Sold into Forgiveness, Genesis 45:3-15, Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, February 24, 2019
***************************************************************You know the story; Joseph’s brothers had sold him into slavery, to a caravan headed for Egypt, where he was bought by Potiphar. After the fiasco with Potiphar’s wife, Joseph was imprisoned, and yet subsequently freed because he successfully interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams. Joseph became secretary of state, second in command only to Pharaoh himself, to carry out the famine relief operation.
When Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy grain, he used various tactics to regain and retain contact with them and lead them to repentance. Upon his demand, with Simeon as hostage, the brothers brought Joseph’s full brother Benjamin to Egypt. Joseph entrapped them in another supposed theft, and decreed Benjamin’s slavery as punishment. Judah eloquently pleaded to take Benjamin’s place, lest their father Jacob die from grief.
This is where our Old Testament reading picks up this morning. Joseph could not hold his emotions any longer. He broke down in tears and revealed himself as their long lost brother. Joseph forgave his brothers and urged them not to feel guilty. He recognized that God works all things for good; God had sent him ahead “to preserve life” (5), “to preserve for you a remnant” (7). The children of Israel survived because God in His grace brought about Joseph to forgive his brothers.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus commands His disciples to turn the other cheek, and love and pray for their enemies, because they are “sons of the Most High… [who are] kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (35). The grace of God, culminated in God’s Son becoming incarnate for us, already was reconciling Joseph and his brothers, reversing the wicked power of sin evidenced by Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
While our text does not contain the specific word, forgiveness, the concept is everywhere. Joseph refused to take revenge on his brothers, even though, humanly speaking, he would have been justified. Instead, his purpose was to save their lives by God’s grace.
He desired reconciliation, as seen by his invitation to them to come close.
Since he forgave them, he urged them also to forgive themselves. His forgiving love is obvious in his tearful embrace.
The definition of forgive is to remit, to cancel, not to impute; to cover, blot out, wipe clean. A Companion to the Bible describes it this way. “It is an act which puts an end to the unhappy situation created by the sin of man, a situation offensive to God and grievous to man. It is an act which re-establishes man in his true relationship with God by removing the element which destroys that relationship, namely sin”
Forgiveness is not a matter of denying the fault of man, as though sin did not exist. Rather, God acts in full knowledge of the gravity of the problem. In His mercy He executed judgment on His own Son, who offered Himself as our substitute, much as Judah did for Benjamin just prior to our text.
Since the church is composed of those who have received God’s forgiveness in Christ, the practice of forgiving is the direct consequence of God’s forgiveness. Forgiving also is necessary if individuals are to remain part of God’s forgiven remnant.
The Word of God today makes clear that, ultimately, God forgives you. God forgave you in the past. His forgiveness supports and sustains your life today. And He promises He will continue to forgive you in the future.
God chose a remnant of all humanity and kept it alive through the forgiveness Joseph received from God, and passed on to his brothers. The final cause, the reason you and I are forgiven, is the price our Lord Jesus paid. He offered Himself as the sacrifice to remove the obstacle of our sin, thereby reconciling us to God. All humanity is death-bent and hell-bent, and we were too, but because God in Christ extravagantly forgave us, we became His remnant.
What do you do when caught in an impossible dilemma of this sinful world? Every one of us has been in such situations. Joseph’s brothers were so consumed with envy, they sold him into slavery. Now they had no idea where he was. They were caught in a bind by this Egyptian administrator and their promises to their father. Have you been in such a tangled web?
We may realize our attempts to solve our problems aren’t working. We may even find ourselves trying to blame others or trying to plunge ourselves into our work or our family.
Joseph was just one man, thought of as a favored son, yet wounded grievously. He was presented with a magnificent coat by his father. Yet the gift triggered the jealousy of his brothers. So while the brothers tended the sheep far from home, they plotted against him. They sold him to slave traders. Imagine how Joseph hurt, betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery like a cow, never to see his family again… so he thought.
Joseph could have sentenced his brothers to permanent slavery. He had full authority to exact revenge. Instead Joseph did a wildly extravagant thing: he forgave his brothers. “Come close to me,” he whispered, then he revealed who he was. He told them not to be distressed by their guilt.
