Silver Cup Trick - Genesis 44
Updated: Nov 27, 2021
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Sermon Manuscript – 11.21.2021
There’s an old story, I may have told it before – but it blows my mind and it fits perfectly for today, so I’m going to tell it again. Robert Coleman put it in his book, “Written In Blood.” Once upon a time there was a little boy, whose sister was very sick. She was so sick that she actually needed a blood transfusion. The doctor explained that she had the same disease that the little boy had recovered from two years earlier. He had it, he beat it, and now she had it. And her only chance for recovery was a transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the disease. Because the two children had the same rare blood type, the boy was the ideal donor. Little boy’s name was Johnny and the little girl’s name was Mary. The doctor came to Johnny and said, “Will you give your blood to Mary?” It’s a scary procedure for a kid to go through, and it works a lot better if the kid is on board and excited to help. Will you donate your blood to your sister? The little boy Johnny hesitated, his lower lip started to tremble, but then after a pause he smiled and said, “For my sister, yes. I will help.” So they bring the two children into the hospital room. Mary, the little girl, pale and thin. Johnny, the 8 year old big brother, robust and healthy. They didn’t talk, but when Mary looked over at Johnny, he grinned back at her. The nurse came in, and inserted the needle into his arm, Johnny’s smile faded. He watched the blood flow through the tube. After a little while, they were almost done and Johnny spoke up and he asked, “Doctor, when will I die?” And it took them a moment to realize that Johnny thought that when you donate blood you donate all of it. He thought he was literally giving all of his blood to his sister. He thought he was going to die to save his sister. And even though he thought it meant death, he only hesitated for a moment. Thankfully, Johnny didn’t have to die to save his sister.
Today is part three of our series in Genesis. We are finishing up the story of Joseph in chapter 44 of Genesis. Next week is the finale, the last sermon in the series with the big reveal and the end of the story, but before we get to that – today is the moment the trap has been sprung. I mentioned a couple weeks ago that this series is one big set up. I called it a prank – this thing he’s doing to his brothers – but we have discovered as we go that what’s going on here is so much more than that. It’s not just a prank, it’s a moment of discipline and transformational change. Two weeks ago Joseph was laying a foundation, but today all the pieces come together with this incredible moment of redemption – but I don’t want to get ahead of myself – let’s dive in.
First things first, let’s do a quick recap of what’s happened so far. This guy Joseph was his Dad’s favorite son – dad gave him special gifts, dad loved him more. And when he was a kid he had this dream where all his brothers bowed down to him. So naturally, he’s older brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. First they were going to kill him, then they decided, “nah, let’s throw him in this dry well instead.” And then one of the brothers, Judah, came up with this brilliant idea – “hey, those travelers are headed to Egypt. Let’s get a little money for this brother of ours – and sell Joseph.” So Judah sells his brother into slavery. Like, all the brothers were there, but this was Judah’s thing. Fast forward a bit, and now Joseph has been freed from slavery and is actually the number two most important person in all of Egypt. And Joseph has saved Egypt from a famine – because they prepared for it. So Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt, and this time we’ve got all 11 brothers, including the baby brother Benjamin. The important thing to know is that Benjamin is the new favorite. When Jacob, the dad, lost Joseph – it wasn’t like he suddenly went, “Oh no, what have I done creating envy between my sons – I should treat them all equally and show love to them all.” No, not at all. Instead, Jacob clings to Benjamin even MORE than he did to Joseph. Benjamin is his baby. Benjamin is his favorite. Benjamin is the apple of his eye. Jacob has not learned any lessons – he still treats one son as a favorite, more than any of the others. This is the backdrop for our struggle here. We walk into chapter 44 with two key details. Judah sold Joseph into slavery, and Benjamin is the new the Joseph, the new favorite son – the setting is almost exactly the same as it was when Joseph was young.
So the brothers arrive in Egypt, and they come before Joseph, and we start in verse 1 [read v.1-5]. Joseph tells his steward, take my special silver cup, hide it in Benjamin’s bag. Wait until they leave, and then go out and accuse them of stealing. [read v.6-10]. The brother’s respond, “we would NEVER do that!” We would never steal from you. Test us, if we are guilty – the one who stole it will die and the rest of us will be your slaves. But notice that the steward responds and he changes it. He says, if one of you stole it – that one will be a slave, and I’ll let the rest of you go. The steward wants to set up the punishment very specifically. We’re not going to kill anyone, and we don’t want you all to be slaves – this needs to be very specific, the one who has the cup is the only one who has to be punished. [read v.11-13]. The cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. The punishment is very clear.
[read v.16-17]. Judah sort of takes the lead, he’s the spokesperson for the brothers. And again, just like the steward you see that Joseph has laid out a very specific punishment. Only Benjamin. And then Judah responds, [read v.31-34]. Judah, out of love for his Father, offers his life in exchange for his brother. Judah, the guy who sold his brother into slavery – wants to substitute his life to save his brother Benjamin. Judah didn’t do anything wrong this time. Judah didn’t steal that cup. But here he is, taking the blame upon himself to save the annoying, favorite little brother. The last time we did this, like six seven chapters ago, the last time we did this - Judah sold the annoying brother into slavery. And yet this time Judah, out of love for his Father, offers his life in exchange for his brother.
This is the moment it all comes together. Joseph set this up so that Judah would have a chance to redeem himself. This whole situation – bringing Benjamin to Egypt, making sure the punishment was clear, laying out a choice for Judah. Joseph has put together an opportunity, he has given Judah a chance to make the choice a second time. You can sell out your brother, that annoying little brother who is dad’s favorite, you can put him into slavery in Egypt, or you can show me you have changed. Do you see the parallels? But this time, instead of selling out his brother – Judah shows that he has changed, by offering his life in exchange for his brother.
You know, I heard a story one time about another guy, out of obedience to his Father, gave up his life for his adopted brother or sister. He comes into the story, and he never did anything wrong. He never did anything to deserve death, but he took the punishment on himself, so that we could live. Jesus gave up his life, substituted his life, for you. We have sinned and the punishment, the wages of sin is death. Right? That’s the outline Romans gives to us. But Jesus took that punishment to save your life. Fun fact, this is crazy but it shows you just how awesome all the pieces of scripture come together. Jesus, the son of God, is from the line of Judah. Jesus is Judah’s great-great-great-whatever-fifteen-greats-grandson.
Judah offers his life to save his brother, which was an echo of what Jesus would do thousands of years later on the cross for all of humanity. Offering his life to save each of us. Judah echoes the role of Jesus. But wait a minute – didn’t we have the same thing last week? If you weren’t here or if you missed it, last week we saw that the way the brothers approached Joseph is similar to the way that we approach God. In chapter 43 Joseph was an echo of Jesus, and in chapter 44 it’s Judah who is an echo of Jesus. This brings us to a theme that we have found throughout this whole series. In each of our lives, God uses the good and the bad to bring about transformation. In a nurturing discipline sort of way, God uses the transformation in our life to bring about salvation. God took Joseph, the spoiled snot-nosed brat and he worked on him in the good and the bad, in the hot and the cold of his life, and he brought salvation to Egypt. He used the transformation to bring salvation – he saved a whole lot of people with Joseph. And now, in this chapter, he’s doing the same thing with Judah. God took Judah, the cold hearted – literally-sold-my-brother-into-slavery big brother and God worked on him in the good and the bad, the hot and the cold of his life, and he brings salvation to Benjamin. He used transformation to bring salvation.
The good news for us today is probably pretty obvious. God brings salvation through transformation. In your life God is working through all the pieces to create a transformation in your life. God brings your salvation through the transformation of your heart – and that’s awesome, but we already knew that. The new piece for us today is that when God transforms your life – it’s not just about your life. In his amazing capacity the working of transformation in your life also brings about the salvation of others too. There is a ripple effect to salvation. God saves Joseph, transforms Joseph, and then uses the transformed Joseph to save Egypt. God saves Judah, transforms Judah and then uses the transformed Judah to save Benjamin. There’s an old phrase I think is so spot on that says, “changed lives, change lives.” If your life has been changed by God, you will change the lives of people around you. God saves you, Jesus came and died for your sins. God transforms you, that’s the part where the Holy Spirit shows up and starts working on our heart. God saves you, God transforms you, and then God uses the transformed you to save..untold millions. Your salvation is not just about you. There is a ripple effect to salvation. God has saved you and transformed you to use you. There are people in this world that will be saved by the transformation that happens in your life.
