Tears of the Gospel
This morning, we are continuing our series on emotional wholeness and I want to look at how we can work through our sorrow and pain. We are going to begin our study in Psalm 42 and then look at the story of Joseph as a real life example of how God uses our tears to bring about our healing.
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
We live in a society that prizes personal happiness above almost everything else but the fact remains that many of us are unhappy. We try to avoid emotions like sadness, grief, hopelessness, and depression but instead of finding escape, we find ourselves falling deeper in. The Psalms teach us how our tears are a gift from God that help us not only endure our times of sorrow but to see them turned into seasons of great joy.
There are three keys steps in the process of praying through our tears that I want to look at:
1. The expectation of tears
2. The spiritual benefit of tears
3. The healing work of tears.
Now some of us who have an aversion to crying might ask the question, why should there be an expectation of tears. After all, tears are embarrassing, shameful, and it doesn’t accomplish anything. But the answer is relatively simple, we cry because we are human and we live in a fallen world. You can try to control your life as much as you want but we will all come to a point in life where the appropriate response and really the only response is to shed our tears. In Psalm 42, we can see that the author is someone who is faithfully trying to live for God and there is no mention of sin or wrongdoing but yet tears are his food day and night. He has entered into a time of deep sorrow, grief, mourning, maybe even depression. The Psalmist remembers the joyful times with God, going to church and celebrating with the congregation but in the midst of his sadness and grief, the presence and the reality of God seem to be distant.
Some of us are familiar with the old song “As the Deer” and I always assumed as a young Christian that the point of the song was that if I thirsted for God like a desperate deer, I would find God. But the point of the first two verses are actually the exact opposite, sometimes you can desperately seek God but by every appearance, it will seem like He is not there. There won’t be any answers to prayer, no peace in your heart, no open doors, not even someone to give you an encouraging word.
I think it is important for all believers, especially new believers to recognize that there will be times when you will be acutely aware of what seems like the absence of God and you will feel like you are alone with your tears. And like this Psalmist, we will ultimately ask the same questions of God: Why are you allowing this to happen? Why have you forgotten me? Why do I have to continue to suffer? The answer as difficult as it may be to receive is so that we can discover our humanity. There is a great classic movie that explores the depth of the human soul and you may be familiar with it. At the end of Terminator 2, there is an epic line that if it wasn’t for the fact that this is the Arnold Swarzenegger with his thick Austrian accent, it would go down as one of the greatest lines in movie history. All movie long, this Terminator robot is sent from the future to protect John Connor who is destined to save the world. After the robot has defeated all the enemies, there is only one thing left to do, which is to destroy himself. Little John Connor has developed feelings for this robot and he starts crying over the fact that he will lose his guardian. Do you remember what the Terminator says in response, “I know now why you cry. But it is something I can never do.”
Besides adding some comic relief, what is the point? Of all the creatures that God has ever created, humans are the only ones that can weep as an expression of our emotions whether it’s tears of sorrow or tears of joy. It would seem that God uniquely created us with the ability to cry and that there is an expectation for us to do so. One of the clearest indicators of emotional and spiritual health is the ability to express the appropriate emotions in the appropriate context. The ability to weep during seasons of sorrow is what makes us uniquely human and it shouldn’t surprise us when our eyes well up with tears as we experience loss, tragedy, and the effects of sin in and around our lives.
When my grandmother passed away, I knew there was something emotionally wrong with me when I couldn’t grieve over my loss. This is someone who had loved me and raised me for most of my life and I could not shed a tear. When I look at the pictures from the funeral, there is a hardness to my face and I look gangster. Over the years, as I have grown in my faith, I have become far more weepier. And some of you have experienced that same phenomena as you have grown in your Christian maturity. For the longest time I didn’t know what was happening until someone pointed out that one of the most important promises of transformation in the Old Testament is “I will turn your heart of stone into a heart of flesh.” It’s not normal for us to be so hard of heart and to be unfeeling and unmoved but a heart that has been softened by the Gospel feels the brokenness of the world and is moved by compassion.
As Christians we have more reason to expect our tears, but unlike the world we know that there is also a benefit to our sorrow, that our tears don’t fall uselessly onto the ground. Charles Spurgeon who had amazing way with words describes the benefit of tears in this way:
“Is it not sweet to believe that our tears are understood even when words fail! Let us learn to think of tears as liquid prayers, and of weeping as a constant dropping of [persistent] intercession which will wear its way right surely into the very heart of mercy, despite the stony difficulties which obstruct the way.”
In verse 7 and 8, we see the great benefit of tears saturated in prayer: our tears allow us to plumb the depth of God’s heart. And so not only do tears get us in touch with our humanity, more importantly, it can move us deeper into the divine depth of God’s love, mercy, and grace. There is a reason why the Son of God is described as a man of sorrows because he mirrors perfectly the heart of His Father. In one of my favorite messages from Charles Spurgeon, he addresses the benefit of times of grief and sorrow.
“Do not, however, think yourselves harshly dealt with, in being singled out as a special target for the arrows of grief. Do not wish that you could be the obscurest of all the saints, to find some quiet nook in which you might be left alone to rest in forgetfulness! Rather let me remind you that if in your experience there is a depth of extraordinary trial, there is most surely another deep answering to it. Open now your ears and your hearts to hear the calling of deep unto deep.”
Spurgeon was someone who was well acquainted with grief. He struggled with depression much of his life, he had gout, his wife became an invalid at age 33, he had troubles in the church, trouble with his family, trouble with his health, and through all the tears he learned with deeper sorrow comes even deeper consolation, that in our deepest afflictions we will experience an even deeper proof of God’s faithfulness. This is the immeasurable benefit that this Psalm is pointing us to. The tears that were the Psalmist’s food day and night ultimately give way to a greater truth seen in verse 8, that by day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me. No longer is he looking for shallow proofs God’s presence but he has come to the place of depth and intimacy with God. When we ask God to “enlarge our hearts” or when we sing “break my heart for what breaks yours”, this is what we are praying for that we can begin to discover the very heart of God. In our sorrow, we can begin to experience at least in part the tear filled ministry of Christ and allow his tears to wash over us.
Amazingly, not only do we benefit spiritually from our tears, we see that the ultimate reward is the gift of of our personal healing. We see in verse 42 of this Psalm, that our conflicts with others can become like a deadly wound in my bones, meaning deep within. Any wound that is left untreated can become infected and this past weekend at the retreat, P. Sam gave us a lot of insight on the impact of bitterness. In order to overcome our bitterness, we need to to heal the wounds that caused the bitterness in the first place. And a part of this journey of healing is learning how God uses our tears. To that end, there is no better example than the life of Joseph to show the power of tears in our healing.
For those of you might not be as familiar with the life of Joseph, it’s one of the most important stories in the OT and covers the last 14 chapters of the book of Genesis. As a short intro, Joseph was the clear favorite out of all his brothers and out of jealousy and anger, his brothers first conspired to kill him but ended up selling him into slavery. In Egypt, he went from a slave in the house of Potiphar, to spending time in prison for a crime he never committed, but ultimately he rose up to become the second most powerful person in the world, second only to Pharaoh. It’s a remarkable story of personal success but so much more than that. In fact, becoming Pharaoh’s right hand man was just the beginning of Joseph’s journey of healing and reconciliation. Up to that point in that story, we are not given any insight into his inner turmoil but the names of his children give us some clues to what he did with his traumatic memories.
Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
The first son’s name is Manesseh, which literally means to forget and the second was named Ephraim, which means to succeed or to be fruitful. It’s pretty clear what Joseph tried to do with his painful past. He tried everything he could to forget the memory of his family and then used his success to numb the pain. I think it’s safe to assume that this describes most of us. Even though we might not be doing this consciously, many of us try to forget the pain of traumatic memories by covering it with our ambition, your busyness, and your success. Sometimes this is a part of God’s gracious plan, allowing painful memories to lay dormant until we are mature enough to deal with them. But ultimately God will cause you to revisit these areas of your life because of two key principles of healing.
1. Forgetting is not the same thing as forgiving.
2. Being functional is not the same thing as being healed.
One of the remarkable things about Joseph is that he is able to maintain emotional, psychological, and spiritual functionality for almost 20 years as he works as a slave, as he toils in jail and eventually rises to second in command over the land of Egypt. But being functional even at a very high level is not the same thing as experiencing the deep peace and shalom of God in our lives. The way that we get to wholeness is confronting our forgotten memories and addressing our pain. As the story of Joseph unfolds, this is exactly what we see happening. God uses Joseph to predict an oncoming famine and Egypt becomes the only place with storehouses full of food and people from all the surrounding regions are forced to come and buy food. Eventually, his brothers, the same brothers who sold him into slavery end up in Egypt and now God forces Joseph to remember.
And as we pick up the story there, this is what we read.
Now Joseph was governor over the land. He was the one who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. Joseph saw his brothers and recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.
A key point to note here is that for the first time, we see emotion being attached to Joseph and it is understandably in the form of anger. The natural and immediate response of Joseph as he recognizes his brothers is one of deep anger. In fact, he is so angry that he doesn’t even want to disclose his identity to his brothers. But this is where the journey of healing has to begin. recognizing the repressed memories and emotions that we have buried for so long. From this point on we will see Joseph weeping at several key moments. For the sake of time, we will look at three of those instances which I describe
1. Tears of pain
2. Tears of loss
3. Tears of the gospel
Tears of Pain
In Genesis 42:19-24, we see Joseph learning what it means to shed tears of pain and to grieve over the devastating impact of sin.
if you are honest men, let one of your brothers remain confined where you are in custody, and let the rest go and carry grain for the famine of your households, and bring your youngest brother to me. So your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they did so. Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them. Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes.
