Hey, if you have your Bible, why don’t you go ahead and grab it. If it happens that you did not bring a Bible with you today, there is one available to you right in the chair in front of you underneath the seat. Look right there, and there ought to be a black pew Bible in there. Why don’t you just take that and use it. We’re going to be in Genesis 45 today, and we’re going to start in verse 3. If it happens that you actually don’t own a Bible, then please just take that one that you pick up from the pew in front of you home with you. We would love for you to have that.
As you guys are turning to Genesis, let me introduce myself real quickly. I’m Matt Tonne. As Shea mentioned, I typically do Kids’ Village back there, first through fifth grade. At this point in the game, I’m normally in a green shirt teaching children. I promise I will not use any puppets, no juggling, and no felt boards, nothing like that. It will be not childish at all. That’s probably not entirely true.
I feel like it’s really appropriate that I serve in children’s ministry, because I grew up as a church kid. I grew up in the church, and with that came this whole host of really great advantages of growing up in church, and there are also some really significant pitfalls. For me, one of the pitfalls was early on in my life (because I grew up in the church, but I wasn’t a believer yet), I learned one thing really, really well. That was how to be passive-aggressive and how to hold grudges.
I never sat in on a class, Sunday School 101. Here is how to hold grudges. Here is how to be subversive. What I was taught was that retaliation was not an acceptable way of expressing yourself. Whenever my older brother’s best friend began to harass and bother me, I was told, “Matthew, it is not okay that you attack him with a butcher knife. You can’t do that.” I was like, “But he’s causing my problems. He should pay! He has wronged me, and he should pay.”
As a child even, I learned how to be really good at taking wrongs, receiving wrongs from people, and rather than retaliating, which was clearly out of bounds, I could receive those wrongs over and over and over again until at one point, when I had accumulated just enough, and in just the right circumstances, I could take this weight of wrongs and just lay them down on the wrongdoer and just crush them with guilt. It was fantastic, and I was really good at it. Sadly, I’m actually still fairly good at it, and my wife can attest to that.
I had lots of practice, right? Because people kept wronging me. People kept getting in the way or causing me problems, putting me in compromising positions, taking things that really belonged to me that they had no business taking from me. I just got a lot of practice, because I got wronged a lot. You do too. Right? There is nobody in the room who has come in here without scars, without having been wronged by others.
For this reason, I’m excited about the text we’re going to look at today as we’re looking at the life of Joseph, because he was wronged in some severe ways by those who were very close to him, and he came out on the other side. I feel like we have so much to learn from him. Now, before we dive into the text, there are some things you need to know about where we’re going.
We’re going to look at the larger life of Joseph. We’re going to do some background context work before we get to Genesis 45. The story of Joseph covers about 13 chapters of the book of Genesis. It’s pretty hefty. You can read that. It really starts in about Genesis 37 and then moves onward to the very end of the book, Genesis 50. I’m going to go very high level, a very quick review of his life before we get to Genesis 45.
If you want all the details I don’t have time to go into, I encourage you to read that section of passages. It’s really a fascinating read, and the drama in it is unbelievable. On that note, let’s talk about Joseph. Really to get a good feel for him, you need to know a little bit about his father Jacob. Jacob is an interesting cat, and we don’t have time to talk about him much.
It’s worth noting that he had 12 sons, and that’s a lot. That’s a lot of boys in the house dragging their muddy shoes in the door, tearing stuff up, leaving the toilet seat up. It’s just a lot of testosterone going on in this house. There are not just the 12 sons, but Jacob had these 12 sons through four different women. It’s not like this divorce and remarriage and divorce and remarriage. Now we have visitation. “You get them on Christmas, and I get them on Thanksgiving.” It’s not that kind of a deal.
