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But God - Incredible Compassion

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Stereograms

A stereogram is an optical illusion of depth created by a flat, two-dimensional image. But if you view the image in a particular way, the three-dimensional image reveals itself in an uncanny way. But getting the hidden image within a stereogram to reveal itself takes a couple of tries to master.
People who have never been able to perceive 3D shapes hidden within an autostereogram find it hard to understand remarks such as, "the 3D image will just pop out of the background, after you stare at the picture long enough", or "the 3D objects will just emerge from the background".
Don’t you just wanna squirt water in their face?
Or do something?
Today, we’re looking at something of a stereogram - the story of Joseph. Many people, even non-Christians know the story or know about the story of Joseph.
Our text today from Genesis 45:1-8 is much like a stereogram - at first glance, it seems like there is more to it than we realize, and this is true. In the case of Joseph’s story, I want to show you today the 3D image of an incredibly compassionate God who reveals himself in an uncanny way, but it took a few attempts to see this picture revealed.
The text reveals that God’s heart of compassion revealed through Joseph is invitational, forgiving, and motivational.
Genesis 45 is the culmination of chapters 42-44 after Joseph’s several interactions with his brothers. How do we see compassion demonstrated in these passages? First, in 42:27 after his brothers are sent home, they stop and one of the brothers discovers money inside his bag. Suspicious considering Joseph had called them spies when they met with him. The brothers’ hearts sank, and they ask – “What is this that God has done to us?” It turns out they all received their money back for the purchase of grain in Egypt.
In chapter 43, we see the brothers return to Egypt and Joseph looks upon Benjamin and says in verse 29, “May God be gracious to you my son.” Then in verse 30 Joseph hurries out because he was overcome with emotion for his brother, and he wept. In the ancient world, the words compassion and emotion are nearly identical – the feelings that are developed in the inner most part of a person.
The lexicon describes “with emotion” as pity, grace, and favor or to show mercy to anyone.
In chapter 44 the story has a slight twist – the willing sacrifice of Judah. Judah was the one who conjured up the plan to sell him to the Ishmaelites in Chapter 37:26-27.
In chapter 44, Joseph has filled the men’s bags, sends them out, and then has them overtaken. There, in Benjamin’s bag, is the silver cup and by Joseph’s decree, he must be taken as a slave. Verse 16 – “how can we plead? How can we justify ourselves?” Judah comes and pleads on Benjamin’s account – don’t be angry with me, but this boy’s father has already lost a son and he can’t lose another, especially Benjamin. Take me in his place instead. I could not bear to see my father’s grief.
We now come to the culmination in chapter 45. Joseph can no longer keep himself together. He sends his guards away and meets with his brothers.

God’s heart of compassion invites us into his presence.

We see Joseph in a tough spot right away.
Genesis 45:1 HCSB
Joseph could no longer keep his composure in front of all his attendants, so he called out, “Send everyone away from me!” No one was with him when he revealed his identity to his brothers.
Joseph has been near his brothers prior to this moment, but it isn’t until now that he reveals himself.
You’ll notice that Joseph’s revelation to his brothers was done in private. This is not a command from the almighty Joseph; it is a gentle invitation, but it does demand a choice. The phrase come near is echoed throughout Scripture and it is always means to approach or come forward or just come. It is offered in humility from one to another. John Wesley describes this moment as a need to be quiet because the guards outside would hear what was happening.
Compassion requires a sense of intimacy that is transmitted at the volume of a whisper.
The brothers had the least suspicion as to who he really was, but this revelation of who they were speaking with didn’t immediately erase their uneasiness.
Genesis 45:3 HCSB
Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But they could not answer him because they were terrified in his presence.
Imagine these brothers - what they had put Joseph through earlier in his life. And now, he is alive, and standing in front of them unafraid to reveal his identity.
And then there is a tough question - Is my father still living? These words had to have cut the brothers to their core.
The terror of the brothers is no match for Joseph’s compassion.
In verse 4, Joseph restates his name, but the brothers would have known him by his Egyptian name – Zaphnath-paneah. He uses his Hebrew name to humble them for their sin in trying to kill him, but it also offers them hope for kind treatment. He identified with them as their brother, the one they treated with evil and contempt, reminding them of his suffering.
Even in our terror, even in our moments of uncertainty, …God has an uncanny ability to faithfully invite us into his presence and experience compassion.

