And then, just like that, everything changed.
It had been a long time coming. For almost forty years it had simmered just below the surface. Depending on your part in the story, it either manifested itself as guilt or bitterness. But in either case, it was never very far from the surface.
And then, just like that, everything changed.
This is week five of our: The Day Everything Changed series at Cornerstone.
And for most of us, we can point to that day. Maybe it was a visit to the Doctor. You hadn’t been feeling well, but you never suspected what the doctor would tell you. One day everything was fine, and you were confident of your future, and just like that everything changed.
October 31st 1517 was a day when everything changed. That was the day when Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic Monk and professor of moral theology at the University of Wittenberg, in Germany nailed a list of 95 problems he had with the Catholic church to the door of the biggest church in the city. Subtle.
That act is often seen as the birth of the protestant reformation. That day would see the beginning of a movement that would eventually result in the birth of Cornerstone Wesleyan Church in 1995. For many of us, that day would eventually change our eternity, because the churches where we first heard the message of God’s grace were birthed from that day.
A day that changed everything
This morning we are going to look at a day when everything changed for a man named Joseph and for his brothers.
The story was read for us earlier and it contains one of those great Scriptures that we so often go back to.
This is the story of what happened after Joseph’s father died and Joseph’s subsequent interaction with his brothers.
So we come to the part of the story where their father has died, and Joseph’s brothers are afraid that with the passing of their father, that their future is less than assured.
The scripture that I want to focus on this morning are the words of Joseph in Genesis 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”
In the New King James version it reads this way, Genesis 50:20 “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”
Now, in order to fully understand the meaning of Joseph’s words, we have to understand the back story. We need to know what brought them to that place, the place that the brothers would fear for their safety and the safety of their families. And to the place that Joseph offers his brothers’ forgiveness for their prior actions.
For those who grew up going to Sunday School or VBS, you probably have a handle on the story. Others would be familiar with part of the story from Dolly Parton’s song, Coat of Many Colours. And still others know the story from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Joseph and the Technicolour Dream coat.
And I could preach an entire sermon on the events that led up to this day and have a few times. I love the story of Joseph. Last year I preached a message on this very scripture in our series, After the But Comes the Truth. This isn’t that message.
So here is a brief synopsis. Joseph was the second youngest of 12 sons and the relationship between Joseph and his brothers is best defined by a statement early on in the story, it’s found in Genesis 37:3 Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. So one day Jacob had a special gift made for Joseph—a beautiful robe.
We would have to be naïve to think parents never have a favourite. It might not always be the same favourite, but really there is always a favourite or at least a less favourite child.
When one kid does as they’re told, they never talk back, they keep their room tidy and they do well at school. And another one doesn’t.
If their parents tell you they don’t have a favourite, be careful. If they’ll lie about that, they’ll lie about anything. The secret is, don’t flaunt it. It just makes things worse.
That’s what happened in the case of Joseph. Jacob’s rationale for Joseph being his favourite was that Joseph had been born in Jacob’s old age, but Joseph’s younger brother, Benjamin, was born when Jacob was even older, but joseph was still the favourite.
The problem was that everybody knew that Joseph was the favourite. Jacob knew it, the other children knew it, and unfortunately, Joseph knew it. And he played that card every chance he got.
And the result of the favouritism is spelled out in Genesis 37:4 But his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him.
I’ve preached on this enough that you probably know the story inside out, if not then you should read Genesis chapter 37, it will just take a few minutes. Or you can watch the Disney film, Joseph: King of Dreams. But that will take you considerably longer.
But all the conflict and animosity comes to a head one day when the older brothers are out tending the family flocks and their father sends Joseph out to check up on them. That probably wasn’t helpful.
Let’s pick up the story when Joseph’s brothers saw him
coming. They recognized him in the distance, and as he approached, they made plans to kill him.
Genesis 37:18-20 “Here comes the dreamer!” they said. “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”
Well, we know that they didn’t follow through on their plans because Joseph was still around in the scripture that Janice read for us earlier.
Instead of killing him, the brothers sell him into slavery and he ends up in Egypt.
We sometimes think slavery was invented 250 years ago to staff cotton plantations in the southern US.
The reality is that slavery has been around as long as there has been humanity.
To make a long story short, again you can read the entire story in in Genesis 39-41, Joseph eventually ends up as second in command to Pharaoh.
As a result of interpreting two of the Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph knows that Egypt will have 7 prosperous years, followed by seven years of famine. With that that knowledge, Egypt is able to stockpile grain during the good years in preparation for the famine.
