Living by faith (4)


Scripture Readings

  • Genesis 50:15-26
  • Hebrews 11:13-22


  • Praise my soul the King of heaven
  • How deep the Father’s love for us
  • To God be the glory
  • There is a hope


My dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ,

There is a risk in taking one chapter in the Bible and preach a series from it. It is almost sure that somewhere along the line you will find a verse which is difficult, or judged by what meets the eye, would have rare practical application.

To preach about Joseph from Hebrew 11 might seem like one of those verses.  It reads:

By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones. (Hebrews 11:22, NIV)

What would the Lord God want us to learn from this verse and those which follow?  What does one say about a verse in the Scripture that talks about someone’s wish to be buried in his homeland 400 years after his death?  On face value not much, but there is certainly quite a few things we would need to pray the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and minds to.

Our overarching theme in this series of sermons is “Living by Faith”.  We looked at Noah and how God called this man in a very dark period in the history of this world.  He believed God, followed Him and persevered till the very end.  Then there was Abraham:  God called him out of idolatry; he became consumed by the grace of God and trusted Him even when he had not much left other than the promise of God.  When God later asked of him to sacrifice his son, Isaac, he trusted that God could raise up the dead, and so passed the test of trusting and obeying God.

What then is faith? The author of Hebrews says:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1, NIV)

Without faith it is impossible to please God, because everyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6). Noah did, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did, and so did Joseph.

Not much is said about Joseph in other books of the Bible other than Genesis.  The author of Hebrews includes him into the cloud of witnesses when he says:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1, NIV)

Surely, Joseph ran the race with perseverance.

Faith in the face of adversity

Joseph lost his mother Rachel at a very early age. His brothers hated him, and sold him to slave traders after throwing him in a deep well.  He had been taken to Egypt when he was 17 years old.  Not the most positive circumstances to leave your father’s house for a hostile world where people worship foreign gods. Egypt was technically advanced but spiritually depraved. Its religion was the rawest form of polytheism, in which gods and goddesses took the forms of animals, snakes, and insects. The worship of these gods was often sexual in nature, and there were probably occult or demonic activities as well.

He ended up in jail for some time after he was treated unjustly, but he never stopped trusting God.

He died when he was 110 years old, which means that he had lived in the hostile spiritual environment of Egypt for 93 years. Moreover, Joseph was not an obscure individual. He was second only to Pharaoh and must therefore have been under intense and continuing pressure to conform to Egypt’s customs.

It proves that faith can grow strong in adversity, for Joseph’s dying faith was also strong, as we will see. God grows faith in difficulty, and the faith thus grown is a hearty faith. If you want to grow mushrooms, you can grow them quickly in protected conditions. But if you want to grow an oak tree, it must be in the open where it will stand against the storms of summer and the snows of winter. Adversity makes the oak tree strong.

We need to stop blaming the failures of others for our sins.  We need to stop blaming circumstances for slipping away from the faith we were taught by our parents.  It is never too much work, or a program that is too busy, or bad habits of bad friends that make us slip away; in the end it is our sinful heart and our spiritual blindness to realise that we are allowing other things to become more important than our obedience to God.  We need to take personal responsibility.  It is in the end I who will stand before the throne of God to answer about what I have done with grace, talents and opportunities to by fruitful in the Kingdom of God.

Let’s learn form the example of a Joseph.  He ran the race with perseverance.  He had his eyes fixed on the Author and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus Christ who would give him a homeland.  In Egypt he was not at home, not even after 93 years.

Standing on the promises of God

Joseph, at the end of his life, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. (Hebrews 11:22)

Abraham, Joseph’s great-grandfather, must have told first Isaac, later Jacob who must have told it to his own son Joseph what God had told right when He made the Covenant with Abraham:

Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. (Genesis 15:13–14, NIV)

The hard times for the children of Israel had not arrived.  Surely there was another Pharaoh on the throne and the influence of Joseph as a previous Prime Minister was not as strong as in the beginning, but the time for their suffering had not arrived. There were still hundreds of years of slave labour in Egypt ahead of them.  Joseph knew about that, and before he died he called his brothers together and spoke to them about the exodus.

He did not allow his hopes to become rooted in Egypt’s political life. He was in the world but not of it, just as we should be. Joseph knew what was coming, as we know what is coming, and for that very reason he fixed his gaze on God and what God would accomplish.

