The text of the sermon preached this morning at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church is below. The sermon audio is available at this link here. You may also find my commentary on Genesis 37-50 helpful, which is available here. Nevertheless, there are new observations in this sermon and even a note about something I saw when talking with one of our visitors after church. Next Sunday we will explore Acts 1:1-11, although all of Acts 1 is helpful to read ahead of time. We will finish the series on Pentecost with Acts 2. The intervening Sunday is Mother’s Day, on which we will look at other passages with the theme, “Who is my mother?”
After Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples went through something like an intensive seminary course on the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus told the two disciples headed down the road of doubt and disillusionment that it was necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:26-27). Indeed, He taught the eleven, plus those two disciples, and the rest of the disciples gathered with them that everything written about Him in the Torah of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled. Then Jesus opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and instead of citing a proof-text Jesus said that the sum of the teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures is that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:44-47). As we will see next Sunday, Acts 1 suggests that this intensive course of study would continue within 40 days before Jesus ascended into heaven. Now many Christians probably think that Jesus took the disciples through the common proof-texts about the Lord Jesus Christ like a passage from Isaiah that speaks of a virgin birth or another passage describing the suffering servant. A proof-text is a verse that you can point to and say it proves what you are teaching. In this case, a proof-text would be any verse that is clearly about Christ Jesus. I’m sure they did have a class about Isaiah. But the problem with proof-texting what Jesus says the Hebrew Scriptures teach, is that you can’t find a verse in the Old Testament, for example, that says that the Christ would rise from the dead on the third day. Jesus wasn’t teaching the disciples to proof-text His death and resurrection and the proclamation of the gospel of forgiveness. Instead, He was teaching them how the basic pattern or plot of these stories point us forward to Him. He was teaching them the deep structures of the Gospel. Thus while there is no proof-text that says the Christ would rise from the dead on the third day there are plenty of passages where a type of the resurrection took place on the third day. Indeed, a common theme in the stories of God’s anointed one—which in Greek is the word Christ—is that the anointed one suffered before entering his glory. Jesus taught the disciples to understand these deep structures in the Scriptures so that they would understand that it was absolutely necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed to all nations beginning from Jerusalem. Let’s take the story of Joseph in more depth as an example. We aren’t going to see everything from Genesis 37 to 50 that is about the Lord Jesus Christ, but what we will see is some of the deep structure of these stories so that you will see how it points to the Lord Jesus Christ more clearly now than maybe you’ve ever seen before. I invite you to turn in your Bibles or grab a pew Bible and turn to Genesis 37. We won’t be reading but a few verses here and there because of the length of this story.
- First, let’s look at how the deep structures of the story of Joseph teach us that the Christ must suffer these things.
- In Genesis 37 we hear Joseph telling his brothers two dreams that revealed how they were all going to bow down to him but this led his brothers to plot his death. Joseph went out looking for his brothers who were pasturing their flocks, and Genesis 37:18 says, “They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him.” Two verses later, “Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits.” It is a story of death and burial. They were jealous of their brother who would rule over them, so they plotted his death. The eldest brother Reuben actually rescued Joseph from the rest of the murderous bunch by insisting that they throw Joseph into a pit in the wilderness but that they not take his life. Reuben was planning to rescue Joseph from the pit and take him back home. But when he returned, the rest of the brothers had decided to sell Joseph off into slavery at the suggestion of Judah—the Greek form of the name being Judas—and they sold him to the slavers for twenty shekels of silver. Those slavers took Joseph to Egypt and meanwhile Reuben sacrificed a scapegoat and dipped Joseph’s robe of many colors in the blood so that their father would think that he had been devoured by a wild animal. Already as we unpack the story of Joseph I hope you are picking up on the deep structure that the brother who will reign over them had to suffer these things—even undergo a type of death. Skip a chapter to Genesis 39 and we read how even in his humiliation as a slave in Egypt Joseph was successful. We have the wisdom description of Genesis 39:3, “His master saw that YHWH was with him and that YHWH caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.” So even in his humiliation, Joseph was exalted over the house of his master. Then in Genesis 39:7 we read that the master’s wife wanted Joseph to sin with her—I think most of you know to what I am euphemistically referring—but Joseph refused to wrong his master and to sin against God. Nevertheless, she accused him of doing it anyway. The important point for the deep structure of the story is that Joseph was arrested and thrown into prison even though he was innocent of the crime. And even in the humiliation of prison, Joseph was exalted over the prisoners because YHWH was with him. Then in Genesis 40, Joseph interprets the dreams of two of those prisoners. He tells the one that in three days Pharaoh would lift up his head and restore him to his office of the royal cupbearer. He tells the other one that in three days Pharaoh would lift up his head from him and hang him on a tree. And on the third day, there was a feast and it happened exactly as Joseph said. But the chief cupbearer forgot Joseph so Joseph continued to languish in prison. Then when Pharaoh himself had a dream that needed interpreting the cupbearer remembered (something I’ve said before is a resurrection word) Joseph and we read in Genesis 41:14, “Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit.” It is no accident that the prison is called a pit. Joseph had experienced types of death and burial and now resurrected from the pit Joseph would enter his glory.
