Fitted for Hard Times (3 of 3)

Please read Matthew 10:19-20, 26-33, 40-42.

Fitted for Hard Times v_03 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020,https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

REVIEW:

Part One: The Conditions of Discipleship

Part Two: The Cost of Discipleship

NEW:

Part Three: The Courage to be a Disciple

I imagine all of us has experienced driving behind someone who is driving another car ahead of us, showing us the way.  This experience was much more intense in the olden days before cell phones to ask questions and smart phones to find your own directions, so bear with me if it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you.

Anyway, the person you’re following is your lifeline between where you are and where you want to be.  At some point a traffic light comes between you.  True to their usual form, the leader speeds through the yellow light, leaving you behind at the red.  Distance and cross-traffic cars coming between you cause you to lose sight of the leader.  You can hope to catch up or you can hope they pulled over to wait for you, but those are pretty much your two options.  What sounded like a simple trip has now become more complicated.

That’s a little window on what following Jesus can feel like.  Sunny days and good times can make discipleship seem easy.  But then difficulties emerge and we feel separated from our Savior.  In those moments, courage is needed.  Here’s good news: Jesus provides courage for His disciples!

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

  1. We can have courage because God supplies us with the right words (vs. 19-20).

Jesus warned we would face persecution and informed us these were opportunities to witness.  As we saw last week, facing persecution was one of the costs of discipleship.  Jesus warned it would be present in all levels of society: at the family level, city government, regional government, and across the Roman Empire.

Surprisingly, the result of persecution at all levels could be DEATH.  Jesus spared the disciples none of the truth, warning about the worst-case scenario.

He promised to supply the words when witness opportunities arise.  This is kind of ironic because several years ago, public speaking was supposedly the number one fear people had, with death being number two. (Comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s take on those survey results: “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that seem right? That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” (Jerry Seinfeld, retrieved from https://www.gingerpublicspeaking.com/article/do-people-really-fear-public-speaking-more-than-death on 28 May 2020.)

So here we have Jesus directly addressing the so-called number one fear, saying, “When you have opportunity to witness to the authorities, don’t worry about it, the Holy Spirit will be talking through you.”  Wow.  OK, now that we have the number one fear dealt with, let’s move on to number two; being put to death by those guys.

But seriously, Jesus told His Apostles, “Of all the things you may worry about, don’t let the fear of WORDS stop you, because we’ve got that covered.  It’ll be our words, not yours.”  Or, as Matthew recorded Jesus’ words, “IT WILL NOT BE YOU SPEAKING, BUT THE SPIRIT OF YOUR FATHER SPEAKING THROUGH YOU.”  You will be God’s “mouthpiece!”

This is an excellent perspective to have on all of life, so let’s put it on a bumper sticker: “Life is not about me and now, it’s about God and eternity!”  Use that as your “north star” and life will be a lot easier and more productive.

  1. We can have courage because the secrets of our persecutors will be revealed (vs. 26-27).

Evildoers prefer to do their evil deeds under the cover of darkness.  The first fear to be overcome by courageous disciples was fear of words.  The second fear is fear of the dark.  Unlike a childish fear of the dark, this might be a fear of being swept under the rug; of having one’s witness made ineffective by a cover-up.

We do not fear their darkness because it will all come to light.  Jesus overcame the fear of words with a promise to supply words.  He overcame this fear of darkness by promising that the evil deeds done in darkness will be made known; they will be brought into the light.  More than that, their witness will not be in vain.  Instead, the words Jesus gives them in secret they will proclaim in the DAYLIGHT from the rooftops!

There is a third way to understand this promise.  The Gospels tell us (Matthew 8:20; John 14:26; 16:12-15) that there were times the disciples didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching.  After His Resurrection, however, the meaning became clear to them and they proclaimed those truths.

  1. We can have courage because we fear God, not man (v. 28).

God has complete power over everything that might make us afraid.  This is the third fear Jesus discussed w/t Apostles.  Here is where fear of death is addressed.

