A Young Man, A Great Temptation, And A Blessed VictoryErwin W. Lutzer | February 23, 2014
Selected highlights from this sermon
Do you have a right view of sin, and more importantly, do you have a right view of God and how He views sin?
Many people today rationalize away their sin. Some play word games. It’s not an “adulterous relationship,” it’s an “affair.” It’s not “sin,” it’s “my weakness.” Others rationalize sin by saying “everyone else is doing it.” And still others believe they can control the consequences of their sin.
However, in the Old Testament, Joseph knew what sin was — great wickedness. And he knew better than to grieve God when faced with a powerful temptation—one he could have easily rationalized due to his position of power.
This message takes us through the ups and downs of Joseph’s life and the temptation presented to him. And from his story we can learn how we must respond as he did—no matter the cost—because at the end of the day, if we don’t, we’ll be grieving the One who has redeemed us.
I want to begin today by taking you to our prayer meeting on Wednesday evening. While we were singing together and worshiping the Lord, I always during that period of time in prayer meeting ask the Lord for special wisdom as to how I should lead the rest of the prayer meeting. We pray for different things. There are some things we always pray for, but we try to do something different. This past Wednesday nothing came up. I’ve never had this happen before and my mind was blank. I didn’t know exactly how we should pray, so I told those who were present what my sermon topic was, namely a young man, a great temptation and a blessed victory. And they all knew that it was Joseph and so I said, “We’re going to pray for the sermon, and then we are going to ask what else God wants us to pray about.”
There was a young man present in the congregation who said, “Could I say a word?” He said, “You know it was while reading the book of Genesis and the story of Joseph that God delivered me from sexual abuse.” What happened was he said his father abused him, and I know more details than he even shared that evening. They were horrid and terrible, and when he became a Christian he read the story of Joseph, and it was the basis of real strong healing. And that story does have a happy ending, as I’ll point out at the end of the message.
And so since this was the way in which the Lord was leading us, I asked all those who had been abused sexually to come to the front. And some of you were there and you know your own estimate, but I think that at least 25% (maybe 30%) of those who were present came forward and they stood at the front, and we prayed for them. Many of them prayed for themselves. They prayed about the brokenness. What a wonderful time we had.
But somehow that makes me think that there is a lot riding on this message. This can’t just be another sermon. By the way, I don’t know if I like the word sermon. That sounds too much like a lecture. You know you’re here to hear a sermon. So why don’t we call the next 20 or 25 minutes a message from God to our hearts. I want you to open your heart, even as I open mine in the preparation of this message that it might be transforming in ways that we could have never possibly predicted or even known about – the story of Joseph.
Well you know he was born into a very dysfunctional family. Can you imagine 12 brothers from 4 different mothers? Can you imagine all of the infighting and the jealousies, and here is Joseph who happens to be the favorite son, and he walks out one day and he tells them, “I had this dream and all of you were bowing before me.” (laughter) “Joseph, what in the world were you expecting? Were you expecting them to say, ‘Oh, that’s great; we want to exist to know how we can fulfill our younger brother’s dream?’”
That’s not the way it went. The Bible says they hated him because of his dreams. He was put into a pit. You know the story. Judah is the one who says, “Let’s sell him.” The Ishmaelites were on their way to Egypt, so they sell the boy. Twenty years later we find out from Judah’s own testimony that the boy plead with us. Can you imagine this 17-year old boy being sold into a culture where there was abuse, whose language he didn’t know, whose future was uncertain? We can imagine how he pled with them and said, “Please don’t!” But they did and then they lied to their father and then kept that lie for more than 20 years.
When Joseph first went there, of course, he had some very menial tasks because he didn’t know the language, but the hand of the Lord was upon him, and in chapter 39 (and it is very important that you turn to this passage in your Bible) there’s the story of Joseph. He is elevated. He now has the run of Potiphar’s house, and Potiphar was the bodyguard to Pharaoh. We’re talking about real exaltation.
You notice it says the Lord was with Joseph, and he succeeded in everything he did. And this man, Potiphar, left everything that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything except the food that he ate. What a marvelous example of faith.
Now we pick up the text in the last part of verse 6. “So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Now Joseph was well built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he refused. ‘With me in charge,’ he told her, ‘my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants were inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house. When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, she called her household servants. ‘Look,’ she said to them, ‘this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.’ She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. Then she told him this story: ‘That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.’”
Wow! What a story! Can you imagine the power of this temptation? Just think about it! Here she was! First of all, the Bible says she looked at him. She gazed at him with desire, and then she spoke to him and said, “Lie with me. Why don’t we be in bed together, Joseph?” And then the Scripture says she did it day after day.
The easiest time for us to say no to temptation is the first time. But imagine all of us as young people. We were young people once, and hundreds of you who are here today are young people right now. You can imagine how this played on his mind. Day after day he has the opportunity. Here’s a young man with royal blood, or at least strong blood flowing through his veins and he has this opportunity. It’s like taking a wall, and then you have a sledgehammer. The first blow doesn’t do much, but the second, the third, the fourth weakens a person’s resolve and resistance. Imagine the pressure and the opportunity to maybe do something great like exalt himself in Egypt even more because he was in the good graces of Potiphar’s wife.
Let me give you some reasons why he could have rationalized all of this. First of all, he could have said to himself, “I’m away from home.” In other words, “The family that really means a lot to me will never know about this. I’m in a different culture.” You think of all those who say, “You know, at home I have to obey all the rules, but I can hardly wait to get to New York or to get to Chicago where nobody knows me. Then I can do whatever I like.” So he could have rationalized that.
He could have decided that he and Potiphar’s wife would come up with a whole package full of lies so that if anybody were ever to suspect that they had been together intimately, he would be able to answer those and they could indeed be ready. And there was no church that he had to attend, no small support group to whom he had to report. He was a free young man away from home.
There’s another reason why this temptation was so powerful and that is he enjoyed a very exalted position. You’ll notice that this was no small task to be Potiphar’s helper, and to be in charge of his household and all of his servants. And he could have thought to himself the law of the grand exception. The law of the grand exception is oftentimes those who are in positions of power and responsibility think to themselves, “I don’t have to live with the rules that apply to other little people.” He could have thought that way.
Remember King Saul who took all of the witches and he put them out of the land, but when he was desperate the law of the grand exception said, “I’m going to go to a witch,” which is exactly what he did. He could have thought that to himself.
Furthermore he could have said, “God is going to forgive me. I mean isn’t that what God is all about? He’s a gracious God. He forgives, so I’ll serve the devil today and I’ll deal with all the issues tomorrow. I know that there’s an answer for guilt. Nobody will know about this, and furthermore I know that I can get by with that.” And because of the fact that he was in charge, he could have arranged it to make sure that all of the servants were gone at that particular time (You remember he had that control.) so that they would just be by themselves with nobody to know what was happening. Imagine the pressure!
Another reason you’ll notice that the text said, and perhaps I read it perhaps all too quickly, in the last part of verse 6, “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.” The curse of beauty! I mean this kid was drop-dead good looking. And those of you who fall into that category have special temptations that the rest of us don’t have. I remember talking to a man who was immoral with various women and he said, “Well, you have to understand that women are attracted to me, and they’re the ones, you know, that make the first move.” Oh, okay! I didn’t necessarily have the same opinion of him as he had of himself (laughter) but be that as it may, the fact is that there are people today who are attractive, especially today with the cult of body where all that matters is your body. It doesn’t matter what you do spiritually, it doesn’t matter what you can do. Character is not important. The way in which you look is important. You can imagine the tremendous pressure that would have been upon him.
Furthermore, he was single. He didn’t have to break a marriage vow. I mean, aren’t single people supposed to kind of sow their wild oats? Now it’s true that Potiphar’s wife had to break her marriage vow, but think about it this way. Of course, Potiphar undoubtedly had other women on the string, and so she might have felt very, very justified in doing this.
