The Disguise of Grace
Text: Genesis 43
Proposition: The disguise of Grace out manoeuvres sin in order to bring us close enough to see who God really is.
Introduction: We have followed the story of Joseph as he was sold into captivity by his brothers, as he rose in authority as a slave, interpreted the dreams of fellow prisoners and then interpreted the dream of Pharaoh himself. We read of how Joseph was elevated to chief ruler in the land under Pharaoh and was the one who guided Egypt and it’s neighbours through seven years of famine. It’s in the second year of that famine that Joseph’s brothers come from Canaan in order to buy food from Egypt. Joseph was 17 when sold into slavery, he’s now 39 as his brothers come to Egypt, the years have changed his appearance and though his brothers do not recognize him Joseph knows who they are. In chapter 42 the reader listens as the brothers are set up by Joseph as he sends them with their money hid in their grain sacks back to his father Jacob. Simeon was kept as a hostage until they bring the youngest son Benjamin, Joseph’s only full brother, back to Egypt. We know that Joseph’s ultimate plan is to relocate Jacob and his entire family to Egypt until the famine is over and yet the way he does this is what makes the story so compelling. That Joseph meant well towards his brothers is never in doubt and yet he kept his real identity hidden from them. It was the disguise of grace, it was meant to help Joseph see what kind of men his brothers were now, were they trustworthy, were they sorry for what they had done, did they even remember Joseph? From the brother’s perspective this didn’t look like grace at all, it looked like confusion, like failure, like being powerless. Grace by definition is undeserved favour, which implies that not only didn’t we deserve it we didn’t expect it, we didn’t see it coming. Turn with me to Genesis 43.
I. The Disguise of Grace Aims At Absolute Surrender.
The grain they had brought from Egypt is soon gone, nine donkeys with sacks of grain fed the 70 people in Jacob’s family for maybe two months, then hunger again crushed in. Jacob is the patriarch, the man responsible to lead this family. The first 15 verses of this chapter focus on Jacob, he had become a procrastinator, a man whose back was to the wall. And yet he would not let go of one thing, the life of his youngest son, Benjamin. Whether it was guilt or loneliness, Jacob was willing to let the lives of 70 people come to the brink of ruin and starvation because of his fear of loosing Benjamin. Finally Judah, the fourth son of Leah, Jacob’s second wife, comes and tells Jacob that it’s time to act. He tries to just ignore reality and continue as if nothing was wrong. He tells Judah to just go get some grain and Judah reminds, probably for the tenth time, him that would be useless. Jacob tries to shift the blame onto Judah telling him it’s his fault for telling about the existence of Benjamin in the first place. Judah states the obvious, “Could we possibly have known that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down?’” In fact Jacob is so fixated on keeping Benjamin safe that he doesn’t even mention the idea of freeing Simeon who is being held as ransom. What seems to be driving Jacob is that he feels so guilty about losing Joseph some thirty years earlier that Benjamin is the only way left to make up for that loss. So what is the design of disguised grace? Its design is that we would trust God, especially in those areas where we feel the stakes are the highest. Is this all an act of God’s grace to get Jacob and the people who would become Israel to Egypt for safety? Absolutely! Could God just have had them swept up by Joseph and taken there even before this whole famine started? Absolutely! Yet the disguise of grace is that it’s aim is absolute surrender. Look at verse 14, Jacob finally comes to the point where he says, “May God Almighty give you mercy before the man, that he may release your other brother and Benjamin. If I am bereaved, I am bereaved.” Surrender, absolute surrender, no terms or conditions, just releasing it into the hands of God Almighty and trusting in His mercy. The disguise of grace invites us to let go of that which belongs to God. Benjamin belonged to God, he was entrusted to Jacob as a son but he always and only belonged to the one who created him. God had a purpose for Benjamin, he would be like a key to open the door of Egypt, but that key had to move from being in Jacob’s pocket to being in God’s hand and that came only through Jacob’s absolute surrender to God.
II. The Disguise of Grace is Clothed in Paradox.
Expecting to be questioned and perhaps even imprisoned the brothers find themselves being taken to Josephs house. Expecting accusation about the missing money that was found in their grain sacks they instead hear that Joseph’s steward had purposely put it there. Expecting to be mocked as Hebrews they are told by the Egyptian steward that Elohiym, their God, had put this treasure in their hands. Expecting Joseph to be suspicious and withdrawn they hear him bless Benjamin, “God be gracious to you, my son.” Expecting to be treated like peasants they find themselves dining with the powerful. Expecting to be unknown they find themselves being seated in order of their birth, from Reuben to Benjamin. Expecting to receive meagre rations instead Joseph takes from his own plate and puts it on theirs. Expecting the youngest to receive little instead they see Benjamin receive five times that which any other had.
Have you ever been surprised by grace? Have you ever expected to loose and instead you gained more than you ever thought? Have you ever been alone and then found yourself in the largest family on earth? Have you ever been poor, broken, empty? Remember that great sermon Jesus once preached, they called it the Sermon on the Mount. It’s recorded in Matthew 5, just listen to how the disguise of grace is clothed in paradox:
Blessed [are] the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed [are] those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed [are] the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed [are] those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed [are] the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed [are] the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed [are] the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed [are] those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Do you see the grace, do you see the paradox? God moves towards us in a timing and method of His choosing and what creates that sense of paradox is that what we see as best, or blessed, is not what God calls blessed. Perhaps to rephrase that, what God considers blessed we are slow to agree with.
I’d like you to consider three things about this subject of the disguise of grace:
1. The disguise of grace is meant to be a stealth weapon. It is not just about you and me in 2011, it’s also about the enemy of our souls who constantly seeks to disrupt and destroy that which God creates. The disguise of grace is for our benefit as it prevents the schemes of the devil by keeping from him, and you incidentally, the next steps of what God intends.
2. The disguise of grace teaches us patience. What I mean is there will be times when it may seem like God is setting you up. If you could have spoken to those brothers of Joseph but weren’t allowed to disclose the truth of who Joseph was, what would you have said to them? Don’t be afraid, keep going, trust God…whatever you might have said it would have called for patience. Be patient as the grace of God continues to lead you, in fact James 1:3 says that patience is result of a tested faith.
3. The disguise of grace promises that one day there will be a great reveal. It’s what makes the tension in this story, the anticipation of what it will be like when the brothers finally know who he is, when the father is finally reunited with the son that was lost. All these are prompts to us of an even greater day of revealing. Every act of disguised grace here below has the purpose in it of knowing the author of this grace for who He really is, of being brought close to the Father. The Great Reveal is coming soon.
The greatest disguise of grace was the cross of Jesus Christ, it out manoeuvred sin and Satan and brought us as close to God as Jesus is. From a virgin birth, a dislocated delivery room attended by angels and shepherds, the disguise of grace intended to assume humanity in order to rescue humanity from sin. Perfect as God and mortal as man this Jesus would give Himself to satisfy the wrath of a just and righteous God against sin. He who lived His life mostly in a disguise of grace, was revealed through the resurrection as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.