People of faith realize death is not a fearful thing, but is our release from this world.  Neither death nor dying are to be feared, because our faith focus is on God, not evil people.  It is natural to dread dying; the physical pain and loss of health that precedes death.

But Jesus is not talking about death in general terms, as we have been.  He is talking about MEN who will use pain and the threat of death to cause the disciples to recant their faith.  Such individuals are not to be feared because their power is limited to the BODY only.  They cannot harm the SOUL.

Here again, the matter is one of perspective: keep your attention on God, who is capable of destroying both BODY and SOUL in hell. Don’t worry about what people can do to you; their worst is still only temporary.  As it is written in Proverbs 29:25 = FEAR OF MAN WILL PROVE TO BE A SNARE, BUT WHOEVER TRUSTS IN THE LORD IS KEPT SAFE.

Even death is not the end of our witness.  This fact is implied in the survival of the SOUL who shows respectful fear of God.  The SOUL who does not respect God has no place in eternity: as v. 28 plainly says, it is destroyed, not “tormented.”

  1. We can have courage because we’re very valuable to God (vs. 29-31).

When we are frightened, it is natural to feel God’s “absence.”  Some call these “wilderness experiences,” times we feel as if God has abandoned us in the wilderness, left us to fend for ourselves.

But the Bible is clear that God’s character and His will do not change.  So if we feel as if God is distant, it’s not because He moved!

This fourth fear Jesus addressed is fear of abandonment.  When we are in the throes of it, the feeling of God’s distance can seem very real.

As God is in the details, He is also in charge of the “big picture.”  When we feel abandoned, we need to remember God is in charge and He is still with us, working His will in our lives.  Jesus offered two examples of God being involved in both the details and the big picture.

Example #1: sparrow flight.  SPARROWS were the food of very poor folk because they were cheep (pun intended)!  Jesus said two of them were sold for a PENNY – an asarion – one-sixteenth of a working man’s daily wage.

We assume FALL TO THE GROUND as a reference to a sparrow dying on a tree limb and dropping to the dirt.  Actually, it pictures a routine flight from the limb to the ground.  How many times a day does that happen?  Wouldn’t this be the very example of “the small stuff?”

It’s as if Jesus said to them, “Listen, guys, a sparrow doesn’t travel from branch to ground without your Father knowing it.  I think you can trust Him to keep track of YOU!”  “After all,” He continued, “you’re worth more than MANY pennies!”

Example #2: scalp census.  Jesus assured the Twelve that God knew them so intimately, He knew the number of hairs on their heads.  (Some of us make it easier for God to keep track of that number!)  It is funny.  When we’re having a “pity party, table for one,” we think, “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen.  Nobody sees or cares how much I’m suffering.”  False!  Jesus reassures us God knows us and keeps track of us, even down to a useless statistic like the number of hairs on our heads.  Psalm 40:12 is interesting in connection with v. 30.

FOR TROUBLES WITHOUT NUMBER SURROUND ME; MY SINS HAVE OVERTAKEN ME, AND I CANNOT SEE.  THEY ARE MORE THAN THE HAIRS OF MY HEAD, AND MY HEART FAILS WITHIN ME.

In these two examples Jesus may be using exaggeration to make His point, but in any case, He’s assuring us we are not abandoned.  Just the opposite; God knows us intimately and cares for us completely.

  1. We must have courage because these days have eternal significance (vs. 32-33, 40-42).

Our discipleship in this world reveals our eternal destination.  We need to be careful here; on the surface it seems Jesus is teaching we can earn salvation by acknowledging Him and that we can lose our salvation by disowning Him.

The truth goes deeper than this; our salvation is not so easily gained or lost.  In fact, it is not by any works of ours gained or lost.  It is God’s gift; His grace to us.

Instead, what Jesus teaches here is two-fold. First, acknowledging or disowning is not just a verbal act and it is not a single action.  Rather, it is the course of a person’s life.  Our character, the general trend of our days is in view.

