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True Repentance

This morning we are going finally wrap up our story of Joseph! It’s been quite a journey to get here, but we’ve finally made it. Last week, we ended right at the climax of the story – with Joseph’s brothers sure that all was lost and this would be the end of them…

But just in case you missed last week, let me give you a super quick summary of how we got to where we are.

Joseph is the second youngest among 12 brothers. He was the favourite of his father – but hated by all his older half-brothers. So much so, that one day when he was 17 years old, they sold him as a slave and he was taken to Egypt. To cover their tracks, they dipped Joseph’s special coat of many colours in blood, so that their father would believe that he had been killed by wild animals. But in reality, Joseph was alive and well in Egypt. He started off as a slave to a man named Potiphar, but Potiphar’s wife falsely accused Joseph of a crime he didn’t commit and Joseph ended up in prison.

In prison, Joseph used his God-given gift of being able to interpret dreams to explain the dreams of Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and his chief baker. This experience is what eventually got Joseph out of prison, as he was called on by Pharaoh a few years later to interpret one of his dreams.

And this really was the turning point for Joseph. The interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream was that God was sending 7 years of great prosperity to Egypt – but they would be followed by 7 years of terrible famine. In order to prepare for that famine, Joseph recommended that someone should collect massive amounts of grain for the next seven years so there would be enough to survive the upcoming 7 years of famine. Seeing Joseph’s obvious and God-given wisdom, Pharaoh decided to give Joseph that exact job – giving him authority over the entire land of Egypt.

Well, several years later, when the famine began ravaging Egypt and the surrounding area, Joseph’s older brother’s all came to Egypt to buy grain – since Egypt seemed to be the only place that still had plenty!

But unbenownst to them, Joseph was the one from whom they would have to buy that grain. Now then they arrived, they didn’t recognize him (as this was 20 years since they had last seen him) – but he recognized them and put a plan in motion to put his brothers through the wringer to find out what kind of men they had become. 

After accusing them of being spies and throwing them in prison, he demanded that they prove their innocence by bringing back their youngest brother from Canaan to Egypt.  Joseph’s younger, and only full-brother, Benjamin, had become his father’s new favourite since Joseph had disappear, and so Benjamin had stayed home with his father.

So with Benjamin not being with the brothers, perhaps Joseph wondered if they had sold him as a slave too, or if they had even killed him. So perhaps this was one way for Joseph to find out. We don’t really know Joseph’s full motivations, but either way, Joseph’s command was that the brothers bring Benjamin back with them to Egypt or they would not be able to buy grain from him again.

And since Joseph was pretty much the only guy in the world selling grain at that time, they really didn’t have much of a choice.

As an additional guarantee that they would return, Joseph kept one of the brothers (Simeon) as his prisoner, while the other brother’s took food home for their starving families. Now remember that Joseph has done all this as the governor of Egypt – his brothers never had clue who he really was. They just chalked all this trouble up as God punishing them for what they had done to Joseph years ago.

So they returned home with the food (but without Simeon) and under the strict instructions not show up again unless their brother Benjamin was with them. Of course, Jacob was very much opposed to sending Benjamin to Egypt. With Joseph gone, and Simeon gone, he simply didn’t want to risk losing another son – especially not his favourite son! But when their food ran out, he really had no choice.

So after much delay and much moaning and complaining by Jacob, the brothers returned to Egypt with Benjamin. And true to his word, upon seeing Benjamin, Joseph released Simeon, gave them food for their families, and even enjoyed a meal with them. (Again, doing this all as the governor of Egypt – never telling them who he really was.)

But then as one final test, as he sent them on their way home, he secretly planted his personal silver cup in Benjamin’s bag. Once they had barely left the city, he sent his household manager to run after them and stop them and accuse them of stealing Joseph’s cup. What would happen next would truly be the test of his brothers’ character.

And that’s about where we left off last week. I’ll begin today by reading the last few verses that we read last week, so there will be a tiny bit of over lap, but I think these verses are important to set the stage for today. So we’ll begin at Genesis chapter 44 – verse 6.

6 When the palace manager caught up with the men, he spoke to them as he had been instructed.

7 “What are you talking about?” the brothers responded. “We are your servants and would never do such a thing! 8 Didn’t we return the money we found in our sacks? We brought it back all the way from the land of Canaan. Why would we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? 9 If you find his cup with any one of us, let that man die. And all the rest of us, my lord, will be your slaves.”

10 “That’s fair,” the man replied. “But only the one who stole the cup will be my slave. The rest of you may go free.”

11 They all quickly took their sacks from the backs of their donkeys and opened them. 12 The palace manager searched the brothers’ sacks, from the oldest to the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack! 13 When the brothers saw this, they tore their clothing in despair. Then they loaded their donkeys again and returned to the city. Genesis 44:6-13

Now we didn’t really get into this last week, but I’m pretty impressed at how shrewed Joseph was in orchestrating this whole situation for his brothers. This really was a perfect way to test their character to see if anything had changed from when they faced a very similar situation some 20 years ago.

You’ll remember that 20 years ago, they were out far from home watching their father’s sheep, when their younger brother Joseph – the favourite of their father – came out to see how they were doing. At that time, they resented and hated him so much, that when they saw him coming, they first decided to kill him. However, after some discussion, they choose instead to sell him as a slave. 

But either way, they were willing to do terrible things to ensure that Joseph was gone from their lives forever – even though it meant incredible cruelty to their own flesh-and-blood and deep, lasting heart-ache for their father.

Now, 20 years later in Egypt, they faced a pretty similar situation. Here they were – far from home, Joseph’s brother and their father’s 2nd favourite son, Benjamin, was with them – far from the watchful care of dad. If they felt the same way about Benjamin as they did about Joseph, this would have been the perfect opportunity to get rid of him – they didn’t even have to do anything this time! 

Benjamin stood accused of a serious crime against the governor and he had no real way of proving his innocence. It was perfect. They wouldn’t even have to lie to their father this time. The brothers could very easily just stand by “helplessly” and allow him to be accused and be imprisoned, as a slave of the governor… and they could return home to their father to once again deliver the bad news that his beloved son was gone for good.

Jospeh has set them up with the perfect opportunity. Would the brothers repeat what they had done to Joseph all those years ago, abandoning their youngest brother – leaving him as a slave in a foreign land – or had they truly changed?

I’m sure Joseph was very eager to find out.

And so verse 14 continues…

14 Joseph was still in his palace when Judah and his brothers arrived, and they fell to the ground before him. 15 “What have you done?” Joseph demanded. “Don’t you know that a man like me can predict the future?”

16 Judah answered, “Oh, my lord, what can we say to you? How can we explain this? How can we prove our innocence? God is punishing us for our sins. My lord, we have all returned to be your slaves—all of us, not just our brother who had your cup in his sack.” Genesis 44:14-16

And here we have the first real indication that Joseph’s brothers had indeed changed. Instead of leaving Benjamin to face the punishment all alone, all of the brothers return to be Joseph’s slaves.

And it’s interesting that Judah again proclaims that God is punishing them for their sins. It’s clear that what they had done to Joseph all those years ago is still weighing heavily on their hearts and on their minds. I’m sure that was the sin that they believed they were being punished for – and that was the sin that they spent most of their lives regretting.  But on a positive note, the fact that they had all returned to the city, rather then just sending Benjamin to face the music alone, gives us some indication that the brothers didn’t just regret what they had done to Joseph, but that they had also repented.

And maybe before we go on, I think this is a good place to point out the different between regret and repentance. Throughout this story, I think we see lots of evidence of the brother’s regret. When they saw how their father suffered for years because of the loss of Joseph – I think they often regretted what they had done. When Joseph first accused them of being spies, they presumed God was punishing them for their sin – and I think they regretted what they had done. Whenever they faced the unpleasant consequences of their sin, they regretted what they had done.

But just because they regretted their sin, doesn’t mean they repented of it.

I think all of us regret our sin to a certain extent – because of the unpleasant consequences that come when we sin. When we sin, there are always consequences…. we feel guilt, or we experience broken relationships, or we end up in jail, or we hurt others, we hurt ourselves… There are always consequences. And that sadness and sorrow we feel when those consequences happen is regret. But that’s not repentance. 

Repentance is when we recognize our sin as sin – that it is an offence against God and against others – and our sorrow then leads us to change our ways so that we don’t sin again.

Merely feeling bad about the consequences of sin isn’t repentance. Repentance is when we actually change our sinful ways. 

You know, the Bible doesn’t call us to regret our sin. It calls us to repent of it. 

In fact, when Jesus preached during his time on earth, his main message was that we needed to repent and turn to God.. In Matthew 4:17, as Jesus began his earthly ministry, we read:

17 From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

Not just to be sorry for your sins. Not just to regret your sins. But to repent and change your direction. Stop sinning and turn to God. And he continued preaching that message right until he returned to heaven. In Luke 24:47, just before Jesus ascended into heaven he said:

“It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’” Luke 24:47

I think sometimes as Christians today, we confuse being sorry for our sin with actually repenting of our sin. True repentance means we stop sinning and we change our ways. If we’re just sorry for the consequences we experience, we’ve misunderstood what repentance and even salvation is all about.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:10….

10 For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. 2 Corinthians 7:10

In other words, if we’re just sorry for the consequences of our sin – if we never repent of our sinful ways – we shouldn’t expect forgiveness or salvation. Because as Paul says, mere regret, or worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.

True Christianity is not just being sorry and regretting our sin – its repenting of it.

And so far, we’ve seen a lot of regret from Joseph’s brothers – but Joseph is still waiting to see if there has been any repentance. 

The fact that all the brothers have returned and have offered to become his slaves is a certainly a good sign, but Joseph is going to push them just a little further. Joseph responds to their offer in verse 17.

17 “No,” Joseph said. “I would never do such a thing! Only the man who stole the cup will be my slave. The rest of you may go back to your father in peace.” Genesis 44:17

Joseph declines their offer for them to all be his slaves. Only Benjamin would be required to stay behind. The rest could go home in peace.

And this was their final and greatest test. At this point, no one would blame them if they said their sad goodbyes to Benjamin and packed up and headed for home. I mean, what more could they have done? They had no way to prove his innocence, no grounds to plead for mercy. So what else could they do?

Well, in perhaps the greatest display of true repentance, Judah steps forward and makes one final plea. We read this starting in verse 18.

18 Then Judah stepped forward and said, “Please, my lord, let your servant say just one word to you. Please, do not be angry with me, even though you are as powerful as Pharaoh himself.

19 “My lord, previously you asked us, your servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ 20 And we responded, ‘Yes, my lord, we have a father who is an old man, and his youngest son is a child of his old age. His full brother is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him very much.’

21 “And you said to us, ‘Bring him here so I can see him with my own eyes.’ 22 But we said to you, ‘My lord, the boy cannot leave his father, for his father would die.’ 23 But you told us, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes with you, you will never see my face again.’

24 “So we returned to your servant, our father, and told him what you had said. 25 Later, when he said, ‘Go back again and buy us more food,’ 26 we replied, ‘We can’t go unless you let our youngest brother go with us. We’ll never get to see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’

27 “Then my father said to us, ‘As you know, my wife had two sons, 28 and one of them went away and never returned. Doubtless he was torn to pieces by some wild animal. I have never seen him since. 29 Now if you take his brother away from me, and any harm comes to him, you will send this grieving, white-haired man to his grave.’

30 “And now, my lord, I cannot go back to my father without the boy. Our father’s life is bound up in the boy’s life. 31 If he sees that the boy is not with us, our father will die. We, your servants, will indeed be responsible for sending that grieving, white-haired man to his grave. 32 My lord, I guaranteed to my father that I would take care of the boy. I told him, ‘If I don’t bring him back to you, I will bear the blame forever.’

33 “So please, my lord, let me stay here as a slave instead of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34 For how can I return to my father if the boy is not with me? I couldn’t bear to see the anguish this would cause my father!” Genesis 44:18-34

In an incredible offer of self-sacrifice, Judah offers to take Benjamin’s place as Joseph’s slave.

If you remember way back to the beginning of our story, you’ll recall that it was Judah himself who suggested to his brothers that they sell Joseph as a slave. He was so selfishly determined to get rid of his annoying little brother that he didn’t care what happened to Joseph or how that would impact his father or anyone else.

But what a reversal now! Now, he’s proposing that the Egyptian governor take him as a slave in place of Benjamin! He’s willing to give up the rest of his life for the sake of Benjamin and for the sake of his father. What a complete change! That is what true repentance looks like.

Judah wasn’t just sorry for his sin – he didn’t just regret what he had done to Jospeh – but he completely changed his attitude and his actions. 

And that’s another big difference between regret and repentance. Regret doesn’t lead us to any restorative action.

You know, it’s interesting that up until this point, all the regrets of Joseph’s brothers never caused them to confess to their father what they had done. All their regrets never caused them to try to find out what happened to Joseph and where he could possible be today.

Regret never caused them to try to right any of their wrongs. But that’s exactly what repentance does.

Repentance leads us to do whatever we can to heal the hurt, to right the wrong, to restore our relationships when we’ve done wrong. Now we certainly can’t always undo the damage that has been done, but true repentance leads us to do whatever we can.

And that’s exactly what Judah is doing. He might not be able to undo what he did to Joseph all those years ago –  but what he can do is humbly offer himself in place of Benjamin, so that Benjamin doesn’t have to go through what Joseph did.

Judah truly is a changed man – and that’s what exactly what Joseph was waiting to see! With Judah’s humble request to take Benjamin’s place, Judah passed Joseph’s test with flying colors!

In verse 1 of chapter 45 we read:

Joseph could stand it no longer. There were many people in the room, and he said to his attendants, “Out, all of you!” So he was alone with his brothers when he told them who he was. 2 Then he broke down and wept. He wept so loudly the Egyptians could hear him, and word of it quickly carried to Pharaoh’s palace.

3 “I am Joseph!” he said to his brothers. “Is my father still alive?” But his brothers were speechless! They were stunned to realize that Joseph was standing there in front of them. 4 “Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. 5 But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. 6 This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7 God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. 8 So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.

9 “Now hurry back to my father and tell him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me master over all the land of Egypt. So come down to me immediately! 10 You can live in the region of Goshen, where you can be near me with all your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and everything you own. 11 I will take care of you there, for there are still five years of famine ahead of us. Otherwise you, your household, and all your animals will starve.’”

12 Then Joseph added, “Look! You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that I really am Joseph! 13 Go tell my father of my honored position here in Egypt. Describe for him everything you have seen, and then bring my father here quickly.” 14 Weeping with joy, he embraced Benjamin, and Benjamin did the same. 15 Then Joseph kissed each of his brothers and wept over them, and after that they began talking freely with him. Genesis 45:1-15

What a dramatic and emotional ending for this crazy story! I can only imagine the shock of the brothers and the incredible emotional roller coaster that they must have have experienced as Joseph reveal to them who He really was.

No wonder it describes them as being stunned and speechless! What an incredible moment!

But even more incredible is Joseph’s forgiveness for this brothers. He doesn’t hold anything against them. After all they had done to him, he doesn’t harbour resentment towards them or anything.

Instead, he recognizes God’s hand in the middle of it all – saying that really, it wasn’t his brothers who sent him to Egypt, but rather it was God. God sent him to Egypt and put him through all those painful experiences, so that he could end up in this honoured position so that He could save their lives and the lives of their entire family!

And that is indeed what happened. I won’t read through all the details of what happened next, but in short, Jacob and his his entire family (about 70 in all) moved to Egypt when they were reunited with Joseph. They then lived in happily Egypt throughout the famine – and actually ended staying there for about the next 400 years until they had grown to be a family of about 2 million! But that’s where the story of Moses and the Exodus comes in….

We won’t get into all that, but I do what to jump ahead to Genesis chapter 50 to wrap this all up.

By this point, they had all been living with Joseph in Egypt for about 17 years. Their father Jacob had just passed away and the brothers begin to fear that now since their father was gone, Joseph might be inclined to exact his revenge. We read in Genesis 50 – verse 15…

15 But now that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers became fearful. “Now Joseph will show his anger and pay us back for all the wrong we did to him,” they said.

16 So they sent this message to Joseph: “Before your father died, he instructed us 17 to say to you: ‘Please forgive your brothers for the great wrong they did to you—for their sin in treating you so cruelly.’ So we, the servants of the God of your father, beg you to forgive our sin.” When Joseph received the message, he broke down and wept. 18 Then his brothers came and threw themselves down before Joseph. “Look, we are your slaves!” they said.

19 But Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid of me. Am I God, that I can punish you? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. 21 No, don’t be afraid. I will continue to take care of you and your children.” So he reassured them by speaking kindly to them. Genesis 50:15-21

And that verse 20 is really the key verse of the entire story of Joseph. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.”

If there is only one thing you take away from this entire series, I hope it’s that.

We may not understand why God does all the things that he does. We might not understand why He allows certain hurts or tragedies or disappointments in our lives. 

And it’s true, that there will be people who intend to hurt us. At the very least, we know that Satan will do all he can to wound, to discourage, or to destroy us.

But while others may intend to harm us, God can take all of that and use it for good… And it’s amazing sometimes how he does it!

It’s incredible to think of all the lousy stuff that Joseph had to go through – the years of hatred by this brothers, being sold as a slave, being falsely accused and thrown into prison, being forgotten about in prison….

It was literally years of people intending to harm him – but God intended it all for good. God took every bit of Joseph’s lousy situation, and used it for incredible good!

And I trust that that’s an encouragement to you today. I don’t know what lousy things or hard things or painful things you may be facing in your life, but I do know that there is a God in heaven who can take all those lousy, hard, and painful things and use them for good. He’s not a God who is plotting evil against you – He loves you like crazy and his intentions for you are for good.

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