A sermon preached on Genesis 45:1-15, October 27, 2019 by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD. Week eighteen of “Genesis: The Big Read,” a continuing sermon series through the book of Genesis, Ordinary Time 2019.
I. Joseph & Judah (vs. 1-3)
From chapter 42 up until chapter 45, Joseph has been testing his brothers. Why? To see if they give a darn, to put it politely. To test if they can even receive the forgiveness he wants to give them. To test their repentance and contrition for their sin. Joseph tests them to the point of purposefully framing Benjamin, the youngest brother, with the theft of his special silver cup. This time, will anyone step in for Benjamin? Yes. You see, there is another star in this story and we haven’t said much about him yet. As we look book on Joseph’s account, we see that there is one brother whose plans succeed where others fail. Who is that? It’s Judah. Chapter 44:33:
33 Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. 34 For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me [irony alert!]? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.”45:1 Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him.”
Bruce Waltke notes here, “The first instance of human substitution in Scripture reveals a different Judah than the one who sold his brother into slavery.” (Genesis, pg. 562) What melts Joseph, making him drop the charade of knowledge and power here? An act of substitution and sacrifice for a beloved brother by the one from whom will come the Messiah himself. How beautifully the Holy Spirit has so arranged Holy Scripture, so that here, at the apex of this story, both Judah and Joseph point us to Jesus.
II. Come Near to Me (vs. 4-8)
Focusing more closely on Joseph, verse 3 tells us that as Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, they could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. That’s putting it lightly. A more literal translation might be, they were shaking in their boots. They were firmly within his hands and he could do whatever he wanted with them. So what will he do? Is this a vengeance story?
Some of you may have followed the tragic story of Botham Jean, a young Christian man who was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer in Dallas, TX. Justin Taylor, writing for The Gospel Coalition, says this:
“On September 6, 2018, Amber Guyger—an off-duty patrol officer in Dallas—entered the apartment of 26-year-old accountant Botham Jean. She later said she thought it was her own apartment and mistook Jean for a burglar, shooting and killing him. One year later, on October 1, 2019, she was found guilty of murder. On October 2, she was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Botham Jean’s brother Brandt was allowed to give a victim-impact statement, and he addressed Amber Guyger directly. The result was a beautiful Christian testimony—truly salt and light in a dark and twisted world.”
Brandt said this to Amber:
“If you truly are sorry, I can speak for myself, I forgive, and I know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you. … And I’m not gonna say I hope you rot and die just like my brother did, but I presently want the best for you. … And the best would be to give your life to Christ. … I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.” (He Asked to Hug the Woman Who Killed His Brother: ‘I Forgive You.’ ‘I Love You.’ ‘Give Your Life to Christ.’ By Justin Taylor)
Brandt ended by asking permission to personally approach and then embrace the defendant. Amazing. The video of the exchange is even more powerful than I can here put into words.
In a similar fashion, Joseph tells his brothers, those would-be murderers, to come near to him (vs. 4). Where does love like this come from? Only from Christ Jesus, the one who extended peace to those who abandoned him at the cross. Nothing in world changes the disposition of the heart toward others like the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Joseph could have accused his brothers even as he had been falsely accused, and he would have been right. He could have had them thrown into jail just as Joseph had been falsely imprisoned and he would have been right. But here he says instead, “Come near to me, please.”
I say again: nothing in all the world has this kind of power but the Gospel – the announcement of salvation from sin and all its consequences through Jesus’ death and resurrection. That alone can heal, redeem, reconcile, and save! Friends, this is why we must be ultra-clear on the content of the Gospel. We cannot afford to simply preach moralism. That will not ultimately save guilty sinners. We cannot afford to preach another gospel, say, the prosperity gospel. That will not save guilty sinners.
And we must also be clear that each of us continues to need the Gospel. We need to preach it to one another. To be reminded of it again and again corporately and at home, together and individually. We talk much about “outreach” but we must also, in Costi Hinn’s phrase, “inreach.” (God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel, pg. 193) We must never take the Gospel for granted – that’s one of the reasons why I’m so glad so many of you are taking Christianity Explored with us! The Gospel is the center and source of both our salvation and our sanctification. If you want a better marriage, you must focus on the Gospel. If you want parent your children well, you must focus on the Gospel. Kids, if you want to learn to love your siblings and friends (frenemies, too), you must focus on the Gospel.
Brandt’s example makes vivid to me Joseph’s example, which is meant to lead us to what Christ has done for us – toward a God who, in his mercy, does not give us all that we deserve and by his grace gives us what we do not deserve. What gave Joseph this perspective upon his brothers’ actions? As Pastor Tom Baker puts it, it was his view of God. And his view on the saving purposes of God. Read verse seven: “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.” (Joseph Forgives His Brothers – Genesis 37, 45 50. Issuesetc.org)
Our passage ends by telling us that the reconciliation between Joseph and his long-lost brothers was now complete: “And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.” (v. 15) With this, the family line of promise begins to heal and with it, Israel, the people of God, are preserved as they come to dwell in Egypt during the remainder of the famine. Just so, we are kept and preserved in the power of the Gospel as we continue on as the people of God by grace of God.
And so may glory, honor, and praise be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and always. Amen.