Identity Revealed - Genesis 45
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Sermon Manuscript - 11.28.2021
Sometimes, even if you’ve got the recipe right, and you do everything 100% perfectly – it doesn’t mean anything if you forget to turn on the oven. Last week was Thanksgiving – and as much fun as gathering with family can be – in my experience I have found that the best stories are made from the biggest messes. I had a friend who made lasagna for another family for thanksgiving. And she took the lasagna, and she and her daughter were going to drive it over to the friends house to drop it off. She put the lasagna on the seat and then helped her daughter buckle into the car seat. And then she sat on the lasagna. As she was tell us this story she wrote, “I wish I could say I only sat a little bit, and then jumped right back up – but I didn’t. I sat full force on the lasagna. Horrified she jumped up and checked the tin. Casserole tin, covered in tin foil. Didn’t seem to be damaged. She was worried it was going to flow out and over the sides, but it seemed okay, maybe a little squished, but okay. So she took it to the friends, and she told them – she apologized, I’m so sorry, I think it’s okay, but I did sit on the tin foil. And the friends had a laugh, and they said, “we’ll check it, but I’m sure it’s fine.” Everybody goes inside, and she takes off the tin foil, and there in the cheese is a perfect imprint of her butt. Sometimes the best stories are made from the biggest messes. And don’t get me wrong – maybe for some folks the thanksgiving meal looks like the Christmas card. Everything is perfectly cooked, arranged beautifully, everyone is looking at the camera and smiling all at the same time. But for most of us – I think we all have our lasagna butt stories.
Sometimes, even if you’ve got the recipe right, it doesn’t mean anything if you forget to turn on the oven. Or maybe the the cat tries to help cook the pie [show pic]. If you can’t tell that’s a picture of a paw print, right in the middle of the pie. Or maybe our lemon meringue needs a little firming up. [show pic] I think if you need a ladle to serve your pie – something has gone wrong. Or maybe the deep fryer is not quite deep enough and we end up with this little number [show pic] – which is a turkey deep fried from the waist down. See, what we have to remember is without the oven baking those ingredients, getting them all to work together – without the oven, pie is really just soup on a crust. [show pic].
I do have a point with all of this I promise. You see today is the final sermon in our series on Joseph, and there has been so much chaos to this story. It’s truly an epic tale of betrayal and enslavement, prison and freedom, heartbreak and desperation, forgiveness and redemption. And out of this story what we are going to see is the difference between religion and the gospel. Tim Keller, Pastor at Redeemer Church, gives us these definitions. Religion says, “if you live good enough, God will be happy and you can go to heaven.” But the gospel says “you are more wicked than you ever dared believe, and you are forgiven more than you ever dared hope.” Religion says, “if you live good enough, God will be happy,” but the gospel says “you are more wicked than you ever dared believe, and you are forgiven more than you ever dared hope.” What I want to show you coming out of the story of Joseph today is that religion is the recipe, but the gospel is the oven. Let’s take a look.
Now, if you’re just joining us in this series – it’s been quite a ride up until this point. Joseph’s brothers, specifically this guy Judah, sold him into slavery in Egypt. Through a series of absolutely incredible events – Joseph becomes the second most powerful person in Egypt and leads a massive food distribution program to help save the country and surrounding countries from starvation because they are going through a famine. Then, last week – all the pieces come together and Joseph sets it up so that Judah has a chance to redeem himself. Long story short, Judah could have saved himself if he would just sell his little brother Benjamin into slavery. But instead, Judah offers his own life as a substitute for Benjamin. Which shows that Judah has had a change of character, he is no longer the same man he was when he sold Joseph into slavery. That was the end of Chapter 44, and so now we get Joseph’s response to Judah’s self-sacrificial love. And Joseph, the second most important man in Egypt, great leader of men, savior of the nation, his response is to break down and blubber like a baby.
[read v.1-2]. So he’s crying, like REALLY loudly, and the gossip chain starts. [read v.3]. Joseph reveals himself to them, and their first thought is absolute terror. [mock screaming in horror] Oh nooooo! The brother we sold into slavery is now this super powerful official who holds our lives in his hand like a little baby bird. But Joseph keeps going. [read v.4-5]. I cannot imagine what the big brothers are thinking at this point. This is a human being that they sold into slavery, and he is standing in front of them, and he is not mad at all. He’s crying because he’s so happy, and is saying stuff like, “God used your evil for good.” What do you even say to that?
