In This Is Love

Text: Genesis 44

Proposition: The nature of love is intercession, the cost of love is substitution and the reward of love is redemption.                                                                   

Introduction: We’ve been looking at the story of eleven brothers who have come to Egypt looking to buy grain, not once expecting that the person they talked with was their brother whom they betrayed some twenty years before. Joseph knows these are his brothers but keeps his identity concealed from them as he puts them through test after test to see if the treachery is still there. What Joseph seeks is some evidence, some sign that would enable him to trust, to risk and even to love the people that are his family. So he sets them up, he sets a trap for them to see how they will react when their lives are on line, and even more, how they will react when someone else’s life hangs in the balance.

Joseph had just thrown a feast for the eleven unsuspecting brothers, they had come to Egypt a second time now, bringing Benjamin the youngest son along as requested by Joseph. Joseph has their sacks filled with grain, secretly putting the money they’d brought back into the sacks and he has his personal silver cup put into Benjamin's sack. Early in the morning they are sent away and the trap is set. Joseph has recreated the circumstances of his own betrayal… money, youngest son, father’s favourite, slavery. The question is, what will the brothers do when they are caught, will they abandon Benjamin, will they fight among each other as they had always done, will they take the money and run? How can you tell if love is real?

We tend to think that love is an emotion, a feeling, something we experience and yet love is really the evidence within us that there is something greater than just me. In the story before us love is what Joseph is testing for. The absence of love had severed Joseph from his family, the absence of love had left him abandoned to  strangers. So as the brothers stand before Joseph he desperately wants to see if their love is real. All Joseph has done is to set the opportunity before them to declare that something is greater than just me. That’s when Judah steps forward, the one who had been the first to suggest they sell Joseph into slavery some twenty years before. Have a look at Genesis 44 as we discover the evidence for love.

I. The Nature of Love is Intercession.

Joseph confronts the brothers in verse 15 and as he does so he makes this curious statement about being able to use divination. We know that it is really just the advantage of Joseph hiding his identity from them, Joseph having the cup planted, Joseph setting them up. So why does Joseph make this claim to divination? We know that some 430 years later Moses will write the Law and in it divination will be forbidden on pain of death. We know that divination, the attempt to see into the future, is something God detests. So why does Joseph say such in front of these brothers? Partly it is to play the role of an Egyptian and thus conceal his identity but partly it is a probe to see where the brothers place their faith. It is because of faith that Judah steps forward, it is because of faith that he says, “God has found out the iniquity of your servants, here we are…”. The nature of love, even the love of God, is to intercede for those who are helpless. Benjamin, a young man of about 23, is guilty, the cup was in the grain sack on his donkey. As you read through the defence that Judah presents the thing that is notably absent is any protestation of innocence. Not once does he say it was a setup, not once does he say it’s not their fault. Instead his whole argument of intercession is built around the love the father, in this case Jacob, has for his only son, Benjamin. So Judah not only intercedes for Benjamin, he also is interceding for the father, Jacob. Years before when Joseph was sold to Midianite traders, the brothers didn’t think twice about how this would wound their father. They showed Jacob a bloodied coat, Joseph’s coat with goats blood smeared on it, saying, “We have found this, do you know whether it is your son’s tunic or not?” (Gen. 37:32).  When Joseph saw Judah intercede not only for Benjamin but also for Jacob he saw the first evidence for the existence of love, which then led to the next proof.

II. The Cost of Love is Substitution.

It’s been said that for any substitution to work it requires three things.

1.The substitute needs to be just like that which it is replacing.

2.The substitute needs to be different in one respect from that which it is replacing.

3.The substitute needs to be willing to take the others place.

In the story before us Judah had to be just like Benjamin, able to work, strong, healthy. But Judah also had to be different in one respect, Judah had to be innocent as opposed to Benjamin being found guilty. The third aspect is that Judah needed to be willing to substitute himself for Benjamin. The motivation for being a substitute in this case could only be love. In fact substitution was the cost of love, of Judah’s love for Benjamin but also of Judah’s love for his father Jacob. If he would truly love then Judah must do for Benjamin what Benjamin cannot do for himself. Benjamin has not the ability to be found innocent, he is guilty and he can’t change that. If Judah would offer himself as surety for Benjamin then in obedience to his father Jacob, he would lay down his life in order for Benjamin to be able to make it home safely. The cost of love is substitution because it is the only way that the debt can be paid and the guilty one can be set free. If intercession is the nature of love and substitution is the cost of love then there remains one thing…

III. The Reward of Love is Redemption.

The basic definition of ‘redemption’ is to purchase and in so doing to set it free from where it previously was. Redemption is a theme that is soaked into human literature and film. It evokes emotion, it makes us hope for the victim, be angry at the oppressor, weep with joy at the restoring. From Broadway plays like Les Miserables to the caramel popcorn movies like Pirates of the Caribbean, the theme that all the emotions revolve around is redemption. Redemption plays out in the news of everyday, the Amanda Lindhout stories, the fall of Tripoli and the Gadaffi regime. The redemption in Genesis 44 is the perceived release of Benjamin, the setting free of a captive to again be a favoured son. The reward of love is that it achieves what it was moved to do, it brings freedom. We recognize physical redemption and we champion it, we celebrate it, we are moved by it. Spiritual redemption is all this and much, much more. It too purchases and in so doing sets free the spirits, souls and bodies of people from where they were previously held captive. It too is done by love, is evidence of love, is the reward of love. Remember that is from Judah’s genealogy, Judah’s line, that we trace both the legal line of Joseph and the human line of Mary to Jesus Christ. Legally the line of Judah is where the king of Israel through David proceeds and humanly is where the mortal line of Christ through Mary proceeds. Jesus is legally in the line to be the King of all kings. Mortally, Jesus is our perfect substitute. But let’s return to the template of today’s message: The nature of love is intercession. Not only was that true of Judah but in a much, much greater way it is true of Jesus. It is His love of the Father and His love for the ones whom God has created that moves Him to intercede for us. The Father sent the Son to do so, but it was love that was the reason. The nature of love is intercession, to care for those who cannot care for themselves, to do for them what they cannot do no matter how good they might be. The nature of love is intercession and the cost of love is substitution. Jesus had to be just like us in order to be our substitute, “Tempted in all things as we are…”.  Jesus had be different from us in one critical way, He had to be innocent, without sin in every regard. From His birth He had both a human mother but was also divinely conceived through the Holy Spirit, breaking the transmission of sin through birth. He had not only to be without sin but be perfect even as Adam was perfect, it’s why He’s referred to as the second Adam in Romans 5. Identical in mortality in order to be our substitute, uniquely different in innocence in order to be our substitute and then willing to take our place, pay the price of our guilt, be our substitute in death, through death to eternal condemnation, satisfying the wrath of God against sin and bringing complete reconciliation between man and God in Him. The reward of love is redemption, Jesus reached into humanity, took the sting of death, and drew us out from captivity and set us free in Christ. He has restored us to be favoured sons and daughters, not only living in the presence of the Trinity for eternity but exploring and enjoying and worshipping and glorifying the God who loves us so lavishly, with such abandon that He would be willing to die the deepest of deaths as our substitute.

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” - 1 John 4:10

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