Worship Helps for Pentecost 17

Title: Joseph pardons his brothers
Artist: Bacchiacca, 1515

This painting is one of a series of panels that decorated the bedchamber of the Borgherini Palazzo in Florence. Together, they tell the life of Joseph from the Bible (Old Testament). Here Joseph pardons his brothers for selling him into slavery. On the left, the brothers are brought to Joseph, with Benjamin the youngest a prisoner. On the right, they beg for Joseph's mercy and he forgives them.

Worship Theme: The Church forgives as God forgives. Anytime we try to imitate God, we quickly realize our inadequacy. Yet today God tells us to model our forgiveness on his: a boundless, free, and loving forgiveness based on the sacrifice of Christ.

Old Testament: Genesis 50:15-21
When Joseph's brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, "What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?" 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, "Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 'This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.' Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father." When their message came to him, Joseph wept. 18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. "We are your slaves," they said. 19 But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

1. Why did Joseph weep when the message from his brothers came to him? Why did the brothers appeal to their father’s request to Joseph and not to what they themselves wanted?

2. Guilt dies hard. Why dare we never let our guilt over past sins dominate our thinking?

3. We often hear people say, “Forgive and forget.” Is that truly possible?

Epistle: Ephesians 4:29-5:2
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

4. What is the secret to being able to forgive?

5. Serving the Lord is doing the right thing for the right reason. Whenever Paul encourages us to serve the Lord, he always turns his exhortation into a gospel event. That is, he weaves the gospel into his encouragement in a beautiful way. How does he do this in verse 1?

6. Kindness and compassion are to be marks of a true Christian. But what does Paul say is the primary mark for being a Christian?

Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" 22 Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 "Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 "The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' 27 The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28 "But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. 29 "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' 30 "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

7. How many times a Christian will forgive?

8. Why will the Lord not forgive us if we do not forgive those who sin against us? I thought the Lord forgave every sin!

9. Why does God talk so much about forgiveness? Isn’t forgiveness natural for a Christian?

10. In his parable, Jesus contrasts the forgiveness of God and our own unforgiving nature. The servant’s debt—by any measure of calculation—was impossibly high (perhaps 150,000 years’ wages). Who could have accrued debt such as this? Who could ever hope to repay? Why would Jesus create such a huge debt for the servant? 

1. Joseph had tried to persuade his brothers that his intention was to take care of them and help them. They were his brothers. He loved them. Perhaps they had gotten their father to make this request before he died. In any case, they were sure that Joseph loved their father, Jacob, but they were still not sure that he loved them.

2. We can perhaps understand why Joseph’s brothers were afraid of Joseph after Jacob died. After all, Joseph was merely human, and he could hold a grudge. God, however, is perfect. He has forgiven us through Jesus and to doubt his love for us is to challenge his faithfulness and also to challenge the complete nature of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. Joseph wept at their words as he remembered the sordid history and all the emotions that came with it. He wept, but he was free from the prison of the past; he had forgiven his brothers their terrible deeds. Through his tears, Joseph never wavered, but he calmed his brothers’ fears, forgave them like God forgives, and set them free from their prison of the past.

3. We may forgive someone who hurts us, but we never forget. We harbor that hurt deep inside of us for years—never understanding that we are locking ourselves in the prison of the past. Joseph’s brothers feared that they would finally have to pay for what they did to Joseph. His father was gone; he was still in charge in Egypt; and the brothers thought that they were going to face Joseph’s vengeance.

We cannot truly forget sins that were committed against us. But God can. God says: “I am he who blots out your transgressions and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). As repentant sinners, we often act like the brothers and wait for God to get even with us for our past sins. Shame on us! We are making God as shallow as we are! In God’s eyes our sins are forgiven, forgotten, forever.

4. The secret is to see how much God has forgiven us.

5. Paul encourages us to imitate God because (1) we are loved; (2) Christ loved us; (3) Christ gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice.

6. Forgiveness is what sets Christians apart from everybody else. The Church is comprised of people who have been sealed for redemption, so let’s act like it! We forgive because God forgave us in Christ. That makes us of God. Every Old Testament sacrificial victim pointed ahead to the death of Christ, the fragrant offering and the atoning sacrifice that won our forgiveness and inspires our forgiveness for others.

7. We are to forgive as many times as the person sins against us.

8. If we do not forgive others, we betray a lack of repentance and faith. If that is our attitude, we shut ourselves out from receiving God’s forgiveness.

9. "The human animal is not…good at forgiveness. Forgiveness is not some innate, natural human emotion. It is natural for the human animal to defend itself, to snarl and crouch into a defensive position when attacked, to howl when wronged, to bite back when bitten. Forgiveness is not natural." (Willimon)

Forgiveness must be learned, and Peter thought he had figured it out. From the elders of the Jews Peter had heard: “If a man transgresses one time, forgive him. If a man transgresses two times, forgive him. If a man transgresses three times, forgive him. If a man transgresses four times, do not forgive him.” Three times, the elders said, was the limit of forgiveness for a good Jew. Peter, however, was willing to go much further; not three times, but seven times, Peter thought with a smile. Until Jesus said, “Not seven times, Peter, seventy times seven—what the elders say doesn’t matter. I say to you that your forgiveness should have no limit, but be like God’s.”

10. Jesus emphasizes the great debt of the servant in order to magnify the compassion of the king who wipes the debt away. This is a stunning picture of our impossibly huge debt of sin before God. The point of Jesus’ parable is that no one can comprehend the forgiveness of our God. Certainly not unmerciful servants like us, who refuse to forgive the small debts owed to us, and instead, inflict on our fellow servants the punishments that God should rightly have given us. Have mercy on us, Lord, and teach us to forgive like you!

 Putting your faith into action

A reading from the Book of Concord for Pentecost 17
The Scriptures cited by the adversaries do not speak of canonical satisfactions.  It is pure slander when they distort Scripture to their own opinions.  We say that good fruit, good works in every kind of life, should follow repentance, that is, conversion or regeneration.  Neither can there be true conversion or true contrition where the putting to death of the flesh and bearing good fruit do not follow.  True terrors, true griefs of mind, do not allow the body to satisfy itself in sensual pleasures, and true faith is not ungrateful to God.  Neither does true faith hate God’s commandments.  In a word, there is no inner repentance unless it also produces the outward putting to death of the flesh.  We say that this is John’s meaning when he says, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8).  Likewise of Paul when he says, “Present your members as slaves to righteousness” (Rom. 6:19); just as he likewise says elsewhere, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12:1), and so forth.  When Christ says, “Repent” (Matt. 4:17), He certainly speaks of repentance in its entirety, newness of life and its fruit.

These Scripture passages have nothing to do with scholastic satisfactions. They imagine that satisfactions are works that are not due.  However, Scripture requires works that are due.  For this word of Christ, “Repent,” is the word of a commandment. – Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIIB, Confession and Satisfaction (paragraphs 34-36)


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