Breaking Out of a Creative Rut

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“The Hero of Faith”

Sermon Text: Hebrews 11:22 (ESV)

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

Well, today is week 5 of OT’s 11. We’ve been talking about Old Testament heroes of the faith listed in Hebrews 11. So, it’s odd that I would title this sermon “The Hero of Faith.” All the ancestors in this series are heroes in a sense. So, as we begin I want to remind us of where we’ve been. Five weeks is a long time and after today we will have spanned the entire book of Genesis! So, what have we learned so far? Man, I wish I had a digital quiz set up with those remotes where you push the number from your chair corresponding with the answer on screen, and then the screen tells you the percentage of people in the room that got it right! Ok, so here’s what we’ve said:

  1. By faith, we please God as we walk with Him and He makes us righteous like Abel and Enoch.
  2. Like Noah, we believe God. But by faith, we build in the rain of His promises already being fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
  3. As Pastor Larry taught us, like Abraham, in faith we go where God calls. We just GO, even if we don’t know what God has for us ahead.
  4. And like Isaac and Jacob, our faith causes us to bless those around us, especially the next generation who look to us as models of faith.
  5. Today, we talk about the faith of Joseph and why this sermon is titled, “The Hero of Faith.”

Have you heard of Joseph? Some of you are saying yes simply because you saw the skit before I got up here. Have you heard of Donny Osmond? Well, Joseph was the eleventh son of Jacob. Seems appropriate for our series, doesn’t it? And he was the first son of Rachel. Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife and she wept over not being able to get pregnant, and we are told “God remembered Rachel.” This is major déjà vu, right? Same thing with Abram and Sarai, same thing with Isaac and Rebekah, and now with Jacob and Rachel. But, as with the others, God is at work. So, God blessed Rachel with a son, Joseph, which means “add to me,” because she prayed a son would be added to her. Jacob was so thrilled and grateful God heard Rachel’s grief, and Joseph became his favorite. And for this his brothers hated him.

They actually plot to kill him when one of them pipes up and says, “Can’t we just throw him in a cistern absent of water?” Now, it’s necessary for the writer to tell us the cistern was absent of water, because guess what? Cisterns held water. So, the brothers throw Joseph in a pit in Dothan. Now, they have to lie to their dad and smear goat’s blood on the special tunic, leading him to believe some story about how Joseph was gored to death by savage beasts. Meanwhile, the brothers flag down an Egyptian caravan and sell him as a slave.

So, here’s Joseph in a pit…in Dothan. He probably thinks he’s in his grave. But he’s actually in a bunker in the middle of a battle between the plans of God and the evil intentions of others. Interestingly, Dothan is the location where years later the prophet Elisha will be confronted by an army of Arameans, and he will open his servants eyes to the chariots of fire covering the hill side who are fighting for them in the Army of the Living God.

Joseph goes to Egypt as a slave but earns favor through a long and complicated series of events to eventually become second only the Pharaoh in the entire land of Egypt.

Eventually Joseph’s brothers and later his father come to Egypt during a famine and Joseph helps them. They all settle in a place called Goshen.

And at the end of it all, Joseph is recounting the story to his brothers and he says this…

Genesis 50:20 (ESV)
“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.”

Who is often the hero in life? We often see life from the perspective of our own eyeballs, which is totally natural. The problem with that is that that makes us the center of everything. Around us the world revolves. And when we watch others, we assume the same is true. I like college football, specifically SEC football. And I’m sure no one else in this room really cares about it, but bear with me for the sake of the metaphor, ok? So, when I’m watching college football I realize something about myself. I cheer for these guys I know nothing about. I’m cheering for a guy who wasn’t even our quarterback last season! And that’s partly what I love about college football! You get new heroes. But this guy, heaven help him, gets cheered on before he proves himself. And, oh the disappointment if he fails to prove himself by midseason. These guys have so much pressure and accolade thrust upon them. And why do they do it? They’ll make some noble speech, which I’m sure is at least partly true if not completely, about how what they love most is their team and their coach and without them they would be nothing. But in reality, most guys on the team are hoping against all odds to get to the NFL. They would LOVE to be regarded so highly as such a valuable asset in and of themselves that they’d be given a chance to make a career of it. Who is the hero if not them? Well, some other guy whose jersey will sell out in Hibbett stores in the southeast.

