There are some wounds in life that are so deep they seem insurmountable. But one of the keys to breakthrough and healing is to anchor ourselves in the Lord's faithfulness and His promises over us.
What a blessing to be able to have this time together. If you’re joining us for the first time, I’m Pastor Terry. I’m the lead pastor here at Cornerstone Church in San Francisco. Our focus has been on breakthroughs since the beginning of the year. The idea is breaking out, breaking through, allowing God to work His healing in our lives. We’re going to talk again today about how to overcome obstacles, inevitable things that would block us from moving forward. We’re going to sit with the ongoing account from the life of Joseph in the Book of Genesis.
I just want to let you all know about where we’re heading in the next couple of weeks. I’m pretty excited about that as well. Some of you are aware that Easter is not that far from now. Next week is Palm Sunday, and then the Sunday after that, Easter Sunday. I think on Palm Sunday, we’re going to really try to sit with what it means to welcome Jesus as the Savior. We’re going to ponder the breakthrough of the cross and what that means for us. When I think about the cross, I think about the breakthrough of love. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That Jesus was broken for us so that we might have breakthrough. His brokenness brings the breakthrough. It’s only possible by Him giving us what we could never earn for ourselves. He gave Himself so that we might have life with God, and what a gift, the breakthrough of love.
More than that, If the cross is the breakthrough of love and Easter is the breakthrough of life, then as part of our inheritance we might have a life that is truly life. A life that goes beyond this life. That’s the gift. Love and life, the beautiful gifts that we’ve been given in Jesus. The breakthrough. We are so blessed. I hope we understand. Lord, I thank you for the gifts that you have given us, the breakthrough of love and the breakthrough of life. Even now, we ask that you would speak to us as we break the bread of your word. May it also bring us life as we look back in time and draw light from it. That’s my prayer for all of us in Jesus’ name.
I want to return to the story of Joseph, the account from the Book of Genesis, which has been such a blessing for us during this unique time of challenge all through the vast majority of 2020, and now here into the first part of 2021. We’ve been weaving in and out of his life story. I want to pick up where we left off last week. We’re going to have a slight shift from focusing on Joseph to focusing a little bit on Joseph’s father, Jacob. Jacob is, at this point, a much older man. He’s an aged man.
Jacob, Joseph’s father, was the grandson of Abraham and the son of a man named Isaac. Isaac, whose name means laughter. I’ve always loved how Frederick Bittner refers to Jacob, Isaac’s son, as the son of laughter. What a way of describing Jacob, the son of laughter. Yet we know that Jacob was a man who had struggles and wounds in his life. One of those wounds was connected to the loss of what appeared to be an irreversible tragedy in his life, the loss of his favored son Joseph. Joseph, the son of Rachel who was his beloved wife. Joseph, who Jacob was led to believe had been killed by a wild beast. That’s what Joseph’s brothers told their father had happened to Joseph. The truth is, as many of us are aware, out of their envy, anger, hatred, and jealousy, they sold Joseph off to be a slave into Egypt. He became the family secret.
For Jacob, it must have been incredibly painful because he was the one who had sent Joseph on the errand that had led to what he assumed had been his death. He had to live with that. The if-onlys. I think we understand how painful and hard that can be. If only I had sent someone with Joseph, if only I had waited until the following day, he’d be alive right now. The if-only, if-only, if-only. I think we understand that. When we start living in the land available of if-only, that’s a dead end alley. That’ll go nowhere. “If only I had done this. If only I had thought about that. If only I was aware of what was really happening.” There may be truth to that, but it doesn’t change anything. We don’t want to live in the if-onlys.
Jacob was no doubt still being affected by the loss of his son, Joseph. Even though some of that pain had been mitigated by the birth of Joseph’s younger brother, Benjamin. The fact of the matter was there was no replacing Joseph. For Jacob, it was an incredible loss and, on top of it, there was a guilt that he would never be able to really be free from. Or so he thought. For the brothers, their family sin cast a shadow on everything. They had damaged this family in so many ways. It was the center of the wheel and the spokes went in all directions. Think about it. Joseph’s life was, for the most part, ruined. They just thought he was dead. No one could have envisioned what had happened to Joseph. The amazing deliverance and rise to prominence from being a slave to the prison to the palace. It’s just an incredible God thing.
The brothers had assumed Joseph was dead. They had to live with their lie because they had deceived their father. That kind of a secret, lie, and sin, unconfessed and undealt with, created a guilt and a shame. A shame that must have stolen away so much of the joy. We know it was on their mind, because when they start talking even two decades later, it’s still there. Again, as I mentioned, for Jacob it was real. There are just two things I want to say at the outset here. One of those things is there are instances to raw truth, there are some wounds in life that are so intense that they become obstacles for us. They’re hindrances. They’re ongoing issues that we have to deal with. They can become, unchecked, barriers to God’s grace. They can keep us from moving forward. That’s sort of the bad news here is that a lot of these unfair things or pains in life, sometimes they’re maybe self-imposed by decisions we’ve made. These wounds, these hurts of life, they can become blockades. They can hinder our ability to be the blessers that God has created us to be in Christ Jesus.