Now, of course I want to be careful with my language here. You are not Jesus. Even the transformed disciple of Jesus version of you is not Jesus. Joseph didn’t really save Egypt, God did – by using Joseph. Judah did not really save Benjamin, God did – by using Judah. Does that make sense? I’m not claiming that we are God or that we are providing salvation. I am simply pointing out that God has a track record of using people like you and me, to work His change THROUGH us to save the world. The reality of being the hands and feet of God is that, if we are submitting to God’s work through our lives, our hands and feet will change lives. God brings salvation to others, through transformation in your life.
I have two challenges for you today coming from this good news. First, if there is a ripple effect to salvation. If there are ripples in the pond – the first challenge is to throw your stone into the pond. Throw your stone in the pond and watch the tidal wave ripple out from your life. Stop treating your faith life like a self-help, personal development course. Stop imagining that your spirituality is just about you and God and that’s all that matters. If God can change your life, he can use your life. Throw your stone in the pond. What I want you to do is to start looking at the bad days and the good days as training, something that is transforming you, cultivating you so that one day you can save someone’s life. You got day when you hit every single red light, and it’s starting to feel personal. Like the stop lights hate you – maybe what’s going on there is that God is cultivating patience in your heart. God is giving you an opportunity to learn patience, because in two weeks that annoying co-worker that talks too much, she’s going to be going on and on, but because you worked on patience, you will listen better, you will love her better, and maybe you will hear some warning signs for depression or suicide that nobody else picked up on, because nobody else would listen. Now, I just made that up. But this is how we see God work in our scripture today. God cultivates us, God works on us, transforms us, creating that Christ-like character in our heart – so that he can put that character to work saving lives.
Which leads me to the second challenge. When you are throwing your stone in the pond, don’t detach the story from the concrete applications. This is not just about saving souls or getting baptisms or whatever. God uses cultivated Christ-like character for the salvation of souls AND of bodies. Joseph was not cultivated to be the Billy Graham of Egypt. Joseph did not become a pastor or even lead a religious non-profit organization. No, Joseph was the first guy in history to lead a successful government food distribution program. He wasn’t some great bible study leader or anything like that. He just let God’s transformation work on him, and he threw his stone in the pond, and the rest rippled out. The cultivated Christ-like character that God is building in your life doesn’t mean you have to go be a pastor. It means God is going to use your transformed life to heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked. Don’t detach your cultivated Christ-like character from concrete, practical application.
There’s an old story about La Guardia, not the airport, but the mayor of New York. Fiorello La Guardia, and when he was Mayor of New York (back in the 1940’s) he liked to keep in touch with all the various departments under him. Sometimes he would even fill in for department heads or officeholders as a way of accomplishing this. One time, he chose to preside over Night Court. It was a cold winter night and a trembling man was brought before him charged with stealing a loaf of bread. The man’s only defense was that he said, “my family was starving.” La Guardia looked at the evidence and said, “I have to punish you. There can be no exceptions to the law. I will fine you ten dollars.” (Which at that time, was big money). As he said it, he was reaching into his own pocket for the money. He tossed the bill into a hat and said, “Here’s the ten dollars to pay your fine.” He said, “Furthermore, I’m going to fine everybody in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a city where a man has to steal bread in order to eat. Mr Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant!” The hat was passed and the incredulous man, with a smile on his face, left the courtroom with $47.50.
Your life matters so much. Not just because God loves you and died for you and saved you – but because he has been working on you. Through every high and every low, God has been giving you opportunities to create a Christ-like character in your life. And if you would just throw your stone into the pond, submit to God’s working on your heart – you can change the world. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you embrace the transformation God is working in your life. Try to cultivate a Christ-like character from every lesson life has for you to learn. And finally, may you work out that transformation in your life, to bring salvation in practical, concrete ways to the people around you. Amen.