Sunday 5th April
It is Palm Sunday, the day we remember when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and a mighty crowd took palm branches and shouted out “Hosanna” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!”
Did Jesus, knowing all that was before him, draw strength and mutual support from the crowd?
In this time of social, or more accurately physical, distancing, the ways in which we can come together matter even more to draw from each other.
We have witnessed once again last week on Thursday evening with another Clap for Carers to thank NHS staff and key workers.
I am sure it wasn’t only our health workers who took strength from that evening when so many emerged from their front doors to offer a round of applause. Each might only have been able to see or hear at most a handful of others, but everyone knew that this was something huge – a mighty crowd.
As we come together today, although physically apart, may we recognise again that we are part of a mighty crowd whose hope is in Jesus.
Song: Trent – Perfect Sacrifice
Lord, our hope is in you. The world is in turmoil, we have all been affected to some extent and our usual way of life disrupted by the COVID 19 virus. We also admit that we are sometimes fearful about how things are going to progress and the affect it is having on our relatives, friends and neighbours. Help us in the time we spend this morning as we focus on you and, by your holy spirit, be brought peace and an increasing sense of your presence at this time.
Song: Rend Collective – Still
Forgive us – as we forgive them it’s not just for show
(the following piece is adapted from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-84-forgiving-one-another-genesis-5015-21)
Three mean-looking guys on motorbikes pulled into a roadside cafe where a lorry driver, a little guy, was sitting at the counter, quietly eating his lunch. The three thugs saw him, grabbed his food, and laughed in his face. The lorry driver didn’t say a word. He got up, paid for his food and walked out.
One of the bikers, unhappy that they hadn’t succeeded in provoking the little man into a fight, bragged to the waitress, “He wasn’t much of a man, was he?”
The waitress replied, “No, I guess not.” Then, glancing out the window she added, “I guess he’s not much of a lorry driver, either. He just ran over three motorcycles.”
The familiar saying, “Don’t get mad, just get even” sums up the world’s philosophy of how to deal with someone who wrongs you. But in contrast to the world’s way, God prescribes a radical approach when we are wronged: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Eph 4:32).
Read Genesis 50:15-21
Through his life’s journey, Joseph had to avoid bitterness and learn to forgive. He had been repeatedly hurt, but he didn’t develop a trace of bitterness. His own brothers had planned to kill him but sold him into slavery at the last moment. As Potiphar’s slave, Joseph’s life is a classic lesson on how to overcome bitterness. He was faithful and upright but was falsely accused of attempted rape by Potiphar’s wife. He spent years in prison and was forgotten by a man he had helped, who could have plead his case with Pharaoh. Yet despite all this, Joseph never grew bitter towards God or towards those who had wronged him.
Now, after his father Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers began to worry. They couldn’t forget how they had wronged him. They knew that he had forgiven them 17 years before. But now that dad was dead, would Joseph pay them back for all the wrong they had done to him? So, they sent a message to Joseph saying that their father, before his death, had charged them to tell Joseph to forgive their sin against him. The brothers may have been making this up, because Jacob would have talked directly to Joseph if he had been concerned about the matter. But at any rate, Joseph’s response shows that he truly had forgiven his brothers.
From Joseph’s attitude in these verses, there are two things we can see:
- To forgive we must acknowledge God’s place
- To forgive we must have the right attitude towards others.
Joseph’s attitude was the key to his great success in life. Notice, first, his attitude toward God.
1. To forgive we must acknowledge God’s place
When Joseph’s brothers approached him, his spontaneous response was to weep, which showed his tender heart. Then he reassured his brothers and asked: “Am I in the place of God?” (Gen 50:19). Even though Joseph was the second most powerful man on the face of the earth, a man who could have given the command and had his brothers imprisoned or executed with no questions asked, Joseph didn’t put himself in God’s place.
Joseph’s question is a good one to ask yourself when you’re tempted to withhold forgiveness or to seek vengeance against someone who has wronged you: Am I in God’s place? Joseph was powerful in the world’s eyes, but he knew he was never big enough to take God’s place. To take our proper place before God involves three things:
Recognise God is Judge
The Lord says, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (Rom 12:19). He’s the only competent judge, the one who knows the thoughts and intentions of every person’s heart. We need to trust Him to deal rightly with each person.
To love our neighbour as ourselves means that we will want God’s mercy for them, just as we want it for ourselves. One reason Joseph forgave his brothers is that he always remembered that he had no claim against God, no matter how severe the treatment he received. He allowed God to be the judge of his brothers and of himself. Taking our proper place before God also means that we need to:
Recognise God is Sovereign
When terrible things happen to you, you have two options: Either God is sovereign and, for some reason, He allowed it to happen; or, God isn’t sovereign and this one slipped by Him.
The Bible declares that God is the sovereign God who “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph 1:11). Nothing, including the evil deeds of wicked men, can thwart God’s plan. Joseph saw this clearly. He says to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20). What a great perspective to have when people wrong you!
That is not something to take lightly, terrible things have happened to godly people down through the centuries and the Bible doesn’t hide this sort of thing. John the Baptist, the man most highly praised by Jesus Christ, was beheaded at the whim of a drunken king. The apostle James was murdered by a tyrant as a young man. Many of God’s choicest servants were persecuted and murdered (see Heb 11:36-38). But none of that threatens the sovereignty of God.