Joseph keeps going [read v.6-8]. At the very end of the book of Genesis, Joseph has this one verse that really sums up this idea perfectly. Chapter 50, verse 20 he says, [read v.20]. You intended it for harm, you intended it for evil, but God meant it for good. This is the key verse of the whole chapter. You meant it for evil, but God uses it for good – and both of those statements are true at the same time. You might ask – okay, so this thing that happened to Joseph was it a bad thing or a good thing? And the answer is BOTH. You meant it for evil – it was a terrible thing that the brothers did, it was a terrible thing that Joseph went through. But God meant it for good – hundreds and thousands of people were saved from starvation including Joseph and his family because of what happened. You meant it for evil, and God meant it for good. Do you know what that means? There is not one piece of your story that’s not redeemed by God. There is not one piece of your story that’s not redeemed by Jesus. The gospel we are offering is not just meant for the little sins and the white lies that we’re all okay with talking about. “Well, I did a little bit of a bad thing to my friend and I hope God will forgive me” and then we just move on. No. I’m talking about the deepest, darkest parts of our life that we ignore and stuff down and try to stash away in a hidden place and pretend doesn’t exist. God redeems all of it. There is not one piece of your story that is not redeemed by God. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. That’s what redemption IS – God taking brokenness, our inward brokenness and our outward brokenness and healing it. Somehow, through his incredible, infinite wisdom and grace God redeems our entire story.
You see, Jacob was a pretty crummy father. The way he treated his sons sort of started this whole issue with Judah and the slavery and all the rest. But God was intervening to be the father that they never had. To take the brothers – Judah and Joseph and all the rest – who were all kind of crummy in the beginning of the story. God raised them through their struggles. God gave them nurturing discipline so that they would turn out to be good men. God did not create the evil, God didn’t put the idea of selling his brother into slavery into Judah’s head. God didn’t create Potiphar’s wife’s evil seduction. But God used all the these things to move Joseph from foolishness to wisdom, from cowardice into courage. To move Judah from cold-heartedness to self-sacrifice. God did it. God does it. If you turn to God, God will come into your life. God will take the broken pieces of your life, and move you from a place of shame into a place of healing and wholeness. You can have that peace, right now – if you give it all to Jesus. There is not one single piece of your story that will not be redeemed by God. He wants all of you, the real you, the whole thing – baggage and drama and hidden problems – he wants it all. Because every piece will come together. Every piece that you meant for evil, God meant it for good.
There’s not much else left in the story. Because Joseph is such a cry baby, the servants hear him weeping and so they go and tell Pharaoh about the whole situation and Pharaoh comes to Joseph and says, “you should totally come bring your entire family to come live in Egypt.” And they do! Jacob and all his household, they leave most of their stuff behind because Joseph will provide for his entire family – everything they could possibly need. The brothers go home and tell dad all about it and convince him to move to Egypt. The chapter ends with these words, [read v.28]. Now, there is a little epilogue five chapters later. Jacob and his sons and everybody all move to Egypt and they are all living with Joseph and he is providing for everyone. And in chapter 50, the last chapter of the book of Genesis – Jacob dies. And when Jacob dies, all the brothers panic. Maybe Joseph was just being nice to us because of dad. Now that dad’s dead, he’ll probably kill us all. Chapter 50 verse 15, [read v.15-17]. Basically the brothers send Joseph a message that says, “Dad said, be nice to us.” They are so afraid that Joseph didn’t really mean it when he forgave them, it brings tears to his eyes. It finishes up [read v.18-20]. And that’s the end of the book of Genesis. Joseph reassuring his brothers – no, seriously, I really meant it when I said I forgive you.
Tim Keller says the definition of the gospel is that “you are more wicked than you ever dared believe, and you are forgiven more than you ever dared hope.” I think a lot of us look at life like this. [put hand in the middle]. Right here in the middle is the line for being a good person. And we mess up and we sin and we’re this much of a bad person. And so we figure we need this much forgiveness. We messed up this much, so we have to be this much of a good person to balance it out. But what Tim Keller is saying is that we are so much worse than we ever realized. We are so far away from God’s perfection, but at the same time we are so much more forgiven than we ever knew. God’s forgiveness, God’s redemption is not just for those few little tiny sins that we know about or can think of – God’s redemption is for all of who we are. You are more wicked than you ever dared believe, and you are forgiven more than you ever dared hope.
