I like campfires. They are mesmerizing. It’s fun to sit around and chat. Who doesn’t love a good smore? But one thing I don’t love is getting smoke in my eyes. (You?) And…well…I’m kind of a wimp so I will get to complaining to Julianna: “There’s smoke in my eyes. I don’t like it.” And she’ll say: “Back up a bit.” Because they reality is that the closer you are to the campfire, the more smoke you’ll get in your eyes for no other reason than proximity.
The same is true with people. The closer you are to them the more of their sin you get on you. It’s why I tell couples when they are about to get married that the reality is their spouse is going to be one of the people that they sin against most in their lifetime. Not because they like them least, but because of sheer proximity.
That’s a fairly negative perspective on family.
But with God’s help we can turn it into a positive.
Today we will apply a Biblical teaching to teach us the importance of forgiveness in a household. Before we do, join me in prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Story of Joseph
Our lesson starts with a very large family in the book of Genesis. There’s a dad named Jacob and he has (count them) 12 sons. Joseph is the youngest. Joseph has dreams of one day being very important. Joseph regularly tells his brothers about these dreams and Joseph gets away with it; because Joseph is also his dad’s favorite.
In fact, Jacob had a tendency to make his favoritism a bit obvious. For instance, he once bought Joseph a very special multicolored coat. That’s different than the normal clothing of the day. Usually people wore browns and greys—and that’s what the other sons wore. But Jacob loved Joseph that much. He got him the fancy colored coat – Problem? He didn’t do that for any of his other sons. (That’d be like going to Giorgio Armani suit for one child and gifting all the other kids a few things from the clearance rack at Goodwill.)
Guess what? The other brothers were jealous. So jealous that one day as they were tending the flocks in the field – they see Joseph approaching and made a plan:
Here comes that dreamer! Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him! (Genesis 3:19)
But cooler heads prevail.
They decide not to kill him.
That wouldn’t be very brotherly.
Instead, they jump him, throw him in the pit, sell him as a slave, and tell dad some animal killed him.
Fast forward twenty something years. There is a severe famine in the land. It’s been going on for years. The ten brothers are sent from their homeland to Egypt. Because in Egypt, there’s a young ruler who anticipated the food shortage and has been collecting food in storage bins for 7 years. As a result, he has been able to carefully and appropriately ration out the food to all of Egypt.
The brothers get there.
They bring plenty of silver along with them.
And they bow before the sight of this ruler.
And the ruler seems – oddly familiar. They can’t quite place their finger on it. But it’s like they’ve seen him from somewhere.
A former neighbor? A former classmate?
Did he used to play on the rec league softball team? No.
It’s only after he provides all the food necessary for them, gives them their money back, makes the odd command that they bring their youngest brother back here next time they need food – that the ruler reveals who he is.
The brother that they left for dead.
And he hugs them and is excited to speak with them and cries over them and asks them to bring their father to Egypt so that he can see him and promises to provide them a place to live and gives plenty of food to be taken care of.
And the brothers are in shock…but they oblige.
And things go well.
And Joseph seems happy.
And everything seems cool.
But then, their dad dies.
And the brothers get extremely nervous.
Because they figure, the only reason that Joseph hasn’t gotten revenge on them yet is because of their father. With him out of the way, Joseph can have them ambushed, thrown into a pit and sold as slaves.
Revenge is coming.
So, they get together and concoct a letter. (It’ s the Old Testament version of an apology text.) “Joseph, your father left these instructions before he died; ‘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 forgives the sins of the servants of the God of your Father.” (50:17)
And for good measure they follow up the letter by coming to Joseph’s throne room and throwing themselves at his feet.
He doesn’t whip them.
He doesn’t have them thrown into prison.
He doesn’t start laughing an evil villain laugh.
“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Don’t be afraid; I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (50:19-21)
In other words -- he forgave them.
They mobbed him, beat him, threw him in a pit, sold him into slavery and banished him from his father for over 20 years!
And he forgave them.
Simple as that.
II. Why Forgive?
You might not have been mobbed by your 10 brothers and sold into slavery but…perhaps you can relate to Joseph. Maybe your family has hurt you…badly.
You screen their phone calls.
You give your spouse the cold shoulder.
You don’t want to be at the family reunion that they are at.
To be fair, the hurt can be real. Whether it’s awful words, sexual infidelity, repeated lies, stealing money or verbal abuse…
It hurts deep.
Yet the story of Joseph teaches us to forgive. Here are three reasons:
1. You aren’t God
This was Joseph’s first reason for not getting revenge on his brothers. Even though he was second in command of all of Egypt – and anything he told those Egyptian soldiers to do, they would do – without any questions asked or moral judgment given.
Yet Joseph says this, “Am I God?” I may be second in command of Egypt, but God is first in command of everything. I’m in charge of handing out food to all the surrounding regions, but I’m not in charge of handing out divine judgment. My realm is food; God’s realm is judgment.
Joseph didn’t seek revenge because Joseph wasn’t God.
What about you?
Are you God?
I didn’t want to be assumptive and assume that any of you weren’t God so I’ve developed a bit of a quiz that will help you determine if you are in fact God. Pay attention and I want you to mark a brief tally mark any time the answer to the question is yes.
Do you know where the lightning bolts are stored and can you hurl one without getting electrocuted?
