Text: Genesis 50:15-21
In the fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray this because we daily sin much and, therefore, deserve nothing from God – not even the things for which we pray. We humbly ask that the Lord would not look at our sins, or deny our prayers because of them; but that He would grant them all to us by grace. So we, too, will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us. We don’t forgive others to earn anything from God. Rather, we forgive others because God, first, freely forgives and provides for us in Christ. We see a great example of this today in Joseph.
After Jacob’s death, Joseph was in a unique position. He was second only to Pharaoh in Egypt and now was in a place where he could return to his brothers the evil which they had shown to him. This is what his brothers feared. Instead, Joseph said, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 15:19 English Standard Version) What Joseph meant was, since God had already forgiven them – and Joseph – of a great many sins, how could he not also forgive his brothers? Joseph would continue to care for them and provide for all their bodily needs. Today we confess that, since our God has and does freely forgive us in Christ, so we sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.
It’s been about a year since we’ve heard of Joseph, so let’s jog our memories. It’s important to know why his brothers were afraid he might get back at them. Joseph was born in Canaan, the great-grandson of Abraham, son of Jacob. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite out of his twelve sons and made for him a “robe of many colors.” (Gen. 37:3) Moreover, Joseph was blessed by the Lord. God gave Joseph wisdom, along with the gift of dreams and the ability to interpret them. In time, Joseph’s brothers grew to hate him and they conspired against him. Their original plan was to kill him. Through the intercession of his brother Reuben, Joseph’s brothers instead threw him into a pit. Later, it was Judah’s idea to sell Joseph into slavery – which they did. Joseph’s brothers hated him, they spoke poorly of him; then they washed their hands of him by selling him into slavery. Joseph ended up a slave in Egypt, serving in the house of an officer. He was there for about ten years. Through a course of events, Joseph found himself in prison – unjustly – where he remained for nearly three years.
There’s a lot to cover with Joseph, but we understand now that Joseph suffered at the hands of others. He was sinned against by his brothers, by the Egyptians. In this way, we are like Joseph because we, too, have been sinned against. We have been hurt, sometimes greatly, by how others have treated us. We have been spoken to and spoken of in less than kind ways. We have been judged harshly and with little kindness. Our actions have been mischaracterized and our intentions doubted. Sometimes, we have prompted these misdeeds by our own mistreatment of others. We have been sinned against, and we have sinned against others by hurting them, speaking poorly of them, judging harshly and – in general – conducting ourselves with less than Christian kindness, mercy, and love.
In the text we heard that, after their father had died, Joseph’s brothers said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” (v. 15) They sent to him by messenger a plea for forgiveness, saying their father, also, had asked Joseph to forgive them their sin. Joseph wept while the message was read to him. His brothers then came themselves, offering them and their households to be his slaves. Joseph said to them, “‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God…Do not fear, I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus,” Moses writes, “he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (vv. 19, 21) Before all this, Joseph’s brothers had been living with him in Egypt for 17 years. When they most greatly feared retribution for their sin, Joseph comforted them. He freely forgave them their sin and promised to do good to them by continuing to provide for them.
Joseph didn’t forgive and do good to his brothers because they deserved it, but because he himself had been freely forgiven and provided for by the Lord. Joseph knew that the Lord is, “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” (Ex. 33:6-7) Think of how Joseph must have felt sitting in that empty well, waiting to be killed by his brothers. Or, how do we think Joseph felt while serving an unjust sentence in an Egyptian prison? If God were to mark Joseph’s sins against him, Joseph would’ve already been dead and in hell for eternity. As it is, our God is a merciful God. The Lord took Joseph’s sins, and his brothers’, and cast them into the depths of the sea. When they came begging Joseph for forgiveness, in recognition of God’s great mercy, Joseph also forgave those who sinned against him.
Forgiving others is a hard thing to do, especially when we have been greatly hurt by the sins others have committed against us. If we were to measure their sins against us against our sins before God, however, we would find that our guilt before God greatly outmatches others’ toward us. And yet, God does not hold our sins against us. Instead, He freely forgives us for the sake of Christ and continually does good by us by continuing to provide for all our needs of body and soul. Shall we, then, exalt ourselves to the place of God and not forgive those who sin against us? No, when we are sinned against – which we will be, probably every day of our lives – let us, in turn forgive.
When others hurt us by their actions, let us do good to them by ours. When we are spoken to or of poorly, let us pepper our words with kindness. When we are judged harshly, let us seek to explain everything in the kindest way. Our Lord said, in this way, “Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.” (Lk. 6:38) Now, we don’t do all these things because others deserve it. We shouldn’t do them to earn points with God, or to somehow benefit ourselves. Instead, we forgive others their few sins against us because God forgives us our many sins against Him by the sacrifice of His own Son. We live in a time where so many are seeking to change the world. We might not be able to do that, but we can here by sincerely forgiving and gladly doing good to those who sin against us, as our God acts toward us in Christ.