Do You Want to be Set Free?
November 16, 2013
In this series on the life of Joseph we are looking at nine crucial questions that every person must answer. So far we have looked at these five questions:
Do you know why you were born?
Do you know who you are?
Are you willing to wait for God?
How big is your God?
Are you willing to face your past?
And now we come to a question that probes at a very deep level:
Do you want to be set free?
The hardest truth you’ll ever face is the truth about yourself. Most of us do whatever we can to keep from facing hard truth about ourselves. It’s always easier to pretend and play games. It’s never easy to come to grips with your failures.
The hardest truth you’ll ever face is the truth about yourself
Truth rightly told ultimately leads me to God who is Truth. God does not lie, and no liar can stay in his presence (Revelation 21:8). Since that verse in Revelation speaks of liars going to the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, the stakes are high indeed.
After being in the ministry for almost 40 years, I have concluded that the first step in solving personal problems is having the courage to tell the truth. The people who dare to tell the truth about themselves are the people who begin to get better.
Is it painful? You bet!
Is it scary? Of course!
Is it easy? No way!
But those people who swallow their fear, endure the pain, and decide to take the hard road of truth are the ones who get better. I have seen marriages saved by truth-telling, and I have seen marriages crumble because of inner deception.
A friend came to see me with a serious personal problem. He didn’t cover up the truth, and he didn’t try to blame anyone else for his own stupidity. He simply and honestly told the truth. When our session was over, I said to him, “You are 90% of the way home. The hardest part was deciding to tell the truth. It’s going to get better from here.”
Why We Don’t Get Better
I learned this truth when I visited a Christian counselor during a hard time in my life. A few days after meeting with him, I received a packet of material in the mail. On one of the sheets he had done a take-off on the words of Jesus in John 8:32, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The counselor had added a phrase:
“The truth will make you free . . . but it will hurt you first.”
When I read that, a light when on in my head. I saw myself in a brand-new way. I wasn’t getting better because I didn’t want the truth to hurt me first. It was easier to avoid the truth because the truth about my own life was too painful to bear.
The truth will hurt you first
In a flash I realized why most people have trouble growing spiritually. It’s not because we don’t know the truth. My soul, we’ve got so much truth it’s running out our eyeballs. We hear the truth at church, on the radio, on the Internet, from our friends, from books and CDs and seminars and concerts. And we get it straight from the Bible. But the problem runs deeper than that. We know the truth but we don’t want to let it hurt us so we deflect it, ignore it, deny it, attack it, argue with it and in general avoid it in any way we can. Our approach is like a spaceship being attacked by aliens. We put up the force field so we can deflect the incoming salvos of truth. After a while we get so good at deflection that the truth never gets through to us at all.
And that’s why . . .
Knowledge is not our problem
We’re still angry
We’re still stubborn
We’re still bitter
We’re still greedy
We’re still arrogant
We’re still filled with lust
We’re still self-willed
We’re still unkind
When you are finally willing to be hurt by the truth about yourself, you will be set free.
Meanwhile Back in Egypt
When last we left Joseph and his brothers, here was the situation:
A great feast was underway at Joseph’s house in Egypt. For the first time in over 20 years, all 12 brothers were together. Genesis 43:34 says, “They drank and were merry with him.” Another translation says, “They celebrated and drank freely until everyone was quite relaxed.” That means exactly what it sounds like.
Plenty of food, plenty to drink, much to celebrate.
To borrow a phrase, everyone was happy, happy, happy.
Everyone was happy, happy, happy
But what about Joseph?
The answer is simple.
The brothers all thought he was dead.
Boy, are they in for a big surprise! They are about to be set free from their guilty past, and they don’t have a clue that Joseph is behind it all. And behind Joseph stands God who has orchestrated every detail to bring them to this moment.
The truth is about to set them free . . . but it will hurt them first.
Three words tell us how it happened.
The banquet is over now and it is time for the brothers to go back to Canaan. Before the brothers leave, Joseph has his steward hide a silver cup in the bag belonging to Benjamin. After the brothers leave, he sends the steward to stop them and accuse them of stealing the silver cup. The brothers deny the accusation, with the promise that if any man is found with the silver cup, he will die.
Of course the steward found the cup right where he put it—in Benjamin’s bag (Genesis 44:12).
Will the brothers abandon Benjamin?
But it was never Joseph’s plan to kill Benjamin. He wants to find out if they will abandon Benjamin the way they had so callously abandoned him.
Were they the same men?
Or had they really changed?