Can you control the paths of hurricanes as they head towards the U.S.?
Can you turn all of the rain drops into Snickers bars by snapping your fingers?
Do your list of accomplishments include creating the universes, saving humanity, and holding the planets in orbit?
Can you blow me over simply by waving your hands like this at me right now…Go ahead. Try it. I’ll wait.
If you didn’t answer “yes” to all of those questions, guess what? You aren’t God.
That means you aren’t in charge of divine retribution for sin.
2. God Commanded You to Forgive
The brothers had a point when they approached Joseph with their mercy plea. They said, “Your father left these instructions…forgive your brothers.” (v.16) Now whether their biological dad Jacob did or not…I don’t know. But the reality is that Joseph’s father did demand forgiveness.
In fact, Matthew 18:35 says this, “Forgive from the heart.” That’s Jesus talking. Jesus, who made the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame walk. Jesus who stopped storms, walked on water and raised the dead. Jesus who was and is God.
God commanded you to forgive from the heart.
Which means – if you don’t forgive, it’s not just their sin that we’re talking about anymore.
Suddenly, it’s yours.
Yes, the sins that they did to you might be big, might hurt a lot, might hurt a lot, a lot, a lot.
But there’s no caveat here. God requires his people to forgive.
Which is hard.
It’s hard to forgive someone from the heart when your heart is filled with so much hurt.
That’s why it’s so important to remember the third reason to forgive:
3. Forgive because God Forgave You
Jesus tells the following story:
There was a man who borrowed money from his C.E.O. He owed him over one million dollars. When the time came from him to pay off his debt, the C.E.O. called him into the office and asked for the money. He didn’t have it. So, the C.E.O. threatened to charge him with fraud which would land him in jail. The man threw himself on the floor in a pitiful display of begging: “I don’t have the money. Not now. But I can work it off. I promise. I’ll do anything. Just don’t put me in prison. Have mercy.”
And the C.E.O. did.
Not by extending the due date.
Not by setting up a payment plan.
But by erasing the debt – all 1 million dollars of it.
Later that day he went down to the pub to celebrate. While he was there he found a fellow employee who stilled owed him a couple hundred of dollars from a loan he gave him to pay his rent a few months back.
The guy walks over. He pins him to the wall. He holds him by the throat and demands his money back.
His friend says he doesn’t have it. He begs for mercy. He begs for forgiveness.
But the man doesn’t relent. Not having that couple hundred dollars hurts. And he must have it back!
A couple of his coworkers watch this take place. A few of them record it on their smart phones. They message it to their boss.
The next day – the C.E.O. calls him in. “How dare you! Didn’t I forgive you a million bucks? Yet you won’t forgive this guy for much less? Guess what. The paperwork isn’t finalized. You still owe me my money. I’ll see you in court.”
In other words.
God forgave you.
Won’t you forgive others?
Because the reality is no matter how much someone has sinned against you, it fails miserably in comparison to how much you have sinned against God.
Because a small percentage (5%) of sins that your family has done has been against you.
But every sin that you have done has been against God.
Jesus Christ lived perfectly when you couldn’t.
Jesus Christ died innocently in your place.
Jesus Christ rose triumphantly for the forgiveness of your sins.
God promises –through faith in Jesus, you are forgiven.
Nothing left to pay.
No revenge left to be had.
No grudges by God being held.
If God doesn’t hold a grudge against you for any of your millions of sins against him, why hold a grudge against…anyone?
Forgive as in Christ God has forgiven you.
III. What Now?
When it comes to forgiveness and applying it, the Bible has some wisdom.
1. Look at God (not at the sin)
I remember a while back there was a Facebook post that someone wrote in response to a devotional thought I had which essentially called me a big MORON for believing in Jesus. It bugged me. I kept looking it up to see if they changed their mind or decided to write something nice. Nope. They just continued to be mean. And guess what! Every time I looked at it…I only got madder!
Sometimes that’s how we approach this forgiveness thing. We spend minutes, hours, weeks, years…thinking about what that person did wrong to us and guess what – we only get madder!
Stop looking at the sin.
Start looking at your God.
That’s what Joseph did! He saw God’s hand in what happened. He saw God’s love. He saw God’s forgiveness. So, he forgave his brothers.
If you need help with forgiveness, focus on the cross.
You’ll stop seeing the sin;
And start seeing your Savior.
And once you see your Savior, then you’ll see the good.
2. See the Good in the Situation
Joseph did just that. He saw the sin – but he also saw God’s hand in using that sinful situation for good. If he hadn’t been thrown into slavery, the chain of events never would have been started that eventually led to his position as second in command which allowed him to save up food for thousands and save thousands of lives!
With God in your line of sight, rather than sin – suddenly you will see the good. Granted that good might not be a position second in command to the President of the United States. But there will still be good.
“They sinned against me and I had to turn to the Bible and lean on God’s forgiveness and God grew my faith. Thanks God.”
Or “He sinned against me and I have the awesome opportunity to show my spouse the kind of love Jesus has for me.”
See the good.
See the opportunity.
See the opportunity to show God which is good.
And as a result? Joseph and his brothers live in peace. A God empowered peace – but an awesome peace of forgiveness.
May God work the same forgiveness in your hearts and in your families – may you live in peace. Amen.