They have to be dealt with or they will keep us from so much of our spiritual inheritance. The good news is that God wants to help us overcome those obstacles. It’s not as if the Lord is saying, “Okay, you go get yourself healthy. You go deal with that stuff, then come back to me and we’ll work this out. The Lord never says, “You get yourself straightened out and then we’ll have a relationship.” The Lord always says, “Come as you are and then let me work, rework life into you and I’ll help. I’ll help you grow and heal and get better,” I love the Lord for that.
Let’s jump back here in Genesis 42. I’m going to try to jump into the account and then I’ll explain a little bit about it. Joseph, verse 25, Genesis 42, gave orders to fill their bags with grain, replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. This was done for them. The brothers loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed. They left Egypt heading back home to Canaan with the grain that they had come to purchase. They had to leave Simeon, their brother behind. It says one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he noticed something. He saw his money in the mouth of his sack. That was the money that had supposedly been used to purchase the grain. So the question came, “What is that money doing in my sack when we used that money to buy the grain. Oh my goodness, how are we going to be able to go back to Egypt to buy more grain. Let alone, get Simeon with the money that we were supposed to have paid still with us? Maybe it was a mistake. Who knows? But it was very disconcerting.
It says, at this, their hearts failed them and they turned trembling to one another saying, “What is this that God has done to us?” So it just seemed like another twist or turn in the wrong direction and they were afraid. They felt like, “Can anything else go wrong? How are we going to explain the fact that the money that we supposedly paid for the grain with, we still have.” So Joseph’s brothers, they’re being tested. From their perspective, things couldn’t be worse. They desperately needed the grain in Egypt because if they didn’t get it, because of the famine’s severity, it was quite likely their livestock would die. Even possible their families would starve to death. The situation was dire. That’s why they had gone to Egypt in the first place and taken the chance. They knew there were some risks in it.
Simeon, their brother, was sitting in a jail cell in Egypt. They knew they would never see him again. He probably would die there unless they could bring back their younger brother Benjamin for what was mysterious and, if I can use the word, a capricious Egyptian ruler had demanded as a means of verifying the truth of their words. In other words, the man that they didn’t know was Joseph said, “If you are truly who you say you are, then you bring back your younger brother as you say you have. I’ll not only set your brother free, but I’ll let you buy all the grain you want.” We can be sure that they’re disgusted because it was going to be no small feat. They realized that everything was going to depend on convincing their father, Jacob, to let Benjamin go. They knew, especially after what had happened to Joseph, that, honestly, it was probably going to be a minor miracle to convince him to let them take the boy. I guess he was a young man by now, but the way that their father protected him, he was the last connection.
Jacob had lost Rachel, their mother. He had lost Benjamin and Joseph’s mother and he had lost Joseph. He was never going to risk losing Benjamin. On top of all of that, the discovery by one of the brothers that the silver they had used to purchase the grain was still in their satchels. How it got there, no one knew. It was clearly a mistake. It was going to be very difficult to explain to the Egyptian who already seemed so suspicious and ill-tempered. It didn’t look good.
In verse 29 it tells about when they came to Jacob, their father. The brothers get back home in the land of Canaan. They told Jacob all that had happened to them, repeating this story. The man, the lord of the land, he didn’t like us from the very beginning and he spoke roughly to us. He was mean. It’s odd too, because sometimes he could be almost oddly kind, but then harsh at the same time. He took us to be spies. He said that we were spies in the land. That we really were here for a nefarious purpose. We said to him, “Look, we wouldn’t. No, no, no, no, no.” We told him we’re honest men. We’ve never been spies. That’s not what we are. We’re 12 brothers, sons of our father. One of our brothers is no more. The irony is, of course, that the one that they said was no more was the one who they were talking to at that very moment. Then they said, “And the youngest is, this day, with our father in the land of Canaan. He’s still alive. He’s here, but he’s back home.
The man, the lord of land, said to us, “By this, I shall know that you are honest men, you leave one of your brothers with me. You take the grain for the famine, for your households. You can have the food and go your way. If you want to be able to purchase more grain and your brother to be freed, bring your youngest brother to me and then I shall know. I shall know that you are not spies, but you’re honest men. I will deliver your brother to you, and you’ll be able to freely trade in this land,” and they emptied their sacks. As they told this to their father, they started emptying their sacks and taking out the grain. They were shocked because, behold, every man’s bundle of money was in his sack. When they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were terrified. They were afraid.