Instead, all four of those women lived together in the same house with these 12 sons and this one man, Jacob. This is already feeling a little Jerry Springer-ish. That’s what it is, all right. It’s in the Bible. Here we go. Here’s how this progressed. Jacob married a woman named Leah by accident. It’s ridiculous. He goes to bed one night after the marriage ceremony. He wakes up the next morning, and this woman is not who he had intended to marry. It’s like something out of The Hangover. It’s just ridiculous. “How did I…? We’re married?”
He doesn’t love this woman, but there’re married. They’re in it for the long haul, and she gives him six sons. Especially in this culture, that’s a big deal. That’s like a badge of honor. “I cranked out six boys, so you have to love me some.” Then Jacob is like, “Well, it’s fine and good that I married you, but who I really intended to marry was your sister, Rachel.” So he did. He married Rachel, her sister. This is weird.
Rachel is barren and cannot give children, but she’s Jacob’s dream girl. She’s just ashamed that she can’t have children, and it’s just a badge of dishonor upon her. What she decides to do is she has a servant. She’s going to take this servant and give her to Jacob, and this woman can have children on her behalf. So she goes, “Hey Jacob, take this woman. Let her have children for me.” Jacob says, “All right. Cool. Let’s do it.” This servant gives Jacob two sons.
Leah, not going to be outdone by the favorite wife, says, “Hey, I have a servant, Jacob. Why don’t you take her additionally?” Jacob says, “All right.” This woman gives Jacob two sons additionally. Finally, one day the Lord opens up Rachel’s womb, and she gives Jacob two sons. If you’re counting, that’s 12. The oldest son of Rachel, the favorite wife, that’s Joseph. The oldest son of the favorite wife is Joseph, and he’s the golden boy. Dad loves Joseph, and everybody knows it.
It’s not even just this subtle kind of sibling rivalry where he’ll let Joseph get away with some things, and the brothers not others. It’s on display for the world to see that Jacob loves Joseph, and everybody else is taking a backseat. You just imagine with me. If you’re raising 12 sons, you’re going to be thrifty. If you’re going to clothe these 12 boys, that’s not going to be an easy task. They’re wearing hand-me-downs and thrift-shop clothes.
Then Daddy buys Joseph an Armani jacket. This is inequitable at least. Right? It’s inequitable. The brothers just hate him. “I’m wearing granddad’s clothes. Joseph looks incredible. He’s got his colored robe.” This is ridiculous. They hate this guy. “Daddy loves him, and he hates us, and we’re second-class citizens in this family, because Daddy loves Joseph.”
To make matters worse, God begins to give Joseph these prophetic dreams. These prophetic dreams indicate, “Hey, one day, older brothers, you’re going to bow down and serve your younger brother, Joseph, whom you hate. You’re going to serve him. He’s going to be your master. He’s going to rule over you.” They hate that. “I will not serve him. I will not serve that kid! I will show you service.” That can’t even speak peaceably to him. They hate him.
When Joseph is about 17 years old, he goes out into the field to check on his brothers who are watching sheep. The brothers capitalize on this opportunity, being kind of away from everybody, to get Joseph out of their lives. They take their younger brother, and they sell him into slavery to some traveling merchants. Hear this. He was entered into human trafficking by his brothers as a 17-year-old boy.
We’ve been wronged by our parents or our siblings or our coworkers. I would wager that no one in this room has been sold into human trafficking into a different nation by your family members. I might be wrong, but probably not. He’s sold, and they just really want to get rid of him. They’re not even after the money. They just want to get rid of this kid. They hate him.
They take his coat and tear it up. They throw some blood on it and bring it to Daddy and go, “Hey, we found this. We don’t know.” Jacob knows it’s Joseph’s. He goes into massive, massive mourning, and he is just not going to recover. Meanwhile, while this is going on, Joseph is in route to Egypt, which at this time is the superpower of the world. He begins serving as a slave in Egypt.
