“Have you ever wondered,” asked my college roommate, “what is the purpose of tears?” She then went on to ponder why it is that, of all of God’s creation, only humans are capable of crying. I didn’t have an answer then; I don’t have an answer now. But it’s something I’ve thought about from time to time. For although tears that lubricate eyes is common to both animals and humans, tears that are the consequence of joy or sadness are not. It’s curious to consider—if a cursory search of the web is to be believed—that “Humans, in fact, are the only animals on the planet to shed tears as a result of their emotional state.”[1] If humans are the only creatures on the entire planet who “shed tears as a result of their emotional state,” then perhaps Scripture is right and this quotation is partially wrong. Perhaps humans aren’t “human animals” but “human beings,” creatures whom God chose to make uniquely in his very image[2] and, therefore, creatures who are uniquely able, of all of God’s creation, to reflect something of his being—including his emotional state.

As we’ve been spending time following the ups-and-downs and ins-and-outs of Joseph’s life, it’s touching to see the strength of the bonds he had formed with his family expressed so vividly by his tears. For although Joseph was only seventeen when his brothers ripped him away from his family and homeland and sold him off to slavery, his heart never completely hardened towards them. Try as he might, he never fully forget them. Even when at the age of around thirty, he named his first son Manasseh—a name that sounds like the Hebrew word for forget—and said, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household,”[3] Joseph didn’t forget all his trouble; he didn’t forget his father’s household. No, Joseph’s tears betrayed the name he gave his son. For, we’ve seen that

when, after over twenty years of being separated from his brothers, he saw them for the first time and heard them discussing that dreadful day when they had sold him off into slavery, “He turned away from them and began to weep…;”[4]

Too, as we saw last week, when he saw his baby brother Benjamin in particular standing before him, he was “[d]eeply moved at the sight of his brother” and consequently “hurried out and looked for a place to weep;”[5]

And, as we’ll see in this week’s passage, Joseph will once again weep when he finally reveals himself to his brothers. He’ll weep so loudly that the Egyptians he had told to leave his presence will nonetheless be able to hear him.[6]

No, Joseph never forgot his trouble nor did he ever forget his father’s household. For again, over twenty years after they had sold him into slavery, the sight of his family had the power to reduce him, the most powerful man in Egypt (Pharaoh excepting) to tears.

In turning to the events that preceded Joseph’s third weeping, you’ll recall from last week that he had had his very own silver cup planted in Benjamin’s sack, thus forcing his brothers to return to him. When, consequently, Judah proposed that as punishment they would all serve as his slaves—and this despite their innocence since they hadn’t in fact taken his cup[7]—Joseph turned down his request saying, “Far be it from me to do such a thing! Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace.”[8] As I suggested last week, I suspect that in Joseph’s mind, this would be the best of all possible outcomes for the brothers who had sold him into slavery—along with Reuben who had stood up for Joseph[9]—would be free to return to their father whereas Benjamin, Joseph’s full brother by their mother Rachel and father Israel (or Jacob), would then be able to stay, never to be separated from him again.

However, this plan wasn’t acceptable to Judah who, in trying to convince his father to allow Benjamin to return with them to Egypt to purchase more grain, had promised him, “I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life.”[10] Judah would now try to make good on his word as he sought to explain to Joseph why it would be impossible for them to return back to their father without Benjamin.[11] Judah began by summarizing earlier conversations that had transpired between them concerning their father and brother. When Joseph had inquired whether they had a father or brother, Judah emphasized their answer saying, verse 20: “We have an aged father, and there is a young son born to him in his old age. His brother is dead, and he is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him.” He reminded him that even when they had said to Joseph, verse 22, “The boy cannot leave his father; if he leaves him, his father will die,” Joseph had nonetheless insisted that they must return with him.[12]

Judah let Joseph know that they had told their father all of these things[13] and that he finally—albeit reluctantly—had agreed to allow his youngest son to return with them despite having lost his one son (that is, Joseph) and the possibility of their bringing his “gray head down to the grave in misery” should his other son be harmed.[14] Judah then concluded, beginning with 30,

30 So now, if the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father, and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy’s life, 31 sees that the boy isn’t there, he will die. Your servants will bring the gray head of our father down to the grave in sorrow. 32 Your servant guaranteed the boy’s safety to my father. I said, “If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!” 33 Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. 34 How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.

And here is where we cue in Joseph’s tears for how could he not weep upon hearing Judah’s recounting of the promise he had made to his father that led to his current proposal? Judah was offering his life for the life of Benjamin—apparently it’s not only Joseph who appears to be a precursor to Christ Jesus. For Judah, who had once been party to selling Joseph off into slavery[15] with little consideration as to how such an act might affect their father,[16] was now offering to take the place of his youngest brother by becoming Joseph’s slave. He sought to spare not only Benjamin a life of slavery but also their father the misery—and possible death—should he once again lose a favored son.

