Transforming Ordinary People into Extraordinary Followers of Christ

Joseph, A Portrait of Character and Grace – Part 5 of 8: Awakening a Seared Conscience

Series Summary: While he never did anything that we would normally associate with Biblical greatness—he never performed a miracle, he never slew a giant; he never saw a burning bush. Nevertheless Joseph was a great man. In his life we see a unique and powerful portrait of character and grace. In reviewing his story we see a God who is sovereignly working behind the scenes to work out His wise and loving purposes in the world.

Sermon Summary:

Continuing our series on the life of Joseph…A worldwide famine has struck and people are starving. The only place food can be found is in Egypt, because God had forewarned Joseph and so he had stored up for the lean years that he knew were coming. The drought and famine were having a devastating impact on Joseph’s family back in Canaan (Genesis 42:1–2). So Jacob sent all his sons to Egypt, except for Benjamin, the youngest, the only remaining child of his beloved, long-deceased wife, Rachel (he had no idea that Joseph is still alive). Joseph’s brothers had no idea what had become of him—in their wildest imagination they never would have guessed that now he is the prime minister of Egypt, and that they are about to meet him! And back in Egypt, Joseph has no idea what has become of his family. All of this sets the stage for what happens next… Genesis 42:5–7

Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Dan, and Naphtali are clearly out of their element: a bunch of country boys in the presence of the Prime Minister. They had no idea that they were bowing before their long, lost brother. Once Joseph recognized them, he had to think fast (Genesis 42:8–15). This was not going at all like Joseph’s brothers had expected; they must have been scared to death. Joseph learned that his father and younger brother are still alive, while everyone thinks he’s dead and gone. Joseph capitalized on this information, but bitterness and revenge are not his motives (we know this from the names he gave his own sons; Genesis 41:51–52). His brothers insisted that they were honest men (42:11), and he gave them a chance to prove it. Years before, Joseph had been cast in the role of being a spy for his father (37:14), and now the tables were turned! He also decided to test their attitude towards God (42:18– 20). Joseph’s mention of God seemed to awaken their slumbering consciences. And a very interesting conversation ensued, which Joseph overheard (42:21–24; remember, they didn’t know that Joseph understood Hebrew, since he had been communicating with them through a translator).

How does God soften a hard heart? How does He awaken a seared conscience? God often begins by disillusioning us of our ability to manage life on our own apart from him. He does that by turning up the heat in our lives, putting us in circumstances where we are in over our heads. First, the worldwide famine showed them that one’s “daily bread” wasn’t a given. Hunger drove them to Egypt—the illusion of being independent was now shattered. Then God convicted them of their sin so that they acknowledged their guilt (v. 21-22). A seared conscience is preserved through excuses, but as they sat in prison they laid aside all of their excuses. They didn’t blame their evil actions on the fact that they had a passive father who played favorites with Joseph. They didn’t blame Joseph for being their father’s favorite. They took personal responsibility for what they had done. But something more happened: they acknowledged the pain their actions had brought to Joseph. Until we understand how our actions have impacted others, we won’t repent at a deep level; we will give ourselves a pass. Now God has their attention.

  1. God wants to cultivate within us a soft heart and a sensitive conscience.
  2. God often uses the difficult circumstances of life to unveil our true character.
  3. When God reveals an area of sin in your life, he wants you to own it and repent of it.
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