10th Sunday after Pentecost August 14, 2022


The Healing Power of Christian Forgiveness

Genesis 50:15-21

Scripture Readings

Ephesians 4:25-32
Matthew 18:21-35


39, Lutheran Service Book #843, 464, 54

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted

+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +

Prayer of the Day: God of love, through Your Son You have commanded us to love one another. By the guidance of Your Word and Spirit, deliver us from impenitence and teach us the truth that we might confess our sins, receive Your forgiveness, and be reconciled to one another; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,

In the jungles of Southeast Asia, they have an ingenious way of catching monkeys alive and unharmed. The “Monkey Trap” is very simple. The hunter takes a pot with a wide bottom and a very narrow opening and buries the pot in the ground to where the opening of the pot is just above the ground. In the pot the hunter places pieces of fruit or nuts. Curiosity and hunger attract the monkey. The monkey reaches down into the narrow opening of the pot to grab hold of the treat. As the monkey attempts to extract the treat from the pot, he finds that his fist full of food will not fit through the narrow opening. The frustrated monkey will scream as he continues to hold on to his food. This is a sign for the hunter to walk over to the monkey and throw a net over it to capture it. The monkey sees the hunter approaching, but instead of letting go of the food he holds on tighter and tries even harder to dislodge his fist and the food from the pot.

Our sinful human nature acts very much like that monkey. We can get ourselves caught in a spiritual trap. A trap called bitterness or grudges or hatred. Someone hurts our feelings and instead of forgiving that person, instead of letting go of the pain, we hold on to it tightly.

This is a trap of the Devil. The grudge that we hold hurts our faith in Jesus, and, if we never let go of it, it can actually destroy our faith in Him as our Savior.

The goal of our message today is that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, our hearts will learn anew to practice forgiveness in our daily lives. God intends for the cross—where Christ won the forgiveness of sins for all people—to be a mighty power at work in our daily lives. The cross is the ultimate power to resolve conflict, resentment, and guilt in human relationships. Our theme is: THE HEALING POWER OF CHRISTIAN FORGIVENESS!

Our message is founded on the Word of God recorded in Genesis 50:15-21:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him.” So they sent messengers to Joseph, saying, “Before your father died he commanded, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph: “I beg you, please forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.” ’ Now, please, forgive the trespass of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.

Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.”

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; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (NKJV)

Dear fellow Christians, dear fellow Redeemed,

Have you ever noticed that when it comes to the people of the Bible you not only get the good, but you also get the bad, and the ugly, and usually a lot more of the bad and the ugly. You get David, not only a man who praised God by writing beautiful psalms, but who also was a murderer and an adulterer. You get Jonah, not only the bold preacher of repentance, but also a racist. You get Jacob, not only the fearless man who wrestled with God, but also the louse who deceived his loved ones.

It’s Jacob’s family around which our text centers. Jacob’s family was what we today might call dysfunctional. We see that when we review some of their family history. For starters Jacob did what no parent should ever do. He played favorites. He loved Joseph more than his other sons and didn’t hide that fact when he treated Joseph to a special coat of many colors. Joseph’s brothers became jealous. Their jealousy led to hatred. Their hatred blossomed into a plot to murder their father’s favorite son. They would have murdered him, too, if Judah, the fourth oldest boy, had not come up with the bright idea to sell little brother as a slave. To cover their tracks, they let Father Jacob believe that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

It’s hard for us to imagine that Christians could act this way. But we shouldn’t be too surprised. By themselves Christians are no better than other people. We all were born with a sinful nature. We too often seem to be in the middle of some sort of conflict, be that with our spouse, our children, our brothers and sisters, or our co-workers.

Sadly, the story of Joseph and his brothers is very much my story as well as yours. That’s why God wants us to pay close attention to what he has to say to us today. Because God loves you, He wants to place into your hands His power to deal with the hurt and conflict in your life His way.

It’s been said that the huge Grizzly Bear will allow the tiny skunk to steal its food. The reason is that a Grizzly knows the high price of trying to get even with a skunk. And that’s a price no wise bear is willing to pay.

