God has promised to bring him back to the Promised Land. Upon Jacob's death, Joseph honors his father's wishes. Accompanied by all of Pharaoh' s senior officials, his entire household, and his brothers and their households, Joseph returns to the Promised Land to bury his father.
Joseph's brothers do not trust Joseph, who is trustworthy.
Let's put this into perspective. They travel about 300 miles to bury Jacob and then travel 300 miles back. That's about the distance from Chicago to Detroit, even though no one I know would ever confuse Detroit with the Promised Land. When they get back to Egypt, the character of the brothers, the nature of their unhealthy relationship, and their inability to trust is seen in verses 1518:
But now that their father was dead, Joseph's brothers became fearful. "Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him," they said. So they sent this message to Joseph: "Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: 'Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to youfor their sin in treating you so cruelly.' So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.' When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph. "Look, we are your slaves!" they said.
It's most likely that they manufactured the story. If Jacob really felt that Joseph needed to be told to be kind to his brothers, Jacob would have told Joseph directly. After all, Jacob made Joseph the executor of his estate. He entrusted Joseph to return his body to his home. But the brothers don't trust Joseph's forgiveness, so they say: Dad told us, just before he died, that we're supposed to remind you to forgive us for treating you so badly when you were a teenager.
The text tells us that Joseph wept when he heard their story. I don't think it's because he was touched by what they were saying; I think he cried because even now, after all he'd done for them, they still didn't trust him. Listen to the text:
"Don't be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don't be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children." So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.
Joseph promises to continue supporting them, acting as their sponsor and patron. Was that a favor? Was that godly generosity? Or was he unintentionally becoming an enabler to these complacent and manipulative brothers? I don't know. But in hindsight, it appears Joseph might have been too generous. Why? Because of the casual way the brothers handle their privilege and responsibility. Listen to verses 2225:
So Joseph and his brothers and their families continued to live in Egypt. Joseph lived to the age of 110. He lived to see three generations of descendants of his son Ephraim, and he lived to see the birth of the children of Manasseh's son Makir, whom he claimed as his own.
"Soon I will die," Joseph told his brothers, "but God will surely come to help you and lead you out of this land of Egypt. He will bring you back to the land he solemnly promised to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob."
Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath, and he said, "When God comes to help you and lead you back, you must take my bones with you."
Joseph asked them to promise that they would bury him in the Promised Land. The next verse shows us what they did with that promise. They put him in a coffinin Egypt.
This is the punch line of the entire Book of Genesis. We've followed Joseph's story from teenager to Vice-Pharaoh in Egypt, trusting God all along the way. He's saved the lives of his brothers and their families, and now he has one deathbed request: "Bury me in the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." His brothers promise to do so. But when Joseph dies, he is embalmed and placed in a coffinin Egypt.
Yes, we have to admit that there are some extenuating circumstances for the brothers and their families: the brothers are over a hundred years old; maybe Pharaoh insisted on a state funeral for his second in command (embalming, after all, was an Egyptian, not a Hebrew practice). But Joseph's request wasn't carried out by his brothers, their sons, or their adult grandchildrennot one generation! When do you suppose they were going to get around to doing what they promised?
To understand the significance of what's happening here, consider what is said about this in the New Testament. In Hebrews 11:22 and its famous list of Old Testament people who exhibited living faith, what is said about Joseph? The evidence of Joseph's faith, according to Hebrews, is not faithfully serving his master as a slave or resisting temptation with Potiphar's wife. It's not his relying on God to interpret dreams. It's not even his willingness to forgive his brothers who betrayed him. His claim to faith inscribed in Hebrews 11:22 is this: "It was by faith that Joseph, when he was about to die, said confidently that the people of Israel would leave Egypt. He even commanded them to take his bones with them when they left." The New Testament says Joseph's faith is shown in his telling his family that they need to leave where they are and lay his bones to rest in the place God has instructed.