Initially, all Joseph wanted was to be reunited with his younger brother, who he loved and who had nothing to do with the plot to sell him into slavery. As collateral, he made sure that one of the other brothers was imprisoned until they came back. But something unexpected happens, because as the brothers talk about why this Egyptian official is being so mean to them, they say things that must have brought back waves of painful memories, so much so that he had to turn away to weep. The memory of pleading with his brothers not to sell him into slavery, begging for his life, and the distress of his soul at the time must have come searing back into his mind. Why would God want us to relive such painful experiences? The best explanation that I’ve heard is by Chuck Kraft who is a pioneer in the ministry of inner healing. It’s like a bone that’s been broken and allowed to heal incorrectly. The only way to heal it correctly is to break it again. And as painful as this process is, you have to allow God to break those areas of your life that to be healed correctly. But it can’t stop there because if all you do is grieve over your pain, you are going to become more bitter and angry. You need to allow God to soften your heart through tears of loss.
Tears of Loss
Eventually, his brothers do come back with their youngest brother Benjamin, who is Joseph’s full brother, born from the same mother. As Joseph is reunited with Benjamin, we see different type of tears being shed.
And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there.
Instead of pain now we see compassion. Instead of anger we see warmth. God is using Benjamin ultimately to soften Joseph’s heart. In Benjamin, he sees himself and what life could have been like if he had not been betrayed by his brothers. One of the best classes I took in seminary was a pastoral counseling class. It was a small class and so we just all took turns being counseled by this amazingly gifted professor of counseling. As she was unpacking the memories of our lives, she would always remind us, you have to grieve over the appropriate areas of your life. Within that small sampling of students we dealt with the memories of a father walking out on his family, the death of a loved one, abuse, divorce, and we learned that sin and all of its negative consequences is absolutely worth grieving over.
As Joseph mourns the years that have been lost, he is moving closer to forgiveness but he is not there yet. There are two tests that Joseph wants to see his brothers pass. The Jewish scholar, Meir Sternberg comments that the subsequent tests “consists in turning back the wheel of time to the original crime against himself [Joseph], with the circumstances reproduced and the ten ranged against Benjamin.” We read about the first test at the end of chapter 43.
Then he washed his face and came out. And controlling himself he said, “Serve the food.” They served him by himself, and them by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. And they sat before him, the firstborn according to his birthright and the youngest according to his youth. And the men looked at one another in amazement. Portions were taken to them from Joseph’s table, but Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as any of theirs. And they drank and were merry with him.
Joseph essentially sets up Benjamin as a victim of uncontrollable circumstances in order to test how his brothers would now react. He gives Benjamin, five times the portion of his other brothers and observes that there is no hint of jealousy or sibling rivalry. This reveals one of the steps that help in the process of healing, which is knowing where to lay appropriate blame. Many times victims of abuse and family trauma will cast blame on themselves, that this was something perhaps they deserved. We know that Joseph was a spoiled brat but nothing he did deserved the punishment of being betrayed and sold into slavery. It’s been said that unless you know how to forgive yourself, you cannot forgive others. There are things that happen in life that are not necessarily deserved, sin that is committed that is outside of our control. Accepting that truth is a large part of the healing process.
But as his brothers pass this first test, Joseph is still not emotionally ready to reveal his identity to his brothers. There is one last test before the final act of forgiveness. In the following chapter, as his brothers are ready to go back to their country, Joseph plants a silver cup in Benjamin’s bag before he sends them off and then he calls them back and accuses Benjamin of stealing the cup, ultimately threatening to keep him as a slave, which not by coincidence is what happened to him.
Tears of the Gospel
And it’s here that the story takes a dramatic turn. As we pick up the story, we read that out of all the brothers, it’s none other than Judah that offers his own life as a pledge for the life of his younger brother. This is the same Judah, that actually came up with the plan to sell Joseph into slavery. Now he is laying down his own life, so that his youngest brother could be set free.
For your servant became a pledge of safety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I shall bear the blame before my father all my life.’ Now therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the boy as a servant to my lord, and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the evil that would find my father.”
Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.
What Joseph sees in Judah absolutely breaks him. He sees a life that has been transformed by the power of God. Remarkably, it is Judah’s moving speech of self-sacrifice and his love for his father and family that incites Joseph to move the family beyond its pain of the past to a new beginning. Judah’s pledge to offer his life as security for the life of Benjamin is a clear echo of the Gospel in the Old Testament. When we see this type of love being displayed in another person, like Joseph, we can finally feel safe to reveal who we truly are. And in one amazing turn, Judah finds redemption and Joseph finds healing. This is the same opportunity that is given to all of us. Through the pain and the sorrow of the cross, we are all given a chance to forgive and be forgiven, a chance to give and receive grace, and a chance to heal and to be healed.