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Jack Graham - The Gift of Forgiveness

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    Jack Graham - The Gift of Forgiveness
TOPICS: Forgiveness

Take your Bibles and turn to Genesis chapter 45, because the story of Joseph illustrates in classic form the greatest demonstration of forgiveness in all of the Bible, outside of the cross of Christ Himself. Of course, the greatest demonstration of forgiveness is at the cross. But I believe the classic illustration of what we experience in Christ is right here in the story of Joseph. As a matter of fact, the very first time the word forgiveness appears in the Bible, it shows up in this story of Joseph and his forgiveness of his brothers. Now let me catch you up very quickly on the last episode in Joseph's story, if you will.

Joseph who was loved by his father but betrayed by his own brothers, sold into slavery by these cruel and heartless men. He ends up on the back of camels, riding into Egypt where he is sold as a slave. He ends up in the house of Potiphar, a powerful man in Egypt. And as a slave to this man he rose to service in that man's house. And because of the great spirit of this man, because he refused to bow down to the brokenness and shattered dreams of his life, he kept his dreams alive that God had placed in his heart and he rose to prominence even in the house of Potiphar. But then he was lied about, accused of attempting to rape or seduce his boss's wife. He's put into prison. You would think that's the end of the story. But Joseph kept trusting in the faithfulness of God, and God was certainly faithful to Joseph.

So even in the prison he rose to prominence. This great, powerful young man! At the age of seventeen, all the way to age thirty, this thirteen year period he continues to walk with God and in the will of God and fulfill God's purpose in his life. So he is promised that he will be remembered to Pharaoh because he interpreted dreams there in prison, but he was forgotten by the man who promised to help him get out. A friend that he assisted, in the release of that friend out of prison, forgot him! So here is a man who is betrayed, sold as a slave, falsely accused, imprisoned, forgotten in prison, but ultimately is given an opportunity to stand before Pharaoh where he interprets the dreams of Pharaoh, and not only that, but he gives Pharaoh a plan in saving Egypt, and ultimately the world, including his own family! Because God told this man in his dreams, through Joseph that there would be seven years of plenty and seven years then of famine.

And so Joseph was a man with a plan. He was God's man in Egypt. He said, "Pharaoh, what needs to happen is that while we're in these years of prosperity, we need to take some of the grain and the profit, and we need to set it aside for these seven lean years that are coming". He provided a kind of flat tax for Egypt. And as a result, because it all came to pass just as God said, just as Joseph interpreted it, Joseph was placed in charge over the distribution of all of the grain and all of the food of Egypt. He in effect is the prime minister, or you might say head of the Department of Commerce in Egypt. And that brings us to our text today because his brothers, yes, those brothers who despised him, who laughed at his dreams, who mocked this young man with a beautiful coat, but with a more beautiful character. They come to Egypt to seek grain. They're starving; they're dying.

So their father, Jacob who's still alive sends them into Egypt and they stand before Joseph whom they did not recognize because he appeared to be an Egyptian, of course, by this time. And Joseph puts them through a series of hoops and tests to awaken their conscience, and to bring them to genuine conviction and repentance. He sends them back home with grain. He keeps one of them there. He asks for this brother Benjamin, his brother by his own mother. And they come back to Egypt for a second time and this is when they stand before Joseph in chapter 45, the first five verses. And again, this is so poignant, this is so powerful. Listen, put yourself in this position: "Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood before him".

Can you imagine those thirteen long years of emotion that now begin to pour out as Joseph is about to reveal himself to his brothers! 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!'" Now can you imagine the stark fear and terror that comes across the faces of those betraying brothers at this moment? Ha, they're thinking, "Oops"! And it was just as Joseph had dreamed and declared years before that these brothers would end up bowing down to him! So, "the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, 'I am Joseph'", and he wanted to know, "'Is my father still alive?'" Now don't pass over that. "Is my father still alive"?

Remember that old father back in Israel? For 13 terrible dark years he thinks his beloved son is dead! And Joseph, for all he knows, thinks his father is dead. And that's the first thing he wants to know. "'I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?' But his brothers could not answer him for they were dismayed at his presence"! That's the biblical way of saying they were scared to death. "So Joseph said to his brothers, 'Come near to me, please.'" Now remember, he has them in his hands now. These same hateful, terrible men who abused him and broke his heart! And sent him off as a slave! Told his daddy he was dead! He has them right where he wants them, right in his hands. He could put them in jail for the rest of their lives. He could execute them. He has total power over these men. But he says: "'Come near to me, please.' And they came near. And he said, 'I am your brother, Joseph whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here for God sent me before you to preserve life.'"

