Sermon Study Guides

The End of the Joseph Story

ReaD Genesis 50:15-21

Introduction: After the emotional reunion between Joseph and his brothers in chapters 42-45, Joseph is tearfully reunited with his father Jacob in Genesis 46. Jacob, all his sons, and their entire families are invited to live under Joseph’s care in the land of Egypt – and while pain was part of their past, the narrator seems to indicate that peace and harmony mark their remaining years in Egypt. However, near the end of Genesis 49 we read of the death of Jacob, his burial in the land of Canaan, and the 70 days of mourning that accompany his death.

As the family returns to life in Egypt after burying their father, Joseph’s brothers begin to worry and whisper amongst themselves: “Now that father is gone, what if Joseph didn’t really forgive us? What if Joseph has nursed a patient vendetta and he’s prepared to pay us back for the pain we inflicted in his youth?” Worried that their lives might be in jeopardy, the brothers have a message delivered to Joseph, written as if it were from their father Jacob: “Please forgive your brothers and the evil they committed against you.” The brothers follow up with a personal display of contrition and repentance when they fall down at Joseph’s feet and declare their allegiance and willingness to serve him. In many ways, Joseph’s reply to his brothers is a gracious crescendo to the entire book of Genesis: “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.

There’s both tremendous peace-of-mind and tremendous tension packed within this statement. Evil intentions and actions are still perpetrated in this world. Sinful choices often lead to broken hearts and broken lives. And yet, somehow in God’s gracious providence, he’s able to use sin, evil, and brokenness in ways that defy our ability to even conceive or rationalize. Joseph has the clarity of mind and heart to look back at the brokenness of his family narrative and notice God’s distinct fingerprints on each page. Through the eyes of faith, Joseph can see that God was completely in charge and completely in control even when that reality was unbenounced to everyone else in the story. Does this mean that everything we experience in the here and now will one day be re-arranged and re-worked for our good? The answer is both yes and no. Yes, as Tolkien wrote, one day “everything sad will come untrue.” But that day may in fact be in the life to come, a life that is secured by the events of the cross and resurrection – events that men certainly intended for evil – events that God resoundingly and victoriously intended for our good “so that many people should be kept alive.” The cross tells us that everything, in God’s timing, will in fact experience healing and restoration. And while we wait for that day with great longing, we’re accompanied and reassured by a God who has suffered too.

Reflection: Take personal inventory of your life, heart, and spiritual journey. Use these prompts as a way to prepare for group discussions or for personal times of prayer.

1. What causes you to doubt, wonder, or worry that God might not be trustworthy? Take a moment to pray those things toward God.

2. What causes you to be reassured that God is in fact good and trustworthy? Take a moment pray those things toward God.

Discuss:

1. What about the sermon stood out or impacted you the most? Do you have any follow-up questions about the sermon?

2. Re-read Genesis 50:15-19. You’ll notice that the brothers begin to doubt that Joseph’s forgiveness was genuine. Their fears, however, were groundless. Instead of plotting to kill them, Joseph actually wept over their lack of trust. We often relate to God in the same way. He’s promised forgiveness and love but we act as if he’s ready to take it away and punish us at any point. Does this resonate with how you might relate to God? Discuss this theme together.

3. Notice that in verse 20, Joseph doesn’t downplay his brothers actions. He doesn’t pretend as if evil hasn’t been done. He clearly calls them to task, “You meant evil against me.” Yet Joseph was able to re-express his forgiveness toward his brothers. Principally, forgiveness deals head on with wrongs committed against us. It looks pain in the eye and offers restitution. Forgiveness offers to absorb or “pay for” the wrongs committed against us. Discuss these and other dynamics of forgiveness.

4. Missional Living: All of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, have to reckon with pain and suffering. Whether within our worldview we chalk things up to karma, luck, or even fate, we all have to make sense of pain. As Christians, we don’t believe in fate, luck, or karma but instead we trust in God’s grace. Grace doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen in our lives. But it does mean that suffering is no longer a direct punishment for our sin. Discuss how grace informs our understanding and experience of suffering.

ApplyTake personal inventory. Is your theology, your belief in God, grounded in personal experience / circumstances or in what’s been revealed in the Bible? It’s not as if experience doesn’t matter to our belief. But experience must submit itself to what’s been revealed to us by God through his Word. It’s all too easy to think, “My life is hard, God must not care,” when what’s been revealed to us in the Bible is, “God cares deeply; he sent his most beloved Son for you.” This exercise may extend past your CG time – so be sure to revisit this question when you get back together.

