A couple years ago in a class at our youth event FUEL, I was in a class that focused on the idea of forgiveness. In the class we were watching a video by Bob Goff, a Christian author and lawyer, recounting his case against a witch doctor preying on the children of a few tribes in Africa. To make a long story short, Bob was able to assist in getting a witch doctor named Kabi jailed for the mutilation of a child. Unfortunately this crime was nothing new, but this time the child lived! This is definitely a story that is worth looking into after this, but let’s pick it back up in a little bit.
I want to turn to the life of Jonah the prophet. Despite the fun story many of us heard as kids I don’t think Jonah was a good prophet! He disobeyed directly what God had told him to do and expected God to simply vanquish his enemies. When he arrived at Nineveh, Jonah gave a half hearted message “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” And that’s all he said yet, it worked. When the people of Nineveh heard this they repented and mourned and decided to serve God, including their king.
When Kabi was jailed it seemed like a win, but an interesting thing happened. The enemy of this story, Kabi, acted in the same way Nineveh did. Kabi wanted to repent and turn to God!
When God decided not to punish Nineveh, Jonah was angry. He went on a hill and built a lean-to shelter and God grew a plant to shade Jonah. God then sent a worm to kill that plant so that the hot sun and scorching winds would wear Jonah down. Jonah 4:9-11 reads “ ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’ ‘It is,’ he said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.’ But the LORD said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?’”
When I was told Kabi was allowed to repent of his sins I was actually furious. I thought the most evil thing imaginable had been done and now this man gets to repent! But let’s look at the parallels. That plant was God’s to give and God’s to take away, just like our own grace given to us by God. The message of Jonah four is to be a reflection on our own lives and ask, “Are you okay with serving a God that loves your enemies?” And if not? He loves them anyway. Considering we’re not always on God’s side doing what he asks of us, it might just be a good thing.
Are you okay with serving a God that loves your enemies?
What was God’s desire for Jonah? For Ninevah? What is God’s desire for you? For your enemies?
The opening verse of this chapter sets forth the premise of what is to follow: “Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen” (v. 1). The author will go through no less than 10 explicit individuals, and mentioning a list of several more, who exhibited faith in their life. And then the chapter concludes by saying “All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us” (vv. 39-40).
The chapter’s conclusion draws together the litany of exemplary witnesses by tying it to the faith that they share with the audience. And while the exemplars of old had not received the promise, it was by no fault of their own, but it was determined beforehand by God that in his grace, he planned for “something better” to be available to the readers that was not available in the past to all those faithful witnesses that were mentioned. And that “something better” was “to be made perfect” (v. 40).
Now, to modern readers the idea of being made perfect might not be the same as the biblical idea of being made perfect. In Hebrews, the idea of “perfection” entails the definitive forgiveness and putting away of sin, purification and consecration to God, and glorification (i.e., resurrection). And so, to be “made perfect” refers ultimately to eschatological salvation that is bestowed on the worshiper through the high priestly ministry of Christ (cf. 10:14).
But let’s think for a moment, why does the author need to go to such a great length throughout the chapter to simply demonstrate that believers prior to the new covenant did not receive what was promised? Why make the emphasis so extravagant?
One reason for the author’s inclusion of such a long description of exemplars of the faith is to celebrate those who stood with faith looking forward to the promise, but yet not receiving it in their lifetime. The testimony of all these witnesses is that “Faith holds onto the promise, even when the evidence of harsh reality impugns its integrity, because the one who promised is himself faithful” (William Lane, Hebrews [WBC], 395).
I think we have all probably dealt with times when we are holding on to faith, but it doesn’t seem like anything is happening or changing, and we didn’t actually get to see the outcome of our faith. This is what it was like for the believers in the old covenant who looked forward to the coming Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promise. But we don’t have to look forward since Messiah has already come and has begun to fulfill what God promised.
Therefore, while we have not been “made perfect” yet to the fullest extent of what God has planned for those who trust in him, in Christ we have the definitive sacrifice for sin, the cleansing of our conscience, and a taste of the powers of the age to come. Let us continue to hold fast to our faith in hope of what God has promised that is yet to come: resurrection and final victory over the power of death, so that those who stood by faith before us can also be made perfect with us in God’s coming kingdom.