So we’re not too surprised when we read in the opening verses of Genesis 45 alluded to earlier, “1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, ‘Have everyone leave my presence!’ So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.” Once everyone had left, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, saying to them, verse 3, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” Though he had already earlier been told by his brothers that his father—that their father—that the father of all who were present was alive,[17] he sought further reassurance for Joseph’s life had once been as closely bound with that of his father as Benjamin’s life was now.

Neither are we surprised to see his brothers’ response over this revelation. As stated in the second half of verse 3, “But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.” Why the terror? We don’t know. Perhaps they thought that the governor of the land had gone mad, claiming to be the brother they had once sold into slavery. But if that were the case, how could he possibly have known that their brother had been named “Joseph”? And yet…how could this be Joseph? How could this powerful man standing before them be the annoying, righteous, little dreamer whom they had sold into slavery so many years before? Might this be a ghost? What in the world was going on? How were they to make sense of this sudden and frightening turn of events?

Joseph tried to help them out by telling them, verse 4, “Come close to me.” No longer using an interpreter as he had previously done in their presence,[18] he now spoke to them directly. Once they had come close, he went on to repeat, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!” Then he quickly addressed their terror by adding, starting with verse 5,

And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land,[19] and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.

Have I mentioned that Joseph had a providential outlook on his life??![20] That he was well aware of God’s ability to use his limited, broken, and fallen image-bearers to accomplish his purposes? Joseph knew that his life was under God’s protective care. As one who knew and sought to serve God, he understood that the events of his life had meaning and purpose. In this instance his purpose was to preserve for them “a remnant on earth and to save [their] lives by a great deliverance.” Do you see the irony—and the grace, the unmerited favor—being expressed here? For God chose to use the evil that Joseph’s brothers had done him twenty years earlier in giving away his life to now save the lives of those very same brothers. God’s hand was in all of it, from beginning to end. In this we continue to see the mysterious interweaving of fallen, imperfect human wills with a holy and perfect divine one.

Joseph then urged his brothers to hurry back to his father and say to him, starting with verse 9, “This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.” Joseph, who had been forced against his will to leave the care and protection of his family and homeland, wanted his father to know that he would now willingly protect and care for his family by providing a new home where they could once again be together. He wanted his father to know that all would be well for he, Joseph, whom God had made “lord of all Egypt,” had the power to take care of them despite the famine.

Now I imagine that the entire time he was speaking Joseph’s brothers had been watching him with wide-eyed wonder as they listened to all he had to say—I picture them with their mouths hanging slightly open. For his part Joseph again sought to reassure them saying, verse 12, “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you.” He was no ghost. He wasn’t simply the governor over Egypt. He was Joseph, full brother of Benjamin who as his full brother had surely recognized him. And he exhorted them, verse 13, “Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.” Having been reunited with his brothers, he now desperately desired to be reunited with his beloved father as soon as humanly possible. And then it was time for more weeping as “he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping,” verse 14, and, verse 15, “he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.”

As we’ve seen in Joseph’s life—and experienced in our own—tears can be expressions of both positive and negative emotional states. Though Scripture doesn’t tell us of the times when Joseph shed tears of sorrow and pain and longing for his family during those twenty plus years he was a slave, I imagine there were times he did. As we’ve noted, the fact that he burst into tears upon hearing his brothers discuss the day they sold him into slavery suggests as much.[21] Our tears betray us. We may tell others—we may tell ourselves—that we no longer care about someone who has hurt us, but our tears give the lie to the fact that we care very deeply.

But tears can also be expressions of positive emotional states. As we saw last week, Joseph wept when he first saw Benjamin.[22] And as we saw this morning Joseph wept again when Judah offered to take Benjamin’s place in order that he might be spared a life of slavery and his father be spared losing a second son. And he wept a fourth time after reassuring his brothers that they needn’t fear since everything that had occurred, had occurred according to God’s plan.

Thus closed a former chapter in the life of Joseph, a chapter of suffering and isolation and alienation from his family; and thus began a new chapter in Joseph’s life, a chapter of restoration and reconciliation and reunion with his family. The tears of pain he had no doubt shed during the twenty plus years of the former chapter had now been transformed into tears of joy as a new chapter had begun.

Well, in a more definitive and culminating manner, our passage from Revelation 21 similarly speaks of old and new chapters. The old chapter that will draw to a close when our Lord Jesus returns as Judge and King is our current one in which God’s good creation has been marred by humanity’s Fall and the entrance of sin and evil; the new chapter, as stated in verse one of Revelation 21, is that of “a new heaven and a new earth”—John is referring to Isaiah 65—when, according to Isaiah, “the former things will not be remembered;”[23]

To continue with the metaphor of chapters, the old chapter is that of fallen life as we currently know it, an earthly city once beautiful, now sullied and marked by sorrow and suffering; the new chapter is, verse 2, “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband,” no longer sullied but transformed into an exquisite beauty;

The old chapter is exemplified by a walk of faith in God, a confidence in what is hoped for, an assurance in things unseen,[24] a belief made possible by the Holy Spirit given to all who believe that Christ Jesus yet rules at the right hand of God the Father; the new chapter, as stated in verse 3, is exemplified not by faith but by hearing and sight, as we hear “a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’”

The old chapter is marked by tears of sadness and death; but in the new chapter God who is life and the Giver of life, verse 4, “‘will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’”—(quoting from another portion of Isaiah)[25]—“or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Can we really picture such a life? One in which our kind and great and good and gracious Father, Son, and Holy Spirit removes everything that now harms us—Satan who hates and ever attacks God’s good creation; our propensity to sin, that is, to disbelieve and turn away from the truth God has disclosed to us in his Son and his Word—and replaces these with all that is good; and replaces these with himself;

Can we picture a life when our faith-walk becomes a sight-walk? When we stand before our dear Lord, no longer seeing in a mirror dimly but face to face; no longer knowing in part but knowing fully even as we are fully known by him?[26] Can we picture a time when he is in and with and among us, dwelling with us, never again to leave us?

Can we picture a life when our kind Jesus, having died in our place and risen from death, comes to meet us and wipe every tear of sorrow from our eyes? When the death he once conquered by his resurrection is itself put to death once and for all? When Satan is destroyed? When all mourning, all crying, all pain become a thing of the past?

These verses from Revelation remind us that one day all the tears of those who believe in Christ, tears that are the result of emotions of sadness—and suffering—and sin—will cease. As Jesus told his disciples, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”[27] The sorrow of those who believe in Christ will one day be turned into joy. The weeping of those who believe in Christ will one day turn into laughter. Scripture is clear on this. And it is also clear that the tears of those who don’t believe in Christ will become greater. For those who don’t believe in him but choose instead to follow in the ways of Satan there will be—to again use Jesus’ own words—“weeping and gnashing of teeth.”[28] The choice is ours. Christ came not to condemn but to save. But to turn down the salvation he so freely offers in himself is to choose condemnation instead; is to choose bad news over the Good News of Christ’s Gospel; is to choose weeping and gnashing of teeth over allowing our dear Jesus to wipe away every tear from our eyes.

Dear brothers and sisters, my fellow image-bearers equally made in the image of our gracious and kind God, let us this day and every day live the new chapter lives for which we are destined;

Let us remember that tears of sadness that are part and parcel of this chapter in life will one day be transformed into tears of joy that are part and parcel of our eternal life in heaven;

Let us hold fast in the faith walk that marks this current chapter knowing that one day we’ll have a sight walk—and a hearing walk—in the presence of our Lord;

Or, to use the wonderful exhortation from the book of Hebrews,

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.[29]

Let us pray.

Philippians 4:4–7:Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 

 

 

 

[1] https://www.rover.com/blog/do-dogs-cry/.

[2] As Genesis 1 states, animals were made according to their kinds (vv. 21, 24–25), but humans were made according to his image and likeness (vv. 26–27): 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good…. 24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good…. 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

[3] Genesis 41:51.

[4] Genesis 42:24a.

[5] Genesis 43:30.

[6] Genesis 45:1–2: 1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

[7] Genesis 44:16: “What can we say to my lord?” Judah replied. “What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants’ guilt. We are now my lord’s slaves—we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup.”

[8] Genesis 44:17.

[9] Genesis 37:21–22: 21 When Reuben[9] heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.; Genesis 42:22: Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.”

[10] Genesis 43:9.

[11] Genesis 44:18: Then Judah went up to him and said: “Pardon your servant, my lord, let me speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself.

[12] Genesis 44:23: But you told your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.’

[13] Genesis 44:24: When we went back to your servant my father, we told him what my lord had said.

[14] Genesis 44:25–29: 25 “Then our father said, ‘Go back and buy a little more food.’ 26 But we said, ‘We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother is with us will we go. We cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27 “Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. 28 One of them went away from me, and I said, “He has surely been torn to pieces.” And I have not seen him since. 29 If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.’

[15] See Genesis 37:26–27: 26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

[16] Their father Jacob refused to be comforted at the time. See Genesis 37:34–35: 34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him.

[17] Genesis 44:27–28: 27 He asked them how they were, and then he said, “How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?” 28 They replied, “Your servant our father is still alive and well.” And they bowed down, prostrating themselves before him.

[18] Genesis 42:23: They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.

[19] Joseph was now thirty-nine years old. See Genesis 41:46, 53–54a: 46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout Egypt…. 53 The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said.

[20] See sermon preached on April 11, 2020, on Genesis 42:24–43:14, A Providential Outlook on Life.

[21] Genesis 42:21–24a: 21 They said to one another, “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 on us.” 22 Reuben replied, “Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.” 23 They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter. 24 He turned away from them and began to weep,…

[22] Genesis 44:29–30: 29 As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother’s son, he asked, “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” And he said, “God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.

[23] Isaiah 65:17: See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.

[24] Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

[25] Isaiah 25:8: he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.

[26] 1 Corinthians 13:12: For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

[27] Luke 6:21.

[28] See, for example, the parable of the sower whose end states, Matthew 13:37–43, 47–50: 37 [Jesus] answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear…. 47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 

[29] Hebrews 12:1–3.