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After the Funeral

From Series: The Hand of God, Volume 2

Now can I invite you to take your Bibles and turn with me to Genesis, to the portion of Scripture that was read, to Genesis chapter 50? And so our focus this morning is going to be on verses 15–21—the fact of his death we’ll leave until next time—but just this little paragraph or two that is contained here towards the end of chapter 50. And before we look at the Bible together, let’s ask for God’s help in a moment of prayer:

O God our Father, we do earnestly ask that you would help us in studying your Word so that in both speaking and hearing we may know the help of the Holy Spirit, so that the things of yourself may become alive and precious and life-changing. For Jesus’ sake we ask it. Amen.

The death of a family member is one of the hardest things that any of us will have to face in our lives. And indeed, there are few things which send shock waves throughout a family unit quite to the degree that the loss of a loved one does—and especially when that individual has been, as in the case of Joseph, the head of the family over a significant number of years. And when that most precious and important individual is removed, a number of things happen. Not least of all, family relationships are shown up for what they really are. Crisis—coming in various forms, and certainly in the form of death—crisis does not so much create situations as reveal them. And the death of a loved one will indicate very quickly and very clearly to a group of individuals what those people really believe, and indeed will make it very obvious to others how these people choose to behave. And over the years, in both experiencing and observing this fact, it’s become clear to me that it is not often until after the funeral service that the real issues, the concerns and the conflicts, come to the surface.

 I’ve done many, many, many funerals over the last twenty-one years or more, and have sat at all kinds of meals subsequent to funerals, and have discovered as time has gone by that it was only custom or good manners that allowed the particular group of people with whom I was spending time to give this manifest display of a family unity. Because within a very short period of time, after the routine had returned to normal, grievances that had previously been repressed but not forgiven, old wounds that had been covered over lightly but never dealt with, and poison that had never been adequately removed, all began to come to the surface.

And that’s why, you see, it is in the routine of life—in the forming and reforming, in the establishing of relationships, in the taking care of the little things, in the sorrys, in the pleases, in the cards, in the notes, in the forgive-mes,—that life is put together in such a way that when these times of real difficulty emerge within a family, what will be revealed is a genuine and consistent sense of unity.

The real test of family unity is not to be found in the funeral meal, but in the everyday of events of life to which we return so soon after those difficult days.

Now, to the degree that that is true in any situation, given all that we know of Joseph’s family and of all that we have discovered in the weeks that have passed, it’s hardly surprising that in the death of Jacob there was the potential for them to experience the challenge of old fears and buried animosities. And the family was about to reveal—particularly these brothers—something of what was going on all the time under the surface. Again, I say to you, the real test of family unity is not to be found in the funeral meal, but in the everyday of events of life to which we return so soon after those difficult days.

Now, what I’d like to do is simply note with you two factors this morning: first of all, to consider the question which was posed by the brothers, and then to consider the answer which was provided by Joseph.

The Question the Brothers Asked

The question that the brothers asked—and it is there for you in the second half of verse 15: “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” Now, there’s a sense in which it is not surprising; there is almost an inevitability about it. They would be less than human if the thought did not cross their minds. But it is clear that it was more than simply a passing thought. They give voice to a genuine concern in this issue here. And it is clear that the assumption which underlies it is simply this: that the restraining factor in Joseph’s life to this point—the one thing that had kept Joseph from expressing vengeance—was, in the minds of these brothers, nothing other than the continued presence of Jacob; that in the back of their minds they had the notion that were it not for the fact that their father was still around—if he were to be gone—then there’s no saying what Joseph might do to them. With Jacob, their father, in the grave, Joseph would be free to repay them.

Now, I don’t know how you feel about that question. I don’t know whether your minds track in that same way, whether you find that understandable or challenging. Certainly, I found myself asking, “Why would that ever be their assumption? Why would they assume that that would take place?” Well, they would be justified in assuming that it would take place, because frankly, if you take the scheme of life and the majority of men, then that’s probably what would happen in the majority of cases: that circumstances such as had been held in check as a result of the structure of the family would, now that it had been broken apart, lay open the possibility for revenge, especially on the part of the one who had received so much of bitterness and cruelty at the hands of his brothers.

