Text: Genesis 45
Date: Sunday July 10, 2023
Today’s Topic is Forgiveness: Today I will be preaching on the theme of forgiveness. This is a theme that is woven throughout every page of Scripture. It is a theme that every Christian ought to be not only very well versed in, but also very well practiced in. Forgiveness, as we will see, is one of the great means of grace by which God forms deeper faith and resilience in him. In my experience many of the hardships of modern Christianity is due to a severe lack of awareness around this topic. We simply do not know how to release people from their debts against us.
Tender Wounds: To speak about forgiveness is to approach some of the most tender places of the human soul. Some in this room carry with them wounds from their past, wounds from parents who made tremendous mistakes and errors in judgment, wounds from friends who betrayed us and sought to cause us harm, wounds from churches and Pastors who failed in their responsibilities and rather than shepherding the flock became wolves themselves. We carry all sorts of wounds from others who have hurt us. But how do you forgive a person?
Contextual: Today’s message we will look at the story of Joseph as it is found in the last eight chapters of the book of Genesis. It is a lengthy story of which I will need to leave out many details for the sake of time. But I will tell you the story of Joseph, and then I would like to draw out five Markers of Forgiveness to minister to our own souls today.
I. JOSEPH IS SOLD INTO SLAVERY
A. Big Picture: Joseph’s story begins in Genesis 37. Joseph is the son of Jacob, which makes him the great grandson of Abraham. Jacob, his father had married multiple wives, something he should not have done, and as a result there was all kinds of jealousy playing out in the household. Joseph had eleven brothers. Ten of them were half-brothers having the same father but a different mother. One of them (Benjamin) was a full blood brother. As it turns out Joseph was his father’s favorite and this made his brothers jealous.
B. Joseph’s Dreams: One day young Joseph had a dream in which he saw all of his brothers as well as his father bowing down to him. This provoked the other brothers to even more jealousy. They began to despise him and harbor anger and bitterness towards him.
C. Joseph Sold into Slavery: The jealousy boils to such a degree that one day while they are out in a field, the brothers determine to get rid of him altogether. The father had sent Joseph to find his brothers, and as they see him approaching them they concoct a plan to destroy him. They beat him and threw him into a pit. And then it says they sat down and ate. Can you imagine the wickedness! It just so happened that as they’re eating a caravan headed South to Egypt passes by. Judah, the older brother, determines to sell their brother into slavery. And so Joseph, the Father’s favorite is sold for twenty shekels of silver. The brothers go home and lie to their father saying that the boy had been killed.
II. JOSEPH IN POTIPHER’S HOUSE
A. Potipher’s Wife: But the text repeatedly tells us that God was with Joseph. Joseph happened to be sold into the house of a man named Potipher, who was a guard in Pharaoh’s house. God’s providence is remarkable. As a slave in Potipher’s, Joseph performed incredibly and Potipher learned to trust him with everything he had. One day however while Potipher was away, Potipher’s wife sought to seduce Joseph. He refused, because was a man of God. But she was persistent. One day, she threw herself on him. Joseph did all that he could think to do, he ran, leaving his cloak behind.
B. Joseph Thrown in Prison: When Potipher gets home, his wife lies and says that Joseph tried to rape her. Enraged, Potipher has Joseph thrown into an Egyptian prison where he would remain for over a decade. Like his time in slavery. But the text says that God was with Joseph in his prison years. While in prison, Joseph interprets two different dreams of two other prisoners, one of whom was released shortly after back into service under Pharaoh.
IV. JOSEPH INTERPRETS PHARAOH’S DREAMS
A. Joseph is Made Second in Command: Years later, Pharaoh himself has a dream that needed interpreting, and the man who was formerly in prison with Joseph recalls Joseph, the Hebrew man in prison who interpreted dreams. Can you see God’s providence throughout this story? Pharaoh calls Joseph up, and indeed Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams. There will be seven years of plenty in Egypt, followed by seven years of famine.
B. The Famine: Pharaoh is so impressed with Joseph, and with Joseph’s God, that he makes Joseph the second in command of all of Egypt, and asks him to run a program that will prepare Egypt for the famine that is coming. And so Joseph begins to functionally tax the people of Egypt, collecting grain in great storehouses.
V. THE FAMINE & THE CONFRONTATION
A. Joseph’s Brothers Head to Egypt: After seven years the famine hits. Back at home in Israel, Joseph’s father hears that there is grain for sail in Egypt and so he sends ten of his sons on the trip to Egypt, leaving Benjamin (Joseph’s full blood brother) behind. Remember that thirteen years have passed since they sold their bother.
B. Imagine the Psychology of Joseph: They finally arrive in Egypt and find themselves standing before Joseph asking for grain, but they don’t know its Joseph. At this point Joseph not only looks older but is also speaking Egyptian. All they know is that he is the man in charge of doling out food. And so they bow before him. Joseph begins to question them, and eventually accuses them of being spies. At this point in the story, we have to try to consider the psychology of Joseph. What is going through his mind as he sees ten of his brothers bowing before him. On the one hand, his original vision was fulfilled. On the other, there are some wounds here that are right near the surface. By the end of the scene Joseph is weeping by himself.
Genesis 42:24 Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes.
C. Sends Them Home to Get Benjamin: After composing himself, he tells them that they can go home to Israel, but to prove that they are not spies, he demands that they return with the youngest brother they had spoken about, Benjamin. And so, one of the brothers is locked up in prison in Egypt while the other ten make the trip back a bit bewildered at what had taken place.
VI. FORGIVENESS IS EXTENDED
A. The Test of the Silver Cup: Some time passes, but eventually the brothers return to Egypt, this time with Benjamin. The father Jacob is horrified that Benjamin is taking this trip, but he permits him to go. And as before they stand before Joseph not knowing who he is. Joseph has one more test he wants to do, to see the integrity of his brothers. As before, Joseph loads the brothers up with all the food they can carry, but he secretly places his own silver cup in Benjamin’s case before sending them on their way. As the brothers are headed out of Egypt believing themselves to be in the clear, a servant of Joseph commands that they return, a silver cup has been stolen
B. Judah Offers Himself: The brothers of course know nothing of this cup, but they return and once again stand before Joseph. Joseph commands that the one who is found to have the silver cup will be his slave. Joseph begins to look through the packs, and behold the cup is found in Benjamin’s case. Judah now stands up, the same Judah who once sold Joseph into slavery, now stands to defend his other brother from being sold into slavery.
Genesis 44:33–34 Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.”Joseph offers himself as a substitute for Benjamin.
C. Joseph Weeps: In the next verses we read of Joseph’s reaction.Genesis 45:2 ESVAnd he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.
D. Joseph Reveals Himself to His Brothers: At this point all of Joseph’s wounds are pouring out of him, not in anger or grudges, but in joy and reconciliation. Joseph cannot contain it any longer. He reveals himself to his brothers in joy. “It’s me. It’s Joseph!” At first the brothers are horrified at this turn of events. But Joseph tells them not to be distressed. We read,
Genesis 45:4–8 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.
E. Jacob Moves to Egypt: Joseph eventually has his father move up to Egypt. Jacob of course is overwhelmed seeing his son again. The family is given land outside of the main city to live out the remainder of the famine. There is one more part to this story where Joseph reveals his heart. After some time, Jacob their father passes away. Immediately the brothers of Joseph become afraid that Joseph is now going to get his revenge. They come to Joseph begging for mercy. The text tells us that Joseph began weeping again, and he said,
Genesis 50:19–20 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
The end of Genesis ends with a great reconciliation of the family, as Joseph forgives his brothers.
Let us reflect on the theme of forgiveness from Joseph’s story. I want to lay out for us five markers of Biblical Forgiveness that we can learn from this story.
I. JOSEPH’S FORGIVENESS IS A SHADOW OF CHRIST’S FORGIVENESS
A. Christ is a Greater Joseph: Christ is a greater Joseph. Like Joseph, Christ was punished for crimes he did not commit. Joseph was falsely accused and thrown in prison. Jesus was falsely accused and sentenced to death. Joseph rose up from the pits of an Egyptian prison and became like a King over Egypt. Christ rose up from the pits of death through the resurrection. He is right now ruling and reigning as the King of Kings. He holds judgment in his hands.
B. We Are Like the Brothers: We, are like the brothers who sold Joseph for twenty shekels of silver, and sat down and had lunch. We are like the brothers who went home and covered their tracks by telling their father an animal had devoured Joseph. How do you ask, are we like them? Every time we in our life, we broke God’s law, we revealed that we were enemies of God. Every proud thought, every lustful thought, every idolatrous thought, every selfish action, every gossiping word. The world calls these things just being human. But the Scriptures call them rebellion to God. According to God’s law, we were enemies of God (Romans 5:10). We were alienated from God (Colossians 1:21).
Colossians 1:21–22 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him,
C. Christ Offers Forgiveness: But Christ the greater Joseph extends grace and forgiveness. In fact, Christ goes further than Joseph. Joseph tested his brothers to first determine if they were changed in any way. Christ does no such thing. He does not first make us get our lives in order before he offers grace. He extends grace while we are still rebelling against him. This is what the cross of Christ has accomplished, this is what his death and resurrection secured. If you are a Christian, you have been forgiven deeply for real offenses against God. The Father loved you and cherished you so much that He sent Christ to die in your place underneath the wrath of God.
D. A Means of Grace: Forgiving others, as a Christian, now becomes a means of grace because the forgiver must trust Jesus to fulfill His side of the relationship. The forgiver must be content with their lot. The forgiver must permit Christ to heal a wound caused by another.
E. Your Debt to Christ Was Greater: Now the way we forgive is shaped by the way we’ve been forgiven. Whatever sin someone commits against you, is not as bad as what you have committed against Christ. Your sin towards Christ is worse than their sin towards you, because He is God Almighty. The debt you owed to God was greater than the debt any human owes to you. And yet Christ fully forgave you. He gave you grace upon grace. He removed that debt from your account. If you can be forgiven, so can that person who sinned against you.
II. FORGIVENESS OFTEN RELEASES YOU MORE THAN THE OTHER PERSON
In Genesis 41, just before the brothers make their first trip to Egypt, we are told that Joseph had two children
Genesis 41:51 Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.”
A. Joseph Deceived Himself: Joseph had deceived himself. In his prosperity he believed he had dealt with his past and it no longer had an impact on him. And yet when his brothers arrive in the next chapter, on four separate occasions we find Joseph weeping and wailing uncontrollably. He had never actually dealt with it. He had never truly allowed God to heal the wound. Rather, he had covered the wound and buried it.
B. Personal: This is why learning to spiritually forgive others is vital for your own spiritual growth. If you can’t release people from their debts, you think you’re heaping coals on their head playing the scenarios over and over in your head, but in fact its heaping coals on your own head. Failure to forgive others slowly has an effect on you, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Jesus commanded us to forgive, and so failure to take this seriously hinders your walk with Jesus.
C. Practical: Permit me to be a bit practical. When I speak about forgiveness I am speaking about in your heart and mind releasing the debt that another person owes you. Someone else wronged you, and rather than exacting some kind of penalty, you joyfully release them from it. Now this comes with some important qualifications.When the wrong that was done to you was a crime, forgiveness does not mean failing to turn in the criminal. It is possible to truly forgive somebody in your heart and mind before God, while permitting the law to handle punishing the criminal.The work of forgiveness cannot be done cheaply. Where there is a true wound, true balm needs to be applied, and that requires spiritual work. This usually does not happen instantly. This requires the practice of real faith in Jesus to work through you what he has already worked on you.The work of forgiveness is in no way dependent on the behavior of the other person. While it might be nice if the other person changes their errant ways, that is not the goal of forgiveness. The other person does not even need to acknowledge their guilt to be forgiven. Forgiveness is primarily between you and God, where you release the debt they owe you to God, you trust that He can do more with that debt than you can, and then you permit God to provide you with contentment.True forgiveness holds no grudge afterwards. It refuses to gossip or share the details of what took place. If you’ve released them from their debt, then it is done, with one exception. I heard a Pastor share this recently and I thought it was wise advice. It helps to have one person, whom you can trust, to share the process with. Not five or fifteen, one trustworthy person.
III. THE SPIRITUAL WORK OF FORGIVENESS IS AIDED BY A PROPER UNDERSTANDING OF SOVEREIGNTY
A. Providence Was at Work in Joseph’s Story: Throughout Joseph’s entire story, the providence of God is clearly seen. While Joseph was being carted off by Egyptian slave traders, God’s providential hand was at work. While Joseph was held up for a decade in a dark, hot, Egyptian prison, God’s providence was at work. Joseph said as much when he said,
Genesis 50:20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
B. Right Thinking Ought to Shape Our Faith: This is why it is so important that we think rightly about God. It is not enough to simply know that God is up there somewhere. We need to know about Him, on His terms. And then we need to let that knowledge of God seep into our pores until it becomes our faith. It is not enough to simply know the promises of God as a memory verse, they must become the substance of our faith. The doctrine of God’s providence ought to serve like sweet medicine to our souls in the midst of hardships and difficulties, because we know that wherever we go, whatever we endure, our faithful God is not only right there with us, but He is ultimately guiding the events of our life to accomplish his glory. God is able to use the wrong that was done to you, for good!
C. Personal: Look back on your own life for a second. Consider someone who has done you wrong. Remember what it was like to be in that moment, or in that season immediately after the wrongdoing, how angry and bitter you were. How resentful you were. Now step back and see God’s gracious fatherly hand over your life. He loves you, and he permitted that evil to befall you for reason. Part of the process of learning to forgive others, is permitting the knowledge of God’s providence to work its way through your soul, until you don’t just know it, but you believe it. This is difficult work especially when the wounds from the other person were significant.
“Jesus, I could never comprehend the fullness of your wisdom. I cannot see all things and their interconnectedness. But my anchor in the midst of my pain is that you can. More than that, that you do. Whatever glory you are bringing about, I pray for its fullness to be revealed in me and through me. Teach me to find peace in the reality that you are ultimately in control. Heal my wounded heart as only you can.”
IV. WE MUST PRAY FOR THE GRACE ABOUNDING TRANSFORMATION OF OUR ENEMIES
A. Consider Judah: Fourth, we must therefore learn to pray for the transformation of our enemies hearts. Consider Judah from our story today. Judah experienced a radical change of heart over those thirteen years. When the story began he sold his brother into slavery, but as the story came to a close, he was willing to give his life for his brother and his family.
B. This Takes Humility: This takes extraordinary humility to pray for your enemies, to pray for those who have wounded you. Because in our flesh what we want is for them to get what they deserve. We want them to be exposed. I know in my anger, at times I play over in my head all the wrongs they’ve done against me, reciting them, correcting them, putting them in their place. But what does Jesus say,
Matthew 5:43–44 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
C. Imagine Them in Heaven: Again, there is a way to give lip service to this teaching of Christ’s without actually exhibiting the kind of faith Christ is after. Evaluate yourself for a moment. Consider somebody in your life or your past who you would consider somebody who has wronged you. And now imagine them in heaven standing before the throne of grace next to you. Two sinners, both of whom have made any number of mistakes while on Earth. Both standing before the throne of grace singing worship to the God who saved them with a big grin on their face!
D. Pray for Them: If your enemy does not know Christ, then they are in the gall of bitterness right now. Pray for their souls. Pray for their families. Pray for their children. Pray that God would send good things into their life. Pray that God would surround them with Christians that would shepherd them towards Jesus. And do not lose hope that God can save anybody. If he got a hold of you, he can get a hold of them!
I would like to close by inviting you into a process. I would like space, right now, to become a place of radical redemption. I suppose that there are some in this room right now who are realizing that they have someone they have never truly forgiven. Perhaps there is more healing work that needs to take place. Maybe its a parent, maybe its a child, maybe its someone you once trusted who betrayed you, maybe its just someone who did something terrible to you. Christ wants to heal you and release you from holding that debt over them.
Jesus, I trust you. Deep down in my soul, I trust you. I confess to you that forgiveness is difficult, and that I have not yet mastered this spiritual discipline. I confess that I have unforgiveness towards this person. I confess that, I by myself, am too spiritually weak to forgive the way you have commanded me to do. But you have given me your Spirit when I believed in Jesus. You have empowered me, by grace, to grow in my Christ likeness.
Jesus, I release the debt of this person to you. I no longer want to hold it. I no longer want to harbor anger towards them. In fact, I pray for them right now. Lord, might you pour blessing on their life. Lord, might you place your saints around them who will guide them to saving faith in Jesus so that they too can have their sins forgiven as I have had mine forgiven. Lord, help this part of my soul that has harbored corruption for so long, find joy abounding as you heal me. Amen.