Pastor’s Sermon

9/13/2020
 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don’t be afraid.  I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.  Thus far our text.

“I just don’t have the strength to forgive him,” the lady said amidst tears.  She was referring to the man who had kidnapped, tortured and almost killed her young son.  “All I can think of is punishing him.”  This was her statement at his sentencing hearing.  She couldn’t get beyond her anger and hatred; even though it was tempered enough to be spoken calmly, her emotion was still quite evident.  Wouldn’t we agree with her assessment?  We would think this a normal response of a grief-stricken mother to a horrible situation – a wish for punishment to be meted out to such a dastardly villain.  In our text, the brothers thought the same was going to happen to them – after all, they had kidnapped their brother and shipped him off into slavery, into almost certain dangerous conditions.  Yet Joseph surprised them by forgiving their sins.  Why and how was he able to do this?
 
First in this text, Joseph responded to his brothers begging and pleading for forgiveness for their sins by being kind and merciful to them.  He responded, “Don’t be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?”  This gets right to the root of the problem.  We in our sinful nature and desires wish that those who hurt us would be hurt in return, and experience the same pain that they inflicted on us.  One motive for this desire is to prevent this from happening to others – we hope that by punishing the person, they will be less likely to repeat their mistake.  But, behind the surface of this desire is a deep longing for control over our lives.  If someone is able to hurt or harm us, we lose control over that facet of our lives.  This is one of the most common sentiments that was expressed in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, bombings – that people for the first time were afraid that they had lost control of the world that they lived in.  Someone had come in from the outside and disrupted the daily lives of Americans; in fact, ending the daily routines for thousands.  The United States had been attacked for the first time in over 60 years, and mass bloodshed had not touched the mainland since the Civil War.  People were petrified that this would not only become a trend, but that their lives would be thenceforth lived in fear.  As we mark the nineteenth anniversary of this historic event today, the words of Joseph resonate within us.  God knows better than we do what is good for us, and He allows things to happen with the sole purpose of benefiting us, His children.

In the text just prior to this passage for today, Joseph had lost the ability to determine where his home would be when he was sold into slavery.  This removal from all things familiar is the ultimate in loss of control.  Our human nature would allow and even encourage him to not be forgiving of his brothers, in order to retain the new control that he had over them when they came to him for help.  However, this was not the right attitude to have, and the Holy Spirit worked in Joseph’s heart to show us the proper response to the brothers’ request for forgiveness.  God wills that we be loving and forgiving to others when they sin against us, and He worked in Joseph’s heart to inspire the same thoughts.

God commands us to forgive others as we have been forgiven by Him.  We are to forgive those that sin against us, because this is the loving and merciful thing to do.  Our God has been gracious and merciful to us, by sending His Son to die on the cross in our stead.  The summary of the Ten Commandments is love – love toward God and love toward our neighbor.  Unlike our desire for retribution in this case, Joseph had in mind the complete sovereignty of God in the universe.  We are called to keep our minds on heavenly things, not earthly things.  The earthly things in this example are the desire for retribution and retention of sins; the heavenly things are the forgiveness of God for us, and the lovingkindness that is fostered by His love for us.

We are told in this passage just before Joseph’s forgiveness of their sins that the brothers were truly repentant for the deeds which they had done.  The passage from Genesis relates that the brothers threw themselves down before Joseph and said, “We are your slaves.”  This is the one requirement of us for forgiveness of sins in the courtroom of God to come – being sorry for them.  The merits of Christ prompt this sorrow and give absolution once the sins are repented.  These men were truly repentant.  After all, they weren’t trying to “save face”, rather, they threw themselves down before Joseph.  In the streets of Egypt during this time, it is certain that the streets were not clean.  The term “saving face” may have come from this image – after all, if a person put their face on the ground in humility toward another person, they weren’t going to be able to keep it clean for long!  It is safe to say that the brothers were sincerely repentant for their mistakes, and Joseph’s forgiveness was motivated by the Holy Spirit after this was evident.  The repentant spirit of the brothers was also motivated by God – He urges us to repent of our sins by the Holy Spirit working in our hearts to convict us of our misdeeds.

