Brother's Return - Genesis 43
Click to download the Word Doc...
Click to download the PDF...
Brother’s Return – 11.14.2021
You know, I have a really alarming sort of thing to share with you all this morning to start out. I started working out last week. I was exposed to COVID, and so I went and got tested a couple of times, and the second time I got tested, I went over to the urgent care on Pierson, and over there, when they do the test they also take your blood pressure. And so my test was negative, but the nurse lady was absolutely determined that I should have a bad day, and so she also told me my blood pressure – which was really not great for someone my age. It was way too high. It makes sense, I suppose, I drink way too much coffee, and I uh, I work out – well, never. You know, at first COVID messed with my routine, and then I started growing the beard, as all men know the beard helps cover up that second chin – so you really couldn’t tell that I hadn’t worked out, so… I didn’t. And so I got that blood pressure report, and I thought – wow, that’s not where it needs to be. And so I could either cut back on my coffee, or I could go back to working out. So the next morning, I’m on the treadmill – and it’s been a while, but wow it was terrible. I think I’m allergic to working out. I broke out in sweats, my face got all red, and I felt so tired. Breathing like a monster truck, can barely get up the stairs from the basement. I thought, you know, you work out to get stronger – but when I got done, I felt a lot weaker. And then the next morning, I woke up and my legs hurt. I hadn’t even worked out, but my legs were just…in pain. My body was just like, “Good morning, everything hurts.” I don’t know, I don’t know – I think I’m allergic to working out. It didn’t get any better with the weights either. I tried running on the treadmill in the basement, and that didn’t work out so well – so then I tried the weights. And I thought I had the basic concept down. You lift the weight, and your arm muscles get stronger. But for me, it was like the opposite happened. Every time I lifted the weight up, it got a little harder. My arm got weaker as I tried to make it stronger. Clearly I’m allergic to working out.
It’s funny because we all know, working out – going for a run, or lifting weights or whatever it is – it rips our body apart, and then out body builds back better. Our muscles become stronger because they have been torn down. That soreness we feel, it’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of growth. And we all know that. But what’s interesting is that, even though we all know that about physical exercise, it never occurs to us that THAT might be what’s happening in our spiritual or emotional lives as well. In each of our stories, we all have moments that break us down, and what I hope to show you with chapter 43 of Genesis and the story of Joseph is that with God in our lives there is a way to build back better. To grow and be strengthened by the stuff that feels like it’s making us weaker. Let’s take a look.
We open up in chapter 43, with verse 1 [read. v.1-3]. Now, if you remember from last week – Joseph is now the governor of Egypt, and all his brothers came and bowed down before him and bought grain from him. He accused them of being spies, and he told them, “go home and bring back your little brother, then I will know you’re telling the truth – and I’ll keep one brother Simeon here in prison, until you guys get back.” Then the big reveal last week was that in their bags of grain, Joseph had put their money BACK into their bags. And they were so worried because they figured that the mean governor of Egypt would assume they stole the grain or stole their money. And chapter 42 ends with them getting home, telling dad, telling Jacob, all about what happened. This governor guy was really mean to us, he locked us up and he kept Simeon in jail and he said if we don’t bring Benjamin with us next time, he’ll put all of us in jail. And Jacob’s response, at the end of last chapter, Jacob says, “Nope. You can’t take Benjamin.” Really just gunning for the Father of the year award over there. But then in our scripture for today, the chapter opens up and we’ve run out of food. We have to go back, and we have to bring Benjamin.
[read v.8-9]. So Judah pipes up and makes a pledge. I will look after the kid. Now you might not remember this, I didn’t – I had to go back and look it up, but but does anybody remember which brother suggested that they should sell Joseph into slavery? (It was Judah). 6 chapters ago he was the guy selling his brother into slavery, and now here he is stepping up, here he is taking responsibility for his little brother. It’s the exact same situation, cranky dad who is clearly showing favoritism for the youngest brother – but something has been working in Judah’s heart. We are starting to see transformation in his life. So Jacob responds, [read v.11-13]. Jacob allows them to go – take your brother, take twice as much money (explain that it was a mistake), take a bunch of spices and nice gifts to straight up bribe this guy. They are so convinced Joseph is going to be this angry, vindictive governor – they want to approach him with all sorts of appeasement.