No wonder the brothers were terrified. How could this have happened after that happy banquet? What will happen when they come back to Joseph’s house in Egypt? Would they be thrown back in jail? Would they be killed?
In every story there comes a moment when the truth must come out. Now the truth comes from the mouth of Judah. Speaking for all the brothers, he admits their guilt:
What shall we say to my lord? What shall we speak? Or how can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants (Genesis 44:16).
Here at last is what Joseph has been waiting for. Not just an admission of guilt, but an acknowledgment of God.
You’re only as sick as your secrets
Years ago a counselor told me something he often said to his clients: “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” Then he added a second truth to that: “If you’ve got a lot of secrets, you’re really sick.” Secrets have a way of festering on the inside until we are soul-sick and don’t know why or what to do about it. If you’ve been hiding some dark part of your past because you can’t bear to deal with it, you are sicker than you think. At some point, you’ve got to come clean if you want to get better.
The brothers have been sick with the guilt of their sin for a long time. Keeping it secret has kept them in bondage to fear for many years.
# 2: Repentance
One final step remains. In Genesis 44:18-34 Judah makes the longest individual speech in the book of Genesis in which he pleads that they be allowed to take Benjamin back home to Canaan. At the end Judah offers himself as a replacement for Benjamin:
Please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers (Genesis 44:33).
This is the loyalty test: Do you love your brother more than yourself? In the old days the brothers would have abandoned Benjamin and left him as a slave in Egypt. But all is changed now.
They will not leave Benjamin in Egypt.
They will not abandon their brother in the hour of his need.
They are a true family now.
Once a team of rivals, now they are a band of brothers.
They are now a band of brothers
Grace has done a deep work in them.
They are about to be set free,
# 3: Reconciliation
Joseph doesn’t need to hear anything else.
The time has come to reveal his true identity:
Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence (Genesis 45:1-3).
Dismayed is one word.
Shocked is another.
Dumbfounded and terrified fit too.
You can add confused, astonished and speechless.
It does make you stop and think. What would it take to convince you that someone you thought was dead was actually alive? Especially someone like Joseph.
No Hard Feelings
The last time they saw him was 22 years ago when they sold him to the desert nomads. Now he’s the prime minister of Egypt. I think that would give me a case of the hives, the shakes, the shivers, and a good dose of the heebie-jeebies. I don’t think I would say anything either.
What could the brothers say?
What exactly could you say in that moment?
“Uh, Joseph, hey brother, no hard feelings, right?”
“It was a just a joke, man.”
“We’re cool, right?”
Actually, there were no hard feelings. That’s the most amazing part of all of this.
No hard feelings.
No getting even.
He completely let his guilty brothers off the hook.
Think about that.
Instead he says five things to his brothers:
1. “Come near to me” (v. 4). I think I would have been in the back of the pack for that one.
2. “I am Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt” (v. 4). He doesn’t deny what they did.
3. “Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here” (v. 5). Okay, that’s good news.
There were no hard feelings
4. “God sent me before you to preserve life” (v. 5). Wow. That’s an amazing perspective. He goes on to explain the years of famine and how God wanted to preserve their family.
5. “Hurry and go up to my father” (v. 9). “Go tell Dad I’m still alive and bring him to Egypt. Move the whole family here. I’ve got a place picked out.”
Tell My Father About My Glory
Then this is very sweet to me:
You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here (Genesis 45: 10-13).
Every son wants to know that his father is proud of him. So Joseph says, “Go back and tell my father about all my glory.” Even the prime minister of Egypt was just his father’s son in the end. After all the pain and sorrow and sadness, and after rising to the pinnacle of human achievement, after becoming the second most powerful man in the world, after all of that, this was # 1 on Joseph’s heart:
“Tell my father about all my glory.”
Every child wants to know, “Dad, are you proud of me?”
Dad, are you proud of me?
Dads, make sure your kids know the answer to that question.
His first word about his father is “Hurry.”
His last word about his father is “Hurry.”
Finally comes the moment when Joseph and his brothers reunite:
Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him (Genesis 45:14-15).
Mark that phrase—“all his brothers.” This includes Simeon, Reuben, Judah, and all the rest who conspired to kidnap him and sell him as a slave. They were all kissed and wept over by the forgiving Joseph.
What they had done was unforgivable—yet he forgave them.
There is no greater picture in the Bible of the forgiving love of Christ.
His love overcame their shame
It is only “after that” that they talked with him.
His love overcame their shame.
How could they refuse him now?
