Jump Start # 2397
Genesis 50:24-25 “Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am about to die, but God will surely take care of you and bring you up from this land to the land which He promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.’ Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, ‘God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here.’”
Our verse today, the final words of Joseph, to his family is layered with many great thoughts for us. Joseph knew the end was near. He wanted to be buried in the land that God had promised to his forefathers. He believed that one day this people would dwell in that land. We must remember that at this time Joseph is second only to Pharaoh. This would be like the death of a Vice-President to us. You can imagine how Egypt would have honored him.
The book of Genesis begins with the creation of life. The book ends with a coffin in Egypt. Joseph had spent 90 years in Egypt. It was his home, but not his heart. Exodus 12 tells us that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt for 430 years. It wasn’t until Joshua 24, that the bones of Joseph are buried in the promise land. For centuries Israel carried those old bones of Joseph. From place to place that they traveled, they carried those old bones.
Israel carried those bones, but they didn’t carry Joseph’s great example of godliness with them. Time after time, Joseph was in trouble but he always knew that God was with him and God was doing things through him. Sold by his brothers, falsely accused of inappropriate behavior, forgotten in prison, the long road of hardships would be enough for most of us to turn our backs on God. But not Joseph. He holds to God’s unchanging hands over and over. The very people that carried those bones of Joseph didn’t make it to the promise land themselves. It would be their children who would see the promises fulfilled. They would carry those bones and they would bury Joseph. The adults that left Egypt, also left God. Their complaining and faithless ways kept them from seeing what was promised. These people carried a great example, but they never developed that spirit among them.
As they carried those bones of Joseph through the wilderness, they probably never realized that they were carrying a resident of Heaven. Joseph is named specifically in Hebrews 11 as one who gained approval by God. He made it. He’s in the trophy case of Heaven. He is shown to the Hebrew Christians as an example of what they ought to be doing. It doesn’t seem that Israel thought much about the bones that they were carrying about. How special that person was. How he had honored God throughout his life. How they could learn from him.
As I think of this great passage, there are three lessons before us.
First, you and I tend to carry old bones around as well. I’m not talking about our bodies, though some of us may feel like we are just a bag of old bones. We carry old baggage around. We tend to carry the past with us. We tend to carry and remember the hurts we received. We carry negative things that has happened to us. And, the older we get, these bag of bones sure seem to get heavier and heavier. And, as we age, we find ways to keep adding more bones to these bags. We drag these old bag of bones from congregation to congregation. We drag them from relationship to relationship. We open the bag up and show those old bones to anyone that will stop and listen. We’ve told these same stories for decades and decades about what people have said about us, and what was done to us. We shuffle on down the road with these heavy bags of bones from the past. These bones are reminders of sin, guilt, shame and suffering.
Paul’s words to the Philippians, forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead is something that we seem to have a hard time with. It’s hard to forget the past when you are dragging a bag of old bones behind you. The past is following you, everywhere.
Some won’t let us forget. They are always there to remind us of our mistakes and how we let them down. They happily dig up those old bones and place them back on your shoulders to carry. This happens in marriage. This happens in parenting. This happens among brethren.
It was a good thing to carry Joseph’s bones. But some of the bones that we carry should not be carried any longer. Forgiveness, including forgiving yourself, is the key to dropping that heavy bag of bones. Let the past stay in the past. Learn your lessons. Do better. But stop carry those old bones with you.
Second, we are surrounded by an immense amount of examples of what we ought to be doing. We stand upon the shoulders of those who were before us. They sacrificed. They taught. They devoted time to help us be who we are. They gave us opportunities. And, for those of us who preach, most of us were not very good at the start. Yet, there were brethren who believed in us. There were open doors of opportunity and hearts that were kind and patient with us. We were definitely a work in progress. And, as Israel carried that coffin out of Egypt, what a great reminder, example and hope that they were carrying. We look around at where we are today, some of us are in congregations that are large, powerful and doing well. The congregation I am with started in the front room of a person’s house over a hundred years ago. I doubt those few believers could ever imagine a congregation that numbers in the hundreds. We all have a wonderful spiritual history, both personally and congregationally. Many do not know the story and the history of their congregation. It ought to be told. It needs to be shared. Most congregations have weathered storms and enjoyed good times of growth. Solid preaching, compassionate shepherding and leading has helped these congregations touch the lives of people world wide. The body of Joseph represented the past. There was Jacob. There was Isaac. There was Abraham. Joseph follows that line. A line of believers. A line of promised people. A line connecting to God. There are names, good names, of men and women who have walked well with the Lord. We don’t carry their bones, but we do need to carry their examples and their memory among us. We owe much to them.
Third, we are leaving footprints for our children to follow one day. The bones of Joseph represented more than just the past. The bones pointed to the future. He was to be buried in the promise land. He believed in that promise. He believed that one day Israel would dwell in that land, just as God said. His bones were more than a museum, they were the future. Too often, we’ve made the church like a museum. Everything seems old and in the past. Where’s the future? Where are we going? The bones of Joseph was a reminder that the wilderness wasn’t the destination. Egypt wasn’t home. There was a land and it’s to that land that we must travel to. We must work to make the church stronger and better for our children. Leave this place better than we found it. We ought to look down the line and see future leaders, three years out, five years out, ten years out. We need to help these men be ready by mentoring them and training them. Get the church positioned financially so it can do things. Develop, teach, train, show—those are the key components of preparing those who will follow us.
It will be our bones that the next generation carries. Not literally, but in their hearts and memory. What will they carry? A people that fussed and argued and fought about everything? A people that had the heart of Jesus?
Carrying bones—what a great lesson for us.