Summary: The seventh and final message in a series on the life of Joseph; here the emphasis is on Joseph’s practice of biblical forgiveness.
Trinity Baptist Church July 30, 2006
Character on Display
The Freedom of Forgiveness
Packed away, near a town in the state of Washington, are millions of gallons of radioactive atomic wastes, stored in huge numbers of underground tanks. The tanks have a life expectancy of 20 or 30 years. The radioactive waste inside will be deadly for about
-- 600 years.
Just like those tanks of waste, our human wisdom will suggest to us that we can pack and store away -- and never fully deal with -- the pain and hurts others have done to us. And, of course, sooner or later, the stored up offenses and hurts will begin to break out -- and when they do, there will be pain, damage and bitterness for many, many people.
We’re finishing our study today from the life of Joseph in the Old Testament. We’ve called this portrait of Joseph’s life, “Character on Display” -- in part, because the Bible has practically nothing negative to record about this man. That doesn’t say that he was perfect, by any means; it does mean that he offers a pattern of what it looks like to walk with God, to trust God in the toughest of times, and to allow God to do whatever He purposes to do in building our character.
If you’ve been with us, or if you know Joseph’s story, you know that his family background wasn’t healthy by a long stretch. In our first study, I suggested to you that God removed him from his dysfunctional home and family in order to do some major work in Joseph’s character.
Much of the pain in Joseph’s life came from his brothers. When he was about 17 years old, they glibly decided they would kill him. No longer could they stand their father treating him specially; no longer could they handle that his two dreams pointed to a day when he would rule over them.
Let’s remember some of what his brothers inflicted on him. They sold him like a piece of furniture to traders headed to Egypt. With that act, he was forcibly taken from his father, his home, and everything familiar. Sent to Egypt with those strangers, he was sold off to be a slave. He worked hard and well, but when his owner’s wife took an interest in him, Joseph was falsely accused and, without trial or appeal, he was thrown into prison. He sat in that dungeon for about 13 years. One of Pharaoh’s servants, whom Joseph helped understand a dream, could have helped him, but the man forgot him as soon as he got out of prison.
More than once, we’ve realized that if anyone is justified in taking revenge; if anyone deserves to hang on to a heavy dose of bitterness; if anyone’s life should be driven by deep hatred and a desire to get even: it’s Joseph.
After all, it’s in human terms that we most often judge these things, isn’t it?
Every time we start discussing biblical forgiveness, someone will say,
“you don’t understand” or
“you don’t know what I’ve been through;” or
“you don’t know what he did to me.”
So, in purely human terms, we seem to believe it’s fine and dandy to forgive others, as long as the offense was small -- or there was some justification for the other person’s actions, or, it was someone we hardly knew. But when it was a father, or mother, or brother who hurt us…. When it was a person I trusted, someone I thought was a friend, who did the damage…. And when it was intentional, pre-meditated, and deeply personal and hurtful, then forget it! That person doesn’t deserve to be forgiven. They should suffer like I did!
Human wisdom repeats some familiar phrases: “Don’t get mad, get even.” Or, “the sweetest thing in all in life is revenge.” Or, a little more subtle: “Never forget where you buried the hatchet!”
From everything we’ve observed, Joseph ought to be at the front of the line of the “non-forgivers” of Scripture. The moment his brothers showed their faces in Egypt to buy food, they should have lost their heads. But, of course, they didn’t. We’ve watched
Joseph take a very different course of action.
There are two explanations embedded in his story: One is he walked with God. The other is God built character into Joseph which resembled God’s own. We need so much to remember, God is out to do an identical work in you and me.
Today, as we finish his account, let’s learn something about biblical forgiveness from God’s man, Joseph. First, we’ll look at the narrative in these verses in chapter 50, and then we’ll review some principles of forgiveness.
Let’s begin again at verse 15.