But Joseph's brothers and his surviving family members don't do anything about his instructions. Would you say they were trusting Joseph by the way they handled his request? Not exactly! They didn't trust his forgiveness, and they didn't see much urgency to act on his desire for them to return to the land God had provided. In fact, it isn't until 400 years later, in Exodus 13, that Moses eventually honors Joseph's request, fulfilling the oath that multiple generations of Jacob's offspring had neglected.
Why did the sons and grandsons of Jacob stay in Egypt? At first, I suspect, it was a longing for security. They wanted good farmland. Who wants to pack up and leave? Everyone knows that moving is a hassle. But this eventually becomes a refusal to do what God has clearly assigned and a refusal to do what they have promised to do.
What finally made them leave 400 years later? It was pain. Their longing for security had turned into slavery. The first chapter of Exodus tells how the Israelites became oppressed and enslaved in Egypt. From a human point of view, that didn't have to happen. They could have obeyed Joseph's request and fulfilled their promise any time before they became slaves, but they never made a move to return to the Promised Land. Perhaps God allowed them to experience slavery in order to make them willing to finally do what they could have done freely 400 years earlierto occupy the place God had prepared for them.
Staying where it's safe because of a lack of trust is dangerous.
One application for you and me is clear: Seeking relief and protection isn't wrong. But making a lifestyle of staying only where it's safe is actually dangerous. It's easy to place our trust in the wrong thing, the wrong place, or the wrong ideas. It's easy to be swayed from our callingto convince ourselves that security and comfort are more important than living the life God has called us to.
The search for relief is understandable, but it can become disobedience. Seeking security can lead to slavery. There is no place more secure than living in obedience to God; there is no place less secure than seeking safety apart from God's will.
Here are a few lessons this story teaches us about the kind of trust that God expects of us:
1. God remains trustworthy even when we don't. Sometimes you and I can be like Joseph, but sometimes we can be like the brothers and not obey what God has told us to do. But God doesn't abandon these faithless, unreliable people. He delivers them from their own self-selected exile. Yes, their disobedience results in pain and suffering, but God is faithful even when they've been faithless, and he saves their descendents again by means of Moses and some supernatural plagues.
For many of us, it's easy to stay in Egypt and to catch a few extra winks of sleep when God wants us to go to the Scriptures and spend time with him reading or listening to God's Word. We fluff the pillow, roll over, and stay in Egypt. I had an opportunity to do what God clearly wanted when a vendor was once in our office and mentioned that one of his children was in some serious trouble. I knew that God wanted me to offer to pray for this person, to step out and say, "In situations like this, my friend, the best thing we can do is pray. Do you mind if I pray with you right now?" But you know what? I'm ashamed to say, I stayed in Egypt. I let the moment pass without a word.
By God's grace I've had other opportunities, and I've been able to recognize the prompting of God, and have prayed with and for people who need somebody to reassure them that God is right here, right now. There's a familiar proverb that says, "To err is human, to forgive divine." St. Augustine said something similar, but with a twist: "It is human to err; it is devilish to remain willfully in error."
2. Trust isn't being gullible, but taking God at his word and acting on it. Joseph wasn't gullible; he trusted God. The apostle Paul wrote to Christians about life and service to God and others: "So be careful how you live. Don't live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days" (Ephesians 5:1516). Life is an endless series of God-given opportunities: to love, to learn, to serve, to share, to give. Either seize them, or we may be staying in Egypt.
3. Trust means living by faith, not by sight, and pursuing God's promises, not short-term gain.
Trust is wholeheartedly believing what God has said. This means giving God our future.
Sixteen years ago, Susan was pregnant, and we learned that the baby she was carrying had a number of birth defects. We were stunned by this news, and the worst of it was that this child's condition, as the doctors described it, was "incompatible with life." It wouldn't survive outside the womb. When the child was born, he lived two minutes, having spent his entire life on Susan' s chest. We saw his chest rise and fall with the breath of life, and then, too quickly, he was gone. We felt the enormity, the crushing weight of grief, and how fleeting life can be. I confronted God with many an accusatory prayer: why do you create a child to live two minutes?