Our Lord has prepared us for difficult times ahead of us.  He said to his disciples right in the beginning when He called them to follow Him:

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11–12, NIV)

And in the night He was betrayed He once again said:

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

The apostle Peter writes:

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12–13, NIV)

Joseph wants to tell us this morning that what Jesus said before He was taken up into heaven is what really should carry us on our earthly journey:  in this world we are but travellers without a fixed address; here the enemies of the Gospel will revile us as they did Jesus Christ.  Thousands in the past paid the highest price for the testimony of Christ, they stood the test, they fixed their eyes upon Jesus and as Him who promised:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, NIV)

When He ascended in heaven the angel said:

Men of Galilee, why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11, NIV)

With Joseph we need to say there is a better life, a better world after this one.  We need to look at this one from the point of view of eternity.  That’s when we will get excited about going to heaven, but that is also when we will get excited about what God has in stall for us now.  We will have joy in our walk, our work, because we have a hope – a hope that will never fail.  It is our anchor in heaven.

We must look for God’s kingdom and pray that it might come.  Joseph did it. All through the long years of his Egyptian service, though his body was in Pharaoh’s country, his mind was in Canaan and he looked forward to that day when his bones should be carried out of Egypt and be buried there in anticipation of the final resurrection and fulfilment of God’s promise. Should we do less, we to whom the promises have been made even clearer and who have in addition the sure and certain knowledge of our Lord’s own resurrection? If that resurrection is uppermost in our prayers and desires, we will live for eternity now and will make a powerful impact on earth.

And let us not say like so many have said and are still saying:  two thousand years have passed and nothing has happened, therefore nothing is going to happen.  Faith is just the pie in the sky when you die.  Keep this in mind, the hour is unknown and happy are those who will be found busy with the work of their master when he returns.

Joseph wants you to know today that you have a better future in the eternal home for which he longed.  Have you perhaps forgotten about that home?  Have you perhaps become so used to this world that you have invested so much here that heaven is a mere dream to you?  Please, no that.  What in this world can be of any value in comparison to what awaits the children of God in eternity?  The Psalmist writes:

Whom have I in heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25–26, NIV)

A sermon from bones

Joseph lived in Egypt ninety-three years. During that time he must have seemed to be conformed to Egypt in every outward way. He served an Egyptian king. He bore an Egyptian title. He had married an Egyptian wife. He would have shared in every honorable form of Egyptian court life, politics, and trade. Yet Joseph was no Egyptian, especially in his heart. He didn’t want his remains to be dwelled with as they did prominent Egyptians.

The ancient Egyptians believed that part of the human spirit was permanently linked to the viability of the body. Therefore, it was necessary to preserve the body if one wanted to achieve immortality in the Egyptian religion’s afterlife. Allowing the body to rot effectively meant destroying the person’s soul. Unlike people of many other religions and cultures, the Egyptians believed that the body needed to be intact to serve as a host for the soul.

Kings were buried in pyramids, but only after some elaborate rituals: there was first the Valley Temple. When the king died, his body was first rowed across the Nile to the Valley Temple to be mummified. Next, there was the causeway. This was a covered processional way which came from the Valley Temple. The walls on the inside were decorated many times, and there were holes in the roof to provide light. At the end of the Causeway, there was the Mortuary Temple. This was built against the side of the pyramid. The Mortuary Temple was the place where priests made offerings to the king’s spirit every day for eternity.  The dead king was responsible for the setting of the sun, whilst his successor son would be responsible for the rising of the son.

On the contrary Joseph knew his frailty as human being.  He did not want to be honoured as some sort of immortal god.  He says, take my bones, not to a pyramid for eternal treatment, but to the Land of Promise.  He did want to be buried there eventually.   He was not buried in Egypt! His coffin stood above ground, awaiting its removal to Canaan when the time should come. Therefore, all who looked at it would be reminded of that anticipated day and destiny.

B. Meyer writes:

What a lesson must those unburied bones have read to Israel! When the taskmasters dealt hardly with the people, so that their hearts fainted, it must have been sweet to go and look at the mummy case which held those mouldering remains, waiting there to be carried forward; and, as they did so, this was doubtless their reflection, ‘Evidently, then, Joseph believed that we were not to stay here always but that we should sooner or later leave for Canaan; let us brace ourselves up to bear a little longer, it may be only a very little while!”

Egypt had the most magnificent coffins the world has ever seen, coffins of gold and rare stones. But they were still only coffins, monuments to death. On the other hand, Joseph’s coffin, still waiting to be taken to the Promised Land, was a symbol of hope and faith:  God will give him a better country – a heavenly one!


Joseph died in Egypt.  So will all of us die, in a certain sense in our Egypt – rescued from sin, but still awaiting the return of our Lord and the receiving the hope and certainty of our eternal home.

In his lifetime Joseph had been used to deliver most of the civilised world from starvation. Yet it could be said of him, as it was said in an improper way of one far greater than Joseph, “ ‘He saved others, … but he [could not] save himself”.

Genesis ends with these words:

So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt. (Genesis 50:26, NIV)

The Last book in the Bible ends with these words:

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen. (Revelation 22:20–21, NIV)

May the Lord teach to to have our eyes fixed on our eternal home; may we learn to pray, “Come Lord Jesus!


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