“But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Gen. 50: 20).
If it is indeed true that Christianity is compatible with a life of worldly ease and pleasure, we have not found it so. Neither personally have we experienced any such Christianity in our own lives, nor do we find evidences of it in the Scriptures. This morning I’d like to talk about Joseph and the Cross. It is generally acknowledged that Joseph was a type of Christ. And studying the above verse brings to mind the story of Joseph and his sufferings: how he was envied and hated by his brethren (Gen. 37: 4, 11) and sold into Egypt; how he found grace in Potiphar’s sight (Gen. 39: 3-4), yet was cast into prison due to the wiles of a wicked woman (Gen. 39: 19-20); and how at last, after much languishing, he was taken from prison and exalted over all the land of Egypt (Gen. 41: 37-45). The purpose of this exaltation was to preserve the people of Israel from famine in Canaan, and to bring them into the land of Egypt– which journey had hitherto been foretold to Abraham (Gen. 15: 13-14).
Like Abraham, Joseph was sprinkled by the blood of Christ, and so he endured sufferings. As the patriarch had no settled abode, but was ever forced to remove to and fro as a pilgrim on earth (Heb. 11: 8-10), so Joseph was removed from the land of his birth and sold by the Ishmaelites into the land of Egypt. This informs us of the persecution that awaits God’s people from the children of the world. While the world is our abode, yet the same world casteth us out: and we should not have it otherwise. For we are not of the world, even as Christ was not of the world (John 17: 14). To avoid persecution, therefore, is impossible, for it is part of our sanctification, and wrapped up in the secret counsels of the Almighty. As Christ bare His cross, so must we. As we make our pilgrimage from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, we, like Joseph, have the inner illumination of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the anointing, which comforts us in our tribulations, that we may have joy even in the midst of affliction (2 Cor. 1: 7).
Joseph was seventeen when sold into Egypt (Gen. 37: 2). Yet he wasn’t exalted until thirty years of age (Gen. 41: 46). Thus, for twelve long years he had to bear his cross ere he received the exaltation of God. The sufferings he endured in the prison may be learnt from Psalm 105: 18-19: “Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron: until the time that His word came: the word of the Lord tried him“. We find, therefore, that his experiences were necessary to his sanctification. And being of one heavenly family, we partake of the same. We can imagine what Joseph went through, and what hardships he suffered. Yet we think that, notwithstanding his tribulations, he had peace in the Cross. And so it is with all of God’s children. Take the example of Christ Himself: “Who, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12: 2). And so, if thou wouldest be partaker of the glory, be thou partaker of the afflictions. For God appointeth all His people thereunto.
Now, Joseph was hated by his brethren, for the grace that God gave him. I recall reading of the afflictions endured by a well-known preacher, as he labored to spread the gospel among an ungrateful and evil-hearted people. The Christianity of the world will always be at direct odds with that ordained by Jesus Christ. Joseph found that his faith involved a great deal of testing. He didn’t simply make a profession unto the God of his fathers, and go his happy way. Rather, he found that his profession was tested time and again. It was put through the furnace, that it might be found unto praise (1 Peter 1: 7). When we read the stories of the holy prophets of old, we can’t help noticing a similarity among them all. Whether we choose to look at Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, or Amos, we see a great deal of contradiction from the enemies of the Cross. Most of these contenders were professed followers of Israel. Yet they opposed the true prophets. Why? The answer must lie in that old conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.
Jesus Christ tells us: “The servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also” (John 15: 20). If thou hast learnt of hardship, then mayhap thou hast also entered into fellowship with thy brother Joseph. When the Israelites came into Egypt, there was a grievous famine throughout all the land of Canaan. The patriarchs certainly never had it easy. Yet, in leaving the land of their nativity, they found succor in Egypt– of all places! That that which fitly represents the world should have been the scene of their deliverance is passing strange. God, however, works in ways that are inscrutable to us, and is abundantly able to bring deliverance out of the midst of the devourer. “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness” (Judges 14: 14). Egypt and its riches were instruments God used for the preservation of His elect. Though thou be tossed and buffeted upon the angry seas, know that it is for thy preservation and salvation (Acts 27: 22-25). What though thy ship be damaged, and its goods cast into the deep, thou wilt see land once more, and praise God in the holy congregation.
