************ Sermon on Genesis 45 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 26, 2014
Jesus was suffering and dying on the cross. Remember His words of forgiveness? "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34). Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of those who hated Him and crucified Him.
Stephen was being stoned to death because he dared to preach that the Jews killed the Righteous One. Remember his words of forgiveness? "Lord, do not hold this sin against them" (Acts 7:60).
Corrie ten Boom was in a World War II prison camp run by the Nazis. One night in a Munich church, she met one of her former guards. She was overwhelmed with memories of the man's inhumane cruelty. The guard approached Corrie, thrust out his hand, and asked for forgiveness. She stood there frozen, unable to lift her hand; her words about forgiveness echoed hollow in her ears. Then, as she wrote in her book,
"I prayed silently. 'I can lift my hand. I can do that much.' And so, woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did ... healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. 'I forgive you, brother!' I cried ... For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I have never known God's love so intensely as I did then."
On May 13, 1981 a professional assassin tried to kill Pope John Paul II. A little more than 2.5 years later the pope was in the prison cell of his would-be assassin in order to forgive him.
To end this list of great acts of forgiveness I want to add Joseph's forgiveness of his brothers.
You all know, congregation, what the Lord's Prayer says about forgiveness in the fifth petition: "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Mt 6:12). And, you all know what this means: "Because of Christ's blood, do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we do or the evil that constantly clings to us. Forgive us just as we are fully determined, as evidence of your grace in us, to forgive our neighbors" (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 126). As we heard from the choir, "they will know us by our love" – which not only applies to world hunger but to forgiveness as well.
I Its Display
A Let me start by reminding you of the great evil done to Joseph by his brothers. Joseph's brothers hated him and could not speak a kind word to him (Gen 37:4). They humiliated him when they stripped him of his robe (Gen 37:23). They betrayed him when they threw him into a cistern (Gen 37:24). They displayed a callousness when they refused to listen as Joseph pled for his life (Gen 42:21). They sold him into bondage among the ungodly (Gen 37:27). They separated him from the love of father Jacob and lied about this (Gen 37:32-33).
All of this was only prelude to what happened in Egypt as a result of his brothers' actions. Joseph was sold as a slave. He was a strange boy in a strange place: he didn't know the language, customs, culture, religion, gods, food, clothing, pets, sounds and smells; everything was new and different. Then he was accused of rape. As a result he was shackled in a dungeon of a prison like a common criminal for maybe eight to ten years.
B In spite of all this, look at how Joseph treats his brothers in our Bible reading. He shows a tender heart, a forgiving heart. He weeps with such passion that the Egyptians hear him; even Pharaoh's household hears about it (Gen 45:1-2).
"I am Joseph!" he says to his brothers. He is eager to hear news about his father (Gen 45:3). But the brothers "were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence" (Gen 45:3). Of course they were terrified. The lord of Egypt was the brother they had wronged and his is the power to exact revenge.
At this point only God could see the humor in the situation. Earlier, the brothers had laughed and hated Joseph when he told them about his dreams that someday he would rule over them and they would bow before him (Gen 37:5-10). Yet, there they are, bowing in fear before Joseph. They learned that no purpose of God can be thwarted (Job 42:1-2).
The brothers also learned that sin has its consequences. They had betrayed Joseph and done all kinds of evil against him. And now here he is, ruler of Egypt, with their lives in his hands. So, of course, they were terrified.
Joseph noticed that his brothers could not speak so he gestured for them to come close (Gen 45:4). Joseph tells them all was forgiven.
At first, only Joseph and Benjamin could hug and weep with joy (Gen 45:14). We are told Joseph had to make the first move with the rest of the brothers; he kissed them and wept over them (Gen 45:15). But, unlike Joseph and Benjamin, they did not weep. They were still too stunned to see Joseph alive. And, they struggled to believe and accept his forgiveness (cf Gen 50:15-18). Then we are told, "Afterwards his brothers talked with him" (Gen 45:15). Afterwards. We don't know how much time this represents – whether a couple of minutes or a couple of hours or even a couple of days.
The reaction of Joseph's brothers is all too normal. Often our sins against other people can make it hard for us to believe and accept their forgiveness. But when others truly forgive us for the wrongs we have done, let us freely accept their pardon. Likewise, when we forgive others, we must do so with sensitivity, aware that they may have struggles because of their past behavior.
Take note, too, of all the loud weeping. Indicating what? Indicating how badly Joseph wanted to restore his relationship with the brothers who had wronged him. One of the marks of sanctification is that we long for broken relationships to be restored, and we must do all we can to extend fellowship even to those who have sinned against us in the most horrible of ways. As others seek your forgiveness, congregation, do what you can to assure them your pardon is real and avoid bringing up their past sins again and again. And, I urge you, my brothers and sisters, to forgive anyone against whom you have been holding a grudge.
C Joseph shows proof of forgiveness and reconciliation in what he does next. He makes arrangements for his entire family to leave Canaan and settle in Egypt where they would be spared the effects of the seven-year famine (Gen 45:21).
Joseph also gives each of his brothers "new clothing" (Gen 45:22). New clothing is a poor translation; the Hebrew indicates it is a tunic, a cloak, a mantle. It is an outer garment that was also used as a blanket. Joseph is more than making up for the richly ornamental robe that made them so jealous years before (Gen 37:3).
Joseph knew that his brothers would now have to explain to father Jacob how Joseph has not really died. So notice Joseph's instructions to his brothers just before they left Egypt. "Don't quarrel on the way!" (Gen 45:24). What a strange thing to say. "Don't quarrel on the way!" But, then, Joseph now knows something about human nature. He knows people like to point the finger when they are caught in sin. For instance, Nazis on trial after World War II tried to defend their heinous actions by saying they were only following orders. A man who commits adultery blames his actions on a wife who is not loving enough. Joseph knew that it would be easy for the brothers, way too easy, to try to shift blame and accuse one another. "Don't quarrel on the way!" "Don't try to blame one another. Don't try to make yourself look better. Don't try to make another look worse." It comes down to this: "I have forgiven you. You are at peace with me. And I am at peace with you. So be at peace with one another. Nothing must cause further trouble among you."
"Don't quarrel on the way!" Today, we must listen to these words as well and avoid foolish arguments. We ought to imitate the kindness of Joseph. As much as possible we must avoid quarrels and strife.
D Undoubtedly there are some who are disappointed to read that Joseph does not seek revenge. That, after all, is the way of the world. All too often that is even the way among Christians. You don't get mad; rather, you get even. You plot revenge and seek revenge and keep track of every slight and insult and injury. But this is not how the Lord treats us and this is not how we are to treat one another. Jesus said if we only love those who love us, we are exactly the same as the world (Lk 6:32). Jesus said we are to love people who hate us and wrong us. We are to pray for them and meet their needs and endure their scorn. Referring again to the choir song, people know us by our love.
We all know that Joseph started off as a self-centered, arrogant, spoiled mama's boy. But we now see he has grown in grace and knowledge. He knows that those who love the Lord forgive their enemies freely (Mt 18:21-35), and it is clear that Joseph loves the Lord deeply.
II Its Ordination
A We now want to ask why Joseph was able to forgive his brothers. Is it because he is a better believer? Is it because he has a closer walk with God? Is it because he loves the Lord so much? We don't want to say this because we know forgiveness is impossible apart from God.
B So why is Joseph able to show love and forgiveness to his brothers? One of the reasons that enables Joseph to forgive his brothers is his belief and confidence in God's sovereignty. God has ordained Joseph's suffering. Listen to what Joseph says:
(Gen 45:5-9) And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you ... (7) But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. (8) "So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God ... (9) Now hurry back to my father and say to him, 'This is what you son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don't delay.'"
Notice, four times Joseph mentions the Lord's sovereign activity. God has ordained this, says Joseph. Telling us what?
Telling us God is in ultimate control. Telling us God has ordered things to happen before they happen. Telling us God's rule extends even to bad things. Telling us God orders events for the ultimate good of His people.
C However, God's providence does NOT mean that the brothers cannot be held responsible for their sin. They still need to confess their sins and seek forgiveness. But it does mean there is no place for Joseph to seek revenge because God used Joseph's suffering to advance His plan of redemption.
Knowing God's providence, knowing God's sovereignty, knowing God's ordination, Joseph forgives his brothers and loves his brothers and is reconciled to his brothers.
Similarly, we need to take the long view and the broad view when someone hurts us and betrays us. Realize God is working in you and with you. As James puts it,
(James 1:2-3) Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (3) because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.God has a plan in mind for your life and my life. God has a goal in mind. So, forgive one another.
III Its Repentance
A When we look at Jesus, Stephen, Corrie ten Boom, Pope John Paul II, and Joseph are we to conclude that we must forgive and be reconciled regardless of the situation or the circumstance? Are we being told, for instance, to sweep all issues under the rug and pretend they don't matter? Are we being told to forgive apart from repentance?
To answer this I want to spend a few moments looking at the repentance of Joseph's brothers.
Remember, Joseph had been testing his brothers. Think of everything that happened to the brothers: the harsh treatment, the time in prison, the binding of Simeon, the money in the sacks, the favoritism shown to Benjamin, the cup in Benjamin's sack, the threatened slavery of Benjamin. All of this was done with one goal in mind: to make the brothers realize and confess and admit the great evil they had done. All of this was done to prove the reality of their faith. All of this was done to show if they were still children of the covenant.
B Remember what the brothers said to each other? "Surely we are being punished because of our brother" (Gen 42:21). "What is this that God has done to us?" (Gen 42:28). "God has uncovered you servants' guilt" (Gen 44:16).
The brothers confess. The brothers admit their guilt. The brothers repent.
The brothers also realize they can do nothing to save themselves. They offer themselves to Joseph as his slaves and they beg for mercy. This pictures how we must despair of our own efforts when we come before God (Lk 18:9-14).
C Scripture teaches that we must forgive repentant sinners, even for the most horrible of sins. Harsh words or church discipline may be necessary if the sinner is obstinate. But as soon as the offender lies prostrate under the guilt of sin – as did Joseph's brothers – we must immediately forgive.
Many years after Joseph, the Apostle John was given a vision of the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem. John saw the twelve gates of the city, each made of a single pearl. On each of the gates was written one of the names of Joseph and his brothers (Rev 21:12,21). The gates of the city eternally interlock and embrace one another as a picture of the unity God has brought among the covenant family of Abraham. All the tribal rivalries, all the sibling jealousy, and all the distrust has been quieted forever and eternally forgotten. Truly, as the choir song puts it, they know us by our love.
This, congregation, is what happens in Christ when there is repentance and forgiveness.
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