Second, it is the testimony offered by our day-to-day decisions that gives evidence of our salvation.  People headed toward acknowledgement before the Father will behave in faithfulness to His teaching. People headed to being disowned will behave in ways that deny God to the world.

Jesus has just candidly addressed four fears and offered promises to encourage His followers to remain faithful in the face of those fears. Here he describes the outcome of those who give into fear (disowning) and those who resist fear (acknowledging).

Our discipleship in this world determines our reward in the next (40-42).  These verses are actually more for the people who will assist the Apostles than for the Apostles themselves, but they are instructive for all of us.

Judgment Day will settle two important issues for each person.  The first and most important is the salvation.  Persons who receive God’s gift of salvation are true disciples and will be welcomed into God’s presence for all eternity; the receive immortality.

The secondary determination is related to works; the kind of things we did in our time on Earth.  For the unbelieving, those who will be destroyed in hell (v. 28), any revelation of their works simply proves God’s condemnation; the evil they did proves they deserve the Second Death.

For the believers, an inventory of each disciple’s good works is the basis for heavenly reward.  In the Bible these rewards are pictured as CROWNS.  It is true that eternal life with God in heaven is reward enough.  But God, in His extravagant grace, further rewards good deeds.

Jesus states the principle in v. 40, elaborates on it in v. 41, and offers an example in v. 42.

The Principle.  The Apostles were to be encouraged, because the people who receive them peaceably (vs. 11+12) have, by proxy, actually received God the Father.

The Elaboration.  The person who receives a PROPHET or RIGHTEOUS MAN has received someone whom the Lord is using to represent Himself to the world.  They will receive the same REWARD the Lord has prepared for the PROPHET and the RIGHTEOUS MAN.

The Example.  Receiving a PROPHET or RIGHTEOUS MAN need not be a complicated matter; a simple act of kindness like sharing a CUP OF COLD WATER is sufficient to merit a reward if the motive for the act is recognition of his discipleship.

The REWARD referred to in v. 42 is not the primary REWARD of salvation, but the secondary REWARD given to the saints upon their admission to heaven.

Jesus prepared His disciples for service and witness.

As we’ve seen, this passage takes a long view on the subject of discipleship.  It encourages us to be disciples by reminding us that what we do in our daily lives has repercussions into eternal life.

Writing in the journal Bibliotheca Sacra Nathan C. Schaeffer took a similarly long view and wrote the following: “At the close of life, the question will not be, ‘How much have you gotten?’ but ‘How much have you given?’  Not ‘How much have you won?’ but ‘How much have you done?’  Not ‘How much have you saved?’ but ‘How much have you sacrificed?’ It will be ‘How much have you loved and served,’ not ‘How much were you honored?’”

(Retrieved from https://bible.org/illustration/life%E2%80%99s-close on 28 may 2020.)

It takes courage to be Jesus’ disciple.  In the verses we surveyed today we saw Jesus address five fears that would be very typical in the experience of those who genuinely want to follow Jesus.  He addressed fear of words, fear of the dark (evil), fear of death, fear of abandonment, and fear of failure.  In each case, He taught that our response must be trust in God and that our response matters.

Jesus did not promise to relieve us of those fears or help us to avoid them.  Instead, He offered courage through the Holy Spirit and a perspective on fearful circumstances that is faithful to see and follow-through on these opportunities to witness.  Our courage for discipleship, like our status as disciples, is Jesus’ gracious gift.

 

RESOURCE: Message #1323

 

Seven Modern Maladies and God’s Solutions (7 of 7)

Greed & Generosity

Greed is a vice as it places a greater value on things than God or people.  Generosity does the opposite.

If you are 50 year of age or older, you know this guy:

howell

“Thurston Howell III” from the TV show “Gilligan’s Island.”  The opening credits call him “the millionaire.”  In one episode Howell’s wife Lovey explains that during the Great Depression the Howell family suffered great loss going from being billionaires to being mere millionaires.  Though they were allegedly only going on a “three hour cruise,” the Howells brought several suitcases of clothes and money.  This makes me think they were really on the lam from debt collectors!

In 2013 Forbes magazine published a Fictional Top Fifteen list of the wealthiest fictional characters.  Thurston Howell III came in fifth overall, behind Santa Claus, Richie Rich Jr., Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, and Scrooge McDuck.  Pretty heavy hitters there!

Both the Howells were pampered rich people who bragged about their possessions, wealth, and connections to the rich and famous.  Neither of them offered to work on daily chores or help with rescue plans, despite their alleged eagerness to return to civilization.

As a symbol for the deadly sin of GREED, Mr. Howell is the obvious choice.  Veteran actor Jim Backus hammed his way through the role, achieving a surprising range of emotions, including a child-like need to sleep with a teddy bear imaginatively named “Teddy.”  Backus so successfully affected a character of East Coast wealth and privilege that we have a hard time thinking of any other character as the stereotypical “millionaire.”  In fact, during the 2012 presidential campaign Mitt Romney was compared to Thurston Howell III as the epitome of a wealthy Easterner, out of touch with reality and the common American.

Jim Backus died in 1989, his last screen credit being the voice of Howell on “Gilligan’s Planet,” an animated spinoff of “Gilligan’s Island.”

  1. The vicious vice of greed (1 John 2:15-7).

Usually we think of GREED as being a love of money, an unquenchable desire for more.  Today we’ll expand our definition to include love of worldly things when we love anything or anyone more than God.  In fact, that’s the also the definition of idolatry!

John taught that love of the world and love of God are mutually exclusive.  In abundant clarity, the Spirit revealed through John the trials we can face.

What we love reveals a lot about us (15).  Here are the contrasting orientations.  Love of self and love of worldly things go hand in hand.  Love of God and love for others is manifest in an attitude that discounts worldly things, using them to bring joy to others and self.

John identified a “Big Three” set of attitudes that betray love of worldly things (16).

First, the CRAVINGS OF SINFUL MAN.  The phrase SINFUL MAN is translated as FLESH in other versions.  The CRAVINGS are SINFUL because they come from the sin nature and lead to sin.  As sin, these CRAVINGS separate us from God and from one another.  This is GREED in the form of exalting self so much that God and others don’t matter.

Second, the LUST OF THE EYES.  LUST can also be translated as “covets” or “envys.”  It is a sin that is not limited to sexuality; it covers everything in this world that we can desire passionately.  It is the life of an addict; so self-centered that one is unaware that their passion is not normal or healthy, but is consuming them.  This is GREED in the form of acquiring, hoarding, or using things.

Third, he BOASTING OF WHAT HE HAS AND DOES.  This is a “KIA” person.  No, I don’t mean “Killed In Action,” instead this acronym means “KNOW IT ALL.” This is the kind of person who can’t stop telling you about their brainstorms, their kid’s honors, and what they bought on sale!  This is a life dominated by the latest thing, having the “prettiest” or the “greatest.”  It is chasing after achievement to make you feel better about yourself; a vain effort to justify your misdeeds and even your existence.  This is GREED in the form of reputation; focusing on what other people think about you.

Worldly things are not worthy of our love because they do not last forever: THE WORLD AND ITS DESIRES ALL PASS AWAY (17). Either at death or at the second coming, this world is going to cease for every one of us.  On a personal scale and also on a universal scale, all that glitters and all that is gold will one day be no more. There are other reasons not to love the world.  Satisfy a worldly urge and the urge will soon return.  Worldly things do not provide lasting satisfaction.  Satisfying a worldly urge will not benefit your spiritual life; worldly honors will not make you more spiritually mature.  God is eternal; things are temporary.  It makes no sense to invest ourselves in the stuff that won’t last. Instead, here’s where we should be putting our time and energy: THE MAN WHO DOES THE WILL OF GOD LIVES FOREVER.

