Saturday, 26 July 2014

The assurance of the love of God in our suffering

For the last three weeks we have been looking at Romans 8.

It is a magnificent chapter. If Romans are the Himalayas of the Pauline letters, chapter 8 is the Everest of Romans. And today we come to the summit, particularly looking at verses 28-39.

They speak of

1. The inevitability of troubles

V28: ‘And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good’.

Those ‘all things’ are listed later, in verses 35-37: ‘Who shall separate us from the love of God? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors ..’

These are the sufferings that come from living in a fallen world: the sufferings that come to all people that are caused because this world is subject to decay and death.
But they are also the sufferings that come when we walk with God in a fallen world.

And Paul knows his stuff. He spoke out of experience. He had been through all these things (cf 2 Cor 11:24-27), all except the sword. But that was to be added to his CV. Several years later he was beheaded by the sword.

If you live for God, with God, in a world that is opposed to God, in rebellion with God, it is like driving the right way up the motorway when everybody else is going the wrong way. There will be smashes and you will get hurt.

And please don’t think that as a Christian, life will go a little bit better for you than if you were not a Christian. Please don’t think that tragic accidents won’t happen. I am sure that there was more than one Christian on that Malaysian flight who had prayed for a safe journey. Prayer is not an extra pill that we can take that will take away the suffering. Prayer is, as verses 26-27 show, the calling from heart to heart, from our heart to the heart of God, by the Spirit. Yes, we do see some wonderful answers to prayer. William Temple said, ‘When I pray coincidences happen’. But there are many times when in the mystery of God what we pray for does not happen.

But that is not a reason for despair, or for abandoning our faith. Because these verses go on and speak of:

2. The inevitability of the triumph of God (verses 28-30)

Note the emphasis here on God

It is God who works ‘all things’ for good.

We need to resist shallow interpretations of this.

It is not saying, as some Christians say, ‘Something I wanted didn’t happen, but it was OK, because what I got was better’. It is the stories that we hear about the person who said, ‘I couldn’t have children, but God worked it for good; we had IVF and now I have the most wonderful twins’ or ‘I was deeply in love, but they married somebody else. I was heartbroken; but it was all for good because I met somebody else who was just right for me’. Or ‘I was made redundant from work, but it worked out for good because I got this fantastic new job’. Those stories are great, and they show us that God is merciful, but they are not the stuff of Christian testimony. We need to remember that for every person who couldn’t have children, but who did miraculously have a child, there are many more who never had a child. And there are many who did miss out on that love or on promotion, and never did meet anybody else or get another job.

But those stories are not what this verse is talking about.

When this verse says that God works for good, it is not saying that God wants to give us better circumstances in life. It is saying something much more radical. It is saying that God wants to give us a new life. And as a result of this new life, whatever circumstances come our way here and now, whether it is glory or a cross, we can face them with joy and peace, patience and hope.

That is why verse 28 comes before 29. It is a bit of a clue! It cannot be taken in isolation. The good that God intends for us is bound up with the foreknowledge, predestination, calling, justification and glorification which are spoken about.

Today is not the place to discuss God’s foreknowledge (his election) and predestination. I have done that elsewhere. The emphasis here is that it is all about God and what he does.

And because it is about what God does, these verses emphasise that what is promised here, is that if you love God, if you seek to put him first, either because you delight in him above all things, or because you desire to delight in him above all things, there is a cast iron, rock solid guarantee that God will transform you into the image of his Son.

You will become like Jesus Christ. You will know God the Father in the same way that he knows God his Father. You will be filled with his love, compassion, wisdom, courage, radiance and glory.

This is all about the triumph of God. It is so that (v29) Jesus might be the ‘firstborn’: first in human time, first in honour, first in precedence of many brothers.

And as an aside, just in case you struggle with the reference to us being ‘brothers’ or, elsewhere in the bible, that we are all ‘sons of God’, please remember that the bible is read in many different cultures. And in our sin-ridden world there are many places where daughters are considered to be nothing. Tim Keller tells of the Indonesian woman who said that as a girl she was nobody compared to her brother. Everything was invested in him and he was the one who would inherit everything. And she spoke of the wonder of reading the bible and discovering that as a follower of Jesus she, who was in her own eyes a mere girl, a nobody, was not going to be a daughter of God, but a Son of God: a full heir, with full dignity and full privileges.

