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 “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘What if Joseph should bear a grudge against us and pay us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!’ 16 So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father charged before he died, saying, 17 Thus you shall say to Joseph, Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.’ And Joseph 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 And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve 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)

You know the story well. Joseph’s story is a favorite. It contains all the elements of a good story. As a boy he wore a coat of many colors that his father made for him. He had a lot of brothers, ten half brothers and one full brother.

Joseph was his father’s favorite son. He followed ordered. He did whatever his father asked, that included spying on his brothers. Joseph brothers came to resent Joseph. The situation worsened when Joseph told his brothers about some dreams he was having, wherein his brothers bowed down before him.

Joseph’s story is a story of the theology of glory. It seems to start that way, but Joseph’s life is a good example of what Orthodox Christians call the theology of the cross. There’s a big difference between a theology of glory and the theology of the cross. A theology of glory has many manifestations (e.g., prosperity preachers, preaching so called, divine principles to follow to avoid hardship and achieve a happy life; church services that follow an entertainment model, preaching positivity & empowerment). A theology of glory has no place for weakness, failure, suffering, or redemption of sin.

The story of Joseph and his brothers is a good example of the theology of the cross. Joseph’s story not only prepares people of faith to think rightly about how God will bring about the redemption of His people and the world in by the Promised Messiah, it’s a good example of how God works in the lives of His people, the church, and sinners.

Joseph’s brothers were getting pretty angry with their little brother Joseph. He was growing in stature and power in the eyes of their father Jacob. The brothers came to hate Jacob’s favorite son, the dreamer. They hated him so much that they wanted him gone. To achieve that goal they came up with a plan, well a partial plan anyway.

One day Joseph went out to the field where his brothers were. They grabbed him and threw him in a pit. That’s as far as they got in that pre-planning stage. Once they had him in the pit, they argued about what to do with him. Most of them wanted to kill him. Judah did not. He persuaded the brothers to sell him to some merchants who also dealt in slaves. From that moment on Joseph’s life was not his own nor was it pleasant. Joseph would never go home again.

The merchants sold him to a captain in Pharaoh’s army named Potiphar. As a slave, Joseph proved himself. He was smart, loyal, and hard working. As a result he was given some authority over the other slaves. But just as things were looking up, Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of assault. Joseph was thrown into prison and forgotten. Years later, Pharaoh was told about Joseph’s unique ability to interpret dreams. Pharaoh told Joseph of his troubling dream. Joseph told Pharaoh of seven prosperous years followed by seven lean years.

That was not only Joseph’s get out of jail card, it was his opportunity to serve at Pharaoh’s right hand. Enter Joseph’s brothers many years later. The lean years not only befell Egypt, the land of Jacob was also struck by famine. In an attempt to save the family from starvation, Jacob sent all but the youngest son to Egypt to purchase food. Unbeknownst to them, their little brother was the man in charge of such things. They reached Egypt and stood before Joseph and asked if they could purchase supplies to take back home.

Now here is part of the story that often get’s left out in preaching on this morning’s text. Joseph ends up creating a rather complicated plan of action. Scholars are divided over Joseph’s motives implementing such a complicated plan. Some think Joseph was intending to forgive them all along and concocted the plan as a way to determine whether and just how repentant the brothers were. Were they still scoundrels or were they really sorry. As I read the story, it seems to me that Joseph was struggling with how exactly he was going to deal with his brothers. I think Joseph was struggling between some level of personal revenge and doing what was right in God’s sight.

When Joseph first saw and recognized his brothers, he disguised himself to look more like an Egyptian than a Hebrew so they would not recognize him. Next he questioned them to collect intelligence to find out if his father was still alive, if they had treated their father well in the intervening years, and was the standing of his full and youngest brother Benjamin. Third, Joseph accused them of being spies who meant Egypt harm, which was the first step in a developing plan.

After accusing them, Joseph proposed a way that they could prove their innocence by bringing their youngest brother, Benjamin to Egypt. Joseph puts them in jail for three days (an interesting number) to mull the situation over.

On the third day Joseph sets them free, loads them up with corn and grain, and hides the money they brought for payment in one of their packs as a way to frame them for theft. Joseph also keeps one of the brothers, Simeon as a hostage.

