The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Genesis 50:15-21: 15 “When Joseph’s brothers had seen that their father was dead, they said, ‘What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!’ 16 So they sent instructions to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father commanded us before he died, saying, 17 This is what you shall say to Joseph: Please forgive, I beg you, the offense of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong. And now, please forgive the offense of the servants of the God of your father.’ And Joseph wept when they spoke to him. 18 Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ 19 But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to keep many people alive. 21 So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.’” (NASB)
A great deal of time had transpired since their plot to murder, then ultimately sell their brother into slavery. That sin begot another, the lie told to their father. His favorite son was dead—shredded and slain by a vicious animal. Years had come and gone and now the famine had come. Two years into a seven year famine forecast and the brothers had come before Joseph, the most powerful man in all of Egypt looking for food. Rather than punishing them for their betrayal and lie, Joseph forgives them, speaks kindly to them, and kisses them.
He told them to bring their father and all his household to the land of Goshen where he, Joseph could provide for and look after them. Soon thereafter Jacob died and the forty days of mourning had come to an end.
The brothers were once again living in fear of their sins. Would Jacob’s death rekindle Joseph’s anger? Was Joseph just treating them kindly for the sake of their father? Would Joseph revoke his forgiveness and the kindness that he had previously given to them now that their father was gone? Was it truly over, forgiven, and finished.
The Bible says of itself that all Scripture is breathed out by God. All Scripture is useful for our instruction. All Scripture is true, but all Scripture is not equal in its usage and effect. God’s Word is indeed a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, but some of those words shine brighter than others. Some of those words provide greater clarity and comfort than other words. Words by their nature do not carry equal force or effect.
What would our Christmas celebration be like without angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased”? What would Easter be like without the angel declaring, “He is not here, but He has risen?”
What would this night be like—what would Good Friday, what would the Christian life be like without the greatest declaration of assurance given to us in all of Scripture; our Lord’s short three word summation from the cross: “It is finished”?
In fact in New Testament Greek, the summation of all that Jesus did for us and for our salvation comes to us in just one word, Tetelestai (Τετέλεσται), which translates, “It is finished.”
As Christ Himself hung on the cross, all of creation, heaven above, earth below, and hell beneath hang on that one word which was spoken by the parched and dying lips of the King of the Jews; “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Without those words, we might be left to wonder, “Is our sin completely paid for?” “Is our salvation fully won?” “Is it finished between God and mankind?” “Or is there something more that we need to do?”
With that one word, Τετέλεσται (It Is Finished) we have our Lord’s declaration, promise, and comfort that there is nothing more to do. It is complete. The matter has been brought to a close, to a finish, to its end.
There is no fine print. There’s no loophole. There’s no bringing the offense back due to insufficient payment. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” He said the word for our sake; so that we would have complete confidence before God, our accuser– the devil, the world, anyone who would remind us of or use our previous sins to injure us, and even in the face of our doubts and moments of uncertainty.
“It is finished!” All that would condemn us in the eyes of God our Father has been answered for by the bloody death of our Brother, Jesus the Christ. It is true what the prophets has written, “With His wounds we are healed. . . . The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5–6).
The problem in the Old Testament lesson is that Joseph’s brothers didn’t believe that the matter between Joseph and them was truly finished. They did not believe that forgiveness of the their past sins was truly irrevocable. They believed that Joseph’s forgiveness was conditional– lasting only as long as their father was alive.
“When Joseph’s brothers had seen that their father was dead, they said, ‘What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!’ (Genesis 50:15). They did not believe it was finished.
Don’t thing too poorly on the brothers. People are fickle. While they might be quick to speak forgiveness, once they are aware of a sin or a slight they never truly bury it. They put it away in a drawer or closet to be used when needed. Forgiveness remains only as long as the good favor of our fellow sinner remains. In the heat of an argument, the past is brought out of the closet and used as a weapon to gain the upper hand in an argument. We have had it done to us and we have done it to someone else.
Joseph’s brothers weren’t going to sit by and wait for what they thought would be inevitable. They decided to take action. It worked once for a while. They decide to lie. They come up with a message from beyond the grave— a dying wish from their sainted father that Joseph would have to honor.
They tell Joseph that before their father died he said, “Please forgive, I beg you, the offense of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong. And now, please forgive the offense of the servants of the God of your father.”
Desperate men do desperate things. For good measure they fall down on their knees and declared, “Behold, we are your servants” (Genesis 50:18). But Joseph is a gracious and kind lord. He had forgiven them their sins– the matter between them was finished. He now teaches his brothers the same.
He asks a rhetorical question. “Am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19). Joseph understood that he was a vessel through which God’s grace and forgiveness is dispensed. Thus, the forgiveness they received from Joseph’s was not Joseph’s alone to give, but God’s and if God’s it was complete.
That’s the reality behind confession and absolution A Christian comes into private confession and confesses his or her sins to a pastor/priest. In the stead and by the command of Jesus, he forgives his sins. He is bound by the seal. The sin is confessed and he is not to speak of it again. It is finished.
The brother only saw the evil that they did. Joseph saw something else. He summarized the whole affair in this one sentence. “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20) that many lives would be saved.
On Good Friday, what men and Satan meant for evil, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit meant for our good. Men intended that cross for evil. They wanted to kill the Son of God—get rid of him for good, silence him, destroy him. They lied. They gave false testimony. They perverted justice to bring about the crucifixion of the Son of God. It was evil compounded on evil. Bloody, blasphemous evil.
But the good of God transcended the evil of men. God used it for good—for your good—to save you and a world full of sinners, and to open the kingdom of heaven to you and all believers.
Τετέλεσται (It Is Finished!)” Every sin ever committed against you is atoned for in the death of Jesus. Every sin you have ever committed against another person and God is atoned for in the death of Jesus. It is finished. “
In Christ, God was working all things for eternal good. Sin and evil do not get the last word where you are concerned. Jesus does and His last word is the best of news: Τετέλεσται. With confidence in that one word, Τετέλεσται Luther wrote this prayer.
Merciful God, be gracious to me. I am a sinful being and deserve nothing but Thy displeasure. But regardless of my past life, I know without doubt that I am baptized and made a Christian for the forgiveness of sins and that my Lord Christ was born, suffered, died, and rose for me and gave His body and blood for the nourishment of the soul and the strengthening of faith. Therefore, I am absolved and freed from my sins in the name and power of Christ. Such a heart and faith can suffer ill and be lost, as little as God’s Word can fail or be false. Of this I can assure you, for God Himself is your security through His Word. (#222 of Luther’s Prayers)
Let there be no doubt. It is finished.
May the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.