May 24, 2015 Genesis 44
Series: Divine Hope for Dysfunctional Families
Today’s Message: “Have You Really Repented?”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Consider these two situations:
You’ve lashed out at someone in sinful anger, and now you feel so bad about what you’ve done. You go to them, with a sad face, and perhaps with tears, and tell them that you didn’t mean what you said, you tell them that you feel so remorseful, and you promise that it will never happen again… but a week later, you do the same thing. So…did you really repent of your sin of anger? Or did you just feel bad about your behavior?
Most of us have certain sins that we often fall back into, and after weeks or even months of avoiding your “Achilles Heel” area of sin, you somehow fall back into your besetting sin, and you let yourself go without restraint. Later on you feel so miserable about what you did: you feel like a failure and a hypocrite as a believer; you are ashamed of your actions; you vow never to give in again, and you promise to God that you will walk the straight and narrow path from now on. Question: did you really repent of that sin? Or did you respond like you did because giving in made you feel like a failure?
Repentance is a critical part both of the initial step of salvation and of the continued process of growing in holiness. Repentance means that we turn from our sin and our self-rule, and submit to the Lord. Conversion is a single action of turning from sin in repentance and turning to Christ in faith. Jesus Christ must be Savior and Lord.
But how do you know that you have really repented? How do you know if you have sincerely turned away from your sins, when you find yourself going back to your old sinful habits? What if your remorse and sorrow over your sin is more wrapped up in a concern for your reputation, for what others think of you, or about whether you feel like a failure, instead of being driven by the love of Christ and a true hatred for sin?
Yes, it’s true that we will never reach sinless perfection on this earth. And this sermon is not intended to make you feel worse about how you repent, as if you have to somehow achieve a perfection repentance! But rather I want you to prayerfully examine why and how you repent, so you’re your turning from sin and to God gradually conforms more and more with what is God-glorifying, and is good for your growth in Christ.
In Genesis 44, we get to see Joseph observing whether his brothers have real repentance in their hearts, as he tests them and tries their hearts. I invite you to come along, and ask God the Holy Spirit to show you if indeed, your repentance is real, or not.
To do that, let me establish three evidences of real repentance, according to God’s Word:
First, you acknowledge that your sin is a transgression against God; you have an intellectual understanding that sin is wrong, an offense against God.
Second, you have a heartfelt sorrow for your sin; you hate your sin in light of the cross, and you renounce your sin.
Third, you turn from your sin and you follow Christ; you make a decision of the will to turn from your sin, to forsake it, and to trust and obey Christ instead.
Here’s the background to the passage before us in Genesis 44: Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery 22 years earlier, out of jealousy. God has been faithful to Joseph, and for the nine years he has been the second in command over all of Egypt, the director of the food program. After 7 years of plenty, there has come 2 years of famine, and this lack of food has forced Joseph’s brothers to come to Egypt, seeking food. This is their second trip to Egypt, and while Joseph knows who they are, they do not recognize him. Joseph is in the midst of testing whether his brothers have repented and been changed by God, since the time they treated him so badly.
Before the brother return to their father Jacob in Canaan, Joseph instructs the manager of his household to secretly slip Joseph’s special silver cup into Benjamin’s sack. Then after the brothers depart to return to Canaan with food, Joseph tells the manager to go after the brothers and to expose Benjamin as a thief.
Let’s look for the signs of whether Joseph’s brothers have really repented here:
v. 13 “At this, (the discovery of the silver cup in Benjamin’s sack) they tore their clothes. Then they all loaded their donkeys and returned to the city.’
Notice two things here:
First, all the brothers tore their clothing, as a sign of their heartfelt grief and remorse. Yes, outward appearances of remorse are not proof positive of real repentance, but a true hatred for sin ought to include a heart-felt bitterness about your sin, and we see that here. (Do you hate your sin? Are there times that you even weep over your sins?)
Second, all the brothers returned to the city, even though Joseph’s steward had told them that only the man who stole the silver cup would have to come back and become a slave. Here we see a decision of their will, not to abandon Benjamin and take the easy way out, but to share in the blame and the guilt. (Do you own up to your sin, or do your make excuses and hide your guilt?)
Here was the first phase of the final test of Joseph’s brothers. Had they acted only in self-interest, they would have renounced Benjamin as a thief, deserted him, and fled from Egypt as quickly as possible. But something different was taking place. These were not the same men that had determined to do away with Joseph, 22 years ago. They were really repenting. They were bearing the fruit of real repentance.
v. 14 “Joseph was still in the house when Judah and his brothers came in, and they threw themselves to the ground before him.”
The brothers all fall prostrate before him, no longer seeking justice as before (verses 7-9), but now only throwing themselves on Joseph’s mercy. They have been broken and humbled. Now again, a person can act as if they are really moved by their sins, while it is all a show. However, real repentance always demonstrates a deep humility and a surrender of one’s pride and rationalizations. When you really repent, you humble yourself before the Lord, and you die to your self-seeking pride, before the person you sinned against. (Do you try to defend or excuse your sins, especially before other people? We must cast ourselves completely on God’s mercy, and on the mercy of the person we have sinned against.)
v. 16 “What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied. “What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants’ guilt. We are now my lord’s slaves—we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup.”
