Coming Home

Genesis 49.33
When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

There is a brutal reality to death that cannot be softened. When his father Jacob dies we read that, “Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him.” Old age may make death more expected, but nothing makes it less heartbreaking.

Joseph had been robbed of his best years with his father, reconnecting only as an adult. When he first heard Jacob was nearing Egypt, Joseph raced out in his chariot to meet him along the way. 

Reunions are meant to be joyous occasions. At their best, they are times when loved ones gather to reminisce, laugh, and feast. In this case, the beloved was restored to his family. Jacob and Joseph’s reunion was filled with the triumph of a father and son, once separated by what seemed like forever, reunited.

The revelation at Jacob’s death, that he, “was gathered to his people” is not simply a Hebrew euphemism. This is one of the first images scripture reveals about the afterlife. Like Joseph’s feelings when he fell headlong into his father’s arms, death, for the faithful, is a reunion of inexpressible joy. 

Death may be a present reality, but time is not eternity. 2 Corinthians observes that Christians are, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Now death; soon life. 

Even Jesus wept at a funeral — yet death did not get the last word. He called Lazarus from the grave. Resurrection is a fundamentally relational concept in the scriptures. It not only brings life to body and soul, it restores the community of believers. In resurrection a fractured world is brought to integrity through the embrace of God.

No wonder the prophets of the New Testament would rejoice at the image of the resurrection as the great banquet of heaven. Together we shall delight in new life. Moreover, whatever joy we experience as we reunite with friends and family shall be fully eclipsed by the triumph of living in harmony with our Father.

Prayers from the Past
Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ: in all my trials and sufferings you have given me the strength to stand firm; in your mercy you have granted me a share of eternal glory.

— Irenaeus of Sirmium prior to his martyrdom under Diocletian c. 304 C.E.

Quiet Trust in an Anxious World
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 49 (Listen – 4:07)
Luke 3 (Listen – 5:24)

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Collateral Blessing

Genesis 46.29
Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.

Twenty-five years after he finished the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo returned to begin work on The Last Judgment. The painting covers the expansive, 1,700 square-foot, altar wall and depicts Christ’s return, the resurrection of the dead, heaven, and hell.

The work, which would be among Michelangelo’s last, was controversial even before it was completed. Detractors were disquieted by the amount of nudity in the painting. Papal Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena joined others in critiquing Michelangelo, calling the master artist’s work, “a very disgraceful thing.”

To strike back at da Cesena, Michelangelo painted him into the corner of the wall. The critic’s head appears atop the body of Meno, the Greek god of the underworld, who greets the damned as they enter hell.

“Of the seven deadly sins, anger is the most fun,” writes Frederick Buechner. “To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor the last toothsome morsel of the pain you’re giving back to them, in many ways, is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down at this feast is yourself.”

Most people can imagine what forgiveness might cost. Where we struggle is imagining what the costs of un-forgiveness will run us and what benefits forgiveness might bear.

Michelangelo’s bitterness is enshrined in history. (There are even teams of artists dedicated to preserving it.) Un-forgiveness always works that way. Entire nations rage against one another for the grievances of prior lifetimes. 

Although it rarely feels grand, forgiveness has its own way of stretching beyond the moment. 

Because Joseph forgave, a family was preserved from starvation; from that family a nation was born.

More importantly to Joseph, he had a restored relationship with his father. Their joy-filled reunion was an effect of his forgiveness of his brothers. The meaningful things we long for are found only in the fruit of sacrifice.

Prayer
Father, we have wronged you above all others. In your gracious love you have forgiven us, restored us to your family, and welcomed us back with joy and tears. Help us to forgive others, absorbing their debts with the riches of your Kingdom.

Faith in Forgiveness
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 46 (Listen – 4:47)
Mark 16 (Listen – 2:34)

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This Weekend’s Readings

Saturday: Genesis 47 (Listen – 5:03); Luke 1.1-38 (Listen – 9:26)
Sunday: Genesis 48 (Listen – 3:43); Luke 1.39-80 (Listen – 9:26)

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TBT: Jesus and His Brothers

Genesis 45.4
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!”

Jesus and His Brothers | by C.H. Spurgeon (October 4, 1885)

Notice that, when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, he did not say more until he had put away all their offenses against him. They had been troubled because they knew that they had sold him into Egypt; but he said to them, “Now be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here.” That was a blessed way of saying, “I freely and fully forgive you.” 

So Jesus says to his loved ones, who have grieved him by their evil deeds, “Be not grieved, for, ‘I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions, and, as a cloud, your sins.’ Be not angry with yourselves, for I will receive you graciously, and love you freely. 

Be not angry with yourselves, for your sins, which are many, are all forgiven; go, and sin no more. For my name’s sake, will I defer mine anger; ‘Come now, and let us reason together: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’ ” 

Many of you know the way our Savior talks; I pray that he may make every believer sure that there is not a sin against him in God’s Book of remembrance. 

May you, dear friends, be clear in your conscience from all dead works! May you have the peace of God, which passes all understanding, to keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus, and in the clear white light of your Savior’s glorious presence, may you see the wounds he endured when suffering for your sins! 