One of the things we noticed is that, this time, the brothers, they’re not playing around. Their old ways of trying to tell a fake story to manipulate somehow to get Benjamin, that’s not happening here. They just tell the truth. No false tale. No contrived angle to somehow get Jacob to let Benjamin go. You’ve heard me say it before; probably said it more than a few times for those who’ve been with me through the years. One of the things I appreciate most about the Bible is that it doesn’t hide the flaws of its heroines and heroes. In my mind, we’re about to see this.
One of the things that is clear is the great patriarch, Jacob, whose name the Lord had called Israel, now advanced in years, has a flaw. He’s got a character deficiency that he has carried through the years, and he’s got more than one. Aside from his tendency to manipulate, which was something that was clearly connected to his family way. The family way of his departed mother, Rebecca, her brother, his uncle Laban, they were very clever people, to put it mildly. That had been something that Jacob had as well. On top of that, Jacob had an unfortunate inclination towards negativity and pessimism. It was a definite obstacle in his life that when he was afraid, that’s where he would drop. Maybe some of us can relate to that. I actually think I can. There are times when we’re afraid we drop into certain things. What Jacob tended to drop into when he was afraid was a kind of negativity and just poor attitude. Watch how he reacts here.
It says that Jacob, their father, sees what is happening with the money that is now in their bags and it makes no sense because that was the money that they had supposedly used to purchase the grain. The entire thing looked awful. Watch how Jacob rises to the occasion. It says, “Jacob, their father, said to them after they shared this account,, ‘You have bereaved me of my children. You, all of you. Joseph is no more.” That was more true than he realized. “Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Oh, this has come against me.” So what is the first thing he does? You see it. What do you see? The first thing he does, out of his fear, is he blames. Notice the use, I call them the long use, “You have bereaved me of my children. Now you would take Benjamin.”
You hear it, right? Jocob blames. First, react, blame. Second, react, he exaggerates. He says, “Joseph is no more. He’s dead. Simeon’s gone.” Well, Simeon wasn’t dead and nothing had happened to Benjamin. He’s sitting right next to him. Benjamin’s no more. You want to take him. There was truth to what he’s saying, but he was putting the worst possible spin on it. Simeon was still alive. Benjamin had gone nowhere. Nothing had happened yet. Then he finishes it by indulging in self-pity. Notice what he says: “All these things, everything’s against me.” What do you notice? What is there no mention of? As Jacob is faced with this obstacle, what does he not mention? There is no mention of God. None.
You know what’s dictating? Fear. Fear is dictating. Fear is dictating, not faith. He’s focusing on his circumstances and how negative they are. He’s already come to the conclusion that the situation is hopeless. He says I’m ruined. It’s awful. I heard someone say once, “If you believe there is no hope, the one upside to believing there’s no hope is that you’re not likely to be disappointed.” I guess so. But I want to suggest to you, my friends, my brothers and sisters, loved ones, I want to suggest that one of the keys to overcoming our obstacles, one of the keys to breakthrough in the precarious places, is not to allow fear of frustration to dominate us when things are going against us. Rather, to let faith rise, to let faith in God rise up within us.
Remember, faith focuses not on the circumstances, but rather on the promises. Even more than the promises, faith focuses on the promisor. That’s something I need to keep reminding myself of as well. Faith doesn’t focus on the circumstances. Faith focuses on the promises. Even more, faith focuses on the promisor. Faith focuses on the Lord. We’re reminded that God is a very present help. He is. In fact, in Psalm 46, God is our refuge and our strength, someone we can turn to in a troubled time, a very present help in trouble. Look at the beginning of verse two, Psalm 46:1, but verse two, “Therefore, we will not fear.” That’s huge. We need to anchor ourselves in the Lord’s faithfulness and not allow fear to dictate. It’s not so easy to do.
I was listening to someone share, it was actually a teacher that I was listening to. He was talking about what had happened in his life. How bad a situation was. How he was just feeling overwhelmed by the fear and the situation, the circumstance. He said the circumstances just were suffocating him. He said he felt like the Lord spoke to him and said, instead of trying to control your circumstances, find Me in those circumstances. That’s a great word for us, isn’t it? Instead of trying to control our circumstance, let’s find God in those circumstances. There are certain things I can’t control. In fact, the more I clutch the worse it gets, the more I surrender the better it is. The more I clutch, the more I shrink my world, and the more I limit things. The more I trust, the more open. The more surrendered we are, the more creative we can become, and the more capable we will be of being able to see alternative opportunities that may be present.
