Series: Lessons from the Old Testament. Joseph (2). By Rosie Moore.
When the risen Lord Jesus walked beside his disciples on the road to Emmaus, they were full of heartache and confusion, still reeling from the horror of crucifixion. Wasn’t Jesus of Nazareth the one who was going to rescue Israel? Surely God would not have allowed the Saviour to suffer such humiliation? Cleopas and his companions didn’t understand that Christ’s suffering was his road to glory. But Jesus slowly opened their eyes:
“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:25-26).
I can only imagine what Jesus said when he came to the story of Joseph, the beloved son who left his home in the promised land to become a slave in Egypt. Maybe Christ’s conversation went along these lines:
“Remember how Joseph was his father’s favoured son? So was I. And remember how Joseph was handed over by his brothers who conspired to kill him? That’s what happened to me too.”
“Think of how Joseph left his home of privilege to become a Hebrew slave in a foreign land. That’s what I did when I left my home in heaven and came to earth as a helpless baby. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
“Remember how Joseph was promoted to the right hand of Pharoah, and how his brothers came and bowed before him? An even greater glory lies ahead for me when I ascend to my Father’s right hand and reign from heaven until I return. On that day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that I am Lord, to the glory of my Father.”
Suffering first, glory later.
Joseph’s story prefigured Christ’s journey. It was a road paved with grief before glory, rejection before recognition, humiliation before exultation. As Paul wrote to the Philippian believers,
“Though [Christ] was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father “(Phil 2:5-11).
But sometimes Christians expect and demand from God a safe, comfortable life, complete with health, job, money, love, respect and some fulfilment thrown into the mix! Let’s face it, our natural instincts prefer an easy road without suffering or self-sacrifice, without discipline or perseverance, so it’s understandable that ‘name it, claim it’ theology is so popular. But it’s difficult to reconcile this theology with the reality of Joseph’s and Jesus’s road of suffering.
I love the story of Joseph because it gives flesh and bones to one of the most foundational principles of historic Christianity–that God is both good and powerful at the same time. Although we don’t understand it fully, we know that “God’s providence is His constant care for, and His absolute rule over all His creation for His own glory and the good of His people.” Nothing, not even the most wicked schemes of man or the smallest virus escapes God’s loving care and control. And as we trace the sovereignty of God throughout the Bible, we see that He is Lord over all of human history – both good and bad (Lamentations 3:38)
God’s perfectly wise and loving providence unfolded through the most horrific chain of events in Joseph’s young life. And Joseph’s story anticipates Christ’s suffering and glory, which was promised as far back as the garden of Eden (Gen 3:15). God’s redemption is accomplished, not through the strength of a mighty king, but through the Son of suffering.
God’s sovereignty in Joseph’s life mirrors what we see in the trajectory of Jesus, down to the finest detail. Both were suffering servants whom God exalted to the highest heights. Observe the texts yourself to see the outline of Jesus in the story of Joseph. The synergy between these sons of suffering cannot be mere co-incidence:
Sons of suffering.
- Joseph was dearly loved by his father Jacob, as was Jesus by his Father in heaven (Gen 37:3; Matt 3:17).
- Through dreams, God promised both sons divine exaltation (Gen 37:6-9; Matt 1:20-23).
- Both sons were mocked and rejected by their brothers, and hated for their words (Gen 37:4, 8; John 1:11; 5:18; 7:5). “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him”.
- Their brothers were jealous of them (Gen 37:11; Matt 27:18). “It was out of self- interest that they handed Jesus over to [Pilate].”
- Both Joseph and Jesus were sold for pieces of silver (Gen 37:28; Matt 26:15).
- Both Joseph and Jesus were stripped of their robes (Gen 37:23; Matt 27:28).
- Wicked men conspired against Joseph and Jesus to kill them (Gen 37:18; Matt 12:15).
- Both were delivered up to Gentiles (Gen 37:28; Luke 18:32).
- Joseph and Jesus were falsely and maliciously accused (Gen 39:14-18; Matt 26:59-60). “The Chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death.”
- Both were faithful when tempted (Gen 39:7-12; Luke 4:1-13).
- Both were humiliated and abused. Joseph’s “feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron” (Ps 105:18). Jesus was flogged by Pilate, then “the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe” (John 19:1-2). Nails were driven through Jesus’s hands (John 20:25) and they divided up his clothes (Mark 15:24). A Roman soldier pierced his side (Matt 27:27-35) and the people of Israel shouted “Crucify him! Crucify him!” as he stood on trial before Pilate (Luke 23:21).
- Both were unfairly arrested and imprisoned without a fair trial (Gen 39:20, Matt 26:47-56).
- Both were betrayed and abandoned by those they tried to help (Gen 40:23; Matt 26:21, 34).
- Both were exalted and acknowledged by rulers (Gen 41:39, 40; Phil 2:9). “Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”(1 Peter 3:22).