Also, it was their assumption not simply because of that being the common practice, but I think, probably, because that’s what they would have done. And we tend, you see, to impugn the motives of others on the strength of our own bad attitudes. That, incidentally, is part of the explanation of what it means to “prefer one another beyond ourselves,”[1] or to “consider others more highly than ourselves.”[2] I’ve tried to explain to you before that this does not mean in terms of giftedness; that where there is an individual who is obviously particularly gifted—for example, let’s say, in the realm of music—that when he is asked or she is asked to play for the accompaniment of others in some function, that they say, “Oh, no, no, no. I am not a very good player, but if you go to Miss X or to Mr. X, they are wonderful players,” when in point of fact they can play with all of their fingers, but not at the right time and in the right way. And what this individual may feel themselves to be doing is saying, “You know, I am preferring them above me; I am saying that they are better than me.” But that’s nothing more than false modesty and stupidity, and it’s got nothing at all to do with Philippians.

What it means is simply this: that when the brothers, recognizing their own bad motives, looked at Joseph, if they had valued Joseph above themselves, they would never have made this assumption, because they would have said, “While we, the rascals that we are, would probably do this, we know that Joseph, the wonderful chap that he is, certainly wouldn’t.” That’s part, at least, of what it means. But they reveal their own cruel hearts, and they impugn the motives of another, suggesting that he is about to do to them what they probably would have been prepared to do to him. And indeed, they attribute to him the evil which they would have advanced if the roles for a moment had been reversed. So their fear and their mistrust reveals also that they did not fully believe the earlier expressions of forgiveness which Joseph had provided.

Now, if you turn back, for just a moment, to chapter 45, let’s remember how Joseph responded when he revealed himself to his brothers. Genesis chapter 45; we won’t go through it all, but look at verse 4. He’s indicated to his brothers in verse 3 that he’s Joseph. This has totally flabbergasted them. They are “terrified [in] his presence.” [3] They can only think in that moment, “Boy, we’re for it now. This guy’s in charge of the whole of Egypt, we’re trapped here, we did all that to him. Goodness only knows what he’s about to do to us.” And then he responds in verse 4: “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come close to me.’ [And] when they had done so, he said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! … [Don’t] be distressed, … [don’t] be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.’”[4]

You can imagine their eyes as large as saucers, wondering, “Can this chap, can this Joseph, be for real? I mean, we remember him before, with his coat and his telling our dad about what we were doing, and now listen to what he is saying!” And then, in verse 14, how they must have wondered as he “threw his arms around his brother Benjamin,” and as he “wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping,” and how the other older brothers must have stood back and perhaps said to themselves, “Well, we knew he always had a thing for Benjamin, we knew that he loved Benjamin, and obviously Benjamin is special to him,” and then as he lets go of Benjamin, and as he comes and he grabs each of his brothers in turn, and as he kisses all of his brothers, and as he weeps over them, and as they then go and engage in this wonderful conversation.

Now, that is what had happened seventeen years before. So for the brothers to ask the question here, in verse 15 of chapter 50, is to make clear that they imagined Joseph to have been playing the hypocrite for seventeen years. The underlying assumption is that either his protestations of affection and reconciliation were real, but only for a moment, and the passing of time would allow him to do differently, or they were never real in the first place—that all the time Joseph had been waiting for his opportunity to mete out punishment on those who had treated him so cruelly. “What if Joseph … pays us back?”[5]

I’d like to pause for a moment and advance this—and perhaps some of your minds have already worked this way. This holds up a mirror to many of our lives, not necessarily in relationship to sibling rivalry, but particularly in the lives of not a few who, having come to Jesus years ago in repentance and in faith, and having received from Christ the offer of forgiveness—having been welcomed by him, drawn to himself, caught up in his embrace—and yet you still live regularly asking yourself the question, “What if it wasn’t real, or what if it comes out differently, or what if I’m not really forgiven, or what if I’m not going to heaven? What if the promises are faulty?”