He’s a faithful slave. He’s a good slave. He does everything he ought to do. He obeys his master well. One day, his master’s wife accuses him of raping her, at least attempting to rape her, which he never did. He never put his hand to her, but she makes this false accusation against him. Who is the master going to believe, his wife or this foreign slave? He believes his wife, and he has the slave, Joseph, thrown into prison. He gets rid of him.
Joseph, being falsely accused, is in prison. He’s a faithful prisoner. He serves faithfully as a prisoner, and I’m not even sure what that looks like, except that he probably wasn’t shivving people. He just did everything you hope a good prisoner would do. He was put into some authority there. One day, he was even supposed to get out on an early release type of deal, and it just didn’t happen, because he was forgotten about, and he was left to languish in prison for an additional two years.
Suddenly, God pulls him up out of prison and sets him in the court of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh has had these dreams. They bother him. He knows they mean something, but he doesn’t know what they mean, and none of his wise men can tell him what these dreams mean. He hears this guy Joseph in prison can interpret dreams.
He pulls him up, and Joseph says, “Yeah, I know what those dreams mean. God is telling you what’s going to happen. What’s going to happen is we’re about to have seven years where there is a lot of food and seven years where there is a lot of famine, so we should start storing up. We need to store up when it’s good so when it’s bad, we have food to eat.” Pharaoh says, “That’s brilliant. Do it.”
Then he takes Joseph and puts him in the very highest executive level of the government. There is nobody in the nation or the empire of Egypt who has more power than Joseph except for Pharaoh himself. Don’t think vice president of the United States. It’s far greater power and authority than that. He can do anything with anybody that he wants in the entire nation, and there is no one to question him or raise any concern about his desire except for Pharaoh himself, and Pharaoh has said, “Eh, you do what you want. I trust you. You’re a good kid.”
This is an unbelievable amount of authority he has been given. We just have to take a sidestep over here for a minute, because this isn’t the point, but we can’t talk about Joseph in this way I think without acknowledging some realities. Up to this point, Joseph is a victim of his circumstances. I’m hesitant to say that, because I’m kind of a pull yourself up, work hard, you put yourself where you are. That’s kind of my default.
The reality of Joseph is he’s just a victim of his circumstances. He was a faithful son. He did all the things he should have been doing, and then he was sold into slavery against his will at the hand of his brothers. As a slave, he was a faithful slave. He worked hard. He served his master well. He was falsely accused and thrown into prison despite his good deeds, despite his hearty effort. Then in prison, he was forgotten about, left to languish in two years, despite being a faithful and good prisoner.
Then one day, not by his own hand but just by the good and sovereign hand of God, he is pulled up out of prison and set in the court of Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world. He didn’t earn any of those. He didn’t put himself in any of those settings by the work of his own hands. On our end looking back, we can go, “Well yeah. God put him in Pharaoh’s court. God is taking care of him.” Well, he didn’t know that.
He is being dragged away by these slave traders. He doesn’t know what is lying before him in his life. He only knows what he’s leaving. He doesn’t know what’s ahead of him. Yet he’s faithful. Then as he is falsely accused in the midst of faithful service, he doesn’t know what is coming next, but he’s faithful. He’s faithful as he languishes in prison, and he’s faithful as he is in leadership in the country.
For me, this was a real significant passage when I was studying to do ministry, because I was in school full time. I was working part time washing windows that kind of turned into more full time, just without the benefits. I was watching a lot of my classmates and friends get married and go off and do these ministry jobs, which is what I felt called to do from the Lord and what I really wanted to do.
There just weren’t ministry jobs open for me. That wasn’t something that was available to me. I really had a lot of struggle with, “Lord, what are you doing here? I’m being faithful in everything I have put my hand to. I’m not perfect, but I’m trying hard. I just don’t know where you’re putting me. I don’t know why I’m here.” The Lord kind of brought Joseph to mind and was like, “Hey, man. Be faithful where you are. Bloom where you’re planted, because I have you here, and you need to be faithful to me.”
That’s true for us. Regardless of where you are today… Whether you’re in the depths of slavery or at the height of Pharaoh’s court, God has placed you there and calls us to faithfulness. Maybe it is that one day he’ll pull you out of prison and set you in a high place. Maybe he’ll do to you as he had done to John the Baptist who was faithful and was thrown in prison, and the way he got out of prison was by being beheaded for his faithfulness. Regardless, the call is not to success but to faithfulness. Bloom where you’re planted. Be faithful where God set you. I know that’s hard.
Back to the kind of main point story in Genesis. They’re in the seven good years. They’re just raking in the food. Everything is awesome. Everybody is getting fat and happy. They’re storing away this food. The seven bad years begin, and they begin abruptly and harshly. Even in the first year, the Egyptians are out of food, and they’re coming to Joseph. “We need food.” Joseph was in charge of collecting the food. Now he’s in charge of distributing the food.
He begins distributing to the people of Egypt. More so, this famine was not localized simply to Egypt but really spanned the breadth of the Fertile Crescent, which was kind of the majority of civilization at the time. It affected an area called Canaan, which is where Joseph was from. It’s where his brothers and his father lived. They pack up their stuff. They know they’re out of food. They’re on the brink of starvation. They pack up their stuff and make a journey to Egypt to come buy food.
Lo and behold, who is selling grain? Joseph. Except they don’t know who he is. They get to Egypt to buy food from this man, and they don’t know who this man is. He is very different than the picture of when they had last seen him. The last time they saw him, he had been ripped of his jacket. He was humiliated. He was fearful. He was 17, and he was being sold off into slavery.
Now he’s in regal Egyptian attire. He is in charge of everything. He’s speaking the Egyptian language. He is 20 years older. He is a different looking guy. They don’t have any clue who this guy is, and he knows who they are. This is where it gets really juicy. This is where it gets good, because who doesn’t want to be Joseph in this situation? Right? We all fantasize about that. I don’t know. I fantasize about this kind of thing, of, “Man, you wronged me. Let’s recount the ways how you wronged me. I’m pretty good at this.”
They sold their brother into slavery. Whenever they did that… I hope you can feel the weight of this. He was a 17-year-old kid. This is a time period where in our culture for sure, these are like great years. From 17 to 30 are great years. Those are years the brothers rob from him. Instead of him going on and setting up his career, he is in slavery. He is in prison. All the faithfulness he demonstrated toward his brothers, toward his father, toward other local businessmen just didn’t matter anymore. All that stuff was worthless.
All those investments didn’t matter. They were gone. He was going to be a slave. Any education, any skills he had didn’t matter anymore. They were no longer leverage for him to raise himself up into higher categories of society. He was a slave. It’s over for him. Any amount of wealth he had accumulated didn’t matter. He was a slave. Any hopes or dreams he had for the future are gone. They’re just gone. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever see his father again. He doesn’t know if he’ll ever see his brothers again, his hometown. He doesn’t know what’s waiting for him on the other side of that caravan trek. He just doesn’t have a clue.
They rob him of all of this, and then consequently he gets thrown into prison over a false accusation and is left to rot there for several years. Meanwhile, Joseph is blameless. He is blameless before them. He has not wronged them at all. Not only that, but now he is in absolute authority. They show up at his doorstep looking to buy some food, and he’s in absolute authority here. Whatever he wants to do with these men, he can do with them.
If he was like, “You know what. You sold me into slavery. You’re slaves,” his people are going to come take those brothers and haul them off into slavery. No one will ask a question. There will be no court of appeals. “Whatever Joseph says, we’re going to do.” No one is asking questions. There is no one to ask a question except for Pharaoh, and Pharaoh trusts him. If he wants to have them put into slavery, if he wants to kill them, if he wants to torture them, he can do whatever he wants to to these men, and they have no recourse.
They desperately need his help. If Joseph at this point is 37 (that’s roughly where is is, 37 or 39 years old), and he’s young in the spectrum of brothers, that means all of these other brothers are much older. They have children. They have wives. Many of them probably have grandchildren. For them to pack up, leave home to buy food is an indication that things were really bad. It’s not like, “Hey, I’m going to trek out to California to get an In-N-Out Burger because the one in Frisco is just not going to do it for me.”
“There is no food, and if we’re going to survive, we have to go elsewhere to find food. We have to go elsewhere to find food, because there is none. Our wives and our children and our grandchildren are going to starve to death along with us unless we go to Egypt and get some food.” They desperately need Joseph’s favor. They need him to sell food to them, or they and their families will starve to death. They are in a dire situation.
Not even to mention it’s their brother. They need to be reconciled to him because he’s their brother. They need to have that relationship restored. They don’t even recognize that that is their brother, so they don’t even know the fullness of their own need. They come in in this situation. Think about if you were in Joseph’s shoes. That person who has wronged you… Whenever you hear about forgiveness or whenever you hear about somebody wronging you, you just immediately tense up in some areas, because you know there is that person you just begrudge for whatever reason.
Maybe it’s something dumb, or maybe it’s a significant, real evil that was done to you. If you have that person in mind, and you just think, “Man, I’m in Joseph’s shoes. I’m faultless in terms of our disagreement, in terms of the way they’ve wronged me. I’m in absolute authority. I can do anything I want, and no man on earth will question me, and they desperately need my help.” What is your response to that person?
I want to look at what happens when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers, because his brothers know what the response is. Let’s look. Genesis 45:3 says, “And Joseph said to his brothers, ’I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.” Picture it. There are 11 brothers here, and Joseph says, “Hey, I’m Joseph who you sold into Egypt. Is Daddy alive?” That’s a yes-or-no question, and of the 11, no one can give him an answer, because they’re freaking out.
They know, “Oh no!” It all comes crashing down. “Oh, we sold him. He begged us to not sell him. Who knows what has happened between then and now? It has been 20 years, and he’s in charge. Oh, we really needed his help. Oh, we should definitely have just stayed home and taken our chances with the famine. It’s over now. It’s about to end real ugly.” They know exactly what’s coming. Then Joseph gives them his response. Look at verse 4.
“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.’”
In the midst of this situation, Joseph reaches out, and he offers forgiveness. He just says, “Hey, I’m going to release you from that wrong. Yeah, I’m the one you sold into Egypt. You wronged me. We’re not going to pretend like you didn’t wrong me. You wronged me. I forgive you. I’m going to release you from that wrong. I’m not going to require of you the payment for your sins against me.”
I have to be honest. If a guy were to come into my office and say, “Hey, Matt. I just need some advice. I’m having some family issues. My family sold me into slavery. God just really cared for me, and I was taken care of really well. Now I had this opportunity to see my brothers again. I told them I forgive them. I really do. I really forgive them. I just don’t want to see them anymore.” My response would probably be something like, “Man, praise the Lord for that. That sounds real healthy. Praise the Lord that you would be able to forgive such a wrong done to you.” That’s not what Joseph does. I want you to look at what he does next. It’s really unbelievable. In verses 9-11, Joseph says to his brothers:
“Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ’Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’”
He doesn’t give this forgiveness of, “Hey, you know what? I forgive you, and I don’t want to see your face anymore.” Instead he says, “I forgive you. I release you from your wrong, and I want you to come live with me. I want you to go home, pack up your family, pack up those kids, pack up those grandkids, pack up all your goats, and bring them to my house.” I mean, that’s not my default. That’s not where I’m prone to land.
Then he does one further. He does even further than that. “Hey, I forgive you. I want you to come in and be with me, and I am going to take care of you. I’m going to provide for you, because there are still five years of famine remaining, and if you’re left to yourselves, you’re going to go into poverty. You’re not going to make it on your own. Come live at my house, and I’m going to provide for all of your needs for you and your family.”
He says this to these brothers. This is a ridiculous, unbelievable type of forgiveness that’s given here. It’s really, really astounding. What’s more is… The brothers wronged Joseph clearly. I think that’s established. They’ve wronged him, and then he suffers as a result of it. He says, “God sent me here for your benefit.” They wrong Joseph, and then because of their wrongs against him, they’re provided for and blessed.
That, my friends, is not karma. Right? That is not them getting what they deserve. Joseph is a participant in this. “Come in. I’m going to bless you. I’m going to care for you. The reason you sold me into slavery was so that God could provide for you through me. Come live at my house. I’m going to take care of you.” What is this if it’s not a picture of Jesus? What are we if we are not the older brothers? If we’re not those older brothers in this story, then we’re not in this story. I promise.
We, from the very time we’re born, sin against God, rebel against him, say, “You know what, I’m not interested in bowing down to you or following you or obeying your rules. You’re welcome to come help out if you want to come contribute to me. That’s great, but I’m doing my thing over here.” We wrong him and offend him. Then Jesus walks in perfect holiness and perfect righteousness before us, never having wronged us, despite of all of our wrongs done to him.
He says, “I forgive you. I would forgive you and bring you into my family. Bring you in and forgive you and then bless you with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places. Enter in and be blessed.” He’s in this position of absolutely righteous and absolute authority. There is no recourse for any judgment he would put on any of us. There is no court of appeals for God’s judgments. He does what he wants. We absolutely need his help.
We need him because he is our greatest good. We need him because every good gift we have is from him. The breath we’re breathing right now is his air. The food you’re going to eat after the service today is his food. We need reconciliation with him, and we’ve done nothing to obtain it. Jesus comes in and says, “You know what. I forgive you. I would have you come into my family and sit at my table and be with me, and I will provide for you.” It’s astounding.
I would say if you’re in here and you’re an unbeliever, or if you’re maybe just not sure what your relationship with God is like, not sure if God likes you. You just don’t know, man. You don’t know how God thinks about you whenever he does think about you. I would say the offer is on the table. He lays this offer before you and says, “Come in. Be forgiven. Be blessed. Let me provide for you.”
That’s the offer on the table. It would be insanity if those brothers of Joseph had said, “Hey, you know, that’s a pretty cool offer, but I’d rather take my chances in Canaan.” That would just… What? No, you would never do that. Sure, they have just entered into a place where Joseph is in charge, just like the dreams had said, but they’re provided for, and they’re reconciled. They are forgiven. That’s the offer that’s available to you. Right? Be reconciled to God. Be forgiven by God. Be cared for by God.
Sure, God is in charge. He’s ruling over it all, and you’re living in his kingdom now, but he’s allowing you entrance in. Then for the believer, I think this passage just communicates to us that God forgives you and loves you. He has already extended this offer, and you’ve accepted, and you’re in, despite the wrongs you’ve committed against him. You’re in. You’re brought near by his good hand.
Further, this story of Joseph, I think, acts for us as an example of what Christian forgiveness looks like. It’s not the kind of forgiveness I’m prone to participate in. It’s not this, “You know, I’m going to put on a good face, but secretly inside, I’m holding grudges. I’m just looking for an opportunity to passively aggressively jab you.” It’s not, “Hey, you know what? I forgive you. I’m going to release you from that wrong you did to me, as real as it is, but I just don’t want to see you anymore. I don’t want to talk to you anymore.” Unfriend. It’s not that.
It’s like Joseph. It’s like Jesus. It is, “I forgive you. I release you from the wrong. I want you to come in and be near me. I want to be reconciled to you.” I feel like I have to give a disclaimer here. First, there are going to be times, if you’re walking in Christian forgiveness, that you seek out reconciliation, and it’s just not possible. That other person would rather not be reconciled. They either would rather continue to abuse you or harm you, or they don’t want relationship with you.
