The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 1, 2017
The Bigger Picture
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I received an email that I would like to share with you. It goes like this: “A mechanic was busy removing a cylinder head from the engine of a Harley motorcycle when he spotted a well known heart surgeon in the shop. The surgeon was waiting for the service manager to take a look at his bike. The mechanic, while still working on the engine, said, ‘Hey, doc— can I ask you a question?’ The surgeon, a bit surprised, walked over to where the fellow was working and shook his head indicating yes. The mechanic straightened up, wiped his hands on a rag, and asked, ‘Doc, look at this engine. I open it up to get at its innards, take out pistons, valves, rods, most all inside parts, fix’em, put’em back in, and when I finish, it runs just like new. Why do I get such a small salary as compared to you when you and I do basically the same type of work?’ The surgeon paused, smiled, leaned over, and whispered to the mechanic, ‘Try doing it with the engine running!’”
While I have no idea as to whether or not this actually happened I do think it illustrates something that happens all too often. All too often people— like this mechanic— lose sight of the “bigger picture,” don’t they? This motorcycle mechanic was so focused on why he thought his job and the heart surgeon’s job were alike that he simply couldn’t see how those two skills were as different as night and day, that is, until the surgeon answered his question.
Our sermon text for this morning gives us what I think is a very similar illustration. Our goal today is to see how this portion of God’s holy Word both encourages us and enables us to look at: The Bigger Picture. We will look at three things this morning. First we will see how Joseph’s brothers looked at the “bigger picture.” Then we will see how Joseph looked at the “bigger picture.” And finally, we will ask how well we are looking at the “bigger picture.”
Jacob, the last of Israel’s patriarchs, had now died. After Jacob’s death his sons, who would become what we know as the twelve tribes of Israel, were divided into two camps. In one camp was Joseph who was now second-in-command of Egypt, the greatest and most powerful nation on earth at that time. In the other camp were Joseph’s older brothers— the men who once thought about killing Joseph but in the end sold him to slave traders.
You may recall how Joseph was eventually sold to an Egyptian named Potiphar, how Joseph was unjustly accused by Potiphar’s wife and subsequently thrown into prison, how Joseph became second only to Pharaoh by interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams and how a famine resulted in Jacob and his entire family resettling in the land of Goshen in Egypt.
As long as their father Jacob was alive the brothers felt safe living with Joseph in Egypt. But once their Dad had died they became overwhelmed by a tsunami of fear! Notice how clearly that fear comes out in our text, “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?’ So they sent word to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father left these instructions before he died: “This is what you are to say to Joseph: ‘I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly. Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.’ When their message came to him, Joseph wept.”
It seems as though Joseph’s brothers never stopped to look at the “bigger picture”! When they were so consumed with hatred for their little brother that they were willing to kill him they never even considered how their actions would plunge their father into a life of grief and sadness. When they came to Egypt to look for food and ultimately found out that this powerful Egyptian official was in reality their brother Joseph it appears as though they never even considered Joseph’s tears and Joseph’s warm hospitality to be genuine. And now that Dad was no longer there to serve as a safeguard the brothers were so focused on the “smaller picture,” they were so focused on what they had done to hurt their own brother that they couldn’t even imagine a “bigger picture”— a picture that was focused on forgiveness.
How did Joseph react to all of this? Joseph’s reaction reveals to us that by God’s grace he was not able to see the “bigger picture.” We read, “His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. ‘We are your slaves,’ they said. But Joseph said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.’ And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”
Do you think Joseph was able to see the “bigger picture” when he had those dreams about his parents and his brothers bowing down to him? Do you think Joseph was able to see the “bigger picture” when his own brothers turned on him, stripped him of that beautiful coat Dad had given to him and threw him into a cistern? Do you think Joseph was able to see the “bigger picture” when his brothers hauled him out of the cistern only to sell him to slave traders? Do you think Joseph was able to see the “bigger picture” when he refused the sexual advances of Potiphar’s wife and ended up in prison? How about when Pharaoh’s cupbearer was released from prison and promptly forgot all about Joseph — just as Joseph had said would happen? Do you think Joseph was then able to see the “bigger picture”?
No, my friends, it was only after the Lord’s plan for Joseph had been unfolded that Joseph could then look back and say, “Oh, that’s why God allowed all that to happen to me!” And so even though Joseph now had the power to exact revenge upon his brothers, even though some people may have thought that Joseph had every right to exact revenge upon his brothers, Joseph’s God-given ability to see the “bigger picture” led him to calm his brothers’ fears and say, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
These inspired words of Joseph capture the beauty of what it means for us to look at the “bigger picture”! When we focus on the “smaller picture”— what is happening to us right here and now— that is when we are easily overwhelmed by fear and by guilt and by hopelessness. When we step back, however, and look at the “bigger picture” that is when we are comforted by the confidence that our God is not only in control of all things, but our God also has a plan for each and every one of us, His children.
So where are you when it comes to looking at the “bigger picture”, my friends? Is there anything in your life that seems to have completely overwhelmed you with fear, with doubt, or with hopelessness? Are you perhaps facing a situation at work that seems so tenuous that it causes you to fear the future? Is there anything at home that has you so stressed out that some nights you can hardly sleep? Are there times when you feel as though you have been thrown into a cistern by those who are closest to you— perhaps even by the people whom you love? Have you ever experienced the empty hopelessness of feeling “forgotten”? If you have ever been in a situation like this then you know how easily Satan can put “blinders” on us so that instead of seeing the “bigger picture” all we can see is the fear and the guilt, the rejection and the condemnation that by nature we rightfully deserve to receive.
Thank God, my friends, that in His grace and in His mercy the good Lord has sent the power of the Holy Spirit into our hearts and taken Satan’s blinders off of us so that now we can see the “bigger picture”! Thank God that in His grace and in His mercy the Lord has lovingly put His finger under our chin, lifted up our eyes to the cross of His Son and whispered in our ear, “Don’t be afraid! I am the God who has already accomplished for you the greatest and most wonderful thing of all— the complete forgiveness of all of your sins!” Thank God that in His grace and in His mercy the Lord has given to us His solemn promise that no matter how hopeless and no matter how overwhelming the events of our life might seem everything will turn out exactly as God has it planned— and He always plans for our good!
Let me give you an illustration of what it means to look at the “bigger picture” of your life. Have you ever seen the bottom side of a tapestry? What does it look like? That’s right! It looks like chaos! There are all different colors of threads running in all different directions. And while we might be able to pick out a pattern here and there the only way to make sense out of the chaos is to look at the tapestry from the top-side.
Your life is like a tapestry— but while you are here on this earth you can only see the tapestry of your life from the “bottom up.” As you look at the tapestry of your life you see all different colors of threads running in all different directions and sometimes— perhaps many times— your life looks rather chaotic! But stop for a moment and remember who it is who is weaving the tapestry of your life! (Pointing to the cross) Your Lord and Savior— the God who loves you so much that He was willing to die for you— your Lord and Savior is the one who is weaving every single thread in the tapestry of your life. He knows exactly when and why the tapestry of your life needs a green thread or a red thread or a black thread or a white thread because He already knows how it is all going to turn out! Once we get to heaven then perhaps like Joseph here in our text we may be able to look back and say, “Oh, that’s why God allowed that to happen!” For now, however, whenever you are feeling overwhelmed by the chaos of your life the Lord your God comes to you through the power of His holy Word and His holy Supper, gently puts His arm across your shoulders and says, “Don’t be afraid, my child. You can trust me.”
“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). In a nutshell, my friends, that is what looking at the “bigger picture” of our life is all about.
To God be the glory!