When the famine came, it didn’t just effect Egypt; it effected the surrounding countries as well.
Joseph’s brothers arrive in Egypt looking for help and after a little drama Joseph’s entire extended family arrives in Egypt and comes under Pharaoh’s protection, where they live for 17 years until Joseph’s father dies.
You still with me?
And that’s where our story picks up.
Sometimes the passing of a patriarch, or matriarch for that matter, allows hidden friction to surface in families. Whether it is a conflict over the estate or simply old resentments, it seems that the presence of a father or mother kept things from boiling over and when they are removed from the picture all those feelings are revealed.
This is what Joseph’s brothers were afraid would happen, that the uneasy truce they had been living under would evaporate and they would be left at the mercy of the second most powerful man in the kingdom.
We pick up the story in Genesis 50:15 But now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful. “Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said.
And that makes sense after all, they had sold him into slavery. They didn’t just call him names and play mean tricks on him. They sold him.
Now I’m sure that there are times that you wanted to sell one of your siblings, but you didn’t. But they did. And apparently, they sensed that maybe Joseph hasn’t really dealt with that.
So, let’s keep reading, Genesis 50:16-18 So they sent this message to Joseph: “Before your father died, he instructed us to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph. “Look, we are your slaves!” they said.
And just like that, everything changed.
When I read the story again I realized how much unresolved tension there was in this family.
Angela and I were talking about this the other day and she commented that this really was the family that put the fun in dysfunctional.
So That Day Changed Things for the Brothers
I think the biggest thing that changed for the brothers was the fact that their guilt was dealt with.
We all deal with guilt, some of it is appropriate and some of it is in appropriate.
Most of us can identify to a certain degree with D.D. Barant, who wrote, “I’ve got a bad case of the 3:00 am guilts – you know, when you lie in bed awake and replay all those things you didn’t do right? Because, as we all know, nothing solves insomnia like a nice warm glass of regret, depression and self-loathing.”
And you are probably the only person who knows what it is that wakes you up at 3:00 a.m.
I read an interesting statement the other day, it is probably a generality and you know my feelings about generalities. They are all wrong, but here goes. Georgia Witkin-Lanoil, a psychologist, author and authority on stress wrote, “Women are raised to feel guilty if they don’t do everything they should do. Men are more likely to feel guilty if they do something they shouldn’t.”
I let you chew on that for a while.
Sometimes we feel guilty for things we shouldn’t feel guilty about. And if you really feel that you messed up someone’s life and they don’t agree with you, then they don’t need to forgive you, you need to forgive yourself.
And I truly believe that while you might feel guilty about what your great-great-grand pappy did to my great-great-great-grand pappy, you shouldn’t. You are not guilty for someone else’s misbehaviour.
But, Joseph’s brothers had something to feel guilty about. They sold him into slavery. And they knew that what they did was wrong.
They may have been able to rationalize it at the time and tell themselves that he was a jerk and deserved to be sold into slavery. But they knew that what they had done was wrong.
Yes, he was a jerk, no he didn’t deserve to be sold into slavery.
It was Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig who wrote, “No guilt is forgotten so long as the conscience still knows of it.”
So, even though it has been almost forty years since they threw their little brother in a pit and then dragged him out and sold him, they were still dealing with what they had done. Even when they knew that it had worked out for the best they were still dealing with the guilt of their actions.
And there was only one person who could release them from their guilt. And that person was Joseph.
And sometimes, as Christians, we understand that God has forgiven us but we still have unresolved guilt for our actions toward people.
So, if you have hurt someone, even though God may have forgiven you for your actions, you may still be dealing with the guilt because you need to seek forgiveness from the person you hurt.
If you read through this story, you will discover that this is actually the first time that Joseph’s brothers acknowledge that what they did was wrong.
When they came to Egypt looking for food they met with Joseph but they didn’t know who he was even though he knew who they were.
Eventually though he let them know, let’s pick up the story in Genesis 45:4-8 “Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And he said again, “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. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.”
And still they didn’t acknowledge that maybe, just maybe they shouldn’t have sold him into slavery.
And while they may have thought he had forgiven them, because of what he had said, deep down they were still struggling with their guilt.
They were only released from their guilt when Joseph told them in Genesis 50:19-21 But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them.
In essence, they acknowledged their wrong doing and Joseph forgave them.