  1. The vital virtue of generosity (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Paul condemned the LOVE OF MONEY so thoroughly in vs. 6-10 that someone might think it impossible to be RICH and heaven-bound.  Here Paul instructs rich people how to live in a godly way that prepares them for heaven.  That fact disproves any notion that the RICH are automatically excluded.

The RICH person’s “don’t do” list.

First, don’t be ARROGANT (17).  I want to interpret ARROGANT to mean “self-sufficient.”  Paul is commanding Timothy’s people to rely on God, not on their wealth or any other worldly thing.  Both self-sufficiency and outright arrogance are subtle and frequent temptations for people who have a lot of stuff.

Second, don’t put your HOPE IN WEALTH (17).  Why not?  Because it’s so UNCERTAIN.  The word UNCERTAIN notes that worldly things are likely to disappoint us; they will disappear when needed most.  For example, money can buy insurance and medical care, but you can’t buy health or recovery from illness.  Proverbs 23:4-5 makes a point I believe all of us have experienced at least once: DO NOT WEAR YOURSELF OUT TO GET RICH; HAVE THE WISDOM TO SHOW RESTRAINT.  CAST BUT A GLANCE AT RICHES AND THEY ARE GONE, FOR THEY WILL SURELY SPROUT WINGS AND FLY OFF TO THE SKY LIKE AN EAGLE.  Time flies; it seems money does too.

Worldly things are unworthy of our love for all these reasons.  What is certain is God’s love and He is the only

Next, we read the RICH person’s “to do” list.

First, put your HOPE IN GOD (17).  Why?  For one thing, it is God who RICHLY PROVIDES US WITH EVERYTHING.  RICHLY means God has been generous with us; we must be generous with one another.  Notice the word EVERYTHING; we need to be reminded that neither we nor the bank really “own” anything.  All of it is owned by God and put in our hands to use for His glory.  His purpose in this provision is FOR OUR ENJOYMENT.  Worldly things are never to be the center of our affections, but they are given for us to enjoy.  Joy is at the center of the life of godly people.

Second, do GOOD (18).  GOOD is best defined as “godly.”  Morally good things are in line with the revealed will and character of God.

Third, become RICH IN GOOD DEEDS (18).  Worldly ambition is to become rich in worldly things; to possess much.   Godly ambition is to do good as often as possible.  Accumulating good deeds for their own sake is not the point; that would merely be pride.  Instead, Scripture describes three God-approved motives:

Love for God; gratitude for what He’s done.

Love for others; a desire to serve and connect them with God.

Love for self; the accumulation of heavenly rewards.

Fourth, be GENEROUS (18).  God has loved us unconditionally; we ought to love each other unconditionally.  God has generously provided for us all things needed to survive and to enjoy life.  We must be similarly generous with each other.  If we thought of ourselves as a pipe, and not a pool, it would help.  We tend to see ourselves as pools; God gives and raises the level of stuff we accumulate.  That’s not biblical.  More appropriately, we are pipes or conduits through which God’s gracious gifts flow from us to others.

Fifth, SHARE with others (18).  This word is translated “distribute” in the King James’ Version.  Take the wealth entrusted to us and distribute it among the needy and good causes.  No hoarding.  If you don’t have much money, share your time.  If you don’t have much time, share your table.  Scale is never a reason for not sharing; typically the poorest people are the most likely to SHARE, the wealthiest the most likely to hoard.

Whether we consider ourselves rich or poor or something else, we are to use worldly wealth to gain eternal rewards.  Paul wrote, LAY UP TREASURE FOR THEMSELVES AS A FIRM FOUNDATION FOR THE COMING AGE and TAKE HOLD OF THE LIFE THAT IS TRULY LIFE (19).  Do you need to a reminder you can’t take any of this stuff with you past death?  If so, here’s your reminder (v. 7): FOR WE BROUGHT NOTHING INTO THE WORLD, AND WE CAN TAKE NOTHING OUT OF IT. It may help to think of worldly things as things we can expend to “invest” in heaven, looking forward to receiving a “dividend” when we stand before Jesus Christ.