Thus welcomed by Joseph, they became a family and true brothers for the first time ever.
Facing Their Father
Genesis 45 ends with the brothers going back home and informing aged Jacob who nearly died on the spot:
So they went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. And they told him, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.” And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them. But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived (Genesis 45:25-27).
When they said, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt,” it sounded incredible. No wonder Jacob nearly had a heart attack. For 22 years he had believed his beloved son was dead. Now he finds out he is basically running the show in Egypt. First it would shock him. Then it would frighten him. Then it would cause him to ask some hard questions:
“What really happened to Joseph?”
“How could you have sold your brother as a slave?”
“Who was behind this?”
“Why did you lie to me?”
All of that raises a question the text doesn’t answer. How did the boys manage to explain all of this to their father? “Well, Dad, you see, we, uh, well, we were mad at him, and so we threw him in a pit, but we weren’t going to kill him, we were just going to scare him (that wasn’t true, but you can imagine the brothers saying something like this), but then along came these traders and they offered to buy him so we sold him, and we’re really sorry about that coat of many colors being dipped in blood. We shouldn’t have lied to you.”
There was no way to spin what they had done
No matter how you spin it, there is no acceptable explanation, nothing that could cover up for their hatred, their envy, their conspiracy and their treachery. Perhaps Jacob was so overjoyed that he was willing to overlook their lying and scheming and all the rest.
The chapter ends with Jacob saying,
“My son Joseph is alive! I must go and see him before I die” (45:28 NLT).
So he does.
In Chapter 46 he moves to Egypt and is reunited with Joseph. He is 130 years old.
In Chapter 47 he meets Pharaoh and the whole family settles in Goshen where they prosper. Jacob lives another 17 years.
In Chapter 48, as he is near death, he calls for his grandsons Manasseh and Ephraim and blesses them.
In Chapter 49 Jacob calls for his sons and pronounces a blessing on them. They will become the twelve tribes of Israel. He dies at the age of 147 with his family gathered round him (Genesis 49:28-33).
In Chapter 50 Joseph leads a funeral procession from Egypt to Canaan where he buries his father in the Cave of Machpelah.
Lion of Judah
Thus the sovereign God accomplished his purposes for Jacob, Joseph and for his brothers. For the next four centuries the Jews will live in Egypt, first in prosperity and then as slaves when a Pharaoh arose who did not know about Joseph. In later times a mighty deliverer named Moses will arise to lead the people out of Egypt.
Almost 1800 years later a baby will be born who will be called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5). His name is Jesus.
This is how the New Testament begins:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers (Matthew 1:1-2).
Note that Joseph (who is the real hero of this story) doesn’t get mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. He’s simply included as one of the brothers of Judah. If you study Genesis closely, you’ll see that Judah’s history is checkered to say the least. On one side of the ledger you have the fact that Judah was the one who said, “Let’s make some money by selling Joseph to the Midianites.” You also have that sordid affair with Tamar in Genesis 38. On the plus side Judah makes the impassioned speech in Genesis 44 pleading that Benjamin not be left behind in Egypt. That was the final proof to Joseph that his brothers had truly repented.
Jesus came from Judah, not Joseph
One might think that the Messiah would come from the line of Joseph and not from Judah, but to think that way shows how little we understand the grace of God. Jesus comes from the loins of a very fallible, fallen man who was capable of great cruelty and great compassion. In other words, he’s just like most of us.
If we were writing the script, Jesus would come from Joseph.
But when God writes the script, he put Jesus in Judah’s family tree.
Now I ask again, how much of all this did Joseph understand when he was thrown into the pit?
Not a bit.
But God knew it all and saw it all.
We all need to be set free
Joseph was a great man who served a great God. The rest of the story could not unfold until the brothers were set free and the family reunited. God used Joseph to bring about a miracle of healing that would one day result in a Savior being born in Bethlehem.
One final word and I am done. We all need to be set free as Joseph’s brothers were set free. The path to freedom is the same for us as it was for them. If we are willing to face the truth about our sin and disobedience, if we are willing to confess and repent of our sins, if we will give up our anger and our excuses, then at last we will be set free to love one another.
So we must ask the question one more time:
Do you want to be set free?
Thank you, Lord Jesus, that we don’t have to be perfect to come to you. If we had to be perfect, who among us would qualify? They called you the Friend of Sinners. Thank God it is true. You are the friend and we are the sinners.
Thank you for truth that sets us free!
Teach us to love as you have loved us!
In Jesus’ name, Amen.