Scripture: Genesis, chapters 49-50; Psalm 8; Luke, chapter 20
Genesis 50:22-26 (ESV) – So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s house. Joseph lived 110 years. And Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation. The children also of Machir the son of Manasseh were counted as Joseph’s own. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Then Joseph made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry my bones from here.” So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.
Observations: For some reason, the last sentence caught my attention this morning: “They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.” When Jacob died, Joseph asked Pharaoh for permission to go to Canaan to bury Jacob, but as Joseph prepared to die, he chose a different way. He was confident that God would come at some point and bring the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land, and he wanted his brothers to pass the word along to their descendants that when that day came, they would take his body and bury him in Canaan.
People have a lot of different ideas about what to do with “their bones” when they die. Some people choose to be cremated; others want to be buried. Many people probably just don’t care. (I’m in that camp. Since I know that I won’t be in whatever remains of this body, I don’t really care what happens to it. I’m getting a new body anyway!)
Twenty years ago, I was privileged to be part of a Work and Witness team which went to Volgograd, Russia, to help work on churches in that city. At the end of our trip, we spent a couple of days in Moscow, and one of the places we went was to the Kremlin. Many people don’t realize this, but the Kremlin is not just the seat of the Russian government; it also contains a number of Orthodox churches, and some other historical buildings. And, with regard to today’s passage, it contains Lenin’s Tomb. When we were preparing to go see Lenin’s Tomb, we were cautioned that there are some “rules” that must be followed. First, no photography. Second, no touching the clear “box” in which his body lies. Third, no talking or doing anything that might be considered disrespectful.
It had been almost 80 years since Lenin had died when we were there, but his body had been so perfectly preserved and protected inside that tomb that he still looked much like the pictures of him which I had seen. But there was one difference – he was dead. His body may have been preserved, but that’s all it was – just the shell. In the same way, Joseph’s body was there, in Egypt, embalmed and preserved in a coffin, waiting to be transported to the Holy Land.
But the difference is that Joseph was looking beyond his death to God’s deliverance of his people. On the other hand, Lenin was looking ahead with fear, concerned about what would happen if Josef Stalin took over after Lenin’s death. Lenin’s focus was on this world, and the things of this world, like power; Joseph’s focus was on God, and the eternal purposes of God for his people. What’s important is not what they do with your body when you die; what’s important is what comes after that.
Application: We can get so focused on this life and the things of this world that we forget that our time here is just a blink of an eye compared to eternity. Joseph wasn’t really worried about his body; he made his brothers swear to “carry my bones from here.” His focus was on what God would do someday – come and lead his people from Egypt back to the land he had promised to them. And he did!
Prayer: Father, thank you for reminding us that what is important is “what happens next” – eternity. Help us to live in ways that prepare us for eternity in your Kingdom, and to point others toward the joy and peace that only comes from knowing you. Amen.