Relationships aren’t always reconcilable, but as far as it depends on you as a believer, that door is open. “I am willing to reconcile. As soon as that offender turns around and is willing, then we’re in, open arms.” I say that cautiously. I recognize that there are some of you who are in here who have received very real wrongs. Maybe it was from coworkers, or maybe it was from family members or teachers or pastors. Who knows?
I know some of you have received very real wrongs, so I don’t say this lightly. I know there are those people who when you think about them, you just feel nauseous. It’s just a physiological response, right? When you see them, you get clammy and uneasy, and you hate to see them. Yet I would call you to invite them over for dinner, to pursue reconciliation with them. I think that’s the example and the call in Scripture. It’s unbelievably hard.
It only gets harder, because there is that last piece of giving gifts, giving blessings to the offenders. Joseph was wronged by his brothers, and that wrong they committed against him was used to save them and care for them. That just doesn’t feel fair. If you’re a businessman in here, maybe you kind of have this situation where you’re pitching to a client, and you really have a great presentation queued up.
Your competition comes in, and they jack with your presentation, and you blow it. You blow the presentation. Your competitor comes in. They nail the presentation. They get the client. They get the money. They get the acclaim. They wronged you, so they reap the benefit of it. That’s what happens to Joseph, except that he was sold into slavery. There is some distance here.
It just doesn’t feel right. “If I’m going to suffer, I don’t want to suffer for this guy who has offended me. I don’t want to suffer for his good; I want to suffer for my good. I mean, if I’m going to lose sleep, it’s not so he can do well. It’s so I can do well, so I can get a raise, or I can get a promotion. I’m going to get up early so I can get a six pack. It’s not for him.
Maybe I will give of myself over here. The Habitat for Humanity. I’ll swing a hammer, and that might take up some of my time, and I might get tired from that, but whenever I want to be done, I’m just out. No big deal. I’ve got no real skin in the game. But for this guy who has wronged me, to allow that wrong to be used for his good? I just can’t do that. I don’t want to see you helped because you wronged me. What kind of lesson is that teaching you?”
Again, I think it’s the biblical call and example in the life of a believer to forgive in this way. It’s unbelievably hard. That’s actually an understatement. It’s impossible. It’s just impossible. I would submit to you that for God’s children, there is nothing we ever do that honors and pleases the Lord unless it’s done from faith by the power of the Spirit. In these situations where we see this lofty call of forgiveness, it’s so lofty because God is trying to put it out of our reach.
“I can’t do this. I can’t forgive in that way. I can’t be reconciled to this person. I certainly cannot see them blessed and be happy for them. They should pay for what they did to me!” It’s impossible apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, apart from him empowering you and granting you a heart of forgiveness, a heart of reconciliation, a heart of blessing. It’s impossible.
That’s right where the Lord would have us be, on our faces, saying, “God, I can’t do it. I need your help.” I think there are two other truths we can pull out of this that is going to help believers in terms of how to act in this sort of forgiveness, how to live out this sort of forgiveness. One is that in the same way we have been forgiven, we ought to forgive.
This is something that if you have been in church very long, you have heard this. Even if you have not been in church, you’ve probably heard this. Forgive like you’ve been forgiven. Colossians 3:12-13 says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
I just really think that if we can get our hearts and our minds around the guilt we carry, how guilty we really are, and if we could get our hearts and our minds around how generous God has really been to us in forgiving and in drawing us in and giving us good gifts, I think if we could really feel the weight of that, then that person cutting us off in traffic is a lot more manageable. That person who humiliated us in middle school… I can get past that.
That person who has abused me and the power of the gospel, because I have been forgiven horrific wrongs, I can forgive that abuse. I will not pretend like that’s quick or easy, but by the power of God in the gospel, it’s possible. I think the other piece that helps us in motivations for forgiveness is seen really clearly in the life of Joseph. In Genesis 50:20, he says to his brothers, “Hey, you intended evil for me, but God intended it for good.”
