This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Genesis 42:1-38
Confessions: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 50
Purpose: to invite listeners into prayer for all our physical needs.
Sermon prepared by Rev. Daryl DeKlerk, Barrie, Ontario
Job losses and tough times make frequent headlines. They may even be your life’s headline right now. How desperate then our prayer can be, “Give us this day our daily bread!” Yet this prayer rings true whether in good times or bad, because we always need life-giving food, drink, and shelter.
It was Jesus Himself who taught us this prayer. As fully human, Jesus Himself needed this prayer. And as fully God, Jesus Himself answers this prayer: either by giving us ability and opportunity, or by gracious generosity through His Spirit in the family of God, the body of Christ. The bottom line is that in this prayer we trust God “to take care of all our physical needs.” As the Heidelberg Catechism notes, that is what ‘daily bread’ means: “all of our physical needs.” God invites us to pray for all of our physical needs.
We will appreciate this invitation through the story of Joseph providing for his brothers. The story comes to us in three points:
- When Past and Present Meet
- Food and Forgiveness, and
- Humble Trust in God Alone
1. WHEN PAST AND PRESENT MEET
Joseph’s family found themselves in desperate physical need. Crops failing, children crying, wind whipping, dust flying, tempers flaring! Finally father Jacob barks at his sons, “Stop staring at each other and get down there to buy food!” What a grumpy way of asking for his daily bread!
No doubt the brothers already know there’s grain in Egypt. But we can understand why going there would be, well, awkward for them. It’s where they sold their young brother off into slavery! Of course they haven’t gone yet: it’s too painful. Guilt has pounded their collective conscience like a 20-year migraine. Yes, there’s food in Egypt, but surely not forgiveness. No wonder they don’t want to go. And no wonder dad’s grumpy at them - he has no idea why they fear Egypt so much and didn’t go sooner to get food.
How similar is this family to your own? So often sin, or the guilty memory of it, keeps us from doing our part to provide for our families. Like Joseph’s brothers, we can have paralyzing emotions over sins long past. Or, like Joseph, we have deep hurts from others’ cruelty. These sins, these hurts, they bog us down. They suppress our ability to fully love the people around us right now.
Perhaps a bad temper limits your workplace potential. Maybe sharp words to your children are really for someone else. Maybe compulsive spending robs your family of healthy food or adequate savings. Overspending can even deprive us of precious family time if working to pay it off consumes our days of rest. Often it takes a trusted, loving friend to make the connection between the sins and pain of the past, and our pain or sin right now. Proverbs says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted...” (Proverbs 27:6) You may need a friend to ask who it was that first really hurt you, or why spending money feels so good for you. Qualified counselors are especially good at seeing these connections. Or sometimes simply sheer desperate need can force a needed change.
Like it did for the 10 brothers. Shuffling off to Egypt, they went to satisfy their hunger. But they also went to satisfy their hunger for forgiveness. And by the good providence of God they had to bow before one and the same person for both food and forgiveness. Just like we do before God, in fact.
In verse 7 we read that Joseph recognized them. He recognized them. That’s the same word there as father Jacob ‘recognizing’ the bloody coat of many colors (chapter 37:33). The brothers now bow low before none other than their abandoned brother! They don’t recognize him because he’s 20 years older, clean-shaven, in Egyptian robes, and with another name.
And, of course, he’s in unimaginable authority for someone sold as a slave. In other words, the reality was ‘too good to be true’ for them to even suspect it! Isn’t that the joy of this story!? Yet it really was true, as it is with us. Both Joseph and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, once thought to be dead, came alive, reign in powerful authority, and are givers of blessing beyond compare!
Of course for us, Jesus remains fully God. But for these brothers, as good as the story will end, Joseph is still only human. And his blood boils at the sight of them! It boils at his ‘blood’ on their hands, the guilt in their eyes... and now their pitiful requests for food! The audacity! Past and present come face to face. Joseph feels afresh the stab in his back while seeing their bloody hands beg for food.