God’s lavish love opened Joseph’s eyes to see “the big picture”: God had worked through the entire conflict to save the lives of many hungry people. Joseph also understood that God’s plan would keep their extended family line from extinction. Even behind his brothers’ evil intentions he saw God’s compassion.
By faith Joseph understood that now is the time to forgive. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that now was the “window of opportunity” to pass along God’s forgiveness. He did not worry that his brothers would misuse the gift. He knew they still had a big job ahead of them: surviving five more years of famine. He knew a new era for their family had begun, and God wanted to work through them as a group.
Jesus’ pierced body is the price of your forgiveness. You have been sold into forgiveness and His forgiveness erases the charges against you. He presents your life as forgiven before God’s throne of grace.
Meanwhile, as part of God’s remnant, you are in a unique position to forgive others and pass on the power of life to them. Forgiveness is essential for all human relationships. It’s the glue that bonds us together.
We all suffer pain and hurt. We feel betrayed. We feel sold out by loyalties we counted on; sold out by broken promises; sold out by loves that manipulated us; sold out by unfaithfulness; sold out by lies, deceit, dishonesty that exploited our weaknesses.
And so we rage. We plot to get even, we get our justice, and we get our revenge, even though that vengeance is only justice gone wild. We carry inside us an innate sense of fairness that demands that we settle the score. Fair’s fair. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, that’s biblical, isn’t it?
Despite the anguish, Joseph prospered in Egypt. He rose to power, up to the top, just beneath Pharaoh himself. But he continued to feel hurt and pain.
If we try to ignore it, deny it, smooth things over for the sake of peace, we are only fooling ourselves. Such tricks of self-deception are but temporary narcotics of our pain. Joseph may have tried them. We certainly do so today. But the hurt, hate, and grief still live on in our souls. Why? Self-deception is not forgiveness.
Famine in Canaan drove Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to buy grain. They stood before an unrecognized man who held their lives in his hands. Let them tremble a bit, Joseph thought. No, let them tremble a lot! It’s payback time: “Liars! You came here to spy!”
But revenge didn’t work. It never does, because it’s never enough. Revenge escalates. Every time Joseph took vengeance on his brothers, he himself was the one who hurt even more. He even broke down in tears. The miracle of forgiveness was happening: he was letting go.
Joseph faced the fact that his brothers had done him terrible wrongs.
Real forgiveness faces the hurt. “You caused me immeasurable pain.” No excuses. No tolerating. No rationalizing. No denying. No ignoring. Bring the truth to the surface. Out front and up front. Over-drinkers ruin their livers. Criminals serve time in jail. Real forgiveness does not erase the police record or rejuvenate the liver, but it does heal.
Joseph looked in his brothers’ eyes and said, “I am Joseph, your brother. Is my father still alive?” He hugged Benjamin and all his brothers, and they all cried. This crescendo of forgiveness had been building for years. It broke out in one wild climactic moment.
For us, forgiveness may come slowly, in bits and pieces. But once forgiveness comes to take over our lives, we start to live anew. We’re reborn. When forgiveness is born, both offender and offended receive new life and healing. It is a miracle, something bigger and better than what’s human and natural. The comfort and freedom that forgiveness gives is an unsurpassed experience in human and divine emotion. You are freed!
Don’t expect to discover forgiveness in human resources. It’s like the beginning, when God created something out of nothing. Forgiveness comes only from God, only through His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus met our sin head-on. He offered no excuses; He offered Himself in our place on the cross.
Only because we are forgiven by God through faith in Jesus Christ can we begin to forgive each other truly, freely, completely. In his book Forgive and Forget, Lewis Smedes says, “When we forgive, we come as close as any human can to the essentially divine act of creation. For we create a new beginning out of the past pain.”
And what a future we have! Beginning with Baptism, reaffirmed by God’s Word and in the Lord’s Supper, we are forgiven, today! From here and now, we will move forward toward tomorrow, and onward toward eternity, forgiven and forgiving. Amen