Sunday, July 05, 2020

But God Meant It for Good

Genesis 50:15-21
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!"  So they sent a message 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."  And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.  Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, "Behold, we are your servants."
But Joseph said to them, "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.

Sermon for Fourth Sunday after Trinity                                              7/05/20
But God Meant It for Good

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

This is one of the toughest lessons to get straight.  It flies in the face of our emotions, our natural reactions, and our reason.  It is the lesson of God's care and providence.  It should be part of our thinking by the time we make it to our age, but it is often not.  In our society, because the Word is free and the right to worship is so common, the devil had to come up with another stratagem to hinder faith.  This time he used wealth and ease, comfort and free time.  He accustomed us to our comforts and gave us a sense of entitlement, and then when anything goes wrong, we feel it all the more acutely.  We measure our basic minimum tolerable conditions by standards far above the best that most of mankind has known throughout history, so it doesn't take much to make us feel really miserable.  And when we feel miserable it is difficult to keep the message of the Old Testament lesson in mind.  Our theme this morning is, but God meant it for good.

Joseph is one of the true heroes of the faith.  He was put through the proverbial mill and kept the faith, and acted with dignity and morality and faith.  He is taken by his older brothers when he is just 17.  He is first tossed into a dry pit to die, and then they sell him to a passing caravan into slavery.  He is taken from there to Egypt and sold in the slave market.  Then, in whatever circumstances he finds himself, he simply does good and right and does the work appointed to him.  And because of his steadfast faith, God is with him and blesses everything he does.  Before long he has worked his way up to head of his master's house, second only to Potiphar himself.

Then Potiphar's wife is attracted to him, and tries to seduce him, and, failing that, she tried to trap him into compromising himself.  Joseph does what is right and good, uttering those faithful words, "How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?"  His faithfulness is rewarded this time with punishment and prison, because Potiphar must take his wife's side against a mere slave.  While in prison, Joseph rises to taking care of the entire prison, second only to the keeper of the prison.  He interprets dreams for some of the more important prisoners, only to be forgotten when the interpretation proves true, and the cupbearer is returned to his original post.  He languishes in prison for another two years.

Finally, when he is thirty years old, Joseph interprets the dreams of Pharaoh, and is made the highest ranking officer in the court of Pharaoh, second only to the Pharaoh himself.  And you know the story of how he saved the food and rescued his family, and brought them to Egypt.  His goodness and holiness cost him just as dearly at times as it brought him success.  He had done nothing wrong, but His brothers had sold him into slavery and told his father that he had been torn to pieces by a wild animal.  At the point of our text, His father is dead and his brothers are facing the reality of what they did, and what they deserve, and what Joseph has the power to do to them.  They come to Joseph pleading for their lives – dishonestly even at this point, or so it seems.  Joseph, on the other hand deals with them in dignity and faith, as he always seems to do everything.  What a hero of the faith!

Then he teaches his brothers, and us, the truth that whatever we may face, and whatever God may put us through, God meant it for good!  All the troubles of his life were real and painful and frightening and frustrating, and what was done to Joseph was done from evil motives to hurt him – but God meant it all for good.  He said,  "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."

It didn't matter who did it or why, Joseph knew that God's hand was behind it all.  The evil they did was still evil.  They were still accountable for their actions before God, but Joseph understood God can take the evils we do and turn them for good, using our wickedness to accomplish His holy will!!  And so, Joseph forgave them instead.

The same thing is still true today.  How do I know? – well, for one thing, God never changes.  If He did it back then, He will do it today.  Secondly, God tells us in His Holy Word that He is with His holy people to bless us and keep us and work His holy will through us and for us and in us in this world of sin and trouble and pain.

So when people turn on us, and do evil to us, and events conspire against us and cause us frustrations, pains, and troubles, we may take comfort and be confident in the truth that God is at work none-the-less.  God sometimes pushes us to do things we don't want to do, and He takes us to places that we don't necessarily want to go.  He works through events and people – even the wickedness and evil of people around us – to put us in places and situations where He will use us for His purposes.

Again, the sin and wickedness of others is not created by God, nor does His use of them to accomplish His holy will change their evil to good or give them some excuse for being wicked.  They must face their wickedness, and answer for what they have done or said.  But God is still so wonderful and wise that He can take their evil and use it for good, just as He did with Joseph.  Most of the time we may not even know what God is doing, but He is there to bless us, and to protect us, and to work His good will in all things -- even things that are not good or pleasant.  And what is the will of God for us?

(Our salvation.)

And like Joseph, we are to be holy.  We are to see the will and hand of God by faith, and trust Him, and forgive those who sin against us.  How do I know?  The Bible tells me so.  We have the example of Jesus.  What Christ endured was not good or pleasant, but it was by the will and hand of God, even though evil men did their worst.  The men who sinned and crushed Jesus and crucified Him were still guilty of their evil.  But God meant it for good.  And Jesus prayed for their forgiveness, even as they killed Him.

Because of that great evil, because they put the very Son of God to death, though innocent, you and I are forgiven.  They meant it for evil, but God meant it for Good!  Your sins, whatever they may be, have been paid for.  You have been redeemed at the price of the suffering and death of the only-begotten Son of God.  You are forgiven!  He that believes and is baptized shall be saved!!

So, now, you are free to imitate Joseph, and imitate Jesus.  You can trust God, that in all things He means it for good. You don't have to know what it is that God is doing.  Joseph didn't until the very end.  But you must forgive.

How do I know?  Jesus said so.  In Matthew 6, just after teaching us the Lord's Prayer, in verses 14 and 15, Jesus says, "For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions."

Mind you, the act of forgiving others does not earn forgiveness.  Jesus did that on the cross.  But the hardened heart that will not forgive will turn away the grace of God.  It is a strange truth.  You cannot really forgive unless you are changed by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit, and yet, once you are a Christian, you cannot but forgive.  Besides, when you understand that whatever evil they may have done was used by God for His holy purposes, then it is evidently unbelieving to withhold forgiveness.  The Apostle John wrote about that when He says that "if you do not love your brother whom you have seen, then, how can you love God whom you have not seen?"  Jesus said "first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."

You might want to ask, "How can we tell when God is using the wickedness of people around me for good?", or "How can I tell what good God is doing?"  The answer is, you cannot, any more than Joseph could.  God doesn't ask us to figure out what He is doing.  He asks us to trust in Him and to walk by faith.  The lesson is not that we should be patient and forgiving when we can see what God is accomplishing.  The lesson is to live out our faith, and trust God to do what He has so often promised He will do.  Our concern is not primarily with what God is doing or what those other people are doing.  Our concern is with our life and our faith and our forgiving others.

Look at the altar.  There God is doing something for our good.  He is feeding us the food of eternity, the medicine of immortality.  This is the holy meal that brings us our forgiveness and salvation.  Here is Christ's true body and blood, to eat and to drink.  Christ paid an enormous price for it, He endured evil and violence against Himself, and carried all our sins to the cross – but God meant it for good, and pours out that good on us through this Holy Supper.  Through Jesus, God has taken our sins and used them for our blessing – calling us children of God.  He has made more of us and promised us more than we may have known if there were no sin.  That doesn't make sin good, or even desirable, but it shows God to be the great and wise and loving Father He truly is.  You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)

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