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Joseph’s Mercy

Joseph’s Mercy
19th October 2020

Joseph’s Mercy

Passage: Genesis 50:15 - 26, Romans 8:28

Genesis 50:15 – 26  
Joseph’s Mercy  

Probably most of us have some understanding of God’s providence, or expect that God can use situations for our good,
How far does that extend?
Does God use generally positive situations, for our good?

And does he work with morally neutral situations,
Or perhaps situations we’d prefer not to be in, but that are, tolerable, and use those for our good?
But what about the utter catastrophes of life?

Those moments when we feel that everything is falling apart,
When other people sin against us terribly,
Or our own sin has mucked up our lives, and the lives of others?
What does God do with those situations?
If you’ve been with us as we’ve looked at the story of Joseph over these few weeks, how much of what God did for him, can we expect in our lives?

Yes, forgiveness really is free! (v 15 – 18 )

Well the story of Joseph draws to a close with a family funeral.
This is often a time when significant, past family trauma bubbles to the surface.
The research tells us the death of a loved one is one of the most stressful situations we’ll ever endure in our lives.
And as a pastor, I’ve stood on the sidelines and watched this kind of thing unfold.
I remember there was a family where a parent had died, and in preparing the death certificate with the funeral director, listing the children of the deceased person, in order of birth, one of the children, an adult, kept insisting that their name had been left out, while their siblings were quickly trying to hurry the funeral director along.
And that was the moment this person in their 50s learnt that they were adopted, and not a biological child of their parents.
Or another funeral where a fight broke out, and the couple of blokes wrestling each other actually fell into the grave.
We’re not far off that in Genesis 50!
The death of their dad has caused Joseph’s brothers to wonder if the forgiveness they’ve received from Joseph really was free.
See how the section opens in verse 15, When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”
Now, the really had treated him badly!
Skip back a couple of generations, and God had promised to Jacob’s great grandfather, a man named Abram, or Abraham;
Rhat he would have many descendants,
That those descendants would inhabit the land of Canaan,
And that God would bless them, and use them to bless the whole world.
But by the time of Joseph and his brothers, this family is pretty messed up, and Joseph’s brother plot to kill him because he was dad’s favourite, before deciding it was less messy and more profitable to sell him as a slave.
Joseph ends up in Egypt, is falsely accused of rape, and stuck in prison for a few years,
But then God uses him to interpret 2 dreams of Pharaoh, about 7 years of bumper harvest, followed by 7 years of famine.

And so Pharaoh makes Joseph, Vice President of Egypt, distributing food to people from across the world.
The promise of Abram’s descendant blessing the world begins to be fulfilled.
In all of this Joseph had come face to face with his brothers, though they didn’t know it was him.
And he tested them, to see if, given the opportunity, they’d throw Benjamin under the bus, now that he was their dad’s favourite.
But, having been confronted with their sin, they’d repented, and so seeing that change of heart and mind, Joseph forgave them.

Which is all well and good! But now Jacob, their father is dead, and maybe the forgiveness Joseph offered wasn’t real,
What if it was all a show for Jacob, and now he’s gone, there’s nothing to stop Joseph rolling out his plan for revenge.
And so they come up with a plan.

The way this is written very much suggests it is all made up.

This wasn’t the last clause inserted into Jacob’s will; “Now, boys, play nice.”
They make up this message, supposedly coming from their father, and send it to Joseph, Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.”
Guilt can run deep, can’t it?
Some of us are haunted by guilt for things we’ve done wrong, either things known and public, or things hidden.

And here the brothers are worried that although Joseph says he’s forgiven them,
And although he’s been acting like he’s forgiven them, perhaps it is, just an act.
And I think at times we can feel just like the brothers do here.

When we feel guilty for something, that is, when we’re really aware of our sin,
And its terrible effects,
And its high cost,
The offence against God, we can be tempted to doubt the reality of forgiveness;, especially God’s forgiveness.
Can God really forgive me for that?

Is Jesus’ death really enough to cover the cost of my sin?
Lots of Christian people I meet have this sense of perpetual unease, “am I going to stand before God on judgment day, and discover that actually, that forgiveness in Jesus, wasn’t quite enough?”

“Does Jesus forgive, 85 percent of my sin, but actually there’s still some guilt left over, not properly dealt with?”

