Welcome once again to worship with First Baptist Kingsville, whether you are with us in the sanctuary, joining us on-line, or using the printed resources we deliver each week to those without internet access. It has been important all along to us that everyone have the capability of worshipping with us. We are very thankful that we live in a country where there is such a willingness to sacrifice our preferences for the good of our neighbours – a living out of the second half of the Great Commandment. After Jesus replied to the expert of the law that loving God with all you are was the first and greatest commandment, He went further with these words from Matthew 22:39:
“And the second is like it; ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Thank you for being a church that seeks to obey both of these critical commands of Jesus. And on a more personal note, thank you for the kind words of love as some of you as you have responded to the announcement of our leaving Kingsville at the end of October. It has been a privilege to be your pastor for 16 years and we are happy to be able to be leaving on the best of terms. We have become family, and that is something that will never change. More will be said in the weeks to come, but for today, I want to thank you again for your best wishes.
We come to you this morning Lord, with hearts of praise. We confess that our minds are often distracted and focused on other things, some of them important and some of them not, but for these moments that follow, we give you our attention and our gratitude that we can live this life in relationship with You. Help us to lean into this reality both now, and for the rest of the week.
In Jesus Name we pray, amen.
1 Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
2 Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
4 praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
5 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.
Song: Psalm 150 (Hebrew) – One for Israel
Today's Message - Radical Forgiveness
Over the last few weeks, we have studied the lives of Jacob, Elijah, and today we will look at Joseph (the “coat of many colours” Joseph). In following the ecumenical common church lectionary over the last few years, the whole story of the Bible is presented throughout the year in a way that gives me the choice to choose from passages in the Old and New Testaments. I most often stick to using the New Testament as my source for preaching, as the words of Jesus and the early church are the most helpful in our own understanding and call to living out our faith. That said, the Old Testament is a rich resource of wisdom and teaching that helps us to understand what God had been up to all along, providing us the context for the biggest event in the history of the world: the visitation of God through His eternal Son, who came as a man and gave His life so we could live! Being familiar with and understanding the teaching of the Old Testament is an absolute necessity.
But as necessary and relevant the Old Testament is to an informed Christian’s faith; we do very often get it wrong. We misinterpret the events and their meanings; and sometimes we approach it as if we were Jewish rather than Christian – reading it without putting it through the lens of Jesus. We can get it wrong in a number of ways:
- We make it about the literal events and get caught up in the details (Was Jonah swallowed by a fish or a whale? Just how big was the Ark? Who did Cain marry? And many more), rather than about the purpose for the story and the message it is telling. Ancient people told stories in general to pass on an important truth; not to report facts.
- We conclude that the Old Testament God is harsh and impatient and very different from Jesus, however if we would read the whole of the Scriptures, we would find that God has always been extremely patient gracious with humanity, often presented as animated in His emotions but never giving up on His image bearers.
- We encounter a powerful God in the Old Testament who comes across as totally in control of every event, yet we are wrong to think of Him as controlling or in any way a bully. Instead, the Old Testament God is exactly the same as the New Testament one; constantly calling those created in His image to a free will relationship with Him.
- Finally, and most significantly, we sometimes view the Old Testament as a book of rules for us to follow. It is true that the Jewish scriptures are centred around the law (and the prophets), however it is also clear that the intention all along was that there would one day be a time when God’s law was not a written code but was written on the hearts of those who would choose Him (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Numerous verses in the Old and New tell us that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law; that He gave us a new way to live our lives with God. Unfortunately, much of what is taught in Christian churches is more about obedience to the law (training to be Jewish) rather than being transformed by the Spirit (training to be followers of Jesus).
That is a bit of an aside about the Old Testament. It is a book that forms a significant portion of our Holy Scripture, but taken by itself it can be very misleading. The truth is, God gave us both the Old and the New Testaments for good reason. The Old teaches us about the nature of God and the way He introduced Himself to humanity; providing the setting for what He would be doing in the second act (the New Testament), when He came in the flesh to be with us, and show us the way to Him. We need both Testaments to give us the clarity of the complete picture of the gospel.
The scripture today is once again found in the book of Genesis, and it focuses on the life of Abraham’s great-grandson, Joseph. As we have over the last few weeks, we will once again be focusing on a passage that describes events that require some context, and so I will give you a brief synopsis of the highlights of Joseph’s life right up to the events of Genesis 45.
- Joseph was the youngest and favourite son of Jacob (Abraham’s grandson), whose mother was Rachel – Jacob’s favourite wife. These two facts alone point to the root of the trouble Joseph would face.
- His brothers being jealous, they sold him into slavery one day, giving their father the false story that he had been killed by a wild beast.
- Joseph was eventually sold as a slave to a high-ranking Egyptian official named Potiphar. Joseph quickly rose in responsibility because of his abilities and dependability, until he was ultimately in charge of Potiphar’s household administration.
- After being falsely accused of improper behaviour by Potiphar’s wife (after he actually refused her improper advances), Joseph was sent to prison and almost forgotten.
- While in prison, Joseph was able (once again) to show his wisdom and dependability, and was eventually called upon by a desperate Pharaoh to interpret a dream that had been plaguing him.
- This show of wisdom caused Pharaoh to pull Joseph out of prison and put him to work, and once again his wisdom and dependability helped Joseph, the one time slave, to rise to the very top position in the government of Egypt – just one step below Pharaoh himself.
Picking up the story here, one day a drought that lasted many years persisted until there was no food left in Palestine, or anywhere else (Note: the nation of Israel didn’t exist yet, “Israel” was still just Jacob’s name). Joseph’s wisdom (and a tip from God) had caused Egypt to store up food for just such an occasion, and so Joseph’s brothers headed there to see if they could purchase some grain to help them survive the famine. When they got to Egypt, Joseph toyed with them because he recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him (and you can imagine why!). Finally, after a protracted back and forth that left the brothers worried they would end up in an Egyptian prison (or worse), Joseph revealed his identity to them.