3. The inevitability of our victory (verses 31-39)

We will all suffer. Sorry! I repeat, if you think that prayer means that you will experience less suffering than what you would have done without prayer, get real!

But there are three promises here that you can hold on to:

v31: If God is for us who can be against us.
v37: In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
v39: Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God.

It was because Jesus knew the love of God that he was able to stand firm against the accusations and lies. Satan challenged him, ‘If you are the Son of God throw yourself off the temple .. and God will rescue you’. That little word ‘if’ is repeated by the authority figures and the soldiers as Jesus hung on the cross, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ (Luke 23:36f)

And for us, it will be those lies, ‘Do you really belong to him? You are not good enough or working hard enough to please him. You don’t really love him do you? He couldn’t love you. You do realise that you are very insignificant?’

And it was because of the conviction of the love of God that Jesus was able to go through with the cross ‘for the sake of the joy that was set before him’. He didn’t buckle. He didn’t resort to violence, which could have saved him. He knew what he had to do and he did it.

And for us, it is the assurance of the love of God that will enable us to go through the fire when it comes; it is the assurance of that love which will enable us to stand firm in the face of temptation and fear.

And notice here in v34, the grounds of our hope and conviction: it is not our feelings but the love of Jesus Christ. This passage speaks of the love of Christ.

a) He died for us. Verse 37 speaks of ‘him who loved us’. It is in the past tense, ‘loved’ because when Jesus went to the cross he already foreknew us. Even though you were not to be born for another 2000 years, he knew you then and he died for you.

And so Jesus is not going to say, ‘I died for you, but you are a worthless sinner; I gave my life for you but I am not going to give you strength in times of trial; I went through the agony and the separation from God for love for you, but now I am going to drop you into the pit and abandon you’. Of course not.

b) He was raised. Even death cannot separate us from the love of God. In the book of Maccabees, the saints are on trial. They are sentenced to death by the amputation of their limbs. They say to their persecutors: ‘It doesn’t matter. Chop off our arms and our legs, because in the resurrection we will have new ones’.

c) He is at the right hand of God. He has all authority

d) He is interceding for us. Jesus is praying for you right now.

When, many years ago, Alison and myself were going to work in Russia, we went on a two week preparation course together with others going overseas to work as mission partners. One couple were there who were going to Uganda. They had a two year old child, Thomas. Sarah, the mother, spoke of how she had heard news that an 18 year old son of someone working in Uganda had been shot and killed. She spoke of how fear had gripped her for her child. She had asked for prayer. People prayed that the family would be protected. But the fear remained. And then she came across these verses that we have looked at today. And they spoke to her in only the way that the Word of God can speak. They spoke deep within her. And she discovered a tremendous peace. It was not that God guaranteed her that nothing bad would happen to Thomas – rather it was the affirmation that even if the worst happened, it would not separate her or her child from the eternal love of God.

I know that some of you are walking through great troubles: Some of you are paralysed by fear. For some you are struggling with a relationship that is breaking down, a child that seems lost, a hope that is constantly frustrated. Some of you are living with deep anxiety or constant pain. Some of have had your heart broken or see no hope for the future. For some here today life seems unbearable.

Please be reassured.

1. The fact that you are going through it does not mean that God has abandoned you. We are told that troubles will come.
2. God’s purposes and victory are inevitable. You are predestined to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. One day you will be like him.

3. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us; we are on the winning side, through him, through his death, resurrection, exaltation and prayers.

Monday, 21 July 2014

What does it mean to be led by the Spirit (all age version)

I’d like to tell you a story about a princess! Or perhaps more to the point, about her crown.

1. The crown gives her assurance - she is the princess

She wakes up in the morning and there is the crown. 

She may behave in very un-princess like ways: throwing her teddy on the floor
She may say some very un-princess like things: 'I don’t want to do that'
She may feel very un-princess like.

But the crown says she is still the princess

2. The crown promises her that she has an inheritance - our inheritance is what we are going to get in the future.

The crown tells her that she has an amazing inheritance: one day she is going to be queen. All the palaces, corgis, servants, jewels, the whole country - in fact, everything - will belong to her!! 

3. The crown reminds her of her job

It is not all fun being a princess. 
In fact it is not an easy job being a princess:

You have to work very hard, you still have to go to school, and in the afternoon there are extra lessons in princessing. And everyone expects you to do very well; and you have to meet lots of people and be nice to them, and sometimes people won't like you because they don't like princesses. 