- I couldn’t help but point out some of the obvious and most fundamental deep structures of this passage that show us that it was necessary for Jesus Christ to suffer these things—but let me point out a few more amazing similarities. Did you notice that Joseph experienced these things two times – once by the Hebrew people and then again by the Gentiles? It was his own brothers who plotted his death and then put him into the pit and sold him off to Gentile slavers. They were jealous of their brother who would rule over them, so they plotted His death. And again, he would be tried and wrongly convicted by the Gentiles. Likewise, the chief priests and rulers of Israel plotted to kill Jesus Christ (on account of their jealousy of Him ruling over them) and then they arrested him and handed him over to the Gentiles. And again, Jesus Christ would be tried and wrongly convicted by the Gentiles. As I mentioned earlier, it was important in the story that Joseph was innocent. It was important because Jesus was innocent. Consider also how in both stories there is a Judah or Judas who betrays the Christ for pieces of silver – twenty shekels of silver for Joseph and thirty pieces of silver for Jesus. We could also find passages that say that the Lord was with Jesus, filled him with wisdom, and gave him favor (i.e., Luke 2:40) just as we read that even in his humiliation the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success. I hope that you are getting the idea. It isn’t important that all of the details match up exactly. We are looking at the deep structures of these stories and seeing how it was necessary for Jesus Christ to suffer these things and then enter His glory. (We concluded the story of Joseph’s humiliation with a glimpse of resurrection – the cupbearer remembered Joseph and Pharaoh quickly brought Joseph out of the pit. But the glory of Joseph didn’t end there, which brings us to the next point…)
- Second, let’s look at how the deep structures of the story of Joseph teach us that after suffering these things the Christ must enter His glory.
- Joseph not only got out of prison—a type of the resurrection itself—but Joseph would even rise to become the most powerful man in all of Egypt with only Pharaoh’s throne making Pharaoh greater than Joseph (Genesis 41:40). It was the same pattern as we saw when Joseph was a slave in Egypt. He rose to become the most powerful man in the household and the only thing that his master had withheld from him was the master’s wife. It was also the same pattern as we saw when Joseph was in jail for he rose to become the most powerful man in the jail. Now again Joseph rose to become the most powerful man in all of Egypt. But not only did Joseph become the most powerful man in all of Egypt, he even would see his brothers bow down to him when they came to Egypt looking for bread during a terrible famine. Moreover, we read in Genesis 47 that when the people of Egypt ran out of money to buy food they then gave Joseph all of their livestock and then when they ran out of livestock they sold themselves and their land for food. It didn’t belong to Joseph – it belonged to Pharaoh – but Joseph was in charge of it all. Only the Egyptian priests were exempt because they depended on Pharaoh for a fixed salary. Thus his earlier enslavement is now answered by his enslaving all of the people of Egypt. Nevertheless, I mention these things because it shows you the extent to which Joseph was exalted. After all, it was necessary that he suffer these things and then enter his glory – and there is a relationship between the depths of his sufferings and then the heights of his glory. (We could explore how there were two prisoners mentioned in the story and there were two prisoners crucified next to Jesus, that the one after three days would be killed and the other after three days would be delivered from death just as one of the prisoners crucified with Jesus would see Him in Paradise and the other would not and Jesus would rise on the third day, how Joseph said, “remember me” and the other prisoner crucified with Jesus said, “remember me.” [Speaking with someone after church I realized too that we might note that it was the baker who died (a baker of bread) and the cupbearer who lived – an image of the Lord’s Supper.])
