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We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and of God the Son and of God the Holy Spirit and all those who forgive because they know how much they’ve been forgiven said … AMEN!
Matthew, quoting Jesus, has really camped on a theme for our last few sermons, that being forgiveness. Specifically we’ve talked about holding grudges, being offended. “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” Many people out in the world will tell you that’s in the Bible, “No! You are the weakest link! Goodbye.” It is from English poet Alexander Pope. Sort of presupposes that God forgives, but people, well… we just can’t rise up to that level. Yet, we do see forgiveness. Remember the story of Joseph?
He kind of flaunted the gift from his father, Israel. His father was originally named Jacob, but after wrestling with God all night, God renamed him Israel. He became the father of the 12 patriarchs, the men/brothers who would be the roots of the twelve tribes of Israel. Jacob/Israel had two wives, that is a whole other story, except to say that Rachel was his favorite. Now the wrinkle there was that while Rachel was the favorite, she was having a great deal of difficulty in conceiving. As we’ve said, not having children was a huge humiliation to the man and wife, but particularly to the wife. Jacob’s other wife, Leah, had 6 sons, that arrived soon and fast, while Rachel ached in embarrassment. Rachel finally had a son, Joseph and he became Jacob’s favorite, the son of his favorite wife. Rachel had another son, Benjamin, Rachel died giving birth to him. No doubt that probably caused problems being the son who caused his beloved wife’s death. It would seem that Jacob doted on Joseph and the rest of his sons resented that. Genesis 37:3 tells us that Jacob “made a richly ornamented robe for him.” for Joseph. Remember these people are nomads, they don’t run to the mall to buy their clothes, clothes are hard to come by and especially fancy clothes. The fact that he made this for Joseph and it was very lavish, made this an extraordinary gift and was certainly the talk of the tribe and no doubt made Joseph everyone else’s target. Now add to that Genesis 37:5-7 “Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.” And then he had another dream that even the sun, moon and stars would bow down to him. Hey he was a kid, he really didn’t know, but to everyone else he is over the top obnoxious. The coat, the bowing down, all makes Joseph the spoiled rotten, snott nosed kid that everyone hates. I don’t really believe that Joseph intended to be so obnoxious, but that’s how he came across. Can’t you see his brothers? “What you little punk, who do you think you’re talking to? You may be daddy’s favorite, but you’re just a kid and daddy’s not going to be around forever, and hmmmm, who knows, can never tell out there in the desert, ahhh, you just might have an “accident”. Jacob sends Joseph out to his brothers, really to check up on them out in the pastures tending sheep. That turns out to be a stupid move. His brothers saw him in the distance and decided, “great this is our chance, we are going to take care of this little punk once and for all.”
They decided they were going to leave him to die, then they decided, ahh, we should make a shekel out of this for ourselves and sold Joseph as a slave. He was a slave for awhile, then he was falsely accused, thrown into an Egyptian prison where he would have probably just died, but God decided He had bigger plans for Joseph and that’s where we see Joseph now. He has been made the second most powerful man in Egypt. He could have just let his family starve back in Israel or at least with his brothers now bowing down in front of him, just like in his dreams, he could have just done away with his brothers. He didn’t do that, he saw God’s hand in what happened: “…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.” (Ge 50:20) He didn’t let his anger, hurt and bitterness keep him from seeing the big picture.
I can’t tell you to put all your anger and hurt into a kit bag and smile, smile, smile. I can’t look you in the face and tell you I’d do that, it’s not a question of stuffing it down or denying that you’re hurt. But it is a question of whether it will just drag you down, get you to obsess. Hey that’s just fine with Satan, if we are going to obsess about our anger and ignore Christ, then Satan has accomplished his mission, whatever it takes to get your eyes off Christ is the goal. If you are going to let your anger eat you up and devour you, then mission accomplished. We are called to move on. From the cross Jesus said, “forgive them Father they know not what they do.” What if He decided, “heck with this, I’m getting off this cross and I’m just going to show all these people who’ve tormented me what for. Then what about forgiveness for our sins? Three days later Jesus rose from the grave, that was the victory! We are sunk in our sins, no other way to escape except through His sacrifice. He died to give us the promise and assurance of forgiveness, and so we are. But if He had not died, He would not have rose again. We would not have forgiveness and we would not have the promise of eternal life through our resurrection in Him. He has shown us what the real effect of forgiveness is, so we can get bitter and consumed in our hurt and anger, or we can move on as Jesus did. When He moved on, He gave us victory over death and the grave, He gave us eternal life. He didn’t waste His time and effort fighting over the cross, He faithfully followed His Father’s plan. Through that He became Lord of our life, since He paid the price for our life. Most people would have thought Joseph would have been perfectly justified in just wiping out his brothers. “You guys, made my life as a kid miserable, you left me for dead, decided to sell me as a slave, I ended up in an Egyptian prison until God took me and put me where He wanted me.” Joseph knew his place, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” He was not going to take revenge, he knew God would be faithful, remember last week’s sermon? “Vengeance is mine says the Lord”? I think we all agreed that God is going to work it out better than me. Joseph followed God’s lead, God had certainly provided for Joseph and now Joseph would provide for his brothers. Israel would grow, the tribes would increase and God would lead them back to the promised land to be a great nation.
How can you take your issues, your anger and bitterness, and instead of using it to return evil for evil, what can you do to glorify God through that. People watch you, you say you are a Christian and then the slightest little hurt, you react with anger and bitterness and you look for a way to hurt the other person. The world sees that and says “yea, big talk from Christians, but when it comes right down to it, they do the same thing we do, if they get slapped, they slap back. So there’s really nothing to this Jesus stuff.” Our witness is very much in what we do in our actions, it’s not easy, it wasn’t easy for Jesus, but to be a Christian is not the easy way. You can just slap back, or you can lift it up to God, let Him deal with it and then let Him guide you to use your hurt and bitterness for good. You can put the best face on what hurt you and forgive. Revenge, anger, payback, frankly I find that a lot of work. I’ve found it’s easier to get past the hurt, find a way to make-up, to put the best face on the issue or other person and get on with what and who is really important, that is Jesus Christ and His church. So how are you going to deal with your hurt feelings? Stay angry and drag everyone down, or find a way to use it to the glory of God?
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Shalom and Amin.