What is it about Joseph that teaches us about the Hero of Faith? Genesis 50:20 says it all. It doesn’t say, “You meant evil against me, but look who’s laughing now, suckers!” Joseph doesn’t take any credit for anything that has happened to him. He doesn’t even say, “Well it was my coach and team mostly, but I made some really good plays.” He simply talks about the players in his life. Those closest to him had evil intentions, but he was the servant of the Lord. He was the one trying to walk the road of obedience, morality, integrity, the road of faith. And while his brothers meant evil against him, God meant it for good. Joseph’s story is not totally Joseph’s story. As a man of faith in the promises of God, he understands that this is all God’s story. It’s God’s mission. And God is the hero. If the mission is going to be carried out, God will have to do it. Joseph is just an obedient follower. And the result, amazingly, is not understated. Joseph says all of it was “to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” With God on mission, people are saved and given life.

You know, I am in a unique position here, perhaps the most unique position I could ever find myself in. I am a pastor of a large Methodist church in a community that shares Eglin Air Force Base and Hulbert Field. I minister to heroes. I minister to men and women who would be insulted if I told them what a hard week in ministry looked like for me and whose humanity I have to work hard to understand. Soldiers have encountered the human condition in ways I will likely never see firsthand. And when we talk about these “heroes,” there’s something I’ve gotten used to having grown up in a military home. It’s awkward for people to call them hero to their face. They don’t respond as we civilians would expect them to. They have fought and perhaps even seen their friends die for our freedom, but they lived to come home. And we want to honor them, call them “hero,” and award them. You soldiers receive it well, but the mindset seems to be, “I’m not a hero. I was just doing my job. If you understood what I really did you wouldn’t be giving me a medal. I’m not the hero. We are. America is. There are people nobler than me. Don’t look at me. When you look at me, see the mission. See America.”

This soldier, Capt. Barry F. Crawford Jr., received the Air Force Cross and said, “There were so many close calls that when we all got back, we realized that someone higher than us was looking over our shoulder that day. The situation was just something you can’t explain.” Capt. Barry even pointed beyond America or his fellow trips. He suggested “someone higher than us” was the hero of the day.

Joseph says, “I’m not the hero. God is. We are His people on mission with Him. He causes things to work for good, even when our individual circumstances look ALL BAD. Don’t look at me and see just me. Look at Him. And when you look at me, see the mission, see the promise, see God.”

These are the final verses of the book of Genesis.

Genesis 50:22–26 (ESV)
“22 So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. 23 And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. 24 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit 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 visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here.” 26 So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

Joseph had a faith that saw passed his own death to the future of God’s promises. “In death as in life, Joseph represents the conviction that good can come from evil, so that even his burial plans are transformed by faith into plans for a journey to a better land” (Bill Arnold, 2009, p.389). Joseph’s instructions in the final verses of Genesis say, “This is not how the story ends. God will visit you. Even though I am about to die, God is still on a mission.” Like the entire Old Testament, the book of Genesis points beyond itself to the future fulfillment of the promises of God.

One day many years later, some women would carry burial spices to a tomb early on a Sunday morning in order to embalm the Master they had followed and loved. They would be distraught but still hopeful in the promises of God. But the absence of the Risen Christ would prove that once again God the Hero has done the impossible to fulfill the promise of His mission. The Cross is not how the story was to end. God had visited them, but it wasn’t over. And today, we live with the promise that God’s mission is still being executed. God will visit us again.

This is the second to last verse in the whole Bible…

Revelation 22:20 (ESV)
20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

What does this mean for us today? Faith makes God the Hero of the story, because it acknowledges that the mission is His and its success depends on Him. But He wants us to participate in the mission. His mission is simple: save the human race from sin and death and restore the entire world in Jesus Christ. How many of us would say this is the mission that shapes our entire lives? Our daily lives? Our priorities and attitudes? Now, we are to go like the women from the tomb, having experienced the Risen Christ with a faith like Joseph that acknowledges that God is the Hero of the story, He wins, and even our death is not the end of the story. Praise God, the Hero of our faith.