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Transformation and Reconciliation

ReaD Genesis 42:1-17

Introduction: Genesis 42 is a significant turning point within Joseph’s narrative. But buckle up, the story only becomes more personal and emotional as old wounds are revisited and familial character is tested. By Genesis 42, most commentators note that Joseph has been estranged from his family for nearly 20 years. Abandoned in that dark pit at the youthful age of 17, Joseph has ridden the roller-coaster of ups and downs, a two-decade long journey that now finds Joseph released from prison and presently seated as the “vice-president” of the nation of Egypt.

The nations of Canaan and Egypt are both two years into an impending seven-year drought. Joseph’s brothers have been sent by their father, Jacob, down into Egypt in the hopes of securing food for their family. In an unexpected and undetected turn-of-events, Joseph’s brothers find themselves bowing at the feet of the local governor (this is a fulfilment of Joseph’s dreams from Genesis 37), who unbeknownst to them is actually their brother Joseph! Joseph immediately recognizes his brothers – and yet because of his Egyptian attire and the 20 years that have passed, the brothers don’t recognize Joseph. This presents a unique opportunity for Joseph to learn more about the character of his brothers. Have two decades changed them at all? Or are they still the same old crew who sold their own flesh and blood into slavery?

Chapters 42-45 take the reader along an emotional journey of familial repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. While Joseph is waiting, watching, and learning, his brothers are waiting, worrying, and wondering. Yet through it all God had a plan. As Duguid and Harmon write, “Long before they [the brothers] realized their guilt, God had already put everything in place to save their lives. Most amazing of all, their salvation hinged on God using their worst sin to accomplish his saving purposes. The betrayal of the best-loved son of their father, which led to his enslavement, suffering, humiliation, and unjust imprisonment, became the means by which God raised him to a position of power and influence for the saving of many lives.” These chapters lead us to a much later chapter where God’s plan of salvation would hinge upon another Beloved Son whose unjust suffering and death would be grounds for the saving of many lives. Do you see it? The gospel is being prefigured and anticipated long before the arrival of Jesus within the lives of men like Joseph and his brothers. Like Joseph before him, Jesus suffered so that others could live – even if those others were and are his undeserving brothers, even you and me.

Reflection: Take personal inventory of your life, heart, and spiritual journey. Use these prompts as a way to prepare for group discussions or for personal times of prayer.

1. How would you characterize the differences between forgiveness and reconciliation?

2. Are there people in your life that you need to forgive? Are there relationships in your life where reconciliation might be a possibility? How do you navigate next steps? Or are you avoiding them? Why or why not?

Discuss:

1. What about the sermon stood out or impacted you the most? Do you have any follow-up questions about the sermon?

2. Read Genesis 42:18-23, paying close attention to the conversation between the brothers in verses 21-23. It would appear that a conviction over their sinful choices was beginning to percolate within their hearts. This is often the first step in relational forgiveness – between friends as well as between us and God. In order for relational pain to be healed, there has to be a real recognition of what caused the pain in the first place. Discuss these verses and this principle.

3. Take a moment to re-read the Duguid and Harmon quote from the introduction. Their insight can assist us in seeing the “story behind the story.” Discuss and interact with the transformative dynamics packed within this quote as well as Joseph’s larger story.

4. Missional Living: A story was once told of a Christian who worked within a high-powered law-firm. In their negotiations with other clients and other firms, no one in this man’s firm was ever allowed to admit they were wrong, that they in fact might be at fault within a given conflict. Then one day this man decided to say it: “I’m sorry, I dropped the ball on this task, will you forgive me.” To everyone’s surprise, forgiveness was contagious, and around the room people dropped their guard and began admitting (instead of accusing) when they had made a mistake. Forgiveness changed things. Where in your personal, familial, or even corporate life might you be able to be witness to the power of forgiveness and / or reconciliation?

Apply: What could it look like for you to live out the power provided within the gospel? How do you take what you’ve learned and apply it to your life? Don’t move on until you’ve asked the Lord to transfer what you’ve studies from your head to your heart. Consider breaking into smaller groups in order to personalize the discussion.   

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