Compassion is invitational but it also recognition and forgiveness.

In Genesis 45:5
Genesis 45:5 HCSB
And now don’t be worried or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life.
He immediately tells them “Don’t be worried or angry about what happened.” Make no mistake, this is Joseph forgiving his brothers. This is not to say that they or we should ignore sin and evil. Quite the opposite. We should grieve and be angry about our sin. Joseph makes it very clear that the brothers were responsible for their actions.
Joseph’s story reveals the power of faith and gives voice to the transformational power of maintaining faith in God regardless of the circumstances, as Lt. Amanda so clearly pointed out last week in Abraham’s story.
But be thankful that by no merit of our own God brings good out of us in spite of ourselves, just as Joseph revealed what happened to him because of the brothers’ evil plan. Joseph forgives his brothers and tells them they didn’t cause this to happen – God used this to save them and preserve their life!
A heart of compassion leads others to recognize themselves and a path to forgiveness.
Now, at first glance, we’re looking at another stereogram. There is an image deeper than we see without taking another look. So far, Joseph’s conversation with his brothers has been about their relationship. Now, Joseph is going to deliver a min-sermon. First, he explains why he was in Egypt.
Verse 5 - God sent me ahead of you to preserve life. Now, Genesis 45:6
Genesis 45:6 HCSB
For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there will be five more years without plowing or harvesting.
It isn’t just the life of the brothers that Joseph is preserving - it is the nation of Egypt and all other surrounding nations.
God’s willingness to offer compassion is not bound by any man-made boundaries.
Joseph’s second point - God’s deliverance of His people would take place by a great deliverance - or, how we see it, an escape or deliverance.
Now, this is that point in viewing one of these images that you feel so helpless because you just haven’t seen ‘it’ yet.
Genesis 45:8 HCSB
Therefore it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household, and ruler over all the land of Egypt.
Literally, Joseph named our sermon series!

Joseph’s declaration is a call to action for all believers.

Some commentators and authors that I read in preparing this sermon refer to Joseph a secondary or periphery character. Let’s agree with them.
That Joseph is a secondary character when he was thrown down the well. Or sold into slavery. Or accused of a crime he didn’t commit. Or as the dreamer. Or as the lord of Pharaoh’s house.
Listen guys, this thing was never been about me, it’s not about me now, and it’s not going to be about me in the future.
There is a sense in Joseph’s story that he was always prepared to provide leadership for the people around him.
In Genesis 45:8 we see Joseph’s recognition that God intended him to be a leader, even from the pit of death. But there is a deeper picture in verse 8 -
We won’t be able to handle the glory until we can handle the humility it takes.
In verses 7 and 8 Joseph shows us what it means to act in humility because of what God intended for Him. Certainly Joseph was known in and through Egypt. He never takes credit for any of it. He stands poised as a leader for the people because of his humility.
This picture of humility and the power of God are revealed. Joseph accepted this missional call to action, and he motivates his brothers to go bring his family back to Egypt.
Compassion is meant to be experienced.
This is a beautiful story of compassion. It’s relatable and emotional and personal.
When I read this story, I read it a particular way. I read it like I’m Joseph, like I’m the one who has the heart of compassion. Like I’m the one who doles out the forgiveness. And sends people out.
But, like a stereogram image, if I look at the image presented here, a clearer image is revealed.
I’m the brothers who conspired to do evil. I’m the brothers who wither in pity and shame. I’m the brothers who sold out and lied to my father. I’m the brothers who deserve the revenge due me by my sin.
Where would I be, where would you be, without that gentle invitation from Jesus to come near?
Where would we be without recognizing Jesus for who He is and his unfathomable heart of compassion to offer me forgiveness for my sins?
The beauty of moving in to Egypt, the place of discomfort, for the continuation of God’s people.
I’m the brothers at the intersection of past and present recognizing the only path to the future is a great deliverance - in our case, the deliverance through the cross. If we seek to have hearts of compassion, we must lift high the cross. Jesus’ heart of compassion is invitational, it forgives, and it motivates us to share this good news with the world.
My challenge is to become more invitational with those people who needs an invitation to experience compassion.
But, I am also challenging you to develop a more intimate relationship with God so you can experience His heart of forgiveness and offer it to others.
Is the cross pushing you beyond your comfort zone to share the Gospel with others?
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