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Do You Feel Forgiven?

by Ralph Seland 1999


Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. Luke 23:34

Fred had tried to jump out of a moving car to kill himself. Depressed? You bet. But why? He didn't have a clue. Nor did I. But he wanted to know.

None of the usual questions brought up anything. Fred was a tailor's apprentice. Clean cut. No booze. He didn't do drugs or some other things that often land people in such a state. Nothing seemed abnormal, so I looked at his problem from an oblique angle.

"Do you dream?" I asked.

"Of course. Everybody dreams."

"What do you dream about?"

He fidgeted and didn't seem to want to discuss this area, so I prompted him a little. "Do you dream that you are being chased . . . or falling . . . or flying?"

His face paled. "I dream I'm being chased. I'm always being chased."

"And what's chasing you?"

"My mother."

From this I knew two things. He felt guilt, and somehow his mother was part of the cast . . . But how? I pulled a blank. So did he. So we started going back to memories . . . childhood memories . . . memories of home. And this is the story he finally told:

My dad was cruel to Mom. He would cuss her out and do terrible things to her. One evening I was getting ready to go to a dance and went to put on my pants. They weren't pressed. I had asked Mom to do it, but she hadn't. So, like Dad, I cussed at her about it. She got out the ironing board and started pressing them.

After a while she said, 'My arm . . . . . I can't move it.' She slumped to the floor.

I panicked.

Dad shouted at me, 'If she dies, you've killed her!!'
She died . . . . .

I shivered, for I saw what he didn't. I gently probed, "What did you say you were doing for a living?"

His face went white, and he replied in a barely audible whisper, "I press pants."

-

Fred was suffering from false guilt. His mother would have had that heart attack or stroke regardless. But he couldn't forgive himself, and it almost killed him.

Tuck that little story away for a few minutes and look at a Bible story of a man who had dreams and was able to interpret dreams.

-

The story starts in Genesis 37.

19. And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh.
20. Come now therefore, and let us slay him and cast him into a pit. . .
28. . . .and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. . . .

Chapter 38. . . .
 
Chapter 39:

1. And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmaelites, which had brought him down thither. . . . There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife; how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

Within a few short verses we have slipped into one of the greatest stories in all literature. Here we have a man of virtue, a man who would rather be sent to prison and die than to sin against God and his master. It is a story you know so well that you scarcely noticed that I didn't tell it like the Bible tells it.

I skipped a complete chapter!!

Now have you ever heard a sermon preached on Genesis 38?
I haven't. It seems to be a chapter from another book thrown in by mistake. It is a story of deception, immorality, incest and hardness of heart.

Is there a reason -- a reason why the greatest writer of all time would make such a blunder? At first I thought it might be for contrast -- a backdrop to show the moral goodness of Joseph. Yet somehow I felt there was something more.

The story of Joseph and his brothers moves like a symphony. It has a dominant melody. But if we listen closely, we may hear another melody played in the background -- a melody that slips in unobtrusively, and then, suddenly, takes over for a while. Could Moses be using the same technique and be telling two stories simultaneously? A story of Joseph? A story of Judah?

Judah. Where do we first meet the man? Genesis 37 has the key:

26. And Judah said unto his brethren, what profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood?
27. Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon his; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content.

So here we have the villain. (Doesn't every good story have villain?) He was a hard-hearted, cruel man. Here is a man who is willing to sell his brother to slave traders and then cover his crime. (I wonder if he ever dreamed of someone chasing him?) Chapter 38 tells more about him. He married a Canaanite. This was not "cricket." Later, he dropped in to see a prostitute. Now that wasn't cool, even in Bible lands. Worse yet, that "prostitute" just "happened" to be his daughter-in-law. That was incest. And then he wanted her burned. It doesn't sound bad if you say it fast and hurry on to the next verses. But having your daughter-in-law burned? Can you imagine it? But the tables were turned, and his evil deed was exposed. Here is his judgment of himself:

26. She is more righteous than I.

And he didn't even offer to be burned in her place. What hope is there for a scoundrel like Judah? Of what kind of metal was this fellow made? Judah seems to lie low until Chapter 43.

8. And Judah said unto Israel his father, Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones.
9. I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame forever:

There seems to be a change in this man who once was willing to sell a brother. The voice of Judah is heard again in Chapter 44:

14. "And Judah and his brethren came to Joseph's house; for he was yet there: and they fell before him on the ground.
15. And Joseph said unto them, What deed is this that ye have done? wot ye not that such a man as I can certainly divine?
16. Judah said, What shall we say unto my lord? what shall we speak? or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants: behold, we are my lord's servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found.

This is the first indication that Judah even feels a pang of guilt. The story unfolds quickly from here on, and Judah rises higher and higher in my estimation.

18. Then Judah came near unto him, and said, Oh my lord, let thy servant, I pray thee, speak a word in my lord's ears, and let not thine anger burn against thy servant: for thou art even as Pharaoh.

He tells of the reason of bringing Benjamin down to Egypt and concludes his speech by saying:

32. For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever.
33. Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren.
34. For how shall I go up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father.

Here is Judah at his best. No longer a hard man who feels no sympathy and no guilt. But he has not become a softie. Here is a man who is spokesman for the family. Here is a man who cares about his father and his brother. Here is a man who is willing to stay in prison -- and maybe die so that his brother may go free. This is a changed Judah.

And at the end of Genesis we still read of some scared brothers who may still been plagued by fear by day, and by bad dreams at night. I can imagine that it was Judah who composed the message that was sent to Joseph. I can see him as being the first to kneel before Joseph begging forgiveness. Yes, Joseph forgave. No longer need Judah have nightmares of someone chasing him.

But we have slipped by a key verse about the man who was so cruel. He is now was a prince among his brothers. Jacob blessed each of his sons. The blessing upon Joseph is lavish but the key to all the blessing is found in Chapter 49:

10. The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from before his feet, until Shiloh come.

Does God bless pure men like Joseph? Is he proud of them? You bet.

Does God take men like Judah? Forgive them? Remold their characters and make them great? Oh yes.

-

Each of us fits into one of these three stories.

We may be suffering from false guilt. We may have a loved one whose ears are silent to the words we wish we had spoken. This can cause a terrible false guilt.

If that is the case, come to the cross with me, and hear Jesus words, "Father forgive . . . ."

Or we may be like the Judah whom we read about at first. Hard, uncaring and almost cruel, but still guilty of wrong-doing. Yes, you also need to come to the cross. You might have been like the soldier who was pounding those nails with scarce a twinge of conscience. You need to hear, "Father forgive . . . "

Or you may be like the changed Judah whom we just read about. A man who sinned grievously, a man who was truly repentant, a man who knelt and needed to hear the words, "Father forgive . . ."

When Jesus spoke those words at the cross, he wasn't just talking about a soldier or two that was doing what had to be done. He was speaking of everyone on planet Earth. He was asking forgiveness for you and for me. Those words covered every human being -- the person suffering from false guilt, the person who doesn't feel guilt and the one who has sinned badly and knows it.

Today He says, "Father forgive them; for they know not what they do."

Jesus prayed for you and me. And the Father has already answered His prayer.

A bruised reed shall he not break....    Isa. 42:3


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Last modified 10 May 2010 08:21 PM