Which brings us to the second point,
2. FOOD AND FORGIVENESS
The brothers too, know Joseph’s blood is on their hands. They’re like Lady Macbeth in one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, trying to wash the blood off in the middle of the night. “Out, damn’d spot, out,” she cries. As they also admit, Joseph’s blood still cries out to them... and God. So Joseph must now make a decision: to be gracious to people who don’t deserve it, or not. Like our Lord Jesus, Joseph begins the difficult journey of forgiveness. Will he give forgiveness to people asking for food who have betrayed him by their sins?
That’s no easy thing to do. Not for Joseph, nor even Jesus. “Father,” Jesus prayed, “if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) Thank God it WAS the Father’s will to provide for our forgiveness - by the sacrifice of His own beloved Son. And thank God that it is His ongoing will to provide us not only forgiveness, but also for our physical needs. As Jesus revealed,
“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:9-12)
By God’s marvelous grace He provides both forgiveness and for physical needs!
And as this last passage reveals, we in turn are asked to give the same. How? Only in deeply appreciating God’s forgiveness and food for us are we in turn able give the same. For instance take an ungrateful family environment. Few attitudes pierce a woman’s heart like an ungrateful husband or children at the dinner table. Or how deflating for a man when his wife or children forever demand more income than he makes. So to give forgiveness for such ingratitude while continuing to faithfully provide... now that takes strength only God can give!
Yet people must still be held accountable for the consequences of their sin. Good mothers reward ingratitude with a dry crust of bread for dinner. God, too, holds us to the consequences of our sin, even while providing for our basic needs. Joseph also would richly provide for his family, even while holding his brothers’ toes to the fire they started.
That is why in verse 9 Joseph speaks harshly to his brothers. Joseph’s anger springs from recalling his dreams about them, from the deep hurt of their having mocked him when he told them his dreams. They had always laughed at his dreams. Children, you know how deeply it hurts when someone laughs at you. It’s awful, it makes you feel so unloved, unwanted. Well, often the sound of our cruel laughter can still be heard by a person many, many years later. It can still be as painful. That’s why it is so important to double-check our laughter, especially if we’re not sure how another person feels in being laughed at.
That pain from long ago is why Joseph doesn’t reveal himself to them right on the spot. No, he needs time to process the sudden reality that they were back in his life. After all, he had tried hard to forget them. For at least 7 years now he’d been a free man - no longer a prisoner of injustice (Egypt’s or his brothers’). In fact, all the resources of Egypt were at his disposal to travel back to Canaan for a visit, even if only once.
But no, the fact remains he had not gone back to Egypt. As much as he loved his father, he had not gone back to console his grieving heart. Not for love of father or brothers, even Benjamin, did he ever return to Canaan. Never! He even named his first-born son, “Forget”, that’s what Manasseh means. Because, as he said in v.51 of the previous chapter, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”
Forgetting his trouble AND ALL of his father’s household? Wow, that is deep, deep pain. Can you forget that kind of pain, the pain of rejection by your family? By the people who were supposed to love you the most deeply, the most unconditionally? No, you can’t forget that kind of pain - you live in it every day. You can’t leave your past behind so coldly - it is who you are, what shaped you, what comes to mind in quiet moments. No, there is no forgetting the past. That reality bleeds through this story.
BUT there IS forgiving the people in it. And that is what Joseph faced. He would NEED to forgive in order for them to survive. We all need food for physical survival, as much as forgiveness for spiritual survival. Thank God in this story forgiveness and food begin flowing together. Just like it always has in our lives. We might be long overdue for forgiveness, but still God graciously gives the physical provisions we need.
And that brings us to our third point of this story.
3. HUMBLE TRUST IN GOD ALONE
In the meantime Joseph repeatedly accuses his brothers of spying Egypt out. “We are honest,” they plead, to which Joseph retorts, “No!” They are not honest men, certainly as far he has painfully experienced. Yet precious words of honesty now flow from their lips. Verse 13, “Your servants were twelve brothers, the sons of one man, who lives in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no more.”