Are you willing to pay the price that holding a grudge, getting even, or giving someone the cold shoulder, might cost? What could it cost? It could cost a friendship. It could cost a marriage. It certainly will cost you a joyful life? Worst of all, it could cost you your eternal life? Remember Jesus’ warning read earlier in our service in the parable of the unforgiving servant: And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses. (Matthew 18:34-35)

Satan wants us to believe that we have the right to refuse to forgive someone who harms us, especially if the offender shows no sign of being sorry for what he or she has done. But an unforgiving heart is similar to what malware does to your computer. Once it gets inside, if not checked by repentance, will spread, taking over your heart and life, threatening even to destroy us eternally.

As Christians, you and I belong to an outfit that majors in forgiveness at any cost! Forgiveness, even if it costs the life of God’s Son. That is, of course, exactly what it did cost. Grudges and the desire to get even among the group whose very reason for existence is forgiveness?!? Beloved, let it not be so!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, twenty years have gone by. Jacob still thinks Joseph is dead. The brothers no doubt wonder whatever happened to little brother. What happened is that Joseph is now the highest ranking official in all Egypt next to Pharaoh.

But the big question is: what is Joseph thinking about all this time? Revenge!?! Well, the opportunity to get even falls right in his lap. There’s a famine. Jacob sends his ten oldest sons to Egypt to buy grain. And Joseph is the guy you have to see to buy the grain. What a golden opportunity for revenge. With a snap of his fingers Joseph could have ended their lives right then and there. But Joseph looked at the situation as an opportunity, not for revenge, but for forgiveness. This man, who was ripped away from father and home, who suffered enslavement because of his brothers, forgives them freely and fully. Paging back to chapter 45 of Genesis, we read Joseph’s words to his brothers: Do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. (Genesis 45:5) As far as Joseph was concerned all was forgiven and forgotten.

But as we skip ahead another 17 years to the time of our text, we sadly discover the brothers still have unresolved guilt. Father Jacob has been gathered to His people above. With Dad now gone the brothers think that Joseph will hate us and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him. After all they had done to him, it was still hard for them to believe he could really be so forgiving. Yet Joseph is forgiving. He says: Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

What was Joseph’s secret? Where did a man plagued with the same wicked, grudge-seeking sinful nature that all humans possess find the strength to forgive so completely and unconditionally? His power to forgive was Christ and His Cross. Joseph trusted the promise given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He trusted the promise of a Champion, who would crush Satan’s power and undo sin’s curse. We know Him as Jesus, the One who lifts the burden of sin from people’s backs, and grants rest to the soul. The one who gave His life a ransom for all!

So, if you are holding some bitterness in your heart toward someone, take it to Jesus. Take it to the cross, and He will forgive it, for he has already paid for your sin of bitterness, as He has for all sins!

But, you see, the forgiveness Jesus won for all saves people, also changes people. Joseph could forgive anything because he knew he was forgiven everything. So please don’t leave here today thinking that pastor said we should be like forgiving Joseph. That’s not exactly the lesson. The lesson is that only because of Christ and the Holy Spirit working in his heart could Joseph be the forgiving person he was. Jesus says, Without Me, you can do nothing! (John 15:5) Only as we turn to Jesus’ cross every day for the forgiveness of our own sins, can we truly learn and have the strength to forgive others.

Think about how you have what we might call a horizontal relationship with God. God loves reaches down to you through the cross of Jesus. God loves you. He forgives you because Jesus paid for all our sins with His death. Then think of what we might call a vertical relationship you have with others. The horizontal and vertical makes a cross. The only way you can have a peaceful relationship with God is because of your crucified Savior. The only way you and I can truly heal and strengthen our relationships with one another is due to the power of the cross.

As we put forgiveness to work in our daily lives, we find there’s nothing more powerful for healing broken or crumbling relationships than Christian forgiveness. Put Christian forgiveness to work in your marriage and you’ll be amazed! Let forgiveness loose in your family and you’ll enjoy a more peaceful life! Go up to that person who did you wrong. Let them know you forgive them, and you just may gain a new friend!

Dear Christian, maybe there’s a conflict in your life that needs to be resolved. If so, remember Your Savior and the healing power of His blood-bought forgiveness. Because of Jesus we don’t have to be like a monkey who won’t let go of the food in the pot. Because of Jesus we can forgive and let go of all bitterness and resentment. Amen.

—Pastor Michael Wilke

Gethsemane Lutheran Church
Saginaw, MI

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