Here we see Judah acknowledging their sin before God, He knows that what he and the others did was wrong, and he admits that; he doesn’t try to hide it or make excuses for it. But notice that when Judah says “God has uncovered your servants’ guilt,” he’s not talking about the missing silver cup; rather Judah is referring to their sinful actions, over 20 years ago, in selling their brother into slavery. More than twenty years had passed since they had sold Joseph into slavery, and yet it was as though they were reliving the event in the person of Benjamin
You see, the brothers’ secret sin had come back to haunt them, and Judah recognized that this “uncovering” was the judgment of the all-knowing God, who has sovereignly orchestrated these events to bring about the judgment they deserved. Judah knows he is guilty before God, and he confesses this openly.
Judah doesn’t blame Joseph; he doesn’t blame Benjamin, nor the famine. Rather Judah takes the blame of himself, because God has uncovered his guilt, and he faces it head on.
vv. 18-32 Here we listen in as Judah presents a humble, transparent and emotional appeal to Joseph, on why it is so vital that Benjamin be able to go home to his elderly father. Note the aspects of true repentance here:
First, Judah is humble: “Pardon your servant” “Do not be angry.”
Second, Judah is transparent and open, hiding nothing, as he tells him every detail about their elderly father and how much Benjamin means to him.
Third, Judah has sacrificially accepted full responsibility for Benjamin’s welfare:
“Your servant guaranteed the boy’s safety to my father. I said, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!’ (v. 32) You see, real repentance does not blame shift; it owns up to blame and takes full responsibility for its words and vows.
Fourth, the climax comes in vv. 33-34, where Judah’s actions back up his words and feelings:
“Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34 How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.”
Here we see Judah’s full commitment to forsake his previous sin and to commit himself fully to the Lord, even at the cost of his own freedom.
Judah’s speech, as well as his sacrificial offer, showed the spirit of self-sacrifice, gentleness, confession, etc. He revealed in his words that God’s grace had been at work in him, softening him, and making him more sensitive to the needs of others, esp. his father. Relationships had become more important. The Lord created in Judah a work of grace, and in Judah we see one who would picture the work of the Messiah as our greater sacrifice.
This was more than Joseph could have hoped for! He saw real repentance in his brothers’ hearts, and therefore he could not only forgive them; He could be reconciled to them!
Think about it: the conditions that Joseph had created were ripe for another betrayal, as they had done with Joseph 22 years ago. This time the temptation was to give up Benjamin, in exchange for their freedom. Benjamin, Jacob’s beloved, was in their care, far from Jacob’s protection. He was accused of a terrible crime for which there was no opportunity to establish his innocence. They, without any real guilt, such as they deserved before, could merely choose to walk away and enjoy their liberty at Benjamin’s expense. They could return to their father just as they had done so long ago and break his heart with the news that his other son was “no more.” More than twenty years later, the same temptation faces these men. Will they evidence a change of heart, or will they act in self-interest? That is what Joseph must know. The moment of truth has arrived.
But Judah’s open and emotional appeal did not change Joseph’s heart so much as it revealed that Judah’s heart had undergone a significant change since the day many years before when he had been instrumental in selling Joseph into slavery. In short, Joseph was now able to reveal his identity because genuine repentance had been evidenced.
Up until this moment there was insufficient evidence of repentance.
It is one thing to say “I repent.”
It is one thing to feel remorseful.
But it is another thing to bear the fruit of true repentance, as John the Baptist challenged the Pharisees to do!
Regretting your sins and their consequences in your life is not enough. That sorrow for sin must turn to a hatred of sin, a desire to turn from it, and a dependence upon God for forgiveness from sin and freedom from its power.
So, when you repent, is it real? Have you repented of your sin and self-rule, and submitted your heart and will to the Lord Jesus Christ?
Let us use this Puritan Prayer to help us repent of our repentance:
O GOD OF GRACE,
You have imputed my sin to my Substitute, and have imputed His righteousness to my soul, clothing me with a bridegroom’s robe, decking me with jewels of holiness. But in my Christian walk I am still in rags; my best prayers are stained with sin; my penitential tears are so much impurity; my confessions of wrong are so many aggravations of sin; my receiving the Spirit is shaded with selfishness.
I need to repent of my repentance; I need my tears to be washed; I have no robe to bring to cover my sins, no loom to weave my own righteousness; I am always standing clothed in filthy garments, and by grace I am always receiving a change of clothing, for You always justify the ungodly; I am always going into the far country, and always returning home as a prodigal, always saying, “Father, forgive me,” and You are always bringing forth the best robe.
Every morning let me wear it, every evening return in it, go out to the day’s work in it, be married in it, be wrapped in death in it, stand before the great white throne in it, enter heaven in it, shining as the sun.
Grant me never to lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the exceeding righteousness of salvation, the exceeding glory of Christ, the exceeding beauty of holiness, the exceeding wonder of grace.
From The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions