Sermon delivered March 1, 1997

by Pastor Donald J. Gettys

McDonald Road SDA Church, McDonald, Tennessee

Joseph Innocently Incarcerated

One definition of insanity is to keep doing the exact same things while expecting different results. In other words, if we keep doing what we're doing, we're going to keep getting what we're getting. And if this is true, Joseph must have been insane! He kept up his faithfulness to God and kept getting disappointed the whole time. And if you feel a little bit like Joseph, you keep attending church, you study the Bible, you keep up with your life, and yet you can't pay the bills, things aren't going so well. You need to listen to this sermon because Joseph has a lesson for you today. He had a rough life.

Jesus first 30 years were enjoyable. He spent most of his time in a pleasant carpenter shop. He learned from his mother. He worked. He had a very pleasant time for the first thirty years. His life was sheltered.

Joseph on the other hand: his first 30 years were not so good, especially in the last portion. Joseph experienced more injustice than any other character in the Bible, because it happened over a period of so many years, except Jesus himself. The sky of his youth was soon overcast. His older brothers hated him and even when he sincerely came to seek their welfare, he was terribly hurt and sold into perpetual slavery. He was introduced to Potiphar's house and there he met Mrs. Potiphar. She tried to seduce him, even though his actions were pure and noble. He was innocently and falsely accused of sexual harassment. Poor Joseph!

Come back here to Genesis 39 in your Bible. We're going to look at the story of Joseph. Verse 11: "One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. (12) She caught him by his cloak and said, 'Come to bed with me!' But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. (13) When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house..." She screamed.

She had probably run out of the house with the cloak in her hand. She was stood up. She was disappointed. She probably ripped her own clothes to make it look like he had done something real bad.

Joseph was caught between a rock and a hard place. It was a loose-loose situation. If he did it or didn't do what she wanted, he was in deep trouble. Remember, even if we resist sin we may still pay a high price. If someone asks you, "Would you do drugs with me" And you say, "No." You face rejection from them. If you stand for the right, the wicked will reject you, but I want you to know that God will NOT! God will eventually turn your lemon into lemonade. That's the kind of God that we worship.

Potiphar came running home. Something had happened to his wife! "What happened?" She told her tale and he burned with anger! Who was he mad at? I don't think he was upset with Joseph. He knew she was lying. She probably lied before. Had He believed her lie, his guillotine would have done instant surgery on Joseph's neck. That didn't happen. I think he was angry to have to punish an innocent man. He had come to love and regard Joseph as his own "Son" (PP217). He would also lose the "Joseph Effect". So he was having a bad day. He was very upset.

Joseph was thrown into prison to save the reputation of Potiphar's house. In that evil Jail Joseph was at first badly mistreated. In Psalm 105:18 it says, "he was laid in chains of iron" (RV). That's tough for a shepherd boy used to the broad plains of Syria. You know, our children should be as free as lambs. But here, Joseph was laid in chains. Poor Joseph.

Joseph had been treated bad. When someone treats you unfairly, it hurts. Especially if it is your own family or maybe it happens in the church. Somebody says something to you, it hurts you. What do you do? Have you ever been falsely accused? Or maybe someone started a rumor about you or someone has verbally "cleaned your clock"? How do you feel? It's not easy. It was not your fault. You were abused or hurt. If so, we need to learn from Joseph.

Joseph did not get Bitter. Joseph kept sweet. He did not allow anger to control his life. Joseph allowed Jesus Christ to control his life. When we let the sun go down on our anger you don't have a good night: it gives "the devil a foothold" in our life-- Ephesians 4:26-27. An unforgiving spirit is like a self destruct button that you can push. And it destroys you! We need to be a forgiving people. When something bad happens to you, don't direct your feelings of hurt toward them or blame God. That's the very time you need Him the most. And so, be close to God.

I Peter 2:18-21 "Submit yourselves to your masters...not only to those who are good,...but also to those who are harsh. ..Bear up under the pain of unjust suffering.." When somebody is mistreating you, turn the other cheek.

God did not forget Joseph in that jail alone. He did not leave him. God was with him. And God will be with you. He was there in that dungeon with Joseph, and Joseph was a model prisoner. I believe that wherever we are we can be the best. And he was the best in that jail. Potiphar's loss was the jailers gain because Joseph was a person of excellence. Joseph got busy sweeping out the jail, painting, cleaning, counseling, and helping out. He was just a neat person to have. He cared for the prisoners in that place. He was touched by the feelings of their infirmities.

Genesis 39:20 "Joseph's master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined. While Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him...." God is so nice! He understands because He is right there with us, and He will restore the sunshine in His own time restore the sunshine of your life.

The prison where Joseph was incarcerated was not like Fort Leavenworth or like Alcatraz. It was the special place where the King's prisoners were kept, not the ordinary prisoners. It may have even been located near the royal palace. It was one of the better prisons.

In that prison Joseph started a Prison Ministry. That's what the Bible says. He was a caring person. He found a work to do and forgot his sorrow. He looked after the welfare of the other prisoners. He found a work to do and soon forgot his own sorrows. If you're moping around and you're always sorry for yourself, go help somebody else and it will help you. By sheer strength of Character, Joseph was able to bear up and keep sweet.

39:21 "God showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. (22) So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there."

The Jailer, just like Potiphar, was a very observant man with keen perception. He noticed Joseph was different. Soon he put Joseph completely in charge of the whole operation. That is Incredible! He could trust Joseph. Christians are trustworthy! He walked to the beat of a different Drummer. He was totally Honest! Christians ought to be trustworthy. He trusted because he saw the God-Factor. Joseph was connected with God and success was automatic.

23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph's care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

Genesis 40:1 Some time later the Cup-Bearer and the Baker of the king of Egypt offended their master. They did something wrong. The high brass of Egypt got in trouble. I don't know what happened, but I imagine from reading this that there was an assignation attempt on Pharaoh's life. Probably His food was poisoned because the Baker and the Cup-Bearer were involved. The Baker supervised all food services in the kings kitchen, of the palace of Pharaoh. The CUPBEARER tasted all of that food. He sampled everything the king ate. He would take one bite out of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and after half an hour if nothing happened, then Pharaoh could eat the rest of the sandwich. That's about how it worked. If there was arsenic in the food, Pharaoh would see him start to wither away and die a horrible death and would say, "I think I'll skip the garlic and leeks today, I never did liked those crazy things anyway! They're worse than OKRA!" And he would save his life. The butler would die for the king. That's about what would happen. He would lay down his life to save the life of the king. So both of these men were placed in jail.

Now look at verse 4: "The captain of the guard (Potiphar!) assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them." When Joseph "Attends" you, you get extra special VIP treatment!

Isn't it neat to see how God rewards His servants? God puts everything together! We go out to do the chores for our father and we return with a crown on our head. Here these two men came into that prison, and Joseph was assigned to them. That's very significant. You know, God is in charge of our lives. Here came two elite talkative royal prisoners. Intelligent men, associates who worked side by side with Pharaoh. When you are tasting his sandwiches every day, he also confides with you. If he can trust you with his life, then he can trust you with other things. So these men knew the ins and outs and the workings of the kingdom. And Joseph sat at their feet. While you are in prison you talk. What else can you do? So Joseph learned of the workings of the greatest nation on the earth. They downloaded gigabytes of precious information into Joseph's keen mind. He took it all in: Facts about the military, science, government, crops, even about the character of the king himself. Joseph learned a lot.

Now, one night they each had a dream. Three days before Pharaoh's birthday God sent dreams to the Baker and Cup bearer. Did you ever have a dream from God? Most of my dreams are just nonsense.

GENESIS 40:6 "When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected." (7) So he asked... "Why are your faces so sad today?" Joseph was a people person. He was very observant. Good thing. This one chance might not have happened if Joseph had not been a caring person. And they told him they had dreams.

Dreams were Joseph's hobby! Joseph loved dreams. That was his pastime. And the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, "In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, (10) and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. (11) Pharaoh's cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh's cup and put the cup in his hand."

12 "This is what it means," Joseph said to him. "The three branches are three days. (13) Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh's cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. (14) But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison.

Finally the chief baker got up his courage. He said, "Well that was a good dream, I'll tell you my dream. And he told his dream about the bad birds borrowing three baskets of the bakers bread. Joseph lovingly put his arm around the poor mans shoulders and said: (19) "(I don't know how to say this more pleasantly, but) within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree. And the bad birds will eat come and your flesh." You can't say that in a very good way, can you?

Verse 20 So, At Pharaoh's birthday party, (21) He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, (22) but he hanged the chief baker! (23) The cupbearer forgot Joseph.

Poor Joseph! His world came to an end. His last chance was over. That's a shame. Well, maybe it wasn't over. Maybe we must just wait patiently for God, for His vindication. Sometimes our prayers seem to accumulate like unopened letters in God's mail box, but those who wait on the Lord will inherit the earth... Psalm 37:9. So you keep praying for your wayward son or daughter or father or mother. Keep praying for those people.

Day after day Joseph sat on his suitcase waiting. Surely today he will remember me and I will be released. He sat there waiting. "Surely he's going to remember me." Weeks turned into months and finally into years. Two years went by and Joseph was forgotten. His last chance gone!? The silence was deadly. Even God was silent. But His thoughts did not go down the slimy stairs of suicide but grasping Jacob's ladder he was lifted up. Even in that jail. Even though he was under all that discouragement.

