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TEXT: Genesis 45:24
SUBJECT: Forgiven, Forgiving
The People of God can be divided into two categories: those who feel guilty and those who make others feel guilty. You can find exceptions now and then, but you'll find so few of them that they will prove the rule more than they will disprove it. Most of us either feel guilty or make others feel guilty. Or both.
Why do we feel so guilty? You know why non-Christians feel guilty-because they are guilty. We all know bad people are guilty, but we're prone to forget, good people are too! After quoting a long list of Bible verses to this effect, Paul sums up the human condition-
Every mouth is stopped and all the world is guilty before God.
Many unbelievers don't call their guilt 'guilt', but what's in a name? A skunk by any other name would smell as foul! While guilt can be ignored, denied or projected onto others, it cannot be gotten rid of--except through faith in Christ.
Our Lord Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world by offering Himself to the justice of God in our place.
But that's now all He is-our Lamb, He is no less our Scapegoat. On the Day of Atonement, a goat was brought to the High Priest who put his hands on the animal's head and listed the sins of the people and the punishments they deserved. The goat was then handed off to another priest who led it out of the camp.
Another took it from him, and then a third, a fourth, and finally seven men walked the goat out of the people's sight-and ceremonially, out of God's sight as well! What did this mean? It meant they were forgiven.
The ceremonies of Israel brought the forgiveness of sins, but only on the surface. Jesus Christ broke the surface and fulfilled all they promised and more!
This means believers in Christ are forgiven: not may be forgiven if the sin wasn't too bad or if we never do it again, but we are forgiven--really, truly forgiven, and that by God, who has the final say.
Which believers are forgiven? Each believer is forgiven and all believers are forgiven. Therefore, no believer should feel guilty himself or make others feel guilty.
This brings us to the story of Joseph and his brothers, a story with more twists and turns than the longest running soap opera on TV!
I'll give you The Reader's Digest version of the story. If you know it already, you'll know I have left out a lot, and if you don't know it, turn off the Super Bowl this afternoon and read it! I promise it will be far more exciting than the game-and a lot better for you, to boot. It starts in Genesis 37.
There once was a man in Canaan whose name was Jacob. Jacob had twelve sons, of whom Joseph was the favorite. The boy grew up pampered by his father and when he became a young man, Jacob gave him a magnificent coat, which stirred envy in the other sons.
Then things got worse. Joseph had a couple of dreams. In one of them, he and his brothers were gathering the wheat into sheaves and the other sons' sheaves bowed down to his! As if this weren't bad enough, in a second dream Joseph saw the sun, the moon and eleven stars paying him their respects! In this dream, it wasn't as if the whole world revolved around him, but the universe did! On hearing his dreams, the brothers' hate rose to a fever pitch.
Then things got worse. Jacob sent Joseph to check up on his brothers who were then tending the sheep. When they saw him, they said they would kill him-and then let's see his dreams come true! Ruben, the oldest brother, talked them out of that and settled for tearing off his hated coat and throwing him in an empty well for a hour or two.
But while Ruben was off doing something a caravan went by on its way to Egypt. The brothers-not wanting to shed innocent blood-pulled him out of the well and sold him to the slave traders.
This created a problem: what would they tell their father? They took the splendid coat, dipped it in sheep's blood, and went to their father horrified at what they had found: Is this your son's coat?
It was, of course, and Jacob went into a deep and long mourning for the beloved son who had been torn to pieces by a wild beast.
As for Joseph, he was brought into Egypt and sold to a high officer in Pharaoh's service, a man called Potiphar. Joseph did very well in his new circumstances and soon became steward in Potiphar's home. Everything the man had was at Joseph's disposal.
Except his wife. Who soon took a liking to the young, handsome servant. One day she asked him to join her in bed-and he said no thanks. Every day she pressed him and every day he had the same answer. One day, when no one was around, she tried to force him into bed, but he pulled away from her, leaving part of his shirt in her hands.
When Potiphar got home, she had a story for him. Joseph had tried to have his way with her and what was he going to do about it? Joseph was fired, arrested, and sent to Pharaoh's dungeon.