While we were still in the hospital, one of the nurses asked Susan, "Do you have a name for the baby?"
"Toby," Susan said. "It's short for a biblical nameTobiahwhich means 'God is good.'"
Susan and I had long thought about the name for this child, ever since the day halfway through the pregnancy when we learned he wouldn't be able to survive outside the womb. We didn't particularly feel goodness at that moment. The name was what we believed, not what we felt. It was what we wanted to feel again someday. In the years since, we have indeed both known and felt the goodness of God in many ways. And this leads to my final point about trust.
4. Trust means knowing your life's purpose extends beyond your lifetime. Joseph was commended for his faith in Hebrews 11, because he recognized that God's purposes for his life extended beyond his lifetime. Trust means realizing that God is up to something bigger in each one of us than our lifetime can contain. Each one of us is part of a larger story than our lifetime can contain.
Not long after we buried Toby, we also lost another one of our children, a two-year-old named Mandy. We were doubly wracked with grief, and my accusatory prayers toward God took on even more intensity. About that time, our seven-year-old daughter Stacey told us she'd heard God's voice in the middle of the night telling her, "Mandy and Toby are very busy. They are building our house and they are guarding his throne.'' Not knowing how to respond to a child who had never offered a claim like that before, Susan and I found ourselves reading the Bible's descriptions of heavenly activities. Was this message consistent with Scripture? Our family discussions usually focused on heaven.
We saw that heaven is a place of activity, not just leisure or easenot floating on clouds. Heaven is where God is preparing a city for the faithful, where all will be made perfect and complete (Hebrews 11:16, 40). The Bible contains many descriptions of worship there as active and intense. Since Jesus also said, "There is more than enough room in my Father's home," and "I am going to prepare a place for you" (John 14:2), we could easily envision part of our heavenly activity being to help prepare for those yet to arrive.
I must admit, however, that I was more intrigued by the image of guarding Christ's throne. Was this an honor guard? A ceremonial assemblage of children whom Christ on earth had invited to be near him? Or perhaps seats of honor for those Christ had in mind when he said, "The last shall be first''? I can't think of many who would be more "last'' than Mandy and Toby.
All of this, of course, is conjecture. But what is clear is that heaven will be a place of active duty. When the final spiritual battle is over, our responsibilities will continue. Could it be that when I finally begin to carry out those responsibilitiesthe most significant acts of service in my lifethat I'll find that this is what I was truly created for? I may find that the reason I was created was not for anything I accomplish on earth, but the role I'm to fulfill forever. God created each of us for eternity, where we may be surprised to find our true calling, which always seemed just out of reach here on earth. Knowing there's that kind of exodus in our future pushes me to trust in God.
If you have a coin in your pocket, take it out. If you don't, hold out your hand as if you have a coin there, and envision those words inscribed on it: "In God We Trust." Walking by faith means we trust God. We trust him enough to follow him out of Egypt all the way to the Promised Land. What's your Egypt? Is it a lifestyle, habit, addiction, or some form of escape? Are you avoiding God's call to love, serve, or reach out to someone? Maybe today God is saying, "You promised, you made a vow to go to the land I told you about, the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Why aren't you going? I'll be with you. Step out. Don't wait 400 years. Take one step and then another." It doesn't require superhuman strength, just acting on the four little words on the coin in your hand.
Marshall says the following about "Trust Me":
I've been increasingly aware lately that living by faith is the core of the Christian life. What does that mean? This sermon is the result of my searching for answers in Scripture, in church history, and in the lives of believers today whom I admire.
Marshall's favorite books on preaching include Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book ("It has enlivened how I interact with Scripture") and William Young's fictional work, The Shack ("It has recast the way I walk with God, in three persons").
For your reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul?
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach?
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers?
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points?
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers?
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers?
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it? (For help on what may require credit, see "Plagiarism, Schmagiarism" )