Genesis 45:1-15 New International Version
Joseph Makes Himself Known
1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.
3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. 9 Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’
12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”
14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.
1. God Used the Sins of the Brothers for His Purposes
The story of Joseph highlights to us that we need to be very careful how we interpret scripture. It would be easy to read this and conclude that it was God’s idea to sell Joseph into slavery and then cover it up with a lie. The problem with that is that selling your brother into slavery is clearly a sin, and if that can be disputed, then deceiving your father the way his brothers did was a clear breaking of both the 4th and 8th commandments.
It is absolutely impossible to believe in a good God, and also believe that He planned and did an override on Joseph’s brother’s free will so that they would be forced to sin. No, the Bible is very clear in it’s teaching that sin is something that we choose to do, and we are fully responsible for it. That’s why we needed a Saviour in the first place, to give us a pathway to forgiveness of our sins. A God that plans out sin isn’t a God worth worshipping, so we have to make sure we use the whole of scripture as our guide to interpretation. That does make it more difficult than just using the simple literal sense of a passage, but we shouldn’t expect the task of interpreting ancient texts set over 3,500 years ago to be easy.
What is clear here, is that God used the sin of Joseph’s brothers (and even the sin of Potiphar’s wife) for His own purposes. How powerful is a God like that? A God who doesn’t need to deceive in order to achieve His purposes. God is in control, it’s just that He isn’t controlling. He is sovereign and powerful, able to do His will no matter what we do.
I have always had trouble with passages like this, and when my faith was younger, I needed to learn to go deeper than the literal in order to understand what was being said. This need came to a head in 1988 when Tracey and I were hit by a drunk driver, leaving her with multiple injuries. The driver had clearly sinned – it was his actions and not the will of God that caused the accident. However, as time went by, it was clearly God’s sovereignty that allowed Him to take that sinful action and use it for our good, as we clung to Him in the process. Even though Tracey would be reminded every day of her life of that event in 1988, God used it to change us, and to bless us, and to call us closer to Him! As Paul tells us in Romans 8:28, “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” There is nothing that God can’t use for your ultimate good, if you would trust Him. We have experienced that, and this is displayed powerfully in the story of Joseph. God used the horrible sins of Joseph’s brothers to protect His promise to Abraham and create the nation of Israel!
2. There is No Limit to Forgiveness
Could you blame Joseph if he had chosen NOT to forgive his brothers? If he had chosen to just send them to jail as they deserved? It is hard to think of a worse thing for your family to do than to suddenly sell you into slavery and tell your parents you were killed!
Yet Joseph chose instead to forgive them! I am sure it was a process; the Bible doesn’t give us much detail of the state of Joseph’s mind, but clearly he chose forgiveness over bitterness.
And if Joseph can make that choice; and if God can redeem the sinful choices of his brothers and use them for good; then what sins committed against us should we NOT forgive? I am not saying that it should be instant, or that it will be easy at all. Joseph did have many years to think about what he would do if he ever saw them again, especially after he became so powerful. And yet, Joseph didn’t allow the circumstances to make him bitter and small. Instead he chose forgiveness, and God used him mightily!
Is there anyone you need to forgive. If there is, then ask God to help you to take the next step toward doing that.
What would have happened if Joseph had NOT chosen to forgive his brothers? What would have happened to them? What would have happened to Joseph’s family (remember, they were in the midst of a famine)? What would have happened to the nation of Israel? Would God’s promise to Abraham to make a great nation through him have even been possible?
Forgiveness is the way that God makes all things new, it is the heart of the Gospel. God forgives us, and we forgive each other.
Can you and I live out this radical forgiveness that Joseph displayed with his brothers? It isn’t easy, because the hurts are real. Often there is no repentance; there is no, “I’m sorry; ” and there is no restoration of the relationship.
There is the potential that unforgiveness can cause a bitterness that revictimizes; hardens us and leaves us seemingly unable to do anything about it.
But Revelation 21:5 gives us this promise, this intention of God for the world:
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
There is something we can do about the bitterness that can grow within us and threatens to overtake us; there is always something we can do. We can embrace this “All things new” gospel and live out the forgiveness and new life it promises. It won’t be easy, but it is the only way to be free! God can use our lies and our terrible choices and make them into something beautiful – no matter what we may have done, or not done – no matter how far we may have wandered from Him!
Dear Lord, we humbly come before You this morning, knowing that we are little different than Joseph’s brothers who selfishly and deceitfully sinned against him, and against You. We confess that while our sins may be different (and even seem less serious), our hearts can be very similar. We act selfishly, and we hurt people. Forgive us Lord, and fill us with Your love to forgive others who sin against us.
We also pray Lord, that we would live in the truth of your sovereignty over us. While our actions and sins are real and our responsibility, by turning to You we are promised that no matter what we may have done, no matter how far we may have fallen; You can use even our sins to bring about Your good and Your will. You do this not as a puppet master who controls the strings, but more like a chess master who can foresee every possibility and future with victory assured. May that assurance cause us to fall down in worship of You.
And Lord, we lay before You all of our own cares and suffering. Our physical ills, or relationship struggles, our anxiety and our doubts. May we simply trust You and Your desire to do good in our lives; and in that surrender may we experience the peace of Christ, that is beyond all understanding.
Thank You Lord for Your Love. May we receive it to the full, and may we respond by giving it away.
In Jesus’ Name we pray, amen.
Song: Who Am I? – Casting Crowns
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord turn His face toward you
And give you peace. Amen