v.15, 19, 21 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?...So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
Dear friends in Christ, this day we have as our text a familiar story. For this is a story common to all families—especially those with siblings. For where brothers and sisters are concerned—and other family too—when they get into fights or play tricks on each other—what so often happens next? Payback! Payback in full—or, as is often the case, payback beyond the scope of the original offense.
Such is what Joseph’s older brothers thought would happen to them. For you see, in their anger and frustration with their younger brother—who also was their father’s favourite son—they devised a plan to sell Joseph (their overly annoying and obnoxious brother) into slavery—get rid of him and tell their father Jacob that Joseph was dead—which was exactly what they did. Kind of makes the family squabbles we have pale in comparison, doesn’t it?
However, many years later, they discovered that Joseph, by God’s grace, had been made into a powerful figure in Egypt—indeed, the most powerful man in Egypt beside Pharaoh himself. Initially, Joseph had taken his family in during a terrible famine—had moved his entire extended family to Egypt—but now the boys’ father, Jacob, was dead. And the older brothers assumed that with dear old dad gone, it was now going to be time for some payback. That their former misdeeds—their sin—was now going to be their ruin. Uh-oh.
Beloved, does this same situation not happen to us as well? I know that in our youth we often do not seem too bothered by much of anything. But as we grow older, as we mature—especially in our faith as Christians—we grow more and more aware of our sin and the terrible nature of it all. Each of us is 100% sinner in the sight of God—each of us is deserving of God’s full and complete wrath—not just for the times we’ve fought with our siblings and family—but for all that we do—all that we are—which is in opposition to God and His perfect and holy will. And sometimes, we can even be brought to despair over the severity of our sinfulness, as Joseph's brothers were—wondering if true forgiveness can ever be ours.
May this never be, dear friends. For when the magnitude of our sin drives us to despair, the magnitude of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, which swallows sins—no matter how great they are—should be praised and increased all the more. Joseph’s brothers were terrified of him after their father died because they didn’t truly and fully believe that Joseph had forgiven them. At times, we can’t believe that God would forgive such rank and horrible sinners as ourselves.
But you see, dear friends, when Satan has driven you to your knees with the crushing weight of your sin before your eyes—when the world would seek to grind you up and lead you away from the light of the Saviour—Jesus comes to you. He speaks words of comfort and reconciliation to you. Jesus is your Joseph—who consoles you with the sure and certain promises given and confirmed to you in His own body and blood that He sacrificed unto death for your sins. Jesus is the One who does not condemn—He does not judge you harshly as you deserve—but declares you righteous and holy—as those who believe in Him and His cleansing blood.
It is through Jesus Christ that God gives life that runs over in the face of death. It is Jesus who gives hope in the face of despair. For through faith in Christ we are truly children of the heavenly Father—who has shown mercy to us—forgiving us and cleansing us from all evil and darkness.
Jesus speaks to you this day in the words of holy absolution. You are a sinner? You confess it freely? Thanks be to God—the Lord Jesus has died to take away your sin. He has suffered for it all in your place when He went to the cross and was pierced with cruel thorns, nails, and spear. All for you. All by grace.
Jesus washes you in your baptism, day by day, to remove the crushing weight of sin that perpetually hangs over your head. He removes the stains of the guilt—the filthy refuse that clings to your sin-spattered soul. He takes it away and covers you in His own holiness and righteousness—presenting you to the Father as one who has been redeemed by His blood.
Now this is not license to sin. For both wrath and mercy are with God and His anger rests on sinners. Therefore, we should look at it in this way. The greater the goodness and mercy of God is, the less it is to be abused. The more that we are forgiven, the more we are moved by the Holy Spirit to flee from sin and temptation. However, as sinners we will fall. And whoever falls should continually run for refuge to God’s grace. For we cannot buoy ourselves up—rather we must be lifted up by the merciful arms of our Saviour Jesus Christ. When forgiveness in Christ has been grasped, sin has already been cured.
Beloved, you will at times feel horrible—you will wrestle with God’s Law, with your own sinful nature and habits—you will fight against the world and the devil all the days of your life. For you will be sorely tempted to disappear from church for weeks/months/perhaps even years at a time (even without a pandemic!). Remember that faith is not obtained, nor retained, by your own strength—rather it is God’s gift given to sinners.
Therefore, we do not despair. Rather, we gather together in worship so that we may be lifted up and strengthened in the one true faith—fed and nourished by God’s gifts to us in His Word and Sacrament. As you come before this altar to eat and to drink of Christ’s body and blood in bread and wine—you are strengthened in your faith through the sure and certain proclamation of the forgiveness of your sins. Remember that each time sin bites you and hounds you—flee to the promises of God made sure and certain in the Word of Christ Jesus given unto death for you and all people.
Joseph spoke kindly to his brothers and promised to provide for them. Just so has the Lord Jesus done for you. He has not given you payback according to your sins, rather He has paid for your sins with the stripes on His own back. He took the full wrath and punishment of God into His own flesh so that you and I could be spared what we deserve. Instead, He pours out His riches and mercy upon you and me—undeserving sinners.
The Lord God confirms His Word of salvation spoken to you in your Baptism when you are absolved of your sins by the Word of the pastor who stands in Christ’s stead. He gives you a pledge of your salvation in bread and wine, which is also His own true body and blood—that you may not despair—but rejoice in the gift of salvation given to you this day and every day. For there is no payback from the heavenly Father to worry about—for Jesus has paid all our debt in full with the blood of His cross. Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.