Defined by Jesus

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Last night we returned from a weekend retreat at Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters with the youth group.  For the second year, we traveled to Andrews, North Carolina and made fun memories with our students, enjoyed a break from routine, and most importantly, spent hours sitting under the teaching of God’s Word.

In six sessions, Brody Holloway and Spencer Davis covered the life of Joseph and demonstrated how it points us to Jesus while highlighting relevant applications.  To say the teaching was powerful would be an understatement, and I know our students would agree.  Of all the points Brody and Spencer made, there was one theme throughout the weekend that resonated most with me.

The theme was captured succinctly by Brody when he said, “Because of the blood of Jesus, you don’t have to be controlled or defined by what someone else has done to you or the pain they’ve caused you.”  If you’re familiar with Joseph’s story, you probably understand his point immediately.  Joseph was favored by his father, sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused by his master’s wife, wrongfully imprisoned because of that accusation, and forgotten in prison by a man he watched go free.  And yet Joseph is remembered for forgiving his brothers, displaying integrity toward his master, relying on God in prison, and using his powerful position to help others.

If anyone had an excuse to feel bad for himself, it was Joseph.  Instead, his understanding of the sovereignty of God eliminated any hint of a victim mentality.  For example, after revealing his identity to his formerly-estranged brothers, Joseph said, “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5).  You remember what these guys did to Joseph, right?  But after all he’d endured, Joseph was able to spot the sovereignty of God weaving its way through his story – even the most painful chapters.

Another example of Joseph’s perspective comes from the final chapter of Genesis.  After his father’s death, Joseph reassured his fearful brothers that he didn’t intend on getting revenge.  With remarkable confidence in God’s character, Joseph explained, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).

I mentioned earlier that Joseph’s story points us to Jesus.  As exemplary as Joseph was, he wasn’t perfect.  Although God used him to help save lives, Joseph himself needed saving.  The death and resurrection of Jesus are the paramount “Genesis 50:20” events of history.  Jesus, the only Son of His Father, was rejected by His own people, falsely accused by jealous religious leaders, wrongfully condemned because of that accusation, and put to death by those He came to save.

Reflecting on these world-changing occurrences, the apostle Paul made the statement, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10).  Like Joseph, Paul understood that he couldn’t live as one defined by his past.  While Joseph and Paul were both shaped, in part, by their experiences, they chose to be neither controlled nor defined by them.

As followers of Christ, we are no longer defined by the sins we’ve committed, by the hurt we’ve experienced, by the circumstances we face, or even by the victories we’ve won; we are defined by the authoritative Word and finished work of Christ.  What He says about us and what He’s done for us are, along with the Holy Spirit, the decisive witnesses in the futile cases Satan makes against us (Romans 8:34).  Your story may seem long on tragedy like Joseph’s or full of regret like Paul’s, but the empty tomb assures us that our God always gets the last word.

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