Thursday, November 7, 2013

What is God Doing?

Genesis 37, Preached Nov 20, 2000

Do you believe that God is sovereign over all?  Do you believe he is sovereign even when you do not understand what is going on? Do you believe he is sovereign even though you can't even imagine how God is using the events of today to bring about his purposes for tomorrow?

I recently heard the following story. Captain Johnson was a military chaplain serving on an island in the South Pacific during World War II. He went on a bombing raid over enemy-occupied islands several hundred miles away. The mission was a complete success, but on the homeward journey, the plane began to lose altitude, the engines faded out, they had run out of fuel. Though they were able to make a safe landing on a strange island, they discovered that the enemy was just one-half mile away. The staff sergeant came to the chaplain and said, "Chaplain, you have been telling us for months of the need to pray and believe that God answers prayer in times of trouble. Well, we are out of gas, our base is several hundred miles away and the enemy is just a half mile away and is bound to discover our presence very soon. I would say that this is a time of trouble." In other words, where is God's answer?

Johnson began to cry out to God for mercy.  Night came and the chaplain continued in prayer.  About 2am, the sergeant woke up from a restless sleep and took a walk to the water's edge. He saw something; at least he thought he saw something. He rubbed his eyes and discovered, much to his shock and amazement, that Christmas had arrived early for a metal float had drifted up on the beach, full of fuel.  In a few hours, the crew reached their home base safely.

An investigation later revealed that a skipper of a U.S. tanker, finding his ship in submarine infested waters, had his fuel cargo removed so as to minimize the danger in case they were hit by a torpedo. Barrels were placed on barges and were put adrift over 600 miles from where Johnson and the crew were forced down. What were the chances that one of these barges would drift 600 miles through the wind and the waves to the precise location where the staff sergeant was taking his walk at 2:00 in the morning? Was it merely chance or could it be said that God was sovereign over the path of that barrel as it drifted? Still further, consider how long would it have taken this barge to drift that far? While I don't know exactly, it would have taken days, thus God had that barrel with fuel adrift and headed for that island long before Johnson and the rest of the crew set off on their mission. Long before the need existed, long before they were ever aware of their need, God was setting in motion the events that would meet their need. Perhaps the captain of that tanker was wondering, "Why are all these subs around me? Why do I have to set adrift all of this fuel?" Maybe God could have said, "Because in a few days there is going to be a crew on a small isolated island 600 miles a way that is going to need a barrel of this precious fuel."

Remember the story of Joseph? In Genesis 37:2, we know that he was 17 years old when his brothers, his own brothers threw him into a cistern and later sold him into slavery. Can you imagine the depth of his sorrow? Sold into slavery by my own brothers? What was God doing? Eventually he was sold to Potiphar where he rose to a position of prominence. While this was not home, it wasn't so bad. In chapter 39 we are told that Joseph was well built and handsome, so much so that Potiphar's wife threw herself at him, "Come to bed with me." Joseph, as you know, resisted this temptation and was rewarded for his faithfulness by being falsely accused of rape. He was put in prison. Perhaps he thought, "This is great. Just great. I seek to honor God by resisting temptation and this is where I end up? Back in prison? What is God doing?"

Even in prison, though, Joseph rose to a position of prominence. He met the cupbearer and the baker to the king and correctly interpreted their dreams. Unfortunately, for the baker it meant that he was executed, but that the cupbearer was restored to his position. Though Joseph asked the cupbearer to remember him when he was returned to Pharaoh's court, the cupbearer quickly forgot. What was God doing? It was not until 2 years later when Pharaoh had a dream that no one could interpret that the cupbearer remembered how Joseph helped him. Joseph was brought forth to proclaim that these dreams foreshadowed 7 coming years of prosperity followed by 7 years of famine. Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph that he made him second in command over all of Egypt. Do you know how long it took for him to rise to this position? If you look at your Bibles, you see that in chapter 37 he was sold into slavery. In chapter 40, he finally rose to his position of power. Why that is a grand total of 4 chapters, just a few pages. How easy it is to read 4 chapters rather quickly and fail to notice that in 41:46, Joseph was 30 years old. This means from the time he was sold into slavery in Egypt to the time he rose to his position of prominence, a total of 13 years passed. 13 years—can you imagine? In our day, we do not want to wait 13 minutes, let alone 13 years.

During those 13 years, though the scripture does not say explicitly, it does give hints regarding the mind of Joseph. Look at 40:15, "I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon." All those years, Joseph probably had all kinds of question, "What did I do to deserve this? Why am I here? God, what are you doing? I do not understand any of this." Sometimes you might ask those same questions. A job is lost. A child is born with a disability. A financial setback is suffered. The sin of another devastates your life. You wonder, “What is God doing? I do not understand!”

What was God doing in the life of Joseph? He was sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused, thrown into prison, and forgotten by those he helped. What was God doing? God was preparing the world for a devastating famine that was to come 7 years after Joseph rose to his position of power. Thus, the famine came 20 years after Joseph was sold into slavery. God set events in motion 20 years before the need was to arise. Think about it. 20 years. Where were you and what were you doing 20 years ago? November 1980. Ronald Reagan had just been elected as President of the United States and there was no need for recounts. I was in my freshman year of college. A lot happens in 20 years. God is sovereign over all these events and he works through all of these events, the events of yesterday and today, even over lengthy periods of time to bring about his plans for tomorrow.

This is why at the end of Genesis, Joseph was able to say to his brothers, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." It is only with hindsight that he was able to save that; he certainly did not say that when he was at the bottom of that cistern. Imagine Joseph crying out to God, "What are you doing?"  "I'm in the process of saving the lives of millions of people, what do you think?" Joseph would have no frame of reference from which to understand that answer, yet that, among other things, is precisely what God was doing. “Joseph, you are at the bottom of that cistern because I am in the process of saving millions of lives.” God was sovereign over that cistern, over Potiphar's house, over that jail, and over that cupbearer.

When you look at life, you may not always understand why events are happening the way they are or how they fit together; you may never know the answer to that question, but know this, God is at work: He is sovereign over all, He will bring about his purposes, and He is at work long before you ever knew what is going on. For this, we give thanks. Let us pray.

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