Making Things Right
Key Goals: (Know) Understand the power of our conscience. (Feel) Desire to clear our conscience. (Do) Choose to challenge ourselves.
Introduction: 20 years is a long time; a lot can happen in 20 years. In 20 years you can finish your education, get married and start a family. In 20 years you can build a career or a business—you could even become wealthy and famous. In 20 years you can also go from being a teenage Hebrew sheepherder to one of the most powerful men in the world. That’s what Joseph did. Here’s one thing you can’t do in 20 years: you can’t erase a guilty conscience. Our conscience is an odd thing. It’s like a moral barometer of the soul that senses when we’ve done wrong. We all have one. I like having a conscience; I know mine keeps me out of a lot of trouble. It helps me remember important things, it prompts me when I’m neglecting or hurting key relationships in my life, and it provokes me to make things right with people I have offended.
I wonder if Joseph’s brothers liked having a conscience. Maybe they were under the illusion that time would remove their guilt. After all, they hadn’t seen or heard from Joseph since the day they tossed him in the pit, pulled him out again, sold him to the Midianites, and then watched as that caravan dragged him away naked and in chains, a slave on his way to Egypt. 20 years later the brothers assumed he was dead. Slaves didn’t have a long lifespan. With Joseph dead, their secret was safe. Even if their conscience jabbed them from time to time, they were learning to deal with it, to push down the feelings of guilt. Who would ever find out? After all, when you are dead, you are dead. There is nothing you can do, right? But Joseph wasn’t dead—far from it. He was living 300 miles south of them in a lavish palace, as the second most powerful man on the planet. His brother hadn’t a clue, and because there was no such thing as a Bible yet, they did not know several Bible verses that could have helped them: Be sure your sin will find you out. (Numbers 32:23 NIV) or Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. (Galatians 6:7 NIV)
Nine years have passed since Joseph rose to power in Egypt. Joseph is 39 years old, and because of his wisdom, the entire world was coming to him for food. Everything has happened exactly as he said it would. Seven good years yielded grain abundantly—so much grain that it could not be measured (Gen 41:49). This morning we enter the story two years into the seven lean years, and times are very tough; the nations around Egypt are starving. In Canaan, where Joseph’s brothers and father Jacob live, the land is devastated. Jacob hears there is food in Egypt. Please turn to Genesis 42:1–5.
When Jacob learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you look at one another?” 2 And he said, “Behold, I have heard that there is grain for sale in Egypt. Go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” Only two years into the famine, and Jacob is worried that the entire family is in danger of dying. 3 So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might happen to him. 5 Thus the sons of Israel came to buy among the others who came, for the famine was in the land of Canaan. End of verse 6… Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground.
Remember the dream? Joseph’s first one (Gen 37:6-8) where he is a sheaf of grain and all the other sheaves bow down to him? It’s happening; the brothers are there to buy grain, and they are bowing to him and they don’t even know it! It would have been a miracle if they had recognized Joseph. He was 17 when they sold him; he is now 40 and completely Egyptian. What would Joseph have looked like? We don’t know, but we can take a guess. We know that the richer an Egyptian was, the more makeup he wore. They shaved or plucked all their hair, and loved light skin with no wrinkles. Joseph would have been unrecognizable to his brothers, who would have had full beards, long hair, and dark skin. 7 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 then Joseph does something strange. He accuses them of being spies, a serious charge that would bring a death sentence. Of course the brothers immediately begin to defend themselves, declaring boldly that they are honest men (42:11). Joseph knows that they are not as honest as they claim to be, so he presses them more. As they continue their defense, verse 13 reveals something. They said, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan, and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is no more.” It is interesting that even after 20 years they still think of themselves as “12 brothers.” It is also clear that they think Joseph is dead. So Joseph hatches a plan. (Remember, as we continue this story, Pharaoh believes that Joseph is the wisest man in the kingdom. I think it would be foolish for us to assume Joseph doesn’t have a plan.) He is going to test his brothers to find out what kind of men they have become. In verse 15 he says to them, “By this you shall be tested: by the life of Pharaoh, you shall not go from this place unless your youngest brother comes here. 16 Send one of you, and let him bring your brother, while you remain confined, that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you.”
And then he throws them in jail for three days to think about it. It is on the third day, when Joseph comes to see them, that we observe a huge turning point in these men’s lives. Skim down to verse 21—the brothers are talking among themselves. 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.” 22 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.” After 20 years, as soon as a difficult situation arises, they immediately attribute their difficulties to their guilt for selling and killing Joseph. These are men with a guilty conscience. Reuben reveals why he didn’t want his brothers to kill Joseph in the first place. Since there was no Bible, and the Ten Commandments didn’t yet exist, where would Reuben have come up with the idea that there would be a “reckoning” (interesting word—an accounting word) for Joseph’s blood? He got it from Genesis 9. Turn there for a moment.
Because of incredible violence, God has flooded and destroyed the entire earth. Noah has just left the ark and is ready to repopulate the earth with his family. God gives Noah two commands. The first is to be fruitful and multiply (9:1) and the second is found in Genesis 9:5–6. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning (same word Reuben uses): from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. 6 “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image. These are the only two laws of God at this time. Reuben and the brothers knew they had violated this law by killing Joseph, and their consciences immediately made the connection that it was “reckoning” time. You know how they were feeling—their consciences were pinging like crazy.
I wonder if this was new or if their consciences had been bothering them for a while. The Bible tells us that we can “sear our conscience.” I Timothy 4:2 talks about this. If we disobey our conscience repeatedly or if we refuse to develop deep-seated convictions around God’s moral law, then our sensitivity to moral issues becomes deadened. They just stop bothering us. This is a dangerous thing that Romans 1 tells us will lead to the darkening of our minds and a whole host of other issues.
The goal of the Christian believer is to develop a mature or healthy conscience, which will take two key elements:
1) The Holy Spirit. Every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit whose ministry to us includes the “conviction of sin.” (John 16:8)
2) The Word of God: We need a deeply held love and understanding of the Word of God. The Bible gives us God’s will regarding moral issues; the Holy Spirit then enables us to “welcome, embrace” that truth (see 1 Corinthians 2:6-16), so that it transforms us from the inside out!
A warning: The New Testament talks about our conscience over 31 times. It is a gift from God and is meant to act like a dashboard warning light to keep us from sin and doing things that might injure ourselves, others, and our relationship with God. If we watch the dashboard and don’t ignore the warning lights, we will flourish spiritually. If we refuse to listen, refuse to study God’s Word, and if we decide to do our own thing our own way, the Bible tells us that God will abandon us and leave us to our own “foolish thinking.” Listen to how God responds to people who sear their conscience. Romans 1:28–32 (NLT)
[God]…abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. 29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.
Are you listening to and growing a healthy conscience? Or is God abandoning you to your foolish thinking and evil actions? Perhaps you are feeling guilty for the first time in a while. Acts 3:19 (NIV) calls us to Repent, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.
Joseph treated his brothers harshly, but look closely at what happened. Perhaps for the first time in 20 years, his brothers are convicted of their sin. They realized, because they now needed mercy, that they refused to show mercy when Joseph cried for it in deep distress. Turn back to Genesis 42:23. They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them. 24 Then he turned away from them and wept… This whole conversation has happened right in front of Joseph because they didn’t think he could understand them! Can you imagine the emotions running through Joseph? The last time he saw his family, they viciously threw him into a pit and mercilessly sold him like a goat. As he listens to their discussions, he knows they think they killed him. Is it time for revenge? Forgiveness? Restitution? Punishment? Penance? Joseph has the power to do any or all of those, but instead he weeps. Look at the end of verse 24.
And he returned to them and spoke to them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. 25 And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, (here is the tricky part) and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. This was done for them. 26 Then they loaded their donkeys with their grain and departed. 27 And as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey fodder at the lodging place, he saw his money in the mouth of his sack. 28 He said to his brothers, “My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!” At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, “What is this that God has done to us?”
Why all of a sudden do the brothers think God is behind this? Joseph, through his actions, has made these men see their weakness, their need for mercy, and that God is up to something. Joseph’s actions have activated their consciences.
This morning we all come here in one of two places: either we have been activating and growing our conscience or we have been searing and deadening our conscience. Perk up your ears and listen, church. Imagine a man walking in one direction who suddenly realizes that he is going in the wrong direction. He stops. He turns around. Then he begins walking in the new direction. It is a quick and simple process. He realizes. He stops. He turns. That is a healthy conscience at work. If you are in this spot, thank God and use your conscience to flourish in your walk with Christ. Now imagine a man in a sailboat, the wind at his back, sailing quickly in the wrong direction. Turning around is a hard and difficult process—he must turn into the wind, readjust the sails, and make sure his rudder is deep and true. Some of us are in this boat. In order to change, we need to grow our conscience. It will require some big adjustments to our thinking, and the winds of our past decisions, addictions, and relationships blow against us. If that’s you this morning, you need to do three things:
1) Pray for the ministry of the Holy Spirit. (John 16:8) Right now. Pray that the Holy Spirit would reveal your sin to you and help you deal with it properly.
2) Actively study the Word of God for the purpose of learning right and wrong and wisdom.
3) Surround yourself with godly people who will help you activate your conscience.
Challenge by Choice: Right now, do you have a clear conscience? Is the warning light going off on the dashboard of your soul? Is there a name, an offense that you have in your mind? That’s the Holy Spirit of God. Your challenge is to go today to get this made right. In order for us to flourish, we must have a clear conscience, with an attitude of instant obedience. Don’t allow the warning light to be ignored.
Community Group Discussion
1. As you begin your discussion, have one group member open their Bible to Genesis 42 and have the rest of the group try to tell the story from memory. Discuss what you missed and what stood out.
2. Joseph’s actions functioned as God’s instrument to activate his brothers’ consciences. Are there any appropriate parenting tips here?
3. Discuss the sailboat illustration. How have you felt “the winds of your past” make it difficult for you to change?
4. Discuss why you did or did not pick up a “challenge by choice” card.
5. Have fun with this discussion: if your conscience was a person, who would it be? (Whose voice is in your head?)
6. Discuss your “challenge by choice.” Will it be easy for you or hard? Why? Share with the group how they might pray for you to accomplish your challenge.
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