In the Treaty of Versailles that was signed after the end of World War I, several of the major winning nations had one goal: to punish and humiliate Germany which had started the most destructive war the world had ever seen. Germany was forced to give up is colonies in China and Africa. It had to demilitarize the Rhineland, and give back the region of Alsace-Lorraine to France that it had taken in their 1871 war. It had to give up German West Prussia to what became the newly independent nation of Poland. Germany’s army and navy were limited to a laughable size. It was not allowed to have an air force. And most damaging for a nation that was broke after four years of total war, Germany was ordered to pay $33 billion dollars in reparations – somewhere in the range of $425 billion in today’s dollars.
The problem was that when the armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918, Germany was going to lose the war, but had not yet been defeated. In fact, just in March of that year they had launched the Spring Offensive using troops newly freed up by the end of the war on the Eastern front where the Communist revolution had knocked Russia out of the war. Initially this offensive was tremendously successful as the Germans drove to within seventy five miles of Paris. Allied commanders were fearful that the war would be lost.
But the allies stabilized the line and in August they launched the Hundred Days Offensive in which new tactics and the ever increasing presence of United States forces pushed the Germans back. The German leadership knew the war could not be won, and military and civilian morale was failing. But the fact remained that when the armistice was signed, the allies had not yet entered into Germany, and Germany still held a large portion of Belgium. This gave rise to the idea in Germany after the war that the military had been betrayed, and not defeated. The humiliation of Versailles and the economic chaos that ensued, which then was followed by the Great Depression created the conditions in which a man name Adolf Hitler was able rise to power. He started an even more destructive Second World War. When Germany was defeated in that war, the allies learned from the mistakes of Versaille and took a very different approach toward the defeated nation.
In the Old Testament lesson for today, we see how Joseph treated his brothers after his father Jacob died. Rather than seek vengeance, he chooses to forgive them. Yet in the story of Joseph and his family, we also see how sin and vengeance produce more sin and vengeance. And we are reminded that God’s ways are beyond our understanding, even as he works for our good.
Our text tells of the events after Jacob had died. With their father gone, his brothers said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” Of course the evil they had done to Joseph was to sell him into slavery and fake his death which they reported to Jacob.
This is the obvious sin that we remember when we think about Joseph. But in fact, it is an example of how sin ripples out and produces more sin. When sinful people live together, there will be problems. By definition, a family is a group of sinful people living together, and so not surprisingly we all see some kind of dysfunction in our family. Of course, there are levels of dysfunction, and if you want to see some prime time dysfunction you need only look at Jacob’s family.
Isaac and Rebekah had twins – Jacob and Esau. Isaac favored Esau, while Rebekah favored Jacob. First Jacob swindled Esau out of his birthright. Then Rebekah helped Jacob trick the elderly Isaac into giving Jacob the blessing that was meant for Esau. Esau wanted to kill Jacob, so Rebekah sent Jacob to her brother Laban. There Jacob fell in love with Laban’s daughter Rachel, but Laban tricked Jacob into taking his other daughter Leah as a wife, and only by having Leah could Jacob also have Rachel.
Jacob favored Rachel. Joseph was the son of Rachel, and so Jacob favored him. And Jacob didn’t try to hide his favoritism. Instead he gave to him alone an expensive multicolored coat. Joseph didn’t help matters. When he had dreams that indicated he would have authority over his brothers, and even his parents, he announced them to everyone. Joseph’s brothers were so fed up with Joseph that they wanted to kill him. Finally, they sold him into slavery and faked his death which they reported to Jacob.
The thing we want to note here is how sin produced more sin. Certainly, our sins are sins against the holy God. But sins violate the ordering God has given for the world. God has revealed this ordering for a reason. He has created the world to work in certain ways, and if you choose to do things in your own way it will not turn out well for you. Sin will produce more sin, and our lives become caught up in ever more entangled messes.
As we live in our marriages and families, we must recognize this fact. Each sinful action – the selfish deed and the harsh word – sends out ripples of more sin in our relationships and family. God’s Word teaches us that as a new creation in Christ we need to crucify the old man in us. We need to follow the Spirit’s guiding and by his power resist the sin that the old Adam wants us to undertake.
We do this because it is God’s will and pleases him. But we also do so for the sake or our spouse and family. We need to take up the struggle against sin for their sake as well. Our choices about whether to follow sin’s temptation or whether to resist them will help determine the quality of life that we experience in our marriage and family.
Joseph’s brothers had sold Joseph into slavery. But God had cared for Joseph – even when he suffered for doing the right thing. In the end, God had used Joseph to reveal to Pharaoh that seven terrible years of famine would follow seven years of plenty. Pharaoh had placed Joseph as second in charge of Egypt, storing up food during the seven good years. When the famine arrived, it affected the whole region. Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy food, and it was in that interaction that they learned Joseph was not only alive, but had power over their lives. Joseph had moved Jacob and the family to Egypt where he could provide for them.
Now Jacob had died, and the brothers feared what Joseph would do to them. They didn’t come personally. Instead they sent a message to Joseph saying, “Your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.”
The brothers confessed their sin and asked for forgiveness.
When they actually came into his presence they fell down before Joseph and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph replied, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.”
Joseph forgave his brothers. And in his action we see how we are to live as Christians because of our Lord Jesus. St. Paul told the Ephesians, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross for you. He carried out the Father’s saving will to order to win the forgiveness of your sins. He received the judgment you deserved so that by faith and baptism you can stand before God as one who is justified – innocent and holy in God’s eyes.
The wages of sin is still death, and so the on the third day God raised Jesus from the dead in order to defeat death. By his death on the cross Jesus has won forgiveness for you. By his resurrection he has given you the assurance of eternal life – a life that will share in the resurrection life of Jesus when he returns in glory on the Last Day.
God has forgiven you in Christ. He has done this so that now through the work of his Spirit you can forgive others. He has done this so that you can forgive your spouse; so that you can forgive your son or daughter, your father or mother, your brother or sister. It is this forgiveness which God has given us in Christ that has the power to stop the cycle of sin. Sin against one another does not need to beget more sin against each other. Instead, because of Jesus Christ we forgive one another. We live together in God’s forgiveness and love that we have received in Christ.
The death and resurrection of Jesus is the source of the forgiveness we share with one another. And it is also the reason that we can trust God in the midst of all circumstances. In our text Joesph says to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
In this statement, Joseph expresses the truth that God had been in control the whole time. Joseph had been sold into slavery. He had been sent to prison when he resisted the sexual advances of Potiphar’s wife, and then was falsely accused of seeking to assault her. He was forgotten by Pharaoh’s cup bearer after he correctly interpreted his dream. Injustice and disappointment had been followed by injustice and disappointment. Yet now Jospeh could see what God had been doing all along. He understood that God had been working in ways that at the time were mysterious and impossible to understand.
Now what Joseph says is true. God works for good, and he often does this in ways we don’t understand. Certainly, God’s revelation about Joseph’s life is meant teach us this. But at the same time isn’t it easy to make this statement when you are second in charge of Egypt and you see how everything has turned out great? What are we to think when the diagnosis is cancer? How are we to view things when we or a loved one are struggling with mental illness? What is one to say when the plans we had for life are not turning out as we hoped?
St. Paul told the Romans, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This is true. But many times it is a matter of faith because the “all things” don’t look so great. What is it that enables us to trust that God is indeed … somehow … still working good when everything we see looks bad? It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate victory. It is the game changer that causes us to see everything differently. Remember, there did not appear to be anything good about Good Friday. Jesus hung dead on a cross. He had been humiliated as the powerless one. The Messiah? The Son of God? You could throw all of that stuff out the window. He was just another messianic pretender whose claims had turned out to be lies. That’s all there was to see at three o’clock in the afternoon. On Saturday, he was just another corpse buried in a tomb.
But on the third day, on Easter, God raised Jesus from the dead. He demonstrated that in fact, Jesus’ death on the cross had been God’s most powerful action to save us. In fact, Jesus had shown himself to be the Messiah and Son of God by passing through the humiliation, weakness and death of the cross. In Jesus’ resurrection we learn that sin has been forgiven and death has now been defeated.
This knowledge becomes the lens through which we see all of our life. The resurrection of Jesus is the reason that we can trust that God is indeed at work for good. We may have no clue how, but we have seen him work our greatest good in the cross of Christ. We know this because Jesus rose from the dead, and so the resurrection of Jesus is our source of confidence and trust in the midst of all circumstances.
Jesus is Lord. He died on the cross for us. He rose from the dead. Because this is so, we seek to battle against sin, and instead by Christ’s Spirit to share love and support for those in our family and all around us. When people sin against us, we forgive, because this is what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. And in the midst of any and all circumstances we trust that God loves us and is at work for our good, because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.