Studies in Genesis. Presentation 75. Grace and Faith Gen 50v15-26. Presentation 75. Introduction.
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The experience of the believer reglarly reflects the swing of a pendulum. These pendulum swings are often greater in early Christian life as we swing from fear to faith and then from faith to fear. We have an example of this in Gen. 50.15ff. We are confronted with a massive pendulum swing from faith to fear in the lives of Joseph's
Immediately after Jacob’s death, Joseph's brothers are afraid that he may engage in some kind of revenge cf v15... In the past they'd treated Joseph abominably and they knew it. He had spoken words of forgiveness to them but was that forgiveness of limited duration? Was it given simply for their father's sake to spare him any further grief? But now that Jacob was dead would Joseph's attitude towards them alter?
This question arose because grace was
a concept they all struggled to
Their reaction to grace is not uncommon. The realm of God's grace is so totally different from our experience in this world that at times we stagger to try and take it in. Not long before his death John Bunyan wrote:
‘There is nothing in heaven or earth that can so awe the heart of a man as the grace of God. Tis that which makes a man fear tis that which makes a man tremble, Tis that which makes a man bow and bend and break in pieces’.
In pointing out the overwhelming, staggeringly hard to comprehend, nature of God's grace we have not fully explained the reasons for the brother’s concern. They had been robbed of a peace that had been the product of their forgiveness. Ask who would want to disturb this peace in the minds and hearts of the brothers?
Is Satan not at work here? He tempts us to question the
God’s grace and produces a ‘too good to be true’
response within our hearts. He has us query the
genuineness of God's forgiveness.
He stirs up fear and is determined to make us
anxious about our relationship with God, whispering…
"Call yourself a Christian after a past like yours!
Do you really think you have been truly forgiven?”
While nothing helps us to press on in our Christian lives like the assurance of Christ's love, forgiveness, acceptance and continual protection, nothing brings greater distress to the heart than the thought that these things have been withdrawn or have never truly been ours in the first place.
Immediately our assurance of forgiveness is undermined we join a roller coaster ride of anxiety as our thinking sweeps in and out of the realm of grace.
Of course we don’t deserve forgiveness. Desert
is not something that belongs to the realm
of grace! Satan scores his successes, when he
whips up anxieties in the hearts of God's
children. Robert Murray McCheyne wrote:
‘It is more humbling for us to take what
grace offers, than to bewail our wants
We are tempted to make our sinful past the centre of our thinking about God, rather than the nature of God himself. When the locus of our thought should be fixed upon God we focus it upon ourselves and so fall flat on our faces! This is what happened to Joseph's brothers. Their thinking was conditioned by their sinful past and what they think it deserved. They are blind to Joseph's gracious forgiveness, which in turn was a reflection of God's forgiveness. McCheyne continues:
‘A sense of forgiveness does not proceed
from the marks seen in yourself but a
discovery of the beauty, worth and
freeness of Christ. We look outward
for peace not inwards’.
If we try to bring peace to our anxious hearts by looking within for evidence of improved performance we are bound to fail. The source of our peace is the person of Christ and his atoning death upon the cross. His sacrifice wholly satisfied the demands of God's justice and produced peace, a peace that can only be found within the borders of the realm of grace. Joseph’s brother's thinking had been dragged across the border of the realm of grace and so fear and deep-seated anxiety was produced.
Realm of Grace
In order to make themselves more acceptable to Joseph the brothers sent a message supposedly given them by Jacob cf v16. Some commentator's suggest they made up this message and hoped that by invoking their father's name it might restrain any vengeance Joseph may have planned. How did Joseph react? He wept! v17 Why? Because they had misjudged him, and thought his past forgiveness was insincere.
These tears reflect the pain produced
when grace is misunderstood.
Joseph, by forgiving his brothers,
had done no more than mirror
the character of God -
a tender hearted heavenly Father
who runs with outstretched arms
to welcome the penitent home.
Might we too have brought tears to the eyes of God by questioning the reality of his grace and forgiveness? There are some Christians who in the course of prayer batter down the gates of heaven and cry out to have sins forgiven, which have previously confessed and been forgiven. Suddenly they think that forgiveness came too easily. They did not feel badly enough about their sin. They didn't grieve long enough
over it. In order to be forgiven ‘properly’ they believe
they need to humble and abase themselves
When we behave in this way we are really insulting
the grace of God!
This kind of thinking has been influenced from outside of the realm of grace. It is more preoccupied with what I think ‘I deserve’ than with ‘what God is like’. It expects too little of God. This thinking belongs to the world of the prodigal’s elder brother. When the prodigal returned home the elder brother was furious that the father had treated his wayward
brother so generously.
The father had dealt with the prodigal not as he
‘deserved’ but ‘according to the riches of his grace’.
Do we find it so hard to believe that God is eager
not only to forgive our past but to bless us richly
in the future?
In order to comfort and encourage his brothers, Joseph makes a startling declaration in v20.... Joseph reminds them that God is Sovereign. In other words there are no accidents under God's rule. All that happens in our lives is either planned or permitted by God. No one in earth or heaven can shut a door he has opened, or open a door he has closed.
Knowing that nothing happens in God's world
without God's permission may frighten the godless,
but it comforts the saints. It assures them that
everything that happens has a meaning, whether
or not they can see it at the time.
Some sinners have been sure that by exercising their freedom of choice they have thwarted the purposes of God and some saints look back on their lives and fear they may have done so! But human freedom can never restrict the sovereignty of God. That is what sovereignty is all about. If God's sovereignty is restricted by man's freedom, then God is not sovereign, man is sovereign.
“While we deliberate he reigns; when
we decide wisely he reigns; when we
decide foolishly he reigns, when we
serve him in humble loyalty he reigns;
when we serve him self-assertively he
reigns; when we rebel and seek to
withhold our service, he reigns”.
It is both humbling and liberating for the Christian to discover that in everything God is in charge. That from the divine perspective the purposes of God cannot be thwarted. This of course does not mean that we are not responsible or accountable for our behaviour. We are! We can never make the sovereignty of God an excuse for careless living and say, 'God will overrule no matter what I do.'
But it is a comfort to the saint who finds
himself thinking, 'by my behaviour I have
made things difficult for God'.
Commenting on those who have felt the force of God's sovereignty Packer writes;
“They would say it has caused a real Copernican revolution in their outlook; it has given a new centre of gravity to their entire personal universe. Previously as they now see man had been central in their universe, and God had been on the circumference. They had thought him a spectator of events in this world rather than as their author. They had assumed that the controlling factor of every situation was mans handling of it rather than God's plan for it, and they had looked upon the happiness of human beings as the most interesting and important thing in creation, for God no less than for themselves. But now they see that this man-centred outlook was sinful and unbiblical; they see that from one standpoint the whole purpose of the Bible is to overthrow it... and they realise that from henceforth God must be central in their thoughts and concerns just as he is central in the reality in his own world”.
The sovereignty we find Joseph reflecting upon is that which God exercises for the good and welfare of his church. Joseph said to his brothers, 'Your behaviour was motivated by evil, you meant me harm, now God not only permitted that to happen, he took that instrument of evil and he transformed it. He brought good out of it'. We might ask does this principle apply to all deliberate sin in every instance? That is what the Bible teaches. Evil cannot take place without the permission of God. If it could then God would not be sovereign. And having giving permission for evil God is saying, 'I am big enough to use that, to bring good out of that'. You are probably thinking of specific examples of evil right now e.g.,
'How could God use that, how could he
use the evils perpetrated in Auswitch…..?'
Let me point you to the greatest evil history. The crucifixion of Jesus. No one was ever as innocent as he. No one was ever treated as unjustly as he. No one ever suffered as much as he yet from that evil God brought the greatest possible good. cf Acts 2.22-24 As long as the cross forms the watershed of human history, can anyone seriously suggest that God is unable to use any evil? It is not simply that most things in life are controlled by God but all things are under his control. Therefore God is able to use every evil for my good. Thomas Watson helpfully
illustrates this point from the workings of a watch:
‘As in a watch the wheels seem to move contrary
to one another, but all carry an the motions of the
watch: so things that seem to move cross to the
godly, yet by the wonderful providence of God
work to their good’.
There is an important pastoral point to be made - it is possible for Christians to be overwhelmed by past sin. They consider it has marred their fruitfulness and usefulness to God and so constantly berate themselves for that. But if God is sovereign and so able to bring good out of the greatest evil, what might he do with our past sin and failure? Think of Paul who persecuted the church, or Peter who denied his Lord! God positively capitalised upon their sin and failure. What might he do if you bring your sinful past to him and say,
'Sovereign Lord help me to see how you can
bring good out of the evil I have done.
“Restore the years that the locusts
have eaten!”‘ Joel 2.25
The book of Genesis closes with a promise and a coffin, which together point the way forward for the people of Israel. Was Joseph aware of the dark storm clouds of persecution gathering? He predicted that God would see his people through those difficult times and also left a tangible encouragement for his people. He did not ask to be buried in Canaan immediately after his death. Nor did he want a costly tomb to be constructed to contain his mortal remains. He asked to be carried into the land of promise when
Israel returned v25.
So his coffin lay in Egypt for almost 400 years.
A constant reminder to the Hebrew people
that their destiny lay outside of Egypt and
that one day they were going home.
Whenever the Hebrew people were discouraged and tempted to believe that they theirs would always be a miserable existence, that they should resign themselves to slavery in Egypt, all they had to do was walk past Joseph’s coffin they were reminded of his words, and God’s promise regarding the future.
Joseph might as well have been standing there with his suitcases packed, for thou dead he yet spoke these words to his people, 'Trust God we're going home, trust God we're going home'.
His was a rock steady faith. And home he went cf Ex. 13.19
What encourages our faith, when we are oppressed.
What prevents us from becoming too content
in this world? A coffin doesn’t point us to a
better future but an open tomb does. This is
the glorious reminder to Christians that we
too are going home.
Jesus promised his followers, 'I go to prepare a place for you...' Jn 14.4.
That is what believers have to look forward to.
Interestingly, the writer to the Hebrews singled out only one aspect of Joseph’s faith for comment in Heb. 11. 22. “By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones.” Joseph lived looking over the horizon to the fulfilment of God’s promise. Do we? Does Joseph’s example and that of the patriarchs stir our faith to believe God’s promise? The writer to the
Hebrews expected that it should and so he writes;
'Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of
witnesses let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin
that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the
race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus the
author and perfecter of our faith’. 12.1-2
Trust God, we're going home!