Recently, while in Denver, I was squeezed by a relative into buying a large collection of postage stamps. Very little of it has anything to do with my own collecting interests, but I did it as a favor. Among other things, there is a lot of early United States postal material. I have never studied American philately, but I do have good, detailed stamp identification catalague. Sadly, it is not detailed enough – there are hundreds of varieties among the early stamps. For example, there are dozens of stamps depicting George Washington, all with many variations. There are so many, and they are so intricate, that it takes an expert to tell them apart. But no expertise is necessary to see that the 1856 issue is different from the 1895 and the 1914 issues. The picture of George is very different, and yet they all depict the same man.
In some ways, the Bible is something like a stamp catalogue or identification book. But it is unique among all the books on library shelves, because its author is God. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Even though the Bible is made up of 66 books, it is a single unit, with several messages running through it. Throughout its pages we learn about the sinfulness of man – the genesis of sin, its progress, its forms. We learn that the holy God will not ignore man’s sin; He must judge the sinner. But parallel to that revelation of sin, we see God’s gracious provision of forgiveness and reconciliation. Almost from page one, we see that reconciliation coming through a divine Saviour, whom we later know to be Jesus Christ. We see that Saviour depicted a hundred times, like a hundred different kinds of postage stamps. Some are simple illustrations, while others are wonderfully complex – products of a master engraver
This morning I want to pull out one of the early representations of the Redeemer. This particular “stamp” is one of the most beautiful and detailed that you’ll find before you actually come to see the Lord Jesus in the Gospels. Yes, it is only a representation, so it lacks perfection, but when we stand back and look we see in Joseph – the Lord Jesus Christ.
We begin with his person.
I won’t say that Joseph had a miraculous birth (like Jesus), but there were some similarities. Christ was the son of a true VIRGIN; Mary had never had relations with a man before Jesus’ birth. Jesus Christ was virgin born, as prophesied in the Old Testament and revealed in the New Testament. But additionally, Christ was “born in the fulness of time,” thousands of years after sin had made His incarnation necessary. And similarly, Joseph was born late in his parent’s lives, after the family of Jacob was nearly full. It appeared to Rachel, his mother, that she was not going to have children – perhaps she couldn’t.
But then in the fulness of time, “God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb. And she conceived, and bare a son.”
“And she called his name Joseph; and said, The LORD shall add to me another son.” Joseph was the 11th son in the family of Jacob, who by this time was getting a bit old. But Rachel was right, and a 12th son was born – born to her; a child named “Benjamin.” The name “Joseph.” as Rachel tells us, refers to “adding” – adding to the family of Jacob.
The triune God has a family as well. We call Christ “the Son of God,” but that Sonship is unique and incomparable to anything we know. Christ is the “Second Person of the Godhead” and has always been “the Son” in a special way. But it is through Christ that children of sin and Satan may become sons of God – a part of God’s family. The Book of Hebrews, speaking of Christ says, “For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” Paul writing to a group of believers declared, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” Despite common modern ideas, no one is a child of God apart from the grace and blessing of Christ.
The Book of Genesis reveals that Jacob, Joseph’s Father, had a particular love for THIS son. It was much greater than he had for any of his other children, and this parallels the love of God the Father for His only begotten Son, Christ Jesus. But next under Jacob’s love was that which he showered upon Benjamin, the final addition to his family. And similarly, Jehovah has a love for those whom He has brought into His family through Christ. “God … is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ… and hath raised us up to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”
Joseph was unique among his brethren in several ways. In addition to being loved by his father more than any of his other children (creations), Joseph excelled in beauty, at least in the eyes of Jacob. His special multicolored coat, set him apart from the rest of them – from the rest of the world. And he possessed wisdom and knowledge which the rest of his brothers clearly lacked. Oh, they knew the world – the world of sheep, wolves, weather and grass, but they didn’t know their father or the things of the Spirit. And to Joseph, this representation of Christ, was given special revelation. He could prophesy – He told his brothers and his family about his own future. Genesis 37 describes a pair of Joseph’s dreams in which his family worshiped Him. One dream involved sheaves of wheat and the second as about the sun, moon and stars bowing to him. Everyone could see exactly what the dreams meant, but his brothers hated the idea. And yet it was a revelation from God and perfectly true. In Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
As we examine Joseph more closely, we see the image of Christ in His sufferings.
At one point, Jacob, their father, was concerned about his older sons. Genesis 37 tells us that he had sent them to graze their flocks in Shechem. They could probably justified their actions, but they nevertheless had disobeyed him and moved on to Dothan. When they hadn’t sent word home; when they had lost interest in communicating with father, when they cared nothing for his love or concern for him, Jacob sent his only begotten to see how they were doing, and perhaps to bring them home again. When Joseph “came unto his own, his own (brethren) received him not.” As Luke 19:14 put it, his brethren, “his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.” Genesis 37:18 – “When they saw him afar off, even before the came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.”
The treatment which the sons of Jacob poured out upon Joseph, parallels the treatment of the Jews upon Christ, God’s son. Some of them sought to kill him outright. Forgetting that God is omniscient, they planned to say that they were innocent of their brother’s blood, and that some wild beast killed and devoured him. But then there was brother Reuben who didn’t like that plan, thinking it was too drastic. He simply wanted that righteous man out of his life – planning to send him back from where he had come. Joseph was totally innocent before his brethren. He could have demanded proof of any sins against them. They would have had to stay quiet or make up charges with lies. Sure, when Joseph told them about the prophesies of his advancement and future glory it disturbed them. But what he said was not spoken in arrogance or with the purpose of alienating them. He was simply describing the revelation which God had given him. And his beauty and the special love which their father laid upon him, provoked the ten brothers, but these were not the fault of Joseph – they arose out of wicked hearts.