Refusing to feel sorry for himself, Joseph soon became assistant to the warden. One night a couple of prisoners had had scary dreams and they wondered what they meant. Being a prophet of God, Joseph heard the dreams and interpreted them. The baker, he said would be hanged in three days, and the butler would get back his place in Pharoah's service. The butler was very pleased, of course, and promised to put in a good word for Joseph.
Whom he promptly forgot. Three years passed and then the king had a couple of scary dreams and wanted to know what they meant. He called for his wise men and they had no idea what to say. Then the butler remembered Joseph, word was sent to the prison, and the young man stood before the king.
The dreams meant there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. If you don't want to starve-Joseph advised-find a wise man to collect food in the good years and use it in the bad.
'Splendid idea' said the king, and 'And who is wiser than you?' Then and there Joseph was made Prime Minister of Egypt. For the next seven years he taxed the farmers and put the food away.
The seven years of plenty were followed by seven years of nothing. The famine effected-not just Egypt-but the lands around it too, including Canaan.
Hearing food could be bought in Egypt, Jacob sent ten of his sons down to get some. But Benjamin he kept at home because he was now the favorite son and if he were lost Jacob would die of a broken heart.
When the men get down into Egypt they bow before the Prime Minister, whom they don't recognize, though he knows them right away. Who are you? he says through a translator. They tell him they're the sons of one man, one of their brothers is still home and the other is no more. Liars! I know you who are: you're spies! Prove to me you're honest men by.bringing your little down next time you come. To help them remember, he took one of them hostage.
The men went home worried out of their minds. Would their father let Benjamin come with them? If he didn't, they would all starve. If he did, what if something happened to the boy? For the first time in their lives they think of someone other than themselves.
Before long Jacob tells them to go back to Egypt to buy more food. They remind him of the Prime Minister's stipulation, and at first Jacob says no way! But being a realistic man, he gives in, sends the boy with them, and starts praying!
When they arrive they show their brother to the Prince and he sends them back with all the food they can carry. A deep sigh of relief is breathed by all.
And then the cops show up. Someone has stolen a silver cup from the lord's table and whoever did it will become his slave for life. The donkeys are unloaded, the bags are opened and the cup is found-with Benjamin!
The men tear their clothes and go back to the prince. Standing before the angry man, they speak to each other in their native tongue: We're paying for what we did to Joseph, without knowing the prince is Joseph and understands what they say. As for Benjamin, they simply cannot leave him. They will stay behind and serve the Prince all their lives, but they cannot do this to their father-not again!
Losing control of himself, the Prince commands all his servants to leave the room. When he's alone with the brothers, he tells the secret: I am Joseph.
The men are so scared they can't say a word. But Joseph falls on their necks and starts kissing them. Then they find their tongues and tell him they're awfully sorry about what they did to him and they sure hope he let bygones be bygones.
Which he does. Gladly. Saving them is the important thing, not proving he was right and they were wrong. He then tells them to go home, get their father, come back, and take the best grazing land in Egypt.
It all seems too good to be true. But it is true. The man they betrayed has become their lord and savior. That's the story.
Today's text is a tiny part of the story, but it's of huge importance in living the Christian life. Re-read it, Genesis 45:24b. My Bible says,
See that you do not become troubled along the way.
No wonder we miss the meaning; the translation is so vague. Troubled in what way? The King James Version is better--
See that ye fall not out by the way.
In other words, don't fall out with each other. Quit blaming each other and figure out who's the guiltiest them all. The RSV, however, is even better, I think-
Do not quarrel on the way.
In other words, don't be mad at yourself or at each other. Except for Benjamin, they had all sinned against Joseph, but he had also forgiven them all. Therefore, don't feel guilty yourself, and don't make others feel guilty.