And Joseph throws them all in jail for three days to think it through. So they can think it through AND so HE can think it through. He hears the regret in their voice for what they did to him. Between the lines he hears their gnawing hunger for forgiveness. Men don’t ask for food any more easily than they ask for directions. Nor do they volunteer information about things they are guilty of any more than they ask for directions. So their talk about a missing brother reveals a humble honesty. That’s always a good place for us too - humble honesty before God. After all, as the Catechism says, God is “the only source of everything good.” (Lord’s Day 50) We commit our needs for food, shelter, friendship, and forgiveness to him because we can trust Him.
The brothers’ honesty really comes out in verse 21. They confess to each other, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben pipes up, “Didn’t I tell you, you reap what you sow!” Yes, their pride is broken – they’ve had to ask for food. Yes, their shame is disclosed – they think they’re being punished for what they did to Joseph. Not only are they humbly honest with each other, but also wonderfully before Joseph, who can understand every word!
It’s so deeply touching in fact that in verse 24 Joseph turns away weeping. Why? Because he can see they’ve changed. He hears the words he always longed to hear. The saying goes, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The words we use can help or hurt the people around us profoundly. For life. Satan has tried to ruin this family. The brothers meant what they did for evil. But God always has the final say. And God has been working in the hearts of these 10 men. Chipping away at their pride. Convicting them of sin. Challenging all of us to own up to our victims, or offer forgiveness to the villains who hurt us.
Isn’t that the sweet expectation of this story? We all savor the taste of justice Joseph can now give his brothers. Yet what we really want is justice and mercy together. And forgiveness comes easier when people ask for it, which the brothers sure do. Wonderfully they ask the very person they need to, except they don’t even know it! And Joseph sends them home with far more than they came asking for. What an image of our gracious heavenly Father!
Sadly this chapter doesn’t end pretty. Food stocks are falling. The crops will fail again. The brothers stale-mate with their dad over whether Benjamin will go to Egypt. Simeon sits in a foreign jail. Jacob thinks everything’s against him and still treats the remaining sons as second rate. Reuben makes a ridiculous proposition that both of his sons be put to death if Benjamin doesn’t return. Apparently it was his way of saying that he cared, but why add to the suffering if it should come to that!? And so this family limps along, living up to it’s name: Israel, people who wrestle with God in a messed up world.
But thank God for His sovereign, governing providence. They couldn’t see it, and neither can we so often. Yet we have the privilege of hearing this story from God’s point of view. We know the enormous blessings of food and forgiveness right around the corner for them. So why does God give us today the joy of His perspective on their story? In order to deepen our joy and trust in His perspective on our stories. God invites us to trust that “in all things” He truly does work “for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose... to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.” (Romans 8:28-29)
Such deep trust in God’s provision concludes the Catechism’s short explanation of, “give us this day our daily bread.” Namely, that by this petition we ask God to “help us to give up our trust in creatures and to put trust in (Him) alone.”
The United States has an excellent way of reminding people to put our trust in God alone. Every coin is minted with, “In God We Trust.” Every treasury bill lays down the bottom line: “In God We Trust.” That’s the bottom line of the Catechism’s explanation of this prayer too: In God we trust. We’re not to put our trust in money - it’s only the tool. We’re not to put our trust in people, be they Presidents, Prime Ministers, or porters; they’re as prone to sin as we are. No, we put our trust in the ‘Tool-Maker’. We put our trust in the ‘People-Maker’. We put our trust in our Provider God, who alone can “give us this day our daily bread.”
Yet while food and forgiveness come ultimately from God, it all comes from Him through real people. People like Joseph. God graciously includes humans in working out His plans. That’s why the entire Lord’s Prayer is so profoundly plural. It’s not, “My Father in Heaven... Give me this day my daily bread, forgive me my debts as I forgive my debtors...” No, it’s, “Our Father in Heaven... Give us this day our daily bread, forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors…” and so on.
When we pray this prayer we pray it for our whole community, and it is answered in community. This prayer is not for me, myself, and I. It is for WE, OURselves, and why? Because God made us to look out for each other. Mothers and fathers work hard to provide food and shelter. Children do the best they can in school and help out around the house. We work as teams, so we pray as teams.
We also pray, “Give us this day our daily bread...” as whole church families too. And church families extend around the world! What an honor then to be used by God as an answer to each others’ prayers: be it as children, parents, a friend, as a deacon, or as supporters of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee. What a privilege to provide for our families near and far as we in turn trust God for our physical needs.
What a gift to eat healthy meals three times a day - provision from God’s almighty hand. What a blessing to receive not only food from God but His forgiveness in Christ our Lord. What relief to trust that no matter good times or bad, the Lord has proved Himself faithful to answer the humble prayer, “Give us today our daily bread.” What joy to see that answered in Joseph’s family, and to see it from God’s perspective. Indeed, what joy to anticipate God’s providential food and forgiveness for our future together as well!
To God be the glory. Amen.
Order of Worship
GOD GATHERS US FOR WORSHIP
Welcome and Announcements
Call to Worship: Psalm 118:1-4 (could be done as a responsive reading)
Opening Song (optional—if a song is chosen here it should make use of the refrain from Psalm 118—“His love endures forever!”)
God’s Greeting: “May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with us all. Amen.”
Songs of Praise: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” PsH #486, “In You Is Gladness” PsH #566
GOD REMINDS US OF HIS GRACE
Responsive Reading: Confession, Assurance, and God’s Will from Proverbs 20
Confession of Sin
Leader: “The lamp of the Lord searches the spirit of a man; it searches out his inmost being.” (Prov. 20:27)
Congregation: Lord, everything I am is before you.
L: “Many a man claims to have unfailing love, but a faithful man who can find.” (Prov. 20:6)
C: Lord, I have tried but failed to be faithful to others and you.
L: “Food gained by fraud tastes sweet to a man, but he ends up with a mouth full of gravel.” (Prov. 20:17)
C: Lord, forgive my cheating, lying, and coveting. Give us this day our daily bread.
L: “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’?” (Prov. 20:9)
Time of quiet personal prayer...
Assurance of God’s Forgiveness
L: “A king’s wrath is like the roar of a lion; he who angers him forfeits his life.” (Prov. 20:2)
C: Gracious God, thank-you for your justice and mercy.
L: “Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being.” (Prov. 20:30)
C: Thank-you Jesus for taking up our infirmities and carrying our sorrows, for being “pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.” Thank-you that “by (your) wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5) May we learn from the consequences of our sin.
God’s Will for Our Lives
L: “Do not say, ‘I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.” (Prov. 20:22)
C: Lord, help me release grudges and trust your justice.
L: “Gold there is, and rubies in abundance, but lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel.” (Prov. 20:15)
C: Lord, may I be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” for “Ears that hear and eyes that see – the Lord has made them both.” (James 1:19, Prov. 20:12)
L: “The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old.” (Prov. 20:29)
C: Lord, thank-you for your gifts of strength and splendor. May I use them wisely to benefit others and your kingdom. Give us this day our daily bread.
L: “The righteous man leads a blameless life; blessed are his children after him.” (Prov. 20:7)
C: Thank-you Holy Spirit for your guidance and wisdom from Your Word.
GOD SHAPES US THROUGH HIS WORD
Prayer for Illumination
Confessional Reading: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 50 (could be read responsively)
Scripture Reading: Genesis 42
Sermon: “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread”
WE RESPOND TO GOD’S SHAPING
Prayer of Application: “Our Father in heaven, to You be all honor and praise! May Your Kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, even as we forgive those who sin against us. Thank-You for providing for Joseph and his family. Thank-You for providing food and forgiveness to us as well by the gift of your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. By Your Spirit’s work in us, may we provide for physical needs and forgiveness to those in our care as well. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.”
Song of Response: “Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above” PsH#465
GOD SENDS US OUT INTO HIS WORLD
God’s Parting Blessing: “May the Lord bless us and keep us. May He make His face to shine upon us and be gracious to us. May He turn His face towards us and grant us His peace. Amen.”
Our Parting Praise: “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow” PsH #638 <