Hebrews 12:1-3. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Today we are kicking off a new series called “Fix Your Eyes.” To be honest, it’s like no other series we’ve ever done. For one reason, it’s a deviation from my normal challenge. I’m usually telling you, with passion and enthusiasm, to pick up your sword and take the mountain! During this series I’ll be encouraging you to put down your sword and fight the challenges of life in a different way.
Let’s look at Exodus 14:14 from three different versions.
In the NIV it says, “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
In the NLT we read, “The LORD himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”
In the ESV it says, “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
I think you’re sensing the theme. We need to look to Jesus. We need to put our trust and our hope in Him, not in our strength or abilities. We need to look to Him, fix our eyes on Him, rest in Him, because if your hope is not in Christ, life itself becomes hopeless.
When I first met Deb, she was living with her grandparents Ken and Esther Einarsen. They were Norwegian and loved the Lord. Ken, whom everyone called Pa, loved to quote Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.”
So, put down your sword and let me tell you a story. It’s a story you’ve heard before, but told from a different perspective. Since I’m already deviating from the norm, if it’s okay, I want to tell this story backward. There was young man named Joseph. In Genesis 50:20 Joseph says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Sooo, this story is really all about God.
All the other characters, all the other events in Joseph’s story are leading to this conclusion: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” I think this is an important point. It’s always God in the end…and in the beginning.
Psalm 139:16 reminds us, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” God is the end and beginning of each of our stories as well. Remember, “For you died and your life in now hidden with Christ, in God” (Colossians 3:3).
So now I want you to put yourself in Joseph’s place. He’s 17 and he’s his father’s favorite son. We read in Genesis 37:3-4, “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.”
Then Joseph has a dream, and in the dream all his brothers are bowing down to him. It was a prophetic dream, and it would one day save their lives, but not knowing the future, it made them hate him even more. When we think with a temporal mindset, we believe I’m the center of the universe and everything revolves around me. That was the mindset of his brothers. They could not grasp that God may be speaking through their brother, for their good.
In July 2007 I was in New York and had the chance to hear Ravi Zacharias speak. In his sermon he said, “You will never know your call until you are a person of prayer and humility, and open to the instruction of the godly—even when it’s difficult to hear.”
So, Joseph’s brothers are out grazing their flock. They see Joseph coming and they plot to kill him when he gets there. His brother Reuben tries to talk them out of it, planning to later rescue him and bring him home safe. So rather than killing Joseph, they decide to throw him in a cistern (a pit), but when Reuben is away they sell him into slavery. Put yourself in Joseph’s place. You’re sitting in a literal pit of despair. How are you feeling? Overwhelmed, angry with God, terrified, depressed, abandoned, confused, anxious, stressed, alone?
But, once again, God intervenes, and Joseph ends up a slave in Potiphar’s house. Joseph stands out so much that Potiphar puts him in charge of his entire household. He has control of everything but Potiphar’s wife. His wife thinks Joseph is very handsome and wants him to sleep with her. Joseph refuses. He does the right thing—and pays the price. She’s angry and tells her husband that Joseph tried to take advantage of her, and Joseph is put in prison. No good deed goes left unpunished, right? Now, if you’re Joseph, how do you feel? Really angry, vengeful, hateful, deflated? Are you wondering, “Where is God?” Are you thinking, “I did the right thing, life’s not fair, why me, I don’t deserve this?”
Here’s the reality: life is unfair. Now what? Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do? Have you ever had someone take something from you that was really important? Maybe someone took credit for your work at the office and received a promotion. Maybe someone rewrote the history of events and left you out of the details. How do you feel? Joseph’s in jail and it’s not fair, it’s unjust. But God’s not finished.
Remember that God gave Joseph the gift to interpret dreams, and he uses it while he’s in jail, which ultimately leads to his release. That’s after he’s forgotten by the cupbearer and left to rot a while longer. The king needs his dream interpreted; the cupbearer tells him about Joseph—finally—and he’s called upon to interpret the king’s dream. It’s in this dream that Joseph foresees a seven-year famine. The king is so impressed, and Joseph is so gifted by God, he moves up to the position of second in command of Egypt. Joseph stores up enough food to save countless lives, including his own family—even his brothers.
In all of his struggles Joseph trusts his God. I like to think that he had the ability to live his life backward. He had the faith to trust in God for the end of his story. He knew the character of God, so he knew no matter what he faced, the end result was in God’s hands. I wonder if we would live life differently if we could see the end first—if we would worry as much, if we would stress as much, if we would fear as much if we could glimpse eternity for just one moment. We need to realize if we live for Christ every moment, our life has meaning—whether we live for forty more years or four more days. I don’t control how many days I have, but I do control how I live those days.
Joseph was a part of an amazing story. We read it knowing the end and how it all turns out for his good. We read all the stories in the Bible knowing God is there in the beginning and in the end. I think where we struggle is when we’re in the middle of our own God story—when we don’t know how the story will end for us. And for many of you, right now, you’re thinking, it’s not looking good. We’re in the bottom of the pit, or just got falsely accused of something we didn’t do. When that happens:
We need to rest in the knowledge of God’s character.
We need to fix our eyes on Jesus.
We need to see life from an eternal perspective.
We need to believe that all things do work for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. And we need to realize our lives have significance, purpose, and meaning even when we can’t see it.
In his book The Grand Weaver, Ravi Zacharias writes, “We always like to know how the story ends, don’t we? Otherwise we feel cheated. Does a sudden disappointment or unexpected event shatter everything else we believe?” Farther on, he continues, “If we were to judge by much of what we see and hear, we would honestly find it difficult to keep ourselves from becoming cynical about life. More and more, when something terrible happens, we declare, “That’s life!” – as though disappointment and heartache declare the sum total of this existence. We miss the roses and see only the thorns.”
If we’re going to get to the place where we see the roses, it will not be through our own effort, our own strength. So, for the next few weeks I need you to put down your sword, let go of the lie that you can control tomorrow, stop DOING and just BE. Be in His presence, trust in His grace, rest in His promises.
In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”