“Because I keep struggling with the same sin, do I reach a cut-off where I’m no longer forgiven?”
And if that’s the way we’re thinking, the solution we tend to identify is “Well, obviously I have to do more to earn my forgiveness.”
The economist Milton Friedman popularised the phrase “There’s so such thing as a free lunch”, and that’s what we’re sometimes tempted to think, because we doubt that the forgiveness that comes to us through Jesus’ death in our place really is free.
And so we go looking for something to point to when I stand before God, so I can say, “look at this good stuff I’ve done. You can forgive me now.”
But that’s not how it works!

God’s forgiveness is a free gift! What could we possibly pay, to “top up” the forgiveness won for us by Jesus dying in our place?

“If that were somehow not enough, why would we possibly think we can pay the balance?”
Real forgiveness is a free gift!

Joseph has lavished his forgiveness on this brothers, evidenced in, almost over-the-top displays of kindness;,
Returning the money they paid for their grain,
Giving them land to settle in Egypt,
Providing food for their families,
He’s done everything he can to convince them of the genuineness, if that’s a word, the genuineness of his free gift of forgiveness, but still they think it’s too good to be true.
Genuine forgiveness, like this, is a free gift. It’s not just a deferred payment plan, where you still has to make a significant payment, just somewhere in the future.
See, the brothers were willing to pay, weren’t they?
Verse 18, His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
But Joseph won’t accept it.

He knows they’re bowing down to him, not because he’d earned the right to take revenge, but because God has lifted him up.
Joseph doesn’t get where he does because of karma,
Or people getting what they deserve,
Or, what goes around comes around.

Joseph gets where he does, because of God and his action.

God is the hero of this story.
And the next section shows us that Joseph understands this, and this is why he can offer forgiveness the way God does,
He can offer it freely, bearing the cost of it himself, because of what he understands about God and how he acts.

God is in control and working for good! (v19 – 20)

In verses 19 – 21 we’re reminded again that God is in control and is working for good.

And I say we’re reminded of this, because of the 3 times back in chapter 45 where Joseph made this same point!
See verse 19, 19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives
There was an ancient Christian hymn-writer in the 4th Century, named Saint Ephrem of Syria.
One of his hymnbooks was called Hymns Against Heresies, and all the songs corrected false teaching of people around him!

I think it was just because he didn’t have Twitter, so he corrected everyone’s bad theology through song!
But in one of his songs, he points out that it’s as if Joseph is saying “I’m not going to hurt you, even though Jacob is dead, because God’s not dead, and it’s because of God, not because of Jacob, that I’ve treated you the way I have.”
Am I in the place of God?
His commitment to them, flows from his commitment to God.

Vengeance is not Joseph’s to take, just like it’s not ours to take when people wrong us.
But even more than understanding that it’s up to God to judge sin, Joseph is able to see, God’s enabled him to see, that God has been in control this whole time, and has been working for good.
See that great statement from Joseph in verse 20;,
20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
What a tremendous picture of the providence of God.
If you’ve been with us during our time in Genesis, you’ll remember that we’ve been using a definition of God’s providence, from an old church teaching tool called the Heidelberg Catechism.
And in that document, God’s providence is described like this:
The almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were, by his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth, with all creatures, and so governs them, that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.
That’s God’s providence.

“all things, come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.”
Joseph didn’t end up in Egypt because his brothers hated him and sold him as a slave. Though if we have only the human perspective, we’d say that is the cause.
But what was Joseph’s explanation? God intended this.
See, I think it’s probably fairly easy for us, whether we’re Christian, or maybe we wouldn’t call ourselves that, but we believe something about God, We can probably imagine God kind of taking charge of a situation, stopping a bad situation that someone else has created, and turning it into good.
But that’s not what Joseph says happened here, is it?

God’s not sitting in heaven, and he looks down, and happens to notice to notice a camel train heading into Cairo, and he says to himself, “Oh no! Joseph’s brothers have sold him into slavery!

I know, this gives me an idea. I’ll use Joseph, to save the world, to bring blessing to people everywhere.”
No, it’s not that God suddenly intervenes, and at that moment the brothers’ evil intentions are frustrated, and all sinful behaviour stops.
Joseph is still on the receiving end of other people’s sinful behaviour long after he arrives in Egypt,
God isn’t just fixing situations and turning them from bad to good.

God uses the sinful decisions of others, the various ways we’re affected by our fallen world, for our good.

Do you see the distinction?
People are free to act as they choose. Well, free to act as their sinful nature leads them!
God’s not dictating their evil choices, but he is ultimately in control of the outcome, and he uses people’s sinful choices for good.
God acts,
God is in control,
God is working for good, even in the wickedness and evil of sinful people,
And even in hard situations that go on for a long time.

