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Freed from Guilt September 17, 2017

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Genesis 50:15-21

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

September 17, 2017

 

Focus:  God forgives even our guilt.

Function:  That the hearers bear no grudges, either of their own guilt or another’s against them.

Structure:  Sermon Outline by Rev. Paul Philp.

 

Freed from Guilt

 

Our text today comes from the Old Testament reading out of the book of Genesis.  We find an account of eleven brothers who expect death.  They expect to receive the death penalty at the hands of the man second in command over all of Egypt.

Many years prior, when Joseph was still just a boy, he started to have dreams of authority, dreams that said that he would one day see his brothers bow down at his feet.  For one of the youngest of twelve sons, that was probably pretty enticing.  And he certainly gloated about it, on more than one occasion.

And while his father, Jacob, was perplexed by these ideas, his brothers weren’t very pleased.  Dad’s favoritism surely didn’t help, nor did that beautiful and luxurious cloak that dad gave to Joseph.  So, over the course of time, they grew to hate their brother, they came to despise Joseph.

Until one day when they saw an opportunity.  They were working out in the fields, and saw Joseph approaching and began to dream up ways to get rid of him.  To put an end to his gloating, to his favored status in the home.

At first, they were going to kill him.  But the oldest, the heir of the house, Reuben, convinced his brothers to spare Joseph.  And so, instead of killing him, they lowered him into a cistern, a giant hole in the ground, perhaps even a well.

The brothers then sat down for a meal, and as they were eating, they noticed a caravan off in the distance. A travelling group of slave traders related to their great uncle Ishmael.  The Scriptures don’t say where Reuben was, just that he wasn’t there and wasn’t aware.  And so, in his absence, the brothers decided to make a little coin, to make a profit off of their hatred.  Rather than kill Joseph, they could both get rid of him, and make some money.  It was a win-win, for them at least.

Obviously, they never expected to see Joseph again.  Nor did they care.  They were just willing to kill him, so they certainly didn’t care what happened to him as a slave in some other land.  So from the perspective of the brothers, we can skip over most of the life of Joseph.

Joseph is sold as a slave to Potiphar of Egypt and then winds up in prison.  After being God’s spokesman to Pharaoh in the interpretation of some dreams, Joseph is given a position of authority, as second in command over the land of Egypt.  He’s tasked with managing the abundance of food for seven years of feasting, that the people would still have food come the seven years of famine.

As the famine years began, food grew scarce.  And not just in Egypt, but even the surrounding lands, including the land of Canaan where Joseph’s father Jacob and the rest of his brothers lived.  So Jacob sends the brothers to Egypt, not just once, but twice to buy food for their family. It isn’t until their second visit that Joseph reveals himself to them.

Where would they be?  Having just seen their brother’s face, knowing what they’d done to him, and now the position of power and authority that he had over them.  The food was his.  He literally was in the position to watch them starve to death or simply have them killed.

But that’s not what Joseph does.  Instead, Joseph forgives and feeds them.  He even invites them to move down to the neighboring land of Goshen with the hopes of seeing his father again.  It’s been a good solid twenty years at least.

But after several more years pass, Jacob dies.  And the brothers fear Joseph, again.  They doubt his forgiveness to them.  They question if he wasn’t just being nice to them for the sake of dad, to keep the family together.  And now, with dad no longer there to protect them, they feared Joseph would get revenge against them for their wickedness.

That’s our text today.  They come up with a ridiculous lie to get Joseph to forgive them.  Their guilt from sins decades ago still haunts them.  For no reason.  Joseph has already forgiven his brothers.  And even now, they still live in that state of forgiveness.  There’s no grudge.  There’s no plot of revenge.  But again, Joseph had to speak kindly to them and comfort them, reassuring them of his forgiveness for them.

There are multiple angles of law in this text.  The first is guilt.  Guilt is the result of a conscience, of God writing His law, His commands upon our hearts.  And so when we sin, when we break God’s law, failing in our vocations, abandoning our responsibilities, we feel guilt.

This is what the brothers wrestled with, as do we.  We can all think of things in our past, mistakes made, friends hurt, neighbors neglected.  We aren’t really capable of forgetting our sins.  And the devil and our sinful flesh love to use this against us.

Many of us here today can identify one or more of those things that still make us feel guilty.  For the words you said to your parents as you rejected their authority.  For the pain you inflicted on your friend when you betrayed their trust.  Even for dumb sins we did decades ago.  We still hold onto that guilt.

Another law angle on this same topic, though, is: why?  What did the brothers actually fear?  They feared Joseph’s retaliation.  They couldn’t trust the forgiveness of their brother.  We’ve done that.  We’ve earned that.

We have held the grudges.  Sometimes for decades.  Sometimes dividing families so that they never speak again.  And so the person who feels the guilt of their sin fears coming to us.  They fear confessing their sin to us because we’ve held it against them before.  Because we’ve acted on revenge before.  Because we heard the words, “I’m sorry, please forgive me,” and we rejected them.  We chose to hold on to our betrayal and our hurt, and in our pride, we only furthered, only deepened the pain and the anguish and the guilt and the despair of our neighbor.

That’s what the brothers expected: revenge, punishment.  They expected it because it was what they were used to.  That was the way things work.  It’s still the way things work.  In this world.

But not before God.  Joseph is a type, a foreshadowing, of Christ.  The way he responded to his brothers, to their wickedness, and even to their guilty conscience was the way that Christ responds to us.  Joseph endured the pain and the loss and the suffering of his brothers’ betrayal.  He spent years as a slave, many in what we could only imagine being spent in miserable conditions.  But in doing so, he wasn’t plotting revenge.  He forgave his brothers.

Christ endured our betrayal.  It was our betrayal, our sin, our guilt that sent Him, willingly, that He willingly hung on the cross.  That He didn’t seek out revenge, He didn’t seek to get even, He only muttered the words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

Jesus Christ in His sacrifice for us overcomes our sins.  He took them from us.  He bore them upon Himself.  We are free.  We are freed from our grudges that we hold against others.  We can give them up.  Like Joseph, we are free to forgive one another and to break the shackles of hatred and despair.  We are free to be reconciled with all people.  Christ did that for us.

Still yet, it’s not just our grudges that He forgives.  It’s all of our sins.  And so that guilt that you’ve been carrying around since you were seven, that guilt is on Him.  He carries that burden for you.  You don’t have to.  If you’re still carrying it, pray.  Ask the Lord to take it from you.  Ask the Lord to grant you reconciliation, to bring forgiveness into your broken relationship, with whoever that may be.  Ask the Lord to wipe away all grudges and all guilt.  Because He has and He does.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, hear the beautiful words of the Apostle Paul as he greeted the church in Corinth:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

“Our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord.”  In Christ, you and I are guiltless.  He took them, all of it, for us.  For you and for me.  As Joseph’s brothers came to realize that his forgiveness was genuine, and they trusted in him again, so we too, can know that in Christ’s death and resurrection, that His forgiveness of all our sins is genuine.  And we are indeed guiltless.

 

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