[read v.15-18]. Joseph says to his servant – take them to my house and prepare them a meal. And what do they think? Crap, he’s mad at us because of the silver, and he’s going to seize us and make us slaves and take our donkeys. So they come before Joseph’s steward, and they start babbling, trying to explain “we’re so sorry, we don’t know how the money got in our bags, we brought it back, and we brought some more money, and we don’t know what happened please don’t kill us, we’re so sorry.” And Joseph, through his steward, says this in verse 23, this is a beautiful verse, listen to this, [read v.23]. He says, “it’s all right, don’t be afraid.” Now there is something absolutely stunning about this passage and I don’t want you to miss it, I don’t want to mess this up. If you fell asleep, that’s okay – just wake up for the next two minutes and then you can go back to sleep. Here’s the key: the way the brothers approach Joseph is the way we approach God. In a metaphorical parallel – Joseph is Jesus. We come to God, and we’ve got guilt in our hearts and silver in our bags and we are convinced that God is out there to get us. God is this angry rule maker and he just wants to crush us, to make us slaves and steal our donkeys. Joseph sits at the right hand of Pharoah, and Pharoah’s like the big boss. Who’s at the right hand of God? Jesus. And the brothers approach Joseph, but it’s not even Joseph they talk to – it’s Joseph’s steward, it’s Joseph’s representative. We approach Jesus, and it’s not even Jesus – it’s his representative, it’s the Holy Spirit. We approach God, we approach Jesus, through the Holy Spirit and we are convinced that judgment is coming. God is going to bring down the hammer and squish us for all the things we did wrong. But what was actually going on? Joseph told the steward, take them up to my house and prepare them a meal. Do you see the parallels? God, in Jesus, tells the Holy Spirit, bring my people into my house and prepare them a meal. It’s Communion! It’s the heavenly banquet! It’s the feast of the saints all gathered at the end of all things. It’s that moment when our fear is transformed into hope. We are brought into God’s house and we are told, “It’s okay, don’t be afraid. I have prepared a feast for you.” Do you see how amazing that is? Centuries before Jesus would even be prophesied about – Joseph is giving us a taste, a forerunner of the way and the heart with which God would redeem his people. The way God loves and will redeem each and every one of you. It just, it blows my mind.
So the story continues, and Joseph comes in and he asks, “so, how’s your father?” And then he turns to the youngest brother, [read v.29-31]. There’s two big things I wanted to show you today. First is the way Joseph parallels Jesus. And the second thing I want you to see is that Joseph cries. Why does Joseph cry and why does he have to leave the room to do it? And actually, this is the second time this is happening. It happened last week too, back in chapter 42, verse 24 – it’s the same deal. Joseph breaks down. And the answer to the question of Joseph’s crying is that thing we talked about last week – PAIDEIA. If you don’t remember, PAIDEIA is the Greek word found in the book of Hebrews to talk about discipline. It has the same root as “pediatrics” but the definition is “the oversight of the entire environment of the child so that the child receives everything they need to grow.” As Tim Keller says, it’s nurture, but it’s nurture with teeth in it. Last week we talked about the importance of consequences – that we bring into a child’s life just enough unpleasantness but not one iota more to help a child change. To transform their life. PAIDEIA discipline, PAIDEIA love.
When I was growing up, I used to read the story of Joseph, and I always thought that he was doing all this stuff – messing with them as payback because they sold him into slavery. Right? Like, you guys sold me into slavery, after threatening to kill me and you ruined my life – so now that I’m in power, I have to mess with your head a little bit to pay you back. To get my revenge. But the fact that Joseph weeps shows us that there is something going on here that’s more important than revenge. First time he sees his brothers – he weeps but he hides it from them. Second time he sees his brothers – he weeps but he hides it from them, because what Joseph is doing is not just a prank. This is not a childish revenge story, this is something deeper. God worked a transformation, a nurturing PAIDEIA love discipline in Joseph’s life – that transformed him from a spoiled brat into the man he is now. And so in chapter 43, Joseph is serving God to work that transformation in his brothers’ life. This is not a revenge prank, it is nurturing discipline.
There’s an Old Testament commentary by a guy named Derek Kidner that I want to paraphrase. He says, “at first sight the rough handling of Joseph and his brothers has the look of vengefulness, but behind the harsh prose is deep, almost uncontrollable affection, and after it’s over there is nothing but kindness.” You see, the harshness and the tenderness that Joseph uses on his brothers is designed to create change in their life. You can tell it’s nurturing love because it’s not all one way. PAIDEIA, this nurturing discipline, it’s not all justice and it’s not all love. Right, think about Joseph’s upbringing – it was all love, no boundaries and the result was terrible. The brothers on the flip side received all boundaries but no love – and that was also terrible. Boundaries and love, consequences and mercy, neither one by itself is enough. If Joseph was going to bring only justice to his brothers, the moment they show up he would say, “hey, remember me – now straight into jail with you forever.” And if Joseph was going to bring only love to his brothers, the moment they show up he would reveal himself and say, “it’s me, and I totally forgive and let it go and let’s be buddies.” But the nurturing discipline – the alternating sun and frost, retribution and pardon, truth and love, he brings them to a place of change. As Tim Keller says, if you really love somebody you don’t just want to give them pardon, you want them to be healed. You want them to be changed, you want them to be restored. It is BECAUSE Joseph loves them, that he heals them. Beyond justice. Beyond truth. This is the heart of transformation.