What a man! God had a purpose in all of this, Joseph says. God put me here to preserve life, including yours. Verse 15, look at verse 15 of Genesis 45: "And he kissed all his brothers and he wept upon them". He embraced them; he kissed them, as was the custom of the Jews. And after that his brothers talked with him. Now is a time of reconciliation and restoration. And then look over in chapter 50 as we get near the end of the story: "Joseph said to them", verse 19 of Genesis chapter 50, "Joseph said to them, '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.'" That's a good promise isn't it? "Do not fear; for I will provide for you and your little ones".

Then he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Wouldn't you agree that this is one of most powerful stories in all of the Bible? The story of reconciliation and resolution and redemption. There's so many people today who need to experience what Joseph experienced along with those brothers that day. It is a gift of, that heals, and it is a gift that restores, it is a gift that puts back the pieces of a broken life and a broken relationship. So many relationships have been ripped apart. And I'm speaking to people right now, many of whom, really all of us in our lives have experienced injustice and unfairness. Someone mistreated you. Someone lied or slandered your name. Someone looked over you, passed by you, passed over you. Someone betrayed you, friends, family that betrayed you. Someone who abused you! All of us have experiences in life in which we have been hurt by others, mistreated! And we can't change the past! And it does us absolutely no good to wring our hands, trying to figure things out.

Why did this happen to me? Forgiveness is not a little thing in the Bible; it is the thing in the Bible! The forgiveness of God, the grace of God! And when Jesus taught us to pray, He included it in that powerful model prayer when He taught us to pray, "Forgive us as we forgive others". Forgiveness. And yet so many people live in the bondage of bitterness, in the chains of brokenness in their lives. And today, I believe, is going to be a breakthrough in so many lives today when you get passed your past and allow God to heal your heart so that you can truly give the gift of forgiveness. Joseph's godly character emerges in this powerful story. As I noted it was a perfect time for payback. And we live in a culture that's really committed to payback. "I'll get you, I'll get even. I'm like a terrorist; I'll just wait and wait and wait, but my time's coming".

And so many are filled with bitterness. And the cause, the problem is that so many are filled with anger and resentment because of passed hurts, because they have been treated unfairly. And anger, of course, becomes bitter when it is turned inward. Bitterness is anger turned inward. It is resentment until, to the degree that such that it grows, it's like a cancer that takes over everything. Bitterness and anger turned inward, the refusal to give up on passed hurts and that's all like a cancer, and it's not benign. It spreads, it metastasizes, and consumes the person. And I've been a pastor long enough now to have seen it many, many times, this root of bitterness.

That's why the Bible says in Hebrews 12:15, "Don't allow any root of bitterness to spring up in your life, causing trouble". It's like a poisonous weed in a garden, this thing of bitterness. And it has terrible consequences. What are the consequences of this? When we live our lives refusing to forgive and to forget and to move on, hung up on the hurts of the past, what happens? Well, number one, it chains us to the past. Life is difficult enough without carrying around excess baggage. And bitterness, anger, resentment is emotional baggage. And not only baggage, it is bondage, like a chain around you that keeps you from moving forward in your life. So bitterness chains us to the past. But not only that, it contaminates our personalities. People who become bitter, become cynical and caustic and critical and negative. And unfortunately bitter people show up in homes and families, places of work and yes, even in churches. Bitterness spills out on others.

And we become critical spectators in life. Negative about everything and everyone because bitterness is controlling us. It devours relationships. It will spread to your marriage. It can even be passed along to your children from generation to generation. Angry resentful, bitter people present, become bitter parents who produce bitter children. I've seen this through the years. You look at a person and you think, "Why is that person not developing? Why is that person not growing as a Christian? What's holding that person back from really living for Christ and making a difference in the world! So much talent, so much ability, so many". And often you get at the core of it and it's some hurt, it's some resentment, it's some pain in the past that that person is still dealing with. It will disturb the peace of your life and keep you from fully seeing the love and the grace and the power of Jesus Christ.

I'm telling you you can never see fully the glory and the grace of God in your own life if you are harboring hate or hurt or bitterness or resentment or pain from the past in your life because not only does it contaminate our personalities and control or color all of our relationships, but it controls our decisions. And as we've said previously in this message series, our decisions determine our destiny. But bitterness controls our decisions. We see everything through the grid of this thing that is still in our lives. And that it can choke productivity. You can't work or produce effectively if you're defiled by this. You're distracted by it. You can be even diseased by it. Did you know that doctors tell us that resentment and anger turned inward and the refusal to give up and forgive others can produce all kinds of physical ailments and even heart disease.

