Payback or Pardon

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  I hope that you will put on your calendar our annual cookout at Peterson Park, next Sunday afternoon from 5-8pm.  Come and grab a sandwich and bring your best dish to share – and don’t forget your lawn chairs, and plan on meeting someone new.

This morning we are in our third week of a five week peek at the life of Joseph.  There are two famous Joseph’s in the bible – The Joseph who married Mary, the mother of Jesus – that we read about in the Christmas story.  But this Joseph lived almost two thousand years before.  We read about him in the book of Genesis – the very first book in the bible.

Although it’s difficult to pin down the exact dates, biblical archeologists suggest that Joseph was in Egypt 1875 BC.

The beauty of narratives, like the one we are reading today, is that even though the events happened 4000 years ago, much of what we read is easily applicable to us today.  Narratives like this invite us into the story.  We can find ourselves asking – what would I do if I were in their shoes?

This morning we are going to look at three significant choices from three different characters in the story.  Three choices that brought about healing from the past and hope for the future.

There is power in the choices we make.  The decisions we make will determine much of our destiny.  Check out this quote from C.S. Lewis, in his great masterpiece called Mere Christianity.  Lewis writes,

Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is . . . joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, and rage….  Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.    Mere Christianity

Today we will read about three people who made selfless choices that brought about healing and hope.  And as we read this story remember to ask ourselves, what decision might I have made if I were in their shoes.  And perhaps their lives would inspire us to make good and godly decisions – helping us progress in the right direction.

To catch you up.  We discover in Genesis 37 that Joseph grows up in a dysfunctional home, where his father, Jacob, spoils and coddles Joseph, making him his favored son, which naturally leads to great animosity from his ten older half brothers, who in fact grow to hate Joseph so much that they plan on killing him in the desert.

Instead, “it just so happened”, that Ishmaelite traders were passing by at that moment, and the brothers sell him off for 20 pieces of silver.

Joseph ends up a slave in Egypt where he is wrongfully accused of trying to accost the wife of his master, and is unjustly sent to prison.

While in prison he successfully interprets a dream of a man who was the cup-bearer to the King.   Joseph tells him, good news in three days you will be back at work in Pharaoh’s courts.  And it all came about exactly as Joseph had predicted.

Two years later, Pharaoh wakes up with a terrible dream that no one seems able to interpret.  The cup-bearer tells Pharaoh about Joseph, the guy who interprets dreams correctly.

Suddenly, Joseph is standing before Pharaoh, listening to him tell his dream.  Joseph informs him that there will be seven years of abundant crops, followed by seven years of intense famine.  And Joseph tells Pharaoh to prepare for it by hoarding grain during the years of plenty, so that there will be adequate supplies during the years of famine.

Pharaoh says, good idea and puts Joseph in charge of it.  So Joseph is now second in command of Egypt.

Meanwhile, back in Israel, when the famine hits, it hits Joseph’s family hard.  And we pick up the story here in chapter 42…  When Jacob heard that grain was available in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why are you standing around looking at one another? I have heard there is grain in Egypt. Go down there, and buy enough grain to keep us alive. Otherwise we’ll die.”

Ah Jacob – still the encourager.  Such a doting and loving father.  Whatcho mooks doin just sitting here doing nothing!

So off the brothers go – all but one.  Who gets left behind?  Joseph’s only full brother – Benjamin, who has taken over the favored son role that Joseph once held.  So these ten older brothers head to Egypt to buy grain.

Since Joseph was governor of all Egypt and in charge of selling grain to all the people, it was to him that his brothers came. When they arrived, they bowed before him with their faces to the ground. 

Now this is not an insignificant event- if you go back in the beginning of the story in Genesis 37, you will see that Joseph dreamed that his brothers would bow before him one day.  And he brashly announced it to his brothers, but Joseph doesn’t jump out and say – aha!  I told you!

Joseph recognized his brothers instantly, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where are you from?” he demanded.

Two questions that you might be asking yourself.  First – how could the brothers not recognize Joseph immediately?

Well, by now Joseph was probably 40 years old.  He was sold into slavery at 17.  It’s been more than 20 years.  And Joseph is dressed like an Egyptian now.  Speaking Egyptian, so even though he understands every word they are saying in Hebrew, he is using a translator.  The idea that their snot nose brother could become the prime minister of Egypt would have never ever crossed their mind.

Second Question:  Why doesn’t Joseph come right out and say, “It’s me, Joseph!”  Is Joseph being mean or cruel?  Is he toying with them?

And the beautiful thing here in this narrative is that we don’t know.  The story doesn’t really tell us why Joseph does what he does.  It makes us wonder.  What would YOU do if you were Joseph?

I’m not sure that Joseph knows exactly what he should do.   He is being confronted with people who deeply wounded him.  He is in the position of being able to exact revenge for their foul treatment of him.

What would YOU do where you in the position of choosing to exact revenge on someone who wounded you?  Would you could choose mercy or choose payback?

The first thing Joseph decides to do is conceal his identity.  So he acts like the second in command in Egypt would act.  He speaks harshly to them.  He accuses them of being spies sent to check out the land.   In fact, he throws them into prison for three days.

Remember now that Joseph probably sat in prison for three years or longer – but after three days he releases them from prison.  And it seems that perhaps in those three days Joseph hatched a scheme to find out if his brothers are any different than they were two decades ago when they sold Joseph into slavery.

Joseph lays out three tests for his brothers to see what kind of human beings they have turned out to be.

The first test?  Are his brothers honest men?  We didn’t read it but in verse 11 the brothers tell Joseph – “We aren’t spies, we are honest men, sir.”

Oh really?  Okay- Joseph will find out.

When the brothers eventually leave Egypt on their way back to Israel, Joseph fills their carts with sacks of grain.  But little do the brothers know that Joseph had taken the silver which they used to buy the grain, and hidden that silver inside the sacks of grain.  It’s not until the brothers empty the bags of grain that they realize they still had their money.

Well, to their credit, the next time they have to go back to Egypt, they bring all of that silver with them, along with more to buy the second lot of grain.  So they pass the first test – they were honest with their money.

The second test was a test for jealousy.

Here’s how it worked out.  The first time the brothers visited Joseph, they told him that they had another brother, named Benjamin.  Benjamin was the only full blood brother of Joseph.

So Joseph very cleverly devised a plan to get the brothers to bring Benjamin to him in Egypt.  Before the brothers left the first time, Joseph took one of the brothers, Simeon, and put him in prison.  And Joseph said, the next time I see you you had better bring this Benjamin or Simeon will never leave prison and we will never sell you more grain.

Great scheme.  Joseph knows that there are still five more years of drought, and he knows they will have to come back.

And they do.  After much wrangling with the Father, he eventually lets his new favorite son Benjamin go to Egypt, after promises and deals from the brothers – who guaranteed his safe travel home.

So when Benjamin shows up in Egypt, Joseph arranges a meal at his home for his brothers and when it comes time to eat Joseph tells his servants to make sure Benjamin, the youngest, got five times more food than anyone else at the table.

Would the brothers respond with jealousy?  Would they treat Benjamin with contempt and scorn?  Would they be irate, incensed?  But there is none of that.  The men enjoy eating and drinking and there is no sign whatsoever of jealousy or contempt from the brothers toward Benjamin.

The third test is the biggest.  Joseph once again loads them up with grain, and the brother’s head out of town.  But Joseph had set Benjamin up.  He had hidden a silver goblet in one of Benjamin’s sacks.  As the men head out of town Joseph sends the military after the brothers, who discover the goblet in Benjamin’s possession.

Although only Benjamin is arrested, all the brothers return to Egypt.  And when they prepare before Joseph Judah steps up.

16 Judah answered, “Oh, my lord, what can we say to you? How can we explain this? How can we prove our innocence? God is punishing us for our sins. My lord, we have all returned to be your slaves—all of us, not just our brother who had your cup in his sack.”

17 “No,” Joseph said. “I would never do such a thing! Only the man who stole the cup will be my slave. The rest of you may go back to your father in peace.”

Now what has Joseph done here?  What’s the test?  The test is to find out if the brothers were truly repentant or just feeling guilty.

See, Joseph is listening into the brother’s conversation.  And anytime things get tough on them, they say, “God is paying us back for the way we treated Joseph.”  the brothers feel guilty for the way they treated Joseph some 23 years ago.

But there is a difference between feeling guilty and being repentant.  Repentance brings with it a change of action.  Not just guilty feelings.  The one who is truly repentant will follow a different course when given another opportunity.

Joseph has brilliantly arranged the exact scenario that caused the brothers to sell him into slavery.  He wants to know if the brothers will sacrifice Benjamin in order to save their skins.  Will they leave Benjamin in Egypt in order to get the grain back to Israel?

And what happens18 Then Judah stepped forward and said, “Please, my lord, let your servant say just one word to you.

 Note that it’s Judah who steps forward – the same Judah who stepped up when Joseph was in the well back in Genesis 37 and said, “Let’s sell the boy as a slave!” It’s the Judah who betrayed Joseph who steps up, and says…

30 “I cannot go back to my father without the boy. Our father’s life is bound up in the boy’s life. 31 If he sees that the boy is not with us, our father will die. We, your servants, will indeed be responsible for sending that grieving, white-haired man to his grave. 32 My lord, I guaranteed to my father that I would take care of the boy. I told him, ‘If I don’t bring him back to you, I will bear the blame forever.’ 

33 “So please, my lord, let me stay here as a slave instead of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers.  

Judah is the first of our three people in the story, who makes a choice that brings about healing and hope. God has provided him a second chance to make the right decision.  And he nails it!

It’s a beautiful thing to serve the God of another chance.

