Acts 07_09-16 Stephen's Defense (2)_How Joseph Points to Jesus
Stephen’s Defense (2): How Joseph Points to Jesus
October 10, 2021
Read Acts 7:9-16 – In the opening scene of Camelot, young Guinevere, traveling to Camelot to marry the king, meets a young man who drops out of a tree. A conversation ensues during which she is initially somewhat insulted. He’s dressed like a peasant. Nothing kingly about him – until the court arrives and everyone begins bowing to him. Appearances can be deceiving.
The Jews of Jesus’ time had the same problem. Their religion had become narrowly focused on the land, the temple, their traditions and the hope of a political Messiah. So when Jesus came along, finally claiming to be Messiah during the triumphal entry, but constantly and publicly stomping on their traditions, predicting the destruction of the temple and hardly looking like a political deliverer, they killed Him. Appearances can be deceiving.
Now Stephen’s on trial for preaching Jesus. He addresses their misconceptions about Jesus by reference to Israel’s history – Abe, Joseph, Moses, and David – all showing God is not confined to a land or a temple, and all pointing in unique ways to Jesus of Nazareth – who, while not the Messiah the people expected, was very much the Messiah God expected, and had predicted.
So Joseph? His life prefigured Jesus by showing God turning apparent disaster into ultimate triumph. His audience couldn’t have missed the comparison Stephen drew. Perhaps this comparison got Paul started re-thinking his understanding. The parallels are striking. Both were God’s choice to save His people – one physically; one spiritually. So, how did Joseph point to Jesus?
I. God’s Choice Was Rejected by Men
While Jacob had 10 sons by Leah and concubines, Joseph was the 1st by his true love, Rachel. In a sense, Joseph was firstborn to Jacob. He favored him with the multi-colored coat which probably signified inheritance. In his youth, Joseph had dreams of his father and bros bowing down to him, dreams he was only to willing to share, but which gave advance notice that Joseph was predestined by God to be the deliverer of his family years later.
All this made his bros envious, and they’d have killed him except when an Egyptian caravan happened by, they saw a way to dispose of him and make a few dollars at the same time. They sold him into slavery, rejecting God’s choice. Stephen’s statement on this is impactful: 9) “And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him.” There’s a lesson! You can reject God’s choice, but you can’t overturn God’s plans. They rejected, “but God was with him.” They rejected what God accepted.
Stephen shows how this paralleled Jesus’ life as He was rejected by His bros, the Jewish nation. Jn 1:11: “He came unto his own but his own did not receive him.” Envy was at the heart of their rejection as well. Mt 27:18: “[Pilate] knew that it was out of envy that they (Jews) delivered him up.” Most of Stephen’s audience helped kill Jesus. Stephen’s saying, “You did the same thing as Joseph’s brothers. 1800 years ago, God pixed what you would one day do to His choice. But tho you killed Him, God was with Him, just like He was with Joseph. Your actions put you on the wrong side of God.”
Are you on the wrong side of God? Have you rejected His chosen One? If you think He was an okay guy, but certainly didn’t die for your sins, then you have rejected Him as surely as Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and as surely as the Jewish leaders killed Jesus. J. C. Ryle wrote: “There are few things so little realized as the corruption of human nature. Men fancy if they saw a perfect person they would love and admire him; they forget that when a really perfect man was on earth, Jesus, he was hated and put to death. That single fact proves the truth of an old saying: ‘unconverted men would kill God, if they could get at Him.’" If you are rejecting His claim to your life this morning, then you have rejected God’s chosen One – but I assure you, God is with Him, and you have only separated yourself from the love of the Father.
II. God’s Choice Was Afflicted in a Far Country
Stephen reminds us Joseph’s brothers “sold him into Egypt” where he suffered “afflictions.” Joseph was probably late teens when this all happened. Imagine suddenly being torn from a home where you are held in highest esteem by your father and sold into slavery in a strange land far from home. Gen 42:21 says he “begged” his brothers not to do this. He must have been devastated.
In Egypt, he moved up quickly, but was falsely accused of rape when he refused the advances of his master’s wife. Suddenly, he was in the hellhole of an Egyptian prison where he languished for years. “Afflictions” is a mild description of what Joseph went thru.
Sound like anyone else we know – someone prized by His Father, yet sent into the far country of earth as opposed to heaven, even taking on the limitations of human nature. Afflictions?! It is impossible for us to imagine what Jesus gave up to become one with us, let alone how it felt to be the Lord of the universe, yet suffering a humiliating death at the hands of those He created!
Paul says it this way in II Cor 8:9) “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Stephen’s audience had helped impose afflictions on God’s chosen One – not realizing they were killing the prince of heaven in the process. He let them do it so those very sins could be forgiven if they would later repent. What irony! What grace! Who can really appreciate what a far country human existence was for the beloved Son of God?
Geoffrey T. Bull, missionary to Tibet, was seized by the Communists following their takeover of China in 1949. He was taken on a perilous trip. One night he was placed in a house, then sent to the cold, dark stables to tend to the horses. The barn was rank with mud and manure, the smell nauseating. Cold, wet, lonely and ill, self-pity consumed him. But then it hit him, it was Xmas Eve. He began to imagine how Jesus felt, coming all the way from heaven to some wretched Bethlehem stable, all to eventually die naked and exposed in humiliation on a Roman cross. He said, “With the thought of how far Jesus came for me, I bowed in thankfulness and worship.” We’ll never fully appreciate just how far our Lord came to save us, will we?
III. God’s Choice Was Rescued by God
So Joseph suffered great affliction in Egypt. But “God was with him 10) and rescued him out of all his afflictions.” God was with Joseph and when God is with you, it doesn’t matter how tough things get, rescue is never a matter of “if”; it’s only a matter of “when.” In God’s time, which is always right, He rescued Joseph, got him out of prison and made him #2 in Egypt. Isn’t it great to know if God is with you, sooner or later, you’re going to come out on top?
This, too, prefigured Jesus. His afflictions ended in death! But, God was with Him, and even death could not hold Him. Peter witnessed to this in Acts 10:39b-41: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, 40) but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, 41) not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” Stephen shows, just as God was with Joseph and rescued him, so God was with Jesus and rescued him from the death imposed by these very men. Don’t they see the parallels? They know there is an empty gravesite just outside of town for which they have no explanation. They’ve heard multiple eyewitnesses. But there are none so blind as those who will not see. Such were Stephen’s opponents.
Yet their denial did not change reality. Their unbelief didn’t put Jesus back in the grave and neither will yours. God rescued Him. And now you are faced with the same decision as these men. What are you going to do about it? There’s a reason the resurrection was at the heart of all the apostle’s sermons. It is the indispensable evidence of God’s work, yet dismissed by so many.
A few years ago the German police had a phantom serial killer -- the same DNA found at 39 crime scenes. Hundreds of detectives deployed without success – until one man thought outside the box. It turned out the DNA belonged to the woman who made the cotton swabs used to collect crime scene samples. The answer hidden in plain sight! That’s the resurrection of Jesus. Eyewitnesses testify to it; skeptics became believers by it; logic dictates there is no other explanation. So, examine the evidence. It is God’s ultimate proof that He is indeed at work in this world; it demands a decision.
IV. God’s Choice Was Salvation for Many
Now a fascinating revelation: 11) “Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food.” We all know how Jacob’s sons, 20 years after selling Joseph into slavery, had to go to Egypt during a famine to get food. But Psa 105:16 gives the rest of the story: 16) When he [God] summoned a famine on the land and broke all supply of bread, 17 he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.” Please note: this famine didn’t “just happen.” God brought it. It looked like “one of those things,” but there is no such thing as “just one of those things.” God is purposefully involved in everything that happens!
So why did God send a famine? We’re not told, but we know this, everything God does is aimed at drawing people to Himself. To proud humanity, God sends constant reminders, “You’re not in charge. You’re not in power. You are not the master of your fate.” And to all who will listen, He saves, and He grows us thru these tests He sends our way. Which is why Jas 1:2-3 reminds us: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3) for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
Joseph’s family was no exception. Some needed to come to faith; others needed to grow in faith. God gives opportunity for both. But the thing to see here is that while Joseph’s brothers rejected him, he was God’s choice, and as God’s choice, he became the means of their salvation. Thru the preparations he had made in Egypt, food was available to save his family – particularly Judah, thru whom Messiah was to come. From a human perspective, had they not sold him into slavery, there would have been no one to interpret Pharaoh’s dream; no one to conceive and implement a plan to store excess grain in the good years; and no one to save the Jewish race. They’d have died then and there; Judah being one of the victims. There would have been no Jesus and you and I and all the world would have died in our sins. That’s how graciously God took what was meant for evil and turned it to good, as Joseph reminded his brothers: Gen 50:20, “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.” It is so ironic – so like God – the very act intended by these men to be the death of their brother turned out to be their own salvation!
You can almost sense Stephen saying to his own audience, “Don’t you see Jesus in all of this? Don’t you see how this pointed forward to our own Messiah? Don’t you see that God has turned your own act of rejection into the means of your own salvation – if you would only turn to Him – as Joseph’s brothers turned to him?” I wonder if Stephen didn’t have Isa 45:22 in mind: “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” Who else could take the worst humankind can do and turn it into the means of salvation for all who believe? How can you reject such love? Heb 2:3: “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation.” Today is the day to turn to Him. Now is the time.
V. God’s Choice Arrived Safely at Home
15) “And Jacob went down into Egypt, and he died, he and our fathers, 16) and they were carried back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem.” This is minor but Stephen is still pointing to ways Joseph points to Christ. Here he shows while Joseph died in a far country, he eventually was returned to the land of promise. Physically, his final resting place was in the promised land.
And so while Jesus came into a far country – this earth – He ended up right back where He started – at the Father’s right hand in heaven. Having completed His mission, He arrived safely home. Had Stephen’s accusers been seeking truth, they might well have asked where Jesus was since the tomb was empty. The disciples could have told them. They’d been with Jesus at the very end when, Acts 1:9b, “he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” And they knew where He went. The cloud, as usual in the Bible, was a physical representation of the Father. And Eph 1:20 tells us the Father “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” He was safely home, with all power and authority now at His personal disposal. Mission accomplished – the circle complete. The one that men rejected, the Father had chosen.
Conc – Despite being rejected by his brothers, Joseph was chosen by God. Despite being rejected by His own people, Jesus was chosen by God. The question this morning is, have you chosen the One whom God chose? Is he yours, or is something keeping you away. Ruth Graham was once talking with a young Indian named Pashi who eventually told her, “I would like to believe in Christ. We of India would like to believe in Christ. But we have never seen a Xn who is like Christ.” Devastating, right? Know what she eventually said? She said, “Pashi, I am not offering you Christians. I am offering you Christ.” And so, as the Father has chosen the Son who died for our sins, so He now offers Him to us. Will you not choose Him today? Let’s pray.