While in prison, though persecuted by the very one who should have protected him from slander, Joseph found exaltation, in being placed over the prison (Gen. 39: 21-23). And we find that all things prospered under his hand. Let us follow in his steps. If we be stricken and afflicted for a season, yet if we continue in the will of God, we, too, shall find that our affairs prosper after a godly sort. And we should not desire it otherwise. Let the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing: we have peace in the blood of the Cross, and joy in the midst of adversity. Should such adversity call us to lay down our lives in the service of our Lord and Savior, then rest assured that it shall be the saving of our souls: and this is the greatest blessing we can ask for. As our brother Peter saith: “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps” (1 Peter 2: 21). The apostolic blessings and gifts have been given unto us, the disciples of Jesus Christ, so let us minister comfort and encourage one another.
When considering exaltation, the key phrase to remember is “in due season.” We are not to hanker after worldly benefits, but for those heavenly graces of the Holy Spirit. As Solomon chose wisdom over all the riches of the world, so we must chose the blessings of the Holy Spirit. Like Solomon, we must know how to chose that which is right and just. For Paul writes to the saints: “Know ye not, that the saints shall judge the world?” (1 Cor. 6: 2). If we, then, shall judge the world, we must have an immutable foundation of law and equity in our hearts. And only the anointing of the Holy Spirit will give us this discernment between the clean and unclean, the true and the false. When Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, he was given second place over the Kingdom of Egypt. This benefit typifies for the Christian the dominion which Christ’s people have in the resurrection age. Nay, even in this life, we have certain indubitable privileges. But we are not to long for earthly comforts, but heavenly. As Joseph languished for many long years, (yet we are assured that he had the comforts of the Holy Ghost), so we make pilgrimage oftentimes through dry and thirsty lands, and in much hardship, but with the blessings of the manna which God provides. Such look forward to our entrance into the Heavenly Canaan.
Joseph’s exaltation was manifested in his great authority. He suffered for a season, but was glorified in due time. We think, therefore, that this promotion was a type of that exaltation that comes when Christians enter the heavenly kingdom in the resurrection age. Jesus Christ often contrasts two lives: the life of the body with the life of the soul. They who persevere in their faith in this world shall receive abundance in the world to come. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I shall give thee a crown of life” (Rev. 2: 10) is the key principle of heavenly exaltation. They who endure the weight of the Cross in this life shall, in that life to come, be clothed with an eternal glory which shall not fade away. Of course, we cannot deny that temporal boons are often granted by our Heavenly Father. However, it is surely a mistake to place any confidence in these, for such are temporal, and have no lasting substance. The heavenly blessings, on the other hand, cannot be affected by the tides of time and fortune. And it is for them that we must strive.
While the Cross of Christ presseth upon our shoulders, and the world smiteth us in its derision, we know that, in adhering to our faith, we are laying up a treasure which neither moth nor rust shall corrupt. This treasure shall protect us against that time of want– when the secrets of the hearts are made manifest (1 Cor. 4: 5). Then will no earthly privilege come to our succor. Though we be high and exalted in the esteem of men, only we who have garnered the heavenly treasure will stand in the congregation of the saints. All others will be rejected. “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath” (Matt. 13: 12). Knowing these things, brethren, let us therefore do as Joseph did, and gather our heavenly grain as the sand of the sea (Gen. 41: 48-49), laying it up in those eternal storehouses wherefrom we may draw against the Day of Judgment. For where our treasure is, there are our hearts as well (Matt. 6: 21). Moreover, the Cross is the greatest token we have of being in favor with the antitypical Joseph.