How gracious of God to provide Judah the opportunity of another chance.  He gave Judah a chance to feel more than just guilty- he gave Judah the chance to demonstrate the change in his heart.  And when Judah sees his chance to do the right thing, he jumps right into it.

Have you ever in your life wished you had another chance to make something right?  Well, through faith in Jesus you will begin to serve the God of another chance.  He is able to make all things right.  God is the God of another chance.

Judah makes the most of his second chance.  He selflessly offers himself in place of Benjamin.  And by doing so, Judah becomes the first person in scripture to willingly offer his own life for another.  He demonstrates his love for his father by willingly offering himself up as a sacrifice for his brother.

It’s these selfless words that finally breaks down any barriers remaining between Joseph and his brothers.  He is broken.  He begins sobbing.

He clears the room of all other Egyptians, and comes clean to his brothers.

“I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt.But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. 

Now let’s talk about the second character in this story who makes a decision that brings healing, hope, and reconciliation.  That person is obviously Joseph.

What would you have done in Joseph’s shoes?  Consider the choices that Joseph faced.  He had it in his power to do anything he desired to do to his brothers.

Joseph faced the decision to be vengeful, or to be merciful.  He had it in his grasp to exact revenge.  And who would have blamed him.

How many movies have you seen that end with vengeance?  Why do we love Gladiator, My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius!  Father to a murdered son, husband to a murder wife, and I shall have my vengeance!  Yea!

Now why do we like that kind of movie?   And because there’s something inside all of us who like to see evildoers get what’s coming to them.

What would you do if you were in Joseph’s shoes?  Wouldn’t you at least, while they are bowing down to you, say – “Told you so!”  You like figs?  How you like them figs!

There’s something inside of us that relishes payback.  Yet Joseph chooses mercy instead of revenge.  He chooses to humble himself instead of humiliating his brothers.

Joseph displays something that the world sees so little of – he chose to display grace.

Do you have anyone in your life you would life to Lord over?  That you would like to be able to exact revenge upon?  Can you imagine becoming the kind of person who displays grace instead?

I wonder if that thought doesn’t keep people from following Jesus.  The idea of laying down your right for vengeance?  Oh but Grace heals so many wounds!  Including our own.

Maybe you aren’t ready to display grace to the one who injured you yet, it took Joseph time.  It might take you time as well.  But one thing that I appreciate about Joseph is that he gets to the point where he is ready to forgive.

I don’t think Joseph started with this thought.  He didn’t start with the idea that God was working through their sin.  He starts by throwing them in prison, remember?  But somewhere along the way Joseph allows God to remove the callous from his heart, and he makes a choice to be graceful, not vengeful.

Joseph chose mercy and grace instead of revenge and retribution.  And in doing so, Joseph, like his brother Judah, makes a selfless decision that brings about healing and hope and reconciliation.

And this leads us to the third character that we find in the pages of this story.  And although His name does not appear in the pages of this story, his figure looms in the background of the entire story.

The third character in this story is Jesus.  Do you see Jesus in the story of Joseph and Judah?

2000 years before Jesus was born, we see the work of Jesus prefigured in the story of Joseph.

We see Jesus in the life of Judah.  By the way, Jesus hails from the house of Judah.  Jesus is a descendant of Judah.  The Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

Judah prefigures the work of Jesus.   Judah, out of love for his father, willingly offers himself as a sacrifice in order to save the life of his brother.  Judah offered it – and that was enough for Joseph.

Jesus, does more than offer his life – He actually does lay down his life as a substitutionary sacrifice.  He takes our place.  The punishment that brought us peace was laid upon him.  He willingly did this.

John 15:13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 

Joseph also prefigures Jesus.  Some of the details of Joseph’s life foreshadow Jesus’.  Joseph, like Jesus, is sold for silver.  Joseph, like Jesus, was unjustly accused – betrayed – and suffered at the hands of evil men.

Joseph goes through all of that in order to – save Egypt, save his Israel.

Jesus goes through all of that in order to provide salvation for all who would reach out to him and receive him by faith.  Do you see Jesus in the story of Joseph?

We’ve talked about three characters making decisions that brought healing, and hope, and wholeness and peace.

No decision brought more to the world than Jesus’ decision to willingly lay down his life in order to throw open the entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.

And no decision will bring more healing and wholeness, and hope and peace to your world than the decision you make to trust Jesus with your life.

Our goal at Journey is to help you think highly enough of Jesus to trust him.  To invite him to govern the days of your life.

What awaits?  Peace with God.  Forgiveness of sins.  A new chapter.  A fresh start.

How does one do this?  Well, since it’s a relationship and not religion, you talk to God.  Prayer – simple words.  Easy to understand.  You say, I’m ready to trust Jesus.  Please forgive me for my sins – my stubborn desire to run my own show.  Teach me how to live the kind of life Jesus teaches me I can live.  I am making a decision today to follow Jesus.  Amen.


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