If you are younger than 50, you know all about:

linkedIn

LinkedIn, a website that is designed to help people fulfill their business ambitions.  The site was launched in 2002 to help employers and job seekers network and find one another to facilitate employment.

This website serves us as a symbol of GREED because it is all about worldly ambition, climbing the corporate ladder, being a success in purely worldly terms.  In fact, the founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, made that connection himself in an interview last year.

I joined LinkedIn five years ago as a means of searching for a job.  Now I use it to publish my messages on the Internet and stay in touch with friends and associates.  LinkedIn has a great deal of influence on our culture; it is the 34th most popular website world wide, with with 500 million members in 200 countries as of a year ago.  In 2016, Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for 26.4 billion dollars.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that we’ve covered seven deadly sins and there were seven castaways on Gilligan’s Island.  We picked on the Skipper twice but haven’t talked about Gilligan at all.  You may be wondering what role the character of Gilligan is supposed to play in this series of messages.  What deadly sin is Gilligan supposed to symbolize?  Let’s stop and think about it:

– Gilligan is responsible for marooning them on the island.

– His clumsiness and ineptitude foils all their escape plans.

– He wears red in every episode.

– It is HIS island.

Isn’t it obvious?  Gilligan is a symbol of the THE DEVIL!

– The devil deceived Eve and is responsible for marooning us in this world of sin.

– The devil will always foil “escape plans” that depend on any kind of worldly resource.

– The devil, however, doesn’t always wear red; he’s more subtle than that.  The Bible says he can appear as an angel of light (see 2 Corinthians 11:14).

– This world is HIS “island.”  In John 12:31, Jesus called him THE RULER OF THIS WORLD.  2 Corinthians 4:4 calls Satan THE GOD OF THIS AGE.  Ephesians 2:2 depicts him as THE PRINCE OF THE POWER OF THE AIR.

I heard something recently from a radio preacher that struck me as quite profound.  He said that the devil is incapable of creating anything new.   There is no good thing in him.  So he must invade the good to borrow from it or copy it.  This means that the seven deadly sins are all corrupted versions of seven vital virtues.  Let’s resolve to NOT give the devil his “due” or anything else.  Let us practice the virtues and dump all seven of the deadly sins.

 

RESOURCES:

Wikipedia.

Zondervan Bible Commentary

Thru the Bible, McGee

Joseph: Prisoner (Part Two)

(Please read Genesis 40.)

     Dreams have always fascinated us and since they can have such a profound emotional impact, we have long sought to understand them.  The “Dream Bible” website is one example of our attempts to utilize our dreams.

“Welcome to The Dream Bible.  A free online A to Z dream dictionary dedicated to helping people understand the meaning of their dreams. Unlike other dream interpretation websites or books we extensively research dream symbols by interviewing people about the events occurring in their lives at the time of their dreams.  Inspired by the work of Gillian Holloway Ph.D, we are using a database of over 350,000 dream reports to create the world’s most practical dream dictionary based on the waking life experiences of regular people.      “We hope that our work will help you to gain insight into the hidden meanings of your dreams.  Please feel free to browse the site, post your dreams on the forum, or contact us with any of your requests.”

They list 4,851 “symbols” (specific dream interpretations) on their website.  As a example of what you can expect to find at the website, I’ve included the entry for “umbrella” below.  Have you ever dreamed about umbrellas?  If so, this one is for you!

“To dream of an umbrella represents emotional protection from disappointments or uncertainty you are experiencing. Casual feelings about disappoints effects others having no impact on you. Preparedness for troubling or sad moments. The ability to shield yourself from depression, pessimism, or being inundated by a negative situation. A reflection of how optimistic or prepared you feel when problems or delays arise. An umbrella may be a sign that you are trying to keep a positive attitude during an unpleasant situation.      “To dream of an umbrella that won’t open represents a lack of preparation for disappointment. Preparations not working as expected or not enough preparations. Having a hard time keeping optimistic or positive when problems arise.      “To dream of an umbrella that leaks represents an optimistic or enthusiastic attitude despite a persistent problem. Feeling that you level of preparedness was barely enough.