Now, for some people this never crosses their minds, but for others—and, indeed, it is a significant company of individuals—these experiences of doubt and of misgiving are frequent. And they happen to more people than are actually prepared to admit them. And they happen because, in large measure, we as individuals do not bring what we feel emotionally underneath the reality of what we know intellectually, so that we allow ourselves to be buffeted and to be torn as a result of our own emotional interchanges. Luther knew something of this when he penned these words:

For feelings come and feelings go,
[Now] feelings are deceiving;
My warrant is the Word of God,
Naught else is worth believing.
 
Though all my heart should feel condemned
For want of some sweet token,
There is one greater than my heart
Whose Word cannot be broken.[6]
The reality and truth of who God is and the promises he has made are more significant than the doubts and the misgivings which so frequently can rise in the life of a believer.

Now, one of the great questions of the study of the brothers is simply this: Were they genuinely penitent in chapter 45? Were they genuinely repentant? If they were, then they would not be condemned by God. But the fact of the matter is, they may be condemned and in some degree punished by themselves. And that, you see, is why for some of us singing this morning, “No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in [thee] is mine! Alive in Him, my living Head, and clothed in righteousness divine,”[7] we have this sort of funny feeling in the back of our mind saying, “Well, if there is no condemnation that I now dread, why is it that I felt the way I felt this week when I was accused, when I accused myself of my own sinfulness, when I wondered, when I asked the question, ‘What if…’?” Well, the answer is—and it is referred to in 1 John chapter 3—it is that often our hearts will condemn us. Indeed, John says—and he’s writing a book on Christian assurance—in 1 John 3:20, he says, “[Whenever] our hearts condemn us … God is greater than our hearts.”[8] In other words, the reality and truth of who God is and the promises he has made are more significant than the doubts and the misgivings which so frequently can rise in the life of a believer. And therefore, the antidote to this kind of self-condemnation, the antidote to these fears and these mistrusts, is a solid, experiential grasp of what the Bible has to say.

And so I want to pause purposefully and take you to Hebrews chapter 10 and speak for a moment to those who are saying of their own Christian experience, “What if…?” in the same way that these brothers were asking the question about whether Joseph’s professions of forgiveness and reconciliation were real.

Hebrews chapter 10. We noted last week that John tells us in 1 John 3:5 that part of the purpose of Christ’s coming is “that he might take away our sins”—1 John 3:5: “He appeared … that he might take away our sins.” When you come to Hebrews chapter 10, you find that the writer of the Hebrews is making the exact same point. Verse 5:

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God.’”[9]

And in the doing of his will, in the offering of himself as a sacrifice, we’re told in verse 10, “And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is in need of no contingency plan. It was a once‑and‑for‑all sacrifice.

Now, I can’t expound this whole chapter and hope to get back to Genesis 50, but I want to give you an outline through it for your own personal study and encouragement. I want you to notice a number of things, and I’ll simply say them without expansion. Notice here that all that God wants has been accomplished in the giving of his Son, and all that we need in terms of salvation has been accomplished. We are, in Christ, verse 10 tells us, those “who have been made holy” through the perfect work of Jesus Christ. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is in need of no contingency plan. It was a once‑and‑for‑all sacrifice.  “It was the will of God,” says Isaiah 53, “to bruise his Son.”[10] In the great mystery of the eternal covenant of redemption, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit determined how this would be worked out in time. And so we see that God’s will is expressed in the giving of his Son. And Jesus has done all that needs to be done in relationship to sin.

Verse 12: “When [the] priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins”—“for all time one sacrifice for sins”—in contrast to the routine priestly function referred to in verse 11, where it had to be performed again and again, offering the same sacrifices over and over and over again, coming again and again and again, because there is absolutely no assurance of forgiveness of sin. And today, in churches all across Cleveland, people will celebrate in the re-sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ because they have no assurance that on Calvary a once‑for‑all sacrifice for sins paid and dealt with sin and guilt. And only, you see, when we come to understand and believe this will it allow us to live with confidence and sing with reality, “We stand in grace,”[11] without adding, “…at least, I hope we do,” or without adding, “Well, we were last week,” or “We will once we finish this service,” or “We will once we’ve taken that, or experienced this.” “No, no, no, no,” the believer says, “there’s no ‘what if’ to this—what if he would change his mind, what if he would turn his back on us, what if he would now mete out punishment upon us. There is no “what if” because he has done all in relationship to sin.”

He has done all in relationship to God: “He sat down at the right hand of God.”[12] He sat down in acceptance. God the Father planned this salvation, and God the Son procured this salvation, and God the Spirit applies this salvation. You see, what was the great need of the sacrifice of Jesus? What was the problem? Not our predicament, but God’s wrath—God’s wrath. Because if God had been complacent in relationship to sin, there would have been no need of a sacrifice. But because God was so holy that he could not even look on sin, and because all of his wrath had been revealed against all of the unrighteousness and the wickedness of men, the great need was for the wrath of God to be propitiated; so that in the dying of the Son the Father’s wrath is propitiated. Christ takes the burden of our sin and our rebellion and our guilt on him, and we, as a byproduct, discover the wonderful provision of forgiveness and freedom and hope.

Because in the death of Christ he has done all in relationship to sin, he has done all in relationship to God, and he has done all in relationship to Satan. Verse 13: “Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.” The Evil One is a defeated foe; he holds no terrors for us. I’m so tired of Christians reading these crazy books about demonization, and demons here, and demons there, and demons jolly everywhere. Listen: Satan was checkmated at Calvary. Right? And the Father and the Son and the Spirit are content for the time being to wait for the inevitable submission of the defeated foe. All has been done in relationship to sin.

Now, why do we believe these things? Well, we believe these things on the highest of authorities. That’s what verse 15 says: “The Holy Spirit … testifies to us about this.” How does the Holy Spirit testify to us about this? By a funny voice in the morning? By a feeling in your tummy? By a sense, by a notion? No, by the words of Scripture: “The Holy Spirit … testifies to us about this. First he says…,” and what happens? He comes to confirm the reality of the finished work of Christ. He bears witness to what is true concerning us, what is true concerning the believer.

Well, look at what it says: “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”[13] When you become a Christian, God gives to you a new heart; changes, if you like—if we may use these visual terms—changes, if you like, the shape of our heart, and shapes it perfectly for the law of God, so that when the law of God is read, when the law of God is proclaimed, it’s not irksome to the believer, because his heart has been changed and shaped in such a way that it is the perfect fit for God’s law. So, you see, when you find a believer says, “Well, I don’t think that I have to do this,” or “I don’t have to obey that,” or “I’m not this, you see, because I’m redeemed in the Lord Jesus Christ,” you say, “Well listen, we better go back, have a little look here at Hebrews chapter 10,” because what happens when he redeems us? He makes this covenant with us, and he puts his laws in their hearts: “I delight to do [your] will, O … Lord.”[14] “[Your] commands are not [irksome to me].”[15] “The law of the Lord is perfect, [converts] the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, [makes] wise the simple.”[16] And that’s one of the ways in which we know ourselves to be truly redeemed. There’s no conflict between the believer’s heart and the requirement of holy living. And progress in Christian living is progress in a life of obedience to God’s law.

Moralism simply says, “Try and be what you are not.” Christian ethics, which is here expressed, say, “Come and be what you are.”.

Now, this is not moralism. Moralism simply says, “Try and be what you are not.” Christian ethics, which is here expressed, say, “Come and be what you are.” Moralism, which is, if you like, the car without the engine—all the levers and all the bells and all the buttons and all the everything, but no source of electrics to be able to make anything go up and down—moralism brings people into buildings like this and says, “Now go out and try and be what you’re not.” Christianity says, “Come on, be what you are.”

 So, he bears witness to what is true concerning God, what is true concerning us, and also what is true concerning the relationship of the Father to our sins and our lawless acts. Look at verse 17: “Then he adds: ‘Their sins and [their] lawless acts I will remember no more.’” So when we come again with our old regrets and with our past confessions, God looks upon us in wonder, and he says, “You know, you really do surprise me. I can’t remember anything about that at all.”

Now, loved ones, this is the message of the gospel. Anything other than this is not the gospel. And if you or I this morning are living tyrannized by the “what if” syndrome—“Well, what if the Word didn’t really mean that? What if Jesus didn’t really say that? What if…” all these things—we have to come to back down to base and say, “Now, let’s allow the questions of our hearts to be overturned by our faith so that we may life in humble certainty.” All has been blotted out. And if Joseph was able to do it as a mere man in relationship to his brothers, cannot Christ do it?

Only when we know ourselves to have been forgiven freely will we ever freely forgive others.

There’s no need this morning for any of us to find a further sacrifice, no need for us to go and secure another mediator, no need to go and get somebody else to speak in the court of law, as it were, before the bar of God’s judgment on our behalf. When we stand before God sooner or later, we will say, “I need no other [sacrifice], I need no other plea. It is enough that Jesus died, and that he died for me.”[17] And only when we know ourselves to have been forgiven freely will we ever freely forgive others.  See, the kind of forgiveness which is unmitigated will only ever emerge from a heart that knows itself to have been radically and undeservedly forgiven. How could I, knowing who I am, withhold forgiveness from another? Only to the degree that I’m living in the realm of “What if …?”

Now, back to Genesis 50. That was a major detour, I recognize it, but purposeful, at least in my mind—hopefully helpful in yours. So, Genesis 50: because of their assumption, they come up with a concoction. If you want to debate whether this was something that Jacob really left behind or not, I’ll be glad to do that. I have it in my notes. I don’t want to get into it. I think it’s obviously a concoction. There are too many reasons why it would have been dealt with differently. Their assumption leads them to a concoction; they concoct a letter, and they say, “Your dad left these instructions before he died.”[18] They don’t take it to [him] themselves: “they sent word to Joseph”;[19] they sent a messenger to their brother. These guys were something else, weren’t they? After such a response in Genesis 45—seventeen years in which they’re living in the blessings and benefits of the fact that Joseph actually is their brother—soon as their dad’s gone, they’re back to their same old tricks again: conniving, lying, cheating, fiddling the books, and filled with paranoia. Old habits die hard, and all of our lies and all of our intrigue needs to be brought to the cross.

Their assumption leads to the concoction, and the concoction then leads to the action in verse 18: “His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. ‘We are your slaves,’ they said.” [20] “We’re your slaves.” You see, we will always regard ourselves as slaves rather than sons until we understand the immensity of God’s forgiveness.

Now, this was an expression of contrition—it was an expression of a number of things—but the fact was that they were his brothers. And while it is true that we are bondslaves, and while it is true that we are servants of one another, and all of those slave passages are true, they must not be made to say what they don’t say. Because the returning prodigal, remember, had that speech prepared: “[I’m not] worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your”—what?—“hired servants.”[21] “I’ll just be a servant in your house.” And what’s the response of forgiveness? “No, no you won’t; you’re my boy. Get a nice robe, get a nice meal, new shoes, nice ring. We’re going to have a party.”[22]

The unforgiving soul can’t stand that story, because it is important to the unforgiving person always to hold an element and an angle and a something: “Hey, you’re back? Glad to see you. Take the shed out in the far corner of the field. You’ll never be out of there. We’re glad you’re back—oh, don’t think we’re not—but just get out there, and your brother’ll shove food under the door to you regularly a couple of times a week. Spending all that money, wasting all that time, being that kind of kid—now we’ll show you.” No, no! But you see, the brothers had the spirit of the elder brother about them. They couldn’t understand this: “Why would he get a party?” Why would we ever get a party? The only reason is because of the unmitigated favor and grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. The gospel is good news. Good, good news.

The Answer Joseph Provided

Now, let me just say about the reaction of Joseph—I want to do this, I’ve got two things to show you—in the reaction of Joseph, notice the tears that he cried. Verse 17 says, “[And] Joseph wept.” To what do his tears bear testimony? Well, we’ll need to wait to heaven to find out, but they probably bear testimony to more than we can actually deduce. But certainly Joseph was only human. And the fact that it was clear from this message that came his way from his brothers that they had never truly accepted his expressions of forgiveness, it broke his heart. It’s interesting that it didn’t make him indignant, and it didn’t stir him to resentment. It’s an amazing picture of Joseph. Instead of what might have been my reaction or yours—to say, “Goodness gracious, not only did I forgive them in chapter 45, I’ve provided for them for seventeen years, and now they send me a message to say, ‘Hey, don’t kill us.’ I think I probably just should kill them; I’m sick of these guys. I am so mad, I’m fit to be tied! I’m going to go get a few of them myself!” But it doesn’t do that. It doesn’t do that to him; it makes him cry!

There’s a lot more conveyed of righteous indignation by our tears than by our protestations.

There’s a lot more conveyed of righteous indignation by our tears than by our protestations.  He must have said to himself, “For all the forgiveness that I offered them, all the kindness that I showed them, are they simply to respond with suspicions of my sincerity?” I don’t think there’s any question that it somehow or another was the total misunderstanding of his motivation that caused Joseph to weep.

But notice not only the tears that he cried, but notice the truths that he conveyed. I’m going to give you these; I may come back to them, but let me give them to you, and and we’ll close. What was it, you see, over the years that enabled Joseph to resist temptation, to endure hardship, to keep his spirits up even when people let him down? To keep on when his circumstances were beyond the point of bearability? What was it? The answer is his theology—his theology. In other words, what he believed—what he knew and believed—about God. And it is this, you see, that allows him to take his tears and silence them, and then to speak to his brothers with the great clarity in which he does. And he provides for us, in conclusion this morning, a wonderful picture of genuine faith. What a tremendous example, unsurpassed, if you like, in this succinct expression in the whole of the Old Testament.

Notice that he had learned to leave all the rightings of one’s wrongs to God. He had learned to leave all the righting of one’s wrongs to God. Grace and tenderness ooze from him in verse 19. How does he deal with the wrong that has been done to him? By what means does he conquer his natural resentment? For resentment must have been part of his life. He wasn’t anything other than human. He had to say to himself—part of him as he talked to himself was, “Goodness gracious, these guys tick me off. These guys make me mad. I think I’ll go…” How did he conquer that? How do you conquer that?

Well, notice that he didn’t ignore or minimize or trivialize the offense. He spoke straightforwardly: “You intended to harm me.”[23] He says, “Don’t let’s beat around the bush; let’s call a spade a spade. I understand what was going on. You do too. You intended to harm me.”  Now, incidentally, in dealing with sin and unrighteousness, this is always the right way to go. It is far to be preferred to the superficial smiles, nursed grievances, and repressed aggression. So, people think that they’ve dealt with sin because they avoid it. There was disruption, there was chaos, there was animosity, there was strife, there was aggravation, there were bitter words, there was venom and poison, and so now they simply walk around and they say, “Oh, no, no, not a problem, not a problem for me. That’s fine. I don’t deal with that.” Bogus, bogus, dreadfully bogus! It will come out someday, and it’ll be real bad when it comes out. To suppress lustful thoughts is biblical; to repress expressions of forgiveness is unbiblical, tragic, and will reveal itself in all kinds of ways. He didn’t smile superficially and say, “Ah, hey, that pit was really quite nice, you know. I love pits.” He didn’t say, “You know, when they stripped me naked and put me in the public square in Egypt, I loved it. You know, I’m pretty … you know, it wasn’t … it was okay.” He didn’t do that. He didn’t do that. It was hell to him, and they had hell to pay for it.

So how, when someone deserves hell, could we ever give them heaven? Well, we can’t without this theology, which leaves all of the rightings of one’s wrongs in the custody of God. No matter how strongly we may feel towards acting in vengeance, the way that our corrupt hearts will be checked and our cruel hands will be stopped is by a fresh consideration of God’s mercy and his love towards us. Romans 12, Paul addresses this thing. Verse 19: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary, you got an enemy and he’s hungry? Take him out for a meal. You got an enemy and he’s thirsty? Buy him a Coke. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. And whatever you do, do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”[24]

Also, he had learned to see God’s providence even in the face of man’s malice. He had learned to leave all of the rightings of one’s wrongs to God; he had learned to see God’s providence even in man’s malice: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.”[25] I needn’t reiterate this—get the tape of Genesis 45:5 and following, and you can spend your time studying it—but through all the injustice and all the years of imprisonment, Joseph had a keen awareness of theology that would be ultimately expressed in the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And Joseph was able to look into the eyes of his brothers and say, “I know flat out that you planned to harm me. I know that those people bought me so that they could make a profit [from] me. I know that Potiphar’s wife sold me into that jail because she was jealous and spiteful and hated. But above and beyond all of that, I know this: ‘Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to [trust in God and] depend upon his Word.’”[26]

And finally, he had learned to repay evil not just with forgiveness, but with practical affection. He had learned to repay evil not just with forgiveness, but with practical affection: “He reassured them and spoke kindly to them.”[27] It doesn’t say, “He reassured them by speaking kindly to them”; it says, “He reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” In other words, by both his deeds and his words, by both his promises and his performances, he gave evidence to his loved ones of the goodness of his heart.

Such is the expression of the Father for us. That again is Luke 15, is it not? The boy could have come back, made his speech on the road; the father could have been very stiff and starchy, looked him in the eyes, and said, “Nice speech. Glad that you finally faced it, shaped up. And we’ll be very glad to have you as a servant.” He could have gone by that and simply said, “Well, I do forgive you; now get on with your life.” But when that young lad got out of that bathtub, and put on that stuff, and looked down at his shoes, and felt that coat, and saw that ring sparkle in the sunlight, he said, “I know—I know my father loves me. He not only told me, he showed me.” And here in the Advent of Christmas, I know my Father loves me. He not only in many and various ways of old spoke in the past by the prophets, but he showed me in the person of his Son.[28]

If it is his expression of love towards us, then it is his expectation of action from us that we, like Joseph, would learn to forgive from our hearts—to really forgive offenses, not simply with our mouths, but with our eyes, our hands, our hearts, our attitudes, and our affections. When Jesus spoke to the people gathered around him, he said,

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who [ill treat] you.… If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you [get into the realm of lending] to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But [I say to you] love your enemies, do good to them, lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be the sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and [the] wicked.[29]

Joseph is a classic expression of genuine faith, because he bore the family likeness: being kind to his ungrateful and his wicked brothers.

“He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” So, I say to you, Joseph is a classic expression of genuine faith, because he bore the family likeness: being kind to his ungrateful and his wicked brothers. 

Let us pray together:

Father, we often pray in your prayer given to your disciples, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”[30] Forgive us for telling lies in the phrase; for so often, in doubting the reality of your forgiveness to us, we fail to forgive others from our hearts. Pour out upon us, we pray, in these days a genuine discovery of your grace and mercy towards us in Christ, and then, in turn, genuine and unabashed, generous expressions of forgiveness to others.

And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God our Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one, today and forevermore.[31] Amen.


[1] Romans 12:10 (paraphrased).

[2] Philippians 2:3 (paraphrased).

[3] Genesis 45:3 (NIV 1984).

[4] Genesis 45:4–5 (NIV 1984).

[5] Genesis 50:15 (NIV 1984).

[6] Martin Luther, “God’s Word Shall Stand Forever” (n. d.).

[7] Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be, That I Should Gain?” (1738).

[8] 1 John 3:20 (NIV 1984).

[9] Hebrews 10:5–7 (NIV 1984).

[10] Isaiah 53:10 (paraphrased).

[11] Steve Camp, “We Stand in Grace” (1994).

[12] Hebrews 10:12 (NIV 1984).

[13] Hebrews 10:16 (NIV 1984).

[14] Psalm 40:8 (KJV).

[15] 1 John 5:3 (paraphrased).

[16] Psalm 19:7 (KJV).

[17] E. E. Hewitt, “My Faith Has Found a Resting Place” (1891).

[18] Genesis 50:16 (paraphrased).

[19] Genesis 50:16 (NIV 1984).

[20] Genesis 50:18 (NIV 1984).

[21] Luke 15:19 (NIV 1984).

[22] Luke 15:22–23 (paraphrased).

[23] Genesis 50:20 (NIV 1984).

[24] Romans 12:19–21 (paraphrased).

[25] Genesis 50:19 (NIV 1984).

[26] Andraé Crouch, “Through It All” (1971).

[27] Genesis 50:21 (NIV 1984).

[28] Hebrews 1:1–2 (paraphrased).

[29] Luke 6:27–35 (NIV 1984).

[30] Matthew 6:12 (KJV).

[31] 2 Corinthians 13:14 (paraphrased).

Thankfulness: A Mark of Grace
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