Joseph set a good example and we ought to follow it. As true as this is, however, if we leave it there, we have badly missed the point. Joseph is far more than 'a good example'. He is also a type of Christ. No one who reads his story alongside the Gospels can miss the similarities. Here are some of the more obvious ones:
The father's beloved son is envied by his brothers and gotten rid of for good (they think). But the man they took for dead turns out to be alive, and through his humiliation, rises to power and uses the power-not to avenge himself-but to save the ones who hated him. The stories are not accidentally similar, but alike by design-by God's design.
Joseph is a type of Christ and what he said to his sinful and foolish brothers back then our Lord says to us right now.
He tells us to quit feeling guilty. Judging by the way most Christians live-and too many pastors preach-you would think, Feel guilty, is one of the Bible's prime directives. It isn't. In fact, the Word of God does not teach us to feel guilty; it teaches us to confess our sins, believe in Christ, and feel forgiven!
Did our Lord come to make us guilty? He did not. He came to set us free from our guilt! Hebrews 2:15 says Christ came to
Release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
What a perfect way of describing guilt: it's a bondage! How many Christians are slaves of what they've done in the past! Or slaves of what they may do in the future! But we have been redeemed, and that means bought out of slavery! If Jesus is Lord, Guilt isn't!
To some Christians guilt is a kind of protection. If you really believe God will pardon whatever you do, you'll do.whatever. Is this what the Bible teaches? We cannot survey the whole Bible, but one verse sure doesn't teach that, Hebrews 9:14-
How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the Eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
A good conscience doesn't make you free to sin, it makes you free to serve God. It is guilt, despair and fear that make for bad living.
Guilt should never be confused with humility. While it is humble to confess you're a sinner, where is the humility in not believing God? But that's what a guilt-ridden Christian does: he does not believe God. He believes his sin is bigger than God's love or bigger than the price our Lord paid to pardon it.
If you're a Christian, stop feeling guilty! Because you're not guilty and to feel you are dishonors God who says you aren't-
Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God who justifies!
Who is he that condemns? It is Christ who died, who is risen, who sits at God's Right Hand and makes intercession for us.
THE SECOND WORD
If the Lord tells you to quit feeling guilty yourself, He also tells you to quit making others feel that way.
There's a kind of Christian who cannot be happy as long as anyone else is. Mistaking himself for the Holy Spirit, he tries to sanctify everyone by his non-stop nagging! When this is pointed out to him, he has a battery of Bible verses on his side, most of which include the words, rebuke or correct. While these words are in the Bible, they're not the only words in the Bible. Forgive, forebear, overlook, comfort, encourage are there too.
If all Christians are forgiven, no one believer is any better than any other. This means we have to be kind and patient and as eager to forgive others as God is to forgive them-and me too.
BACK TO THE STORY
Let's go back to our story for a minute or two. Why should Joseph's brethren not quarrel on the way home? I thought of three reasons:
The three points apply to us as well. Jesus Christ is not our advisor, but our Lord and Master. And if He tells us to not feel guilty and to not make others feel guilty, we're obliged to obey Him.
Honestly, what good does it do the dwell on your sins? Does a guilty conscience stimulate you to look outside of yourself and serve others? Or does it turn you inward?
Most of all, you shouldn't feel guilty because you're not guilty. No Christian is guilty because Christ died for us and by His stripes we are healed.
Don't live in your guilt. Confess your sins to the Lord and believe He has forgiven them-even if they're really bad or you've done them over and over again.
Don't live in denial. Most problems in the home and at church are the result of people who deny they've done anything wrong. They won't say they're sinless, but they might as well, because, in effect, that's what they mean. My wife is to blame! The pastor is in the wrong! It's the boss, not me! The fact is: we're all to blame. When we realize that, we can stop defending ourselves all the time and simply confess our sins and receive the pardon our Lord won for us on the cross.
If Christians are not guilty, non-Christians are, including the really good ones. But if you are guilty, you don't have to be. If you came to church guilty, you can go home innocent. Not by cleaning up your act, but by believing in the Christ who died for people who cannot clean up their act. I'll close with a quote from Robert Farrer Capon--
Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to teach the teachable; He did not come to improve the improvable; He did not come to reform the reformable. None of those things works.
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