He’s saying, “We’re not going to pretend like there is not a problem here. You did evil to me. Right? It was evil.” It was. It was evil. “But God intended it for good.” Joseph has this deep-seated confidence in the sovereignty of God and in the goodness of God. What I think Joseph is telling his brothers is something kind of comparable to this.
“Hey guys, when you sold me into slavery and humiliated me and threw my dignity in the dirt and ruined my future and crushed my hopes and dreams, when you had no concern for my wellbeing and just wanted to get rid of me, you just didn’t have the final say. You didn’t have the final say about how my life was going to end up, and you don’t have the final say about where my dignity lies. You don’t have the final say about where my joy is going to be and whether or not I’m going to have a joy-filled life. You don’t get the final say in that. The Lord has the final say, and he is good and trustworthy and in charge.”
He has the final say, and that gives us so much hope and so much opportunity to forgive those who have wronged us whenever we realize, “They don’t define me; God does.” For my family and me, the last 18 months have been some of the more difficult in my life. My wife gave birth to twins about 16 months ago, and they’re awesome and really challenging. Just about a month and a half into them being born, my wife got really ill. All of the hopes and desires she had for being a stay-at-home mom and raising up these kids and play dates… This stuff just wasn’t going to happen. She just didn’t have the bandwidth for it.
We found ourselves being in a real place of need, and for me, I found my heart in a real place of bitterness toward my wife. I just kind of thought, “God, why would you give me this woman and make her sick like this? There are all these things I want to do for you, all these side projects. God, you’re depriving me of time with my friends and depriving me of sleep. I’m tired of midnight feedings, and I’m tired of changing diapers instead of reading, which I love. I’d really like to watch a television show, but I can’t, because I have to do bath time. I’d like to write a book, but I can’t, because I don’t have the bandwidth. That’s kind of her fault.”
That’s just what was in my heart. The reality is she never wronged me. She didn’t ever do anything to wrong me, but I did suffer on account of her. Life was hard. In that… The Lord is just so gracious to me. He said, “Matt, this sickness does not define you. It does not determine your outcome. It does not determine your worth. It does not determine the trajectory of your life. It feels like it does, man. It feels like this sickness is everything in life, but it doesn’t. I am the sovereign God. I am in charge. You can trust me. I have the final say.”
I’ll just tell you that wherever you’re at… I know we all walk through seasons where we’re in a place we don’t want to be. “God, get me out of here.” God has the final say, and he can be trusted, even in the most dire of circumstances. I think for all of us… All of us walked in this room needing to participate in reconciliation. Either we need to have our wrongs forgiven by God. We need to be brought into his community, into his fellowship, into his family. We need to be reconciled to him. We need the blessing from his hand.
Maybe we need the forgiveness of someone else. Maybe we need to be reconciled to a spouse. Maybe we need to extend reconciliation and forgiveness to a child or to a divorced spouse or to a parent or to a teacher or to a pastor or to a home group leader or a coworker. The list goes on and on, right? I mean, there is no shortage of wrongs in this room, wrongs given and wrongs received. There is just no shortage.
I just want to pray for us. I want to pray for you, pray that the gospel would penetrate your heart so much that it affects the way you view your relationship with God and it affects the way you forgive others. If you would, just bow your heads and pray with me.
Father God, we do need you. We need you first to forgive us and draw us into a relationship with you. God, we need you, after that point, to enable us to forgive those who have wronged us, whether they be small wrongs and we’re just holding onto something stupid, or if they are severe, striking, deep wrongs that it seems like there is no way to recover from. God, we need your help.
I pray you would help these men, these women, these children that they might live lives of reconciliation and forgiveness, giving to those even who have wronged them. I pray your Spirit would empower them, because I just confess that a sermon will not. Inward motivation will not. Only your Spirit can sustain that long road of forgiveness and reconciliation. Please help. I pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.