For God to be at work for good doesn’t mean the evil that’s being perpetrated suddenly ceases.

Seeing God’s good purposes doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to sin.

But seeing God’s good purposes come out of a situation, doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to sin.
Joseph said You intended to harm me, verse 20. There’s no attempt to hide or minimise their sin. They were wicked.

And they admit it.
In fact, back in verse 17, in that made up message, supposedly from Jacob, the brothers use 3 different Old Testament words for sin, translated in our Bibles, sins, wrongs, and in treating you so badly.

As far as I can tell, this is the only occasion in the whole of the Old Testament, where those 3 different words are all used in one verse!
There is absolutely a spotlight on the wrongness, the sinfulness of their behaviour.

We’re not saying forgiveness means we gloss over sin, or turn a blind eye, think that sin doesn’t matter,
That it doesn’t matter how badly people have treated you.

It absolutely does matter!
But doesn’t that make God’s providence all the more astounding? When the author here has gone to lengths no other human author of the Bible ever thought of, to emphasise the sinful actions of humans, it’s all to show that God is in control and working for good.
See, God’s not limited to using what we might think are the morally good actions of people, for the good of others,
He’s not even limited to using what we might think of as people’s neutral actions and decisions. “Do I catch the train or the bus tomorrow morning?” Sure, God could work through that.
But in this episode we can’t escape the terrible nature of the brothers’ crimes, and yet those are the actions through which God has worked for good.
And so Joseph’s response is a terrific example of how someone who trusts in God, is able to respond in the face of sin and evil.
See, Joseph has confidence that God is providentially working, even through the evil actions of others, or our own sinful choices, we could add. God can work for good through the as well, even as we suffer the consequences for those choices.
Joseph also leaves judgement, and the righting of wrongs, to God.
And if we’re confident that God can be trusted, that justice matters to God, we don’t need to seek vengeance when others wrong us.
That doesn’t mean we don’t act for justice, for others. We’ve just said justice matters to God.

But it does means we don’t have to seek vengeance, because we know that God will right all the wrongs. And Joseph also does a great job of doing, what much later, Jesus calls loving your enemies.

Luke 6 Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 27 – 28
And twice Joseph says to is brothers, don’t be afraid, and then he promises, “I will provide for you and your children.”
And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
You might remember right back at the beginning of the story, we heard a similar but opposite description. Chapter 37 verse 4, we were told of Joseph’s brothers, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
But Joseph goes above and beyond in his kindness.
This same language is used by Isaiah, when God says Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her, that her sin has been paid for,
See, not just doing the minimum for those who have wronged you, but loving, and being kind, this is God’s pattern of forgiveness.
And it seems to me, that the only hope we have of responding like this when people wrong us, is to be convinced, by the Spirit of God working through his Word, to be convinced that whatever others dish out to us, is in fact given to us by God’s fatherly hand.

It comes to us from God, for our good.
Unless I’m convinced of that, I can’t respond like this when people hurt me.

I want revenge,
I want to undo whatever consequences there are,
And I don’t want reconciliation if I have to bear the cost.
Oh, but be convinced of God’s providence, and I can begin with God’s help, to respond to hardship and evil in this way, knowing that whatever comes to me, comes from God.

Let’s just look at the last few verses, and then come back to thinking some more about the implications of all of this for us.

God’s promise of blessing continues, and awaits fulfilment (v 22 – 26)

These are the final words in Genesis, aren’t they? And as this first book of the Bible closes, we see that God’s promise of blessing continues, and also awaits its fulfilment.
Verse 22, Joseph stayed in Egypt, along with all his father’s family. He lived a hundred and ten years 23 and saw the third generation of Ephraim’s children. Also the children of Makir son of Manasseh were placed at birth on Joseph’s knees.
110 is a pretty good innings!

The Egyptians thought it was the ideal age to die.

And living to see your grandchildren was considered a sign of blessing. Joseph sees his great-grandchildren.

So no matter how you slice it, this family has been blessed by God.
Which is nothing new to us. Joseph’s generosity in verse 21 reminds us how God has been using this descendant of Abram, to bless others, just as he promised would happen.
And the repetition of the word father in these verses, reminds us of the connection to the family of Abram, through whom God’s blessing was going to come.
Joseph has seen God at work, fulfilling his promises, and so he has great confidence that God will continue to keep his promises.
I’ve been conducting job interviews in the last couple of weeks. They say the best predictor of future performance is past performance! That’s what you want to know?
Has this person been trustworthy in the past? Because that will help us understand if they’ll be trustworthy in the future.
Well, if you like, Joseph’s spend the last 13 chapters interviewing God and he’s convinced from how God’s shown himself to be trustworthy in the past, that he’ll be trustworthy in the future.
Verse 25, And Joseph made the Israelites swear an oath and said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.”
He knows God will keep his promises, and will lead his family into the land of Canaan.
This is faith, isn’t it? Being convinced of the truth about God, and living in the light of it.
And in fact, in the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, Joseph’s faith in God’s promises is held up as an example to us;, Hebrews 11:22 By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones.
True faith isn’t just saying, “I believe this or that about God”, it’s ordering your life in such a way that shows you believe that about God.
And sure enough, God fulfilled his promise, and as Exodus 13 tells us, when the Israelites went up out of Egypt, Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the Israelites swear an oath. He had said, “God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.”13:24
God will surely come to your aid is literally “God will visit you.”

Joseph knows the fulfilment of this promise will involve God visiting his people.
And from our position in history, we know that the greatest visitation from God was still to come, even after the Israelites were in the land.

The greatest visitation from God is the incarnation of Jesus;, God arriving in human flesh.
So the story of Joseph ends, and the book of Genesis ends, with the reminder of God’s blessing and the assurance that God is faithful to everything that he promises,
And yet, there must be more.
The promise of inheriting the land is obviously still waiting to be fulfilled,
And while Joseph was definitely a blessing to many people,
He’s now in a box, in Egypt, unable to be a blessing to anyone!
No, the story ends, pointing forward.

Pointing forward to someone who can fulfill all the promises of God,
Someone who really can be a blessing to the world,
Someone whose story doesn’t end with a coffin.
We’ve misunderstood the story of Joseph, if we don’t see it pointing us forward to Jesus.
And so I want us to come back to Joseph’s words in verse 20, You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
How do we, as followers of Jesus, which, I guess, most of us are, or perhaps we’re interested, how do we understand this to be true in our experience?

This promise of God working for good is a promise for us

Well, the Apostle Paul, writing to Christians in Rome in the first century AD, teaches us that this lesson which Joseph learnt, is in fact true for everyone who is a follower of Jesus.

This promise of God working for good, is for us.
Now, that’s quite something, isn’t it? Because not everything that’s true of Joseph is promised to us;,
We’re not promised we’ll see our long-lost family again,
We’re not promised prosperity,
We’re not promised the ability to interpret dreams. Though if you have a dream about birds eating bread off the top of your head, I’d get my affairs in order!
No those things aren’t promised to us who are God’s people in Christ Jesus,
But this lesson that Joseph learnt is.
Have a listen to how Paul puts it. It’s a passage you may know, 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.
Romans 8:28
Two things happen that stop us believing this, though.

One is, we re-define the word good.

We easily think that “good”, should mean “comfort”, or at least we think there should be a fair bit of overlap between those 2.
We want God to work for our comfort, but clearly, that’s often not God’s priority!

It would be a mistake to think, “That was a horrible situation in my life. It would have been better if I’d never experienced it.”
But the second thing that trips us up, is that for God to intend evil actions for good, Genesis 50, or work in all circumstances for our good, Romans 8, that’s not to call those evil actions or the terrible circumstances good.
Remember the lengths the author’s gone to, to remind us how sinful the brothers’ actions were!
What you’re going through now may not be good,
What you’ve done to others may not be good!
God isn’t trying to convince you that the most hurtful situations of life are good.
Pick some examples,
Being treated badly by your family, is not good.

Having your spouse die, and leaving you destitute is not good.

Being murdered, executed, even though innocent, is not good.
And yet the Bible is clear that in each of those circumstances;, Joseph, mistreated by his family,
Ruth, widowed and destitute,
Jesus Christ, crucified though he was without sin,
In each of those cases God works for good. He uses the situation that wasn’t good, in fact was evil or hurtful, in order to bring good.

And in fact to bring good for us, since we’re ultimately the recipients of the blessings that come through those people in the timeline of the Bible.
Paul’s not calling your hard situation good, any more than Joseph calls his brothers trying to kill him good.
But he does go on to explain exactly what the good is.

Verse 29 of Romans 8; 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son

And verse 30, And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
These are massive verses that we could spend hours unpacking, but for our purposes tonight I want us just to notice where this chain finishes; the good that God is seeking; conforming us to the image of his Son, that is making us like Jesus, that is ultimately achieved in our glorification.

This is God’s goal for you,
To be like Jesus, and enjoying him forever.

That is the good.

If you’re a follower of Jesus, this is the good that God is working towards, through all the circumstances of your life.
And of course, when it’s all things, it’s both the situations we’re aware of, but just as much, so many situations and actions that we’re not aware of;,
Outside influence,
Other people’s decisions, that we don’t even notice.
We read these words and think particularly of the hard times, I think,
And glorification, is the only good that can outweigh the hurt and struggles of living in a world that is broken by sin.

It’s the only good that is, if you like, good enough, to make the rest of it worthwhile.
The thing is, like Joseph, in the moment, or in the periods of years perhaps, while life is just awful, and painful, and, on the brink of death, we often can’t see how God is using the hardship, to prepare us for our eternity with Jesus.
When Joseph was in prison he couldn’t see how God would use him to save many lives,
Later on he is given the perspective by God to make sense of it all.

But we might not be.

We’re often about to look back, even on some very difficult circumstance and see how God was using it to draw us closer to him,
To convince us of our salvation,
And ultimately to secure our glorification.
But not always.

It may be that the hardship we suffer;, getting sick with COVID,
Or losing our job,
Or being treated badly by others,
We may never understand in this life, how God is using that for our good.
And yet we have his promise, that he is, and Joseph’s example to us, of how to live in the light of God’s promise.
I don’t think God expects us to feel like there’s good coming out of our hardship, all the time, But he does call us to believe his promise, that he is working for our good.
“all things, come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.”

All things come to us, because of the good God wants for us;, our glorification.
And so maybe we need to ask ourselves, “Are we as committed to that good, glorification, Christ-likeness, as God is?”

God is willing to lead us through difficult circumstances of life in order that we reach that good,  Are we willing?
Or are we so committed to our own autonomy, “I will be the one to decide what’s good, and what’s not” that we despise what God wants for us?
Are we committed to our comfort rather than our glorification?
And so I’ll do everything I can to maximise comfort, even if it means rejecting God’s means of making me more like Christ and being with him forever?
Are we willing to take whatever God uses to make us like Jesus, and to be with him forever.

Monday morning as I was reading Genesis 50, I received word that a man had been killed in a tragic accident in the city where I used to live.

I’d never met him, but his young wife had been a youth group member and young adult in churches I’d worked in.
She’d been born into poverty overseas, and had been abandoned as a child,
She’d then been adopted,
But then disowned,
She’d been abused,
And then disbelieved, and now her husband has been killed in a terrible accident, leaving her with 4 young children.
And the trauma in a life like that, is so great, that I’m tempted to wonder, “Well, God working for good, and the promise of Romans 8:28, must be meant for people like me, who have a pretty easy life, but surely it can’t be true of a life filled with that kind of hardship.”
And maybe that’s how you feel, right now.
Maybe “all things work for good”, would make sense if the “all things” were generally pleasant and enjoyable, or maybe just a little bit of pushing and prodding, to sharpen us up.

But when the “all things” fall into the category of what we might call, utter catastrophe, is it still true then?
Is the promise that God works for good, a promise not just to people like me, in a life of privilege, but also to people like my friend, now a young, widowed, mother?
And the answer is that it has to for situations like hers.

Gods’ commitment to our good, has to be true in a life filled with hurt, as much as it’s true for those us whose lives are, in God’s kindness, very straightforward.
This promise is true in the very hardest situations in life, because that’s when we need it the most!
It’s easy to believe God is committed to our good when we see things going well for us.

These words are here for precisely those situations when we can’t see how this could possibly be what God wants for us.

Or when the situation is not what God wants for us, but is being used by God, to achieve for us the good, becoming like Christ, and enjoying him forever.
The Apostle Paul’s own experience of violence, beatings and imprisonment,
The experience of Joseph, they urge us and encourage us, not to give up hope, when our situation is not good, And maybe we can’t even see good on the horizon.
But God has come to our aid,
God has visited,
And for all who are in Christ, whatever we face in life comes to us from God’s fatherly hand, and is being used for our good, even if we can’t see it, to make us more like Jesus, and ready to spend eternity with him.

Father we think you that you work for our good, in all things, whether we can see it or not.

Please convince us of this, that we might know that everything that comes to us, comes by your fatherly hand, to make us more like our saviour Jesus, and for our glorification. Amen.