Murphy's Law was in effect for Joseph. A little black cloud seemed to hang over Joseph. Everywhere he went that black cloud hovered over him. The more faithful he was the more that cloud rained on him. What use was it to be good? It was no use. It seemed that the bad prospered and the good lost out. Fellow prisoners who knew Joseph might have said, "Why don't you just give up...your God doesn't care!" His young heart must have had some big questions!

Each life begins so hopeful. I remember when I was in the academy. I thought, "When I graduate from Indiana Academy, I'm going to go out and change the world. This is going to be a different place!" Every young person has hopes. We start out to change the whole world. The sun is forever warm. Our Health seems eternal. Nothing can happen to you. You can eat a whole pizza and not even get sick. But all too soon troubles eclipse our sun. Our dreams turn into nightmares. We are caught in the clutches (like everybody else) of a sinful world. Like a poor young animal caught in a steel trap, the more we struggle to get loose the more the teeth of the trap seem to bite and hold us down. At last exhaustion comes and the young person ceases to try. The young animal in the trap has been beaten. Joseph was now fully in the snare of the trapper, waiting for more doom to come. Everything that he did that was good turned out bad.

But somehow he still had faith! I don't know how Joseph did it. He didn't have a Bible that he could read about the stories about how God delivers evidence. He never saw a burning bush. Joseph never saw a dry path through the dead sea. He never was privileged like the disciples to see all the great miracles of Jesus. Yet, somehow, without any evidence he kept believing! Joseph had faith! I like Joseph!! Like JOB, he never gave up hope. He knew God, and he knew that had not forgotten him even though the Cup Bearer had.

Isaiah 49:15-16 "I will not forget you! I have engraved you on the palms of my hands." --that is far better than tying a string around your finger! God has engraved us: He will not forget His people.

WHAT IF the Cupbearer remembered Joseph? He got up there and he talked with Pharaoh and he says, "Oh, by the way, I almost forgot. There';s a man down in that jail that doesn't deserve to be there. I want you to get him out." And Pharaoh said, "Okay, I'll pardon him. We'll put him back on the slave block and sell him to somebody else." And Joseph would be in eternal slavery. Maybe it's best to wait on God's timing isn't it?

Joseph fully trusted in God. He knew God's will would be done eventually. When dark days come in large quantities, just leave them all in God's capable hands. God knows what to do.

His education was actually quite excellent. I want to point out something that we might miss here. In PSALM 105:18 there is something we miss about Joseph. I missed it, maybe you didn't. When I saw this, I was elated. Psalm 105 is about Joseph. Verse 18: "They bruised his feet with shackles. His neck was put in irons." I want you to notice the literal Hebrew here. I got this from the New American Standard Bible. The literal Hebrew says: (He was in chains and in the dark jail) "HIS SOUL CAME INTO IRON". Now if we were to were to re-word this in modern English it would say, "Iron entered his soul. In that jail he ceased to be a boy and he became a man. Iron entered his soul. What a profound statement that is! You know, the iron tenacity, the iron will, the iron character were infused into his very nature because of the hard circumstances of his life.

Just like Boot Camp in the Army can make a man out of some spoiled brat, Joseph was in that jail and he became a man. Don't complain too much about suffering. It may be God's way of infusing IRON into your soul. p Some senior Saint may sitting her and thinking, "Why is it that God has given me an iron character and has never used me? Has never used me much in any way?" Could it be that there is yet another ministry that God has in mind for you? Maybe on another world or on the earth-made-new? Maybe in heaven? God has a plan for your life. If we could see what awaits us in the palace of the king we wouldn't worry too much about the dungeon.

Prisons aren't all bad. It was in prison where Bunyan saw his allegories; it was in prison that Paul met angels; and it was in prison that and John the Revelator saw Jesus on the Isle of Patmos. How often God turns down the lights in life so we can see eternal values.

The greatest want of the world is the want of IRON SAINTS! With spiritual muscles of steel..iron sinews, Men and women who are as true to duty as the iron needle to the magnetic pole.

HEBREWS 12:11-This speaks of the need that God has of allowing discipline to work out its way in our life: "No discipline seems pleasant at the time ( never enjoyed it when my dad had to take off his belt and use on me), but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."

Have you ever had far more than your share of trouble? Has Murphy's Law invaded your place? Are the days of your life slipping away, and you wonder, "What is it all about?" I want you to take courage. Because God may be putting you through an iron regimen for your own good. The iron crown of suffering will soon be replaced by the golden crown of eternal life.

No, Joseph was not insane. He kept being faithful to God and eventually it did pay off. He knew he was on the right track and refused to deviate from the way to life. Don't get weary in well doing.

H.M.S. Richards

Opening Hymn--6.   
Closing Hymn---469 Leaning on the Everlasting arms.   
Scripture:  Psalm 37:1-4

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