There’s kind of two bomb shell teachings coming from this chapter. The first is the parallels in the brother’s approaching Joseph and the way we approach God, and the second is that because Joseph weeps we can see that mountains and valleys, the good and the bad, alternating the sun and frost – all of it is designed to work change into our lives. To bring transformation into our hearts. The good news this morning is that God builds us up. Right now, with whatever you are going through, God is in the process of building you up. If you are a child of God, right this very second God is working in your life, crafting a transformation that will make you more Christ-like. Now you might be thinking – no, Pastor JJ you’re way off base, I’m worn out. I’m beat up, I’m barely hanging on. That’s how I felt when I went for a run! That’s how I felt when I was lifting weights. I was lifting weights to make my arm stronger, but it felt like my arm was getting weaker. But I know, because I took PsyEd in high school, I know that that weakness means that strength is coming. I’m trying to show you that it is in those moments when we are worn out, if we could see beyond that moment, there is a bigger picture of transformation at work, and that is very good news that we need to remember this morning. God builds us up.
Now, the other side of that is that sometimes in order to build us up, God’s got to break us down a little bit. In order for our muscles to grow, we need to rip them apart. That’s what soreness is, right? The muscles in our body being ripped apart and then knit back together – so it is with our spiritual growth. This world fills us with all kinds of selfish, bad habits. Or maybe it’s pre-existing. Maybe we’ve got racist beliefs, or sexist beliefs, and we don’t like immigrants or people who are a different color or a different gender or whatever it is, and we need to unlearn our bad habits. Maybe we’re spoiled like Joseph was, maybe we’re cold-hearted and selfish like the older brothers were. Whatever it is - God’s got to break us down and rebuild us in his image. God is actively building you up.
Now coming out of this beautiful truth is a challenge for each of us. When we approach God, like the brother’s approached Joseph, with fear and trembling and guilt in our heart – don’t hold back. The challenge today is come to the father. Run to him. Run to Jesus. Don’t hold back. Rush into God’s presence, for a feast has been prepared for you. I know you might be in here today worried that God is gonna reject you. Lot of people view God as this vindictive judge, who is just hoping to pull the lever on the trapdoor that will drop you into hell. But our god is a God who builds us up. Through that PAIDEIA love, that nurturing discipline, God wants to work a transformation in your heart, and that means that you can run to Jesus. Come before him, repent of your sins. We turn to Jesus and we say, “I’ve messed up – some of it’s my fault and some it’s just the way the world is – but none of it is good, and I want your goodness. So God I need you to take what the world wanted to use for evil and I need you to use it for good. We take our entire life and we put it in Jesus hands – because he can be trusted with our entire life, and we wait for him to respond like Joseph – “it’s all right, don’t be afraid. A meal has been prepared for you.” That’s the first challenge – come to the father, don’t hesitate, rush into God’s presence.
The second challenge is to let God in. Let God take your life and transform it. Without Jesus, without that PAIDEIA discipline, a bad day is a bad day and a good day is just a good day – life becomes a meaningless roller-coaster of up and downs. But if you give your life to God, and you say, “alright, I’m all in – I’m going to seek after Jesus with my whole life” – suddenly, everything has the potential for transformation. That struggle, or that trial that you’ve been dealing with? Rather than meaningless suffering, if you give it over to God, it becomes that soreness in your muscles as God builds you up. Come to the Father, repent of all your sins, commit yourself to following God’s path and just watch, just watch what God can do with your life.
Maybe I’m not allergic to working out. That doesn’t mean I love getting all sweaty or having sore muscles – but if I can remember that all that mess is in service to a higher goal, of building myself into a healthier person, I don’t mind the mess as much. In our lives, for every single person who loves Jesus and dedicates their life to following him, we are given a fresh perspective, and understanding of the transformation at work in every trial we face. And so I’ll leave you with this. May you witness the struggles of Joseph’s brothers, and be comforted about the trials you are facing in your life. May you come to the Father, rush into his presence and hear his comforting words, “it’s all right, don’t be afraid.” And finally may you give your entire life to Jesus and just watch what he can do, Amen.