There will be days when the alarm goes off, and you think 'I'd love to snuggle down under the blankets and have another hours sleep. I’d love not to be a princess and to be ordinary’.

But then she looks up and sees the crown on her dressing table. And she thinks, 'No. I've got to get up, because I've got a job to do'.

So the crown - gives her assurance, promises her an inheritance and reminds her of her job. 

If you have chosen to follow Jesus, if you have received Jesus into your life, our bible passage from Romans tells us that God has given us his Spirit. And his Spirit is like a crown - not a princess or prince crown on your head - but a crown in your heart.

So I would like to give you all a small paper crown to remind you of the Spirit-crown. 

1. This crown gives you assurance

You are a child of God 
You may at times do things that are very unlike a child of God
You may say things that are very unlike a child of God
You may feel very unlike a child of God

But this crown on your heart tells you that you are still a child of God.

Our Bible verses today say that the Spirit cries out from deep within us to the God who is far beyond us, 'Abba, Father' (v15)

2. This crown promises you an inheritance

Our bible reading says, ‘If we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ’ (v17)

All things, all people belong to God; they've been given to Jesus and because you are with Jesus, one day they will belong to you! What is interesting is that what you think is yours, and even you yourself, belong to Jesus and will also belong to all people. 

The bible says that we are heirs of God and that one day this creation, and everything in it, will belong to the saints of God.

That will begin to change how we look at things, other people and ourselves. 

3. This crown reminds you that you have a very difficult job to do: 

It is not easy to live as a child of God in a world where people ignore God, hate God, or say that God doesn't exist. 

Our passage tells us that just as Jesus suffered, so we will suffer. 

It means that people may say or do unkind things. That is happening to people in other parts of the world [Mosul]
It means that you will live in a way that is different to the people who live around you: you will live for the things God wants and not for the things that other people might want
It means you long and pray and work that others would come to God and receive this crown that he offers which we can put on our heart. That is why Jesus was willing to die on the cross - so that his enemies might become his friends - so that they can share in his inheritance. 

It is hard being led by the Spirit. For Jesus it meant he had to go to the cross. For you it might mean that you are not as wealthy as you would like to be, that you may not have your families approval for what you do, that you need to stick at something that others would give up on much sooner, that people may be unkind to you.

This is a crown, but it has – like St Edmunds' crown – an arrow in it.

One more thing.

When our princess was made Queen there was glory and there was joy. People lined the streets, waved their flags and they cheered. 

The crown on our heart, the Holy Spirit, gives us now glimpses of the glory and joy that will be then - when the sons and daughters of God, the princes and princesses of heaven, meet with Jesus, and become, with him, kings and queens of heaven and earth.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

What does it mean to be led by the Spirit.

Romans 8:12-25

We continue to look at Romans 8. And today I particularly wish to focus on verses 14-17.

We are told that a person who has received the Spirit of God will be led by the Spirit of God. And if we are led by the Spirit of God, three things will follow.

We will be children of God
We will suffer with Christ
We will share in the glory of Christ

1. If we are led by the Spirit then we will be children of God

'For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God' (v14)
We can call God 'Father'
When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to say, ‘Our Father’.

When he appeared to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection he said to her, 'I am going to my Father and to your Father'

And Paul writes here, 'For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" (Romans 8:15-16)

This is the most amazing privilege. We can call the eternal God, who is beyond time and power and all understanding, who created the universe and the galaxies and the solar systems, our Father in heaven. We can even use a term of intimacy with God: 'Abba'. It means 'Dear Father'.

And because of that there need be no fear in our relationship with God.

We do not have to earn our Father's approval.
We're not slaves. Slaves do what they do out of fear.

But we are children of our Heavenly Father. We are beloved sons and daughters of God.

The sad thing is that many of us live as slaves of God and not as children of God.

So much of what we do in our Christian life is done because we think we 'ought' to do it. We ought to pray, we ought to give, we ought to witness to our faith, we ought to serve, we ought to come to church. They are all good things. The problem is that we do them for the wrong reason. We think that if we don't do them, God will not be pleased with us.

And that leads to fear.

Charles Amoah, the chaplain at the Hospice, was speaking at the last mens' breakfast. He told us that often atheists or humanists face death with peace. They don't believe in an afterlife, so for them death is .. death. He said that it was often Christians, particularly nominal Christians, who face death with anxiety and fear: they are afraid that they have not sufficiently pleased God.

If we are trying to please God by doing what we think we ought to do, then we have completely missed the point. We are not being led by the Spirit. We are being led by our old human nature – we are trying to earn God’s approval.

If we are led by the Spirit then we will realise that we cannot please God, but that we do not need to please God, to make him love us. He already loves us. Romans 5:8 tells us 'God shows his love for us in this; It was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us'. All he asks of us is to receive that love, to receive his forgiveness, to receive his Spirit and to be led by the Spirit.

And when we realise that we are his children by gift - then we will want to please him. Not because we ought to, but because it is our delight and our joy to do so. 

And these verses speak of how we can know God as our Father in our experience. 

v16f, 'The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ'

It is the Spirit who gives us a longing for God as Father;

It is the Spirit who gives us an assurance that we belong to him.

For some that assurance can come at conversion; for others it can come later in our Christian life - it is that inner conviction that we belong to him, that we are his children, not because of anything that we have done but because of what he has done for us.

This is the conviction that transforms lives.

Wesley – his heart was strangely warmed
Bonhoeffer – returned from a year in the United States, and begins to speak to his students of loving Jesus.

And I would urge you that if you do not know the inner assurance that you are a child of God, pray that God will give you that gift. Don’t give up. Seek God until he does.

It is not just an inner assurance about our identity as children of God; it is also the inner conviction that we have a future inheritance. That we are ‘fellow heirs’ with Christ.

It is the hope that all things have been given us here and now in Jesus;

It is the hope of heaven - not a 'I hope that I will go to heaven when I die', but a deep conviction of heaven, a conviction which can shape everything we do here and now.

If we are led by the Spirit of God then we will be children of God

2. If we are led by the Spirit of God then we will share in the sufferings of Christ.
'... and if children then heirs, provided we suffer with him' (v17)

This is the corrective to those who think that because they have the Spirit of Christ, it is all about peace and glory.

The problem is that while that is our future, it is not the present.

Vv18-24 tell us about the present. They tell us of a creation that has been 'subjected to futility', that is 'in bondage to corruption'.

We live in a universe that is currently ruled by the death principal. Anything that lives will decay and die, and things will gradually become nothing. We live in a death-ruled creation.

And that means that if we are led by the Spirit, we are going to be led in a way that is directly opposite to the way of the world.

I watched the film Knight and Day a few days ago. At one point, Cameron Diaz is being chased on a highway. So she swings her car round and starts driving the wrong way up the highway. She survives. It would have been awkward for the plot if she had died.

But the traffic in this death directed world is all going one way; and if you turn your car round and go in the other direction, there will be smashes.

If you choose to be led by the Spirit, to live for the things of the Spirit, to live like Jesus, then you will suffer.

Your very existence will be a challenge to those who rest their identity and hope on themselves or the things of this world. Most of the time we will be able to keep our heads down and avoid the flack, but there will be times when we need to raise our heads above the parapet.

There will be times when you are called to sacrifice yourself for others.
There will be times when you need to challenge what everybody else takes for granted.
There will be times when the fact that it becomes obvious that you are not living for what everybody else is living for.
There will be times when everybody else is saying no and you need to say yes, or everybody else is saying yes and you need to say no.

I'm reading about Bonhoeffer. In 1934 when the National Socialists, the Nazis, first came to power, they introduced the Aryan clause. At the time it seemed moderate. Only those who were truly German could hold positions in state organisations, which also included the church. People within the church were divided. Why shouldn't they have a German church which lived alongside another church, for those who were not German nationals? It didn’t seem too bad, especially as the National Socialists were saying that would re-establish Christian morality There was immense pressure for people to accept it. But Bonhoeffer felt that he had to take a stand. On a visit to Rome he had glimpsed a vision of church that transcended national boundaries, at a service with priests and people from every continent, and he had begun to realise that our identity as Christian believers is far far more significant than our identity as citizens of any particular nation. So he gave a lecture which set him on collision course with the Nazi party and which ultimately led to his execution in 1945.

Or I take the example of Helen Roseveare. I quote, “She was a medical doctor who worked for many years as a missionary in Zaire. During the revolution of the 1960s, she often faced brutal beatings and other forms of physical torture. On one occasion, when she was about to be executed, she feared God had abandoned her.
In that moment, she sensed the Holy Spirit saying to her: ‘Twenty years ago you asked me for the privilege of being identified with me. This is it. Don’t you want it? This is what it means. These are not your sufferings; they are my sufferings. All I ask of you is the loan of your body.’
The privilege of serving Christ through her sufferings overwhelmed Dr. Roseveare. After she was delivered, she wrote about her experience with God: ‘He didn’t stop the sufferings. He didn’t stop the wickedness, the cruelties, the humiliation or anything. It was all there. The pain was just as bad. The fear was just as bad. But it was altogether different. It was in Jesus, for him, with him.’”

If we are led by the Spirit of God then there will be times when we suffer as Jesus suffered. And if we do not know some suffering, some conflict with this world, some groaning, some longing for God, then I think we need to ask seriously whether we are truly being led by the Spirit of God.

3. If we are led by the Spirit of God then we will share in the glory of Jesus

'Provided that we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him' (v17)

Jesus lived by putting his hope in God and in the promises of God.

Hebrews 12:2 calls us to '[look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God'

Yes, there will be suffering. But it is worth it.
It is worth it because we know that we are children of our heavenly Father.
It is worth it because our hope is the hope of glory and the hope of joy.

It is the hope that one day our physical mortal bodies will be given resurrection life.
It is the hope that we will live in a new heaven and earth which has been set free from decay and death.
It is the hope that we will share in the glory of the risen Jesus.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Joseph and the big picture

Genesis 50:15-26

Imagine our opening scene. We meet 11 men with their heads bowed. One man is standing over them. He is pretty impressive. He is the prime minister of Egypt. 

There is an image of that man in one of our South windows. 

His name is Joseph. The 11 are his half-brothers. And they are terrified that Joseph is going to order their execution. 

Many years earlier these 11 had done something dreadful to Joseph. They had seized him, dropped him in a pit with the intention of leaving him there to die, and then - when they realised they could get some money for him - had sold him as a slave to some passing traders.

Yes, Joseph was an arrogant brat. He was 17, the youngest of the family so far, and the favourite son of their father. His father had made that blatantly clear by giving him an honoured robe.  He swaggered around in that robe. He snitched on his brothers. He even told them of his dreams: I dreamt that you all bowed down before me. And they hated him. So when they had the opportunity to get him out of their lives once and for all, they took it. 

But they didn't get him out of their lives. Somehow, miraculously, Joseph - the brother they had sold as a slave, who had then been locked up and forgotten in an Egyptian prison - had become the second most powerful man in Egypt, after Pharoah. He was Pharoah's prime minister. 

Many years later there was a famine in Canaan, and there was food in Egypt. So the brothers came to Egypt to get food. They came to Joseph, although they did not realise it was Joseph, to beg for food. And Joseph finally makes himself known to them, appears to forgive them (in 45:5),, and tells them to bring their families and his father to Egypt - where there would be food for them. 

But now their father Jacob has died, and the brothers are terrified. Had Joseph just forgiven them for the sake of his father? Now that Jacob was dead, would he finally get his revenge? 

"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?’ 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 “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.[Gen 50:15-17].

Joseph wept. I don't know why. 
He may have wept because it showed him that for these past few years his brothers did not really trust him and had lived in fear of him.
Or maybe he wept because it brought it all back: being thrown into the pit, being sold into slavery, being locked up in prison not because he had done anything wrong but because he had done what was right. He wept for the lost years, the years as a slave, the years in prison, when he was forgotten and abandoned. 

Whatever, his brothers see his tears and are even more scared. They fall at his feet and offer themselves to be his slaves. 

But Joseph lifts them up and speaks some of the most gracious words we find in the bible. He tells them that they really do have nothing to fear, and he promises to protect them and their little ones. 'He comforted them and spoke kindly to them' (v21). 

How can he do that? How can you forgive when you have been treated so badly? How can you forgive when your own brothers drop you in a pit to die, and only pull you out in order to sell you as a slave?

1. Joseph has learnt that he is not God.

'Am I in the place of God?' He says. 

Strangely that is a difficult lesson for us to learn. We like to think that we are God, that life rotates around me - or should rotate around me - and that it is all about me. 

It's a bit of a joke really! We can control so little. We have no say about where we are born, to whom we are born. We have no say as to what gifts we will be given, about our life chances, about our health or the health of those we love. We cannot control the climate, whether it will rain, when the sun will shine; we cannot control little disasters, let alone major tragedies. We do not know when or how we will die. 

Joseph had learnt that. He had learnt that he was not God. He had learnt it in the university of life. He probably thought he was God as an arrogant 17 year old. But then his brothers had sold him as a slave. And when he resisted the approaches of Mrs Potiphar (you can read that racy little story in chapter 38), he was locked up in prison. And those years in prison had taught him that life was outside of his control. 

He learnt that he was not God. But he also learnt that the true God had not abandoned him, but was with him. We are told three times, when he is at his lowest, that God was with him (Gen 39:2, 21,23).

So Joseph, even though he had a power that we can only dream of, had learned that he was not God. 

And because he was not God, he realised that it was not his job to judge his brothers. Only God could do that. And if – through their evil actions - God had sent him on ahead to Egypt to save them, who was he to now condemn them?

[cf. Romans 12:19-21]

2. Joseph has learned that God is sovereign in everything.

In v20 he says, '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'.

Bad stuff may happen to us because bad people do bad things to us. Bad stuff may happen to us because bad stuff just happens. But if we keep open to him, God can use it all. 

If Joseph had not been obnoxious he probably would not have been sold as a slave. If he had not been sold as a slave he would not have entered Potiphar's home. If he had not served in Potiphar's home, Mrs Potiphar would not have taken a fancy to him, and he would not have ended up in prison. If he had not been in prison he would not have interpreted the baker and chief cupbearer's dreams. If he had not been kept in prison, when the cupbearer did finally remember him, he would not have been around when Pharoah had his dream. And if he had not interpreted Pharoah's dream, probably 100s of thousands of people would have died of famine, including his own family. There is a great line in the musical, Joseph, ‘All these things you saw in your pyjamas. Are a long-range forecast for your farmers.’

So do not despair when life goes pear shaped on you. Do not despair when bad things happen to you. I will let you into a secret: bad things will happen to you.
But don't despair, because God is still God. He has not abandoned you, and he can use even the rubbish that happens to you to bring good to both others and yourself. 

3. Joseph has learned to see the big picture.

In v24, Joseph says, ‘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’. And Joseph makes his children swear that when that does happen, they are to take his body with them.

That theme is taken up in the lower part of our window. Joseph is on his death bed. And underneath are the words, 'Joseph foretelleth the Exodus'. 

By telling them to take his body with them when they leave Egypt - even though it is not going to be for many years yet - Joseph is making the prediction that the people of Israel are going to return to the land that God had promised to give Abraham. And the reason that he could be confident that one day they would leave Egypt and return to Canaan is because he had learned to trust in the promise of God. 

He saw the big picture.

Joseph’s life is a real roller coaster. A favourite son, honoured by his father; sold into slavery; works his way up as head of Potiphar’s household; thrown into prison; becomes mr efficiency in prison and given responsibility; forgotten; then raised to a position beyond anything he could have imagined. And of course, that was not the end of the journey. He was going to die.

But Joseph saw the big picture. He looked back to the promise given to Abraham – that his descendants would be a great people, that they would occupy the land of Canaan, that all peoples would be blessed through them. So his little roller-coaster of a life was just a tiny part of that much greater picture. And he probably realised that the big picture was bigger than that.

I think it is significant that he asks for his body to be taken to the promised land. I suspect he did not consciously believe in a resurrection - that faith only seems to come later in the Old Testament - but I suspect he did have an unconscious belief in the resurrection. He wanted his body to be there, because he knew God was able to do something. 

Yes there are going to be times in our lives when it seems that everything has gone wrong, when bad things happen, even that God has abandoned us. But we need to keep our eyes on the bigger picture. On Good Friday it seemed as if the world of the disciples had come to an end. Everything they had believed, everything they had committed their life to came crashing down when Jesus was crucified. But it wasn’t the end. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead. And one day he will return, and come as judge, and establish his kingdom of what is right and full of joy. And even though we may not understand, even the rubbish that happens to us can, in some tiny way, become part of that bigger picture.

 So I think the reason that Joseph could forgive was because he had learned that he was not God, he had learned that God is sovereign in everything and can even use evil intentions to bring about his will, and by faith, he had begun to see the big picture.

Look at the two pictures together – look at them in the setting of all the windows on the South side – and you will see the big picture: of men and women who are living by faith in the promises of God.