One doctor said, "Resentment and bitterness puts the whole mental and physical system in a state of war rather than peace". So how can we receive this gift of forgiveness? Thank God there is hope for our hurts. Number one, admit the bitterness. As I said, you have to be willing, if it's underground, if it's invisible, to dig it up. I'm not talking about in an unhealthy way and going back in the past and this whole victimization kind of mentality. No. But ask the Holy Spirit to dig up anything in your life that is disagreeable in you. And then confess and agree it with God. Agree with God that it is wrong. Say, "God, I am bitter. I am angry. I am full of resentment. I refuse to forgive. Lord, take this away and change my heart".

You don't want to live a life like this. Ask God to heal your hurt and restore your spirit. When you come to the cross and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ you will feel the wonders of His grace and then the anger will begin to dissipate in your life. Bitterness is like a bondage; it's a satanic strong hold in people's lives. And the power of Jesus Christ can break that down. He not only forgives; He sets us free. "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free". So ask God; admit it. And then ask God's help to freely and fully forgive those who have hurt you. Now we're down to it. Because in my view this is hardest thing we ever do in the Christian life is to forgive those who have hurt us. The disciples came to Jesus and questioned whether or not they should forgive and how much they should forgive.

And in Luke chapter 17, Jesus responded to their question by saying, "Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him (which means confront him)" The Bible says agree quickly with your adversary. "And if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, 'I repent' you should forgive him". And the apostle said in verse 5: "Lord, increase our faith". Because this isn't human, is it? To forgive everyday, every time somebody asks you to forgive? I mean, we maybe forgive that person one time, but he does it again, she did it again, forgive again? Jesus said, "Yes, forgive"! You say, "Well, I don't feel like forgiving. You don't know how that person hurt me, pastor. You don't know the pain that I feel". No, I don't. But I know Jesus said to do it and by faith we can. No matter how many times a person sins, and when that person repents, forgive them.

The standard is high but God asks for the faith. And for your own sake, even if that person, now listen to me now, even if that person does not ask you for forgiveness who's hurt you, offended you, mistreated you, in your own heart ask God to heal you from any bitterness or anger or resentment or pain that exists, or any unforgiving spirit towards that individual. That's not only for their sake; it's for your sake, and it is for the Gospel's sake. Bitterness often begins with just something small. It's a small little pain, a small little hurt, and then we nurse it and then we rehearse it until it grows into a powerful force in our lives! And it just takes over! The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13:5, however, "Love does not behave rudely and does not seek its own. It's not provoked easily and it thinks no evil".

You know some of us are way, way, way too touchy; we're offended at the slightest thing. We get angry about the smallest little deal and it's because we've never dealt with the Spirit that exists in our lives that refuses to let things go by the grace of God. There's one final thing and that is to accept God's plan. And that's really where we get back to Joseph here. Because in chapter 50, verse 20, when Joseph said, "But as for you, you meant it as evil against me, but God meant it for good". That's the Romans 8:28 of the Old Testament. Romans 8:28 says, "For God works all things together for the good to them who love the Lord, to those who are called according to his purpose". And Joseph was able to forgive his brothers for one primary reason. He knew that God was in control of his situation. He is now seeing his dreams fulfilled; that God used this adversity to advance him. And so often God uses something in our life, some major crisis or hurt and pain to get us ready for the next big thing that God is about to do in our lives.

Did you know that? If you're in the middle of something right now, as a believer in Christ, remember there is nothing that works against you! With Christ everything is working for you! Nothing is working against you! Everything is working for you! Everything! And if you know that, you can let go of all this other stuff and let God make you a man and a woman of grace, that forgives even as the Scripture tells us, as Christ has forgiven us. Don't let your past determine your future. Don't let what happen so long ago control your destiny today. God's at work. And where God doesn't rule, He overrules. And I'm tell you for the believer, even those terrible experiences that you're thinking about an injustice, a pain and brokenness and abuse, and mistreatment and lies and slanders, while someone meant it for evil, God meant it for good if you will live in His grace.

The greatest definition of grace I've ever heard is "forgiveness is giving up my right to hate you for hurting me". You may want to write that down. Here it is again. "Forgiveness is giving up my right to hate you for hurting me". As we're going to see in the next message, Joseph is a picture of Jesus himself. His very name means "the one who adds". Jesus came to this world, not to take away but to add an abundant life. Free from sins, free from the past, fully alive so that you may know the goodness and the grace and the forgiveness of God, and yes, give that grace to those who need it, including those who hurt us.
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