When they had enough – when his brothers couldn’t endure his righteousness and words any longer, they delivered him to the heathen who lived and traveled among them. “Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.” The Jews of Jesus’ day tried desperately to kill Him; they tried to stone Him; they tried to push Him off a cliff. But neither group of brothers could it; you might say that they couldn’t bring themselves to do it. And then came a plan to rid themselves of their Christ through heathen neighbors. “We’ll let the Romans kill Him for us.” Joseph’s brethren sent him into the dark recesses of Egypt, hoping and expecting never to see him again.
“And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, and captain of the guard.” For a while after that, Joseph was a curiosity among the heathen; he was a spectacle, a sideshow. In ways similar to Christ, he was mocked, humiliated, stripped, shamed, teased, laughed at. The blessed son of Jacob, became a servant – a very capable and useful servant. But then through no fault of his own, because as a type of Christ he had no faults – Joseph ended up in prison. “He was made to be sin for us, who knew no sin.” “He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” Joseph became a prisoner, and eventually a servant of other prisoners. “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” Christ Jesus was sustained in the midst of his sufferings, never failing or falling into any kind of sin.
One interesting event during Joseph’s prison stay was the arrival of Pharaoh’s butler and chief baker. There appears to have been a plot on Pharaoh’s life. Whatever it was, these two men were cast into the prison where Joseph was suffering. You might say that they were hung out to dry on either side of the young Hebrew. Initially, the two looked on the son of Jacob with distaste and disdain, until they had their dreams. Then this representative of Christ, this type, this stamp, explained the futures of both men. One was going to be executed and the other released. There were three men crucified on Calvary; one was executed into hell, one was released into Paradise, and of course, they were with the Son of God.
Joseph was eventually exalted and by the promise of God, eventually so will be Christ Jesus.
Two years after the execution of Pharaoh’s baker and the release of the butler, Joseph was also released. We remind ourselves that time does not have the same relationship to God as it does to us. The three men on Golgotha all died; the souls of the two ordinary men, receiving the fulfilment of Jesus’ prophetic words. And the body of Christ was laid in a borrowed grave – interestingly enough called “Joseph’s tomb.” Three days later Christ arose from death and that grave, followed a few weeks later with His ascension into glory with His heavenly Father. Two years after the execution of Pharaoh’s baker and the release of the butler, Joseph was also released. Pharaoh, king of Egypt, said unto the former sinless prisoner, “Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? There is none so discreet and wise as thou art: Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou. I have set thee over all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck; And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt.” Joseph became the second most powerful man in the Egypt.
But that is nothing more than phraseology – because for all practical purposes, Joseph WAS the most important and powerful man in the world. By the will of God, one of the worst famines in human history fell upon Egypt and the neighboring nations. But like the calm and strange sea just prior to a tsunami, that famine was preceded by seven exceedingly plentiful harvests. And Joseph collected and preserved God’s bounty, until the day it was desperately needed. Then kings from around the Mediterranean came to Egypt to buy life from the granaries of Joseph. They, and the people of Egypt, bowed their knees before the former dead man from Potipher’s prison. Even more than Pharaoh, Joseph determined who would live and who would die, through his dispersion of the life-giving food. And even the old sons of Jacob came to Egypt to buy grain to feed their families. There was only one man in all the Mediterranean world with life to give away.
Genesis 45 gives to us one of the most touching scenes to be found anywhere in the word of God. Joseph tested his brothers in several ways, finally demanding that they bring Benjamin to him. Then he tested their hearts even more, by appearing to order the death or enslavement of Benjamin. Judah expressed the repentant hearts of them all, by offering himself a sacrifice in the place of Benjamin. “Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him. And he wept aloud… and said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you… I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.” The scriptures go on to describe the disbelief and then surprise of the eleven men as the truth began slowly to sink in. “Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them.” There was only one man in all the Mediterranean world with life to give to these starving Hebrews, and that man was their own brother.
And still today, there is only one man who has eternal life to give. He is our brother while still being “the only begotten of God the Father. ” John 1:14 – “And (Christ Jesus) the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” Verse 12 – and “as many as received him to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name. Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
George Washington was once a real person; a native of Virginia; the man who defeated the British; the first president of the United States. And his face has been depicted on dozens of United States postage issues. There is not a postage stamp in the world which perfectly illustrates the face and frame of the original. But they all bear some similarities and likenesses. If you would like to see George Washington I have several in my pocket including one from about 1855.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God; He became incarnate more than 2,000 years ago – the son of a virgin. Like Joseph he was rejected by his brethren – in fact, He was almost universally rejected. But he was ordained by God to provide eternal life to those undeserving wretches who crucified Him. As Joseph said to his brothers, “God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”
Based upon the revelation and promise of God, I guarantee that you shall one day die, because like all the rest of us, you are a sinner in the sight of God and condemned to eternal death. But God hath sent “his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” You can stubbornly insist that the famine will end next year, and you’ll never taste of death and hell. But the testimony of God, and even that of history, is against you. You NEED the Saviour; you need a REDEEMER. As Paul tells us in Philppians – “Christ Jesus, Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
You have a choice – you may bow your knee to Saviour today and be blessed with eternal life. Or you, as a rebel, will be forced one day to bow, only to hear, “Depart from me ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and His angels.” What will it be? Repent before the Son of God and put your trust in Him.