I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s so important - when I became a Pastor, I used to really downplay all that sin talk. Don’t talk about sin – you’ll weird people out and make people feel guilty. If you want to build a mega church you’ve got to keep it happy, positive, upbeat and very superficial. Now that’s not true – there are giant churches built on a foundation of the gospel – but that’s what I thought when I graduated seminary. The recipe for success in church was “don’t talk about sin.” But the reason I never talked about sin is because I had a tiny view of God’s love. I was like Joseph’s brothers. Terrified that the forgiveness wasn’t real. Terrified that if I went deeper, if I started admitting that we are all broken people and that we are all living lives full of sin, and we need to repent and change our ways – if I admitted that, maybe God would take it back. God says: Put your trust in Jesus and I will forgive your sins, and so then I reach into the back pocket and say, “here’s my sin” and God says “Wooow, you freak. I’m not going to forgive that.” I had this tiny view of God’s love and God’s forgiveness. You know, God forgives my sins, as long as I don’t ever tell anyone about the big ones. But as I have studied the bible, and I have grown to know and love God more and more, and deeper and deeper – I have realized that he really means it. He really does love you so much that he would give up his life for you. God has every intention of redeeming every single part of your life. Of taking this life that you meant for evil and using it for good.
The best stories are made from the biggest messes. And with your life God is writing the best story. Now that I know the depth of God’s grace, now that I know he is serious about forgiveness and I have seen the power of his redemption - I got no problem talking about sin. I have no problem calling people out and saying, “Your life is full of sin. You’re not, like, almost a good person like you think you are.” You are more wicked than you ever dared believe, but you are forgiven more than you ever dared hope. The best stories are made from the biggest messes and God’s going to make a great story out of your mess. What you meant for evil, God meant for good. You see the bible is incredibly realistic about evil. Evil is real. It’s not an illusion, it very, very real. That first part of the phrase – “you meant it for evil” makes total sense. But God is always, always, always working for good. Even if it’s going to take years or centuries or even until the very last day of history for us to see how it all comes together – God is working for good. You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. It’s not romanticized optimism – I’m not blind to the problems of the world. It’s not pessimistic realism – I haven’t lost sight of hope either. This is something else. To look at things as they truly are – to see evil where it is, and to still claim, “but God meant it for good.” The best stories are made from the biggest messes.
And let me give you a hint at the bigger picture here. The biggest mess history has ever know is what humanity has done with this world since the fall, and the greatest story ever told starts in four weeks. The greatest story is salvation that comes from Jesus Christ, and it comes because of the biggest mess – the sins of the human world. Redemption. And what I want you to understand is that Jesus Christ is not plan B. It’s not like, “ah, shoot the humans messed up and so now I have to use my backup plan – Jesus get down there.” God has always, all this time, been writing a better story. What we meant for evil, God meant for good. It was true for Judah, for Joseph, and for every single one of you.
Here’s why this all matters. I was in Seattle two weeks ago, taking a class on what the future of the church is going to look like. For those who don’t know, the Methodist Church, like most churches, has been declining for like 50 years non-stop. Not THIS church, our church is actually growing a little bit. But the denomination, most churches are shrinking. So I signed up for this class and we’re learning what a healthy, thriving church is going to look like in the future – and here’s what I’ve learned so far. The church is dying, but the gospel is thriving. The institutions are coming apart, but people are finding Jesus. Nobody wants the superficial, tiny love God anymore. People want to know that they are seen as they are, and that they are forgiven and loved by God. There are whole sections of the population who are just starting to look for Jesus. They know a lot about religion, they know a lot about a list of rules or an institution that is basically just a collection of empty buildings, they know about religion and they’re not interested in that. But they don’t know anything about Jesus. About who he is or what it means to follow him. And so people are starting to come to us with questions. Strangers who haven’t been in a church in decades they’re coming and they’re saying, “I want to know about Jesus. Who he is, what he taught, what it means.” And I wonder – are you able to answer them? If someone walked up to you and said, “alright, what’s the big deal with Jesus?” Would you be able to answer them?
So my big challenge for you today, the application I want you to take with you – stop following a religion, and start living the gospel. What do I mean by that? What I want you to do in your life, I want you to turn to Jesus and trust – truly trust – in his forgiveness. Live everyday as if you really were more wicked than you ever dared believe, and more forgiven than you ever dared hope. Live a life of deep gratitude for the salvation Jesus gives us. If you turn to God, God will come into your life. God will never leave you alone. He’ll never just let you be. As long as there is foolishness in your heart, as long as there is greed or pride or lust or whatever – God’s going to keep working on you. What we mean for evil, God will use for good – and until we are lined up with that, God’s going to keep working on us. And if that’s the life we live – letting God work on us, always growing closer to Jesus, always trying to be more Christ-like. People will notice. People will want to know more, and the church – not the institution, but the people, will thrive.
If religion is the recipe, then the gospel is the oven – and like I said at the beginning, a pie without the oven is basically soup on a crust. Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers – he told them who he was and they were scared stiff. They thought for sure he was going to kill them, or enslave them or whatever. But Joseph knew – what they meant for evil, God was using for good. May it be the same in each of our lives. Amen.