What encouragement do you gain from reading of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11?
Which heroes of the faith are you most looking forward to being with when we together receive God’s promise and reward at the resurrection and coming Kingdom? Why?
Chapter 10 contains one of the five major warning passages in Hebrews, which makes up the second half of the chapter. It is this section that we will focus on as it functions in a very unique way in this context.
Leading up to verse 26 where the warning begins, the author has now fully explained the perfect sacrifice and the forgiveness that is now possible which was not available under the old covenant. And so, as the author concludes, “where there is forgiveness of these sins, another sacrificial offering for sin is no longer required” (v. 18). This is valid so long as certain conditions are met as the author will go on to describe.
The warning passage begins: “For if we deliberately continue sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire that is about to consume the adversaries” (vv. 26-27).
For those who choose to continue willfully committing sin after coming to know the truth about Christ’s sacrifice, it says “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” What does it mean that there is “no longer” a sacrifice for sins? The author has just gone to great lengths to show the perfect sacrifice of Christ, and such an offering as Christ’s is the only one that is able to “perfect forever those who are sanctified” (v. 14).
If Christ’s sacrifice is the only sacrifice that is sufficient to take away sins forever, and since the author made it clear that the old covenant sacrifices could never “take away sins” (v. 11), then if a person disregards the cleansing and sanctification that is brought about through Christ by willfully continuing to sin, then they have no other recourse to fall back on for forgiveness. Christ’s sacrifice is the only offering that can remove the defilement of sin. Therefore, repudiating Christ and disregarding the knowledge of the truth leaves a person with nowhere else to turn. And that is why the author says that such a person only has to look forward to a “terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire.”
It is God’s will that we turn away from sin and embrace Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf so that we may be forgiven and cleansed from sin and have “our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” (v. 22). The means by which we can have this purification in our hearts and minds has already been provided by God through Christ.
And this is why the author warns the reader that they must not fall away and turn aside from the knowledge of the sacrifice of Christ. At the end of the chapter, in one of the final exhortations, the author asserts, “So don’t throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you need endurance, so that after you have done God’s will, you may receive what was promised” (vv. 35-36).
In Christ, there is forgiveness from sin now and forevermore. But outside of Christ, we have no hope and no provision for sin. If we will endure in the faith, holding onto the perfect sacrifice of Christ, then we will have done the will of God and will receive the reward of what he promised—everlasting life.
What 4 things are we told to do in Hebrews 10:22-25 (“Let us…” -in NIV – do what 4 things?). Which of these 4 do you think you do most regularly already (though, still with some room for improvement)? Which one would you like to concentrate on doing better this month? How?
Who has spurred you on to love and good deeds? How did they do it?
Who has been an encouragement to you? How did they do it?
Previously, in chapter 8, the author disclosed that Jesus has now obtained a superior ministry and is the mediator of a better covenant that is enacted on better promises (8:6). While the author has simply made this assertion, it now remains for him to explicate how Jesus’s ministry is “superior.” And it is in chapter 9 that the author takes up this very task.
In the 1st part of the chapter, the author recounts the old covenant ministry under the Mosaic Law. There was a tabernacle and sacred items and a place where atonement was made by priests. Yet, it says that “this is a symbol for the present time…until the time of restoration” (vv. 9-10).
All the institutions of the old covenant were limited because they “cannot perfect the worshiper’s conscience” (v. 9). They mandated various sacrifices and rituals which by their nature were unable to bring the worshiper the true cleansing that was the intended goal of atonement and salvation.
But, in verse 11, the author now turns to present the superior ministry of the Messiah in the new covenant. Throughout the rest of the chapter, the author goes into great detail about how Jesus as our high priest in the new covenant has accomplished everything that the former covenant and regulations could never achieve. Everything from the cleansing of the tabernacle to the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrifice was done by Jesus, not in the earthly tabernacle, which was a copy of the heavenly reality, but in the heavenly tabernacle by offering himself as the “better sacrifice.”
Jesus’ sacrifice was “better” in at least two regards. First, the author says that Jesus did not offer a sacrifice many times as the high priest in the former covenant had to because he entered the tabernacle every year. Jesus entered the sanctuary in the presence of God only once. Second, Jesus did not offer the “blood of another” by bringing an animal sacrifice like the high priest of the previous covenant but rather offered his own blood as the sacrifice for sin.
As verses 13-14 say, “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God?” What the author is comparing is that if under the old covenant the animal sacrifice was sufficient to sanctify the worshiper for the purification of the flesh, then the blood of Jesus must be able to do more than that.
And this is exactly his point: Jesus’s sacrifice is able to do what the old covenant sacrifices never could, and that is to cleanse our conscience from “dead works,” which are the sinful deeds that lead to death and require forgiveness and healing. The old covenant had no power to cleanse the worshiper’s heart from their sinful deeds.
But praise be to God that through Jesus and his sacrifice our minds and hearts can be washed clean of our sin and that we may with a pure conscience “serve the living God.”
Compare the conscience of a sinner under the old covenant to your conscience under the blood of Jesus. What makes the difference?
How will you use your pure conscience to serve the living God today?
We can’t jump right into chapter 7 without revisiting the last few verses in 6. In the end of the previous chapter we are discussing Jesus being regarded as a high priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. (Gesundheit!)
The beginning of chapter 7 explains who Melchizedek was for the readers and, in a way, giving Jesus some street cred. The author clearly wants to stress the place of power and importance this King was in (vs. 4) and why it was important that Jesus came from his order. Verse 15 and 16 explain a little more on why Jesus was to come from his order- it’s because his ancestry doesn’t exactly lead to priesthood! Coming from a carpenter and a seemingly average woman isn’t a common start for someone so deserving of our praise and worship. I think the author here was trying to give Jesus some more credibility for the Hebrews he was writing to.
Verse 18 and 19 has some of my favorite language in it! “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” Why do we need Jesus? Because the old law was weak, useless, and made nothing perfect! Couldn’t be more clear than that. With our new hope (Jesus), we are able to draw near to God and have a close personal relationship with Him. Before Jesus, the law required sacrifice and prevented people from having that personal relationship with God that we all know and love. After Jesus, or rather after Jesus’ death and resurrection and ascension, we are saved completely and always have a connection to God through Jesus’ intercession (vs. 25). How amazing is that?
In the last few verses of chapter 7 the author again is explaining how lucky we are to have Jesus and why we should come to him! He is not only perfect and blameless, but he also sacrificed himself once for the forgiveness of all sins (vs. 26-27). Past, present, and future. He took care of them all! As someone who has grown up in the church it’s easy for me to unconsciously be aware of this fact. I know Jesus died for all of my sins. Big and little, from when I was born to where I am now, and where I’ll be tomorrow. But I’m guilty of forgetting, or at least not recognizing how important that is for my life. If I try and place myself in the shoes of the people who were reading this letter for the first time in that setting, how overwhelmed with grace and love would I be? I no longer have to sacrifice by the old law, because there is a new oath that has been appointed by a forever-perfect Savior. Can you imagine the relief, love, and astonishment you might have as someone hearing that for the first time? Why is it different for us today, simply because we already know?
Today and throughout this week I encourage you to pause and consciously reflect on the gift of Jesus Christ. Recognize his sacrifice and thank him for the relationship he allows us to have with our Heavenly Father!
-Sarah (Blanchard) Johnson
(originally posted for SeekGrowLove on February 11, 2018)
What does it mean to you to have Jesus acting as high priest, not from the line of Levi but from the order of Melchizedek?
Is Jesus the only way to draw near to God? Why?
What are some things “we” in general hope for? How does Jesus offer a better hope? Who do you know who needs to know about this better hope?
It is easy to make mistakes when you don’t know you are making them. My job is GIS mapping, and I create maps of construction permits, plans, and various other things. These maps usually take between 9-18 hours of work to complete and they are needed in order for us to move to another project. The other day I finished a project and went to start another one and accidentally switched the new project for the old one and rewrote and saved over my completed project! Before I could realize my mistake I had completed the next project in the same file, therefore losing my project all together. This is a big mistake that can delay a project by 1-2 days. Fortunately for me I am new and it was my first time doing this, so with that I was given a lot of grace, and was just asked to do the project again. A lot of mistakes come from doing something new and not knowing what we are doing.
Paul in 1 Timothy 1:12-14 admits that he had acted in ignorance when persecuting the Christians. He had no idea that he was in the wrong and kept going, similar to a botched project. He admits his fault and God gives him grace by placing him in charge of all those who he was persecuting. Paul says in verse 13 “. . . yet I was shown mercy because I acted in unbelief”. When he was persecuting the Christians he had no idea of God’s plan, he refused to admit he was wrong, but God shows him mercy through recognizing he may not understand what is going on. Many of us make mistakes without knowing they are mistakes until it is too late. This is true especially with God, God gives us mercy everyday when we are making mistakes. Even the big ones and even if we repeat the mistake God still is good and forgives us.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
What spiritual truths or expectations were you once ignorant of?
How did God get through to you – and show you grace for your past mistakes?
It’s a story we’ve heard a thousand times – Mark chapter 14. Jesus predicts that one of his disciples will betray him, one will deny him, and they feast for one last supper. He’s arrested and, in the face of threat of death, commits to remaining non-violent; even going as far as to heal those who oppose him. The archetype of betrayal, prophecy, and endurance coming together in one of the final chapters of Jesus’s time on earth. So, what more could we take away from these things after hearing it repeated our entire lives? There is always something new to be learned or applied if you’re willing to try to find it.
Starting at the beginning of the passage, a woman approaches Jesus with an exorbitantly expensive container of perfume. She takes this jar of perfume and dumps it all over Jesus, to which she receives backlash. Those in the company ridicule her for not utilizing the perfume for something better, like helping the poor. Admittedly, this would be a very honorable thing to do. But surprisingly, Jesus stands up for her and tells them to not shame her for doing a good thing to him. “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.” Mark 14:7.
This is an interesting thing for Jesus to say, as I would imagine him having the mindset of ‘do everything to help those in need,’ but this circumstance seems to be different. There will always be the poor and needy, there will always be the hurt and the wicked. Jesus is the light in darkness, as darkness is the default state, only interrupted by the presence of light, not vice versa. If we spend all of our energy trying to eliminate the darkness, we will lose sight of the light that sustains us incipiently.
Jesus is well aware of this, as the light that sustains and empowers him is God. He cries out “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:36. Jesus is crying out in the most passionate and sincerely affectionate way imaginable to his father, begging that his death be made unnecessary, that this burden will be taken from him. However, he takes the proper mindset of being able to accept that what he wants may not be what God wants. When you pray to God for an answer, are you able to accept what He responds with in the same faith Jesus could? It’s no mere feat, but then again Jesus is no mere man.
Not only does he accept what needs to happen, but he also stands firm on what he teaches. If you remember from yesterday, Jesus specifically said to not be afraid when we are brought before the court for our faith, but to answer as the Spirit guides you to, as it is the voice of the Spirit that will talk for you. When they had arrested him and grilled him with questions, “… Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.” Mark 14:61. He needed not respond to their trickery but waited until he knew what he was saying to tell them the truth. For this, they killed him. Could you stand for truth until the end? Could you stand with what you believe and know to be true even if every person would hate you for it? If so, you would be stronger than Peter. He lacked this ability, and defied Jesus 3 times—to which end it destroyed him.
“Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.” Mark 14:72. Have you ever gotten to the point in your sin where you don’t even recognize who you are anymore? For Peter, he had been spending the past couple years of his life devoted to following Jesus to the end. And yet, when it mattered most, he denied even knowing him. He had become so distraught by his sin that he had nothing else to do than weep at what he’d done.
Sometimes, when we recognize that we’ve fallen so far from the righteous path laid before us, and become so wrapped up in our sin, all we can do is weep and pray that God can forgive us. In fact, it’s often in these moments that we convince ourselves that there’s no way God could possibly forgive us for what we’ve done… but that would be missing the whole point of the story! Jesus died so that even in the midst of our most egregious pain from sin, we have the opportunity to be forgiven. Even Paul, who was a Christian-slaying murderer found salvation! Do not waste this opportunity that Christ has given to you, but rather repent for your sins and devote your life toward serving his purpose. Amen.
Even if you’ve read Mark 14 many times before – what stands out to you today?
How can you extravagantly love and honor Jesus?
What does it mean to pray, “Not my will but yours be done”? What do you need to surrender and give up to God?