“Example: A man dreamed of seeing someone carrying an umbrella. In waking life he had been working very hard on his business to make it comply with potential future regulations when suddenly the regulations became mandatory. His felt that his responsible foresight made him very prepared for the difficulty of complying with the regulations while he watched his competition fail hard due to their lack of preparations.”

<Retrieved from DreamBible.com on 8/29/15.>

Now that we’ve seen the amateur approach, let’s turn to Genesis 40 and see how a real “pro” interprets dreams.

Message: God does not always immediately reward our faithfulness.

  1. Joseph got two new “cellies.”

Let’s note two things to set up this portion of the story of Joseph:

– SOME TIME LATER (v. 1) – though the length of time is not specified, this phrase implies that Joseph’s imprisonment was not brief.

– THE CAPTAIN OF THE GUARD ASSIGNED THEM TO JOSEPH (4).  Ironically, this is Potiphar, the guy who put him there.  Maybe based on the warden’s recommendation (39:20b-23), Potiphar’s attitude toward Joseph changed; maybe his anger at being reportedly cuckolded cooled.  However we describe it, this is a vote of confidence for Joseph from a “hostile witness.”

One of Joseph’s new cellmates had been the CHIEF CUPBEARER.  He did more than carry the king’s goblet around.  He tasted all the king’s food and drink first to make sure it was not poisoned.  He was also in charge of Pharaoh’s vineyards.  The word for CUPBEARER is also translated as “butler” and shows that this position had a considerable range of responsibilities in providing care for the king.

In this very personal kind of service, the cupbearer often became a person of great influence.  For example, hundreds of years later, Nehemiah, the Jewish cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, enjoyed the favor of the king and had enough personal wealth to return to Jerusalem and oversee the restoration of the City of David.

Joseph’s other new cellmate was the CHIEF BAKER. The word BAKER is used in the Bible to refer to all kinds of cookery (see 1 Samuel 8:13; Hosea 7:4), so it’s possible this man had charge over all the eats in Pharaoh’s house.  This would be like a “head chef,” or “chief chef” in this case. Ancient Egyptian documents confirm that there were 38 kinds of cakes and 57 kinds of bread baked in Egypt, so this man had a lot of responsibility. Though the Bible does not confirm this, tradition says that the prophet Hosea was a BAKER as well.

They had both OFFENDED (v. 1) Pharaoh, and that’s the reason for their imprisonment.  The word OFFENDED has a lot stronger emotion in the original language – “enraged” would be a better translation.  But he couldn’t deal with them too harshly: their politically-connected families might make trouble.  We’re not told what the offense was, but we’ve all had that experience that when problems arise, it’s the middle-level managers who take the fall.  SOME TIME (v. 4) passed as they were prisoners under Joseph’s management.  Having this relationship with Joseph explains why they took news of their dreams to him.

  1. Joseph renewed his ministry as dream interpreter.

Whereas before, he had interpreted his own dreams, now Joseph interpreted the dreams of others.  Notice that these men do not seek Joseph out to interpret the dreams for them: he asked them why they were so down-hearted (vs. 6-8).  Joseph is careful to note that interpreting dreams is something that comes from God, not himself: “DO NOT ALL INTERPRETATIONS BELONG TO GOD?”  This is a considerably more humble attitude than he showed as a young man back in c. 37.

The divine origin of Joseph’s interpretations is born out in the fact that the meaning is not immediately obvious.  For example, the chief cupbearer’s dream is explained in vs. 12-13.  “THE THREE BRANCHES ARE THREE DAYS.” See how that’s not obvious?  I could have been three of anything.  The dream predicted the CUPBEARER would be restored to Pharaoh’s good graces.  He would be recalled from prison and restored to his place of service.

The chief baker hoped for similarly good news (vs. 18-19).  His expectation may’ve been based on the similarity of the numbers: “THE THREE BASKETS ARE THREE DAYS.”  The difference was that Pharaoh drank the cupbearer’s wine but he did NOT eat the baker’s bread.  Pharaoh’s anger burned more hotly against the baker and he was executed by cutting off his head and leaving his body hanging to be eaten by vultures.  You can imagine how the BAKER might be disappointed with this interpretation.

  1. Having your dreams come true isn’t always a good thing.

The occasion (v. 20) for Pharaoh’s reconsideration of these men and the significance of the three days in their dreams was Pharaoh’s birthday party three days after Joseph’s interpretations.  Pharaoh LIFTED UP [both their] HEADS during the feast, but with entirely different results.  No reason is given for the split decision: the will of Pharaoh needs no explanation or justification.

The chief cupbearer got the best part of this deal (v. 21).  HE RESTORED THE CHIEF CUPBEARER TO HIS POSITION, SO THAT HE ONCE AGAIN PUT THE CUP IN PHARAOH’S HAND.

The chief baker got the worst of the deal (v. 22), being put to death.  I wonder if this meant Pharaoh got no birthday cake!

Here is a further injustice Joseph suffered: his situation did not change. In vs. 14-15, Joseph made an extended plea with the CUPBEARER to REMEMBER him when he had regained Pharaoh’s trust and his ear.  The CUPBEARER would be in a good place to alleviate Joseph’s unjust imprisonment.  This did not take place immediately.  Ch. 40 ends with this note: THE CHIEF CUPBEARER, HOWEVER, DID NOT REMEMBER JOSEPH; HE FORGOT HIM.  (SPOILER ALERT: He will make up for this shortcoming in 41:9-13.)  No doubt this was human nature; we get excited about good fortune and forget how we came by it.

One reason this is important is to prove that Joseph did not misuse his divine gift of the interpretation of dreams for personal gain.  It was of no immediate benefit.  In fact, as we’ll see next week, Joseph would remain in prison for TWO MORE YEARS before the CUPBEARER would use his position to help Joseph!!

Another reason for this lapse is to teach us – along with Joseph – that good works do not always receive an immediate reward.  This is one of those situations where faith is required.  We exercise faith to remain steady in doing the good work to which God has called us and trust Him to reward as He wills, in His timing.  As Paul wrote in Galatians 6:9, LET US NOT BECOME WEARY IN DOING GOOD, FOR AT THE PROPER TIME WE WILL REAP A HARVEST IF WE DO NOT GIVE UP.

Why are we studying Joseph’s life in such detail? We do so because he was a man of particularly noble character.  Apart from some youthful boasting the fault for which can be laid partially on his father, Joseph is the patriarch with the most godly character.  He is also the one who rises to the greatest height of worldly achievement.  Joseph is the one man in Genesis of whom it is written, that God’s Spirit indwelled.

Pharaoh (41:38) said, “CAN WE FIND ANYONE LIKE THIS MAN, ON IN WHOM IS THE SPIRIT OF GOD?”  He answered his own question in the next verse; “SINCE GOD HAS MADE ALL THIS KNOWN TO YOU, THERE IS NO ONE SO DISCERNING AND WISE AS YOU.”  This is a secular witness agreeing with what was said twice in the previous chapter (39), that the LORD was with Joseph.

Hundreds of years later, God would raised up Daniel, a dreamer and an interpreter of dreams very much like Joseph.  God used both these men to prepare His people for the two most important points in their history.  He used Joseph to prepare them to become a nation in the first place.  He used Daniel to prepare them to become a nation again, after God’s people had been carried away in captivity.  In both cases, God’s people emerged from slavery to forge a new national identity.

God may not use you or I in such historical fashion, but the example of Joseph is one worth studying and following just the same.  We should desire to be filled with the Spirit and gifted for service as Joseph was.