In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
On the surface there doesn’t seem to be much of a connection between tonight’s Readings. There are similarities between Joseph and Jesus. Joseph, like other Old Testament saints such as Abel and Isaac, is a type of Christ, that is, someone who, in their life and conduct, teaches us something about who Christ will be and what He will do. With that in mind the connection between the Readings tonight becomes clear. We learn from Joseph and his life what Christ will do for His people, and we learn from Joseph’s brothers and from the disciples how we are incorporated into these accounts and what this means for us in the present and eternally.
So we begin by examining Joseph’s brothers in the entire Joseph narrative, Genesis 37-50. His brothers are the ones who should have protected him and loved their youngest brother. Instead they have nothing but hatred for him. He is the favorite of their father, and upon their father’s death Joseph is the one who receives the double blessing, not the oldest son. So when young Joseph comes to check on his brothers on their father’s behalf, they begin to plot against him. Though general consensus is to murder him, level-headed Reuben prevails. Judah, however, sees the Ishmaelites traveling to Egypt and realizes Joseph is worth more to them alive than dead, so they sell him for twenty pieces of silver. Then the trickster brothers lead their father to think Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.
Years march on and Joseph likely becomes a distant memory. But suddenly a famine strikes and Egypt is the only place with food. Jacob sends his ten sons to Egypt for food. Unbeknownst to them, Joseph is the reason Egypt had any food at all. They go to buy food and Joseph, now in charge in Egypt, recognizes them, though they don’t yet recognize him, and arrests them, charging them as spies, and then demands that they bring back their youngest brother, Benjamin. In prison, Reuben, who initially fought to save Joseph’s life, confronts his brothers: “Did I not speak to you, saying, ‘Do not sin against the boy;’ and you would not listen? Therefore behold, his blood is now required of us” (Gen. 42:22). Released from prison, but Simeon held on their behalf until they return, they go home to tell their father what has happened, and that this strange Egyptian man demands Benjamin make the trip. Consider his heartache. He sent Joseph out to find the brothers and only a bloodied robe returned. He sent ten brothers out to buy food, and only nine returned. Now he sends Benjamin out in the care of the brothers, praying for his safe return but fully expecting to die mourning the death of three of his children.
In this second trip, the brothers find out that the strange Egyptian treating them favorably is none other than their brother, Joseph. After tricking them by attempting to take Benjamin into slavery as punishment for a staged robbery, Joseph has compassion on them and reveals to them his true identity. Their response is not joy, but fear. Why? They expect revenge. First they hated him, then attempted murder, and ultimately sold him into slavery. But Joseph didn’t retaliate. His response was faith and acknowledgement that God is in control: “Do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. … God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Gen 45:5, 7).
Now we compare the account of Joseph to that of the disciples. Except for Judas, they did not exhibit a hatred or jealousy of Jesus. They loved Him. But in His hour of greatest need, as He passed through sham trials, beatings, mockery, and on towards crucifixion, He went through alone. Just like Joseph, Jesus was sold for silver and abandoned by those who should have been the closest to Him. Peter follows at a distance, but vehemently denies not only being a part of Jesus’ group, but denies that he even knows who this Man is.
The disciples reacted in fear on Good Friday, but perhaps their greatest fear is on the first Easter. Yes, Scripture records that they hid for fear of the Jews, but what about fear of Jesus? On the cross Jesus fulfilled the words of Psalm 69: “They also gave me gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (v. 21). But were they worried He would also fulfill what David would say in the same Psalm, just a few verses later: “Add iniquity to their iniquity, and let them not come into Your righteousness. Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous” (vv 27-28). Certainly they deserved that, especially Peter. Perhaps it is this fear that drives Judas to his despair and suicide.
But just like Joseph was sold by his brothers and then not only had compassion on them but gave them great blessings, so it is in Jesus. Those who rejected Him found that their very existence depended on that rejection. Because they abandoned Him and did not attempt to fight the Jews and Romans they were not able to stop Him from doing what He was born to accomplish. Without their misguided intervention He was able to die to forgive the sins of the world. When they feared repercussions the most, when Jesus appears in the locked upper room on the first Easter evening, they received forgiveness and then were sent into the world to preach that Gospel of not only forgiveness of sins but eternal life in heaven.
We are caught up in these stories. The story of Joseph’s brothers and the disciples is ours. In relationship to Jesus none of us are innocent. Like Joseph’s brothers we have treated Jesus spitefully. We dislike His status as the beloved Son, the One to Whom we must listen. Our sinful nature dislikes His status as the One to Whom we will bow. We’d rather save that honor for ourselves, setting our own laws, declaring ourselves righteous and everyone else sinners in need of judgment. Like the disciples we have abandoned Jesus when we should stand up for Him and for the Faith. We compromise on clear points of doctrine to keep relationships smooth. When we should stay awake with Him, praying for our salvation and the protection of our souls against the work of the devil, we fall asleep. Though now we kneel at the cross, we certainly did not on Good Friday. Those damning Words of Psalm 69 rightfully belong to us, who do not deserve to have our names found in the Lamb’s Book of Life or our souls in the company of the saints.
But herein is the key to all of this: Like Joseph’s brothers, like the disciples, we reject the Christ, but He does not reject us. And it is only because of our sin that we are able to rejoice in the miracle of forgiveness. To his brothers, Joseph prefigures Christ, saying to them: “Do not be afraid!” (Gen. 50:19) In the mouth of Jesus this same idea takes the form of “Peace to you!” (Jn. 20:21) Joseph forgives his brothers, Jesus forgives His disciples, and He forgives us. He gives to you the peace that comes only from forgiven sin. The world cannot give you this peace, only the holy, innocent Blood of Jesus Christ covering your every sin can give you true peace. Though you were guilty, in Christ all your sin is put to death, forgiven, and is no more.
Now you can be like the brothers, living in peace and harmony with the brother they once hated. Now you can be like the disciples, especially the evangelists, gladly recounting your sins because they are forgiven. The Passion of Jesus Christ, while it does inspire you to repentance and sorrow over sin, more than that it inspires you to peace and joy in Christ. You deserved hell but are given heaven. You deserved sorrow but are given joy. In Christ, there is only good for you, now and forever.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).