We can’t do that if we’re hunkered down in fear and just tying ourselves up, binding ourselves in negativity. The bottom line is this, Jacob is forgetting the God of his fathers and the promises that were made. He’s allowing fear to dominate his reasoning. He’s filled with negativity. Another great principle in scripture and something that I think ironically is modeled more by Jacob’s son, Joseph, than by Jacob, is that when things are breaking down, one of the keys to overcoming obstacles, one of the keys to breakthrough, will be confessing our trust in God and then aligning our attitudes accordingly.
We actually align our words and attitudes accordingly. Again, it’s something that Joseph modeled for us. It is a confession of trust in God, and then we align our words in that direction of trust. That doesn’t mean we’re going to get it perfect. We’re going to drop back in negativity. I’m sure we can do all the things that Jacob did, but for the most part, we check those words. We bring them into submission. We lay them before the Lord. We say, “God, I give you permission to remind me and to not speak things that are lifeless and death dealing. Instead, Lord, I want to speak words of life and commit myself to words of promise. Especially when I’m under duress. When I’m afraid and the temptation is to yield to those fears and to drop into a very pessimistic, dark mood. Instead, Lord, I want to then align my attitude with that confession, and then the words, and then I align my attitude with what I’m confessing and what I’m speaking out.”
All those things woven together, and that confession and the articulation of those words, can be sometimes spoken, it’s powerful when we speak it. I say, “Praise you, God or Lord, I know you are with me. Or God, I come against this fear and I declare that you are my refuge and my strength. You are a very present help in troubled times and I will not be afraid.” We confess those things. That’s a very powerful mechanism that we release. It’s also true that that can happen when we write it out. I’ve done that more than a few times. I just write out the promises of God. I write out my confession of what I believe. We type it in. We put it in. We connect with it at a very visceral, tangible, tactile level, and it drives it home.
I think one of the verses that’s been most meaningful is the fourth chapter of Philippians. It has been just a perfect chapter for us, a wonderful compliment to the life of Joseph through this entire season of the COVID and the pandemic. Honestly, it’s just been a tremendous tool for overcoming. But in Philippians 4:8, this is the NLT, we’re reminded, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing,” and I can’t say this enough, “Fix your thoughts on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Dwell on them. Focus on them. Turn your eyes on them.” The Bible’s command, remember, is not naive and simplistic. It’s not the denial of reality, but it’s positive. It’s not the denial of reality, but it’s positive. At the very least, it’s not succumbing to negativity. It’s not death words because we are connected to a living Savior. Therefore, death is not my final word. Life is our final word. Come what may, my hope is anchored in a truth, and that truth is Jesus, our risen Lord and Savior.
It’s important, it’s very important. I’m not just talking about putting on a happy face. I don’t think that’s wrong. I’m not saying just throw out a trite phrase here and a pretend over here. I’m not talking about false positivity that is denying that something is not good. What I am saying is a chosen stance of optimism that is anchored in the goodness, the faithfulness, and the proven track record of God, who is our great deliverer. In this life or the life to come, our hope is real and our promise true. It’s about fixing ourselves on the promise, but also on the promiser. How good is that?
I’m really looking forward to where we’re going in the coming weeks. I am, as we really start to prepare earnestly to celebrate Easter. I have a little bit more to say, one more thought to share on the other side of the song that we’re going to turn to in a moment. But right now, I get to remind all of you about the blessing of giving and how faithful you have been, how thankful I am for you. Remember, you can give in a number of ways. Send it into our offices the traditional way, you can give online through our website, or you can give on the app, which is what I do. Either way, may our hearts be tender. Even now, Lord, as we get ready to share the song that is going to connect with the idea of focusing on you, to turn our eyes on you, I ask that you would help us to always remember the gift that we have and that we are never alone ever, Lord. I just want to turn my eyes on you, Jesus. Let’s do this together right now.
I turn my eyes on Jesus. Isn’t that the great invitation that we’re all invited into? I think as we make our way into the Easter season, that’s something that people all over the world are going to be doing. We’re already in it right now, but I’m talking about these next two weeks leading into Palm Sunday and then, ultimately, into Easter. I think there’s a great opportunity to join with people all over the world to really cast our gaze upon the one who loves us so, who gave everything for us and invites us into life. I just don’t want us to miss the opportunity. Let’s find ways to be even more intentional about fixing our focus on the one who gave everything for us. We welcome you, Lord Jesus. We welcome your flow of life. Help us, we pray, Lord. Help us to live optimistically and hopefully, not to be bound up, not unrealistically, but inclined to do positive.
Don’t forget, you are greatly loved and, remember, He’s so good and He’s so God. He invites us to so good and to so God, so that may He keep. May the power of the living Jesus pulsate through you, in your spirit, in your soul, in your mind, and in your body, in Jesus’ name. God bless you.