It may be a struggle to submit to the sovereignty of God in your life when you feel you have been wronged. Although you may not know the reason this side of eternity, God sovereignly allowed this wrong for some purpose. To forgive as God commands, we must submit to God’s mighty hand in the situation.
So, to take our proper place before God means allowing Him to be the judge of all; humbling ourselves under His sovereignty; and,
Recognise God is Good
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” That’s the Old Testament equivalent of Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
The classic philosophic problem of suffering revolves around the question of how God can be both sovereign (or all-powerful) and good at the same time. If He were good, then He wouldn’t will our suffering; if He were powerful, He would do something about it. Yet we suffer. Thus, God must be either weak or not good.
There are several fallacies in reaching this conclusion. It ignores the presence of sin in the world as the reason for suffering. Also, it assumes that all suffering is bad. But in our fallen world, God often brings great good out of terrible suffering. Also, the argument assumes that God must alleviate suffering immediately, while the Bible affirms that God’s final solution will only come when He creates a new heavens and earth.
When someone wrongs you, you need to be on guard. Satan tempted Eve by getting her to doubt the goodness of God. He implied that God was withholding something good by keeping the forbidden fruit from her. The devil will tempt you by whispering, “If God really cared for you, He wouldn’t have let this happen.” No doubt Joseph often had to resist that temptation over the years. But in each case, Joseph affirmed by faith, “They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”
2. To forgive we must have the right attitude towards others.
Our attitude is often revealed in our spontaneous reaction. Joseph wept. I think he wept because he suddenly saw that his brothers still didn’t trust him, even after 17 years of what Joseph thought was a restored relationship. They were trying to use their dead father’s influence to protect themselves, when there wasn’t any need for protection. Joseph’s attitude reflects three qualities we must express if we want to forgive others:
We must be Humble
When somebody wrongs you, it’s easy to become proud. You start thinking, “I’m better than that them! I’d never do to anyone what they did to me.” That proud spirit leaks out in a lot of ways that prevent you from truly forgiving the other person. But Joseph here comes across with a humble spirit. He’s not lording it over his brothers, even though he could have. He puts himself on their level, under God, and lets them know that they’re forgiven. He shows us how to express true humility in forgiving those who have offended us.
If we have a humble attitude toward others, you don’t bring up the past as ammunition, to remind them how you were right and they were wrong. Instead, you let it drop and you try to make them feel at ease.
Humility is the first ingredient in a proper attitude toward those who have wronged you.
We must Speak the Truth in Love
Joseph’s brothers didn’t say to him, “If we wronged you somehow, we’re sorry,” as if it was an accident. They were honest in admitting that they sinned against him (Gen 50:15, 17). For his part, Joseph didn’t say, “Hey, no big deal. I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.” Rather, he was gently honest when he said, “You meant evil against me.”
True forgiveness doesn’t deny the offence or cover it as if it didn’t hurt. But neither is it brutal in rubbing it in. For healing to take place, the offended person needs to admit their guilt and know that you heard them. Joseph’s brothers needed to hear him agree that they had wronged him, because they couldn’t be sure he had forgiven them until they were sure that the offense was in the open.
So we must distinguish between forgiving the person in our heart and extending forgiveness to them verbally. We must forgive the person in our heart before they repent, which means that we will sincerely pray for God’s mercy toward them; we will look for ways to be kind; we will make it clear that we want to restore the relationship. We’ve got to root out our bitterness by submitting to the sovereign goodness of God. Then, the moment the offender repents, like the father of the prodigal son, we rush to welcome and embrace them. That leads to the third aspect of our attitude toward others:
We must Actively Care
Joseph could have said, “I forgive you guys. Now get out of my life!” But instead, he provided personally for them and their families (Gen 50:21). His words of forgiveness proved themselves in his kind deeds long after the fact. Words are nothing if they aren’t backed up by action. If you say that you forgive someone, but you couldn’t care less what happens to them after that, you haven’t really forgiven. A forgiving spirit shows itself in kind deeds.
Bitterness holds your soul in bondage and hinders God’s blessings from flowing to you and through you. Forgiveness frees you to experience God’s abundant grace and to make you a channel of that grace even toward those who wronged you. God has not put anyone through anything He Himself was not willing to experience. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to seek our welfare, but was rejected and killed. He suffered, the just for the unjust, in order to offer us God’s forgiveness. You may never in this life understand the why of your wrong treatment. But Jesus understands, because He suffered much more than any of us ever could. If we will learn to submit to His sovereign goodness when we are wronged and assume an attitude of humility, honesty in love, and caring toward those who have offended us, we will grow to know Him.
Lord we confess that we sometimes struggle to forgive.
Shine your light in these areas of unforgiveness in our lives and help us to follow the example of Joseph so that we might be released from unforgiveness and enter into the fullness of peace and wholeness that is your heart’s desire.
We recognise your sovereign majesty.
We are humbled by the love that you give.
We are forgiven so that we can forgive.
Song: Delirious – Majesty
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine on you,
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face towards you
and give you peace;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.
A little activity to end:
On Palm Sunday, we often have palm crosses to take home to symbolise the day and the week ahead.
So, your challenge is to make a ‘palm’ cross, which unless you have a palm tree in your garden, may be difficult! This is where creativity is needed, a quick internet search may yield something e.g. https://mommysnippets.com/paper-palm-crosses/ (opens in a new tab/window)
Once you have completed the challenge, take a picture and post on WhatsApp and/or display in your window.