Am I in the Place of God?

Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.  Now therefore, do not be afraid;                    Genesis 50:19-21

It had been forty years since the crime had been committed.  Imagine — forty years of constantly having that in the background of the mind, constantly there, constantly on the run.  Forty years of constant fear that the full weight of the crime will descend and crush you.  Forty years of looking over your shoulder, wondering when the finger will point at you.  Forty years of making plans that always had a large unspoken “IF” right in the middle of them.

It had been forty years since the brothers of Joseph had sold him into slavery.  Eight chapters earlier, when the brothers had come to Egypt to buy grain and it hadn’t yet been revealed to them who this high Egyptian official really was, already they indicated their guilty consciences.  Even after twenty-three years, Joseph, at that time, overheard these brothers talking about how their present trouble was payback for how they had sold Joseph and deceived their father.

Imagine living with guilt the way that they had: every little trouble, every large catastrophe, every hardship, every tragedy would burn in their minds the question whether now THIS would be the disaster that they deserved for that foolish stupidity they had done decades earlier.

How true it is that once something is done, once said, that no matter how much you regret it, it cannot be recalled.  Something foolish, or well-meaning; something intentionally bad, or casually done, or done without thinking – no matter what it was, it now looms in history like some monolithic fortress; that no matter what you do now, as you look back on your life, right smack in the middle of your field of vision is that event.

Already in chapter 45 of Genesis, Joseph had spoken of forgiveness and of his realization of God’s greater plan behind even their crime.  Yet in spite of his assurances of forgiveness and of no grudge kept, seventeen years later the brothers are still looking over their shoulders, still waiting for when Joseph might get even with them.

Truly, the hardest person in the world to forgive is yourself.

This is why I disagree with Joseph.  No, I don’t mean that Joseph should have gotten back at his brothers after all, so that now they could feel better, so that their guilt would now be satisfied.

What I mean is that when Joseph said, “Am I in the place of God?”, I beg to differ with what he meant.  Oh, I know he actually meant that “who was he to take vengeance on anybody — that’s God’s business,” and yes, I agree that we do not, as individuals, have the right to take the law in our own hands and pound someone down because he has offended us.

Yet, it is also true that we ARE in the place of God!  As we walk this earth, as people look at us, they HOPE to be looking at God.  No, not that we are little gods of our own running around, but that we are the ambassadors, the representatives of God Himself.  Whether it is in church or out in the parking lot, whether in the home or on the playing field, whether in your business or shopping, the people who know you expect to see a reflection of God standing before them.

This is not an unreasonable expectation, because even God expects to see Himself in us as well.  What an awesome privilege we have!  We get to reveal to the world the characteristics of God, especially in one important area: the area of forgiveness.

You see, that’s where Joseph definitely WAS in God’s place: He got to demonstrate the full, total forgiveness that God has – a forgiveness so extraordinary that it is hard to believe.  Even after seventeen years, Joseph’s brothers couldn’t believe that it would be that total, that final.  Somewhere in these seventeen years, something should surface where they will be hauled into accountability all over again.  After all hadn’t they destroyed thirteen years of Joseph’s life and held him only a hair-breadth away from death?

You wonder whether Joseph ever got flashbacks from those days of terror and hardship.  Satan is very good at resurrecting all sorts of memories!  After all, when God forgives, these things no longer exist to Him.  So it must be Satan working away at the brothers, and perhaps even at Joseph.  And with the brothers almost NEEDING something to finally satisfy their guilt, how easy it would be to just cave in and do what they were expecting for the last forty years.

At the present at the same time as taking in the body.In clinical trials they found out that Vailf lasted longer compared to levitra and other erection pills. This concludes that ED is not just because of low libido; natural penis enlargement cream helps to improve this libido problem and develops its length and girth. Interpersonal issues: Tension, professional stress or financial problems cause stressful interpersonal relation viagra sale in india in couples. This gives rise to complications for the blood to stay for the more time in the penis by relaxing of blood vessels. Joseph seems almost non-human in his forgiveness.  Every indication is that he truly did put the brothers’ brutality, the threat of death and his years of hardship behind himself and was therefore completely free to give them total forgiveness – free to show them the depth, breadth, length, and height of the forgiveness and love of God – he was free to show them God.

But our curiosity is aroused – how could Joseph do that?  Thirteen years is a big chunk of life – more than a tenth of his total one hundred and ten years!  Time and again, coming so close to death, destroyed in every other way, not just being sold as a slave, but then later being thrown into prison, and all the rest, is not easy to discard as if of little consequence!

In both places where Joseph speaks forgiveness to his brothers, he reveals the “how”:  He was given a perspective which radically changed the meaning of everything.  He realized that the situation was not between him and his brothers, not between him and Potipher and his wife, not between him and the Pharaoh – it was between him and God.

And it wasn’t based on guilt, but on love.  I am very sure that as Joseph went through the furnace of slavery and imprisonment, he was made aware how he had been no innocent victim in his brothers’ hatred toward him.  He had thrived on his father’s special attention, and made no secret of his distinctive position in the family.  How he too could have wrapped his whole existence around guilt, just like his brothers were doing.

Yet he also came to realize that the route that God took was meant to prepare him and to maneuver him into the place where he would be most valuable not only in saving the lives of many others, but also of his own brothers.  He was by no means robbed, but instead was given a most dignified honor before the world and in the eyes of God – and he got there fully prepared by God for the position and honor.

What a privilege Joseph had to reveal such forgiveness.  How much more necessary that that forgiveness is revealed even today.  People haven’t changed much over the thousands of years since Joseph’s brothers.  There are still many all around us who have a hard time just wrapping their minds around the idea of forgiveness.  They just cannot understand how anybody would forgive them that totally, that fully, that finally.

It is even worse when it comes to the Lord, because as their sensitivity to sin increases, so also their awareness of some key things that they have done which affected not just the earthly life of someone, but also his and maybe even their own eternal life.  Far more powerful is the sense of guilt and of deserved punishment in such a case.

As when I often say in our worship’s Absolution, “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” – so also what a powerful thing is it to be “in the place of God” and to not just pronounce but also demonstrate God’s forgiveness to the people you know, who need this forgiveness!  What a treasure it is to see them catch the glimmer of the amazing removal sins which God offers to all!  It is a power which can encourage someone to cast their sins on the Lord and receive the confidence that there is no sin, no guilt, no condemnation anymore forever.

Yet we come today, realizing that before we can give and demonstrate to others God’s forgiveness, we need to have experienced it first.  How can we make others see the power and the perspective on life which God can give, unless we have seen it in action dealing with our own guilty conscience and incidents in our own past?

That’s why we come today before the cross, that’s why we come to the Lord’s Table!  With wonder and amazement we hear again the words of forgiveness spoken to US.  Perhaps the thought has occurred to you that as I pronounce forgiveness, if only I knew what you were holding inside, how could I ever speak so confidently?

Because the forgiveness is not mine.  It is the forgiveness of Jesus – all I can do is relay HIS message to you.  And the thing is that when we realize that HE DOES KNOW EXACTLY what you hold inside, even then he didn’t pronounce mere words – He went so far as to DIE especially for you, taking upon himself that destruction and separation which your sins, your stupid foolishness had created.

Did you ever forgive someone, but then you never really wanted to have much to do with that person, probably because you didn’t trust him anymore?  And yet in Holy Communion, here comes Jesus, trusting us all over again, coming back for yet another week with us, coming back with joy, eagerness, and love.  He comes back to be with us.  There’s no doubt on His part: whenever we have Communion, He will be here, every time.

All this will describe Nata Allison (whom we baptize today) for her life.  Becoming a Child of God, she now will become someone to whom others will look to get a glimpse of God’s heart.  Her forgiveness will be God’s forgiveness, first shown to her and then shown through her.  She will have the awesome privilege of speaking for Jesus in releasing another human being from the devastating weight of guilt which so often burdens their life with a special kind of misery.  She will be able to give them a freedom which can only be described as a precious gift from God.  And she will be able to do this because today God enfolds her into a special place in His family.

What a powerful thing has been given to us, what a powerful thing we have for others – this forgiveness from God.  But even more, what a privilege that we have that we are “in the place of God,” so that as people encounter us, they get to experience a tremendous love of God through the forgiveness of Jesus that can release them from the guilt that so easily hangs on throughout life.  What joy it is to be privileged that way!

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