Then will you sing with the disciple whom Jesus loved, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and has made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” [1]

Prayers from the Past
With one voice we offer you praise and thanksgiving… You bought us back with the pure and precious blood of your only Son, freed us from lies and error, from bitter enslavement, released us from the Devil’s clutches and gave us the glory of freedom. We were dead and you renewed the life of our bodies in the Spirit. We were soiled and you made us quite spotless again.

— From a prayer of thanksgiving c. 200-500 C.E.

Faith and Forgiveness
Part 4 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 45 (Listen – 4:10)
Mark 15 (Listen – 5:16)

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Footnotes

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (1897). The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (Vol. 43, p. 224). London: Passmore & Alabaster. Language updated.

Out of the Pit

Genesis 44.33
[Judah said,] “Please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of Benjamin, and let the boy return with his brothers.”

It was Judah who pulled his brother Joseph from the pit, decades earlier, rescuing him from the murderous determinations of his other brothers. Judah quickly negotiated a deal to sell Joseph to human traffickers. This was an act which spared Joseph’s life, but was far from gracious.

Joseph’s road of forgiveness would have been arduous. His commitment to the journey would have been steadfast — or he never would have had this opportunity for restoration.

In Genesis 44 Benjamin is the one on the block. His fate, in the moment, appears the same as Joseph’s was years before. It didn’t look like much could be done to keep Benjamin from losing his family and becoming a prisoner for the remainder of his life.

Judah again steps up to pull a brother from the pit. Only this time something radically different happens. Judah spares Benjamin’s life by sacrificing his own — he throws himself in the pit in his brother’s place. 

In this act Joseph saw something in Judah which un-forgiveness of him would have masked. We don’t fully know what Judah went through after abandoning Joseph, but it must have been a journey that deepened his commitment to justice. Judah was no longer self-protecting. Now he was self-sacrificing. 

It’s far easier to never give our offenders another chance — effectively locking our view of their character to their darkest hour. Joseph’s decision to release Judah not only restored their relationship, it reunited Joseph with his father again. This simple, but costly, choice saved Joseph’s family, grew an entire nation, and ultimately paved the way for the Messiah.

“Forgiveness founders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners,” explains Miroslav Volf in Exclusion and Embrace.

It was Christ who, like Joseph, saw us in our darkest hour yet forgive us. 

It was Christ who, like Judah, rescued us from the pit by throwing himself in on our behalf. 

We come to God’s grace like Joseph’s family came to the grain in Egypt: famished from our search and saved by its nourishment. 

Prayer
Lord, your forgiveness — your grace — is our greatest joy. You saw us while we were yet sinners and choose to love and pursue us. You sacrificed your son on our behalf. We want to live as examples of your forgiveness. Help us to share with others the great joy of your salvation.

Faith in Forgiveness
Part 3 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 44 (Listen – 4:38)
Mark 14 (Listen – 8:37)

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The Cost of Forgiveness

Genesis 43.31, 34
After Joseph had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, “Serve the food.” […and] they feasted and drank freely with him.

Research on forgiveness has surged, according to a PBS series on mental health. Those who forgive, “are more likely to be happy, serene, empathetic, hopeful, and agreeable,” the series summarizes, adding that forgiving people also experience:

  • Fewer episodes of depression
  • Higher self-esteem
  • More friends
  • Longer marriages
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Closer relationships
  • Fewer stress-related heath issues
  • Better immune system function
  • Lower rates of disease

It’s important to clarify what we mean by forgiveness. Forgiveness is not the same as (1) reconciliation, (2) forgetting, (3) condoning or excusing, or (4) justice, clarifies Sonja Lyubomirsky in, The How of Happiness.

Forgiveness is an act of faith where the offended party chooses not to be taken captive in a cycle of retribution. It’s a way for the offended to release themselves from the control of the offender. 

Forgiveness always has a cost. The deeper the wound, the higher the cost. We see this in the story of Joseph’s feast with his brothers in Genesis 43. The most significant cost wasn’t financial or social, although Joseph sacrificed in both ways. (Feasts were expensive and ancient Egyptians considered eating with Israelites an abomination).

The greatest cost was the toll forgiveness and restoration took on Joseph. He retreated to his private room to weep after he saw his brother Benjamin. Upon returning Joseph intentionally blessed the brothers who cursed him.

By hosting a feast for his brothers, Joseph was inviting the source of his deepest pain to partake in the fruits of his greatest blessing. 

Forgiveness rarely comes out on top in a cost/benefit analysis. The only sufficient reason to forgive is if we look beyond the parties of the offended and the offender. Forgiveness for the Christian is less about conjuring an emotion and more about praying to God for the ability to extend his forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

In Joseph’s case, being willing to endure the cost of forgiveness laid the groundwork for an entire nation and ultimately for Christ — the suffering servant who would forgive us all.

Prayer

Our Father in heaven, holy is your name. We see that your calling to forgive others is better for us, yet we struggle in the realities and pains of life. Strengthen and guide us to forgive as you have forgiven. We ask for this in Jesus’ name.

Faith in Forgiveness
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

Today’s Readings
Genesis 43 (Listen – 5:02)
Mark 13 (Listen – 4:32)

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