In the past, how have you deserted or denied Jesus? Have you accepted Jesus’ forgiveness?
Go ahead and read the full chapter, but here’s the first 12 verses we will be discussing today.
A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:1-12)
”Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?” (Mark 2:9)
That question has always kind of thrown me for a loop because, if I’m being totally honest, my answer would be different from the one Jesus seems to be implying is correct.
Forgiveness is invisible. Anyone could say ‘Your sins are forgiven’ and we’d never know for sure. But healing someone, telling a paralytic to ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’… well, we would see pretty quickly if that took or not.
I once read that “forgiveness becomes real to you as you believe it, not as you see it.” I think what that means in this context is that the lame man couldn’t see Jesus’ forgiveness. He had to choose whether to believe it was true or not, whether Jesus was trustworthy or not. That’s very different from believing that Jesus had healed him…after he was up walking around.
And now I can see why the former would be so much more difficult. It’s harder to trust what we can’t yet see.
Kind of reminds me of the ‘we walk by faith not by sight’ (2 Cor. 5:7) and ‘faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see’ (Heb. 11:1) verses. God does not provide us with ‘grace-received’ certificates to prove our forgiveness, our salvation. We either believe it or we don’t. We either experience the joy, peace and burden-lifting that grace brings… or we don’t.
Jesus, help us to trust today that you know what’s best for us even when we can’t see it. We want to experience the lifting of burdens in our lives, and to feel the peace and joy that eludes us when we believe what we see instead of what you tell us is true. We want to drop the things that paralyze us and have the faith to get up and walk.
Have you accepted Jesus’ forgiveness? How forgiven do you feel? Jesus has already done the hard part. What can you do to accept it, believe it and feel it more and more?
What things, thoughts, attitudes paralyze your faith. Will you drop them? How? What will that look like? What will it look like to get up and walk in faith? Where might your faith lead you?
From verses 13-17, are you more often like Levi or the teachers? What do you admire about Levi? What can you do this week that would be Levi-like?
Do you remember the first time you disobeyed your parents or did something that you knew was wrong? Chances are you felt guilty and ashamed. Those are two different things.
Let’s imagine that your Mom made fresh chocolate chip cookies. After they cooled a bit she gave you two cookies and a glass of cold milk. It was delicious! Then, after she wiped the excess chocolate off of your hands and chin and nose she put the rest of the cookies in the cookie jar and she told you, “The rest of the cookies are for your Sunday School Class. There’s enough for each person to have 2 cookies, but don’t you take any more or there won’t be enough.” She goes about her activities, but all you can think about is the cookies. They were so delicious and you’d like to have some more, but your Mom said “no more”. When Mom’s not looking you go and grab another cookie and shove it down your throat as fast as you can before she sees. You go back to coloring. Your mom comes back in the room, looks at your face and says, “did you eat another cookie after I told you not to?” You say “no, mommy”. Then she asks “then why is there chocolate all over you face and fingers again?”
You’ve been busted. If you’re like most people you’re feeling two things: guilt and shame. You feel guilty because you did something wrong, you disobeyed your mom and stole the cookies after she told you not to and then you lied to her about it. You also may feel shame. “I’m a bad boy or a bad girl, I never listen to mommy, mommy’s going to hate me now and when the kids in my class hear what I did they’re gonna hate me too, and so will my teacher and so will the pastor when he finds out, and maybe even God will hate me.”
When we feel guilt we feel bad about something we have done (or sometimes what we didn’t do that we should have.) When we feel shame we feel that there is something wrong with us. I’m broken, I’m damaged, I’m bad, I’m evil. Guilt and shame are both powerful and shattering emotions. Is there any remedy for them?
Psalm 51 was written by King David. I recently attended a musical about David at the Sight and Sound Theater. It showed David’s life from the time he was a little shepherd boy until his death as King of Israel. David was a great man, a man after God’s own heart. Most of the Psalms in the Bible were written by David. David killed the giant Philistine Goliath with stones and a sling. David was good, but he was not perfect. One of the worst things David ever did was commit adultery with his neighbor’s wife while his neighbor was off fighting in battle in David’s army. David got his neighbor’ wife pregnant and then tried to cover up his sin. In trying to cover up one sin David committed an even greater sin and had her innocent husband killed in battle. It was an act of great treachery. David succeeded in covering up his sin so that no one else (he thought) knew about it and then he took his neighbor’s wife to be his own.
