(Sermon #1) – The Prison Experiences Of The Bible
Series Introduction: One of the striking things about the Law of the Lord is the fact that God authorized no prisons among His people. When a person committed a crime in Israel, their punishment was to be swift and sure, and it was to be a punishment that fit their crime. Yet, throughout history, kings and other rulers have built prisons to contain political enemies and lawbreakers. This is still true in our day.
Even though God did not order His people to build any prisons, He did allow some of His most choice servants to spend time in the dungeons of their day. In fact, a few of God’s men met their deaths in prison cells. When God allowed one of His servants to go into prison, it wasn’t because they were criminals. God sent each of those special prisoners to their prison because He wanted to teach them some lessons they could learn nowhere else.
I believe that it is worth our time to consider these prison experiences, because they have much to teach us about our God. With that in mind, let’s look at Joseph and his prison experience.
SERMON TITLE : THE PRISON OF HIS PROMOTIONS
Genesis 39:20-22 Joseph (NKJV)
20 Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison.
21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
22 And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing.
Genesis 41:14 (NKJV)
14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothing, and came to Pharaoh.
Our text tells us that one of the greatest characters in the Old Testament had his own prison experience. Joseph, who pictures the Lord Jesus in at least 100 ways, pulled a long, hard stretch in Pharaoh’s prison.
Ill. The Context and why Joseph was in prison. (Ill. Why wasn’t he executed?) Joseph was there because Potiphar wanted to punish him. But, in reality, Joseph was there because God wanted to promote him. God used a time of confinement as a time of refinement in the life of Joseph. God prepared Joseph for high leadership by sending him to the lockup.
Now, I am interested in Joseph’s prison experience, because I find that God will often do the same thing in your life and mine. He will have a plan to promote us to a greater level of service, but that path will often lead through some prison experience or the other. God’s path for us will lead us through a time when we are shut off; shut down; shut away and shut up.
It is in these prison experiences of life that God prepares us for greater service and responsibility.
Let’s take a few minutes to join Joseph in The Prison Of His Promotions. There are a few truths in this passage that we need to understand today.
I. THE PROBLEMS OF THIS PRISON
(Ill. I have never been in prison, but I understand that prison is not a pleasant place to spend your time. It is a place of problems. Joseph’s prison is no different. In Joseph’s prison we see mirrored the problems we can expect when God sends us into a prison experience in our own lives.)
A. This Is A Painful Prison – In verse 20, we are told that Joseph was “put” into prison. There is no mention of torture or abusive treatment. However, Gen. 40:3 tells us that Joseph was “bound” in this prison. Psalm 105:18 adds even more detail. When all this is considered, it becomes clear that this was a painful time in Joseph’s life.
(Note: It is never easy when the Lord sends you into a prison experience in your life. Of course, God never promised His children that serving Him would be a painless affair.
Some of God’s most choice servants have been shaped on the harsh anvil of pain, Ill. Job – Job 1-2; Paul – 2 Cor. 12:7-10; David – He was hated and hounded by Saul without reason; Elijah – 1 Kings 17-19.
It has been said that “those God would use greatly, He firsts hurts deeply.” So, we should not be surprised when we find ourselves locked away in one of the prisons of life. We are not the first ones to inhabit the cell of affliction and we will not be the last.)
B. This Is A Perplexing Prison – Nowhere are we ever told that Joseph questioned anything that happened to him during his young life. But, surely there had to be questions in his mind. He must have wondered why his brothers hated him so. He must have wondered why he should end up as a slave in Egypt. He must have wondered why he was being punished for doing the right thing. Surely those questions and others must have perplexed his mind.
(Note: One of the problems of this prison is that it can be so perplexing in nature. I mean, you try to do your best and live your life for the Lord and still trouble comes your way. That is a troubling truth for many people. And, some are blown off course by the trials they are forced to endure. They throw up their hands and say, “What’s the use?” That is the wrong attitude to take with the trials of life! We may not understand all that is happening, but we can be sure that our Lord is in control of the situation. Amen!
(Ill. There were some parents who lost their little boy in a tragic automobile accident. They both were very bitter at God. When the pastor came by to see them, the mother said, “Where was God when my son died?” The pastor said, “The same place he was when His Son died.”)
