14th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 19) LSB #719
Text – Genesis 50:20
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.
TURNING EVIL INTO GOOD
“Sticks & stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” It was a common children’s nursery rhyme, & its purpose was to help the victim of the name-calling ignore the evil behavior of a bully. The rhyme has fallen out of favor in recent years for good reason. You & I are not able to turn evil into good simply by saying it isn’t so.
When someone calls you names it does hurt. Emotional pain & psychological harm can actually do far more damage to God’s creation than a simple broken arm. The human body was designed to fairly quickly heal itself of many physical ailments. Trying to repair a person’s emotions or soul is a far more complex & difficult goal.
Leading up to seminary I took several psychology classes, & once I was at seminary I took numerous counseling classes. What really stood out to me was how the secular counseling world could do a decent job of diagnosing what was wrong with a person, & yet they could never come up with a reliable solution, let alone a cure.
At the root of that failure was the unwillingness to recognize evil for what it truly is. Evil is sin. Evil is rebellion against the holy God. There lies the root of all our troubles. With that diagnosis off limits, with the truth being politically incorrect, no honest & accurate solution can ever be found.
If you’re suffering from damaged emotions, or a crippled soul, you can’t work harder or smarter at getting better. That’s like asking someone with a broken leg to just run faster. It’s like asking a person with a broken arm to just throw the ball harder. The best that unbelievers can come up with, for dealing with the effects of sin, is to say that sin will never hurt me. As they attempt to deal with the realities caused by sin, the only answer they have is to call it something else. So abortion becomes the woman’s right to choose. Homosexuality is sold as a natural lifestyle. If we’re telling lies, it’s because you have your truth & I have mine.
Their ‘plan’ to cure the world is to tell themselves often enough that what is evil is actually good. Yet, their words have no power. Their words have no effect. Their words cannot change truth. Their words cannot change reality & the prophet Isaiah had the same problem going on in his day, thousands of years ago:
“Woe to those who call evil good & good evil, who put darkness for light & light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet & sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20 ESV) You see, in a world without Jesus as the Truth, the Way & the Life, then every single thing is upside down & backwards. Without Jesus there is no truth, no reality, no healing. Without Jesus there is no life.
Oh, the people are alive all right; they just don’t have ‘life.’ There is no peace or wholeness. Everything is fractured & on the verge of disintegrating. You & I know that type of stress well because, even if we’ve been Christians all our lives, each of us still lives in a world that has been drastically broken by Adam & Eve’s fall into sin.
There’s nothing we touch that hasn’t already been damaged, & twisted, by the corrupting effect of sin. You may believe you’ve seen the perfect sunset a couple of times in your lifetime. Before the fall into sin, every sunset was perfect. So how do we deal with it? How do we cope with the fact that nothing is as it should be?
Joseph’s own brothers sold him into slavery. Their own father favored Joseph over all of his sons. Joseph was arrogant enough, in front of his brothers, to wear that coat of many colors his father had given him, thus rubbing in their face the truth that Joseph was the favorite. Now, the father has died. How was the ‘favorite’ son going to respond for all he had suffered? He was the 2nd most powerful man on earth. Would he gain his revenge? How often have you gained yours? Maybe you’re still in the process? When are you going to quit trying to turn evil into good simply by changing its name?
Even Christians struggle daily with unbelief, & in our unbelief you & I are still trying to turn our own evil into good, simply by calling it good. That is the best that human beings can do apart from Christ. Our heavenly Father can actually turn evil into good, as He does when He changes our heart from death to life, from darkness to light, from unbelief into believing.
In the events recorded in the 50th chapter of Genesis, Yahweh had already turned Joseph’s heart from unbelief to believing. Now, through Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers’ sin, Yahweh turns their hearts as well.
Punishing someone for doing evil is at times justified & proper, but it does not ever turn that evil into good. Only the almighty God, whose Word created everything there is, has the unlimited power & wisdom & patience needed to turn your sin & my sin into good. Thus Yahweh spoke through His servant Joseph, & those words created life where there was death:
“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 reading from the book of Genesis, Joseph is a foreshadowing of Christ, hanging on the cross, asking His Father to forgive them, the brothers, for they know not what they do. Joseph not only forgives, but he comforts & he reconciles, and then provides for them. In that provision, the foreshadowing has moved on to the final judgment.
Joseph tells his brothers that even though they meant evil against him, God meant the very same thing for good, “…to bring it about that many people should be kept alive…” The same will be true at Judgment Day. As in the case of Joseph, so in the case of Jesus, many people will have been kept alive by the evil that was done against Christ, as He hung in our place on Golgotha. “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” Those very words could have been spoken to Judas if he had been willing to hear them.
Since Jesus died for our sins on the cross, there is one Name we may be called which can never hurt us, even if the world would hate us & kill us because of it. The name of Jesus never hurts, but always saves. For the person who has had an abortion, even two or three, the name of Jesus can & will heal if they allow it.
For the person who’s been deceived by the homosexual movement, or any other perversion of God’s design, which is one man & one woman committed to each other alone until death parts them, for anyone led astray from our Lord’s design, the name of Jesus can & will heal if they allow it.
For all the lies we’ve told, when God’s truth wasn’t convenient, & we wanted our own truth instead, the name of Jesus can & will heal if we allow it. Any hurt, or pain or suffering we’ve endured can be healed by the name of Jesus, because our healing does not come from within us. Our healing, our wholeness, our peace, always comes from outside of ourselves.
There’s a fable that tells of a farmer who transplanted an old brier bush into a rose garden. The brier was puzzled: “What a foolish old man! Doesn’t he know I’m just an old brier bush? Why did he put me here with all the beautiful roses?”
As time went by the farmer proceeded to graft a rose stalk into the stem of the brier bush, & when summer came, the brier was topped with beautiful roses. The farmer said, “Your beauty, old brier, is not due to what came out of you, but to what I have put in to you.” That is absolutely true of every one of God’s children as well. No matter the suffering, the trials & even tribulations of life, our beauty comes from outside of ourselves, our healing comes from outside of ourselves, and our very life comes from outside of ourselves. Joseph’s ability to forgive his brothers for the evil they did to him came from outside of himself. It came from Christ, & it came to him through Jesus’ love demonstrated & proven on the cross.
“His brothers also came & fell down before him & 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 & your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them & spoke kindly to them.”
In the same way, our Lord & Savior longs to comfort & speak kindly to you. His love for you knows no limits, & He is perfectly capable & willing to turn every bit of your evil into good, for His name’s sake. It’s in His name, & by the power of His name, that you & I are turned & healed. Amen.
I leave all things to God’s direction; He loves me both in joy & woe. His will is good, sure His affection; His tender love is true, I know. My fortress & my rock is He: what pleases God, that pleases me. God knows what must be done to save me; His love for me will never cease. Upon His hands He did engrave me with purest gold of loving grace. His will supreme must ever be: what pleases God, that pleases me. My God desires the soul’s salvation; my soul He, too, desires to save. Therefore with Christian resignation all earthly troubles I will brave. His will be done eternally; what pleases God, that pleases me. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet