Posted on June 19th, 2016
Text: Genesis 50:15-21
Parents are not supposed to have favorites. But this father did. He loved his boy Joseph above all the others. He had children by three other women, but this was the firstborn of Rachel, his favorite. So his favorite son came from his favorite wife. None of this is how it was supposed to be, none of this is how God designed the human family – but the Bible does not shy away from showing us the consequences of sin.
So this son, Joseph, knew he was special. He had dreams about his specialness, and was foolish enough to share his dreams with his brothers, dreams about how they one day would bow down before him.
So they decided to kill him, Joseph’s brothers did. But in the end, they realized they could get rid of him without killing him, and make some money too. So they sold him as a slave.
On the long ride to Egypt, he certainly had time to think, imagine revenge on these brothers. For most of us, the hate would seethe and fester, until it bubbled over in explosive rage if the moment ever came to exact vengeance. That was not Joseph’s path. He became a slave to an important officer, and did well. His responsibilities and freedom grew, until he was falsely accused of rape. Then he languished in a dungeon for years. The lists of people who had wronged him might have grown along with his rage.
Networking with prisoners, Joseph ends up with an opportunity to advise Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt. His counsel is so wise, Pharaoh makes Joseph prime minister over the land. Still more years pass. Joseph has power and influence. And then, the moment comes. The moment so many men have imagined, fantasized about: that opportunity to take revenge on the person who wronged you.
At long last, Joseph has his brothers—the ones who hated him, wanted to kill him, who threw him in a pit and sold him like a dog—at long last he has them under his control, and the final impediment to his wrath, their father, has just passed away. He can make them dig their own pit and throw themselves down. He can starve them, beat them, cast them into a dungeon so deep there is nothing but darkness, with scorpions, snakes, and rats for companions. Let them wallow in their own urine! Let them die slow, bitter deaths!
For he is, you see, in the place of God. He holds the office; he rules Egypt. The Pharaoh has delegated to him this power.
So the moment has come, and the brothers beg. They grovel. ʾānnāʾ, nāʾ, nāʾ – “Please, please, please, we beg you!” they cry.
And he, who is in the place of God, what does he say? “Am I in the place of God?”
He, who has been invested with the power of judgment, sets aside all judgment and shows mercy. “Do not fear. I will provide for you and your little ones.” Not only does he not take revenge, the little brother becomes a father to them; he provides for them, cares for them, loves them.
That’s the word of the Lord to you all this day. Your word is, “Please, please, please, forgive me my sins!” His word to you is, “Do not fear! I will forgive, I will provide for you, and your little ones.”
But the life of the Christian does not stop there. Your life cannot stop there.
What’s going on in your life? What’s going on with your wife? Your husband? Where is there strife? Against whom are you holding a grudge, squeezing the life away because you cannot forgive, you will not accept another person in his weakness, you will not release your anger, your frustration, your resentment? Are you in the place of God? Even if you are, listen to the Word of your God: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Today Jonathan steps into the office of pastor. He is being put into the place of God. “He who hears you, hears Me,” Jesus says of His ministers. “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ,” you will say, countless times. “Who does he think he is?” some people will ask. “Are you in the place of God?” “Yes,” you will answer: “I am here to forgive your sins. Who am I, of myself? No one.” Jonathan, Christopher, Gregory, Peter – we are all poor maggot sacks; wretched sinners, idiots and fools. But we are in the place of God, not on account of our dazzling intellect or exceptional good looks – but we are in the place of God entirely so that you can be called to repentance and hear God’s forgiveness.
Jonathan: the pastor points to Jesus. To do that, the pastor must look to Jesus himself, and find in Him the only strength for ministry. All we have to offer the people, Jonathan, is what we ourselves have received. You have been baptized into Jesus, now go baptize others into Jesus. You have been taught the faith, now go teach others about Jesus. You have been nourished with the body and blood of Jesus, now you serve others with the same. You are nothing, Jesus is everything. Just get out of the way, and let Him speak. Hold up the crucifixion of Jesus before the dying, comfort those who mourn with the resurrection of Jesus. Always Jesus, that’s all you have to give – but it’s everything you need.
A police officer may need to discharge his weapon – but hopefully it never comes to that; it should be the very last resort. On occasion the pastor may need to say, “Dear brother, your sin is serious; I must tell you that if you will not turn and repent, then God will condemn you on the day of judgment.” That is the last resort, that is firing the gun only after every other option has failed. And it is always done with horror and sadness, with hope that the brother is won back.
Whether pastor or people, be not quick to judge. Be quick to forgive. Even if you’ve been betrayed, sold out, lied about, left in a prison house of fear and doubt – still, you forgive. That is what it is to be a pastor. That is what it is to be a Christian. That is what it is to be in the place of God. +INJ+