In the name of the Father and of the +Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
“Thus he comforted and spoke kindly to them…” (Gen. 50:21) Joseph had tested his brothers. He made them miserable. He heaped up hardship on them in order to get to THIS moment of comforting and speaking kindly to them. Forgiving them. Assuring them of his steadfast love and mercy. He had all the power. He was as pharaoh unto his brothers and the world. (Gen. 45:8, 9) Pharaoh had put all his authority in Joseph’s hands. He wielded that authority and power to save, to forgive, to heal the rifts placed between them by his brothers’ actions.
It was the same with Joseph. They wouldn’t believe his word. “We will bow to you? And come grovelling before you for our lives? (Gen. 37:5-8) Won’t happen. Can’t happen. Don’t like it. (Even if this will be salvation to us). We can’t stand letting this little tattletale, papa’s boy, star of the family be in charge! We won’t believe it because it’s not what we want.”
But in the readings today, bow they did. (Gen. 42:6) For when the Lord doubles a witness of something – testifies twice to it, let alone again and again – it is one of His fixed purposes. (Gen. 41:32; 2 Cor 13:1; Deut. 19:15; Gen. 37:5-9) It is something He set His mind to do so that all the world be saved. But though the Lord Jesus sent Joseph ahead of them – though the Lord came as the Seed of Abraham (Gen. 22:18) to suffer and die for sin and save all mankind, electing them by His mercy from the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4) – this gracious gift of eternal salvation and abundant life (John 10:10) that flows from it is received and accepted by faith. (Eph. 2:8-9) Faith is that thing that grasps onto Christ’s gift of salvation (Heb. 11:1; Rom 8:24; 1 Pet. 1:8, etc.), and yet even faith is a free gift of the Holy Spirit worked in you (Rom. 10:17; Eph. 2:8) with no merit or worthiness of your own. (Luther’s Small Catechism: Creed: Explanation to the Third Article) So Christians do not make much of accepting or welcoming Jesus into our hearts for that acceptance has occurred when in faith the Holy Spirit causes you to believe, teach, and confess Jesus as Lord. (Acts 2:36) You need to daily die to sin and walk with the Lord in newness of life. (Rom 6:4) To daily welcome the Lord in faith. (Rev. 3:20) But faith is faith. (Matt. 17:20) It is a wondrous gift that you cannot by your own reason or strength come to on your own. But the Holy Spirit calls you by the Gospel, enlightens you with his gifts of Word and Sacraments, by which He sanctifies and keeps you in the true faith. By which He causes you to live in His ways which flow from His Word.
But his brothers are men of flesh. They are weak in faith as are all who still remain here below. So they need to hear the Lord’s forgiveness again and again, especially after their father dies. (Gen. 50:15) Remember, Joseph was the favourite of their father. Maybe he was only being nice to them for the sake of dear old dad? But now that dad’s gone, it’ll be payback time. But Joseph is a prophet of the Lord. He has wrestled with the Lord’s word for decades before his brothers came down to Egypt. What do you think he was thinking about all those years of slavery and misery? Were there years of bitterness? Maybe. But by the time his brothers bow before him, by the time God’s Word is fulfilled from Joseph’s dream, he’s already come to understand God’s purpose. He believes it. He takes comfort in God’s Word and God’s Word alone. He knew, “This happened to me so that we all might be saved,” his brothers and the whole world. (Gen. 45:5, 7) God used Joseph to save the world of that day starving from famine, and all people of all time when Abraham’s Seed (Gen. 22:18), Eve’s promised son (Gen. 3:15), came to crush Satan and carve out a kingdom for Himself, built of living stones. (1 Pet. 2:4-5) He builds His kingdom with His own flesh as He grafts new branches into His family tree, ever expanding this family of Abraham – not a natural family according to the flesh – but a family of faith according to the Spirit. (1 Pet. 2:9-10; Gal. 3:26-29)
That’s Joseph’s ministry: to save the family of faith. That means the family of flesh right in front of him at this moment. Save it from famine. Keep the line going till the Seed that saves the world plants a new family tree of life putting death to death on a dead tree. (1 Pet 2:24) A new glorious tree of life springing forth from the dead stump of Jesse. (Isa. 11:1)
And all humans have broken, hurting consciences and souls, plagued by shame and regret, by confusion of our purpose, value, or worth. And so we like Joseph’s brothers need to hear again and again God’s healing word of forgiveness. That’s why in all things Our Lord is victorious, for even in the midst of distress in our lives, even in guilt over the horrible sins we have done, even this works for our salvation! For it drives us to Jesus the saviour. (Gal. 3:23-24) For man means these things for evil, but God uses them for your good. (Gen. 50:20) Thus, Our Risen Lord sends His servants to comfort us and speak kindly to us. (Gen. 50:21)
Thanks be to God.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
–Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON