The New Testament has many glorious verses about how the grace of God through Jesus Christ can redeem anyone, no matter how far they’ve fallen. Verses like,
Therefore He [Jesus] is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
-Hebrews 7:25 NKJV (emphasis mine)
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
-Colossians 2:13-14 NKJV (emphasis mine)
Truly, the power of Christ to redeem a soul is wondrous.
No matter what sin we’ve fallen into, God can pull us out. He can change our innermost souls from utterly selfish beings to what humans were designed to be. He can give us new hearts that actually desire goodness more than self-gratification.
But His redemptive power does not only extend to our souls. It also extends to our past actions.
This is where He blows me away.
To explain what I mean, let’s look at the story of Joseph in Genesis. Or, more accurately, let’s look at the story of Joseph’s brothers.
Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, and Zebulun were ten brothers of a father who showed favoritism to their know-it-all little brother Joseph. That got old really fast. One day when the ten were out leading their father’s flocks to good pasture, the father sent Joseph to see how they were doing.
And the ten older brothers decided to get even. They captured Joseph, and several of them advocated killing him outright. (You wanna talk about dysfunctional…) But the oldest brother Reuben said that was a bad idea, and he convinced them to toss Joseph into a pit, planning to secretly rescue his younger brother and send him home to their father. (I still wonder whether Reuben was motivated by compassion, or whether he was trying to gain his father’s favor since he was seriously out of favor for an earlier sin he committed. Anyway…)
So they gathered near the pit to eat lunch, but someone had to go check on the flocks, and apparently the oldest got elected. While Reuben was gone, along came a band of Ishmaelite traders. And Judah said, “Wait a minute. There’s no profit in killing this kid. Let’s sell him.” So they sold their brother as a slave for twenty silver shekels. Divvies up nicely between ten brothers.
Reuben was horrified when he found out, but there was no going back. So the ten brothers tore Joseph’s beautiful, colorful coat and dipped it in goat’s blood. This evidence they gave to their father as proof that Joseph had been killed by a wild beast.
For the sake of time, I can’t get into all Joseph’s adventures and misadventures in Egypt. (Genesis 39-41) Suffice it to say that God was with Joseph. At the end of it all, Joseph became second-highest ruler in the land, in charge of collecting grain to store up for a coming famine, of which God had warned Pharaoh in two dreams.
When the famine came, it didn’t only strike Egypt. Hunger raged through all the surrounding lands — including Joseph’s homeland. Joseph’s father heard how Egypt had somehow managed to store up tons of extra grain, so he sent his sons to buy them food.
In Egypt, Joseph recognized his brothers. But it had been at least twelve years, quite possibly more, and the ten brothers didn’t recognize their brother in this grand Egyptian lord who had the right to grant or deny them food.
Joseph now had the power to punish his brothers, kill them if he liked. Instead, he put them through an elaborate scheme of pretty rough tests, to see if they had repented of the way they treated him. (Genesis 42-44)
Turns out they had. All those years of watching their father’s grief had finally softened their hearts.
So Joseph revealed his identity and brought his whole family to Egypt, where he settled them in good land and provided for them during the rest of the famine.
Now you probably know that story forward and backward if you were raised in church.
There is so much depth and symbolism and instruction in Joseph’s life, not to mention it’s just plain a good story.
But here’s one thing I didn’t notice until I was a lot older:
- Joseph was able to help his brothers because he ruled Egypt
- Joseph was able to become ruler because he was in Egypt when Pharaoh needed him
- Joseph was in Egypt because he had come as a slave
- Joseph was a slave because his brothers had sold him
So Joseph was able to help his brothers because his brothers had sold him as a slave.
Think about that. Was it good that Judah and the others sold their seventeen-year-old brother? No, of course not. It was a horrible thing to do. They sinned.
But God was involved. He had a plan for Joseph’s life, and He worked so that even the degrading status of “slave” led to being second-highest ruler in Egypt.
Could God have gotten Joseph to Egypt by another, better way? Of course. Was He pleased with Joseph’s brothers’ sin? Certainly not.
But get this: God is so big that even our sinful actions themselves can be redeemed for good.
Joseph himself put it this way to his brothers:
“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.
-Genesis 50:20 NKJV
To save many people. Including the ones that sold their savior.
Just because He’s God and He can, the Lord used the brothers’ sin as one step in the journey to their own salvation.
That blows my mind, friends. Truly, nothing is beyond redemption for our God.
No matter what we’ve done, we can repent and God can use us. He might even take our sin and somehow make something good out of it. He doesn’t always. But sometimes, in His mercy, He does.
I can hardly believe that. But Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, and Zebulun testify that it is so.