- But again it is not as if the details of the story are somehow all going to find some kind of parallel in the story of Jesus Christ – it is the deep structure of the story that does. Jesus suffered unto death, even death on a cross, and then He rose from the dead and forty days later He would ascend into heaven. Jesus Christ is Lord. The Lord is risen! All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. And all peoples—Jews and Gentiles—will bow to Him either now willingly or later forcibly. We might say that Joseph sat at the right hand of Pharaoh and Jesus at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. In any case, the point I’m making is that the extent of Jesus’ humiliation was greater than it was for Joseph. After all, Jesus actually died—not just figuratively died—before entering His glory. But not only did Jesus actually die—He was crucified. Thus the extent of Jesus’ exaltation was also greater than it was for Joseph. Nevertheless, the deep structure of both stories was that it was necessary to suffer these things and then enter into their glory. (You may have expected me to end on that high note, but there is a third deep structure that I want to highlight in the story of Joseph.)
- Third, the deep structures of the story of Joseph teach us that repentance and forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed in the name of Jesus to all nations beginning from Jerusalem.
- Interwoven in this story about Joseph is the theme of repentance and forgiveness of sins. Before we come to the heart of the matter, let me note that the first chapter that we skipped over today was Genesis 38 – the story of Judah and Tamar. I don’t want to get distracted by the details of the story because then you might miss the deep structure point that I am trying to note here. But in any case, Judah slept with someone who he assumed was a prostitute and we see the first hints of his repentance when he admitted that she was more righteous than he was. Judah openly confessed that he was a sinner. But we haven’t reached the climax of this deep structure yet. One thing I should probably note about the story of Joseph is that it is a chiasm—the beginning and ending answer each other, the second thing that happens in the story is answered by the second to last thing in the story and so forth until you reach the center of the passage. The center is Genesis 44-45. And it is in those chapters that we see a fully changed Judah. Whereas back in Genesis 37 Judah sold his half brother Joseph off into slavery for twenty shekels of silver, in Genesis 44 Judah would put himself into harm’s way for Benjamin. While I won’t get into all of the details of the story it is important to know that the eleven brothers did not recognize Joseph and Joseph devised a test where he planted something on his only full brother—the youngest of the twelve brothers—Benjamin. But the test revealed that Judah was a changed man. Judah willingly stepped up and offered himself in Benjamin’s place. In the second half of this climax of the story the eleven brothers recognized Joseph and Joseph forgave their sins. He said, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen 45:5). And later in the chapter we see Joseph kissed all of his brothers and wept upon them and after that his brothers talked with him. It is a story of repentance, reconciliation, and restoration. Then in the conclusion of the whole story in Genesis 50, we read, “When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.’ So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, ‘Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, ‘Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Gen 50:15-21). In any case, the deep structure of this story is one where people of all nations were saved from starvation and forgiveness of sins began with the brothers of Israel. (Perhaps the most shocking thing about the story of Joseph is that it begins with the brothers sinning against Joseph and it ends with their complete forgiveness and the climax—the center—of the passage is not a type of Joseph’s resurrection like the way that God remembered Noah was at the climax and center of the flood story—but instead the climax and center of the story of Joseph is two scenes showing repentance and forgiveness of sins.)
- It isn’t as if you will find a proof-text that says that when the Christ enters his glory then repentance and forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem, but we do find that the deep structure of the story of Joseph points us to how the proclamation of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the Lord Jesus Christ’s name would be made to all nations beginning from Jerusalem. We aren’t trying to make all of the details fit even though it is interesting that Jerusalem is a border city between the tribe of Benjamin and the tribe of Judah. The city is technically a part of the tribe of Benjamin but we know it became heavily identified with King David of the tribe of Judah when he made Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Yet the point is that the deep structures of the stories are the same. Both are stories of salvation for all nations and in both repentance and forgiveness of sins are proclaimed first to the brothers of Israel. Of course, we haven’t exhausted this topic in the story of Joseph – but I think that we now can see it clearly enough that you can see even more as you continue to study this story and others. Don’t be discouraged that you may not have noticed all these things before. I don’t remember noticing some of these things before myself until studying these chapters for this sermon and many of the rest of the things I didn’t see until others pointed them out to me. But such is the study of Scripture. The apostles had read these stories hundreds of times and yet until Jesus opened their minds to understand these stories the apostles had never before seen the deep structures of the stories that reveal that it was necessary that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations beginning from Jerusalem. This is the message that you can share with the world. After all, it is in this third point that we Gentiles far from Jerusalem enter the story of salvation. Thanks be to God. Amen.