“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.’ So 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.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ But 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.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” Genesis 50:15-21
Though Joseph had revealed himself to his brothers with affection, a full measure of grace for their misdeeds, and bountiful provision, his brothers couldn’t grasp the forgiveness God had wrought in his heart. Still burdened with guilt, they feared retribution, assuming his kindness was meant only to honor their father while he lived. But that very assumption was based on their own unwillingness to take hold of the Lord’s mercy. While they acknowledged their mistreatment of their younger brother, they were not freed from its burden. It took being forgiven for them to recognize the lavish grace of God. (Genesis 42:21-25; 45:1-15)
Without humbly receiving God’s full forgiveness, it is hard to accept it from, and extend it toward, others. The Lord had used Joseph’s harrowing experiences to teach him Who really ruled, and to mold his deep faith in the long view of His goodness and plan. Had his brothers never asked his forgiveness, Joseph had already settled it in his heart by an act of will. His God had orchestrated all things for His redemptive purposes. Joseph’s attitudes and actions were grounded in God’s promises, not the antics of people or the worst of circumstances. (Romans 8:28-30; Philippians 4:6-7)
When we honestly confront the cross of Christ, we are changed. Once it has its way in crucifying our flesh, we live with new perspective, and no longer nurse old wounds. Instead, in freedom and joy, we long to express and exhibit the cross and its power, especially to those who’ve wronged us. (1 Corinthians 2:2-5; Galatians 2:20)
Are we among those who say, “I know God forgives, but I can’t forgive myself”? This reveals a pale understanding of God’s rich grace, and espouses the power (and control) of me. Once we’ve received Jesus’s cleansing blood, His Spirit interprets that truth personally, and we’re released to forgive and be forgiven. (1 Corinthians 2:11-13)
Do I still fear punishment for past sins? Am I still nursing sins of others against me, and using them as an excuse, a weapon, a banner? Either way, I know not the forgiveness of Christ. Once freed by His forgiveness, we are free indeed to love and serve others. (John 8:36)
Lord, apply the full force of Your grace in me. May I ever rejoice in Your forgiveness, and the freedom it affords to forgive and bless others.