As we have mentioned earlier, the power for this forgiveness comes from God, not from man.  Many times in our lives, we are seemingly unable to forgive someone for sinning against us.  The hurt within our hearts is just too great for us weak and sinful men to overcome.  After all, our hearts and minds are clouded with sinfulness that has been there since the fall of man.  However, God gives us the strength to forgive our fellow men.  He doesn’t just command us to do it, but also provides the power to do so.  He sends the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts, urging good works in our daily lives after He implants saving faith.  These good things, such as forgiving our brother, are not a product of our souls; rather, they proceed from the good things that the Holy Spirit puts there.  We are promised the ability to call on the name of the Lord in our trouble, and that He will answer our prayers.  This is exactly what happens when our brother sins against us – He gives the power to love and forgive him.

Secondly, Joseph continued on with his forgiveness of his brothers.  “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.”  This is acknowledging the fact that God is in control of the entire universe.  Everything that happens in this world is either a product of what He wills to happen, or what He permits to happen.  In the case of this passage from Genesis, the people were saved from famine because of Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt, and the blessings of foresight that God gave to Joseph.  Even the brothers who had sinned against Joseph had a place to go for food and shelter when the nation was in trouble.  In retrospect, it seemed to the brothers, as well as to us, that their selling Joseph into slavery was an action which did not have a positive side to it.  However, Joseph was given the peace and knowledge that God works all things for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  God did great things through an act that we would consider negative.  Joseph was open to God’s working – this openness is told us to us to encourage us.

The same thing is true in our lives today.  Our sinful nature wants us not to trust in God, but rather trust in our own strength and understanding.  When things go wrong, and they will from time to time, we immediately think that God has abandoned us, that we are on our own, and in extreme cases, that God has commanded these things to happen to us because of His wrath.  None of these last few statements are true about God.  Our God is a loving and merciful God who wills that all men be saved and come to a knowledge of Him as the truth.  He wills to bless us and sustain us in saving faith.  But, our understanding is sometimes clouded by the sinful nature that clings to us.  There are many times in our lives when God allows something bad to happen to us to effect a greater good.  Sometimes this greater good is just something that takes time for Him to develop.  Other times, His plan is to strengthen our reliance and faith in Him as our sole provider.  Whatever the case, we can be confident that all that God does is good, and He is loving and merciful to His people.  He was faithful to and used the suffering and trials of His servant Joseph to ultimately provide a means of survival for His people.  For us today, the suffering and death of His Son on the cross did not seem like a positive thing to happen.  The intense torture He suffered did not fit with human conceptions of good things.  However, this was the greatest gift that God could have ever given to His people.  He provided the way of salvation, which was the only way for men to be saved from their sinful condition.  Without the painful death of Christ as our sacrifice for sins, there would be no hope for sinful men.  Once again, God can and does work everything for our good, because we are His people.

Thirdly, Joseph reassured the brothers and spoke kindly to them.  Once again, this is consistent with the attitude that is Godly for us to have.  We are to love our neighbors as ourselves, and have our goal to spread the love of God to them.  We are to be forgiving of each others’ faults, which is another means of showing love to our brothers.  The power of God enables this to happen, too.  He works in our hearts to inspire the same attitude among us today.  This is of course a continuation of His kindness to us.  How is God merciful to His people?  How does He reassure us?  In the Word we are told narratives of Joseph and others who obeyed God’s will in their lives, and serve as good example to us of what to do, how God blessed them, and how God blesses us today.  In the Sacraments, He gives us tangible points to return to in order to strengthen our faith.  This love and reassurance is God’s will, and like all good things, springs from Him.

Like the lady in the beginning of this sermon, we yearn for justice on our terms.  When a wrong is committed, we want there to be punishment no matter what.  Yet this very thing, justice, that gives us joy is based on the greatest injustice in all the world.  It was not just for a righteous man, completely without sin, to die on the cross for the sins of a guilty man.  But, this is exactly what took place on Calvary for us.  We are not to seek justice on our own, but allow the judgment to happen on God’s terms.  After all, He is the only one that is truly qualified to judge men.  It is not a product of our sinful heart to produce love and charity.  But, God tells us that Joseph’s response is what we should strive for in our lives.  Many times God can use bad things to make good things happen.  He wants us to forgive as we have been forgiven.  He gives us the power to do these good deeds.  Thanks be to God for His wonderous working in our lives.  He, just like Joseph, is forgiving to us sinful men.  What a gracious and loving God we serve!  He empowers us to be loving and forgiving, and is the same to us.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.