And you might be thinking, well, didn’t he forgive them way back in Genesis 45 with that wonderful speech he gave? No. What he said back then was “It’s all right.” But that isn’t the same as forgiveness.
I think at that point, if the brothers had acknowledged that that what they did was wrong that Jospeh would have taken the next step and forgiven them. But they didn’t and he didn’t.
And that’s one of the problems with simply overlooking a wrong.
How many times have we said or heard words like, “Oh that’s all right” or “Forget it I didn’t pay any attention to it.”
Often we try to overlook small wrongs like when someone says something that hurts us, or when we are slighted about something.
Somebody steps in front of us, or doesn’t say “thank you”, little things that maybe shouldn’t hurt but do, and if they hurt, they need to be forgiven not overlooked.
As Christians we think that we are super spiritual when we overlook those little wrongs. But when we make a blanket statement like “Don’t worry about it”, or “It wasn’t anything” we aren’t forgiving we are covering.
When we overlook wrongs, we aren’t resolving them, we are hiding them and in doing so we are actively preventing our healing, and the healing of relationships. Maybe you’ve been overlooking somebody’s treatment of you. The things your spouse says or doesn’t say, the way your children treat you, the fact that the Pastor hasn’t recognized you for the things you’ve done. You’ve told them and you’ve told yourself that it doesn’t matter, but it does because overlooking isn’t forgiving.
But that day didn’t just change things for the Brothers, That Day Changed Things for Joseph
I don’t think Joseph had ever let really let his bitterness go. I think that for those first twenty-two years he had thought about his home and his family and resented the others for taking those things away from him.
If you know the story, then you know that the journey from slavery to being Pharaoh’s right-hand man wasn’t an easy one. Joseph had been falsely accused of attempted rape and had ended up in prison for ten years. Ten years. And I would suspect that an Egyptian prison four thousand years ago wasn’t a picnic. As a matter of fact, I would suspect that an Egyptian prison today isn’t a picnic.
And so, while in his head Joseph knew that everything had worked out, I’m not sure that had actually worked its way down to his heart.
If you read the story in Genesis, and I really encourage you to dig out your bibles this week and read the story. You discover that when the brothers first arrived in Egypt that instead of letting them know who he was, Joseph played all kinds of games.
He accused them of being spies, threw them in prison for a while, framed them for stealing from him and then framed their younger brother and threatened to have him executed. He had issues.
And he may have thought he had forgiven them when he made his speech in Genesis 45, but he was simply excusing their behaviour. And that’s not forgiving.
I think, and this is just me, I think if Joseph could have figured out a way to save his father and younger brother while letting the rest of them starve, that he would have.
And for the next seventeen years, I think that bitterness simmered right beneath the surface.
I think he had been bitter because of what the boys had done to him when he was a kid, and then he was resentful because they refused to acknowledge that what they had done was wrong.
He could have forgiven them, but he was waiting for them to ask for forgiveness. He could have had the difficult conversation and let them know how much their betrayal had hurt him.
Too often we are only willing to forgive when someone comes looking for forgiveness.
Somehow, we have come to the mistaken conclusion that forgiveness is something we bestow upon someone like the Queen bestows a Knighthood. That we wait until they come grovelling and asking for forgiveness before we grant it.
Forgiveness is not a reward to be earned, it is a gift to be given.
Maybe the brothers thought that Joseph had forgiven them when he told that it had all worked out for the best, and that they didn’t need to do anything else.
Understand by forgiving someone you aren’t doing it for their benefit, you are doing it for your own benefit. What happens when we don’t forgive someone? We are consumed with anger and bitterness. We spend time plotting to get back at that person, replaying the incident over and over again in our minds, and they are going blissfully along with life.
Author Isabelle Holland reminds us “As long as you don’t forgive, who and whatever it is will occupy a rent-free space in your mind.”
You understand, don’t you that 90% of those who you need to forgive either don’t know they need to be forgiven or don’t care? And that goes back to the fact that 73% of statistics are made up.
You cannot allow your emotions to be held hostage by others.
Here is the scary thing. The brother’s guilt and Joseph’s bitterness cost each of them years of their lives that they could never get back.
We’ve all seen that play out in families and friendships before. But it doesn’t have to.
This morning I don’t know what it is that you need to be forgiven for.
And I don’t know what it is that you need to forgive somebody for. But you do and God does.
And it’s always wise when preaching on forgiveness to include this warning from Jesus. Matthew 6:14-15 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
And remember that forgiveness isn’t a feeling, it is an action. It is something that you choose to do or choose not to do.