Well, that’s the power of the temptation. Could I say candidly that this temptation is our most natural temptation? Therefore, because it is our most natural temptation, having been created man and woman, male and female, it is our most powerful and persistent temptation all the way until we die. But I want you to notice his remarkable response. You’ll notice he says this, and I’m in verse 8, “But he refused and said to his master’s wife, ‘Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you because you are his wife.”
Let’s not hurry over this. I had someone point this out, and it is powerful. Notice what Joseph is saying is, “Because I am in a position of trust, therefore I will be trustworthy. I’ll live up to my position of trust.”
Now just think for a moment of how this could have been completely reversed. Just think of all of the people who have committed immorality and they argue exactly like Joseph did. “Because I am in a position of trust therefore nobody will suspect me. And even though there may be rumors about what I am doing, nobody is going to believe those rumors anyway because I’m in this position of trust, and people trust who I am, and what I do.” Therefore he could have used this actually to his advantage. But Joseph said, “As long as I am in a position of trust, I will live up to that trust.”
And then we have really the core of his ability to say no to this. You’ll notice it’s in verse 9. “You are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” This great wickedness, a right view of sin and a right view of God! Joseph didn’t say to himself, “Now how can I have this affair on the side and get by? How can I succumb to this weakness? How can I meet her need and my need too and control the consequences, and therefore have minimum backlash?” He didn’t say that.
Today we have a day of euphemisms. Nobody commits adultery anymore. They simply have affairs or people have an alternate lifestyle. Joseph didn’t play these kinds of word games, and the minute that you and I begin to say, “Well you know this happens to be my weakness,” we are on a slippery slope to destruction.”
He said, “How can I do this great wickedness?” And people who are involved in immorality never get out of it until God shows them through consequences and other ways that this is indeed great wickedness, and not something that we can simply slough off by using the right language.
But then secondly, it was not only a right view of sin, but also a right view of God, and sin against God. If I may speak to you very candidly today, you know we live in an age where people justify immorality. And they justify immorality by saying, “Now there are certain consequences that could take place. There could be a pregnancy, and so forth, but we can control that, and if nothing else, there could be an abortion. We will take care of that consequence. And as far as guilt is concerned we will try to live with that guilt because after all, you know everybody is doing this.”
“I’m in a university culture,” somebody says, “and everybody is doing this.” So as a result, they are getting by, and they seem to be happy. “Why can’t I also?” All that can be rationalized, but there is one thing that can never be rationalized and that is that our sin grieves God. And He sees it, and He knows it, and He is grieved.
Joseph is saying, “How can I grieve the One whom I have come to love, the One who has redeemed me, the One who has given me this position of responsibility?” And so when Potiphar’s wife comes to him, you remember she sort of attacks him, he runs, she grabs his garment from him as he’s leaving, and he doesn’t go back for the garment. And he knows right well, because he’s a smart young man, that she now has the evidence that she is going to use against him. But he knows better than to go back. In fact, earlier in the text when we read it, it says that he would not speak to her, and he would not even be with her because one of the best things that you and I can do when we have these temptations is to run and to run fast. The Bible says, “Flee youthful lusts,” and so Joseph does not go back and she has the evidence.
Well, you know the rest of the story, don’t you? It’s well known to us. Her husband comes home and she says, “Look at what this Hebrew did. He came toward me. (He was basically guilty of an attempt of sexual assault.) Here is his garment to prove it. Now what are you going to do, Sir?” He says, “The guy is going to prison.”
Joseph ends up in prison. Now isn’t that a nice thank you for doing the right thing? So often I have people say, “You know, I did the right thing and it turned out so badly, and there other people who do the wrong thing and everything seems to turn out okay. What’s what?” Well, here you have the text. Joseph is in prison because of his obedience and because of his integrity.
Now your Bibles are open. I explained to you why it is so necessary for you to see this in the text. I read it very quickly in chapter 39, verse 2. “Now the Lord was with Joseph and he became a successful man.” Now let’s look at verse 21 near the end of the chapter. Joseph is in prison for something he didn’t do, and what does it say? It says, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.”
