Summary: Forgiveness recipients are forgiveness donors.
Did you see it Wednesday? It showed up for just a bit in the early morning hours but its shape and color were unmistakable: chunky and white, the first snow-spit of the season. While many of us dread the onset of winter, the first significant snowfall followed by a bright blue day is unmatched. Yellow lawns and garbage-strewn highway medians are transformed with a sparkling white that only God can provide.
Sparkling white is also how God sees each of us thanks to Jesus’ forgiveness which covers our sins as completely as heavy snowfall will cover every ugly patch of dead grass. As we conclude the sermon series “Joseph: a life of many colors,” white, the color of new beginnings, will represent a truth Joseph cherished: we are not just forgiveness recipients, we are forgiveness donors.
When we first met Joseph at the beginning of our sermon series four weeks ago, he was 17 – the same age as someone you might see walking around here with a Bellrose High School football jersey. But imagine this individual 20 years later. What would he look like as a 37-year old? Would he have as much hair? Would he still fit his size-32 jeans? Joseph was 37 years old when he finally met up with his brothers again. So it’s not surprising that they didn’t recognize him. Do you remember the circumstances? The brothers had come to Egypt because that was the only place they could find grain during this time of famine. Joseph was in charge of distributing that grain because he had impressed Pharaoh with his ability to interpret the fat-cow/skinny-cow dream which had warned Pharaoh about the famine.
Although Joseph immediately recognized his brothers, he didn’t reveal his identity right away. In fact he treated his brothers rather harshly when he accused them of being spies. He even imprisoned them before holding one of them, Simeon, hostage until the others returned with the youngest brother Benjamin. This supposedly would prove that the brothers had not lied when they told Joseph all about their family and their peaceful intent to purchase grain for them.
Why was Joseph treating his brothers like this? Was he having a little fun to get back at them for the way they had treated him? No. Joseph was observing his brothers. He wanted to know whether or not they had changed. 20 years earlier they had thought nothing of killing Joseph because he irritated them. Would they now just ditch Simeon since they had gotten what they came for, grain for their families?
God too can appear to us the way Joseph appeared to his brothers: mean and uncaring. But God’s motivation is not to see what we’re like, the way a coach will push his athletes through a grueling workout to see what they’re made of. God already knows what we Christians are made of. We have a new attitude that wants to do God’s will but struggles to complete it because we still have that old sinful nature we were born with. So does God treat us harshly from time to time to reprimand us for giving in to our sinful nature? Not exactly. Rather God allows challenges and even crises into our lives to remind us that we are weak and in need of his continuing love and power. He lets us suffer the consequences of our sinful outbursts so that we learn firsthand that sin is to be avoided not embraced.
But you won’t remember these truths if you don’t remain in God’s Word. Instead Satan will convince you that God is one big meanie and there’s no point in worshipping him. That’s what Satan was trying to push Job to declare by afflicting that Old Testament believer. But Job confessed: “Though [God] slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15a). Joseph too believed that truth. He continued to trust that God was with him, guiding his life even though he ended up in slavery and then in prison.
When Joseph’s brothers returned with Benjamin he threw a banquet for them. This only confused them more – especially when Joseph seated them in their birth order. Midway through the banquet Joseph could no longer help himself. He had to reveal his true identity. After dismissing his servants he dropped the bombshell: “I am Joseph!” I wonder how many spoons clattered to their plates as the brothers sat in stunned silence. Joseph? No. How could it be? If it was really Joseph, they were in big trouble. He had the power to make their lives very miserable for what they had done to him. They still thought this after their father’s death 17 years later. Oh, Joseph had spoken kind words of forgiveness to them at that first banquet, and for 17 years afterwards had provided for them. But what if he had done this only for Dad’s sake? With Dad gone, would Joseph now take his revenge?