On the signboard outside of our church near the highway one reads a message on each side of the sign:
God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense and Faith Binds Us To God’s Promises.
Our recent ALCA convention which was held in the Tri Cities in Washington State had for a theme: Amazing Grace. Many of the messages that were spoken were centered around this great truth, a truth that is often difficult for us remember and to live under it: God’s unmerited favor towards us.
Why is it so difficult to accept God’s grace towards us when He continually tells us in His Word that He loves us, that He is the One who has the authority to punish evil, that His goodness is greater than all our sin and that He will always take care of us? This is a common difficulty that most Christians struggle with at times, not only in today’s world, but even in the time of Joseph it was a struggle for Joseph’s brothers to believe that forgiveness was just that: God saying: I forgive you out of love and grace.
Many here today remember a specific day in which we experienced the grace of God and began to live in the freeing power of forgiveness which meant that we were now free from the penalty and the power of sin. Or perhaps it has been a gradual and growing awareness in our experience of the grace of God which is about God joyfully accepting us on the basis of Jesus’s sacrificial death on the cross.
For the first time, we felt the cleanness of our conscience, in that there was now fellowship with our God through Christ and fellowship one with another. But then we began to walk the life of a Christian, and whether it was in a short time or even many years later, we began to struggle with the question of assurance.
Is grace really true? Could God really have forgotten all the sin I have done? Is it true that God will never again bring up my sin before me? Is it really and truly separated as far as the east is from the west?
We are in chapter 50 of Genesis and Joseph’s brothers, who out of hatred and envy had sold Joseph to the slave traders, had heard 17 years earlier from Joseph himself some shocking, disturbing, but yet joyful words as he revealed himself to them.
KJV Genesis 45:1 Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.
2 And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard.
3 And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.
4 And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.
5 Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.
6 For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest.
7 And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
8 So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.
9 Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him, Thus saith thy son Joseph, God hath made me lord of all Egypt: come down unto me, tarry not:
10 And thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen, and thou shalt be near unto me, thou, and thy children, and thy children's children, and thy flocks, and thy herds, and all that thou hast:
11 And there will I nourish thee; for yet there are five years of famine; lest thou, and thy household, and all that thou hast, come to poverty.
Fastforwarding to 17 years later, after Jacob had died, we see the brothers coming to Joseph(50:15). What are they thinking as they approach their brother who had spoke grace into them so many years earlier? Let us read Genesis 50:15-21.
Genesis 50:15 And when Joseph's brethren saw that their father was dead, they said, Joseph will peradventure hate us, and will certainly requite us all the evil which we did unto him.
16 And they sent a messenger unto Joseph, saying, Thy father did command before he died, saying,
17 So shall ye say unto Joseph, Forgive, I pray thee now, the trespass of thy brethren, and their sin; for they did unto thee evil: and now, we pray thee, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of thy father. And Joseph wept when they spake unto him.
18 And his brethren also went and fell down before his face; and they said, Behold, we be thy servants.
19 And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God?
20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.
21 Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.
Joseph wept: Why? Because they doubted Joseph words of grace and forgiveness extended to them out of God’s love flowing through him for them. 50:17
Because they feared that he would now punish them. 50:18-19
Because they thought that that evil they had done to him was greater than the kindness of his grace and forgiveness. 50:20
Because they feared for their future as they were dependent upon him. 50:21
God loves you!!!
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Only God has the authority to punish evil.
Romans 12:19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.
His kindness is greater than evil, evil does not have the last word,
KJV Isaiah 53:5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
He will take care of you in every aspect of your life.
John 16:33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
1 John 5:4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
In closing, I want to read a facebook entry by Marla Peterson, the daughter of Brian and Melissa Peterson, and she has given me permission to use it today.
I think about suffering sometimes. And that may sound odd, but it’s a aspect of reality that I believe forms so much of our worldview, our culture, and our personhood.
What I’ve realized is that God acknowledges suffering in a way that no one else can. God knows supremely the wrongness of this world because God is perfectly good— therefore, recognizes challenges to goodness more truly than we can.
The Bible, particularly the Old Testament, continually describes the horrifying state of a nation, a people, or a person. God does not hide the fallen state of humanity; He points it out and rebukes it time and time again. But God doesn’t do this out of pride or conceit. God is providing a true description of reality from an unbiased perspective that we wouldn’t otherwise have.
I feel like these descriptions should be read like a sentence fragment right before the comma (in nerdy grammatical settings, we call this a compound sentence with a coordinating conjunction) followed by:
“, but God knew His perfect and sinless son would be crucified to die to redeem these broken people… to redeem this broken nation that fell away.”
God draws attention to suffering and brokenness because it’s part of our beautiful redemption story. He brings up suffering because he knows that the joy of the gospel overshadows it— even if we don’t quite feel that reality yet.
We can view the realities of the Old Testament and the New Testament as two separate sentences, I suppose. But I actually prefer them together as one compound sentence with a coordinating conjunction. Who knew grammar could be so helpful in conveying biblical themes.
Suffering feels a little too heavy for me these days, but God knows that. And in response, I think God says, “I know. I know it feels that way, and that is okay.” And I do believe that Jesus still weeps with us, even knowing that a victorious ending awaits.
But I think God also asks us to trust in the promise written in Romans 8: The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us (v. 18).
I don’t think this verse requires that we deny, minimize, or ignore suffering. If anything, it allows me to acknowledge the magnitude of my suffering, my community’s suffering, and this world’s suffering while trusting that what God declares is true— the gospel and the glory of God outweighs the seemingly stifling heaviness of suffering in this present age.
He loves you and His grace is yours today and always!