Genesis 37:21-36; 50:15-21; Psalm 2:1-8
Jealousy can destroy families. Sometimes the jealousy might be because one child is the most gifted. Sometimes it might be rooted in the parents treated one child better than the others. Sometimes, it might be because one of the children relishes in being a tattle-tale and spying on their siblings for one or both of the parents. Every so often, you might encounter a family where all of these are true. This was certainly true in the story of Joseph.
Joseph was his father’s favorite. He regularly spied on his older brothers for his father. And, even though his brothers were all older, his father gave him a gorgeous cloak that probably meant he would be picked over his older brothers to receive most of the family inheritance. Add to those things that he told his brothers about dreams in which everyone else in the family would bow down to him.
So, we are not surprised that his brothers grew to hate him. But, even knowing that, we are shocked when they decide to murder him and lie to their father. At the last minute, they decide not to kill him but to sell him into slavery. Either way, Joseph is gone, and with this approach, they get a nice amount of money to boot. There is not anything pretty about any of this. Jealous brothers. Planned violence. Lying to their father about some wild animal attacking Joseph. It’s all ugly and violent and evil.
Here’s the surprise: God is in the middle of all this. Not that God makes people do evil things. But, God can create circumstances that make it easier to do evil things (remember Joseph’s dreams?). Why would He do this? Because, years later, having Joseph as a powerful man in Egypt will be how God will save the family of Jacob from starving to death in a famine. That’s what Joseph means when he says, “You meant to do evil, but God was actually doing this to save lives.”
God did not make Herod order the deaths of young boys in Bethlehem. God did not push Judas into betraying Jesus. God did not cause the crowds to demand Pilate put Jesus to death. But, God used all of those evil and violent things to bring about the salvation of the world. The unfolding story of the Jesse Tree is not always a happy story or a pleasant story. People sometimes can do terrible things. But, it shows how God not only uses good people trusting Him but also sometimes uses sinful people and evil deeds to move the story of Jesus from beginning to its climactic end.
Materials: Make everyone a little gift. It does not need to be elaborately wrapped. Each gift should be something worthless like a rock or a wad of paper. The one non-worthless present should be something the children should all want, like a Snickers bar or a toy.
Begin by giving each person a gift. Tell them the gifts will show them how important and loved they are. When the worthless ones are opened, confirm that the gifts mean that they are not very important to the family. Make a big deal out of the one present and whoever is gets it. Make it clear that this person is the one who is really loved and special.
Ask everyone how living in a family like that would make them feel? What if the child who got the best gift refused to share? What if this happened every holiday and even on birthdays? One child always gets the biggest desserts and the best toys. Define jealousy and explain what it means to feel jealous. Point out that Joseph’s brothers were very jealous. Jealousy is not a good thing and that God does not want us to be jealous toward other people.
The Jesse Tree ornament is a reminder that Joseph was given a much better gift than any of his brothers. One day, his brothers were so angry they grabbed Joseph, threw him into a big hole and sold him to be a slave in Egypt. How do you think that would make Joseph feel? How would you feel if your brothers beat you up and handed over to a bunch of really mean kids who made you do all the work around their house for nothing?
But, Joseph trusted God so much that he did not let himself become angry at his brothers. In fact, many years later, Joseph saved all of their lives. When the brothers realized who he was, they were all terrified. They were sure he would punish them for what they did to him. Instead, Joseph gave them all nice places to live and lots of good food to eat. He told them even though what they did was wrong; God used it for good. God used it so that, one day, Joseph could save all their lives.
When Jesus comes, not everybody is going to welcome Him. Some people will be angry at Him. Some people will want to stop Him from doing good. Finally, some people will decide to arrest Jesus and kill Him. But, just like happened with Joseph, God will use even those evil things to bring about something wonderful: Jesus will die for all our sins. Jesus forgives the sins of the people who beat him and put nails in His hands.
Today, instead of just thinking about all the good things in your life, think about some of the bad things that are happening in the world. Some people today are very angry. Some people are suffering while other people are living in luxurious homes. Is it hard to see God still working in the world with so much evil and suffering and violence? Pray about how God uses both good people and evil people in ways that neither group really understands.
In your prayer time, read over Psalm 2:1-8 and talk to God about what it teaches us about how God is still working even in times when evil people are doing terrible things. Notice that the Psalm is actually a prophecy of the coming of Jesus (God says, “You are my Son.”) and thank God for how He sends his Son to save lives.