David was later confronted by the prophet Nathan who revealed his sinful act. But even before his sin was revealed, David was not at peace. His heart was mired in guilt and shame. In the midst of his guilt and shame David cried out to God to be set free. Psalm 51 is one of the prayers he prayed to God. Take time to read through Psalm 51. Imagine this powerful king in anguish before God. He is so overcome by guilt and shame, that he had sinned and that he was a sinner, a wretched, broken man. What David feared most was being alienated from God, from the joy of knowing God’s saving love and the power of having God’s spirit.
David knows that if he can be set free from his feelings of guilt and shame, the joy of God will come back to him and he will be able to powerfully declare God’s grace and mercy to other people who are also trapped in their guilt and shame.
Lots of people today are trapped in guilt for what they have done and shame for who they are. So much of the evil we see going on in our world every day is born out of people trying to escape the bad feelings of guilt and shame. Rising rates of suicide and deaths from opioids, increased murder and sexual violence, the rage and confusion that so many feel all can be traced to feelings of guilt and shame and attempts to cover up or self-medicate the pain away.
There is a better way. David knew that true healing for his guilt and feelings of shame would only come from God. Only God could bring real joy to His heart. The same is true for all of us. Jesus, who was both David’s descendant and the true son of God provides the only lasting solution to guilt and shame. When Jesus went onto the cross he took upon himself the burden of our guilt for sins we committed and our feelings of worthlessness for having committed those sins. In their place we are forgiven of those sins and discover our true identities, we are also children of God made in God’s image.
I John 1:8-9 says: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Chances are, after you told your Mom that you really did eat the cookie and said that you were sorry, she wiped your face, gave you a big hug and said “I love you, don’t do it again” and you felt a lot better. Love covers over a multitude of sins.
Which do you find more painful- Guilt- I did something wrong, or Shame-There’s something wrong with me, I’m worthless?
What are some of the ways we try to hide our guilt and shame? Why do they often make things even worse?
Is there still some guilt and shame hiding in your heart? What is preventing you from going to God, confessing it to him and letting him clean you up and give you a hug?
Next to the greatest story ever told, the story of Joseph is by far my favorite Bible story. There are so many valuable lessons one can learn from reading it. Some lessons that stand out to me are the sovereignty of God, the importance of trusting God even in the midst of tragedy and suffering, and the beauty and power of forgiveness.
I have often asked myself if I would have had Joseph’s attitude in the midst of a seemingly unending chain of absolutely horrific events. In spite of the terrible hand that he continued to be dealt, we don’t see him being consumed by anger, self-pity or a quest for vengeance. There’s something very powerful about Joseph’s unwavering faith in God that inspires me. He seems to possess a quiet assurance that everything is ultimately going to be okay.
In this 45th chapter of Genesis, we see Joseph revealing his true identity to his brothers. We know he had risen to a very prominent position of power as second in command of Egypt. The stage could have been set for him to get the “perfect revenge” against his brothers. We read in verse 5 right after Joseph reveals his identity to his brother: “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” I find it especially poignant that not only does Joseph not want to exact revenge in this situation, he actually chooses to comfort his brothers in this moment rather than “giving them what for.” We know from earlier scriptures that Joseph was clearly hurt by their previous actions, but he wants to spare them the hurt of being angry with themselves or beating themselves up because of their actions. He points them to an understanding of God’s sovereignty and that they were players in God’s plan.
How differently that 45th chapter of Genesis could have played out if Joseph had been bent on vengeance. Instead, we see the true beauty and power of forgiveness and a reminder that God is in control even in the midst of our darkest hours.
If we choose to be consumed with anger or self-pity, we miss the important lessons God is trying to teach us. We read in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Perhaps the answer in those dark times is to focus on loving God even more deeply and purposely than ever before.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
1) When you encounter hardships and tragedies, does your attitude reflect one of unwavering faith in God? If not, how can you further nurture and strengthen that faith so that it is at the ready when life’s storms come your way?
2) What action can help us love God more deeply and purposely than ever before?
3) What other lessons can you learn from the story of Joseph?