God is with us in our exultations. He’s with you when you get a promotion. He is with you when you get a demotion. God is with us first of all when we are falsely accused. Some of you have been falsely accused. In my short life I’ve had the privilege of talking with many people, counseling some of them, and this is a story that I have heard several times over. The father abuses a child. The mother finds out about it and she blames the child. And this has happened over and over again because abusers never take responsibility. It is always “You made me hit you. It’s your fault. It is not my fault.” And some of you, God bless you, you have lived with that false accusation, and it is very painful, but today I’m speaking to you as a pastor. I hope I always do. From my heart to yours, God is with you when you are misunderstood, when you are blamed for something that you didn’t do. You live with this false accusation. God was with Joseph, and God was still with Joseph in his integrity and faith.
So first of all, we learn that God is with Joseph when he was falsely accused, and also God was with Joseph when he was in prison. Let me ask you a question. Whose fault was it that Joseph was in prison? Well, the answer, of course, was not his, thank you very much, because he was living a life of integrity. It was the fault of the wife who gave a false report regarding Joseph. He was in a prison that was not of his own making, and some of you are in a prison like that, aren’t you? The fact is that you are in an emotional and spiritual prison, not of your own doing, but because of the fact that you have been misused, you have been misunderstood, you have been falsely accused and you have become a victim. But may I remind you that even in that situation the Bible says clearly “And the Lord was with Joseph.”
I want us to think about Joseph there in the prison for a few moments. It was there in the prison that Joseph had to die three deaths. Now the first death he had already died in the pit. That death had died in the pit, namely death to his family because when he was sold into Egypt there was no reason for him to believe he’d ever see his family again. So far as he was concerned his dream died. It died the day he was sold. He loved his father and his father loved him but there was no reason to think that they would ever be together again, so he died to his family.
But here in prison he had another death to die and that was to die to his reputation. You know the people in the palace, I assume, believed Potiphar’s wife and her husband, and so, you see, the rumor spread. “You know, this guy that we thought was so great? He seemed to walk with God.” Like somebody told me sarcastically about somebody who seemed to walk with God and then really betrayed that by his life, he said, “When you are with this person you would think that he was the brother of God.” Well, Joseph was in effect the brother of God, but he lived up to that reputation. But you can imagine all of the people that were there spreading rumors. I mean there’s nothing that spreads as quickly as sexual accusations, and so everybody is thinking Joseph is really guilty in this. He had to die to that. You know sometimes there are things that we cannot do to rectify our reputations. We need to give those to God, and we need to entrust them to God, and say, “God, there are some things that you can’t put back into the bottle. This rumor is out there. I have to live with it, and I have to give it to you.” That was Joseph.
There was actually a third death that he had to die there in the prison, and that was a death to his friends because in the prison he made friends with two people, a baker and a cupbearer. And they had dreams, and Joseph had the ability to interpret the dreams and he told the baker, “You are going to be hung.” I didn’t read this chapter yesterday but I think I have that correct. But as far as the cupbearer was concerned it says in verse 20 of the next chapter, “On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a feast for all of his servants and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer, and the head of the chief baker among his servants. He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand, but he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them.”
Now catch the picture. Joseph, when he was there in prison said to the cupbearer, who became his friend, “When you are out of here remember me. Put in a good word for me. Tell Pharaoh that I am here by false accusation and help me get out of here.” And how does the chapter end? Verse 23 says, “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.”
“Thank you very, very much, friend. I appreciate that. I helped you in prison, but you’re not helping me. You made a promise that you’re going to help me, and then you leave here and all that you can think about is your own success, and you forget about me.” Joseph had every right to be very bitter.
Now you know what happened, of course. The next chapter says that Joseph was still in prison two whole years and there was no reason for him to think that things would ever change. Every day was like the day before it, and as far as he was concerned this would be the rest of his life, and those prisons, I can assure you, were not pretty, and there he was confined.
And then one day (You know the rest of the story how that Pharaoh has a dream.) the cupbearer says, “Well you know when I was in jail I met this young man by the name of Joseph who interprets dreams,” and pretty soon Joseph is interpreting Pharaoh’s dream, and catch this, Joseph spends the rest of his life helping Pharaoh fulfill his dream, and in the process he discovered that his own dream was being fulfilled.
Do you want to see your dream fulfilled? Help somebody else fulfill his dream, and God will bless you, and pretty soon your dream will begin to come into focus. And as a result of that, Joseph, of course, being exalted in Egypt, becomes the means by which his whole family goes from Canaan into Egypt and they are allowed to live there. And Judah, who is the very one who sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites, the one who made the suggestion, it is through him that Jesus Christ is going to come as a Redeemer. That’s why in the Old Testament, as in the New, as today, you always see sin and grace coming together. There’s lots of sin. Amidst the sin there’s also grace. As a matter of fact, Judah was very immoral. The previous chapter, chapter 38, shows that, and the reason that story is there is to contrast a guy who isn’t in prison, who has lands and herds and flocks and he’s immoral, and here’s this guy who is in prison, and he still holds his integrity.
Joseph becomes the means by which redemption is going to come, humanly speaking, all because he resolved in his mind that he would not commit immorality. And I’ll tell you he made this decision early and stuck with it, because if you make the decision in the height of temptation, you almost certainly will give in to it. That’s not the time to decide it. Like Daniel who purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself, Joseph made that decision early on, and under pressure would not violate it even though he was falsely accused and thrown into prison.
Now I have to speak to those of you who perhaps have immorality in your background. Do you remember King David? Of course, we all do. David, the man after God’s own heart committed adultery and murder, and he was now in his own prison – a prison of his own making. Oh that prison didn’t have bars and gates and wardens, but I’ll tell you it was a chamber of torment. He tells us when he confesses his sin, “Day and night was Thy hand heavy upon me. Always there it was. I tried to forget about it when I was eating with some colleagues, and there it was. I tried to attend to my business and lo and behold it would come to mind.” In contemporary terms he says, “The phone rings and the first thing I think of is ‘I wonder whether or not this person knows.’ I see people on the street. I look them in the eye and all that I’m thinking is ‘Do they know what I’ve done?’ Day and night your hand was heavy upon me.”
But then you remember in that glorious Psalm he said, “Have mercy upon me, oh God, according to Thy loving kindness. According unto the multitude of Thy tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin, for I acknowledge my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight that Thou might know that Thou art justified, and be clear when thou art judged.” And he goes on to say that he has a broken spirit. “A broken and a contrite heart, oh God, Thou will not despise. Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation.”
Could David still rejoice even though there was a dead man as a result of his sin? Even though the purity of Bathsheba could never be restored, David said, “I can rejoice despite the ugly consequences of what I’ve done.” That is grace, and that is why there is healing for everybody.
You know, years ago when I used to speak about victims of abuse, it dawned on me, and whenever something dawns on me, if it’s a new thought I’d better write it down. It doesn’t happen too often. It dawned on me that for every abused person there is an abuser, and some of you who are listening fit into that category. But God’s grace and God’s mercy is even for you to take away your shame, to get you out from under your own prison, and to set you free. He came to set the captives free.
Our Father, we want to thank You today for the confidence and the faith of this young man. We want to thank You today, Father, that Joseph found the strength to say no, and through him, blessing would come to the whole land of Egypt, to all the families. Father, how differently things would have been if he had succumbed. Thank You for his memory. And now we pray, Lord Jesus, for our young people today. We pray You will help them to resolve, like Joseph, to say no, no matter how great the pressure. And we pray, oh God, for those who have fallen into immorality. May they also know that there is grace and mercy. The shame can be taken away because Your grace meets us at the point of need.
Now before I close this prayer if you need to talk to God about something let’s just have a moment of silence. You speak to Him right now.
Father, hear our cry. There are those who need to get away from this atmosphere and go home and close the door in their bedrooms and get down on their knees and stay there until they have dealt with issues that cloud their spirit and imprison their souls. Thank You that You are a God that sets us free. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.