Staring into the Pit
15th Sunday after Pentecost – A (Proper 19) LSB #’s 816, 719, 895
Text – Genesis 50:15
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us & pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.”
STARING INTO THE PIT
A lot has happened since the brothers of Joseph left him for dead in the desert pit. They’ve been reunited with Joseph, but now their father, Jacob, has died. It’s as if they’re back in the desert staring into the pit where they left their little brother to die. The brothers are face-to-face with the guilt of their murderous intent. Why does their sin haunt them so?
They’re not in this state because of anything Joseph has said or done. In fact, he’s demonstrated his loving forgiveness & has taken his siblings under his wing. The brothers are in this state because the guilt of their sin remains, & it has generated fear within. Satan is at work causing them to freak out over the possibility that their brother is secretly plotting revenge.
That’s what failing to repent of sin does to you! And repentance has two parts – confessing the evil of your sin – as well as believing that, on your behalf, Christ pays all of the penalty that ultimately matters. You hear these words so often that maybe their message doesn’t truly sink in so let’s apply them to the sermon text.
“Now, may this body & blood of your Lord & Savior Jesus Christ strengthen & preserve you, steadfast in the one true faith, unto life everlasting. Depart in joy & in peace.” What is it that the brothers of Joseph are missing? It’s peace, isn’t it? They are not at peace because their sin is still troubling them. The devil still has a foothold in their heart.
Let’s refresh our memory about what’s causing them so much distress. This is from the 37th chapter of Genesis:
When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him. “Here comes the dreamer!” they said. “Come on, let’s kill him & throw him into one of these pits. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!” But when Reuben heard of their scheme, he came to Joseph’s rescue. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. “Why should we shed any blood? Let’s just throw him into this empty pit here in the wilderness. Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on him.” Reuben was secretly planning to rescue Joseph & return him to his father. So when Joseph arrived, his brothers ripped off the beautiful robe he was wearing. Then they grabbed him & threw him into the pit. (37:18-24a)
This is basically the story of Cain & Abel, all over again. Only this time, Cain has multiplied from one into many brothers. They were plotting the cold-blooded murder of Joseph, but this plan also reveals the hatred they had for their father: “How dare he favor this little snot-nosed kid over us, the older children who are bearing the workload of their father?”
Though this plotting against Joseph had occurred many years before, as the brothers bow before the 2nd most powerful person, in the most powerful nation on earth, they are still staring into the pit of their sins. Their relationship with their brother Joseph is just as broken now as it was on the day they plotted to kill him.
Now, the tables are turned. Filled with fear before the power of Joseph to kill them, & in the absence of their father Jacob to protect them, they come face-to-face with the temporal consequences of their sins. Ultimately, they are moved to repentance before Joseph, & he grants them forgiveness. This time they believe it, & they can now depart in joy & in peace.
Is there a pit out there somewhere containing sins of which you have not yet repented? Is there a place in your heart that you have walled off, where you’ve imprisoned your own guilt so that it cannot be forgiven? It’s not uncommon for people to get hung up on regrets that tie them down so they can’t move forward & live the life of joy & peace that God calls us to.
Yes, much has happened since Joseph’s brothers left him for dead in the desert, but only now has the sin been confessed & absolved. Despite their wickedness, Yahweh worked for the good of his people & provided for their needs. Then in this text, God enables Joseph to forgive his brothers even as Joseph has been forgiven of his own sin. The devil has a way of using sin to keep us in fear & guilt. Satan does not want us to receive the full & free forgiveness that Christ offers. He works diligently to make us doubt that the forgiveness is real. He creates the same fear within us that Joseph’s brothers had.
The Devil wants us to believe that God is out to get us, to kill us, & to make us pay for what we have done. The Devil wants us right where Joseph’s brothers are in the sermon text: filled with fear & anxiety, not knowing where to turn, & scrambling to find protection with our own wisdom.
The Creator of heaven & earth, & everything in them, does not look upon us in our sin in such a way. Rather, He looks upon the filth of our sin, desires its punishment & our salvation! So He sends His Son to bear the punishment. No human being could conceive of such a thing.
God sends Christ to be left for dead in the wilderness, to suffer the pains & torments, even death on a cross for us, & to be buried in a pit. From that pit of death & despair, God raises the same Christ from the dead. Despite the evil of our sin, He overcomes sin & grants us full & free salvation. He removes our fears, replacing them with life & joy & peace.
We can, & we will be, tempted to look into the pit of whatever was done wrong to us. Or, like Joseph, we can learn to look upon what God will accomplish through that wrong. We could stare at the cross & surrender like the disciples did, who refused to believe what Jesus had told them, that He would rise from the dead. Or, we can learn to trust that death will not win.
Death may come early for you, or for someone you love. You can stare into the pit of their absence, or you can look upon Jesus & the new & perfect life that He offers in a place called heaven. Regardless of the decay & brokenness we see around us, & the pain we have experienced from relationships, or from disease, none of this is permanent or eternal for those who trust the Words of Jesus Christ: “Come unto me all who are weary & heavy laden & I will give you rest.” You & I can forgive even when we suffer because we know that the God who created us is powerful & wise enough to bring good out of any evil in this life. Joseph learned that though the intentions of his brothers were evil, God intended it for good.
Yahweh gathered a remnant from among all the nations, saved by His grace through faith in Jesus. One day we will gather before the Lamb to give Him thanks forever. What a glorious existence that will be. Amen.
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. My God has all things in His keeping; He is the ever faithful friend. He gives me laughter after weeping, & all His ways in blessings end. His love endures eternally: What pleases God, that pleases me. Amen. LSB 719:2-4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet