God Used It For Good
4th Sunday After Trinity
July 13th/14th, 2014
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI
Each of us has a scar. We all have bruises. For each of us has undergone some form of suffering. We have all faced adversity at one point or another. Some have definitely endured more pain than others, but each of us has shouldered a burden at some point or another. Maybe cancer or some other disease attacked you or your family. I know it has mine. Maybe a car accident or some other sudden tragedy shattered your world as you knew it into so many pieces that it will never be put back together the way it once was. I know it has mine. Maybe it was a job loss that led to a home loss that led to an overwhelming sense of helplessness as you wondered where the money to pay the next bill was going to come from. We have all experienced hardship, for in this fallen creation there is nowhere to hide from the effects of sin. It is going to get to each of us. It certainly got to Joseph.
Joseph experienced an avalanche of hardship throughout his life. Like going to a water park with your kids and watching as the big drum of water fills up, waiting for it to turn over and drench anyone who happens to be standing under it, the first part of Joseph’s life reads like a story of waiting for the vat to be dumped again. It was only a matter of when, not if, the next adversity would arrive. In fact, his life story is so compelling that not only is it a staple in almost every single Sunday School Curriculum produced, it even inspired its own Broadway Musical. Anyone who’s heard the story of Joseph will not soon forget it. His brothers plotted to kill him, but instead of carrying out the murder they opted for the more financially advantageous opportunity and sold him into slavery. The boy Joseph spent time as a slave before eventually rising to a position of authority in his master’s house, but it was only a matter of time before the bucket dumped out again. Joseph held his position until false accusations led him to captivity once again, this time in an Egyptian prison. While in prison he was betrayed by a man he helped, and ended up spending extra years in chains. It was only after he interpreted the Pharaoh’s dream and saved Egypt from famine that Pharaoh exalted Joseph to second in command in the entire kingdom. It was in that position of authority that Joseph was reunited with his family. When his father died, his brothers feared retribution for the evil they had done to him. And who could blame them, for their jealousy led them to knock over the first domino that set off a chain of hardship that characterized their brother’s life. But Joseph’s answer to them was simple: “Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Joseph’s life had indeed been filled with adversity and suffering, but in the end he recognized that behind it all God was working things out for the best. That, in its simplest form, is the Christian’s answer to the problem of pain and suffering in the world – a confession that behind it all God is working things out for the best. The unbelieving world finds that answer totally unsatisfying, often accusing Christians of burying their head in the sand. They say it’s too easy, and that we Christians are simply fooling ourselves. The question of how a God who is supposed to be all-powerful and all-loving can coexist with pain and suffering is such a common question from unbelievers that it gets its own name in theological circles: theodicy. Christians throughout time have pieced together all manner of justifications and explanations for the presence of pain in this world. Some of them are, in my opinion, quite compelling and make for very good reading. But that’s not the point. Philosophical or theological rebuttals to such attacks are never the full story. They may “justify God,” but they fall short. For Christians, the truest answer to the presence of suffering and pain in the world is seen in Joseph. It is trust that no matter what my life looks like from my perspective, God does have my ultimate good in mind, and that his understanding of good is better than mine, that his ultimate goal is going to be better for me than the one I might have for myself. The Scriptures never promise that our lives will be easy or painless, only that in all things, be they easy or hard, our Lord works for our good. Faith’s response in the midst of struggle is to cling to this hope.
Through the pain and suffering endured by Joseph, our Lord saved a multitude of people who would have otherwise starved in the famine. The suffering Joseph endured ended up being for the benefit of others. Joseph recognized that because of his life, one man’s suffering saved the lives of many.  Sound familiar? One man suffers so that many may live. We have in the story of Joseph a beautiful foreshadowing of the life and suffering of Jesus. Joseph is betrayed by his brothers who intend to do him harm. Jesus is betrayed by Judas, one of his closest followers, who intends to do him harm. Satan manipulates the actions of men so that they condemn our Lord, sending him to his death. But not without suffering first. Not without pain. Satan wants to hurt our Lord. Satan wants to make Jesus suffer, and so Jesus does. Beaten. Whipped. Humiliated. Mocked. Nailed to a cross.