The plan gets a bit more complicated and required a couple of trips back and forth. On the second trip Joseph had money and a silver cup planted in Benjamin’s pack and accused them of thievery. This was a way to keep Benjamin with him and guarantee the return of the rest.

I don’t know about you, but I often feel less that gracious towards those who have brought harm to me and mine. It’s our natural reaction. When someone does something bad to us, we want revenge. We want to hurt them so they know how we felt. Joseph wasn’t that different than any of us.

Imagine what life was like for Joseph. Imagine the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritually trauma he suffered over the years. Think of the worst time period in your life and what kind of an effect it had on you.

I am sure that during his troubles Joseph wondered if the God of his fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had abandoned him. I imagine he had prayed time and again for freedom and vindication. Things done to Joseph by his brothers, by Potiphar’s wife, Potiphar, and a fellow prisoner sinful and unjust. Yet, God did nothing to stop any of it or bring the effects to a quick resolution. All that happened flowed from that one moment of selling him to slave traders.

As his brothers stood before him, Joseph struggled with the same two realities we deal with in tough times. He struggled with his old sinful nature and with the fact that God had never abandoned Him and had in fact used all the bad in his life for good. Not only his personal good, but for the good of a nation and the good of his Hebrew family.

That’s where our assigned reading picks up. The brothers are back in Canaan with their father Jacob. By now they knew that they had been dealing with Joseph all along. Some scholars think the brothers told Jacob what they had done. Others doubt it. Either way, shortly after their return to Canaan, Jacob died.

If Joseph was going to show mercy to them on account of their father, that reason was gone. So they were afraid again and sent a messenger to Joseph saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.’”

Once the message was delivered, true or otherwise, the brothers go back to Egypt and bow down before Joseph, just as the dream decades earlier had foreseen.

That’s when Joseph did an incredible thing. That’s when Joseph embraced the theology of the cross. He said to his brothers, “‘Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

Joseph told them that he had no right to stand in God’s place and withhold the forgiveness of sins. “Am I in the place of God?” A rhetorical question. If God had forgiven them and used their evil deed to save the lives of many people and the Hebrew bloodline, who was he to do less.

Most people in the world both inside and outside the church tend to forget their place in this world and life. They don’t understand that each and every time we ignore what God has said, done, taught, and commanded we are actually usurping God’s authority. We are taking His place. Replacing His rule and words with our own. There is no better way to keep people separate and at odds with each other, than to preach a message of unforgiveness. That’s by the way a major platform of Black Lives Matters, the Anarchists, and the progressive. There is no forgiveness for past perceived sins, only continual punishment.

Joseph on the other hand yielded the full power of his office as an Egyptian ruler and set aside his personal hurt and history to yield to the will and grace of God. He knew his place and he knew that what God ordains is always good.

In that moment, Joseph got to see what so many of us don’t get to see during our own life times. He got to see what the Lord God had been doing in his life and why he had to suffering so many hardships. He got the answers to his questions. He also got to see the theology of the cross in action. God not only forgives sins, God also redeems sin and the lives of sinners. The Lord God makes it all work together for the good to those who love Him.

What Judas meant for evil in the life of Jesus, God the Father intended and used (that is redeemed) for good. The betrayal in service to the crucifixion resulted in the atonement for the sins of the world and ended with the resurrection and ascension on account of our justification.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples to forgive, and not just once, not just seven times, but seventy times seven (490 times) which is Jesus’s way saying “Don’t stop forgiving. Ever!”

To that end, Christ gave His church the public office of priest, pastor, father, minister, which ever biblical title you want to employ. He gave the church that office so that there would be a man who would stand in His stead before the children of God to forgive and retain sins based on the Word of God and on a person’s confession.

All Christians in their persons should have a disposition of grace and forgiveness. When Christians or groups of Christians are mostly known for hell fire damnation, or for being a complaining, demanding, or ridged people they might be missing the point of the Christian life.

That is what the Epistle lesson is about. It’s about being gracious to each other as members of the church. The weak should be gracious toward the strong, and the strong toward the weak. What’s meant by strong and weak is for a sermon on another day, but his message is to be gracious and forgiving toward each other.

We have been forgiven our unwillingness and struggle to forgive as God forgives us, comforts us, and speaks kindly to us. That which others meant for evil, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit redeem for good. You’re not only forgiven, everything is redeemed.


May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen

Pentecost 15, 2020 – A Life Lived in The Theology of the Cross

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