Sermon: Genesis 50:15-21
Pentecost 17 - October 1, 2017 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
Have you ever been at anyone’s mercy? If you have you know that it’s not such a good place to be. For example if you’ve ever been stopped by the police for speeding you have a bit of an idea what it’s like to be at someone’s mercy. If you really were speeding then you deserve a ticket. But the officer may be merciful and let you get away with a warning. In a much more serious way some people have found themselves at the mercy of a criminal. And if the criminal has a weapon there is little to do but hope the criminal will have some mercy and not harm you.
Or another situation that we might more commonly find ourselves in is to be at the mercy of someone we’ve sinned against or offended. We’re at their mercy to be forgiving.
In our text today the brothers of Joseph found themselves at the mercy of Joseph. They had sinned terribly against him many years before and now worried that he would take revenge on them. They asked for his mercy and forgiveness, and Joseph did forgive them.
Every day, and most important of all, we are at the mercy of God. We have sinned against him, and our only hope is his mercy and forgiveness. And the good news is that because of Jesus Christ God has been merciful and forgiving to us.
Today we’re going to consider that
WE ARE AT GOD’S MERCY
The story of Jacob’s sons, Joseph and his brothers, covers about thirteen chapters in the book of Genesis. The Bible is filled with all kinds of stories and accounts, but this one about Joseph and his brothers is almost certainly the longest in the Bible - and for good reason. There are many lessons we can learn as God’s people from this very dramatic and intriguing account. But even more important Jacob and his sons fill in a very critical part of God’s historical plan to save you and me.
God had made a promise to Abraham that his descendants would grow into a great nation, and they, in particular one descendant, would be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth. This was a promise to send a Savior for all of us.
Abraham had a son named Isaac, and Isaac had a son name Jacob, and Jacob had twelve sons. These twelves sons would eventually become the tribes, or the provinces, states, of the nation of Israel.
You might remember even though we call Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the patriarchs, the fathers of our faith and religion, they were far from perfect. They had lots of sins and family problems. That was certainly true in Jacob’s family. The twelve sons were actually born from four different women - two wives and two servants of the two wives. As you might guess there were favorites and those who realized they weren’t the favorite.
Jacob especially loved his wife Rachel. Rachel gave birth to Joseph, and, as you might guess, Joseph became his favorite son. Jacob, very unwisely, provided Joseph with gifts and opportunities that clearly distinguished him from his angry, jealous brothers.
But one day they got their revenge. They actually sold Joseph to a caravan of Midianite merchants who, in turn, sold Joseph as a slave in Egypt. The brothers no doubt thought they were rid of Joseph forever. But most of you know how the account goes. God over the years actually raised Joseph up to be the number two man in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. It was Joseph’s job to collect and distribute grain to people in Egypt and the surrounding nations during a severe seven year famine.
Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt from Canaan to buy grain. It’s a rather long and elaborate story, but Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, that he is still alive. He treats his brothers kindly and welcomes them and his father Jacob to come and live in Egypt.
Eventually Jacob the father dies, and that’s where our text begins. The brothers begin to worry that now that their father is dead Joseph will take revenge on them for what they had done to him. We might be surprised by their concern. After all, Joseph had forgiven them. They lived together for a number of years in Egypt.
There was really one reason for their renewed concern. It was their guilt. They had treated Joseph terribly. Not only had they sold him into slavery, but as a result Joseph was falsely accused of immorality and thrown into prison for a number of years before God rescued him and raised him up as a leader of Egypt. Their hearts still felt very guilty.
Do you ever feel guilty? We would probably all answer that question yes. But is it a good thing that we feel guilty? Should we, should people, feel guilty? Guilt is a many sided concept, and so the answer to this question of whether it’s good that we feel guilt, is a little complicated as well.
Sometimes psychologists will talk about false guilt. That really is guilt that a person should not feel. People carry a burden of guilt for something they imagine they caused. Children of divorced parents sometimes carry the false guilt of having caused the divorce. Children who have been abused often carry around a sense of guilt that they most certainly don’t deserve. People who are constantly pushing themselves to perform better or be better often carry a false sense of guilt.
We can also talk about what we might call honest guilt. Sometimes people feel guilty about some sin they committed only because they got caught. That’s not really honest guilt. Honest guilt would be when a person genuinely feels remorse and sorrow for hurting someone or sinning against them. Joseph’s brothers had some honest guilt for their sins against Joseph, although the arousal once again of their guilt was partly due to their father’s death and the vulnerable position they thought they were caught in with Joseph.
More important, honest guilt is when we feel remorse and sorrow for having sinned against God. King David serves as an example of one who genuinely knew and felt his guilt before God. In Psalm 51 he writes, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, . . .” The Apostle John warns us about the foolishness of not being honest about our guilt before God: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
Do you have honest guilt before God? Our society and world could probably use a good dose honest guilt. People have false guilt. People feel guilt when they get caught. But I think it’s pretty rare when people are real honest about sinning against God. People know they’re guilty of sin. Their conscience tells them that. But instead of going to God with their guilt they ignore it. They hide from their guilt with destructive addictions. They imagine their guilt isn’t so bad.
We all probably need to have a more healthy, honest guilt before God. A good reflection on and a study of God’s Ten Commandments can help us be genuinely repentant before God. The Apostle Paul says that the law makes us conscious of sin. It makes us understand our sin more clearly and certainly. And then we need to compare that sin to the holiness and the majesty of God. The contrast between our sin and God’s holiness will help bring about honest and genuine guilt before God.
Joseph’s brothers knew their guilt. They threw themselves down before Joseph and said, “We are your slaves.” That was a way of saying, “We are at you mercy. We are completely at your mercy.” There was nothing else they could do. Their only hope was Joseph’s mercy.
Honest guilt before God teaches us to put ourselves at the mercy of God. Like King David we say, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable we can only say, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”
And that’s a really good place to be - completely vulnerable before God. We said before it’s not so good to be vulnerable, to be at the mercy of someone else. And usually it’s not such a good situation to be in. But it’s good to be vulnerable before God. It’s good to be honest to God about our sin. It’s good to be at God’s mercy.
It’s good to be at God’s mercy because God is merciful. The Apostle John who warns us about the foolishness of claiming to have no sin also tells us the blessing of confessing our sins to God: “If we confess our sins, he faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
In a few minutes together we will confess our sins to God. May God give to all of us an honest sense of our guilt, real contrition or sorrow over our sin, and a keen sense of God’s holiness that we have violated. That’s actually a good place to be because God is merciful and forgiving. God’s absolution will be announced to us all. God’s absolution, God’s forgiveness, is our comfort whenever we feel guilt, our comfort every day, our comfort when we die.
Joseph said to his brothers, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Joseph had forgiven his brothers long ago. And part of what helped Joseph to be so forgiving was that he knew how good God had been to him, how forgiving God had been to him, and how God’s hand was working in everything that happened to Joseph for the purpose of saving his brothers and many others from starvation.
God preserved these sons of Jacob, these children of Israel. And one day from the tribe of Judah came Jesus our Savior. Like Joseph see the hand of God in your life. He makes all things work finally for your good. See the mercy of God in his word. See the atonement of your sin in the cross of Christ.
And then put yourself at the mercy of God. It’s a good place to be. You will find that God is merciful, and he will teach you to be merciful and forgiving to others as well. Amen.