- Both Joseph and Jesus saved rebellious brothers when they bowed to his Lordship and acknowledged who he was (Gen 45:5-7). To the thief on the cross, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:34)
- Both Joseph and Jesus humbly submitted to God’s purpose and sovereignty, even in the midst of intense pain and suffering (Gen 45:8; Gen 50:20; Isa 53:4; Acts 4:27-28). Joseph said, “It was not you who sent me here, but God.” Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will”.
- God used both Joseph and Jesus as instruments in the hands of wicked men, to bless his people (Gen 50:20; Act 2:22-23). “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross”.
- Pharoah first sent all the Egyptians to Joseph to buy food. Then “all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain.” (Gen 41:55,57; John 6:35). Crowds came to Jesus to be fed bread and to hear his teachings, both Jews and Gentiles alike.
But there are three important distinctions between Joseph and Jesus of Nazareth, reminding us that no human hero can do what Christ has done.
Human hero, divine Saviour.
Firstly, Joseph was a mortal human like us. He died and his bones were buried in Canaan. But Jesus’s bones are not rotting in a tomb in Israel. The tomb is empty! Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the grave on the third day after his death and is seated at the right hand of God the Father. There is no hero of history who is the image of the invisible God, has risen from the dead, and is ruling the universe (Col 1:15-17). Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee that the grave will not hold us either (1 Cor 15:20). His resurrection is our sure hope of future glory.
Secondly, although Joseph was a human hero who saved thousands of people from starvation, he was not the sinless Saviour of the world. Only Jesus, the perfect God-man, could suffer the punishment for human sin and bring us back into God’s favour (Gal 3:13-14). Jesus’ sacrificial atonement saves all who trust in him. And ultimately, Christ’s death will redeem every part of the fallen creation. As upright as Joseph was, he could never defeat death, provide atonement, or set us free from the sins that enslave us.
Thirdly, unlike Joseph–an unwilling victim forced into slavery, Jesus died willingly in our place. He was no ordinary martyr. Christ died to deliver us from the power and penalty of sin, and bring us back home to the Father. Christ is the only innocent victim that ever lived and the only escape from the punishment of sin. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among me by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Joseph was just a shadow of the divine Saviour of the world, God’s beloved Son. Only Christ can bring us from death to life.
From death to life.
Out of the most agonising event in human history–the crucifixion of God’s beloved Son– God accomplished the most glorious event in human history—the redemption of His people. He did not allow death to have the final say, “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2:24).
From famine to fullness.
An 1800 year-old gospel thread stitches the story of Joseph to the story of Christ’s. Just as all the earth came to Joseph to buy bread, “from [Christ’s] fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16). Christ’s suffering and resurrection were part of God’s perfect plan to redeem all who would believe in him, not just from the nation of Israel, but from every nation on earth, and from every generation too. In Joseph we have a beautiful picture of Christ’s ministry to the whole world– The Jewish Messiah is also the Saviour of all who will believe (Matt 28:19; Acts 10:34-36; Rev 5:9).
In Christ, we have the Bread of life to save us from the famine of sin, death and despair: “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Only the Bread of heaven can bring us from famine to fullness. Only Christ can satisfy our deepest needs (John 6:32-33).
From heartache to hope.
What gave Joseph patient hope to endure all those years of heartache as a slave and prisoner in Egypt? Joseph’s hope was the dream that God gave him of future glory, and the confidence that it would be fulfilled. Joseph lived for the reality of home, even telling the nation to take his bones with them when they left Egypt. Joseph did not want to be buried in exile, but to dwell forever with God and his people in the land of Canaan. His hope was tethered to his promised home.
Eighteen hundred years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Joseph trusted the plan of God, which included a resurrection of the dead and an abundant home flowing with milk and honey. Only the new heavens and new earth can fulfil the hope of glory that Joseph trusted in from a distance (Matt 5:5; Rev 21:1-4). Christ too, had this blessed assurance. The certainty of future glory enabled Jesus to suffer patiently and purposefully in the present: “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:1).
For us too, living in a world ravaged by every kind of sin, injustice, disease and disaster under the sun, our hope is fuelled by a heavenly perspective. We are living in the ‘now but not yet’ era of history. We need eyes to see that our heartache is always hopeful in the plan of God. Even in death, the righteous have a refuge (Prov 14:32).
Because of Christ, we can be patient and even rejoice in our suffering, knowing that it produces endurance, character and hope (Rom 5:3-4). We can be sure that “though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. And this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:16-18).
Lord, save us from our preoccupation with transient things. Help us to be willing to identify with you and share in your sufferings, so that we can also be glorified with you (Rom 8:17). Give us eyes to imagine the pure joy of living in new bodies, without sorrow or pain, guilt or shame– with Jesus and Joseph, and with all the saints in glory. Let the weight of this glory dwarf our momentary afflictions. And we praise you that our hope is more than wishful thinking. Our hope is leashed to our heavenly home, which you are preparing for us right now (John 14:2). Amen.
Listen to this beautiful song of Matt Redman, Son of Suffering.