When we take that attitude, we are mistaken. You see, even though the prisons of life are disturbing and distracting, they are part of a plan that we know nothing about. God is using the hard, harsh events of our lives to shape us and move us to where He wants us.
We must trust the Lord, even when we can’t figure out what He is doing. We need to remember that He has a plan. It is a good plan; it is the best plan, Rom. 8:28. Our duty is to serve the Lord even when we don’t understand Him. Who would want a God they could figure out anyway? (Ill. Isa. 55:8-9)
Regardless of what life bring our way, we must submit to His will and trust Him to do right. That is what Joseph did. That is what Paul did, 2 Cor. 4:7-11. And this is what we are to do too.
C. This Is A Prolonged Prison – We do not know how long Joseph spent in his prison. It was at least two years, Gen. 41:1, but it may have been as long as 13 years, Gen. 41:46! We do know for sure that from the time Joseph was thrown into that pit by his brothers until the day he became the second ruler in Egypt, some 13 years passed by. For an extended period of this man’s life, his motto could have been “Nice guys finish last.”
(Note: Sometimes our trials are over in a short time; at other times they may last for years. God may spend many years shaping your life for a relatively short period of service. He may send you into a prison experience in your life to prepare you for greater service.
Ill. It took at least 15 years from the time David was anointed king over Israel until he ruled over the land, 1 Sam. 16; 2 Sam. 5:4. Those 15 years were hard years; but they were years of development. David was forced to walk through some hard places, but God used that time in his life to develop David to sit on the throne of the Israel.
Regardless of how long or how short our prison experiences may be, our duty is to submit to God and to His will for our lives.)
(Ill. Peter Marshall once said, “It is a fact of Christian experience that life is a series of troughs and peaks. In his efforts to get permanent possession of the soul, God relies on the troughs more than the peaks, and some of his special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.”)
II. THE PROVISIONS OF THIS PRISON
(Ill. This prison is a place of problems, but it also a place filled with God’s provisions. He may send us into a prison experience, but He never sends us there alone, or without the resources we will need to survive and thrive in that prison. Hallelujah! )
A. The Provision Of God’s Presence – We are told in Gen. 39:21 that “the Lord was with Joseph.” That young man went into a prison experience, but he did not go into it or through it alone! The God Who sent him there went with him into that awful place.
(Note: Regardless of the nature of the prison experiences you may face in life, remember that God will go with you through them all, Heb. 13:5; Isa. 43:2, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”
When it came time for Noah to enter the ark, God did not say “Go into the ark”; He said “Come into the ark”, Gen. 7:1. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace, they found the Lord was already there, Dan. 3:24-25.)
B. The Provision Of God’s Peace – We are told that God “showed him mercy”, Gen. 39:20. This word is translated “lovingkindness” in other places in the Old Testament. It carries the same idea as the New Testament word “Grace”. In other words, God gave Joseph the power and strength he needed to endure the prison he was forced to face.
(Note: He will do the same for you! Ill. Our Lord’s promise to Paul – 2 Cor. 12:9. Ill. Paul’s “thorn” is not named! There will be grace, peace and power sufficient for the trials you are called upon to face in life. Ill. Isa. 40:29-31; Isa. 41:13; Deut. 33:25-27)
C. The Provision Of God’s Promotion – Gen. 39:21-41:14 tell us that even in prison, God was busy using Joseph for His glory. In that horrible dungeon; locked away with the vilest criminals in Egypt; Joseph shone like the star that he was.
Ill. The Context. Because Joseph submitted to God’s will in the prison experience of his life; God elevated him and used him for His glory.
(Note: God does not send us into the prison to bury us there. He sends us to prepare us for even greater things in His work. When He allows you to suffer a time of being shut up; shut off and shut it; He does it to grow you so that His image can be more clearly seen in your life.
Ill. How gold is refined – This is what God is doing in your life through your prison experiences – 1 Pet. 1:6-8. Ill. “How Firm A Foundation.” – “When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply; The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.”
God sends you into His furnace so that He might use you more greatly for His glory.)
III. THE PRIVILEGES OF THIS PRISON
(Ill. The problem makes the prison difficult. The provisions make them bearable. But, it is the privileges we find in the prisons of life that cause them to become places of growth and blessing).
A. The Privilege Of God’s Plan – What kept Joseph going through the dark days of betrayal; deceit and suffering? It was the sure knowledge that God was working out a wonderful plan on Joseph’s behalf.
Ill. Gen. 37:5-11 – Many years before God had told Joseph that he was going to come out on top.
During the broken hearted days when he was betrayed and sold in to slavery by his own brothers; Joseph was looking for that plan to be fulfilled.
During the hard days when he labored for Potiphar and fought off the advances of Potiphar’s wife; Joseph was waiting for God to do what he said he would do.
Then, during the years he languished in that dark, dreary prison; Joseph kept on believing and kept on waiting. He knew his God had made him a promise and that God would keep that promise.
Than the day came! They called him out of prison and brought him before Pharaoh, Gen. 41:14. Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, Gen 41:15-36, and was made the second ruler in the kingdom, Gen 41:37-43. Joseph had suffered greatly while God worked out His plan; but he remained faithful and he saw God’s plan fulfilled in his life.
(Note: We may not understand this, but when God puts us through a prison experience in our lives, He has honored us. It is an honor to be counted part of God’s plan. To know that I, as insignificant and as meaningless as I am, am a part of God’s plans is an amazing truth.
To think that He would take the time to develop me so that He might use me for His glory is a truth too wonderful for words. But, that is one of the things that makes His grace so amazing. He does not just save us to keep us out of Hell. He saves us to make us because we are a part of His eternal plan. He saves us because He intends to use us for His glory, Eph. 2:10.
The fact that I am saved today tells me that I am important to God. He loves me and He has a plan for my life. So, when my path becomes difficult, it is because He is working out that plan in me and through me. My sole duty is to submit to Him. Hallelujah! )
B. The Privilege Of God’s Praise – Joseph is careful to give all the glory to the Lord, Gen 40:8; 41:16, 25. Joseph knows that God has been working in his life so that God could get glory to His name. God did the things He did in Joseph’s life so that He might develop Joseph and so that He might use Joseph to show others the greatness and glory of the God of Heaven.
(Ill. Pharaoh and his nation were introduced to the God of Israel, all because Joseph was submissive to the Lord.)
(Note: That is what the Lord is doing in our lives when He sends us into a prison experience. He is growing us, but He is also using us to bring more glory to His name. Since that is true, and since our heart’s desire ought to be for His glory, 1 Cor. 10:31, there is no greater thing that we can do in life than to submit to His will for our lives, even when we don’t understand what the Lord is doing.)
C. The Privilege Of God’s Providence – In the end, Joseph saw every promise of the Lord fulfilled and he came to understand that all the pain he was forced to endure served to glorify God; grow Joseph and that it all worked for good in his life, Gen. 50:20, and in the lives of others. Because of Joseph’s obedience and submission (O and S) , God was able to save the nation of Egypt and the family of Joseph. Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery to get rid of him; God had orchestrated everything to save the bloodline of the Messiah, Gen. 45:5; Psa. 105:17.
(Note: in our lives, God is going to send us into some places when faith is going to have to swim where reason cannot even wade. During those times, we are going to have to trust God. You see, when all Joseph could see was the pit, Potiphar’s house and the prison; God could see the palace! Hallelujah! )
He knows what He is doing in my life. He knows where He is taking me. He knows all about the plans He has for me. He knows what He is preparing me for in this life. I do not! Sometimes all I can see is the prison; during those times, I must trust that He sees the palace.
Let me give you two great “Prison Promises”. These two verses will sustain you when all you can see is the prison.
1. Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
2. Psalm 138:8, “The LORD will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O LORD, endureth for ever: forsake not the works of thine own hands.”)
Many years ago, Martin Luther made this statement, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my little apple tree and pay my debts.” That simple statement says a lot about Luther. He was saying, “No matter what comes my way, I am going to do the right things and keep on serving the Lord.”
You see, those who won’t serve God in the prisons of life are not fit to serve Him in the palaces of life either.
Does this message find you looking at some kind of a prison experience in your life? What are you doing in that prison? Are you rebelling against it, or submitting to it? God has you there for one reason: He is using that prison as a tool of preparation for a future promotion.
Has He spoken to your heart through this message? If so, then come and get before Him and deal with the word He sent to your heart today.
Praise the Lord! Thank you JESUS!