But as with Joseph, what they intended for evil our Lord used for good. What they did with the intent to harm Jesus, God intended for the good of accomplishing what has now been done: the saving of many lives. Every drop of blood that Jesus shed in his suffering was shed for you. Every bead of sweat the dripped off the brow of our Savior in his agony was for the person sitting next to you. Jesus certainly suffered, but the suffering that he endured was for each and every person who has ever existed, or who will ever exist. The reality that even Jesus suffered gives us a different perspective on our suffering. As our Church President wrote in a reflection on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, in times sufferings we still lament, but because of Jesus we lament with hope. We cry out, but we cry out with hope.
We have hope. Suffering in this world is nothing new. It has been around since sin entered creation and wreaked havoc with a once perfect existence. Suffering was certainly not God’s design for his creation, but now that this world is fallen, suffering is so much a part of it that our Lord himself did not escape it when he became man. Yet in the midst of it, we have hope, for our Lord himself suffered. The almighty endured pain. Take that in for a moment – as Jesus was sustaining the life of men who have no existence apart from him (for in him all things live and move and have their being), those same men are using their existence to press thorns into our Lord’s scalp, to ridicule him and smear his reputation, to turn his family and friends against him. Yes, our Lord suffered everything that we suffer, and while the reality of our Lord’s suffering does not eliminate suffering from our lives, it certainly gives us a different perspective on it.
Remember that at the end of all his suffering, Joseph was blessed to see how everything turned out. He was able to say with confidence that God worked it out for good because he was living in the good. At the end of Jesus’ suffering, God and man had been reconciled. The Temple curtain was torn in two. Sin had been forgiven. Salvation had been won. At the end of Jesus’ suffering, God had worked all things for the good of all people. So also with us and our suffering. We may not know what God has in store for us on this side of the grave, but we trust that whatever it may be, it will be for our good. That is why the Apostle Paul can write, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” It is the comfort of Jesus’ suffering that lead the Apostle Peter to write to other suffering Christians, telling them, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share in Christ’s suffering, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
There is tremendous comfort in knowing that our Lord understands whatever suffering we endure. There is tremendous comfort in knowing that our sufferings are swallowed up by the suffering of Jesus. We know what resulted from his suffering. And so we can rest in the confidence that eternal life in paradise will is waiting at the end of ours.
“Eternal life is all well and good,” you might say, “but what about now? What does this suffering do for my life today, for my life tomorrow?” When you struggle with such thoughts, it is helpful to remember some words the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, where he said that God is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.”
Our Lord comforts us in our afflictions with the promise of eternal life. Our Lord comforts us in our affliction by giving us friends and family whose shoulders we cry on, whose ears listen to our complaints, and whose arms embrace us when we feel alone. Our Lord comforts us in our affliction with the promise that even though we don’t understand how, he will turn even this moment of pain and heartache into something good. He comforts us so that we in turn will be able to comfort others when they face affliction. Now, knowing and believing that doesn’t make suffering hurt any less. It doesn’t make the pain any less real. It doesn’t remove hardship from our lives entirely. But the promise of deliverance does give us the hope to persevere. The promise of deliverance does give us the strength to remain faithful even during those difficult times. The gift of faith clings to this promise so that one day, as we are being ushered into our eternal paradise, we too can look at Satan and all his minions and say with Joseph, “You intended to harm me, but God used it for good to accomplish what is now being done: the salvation of my soul.”
May God grant it to us for Jesus sake. Amen.
 Genesis 50:21
 Romans 8:28
 Genesis 50:20
 Acts 17:28
 Matthew 27:51
 Philippians 4:11-13
 1 Peter 4:12-13
 2 Cor. 1:3-7