Bearing the Image
Wednesday of Pentecost 16
12 September 2018
Joseph is rightly famous for rising to the position of prime minister of Egypt. It is a rags-to-riches story, or perhaps more correctly a riches to rags to riches story. Joseph lived a luxurious life in the household of his doting father, Jacob. The boy was the apple of his father's eye, the darling of the patriarchal family and the envy of his jealous brothers. Their envy led them into great shame and vice when they determined first to murder their brother and then to deflect their guilt at this heinous plan they "merely" sold their brother into slavery, rather than murdering him outright. Luther calls this a "civil death." In a certain way, this was worse than murder; for the slavery to which they condemned him was a kind of living death. Their fear of divine retribution for murder deflected their criminal courage. Instead of killing their brother Joseph, they sold him to the Ishmaelites, while making a little money in the transaction. That was a bonus and they could also rationalize their craven act, "At least we are not murderers!" Moral calculations that begin with the words, "at least" do not bode well for the calculators.
 
Great trouble befell poor unsuspecting Joseph through his brothers and Jacob grieved inconsolably for this his beloved son. Both men suffered a living death, one bereaved of father, family, and freedom, the other's joy stolen from him by conniving children in his declining years. Why did God permit this great wickedness to befall these patriarchs? Couldn't he have stayed the hands of those wicked brothers? Yes, of course. But He chooses not to, for his own mysterious reasons. Certainly, by studying our Bibles we can be delighted that Joseph is raised to great power and riches after his slavery and imprisonment and that Jacob's joy is made complete by a reunion with his beloved son in Egypt. But none of that is known or experienced by either Joseph or Jacob when Joseph is sold into slavery. They wandered in the valley of the shadow of death, suffering a heavy burden, even a chastisement from God (Heb 11:36; 12:6).
 
The Lord sent the cross that was exactly right for these great saints, taking what men meant for evil and turning it to good (Gn 50:20). While that is quite clear to us in hindsight, it was not to those who suffered through this experience. Bearing the cross is always a challenge to our faith at the time we bear it. We do not often see the purpose to our suffering, but we must believe that that suffering has been sent to us for God's own hidden purposes. Only later might that become clear to us, as it did for Jacob and Joseph. While we may be deeply tempted only to gripe and complain about our suffering and lot in life, we must confess that we are becoming better acquainted with the suffering Servant in our cross bearing. The pattern of living by suffering and death is inscribed into His hands with nails, that we might likewise have those prints cut into us through cross bearing. Like Joseph, we too become beloved sons of God and bear the image of Christ.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"I think that it is often true that a man would bear bodily death more easily than death [through slavery]. For it is uncertain what evils will come to pass in connection with death [through slavery], and it is a perpetual cross, infinite misery and servitude, and finally, being separated from parents, brothers, and the whole household. For me it would be far more tolerable to be struck on the head than to spend my life in perpetual slavery and exile.
 
"Into these troubles the holy patriarchs Jacob and his son Joseph are now hurled. This cross was fabricated for them by the artifices and stratagems of the brothers. They are very poor carpenters who fabricate and forge this hard cross for their father and their brother Joseph. The only ones who can endure such a cross are excellent and saintly parents. God keeps quiet and makes out that He does not see, as though He were helping these carpenters, and yet He sees that they are setting these doings into motion. But why does He allow this? Why does He not hurl His thunderbolts at them and prove Himself the undoing of these wicked attempts with their authors? Or why does He not rather allow robbers, adulterers, and tyrants to be tormented and afflicted, and spare such saintly men?
 
"My reply is that God wants us to consider and learn how great the love of parents towards children is, that we estimate from this the magnitude of God's love by which He embraced us when He was willing to let His only-begotten Son suffer and be crucified for us. For Joseph is the image of God's Son."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 37.27
Genesis 37:18-28

[His brothers] saw [Joseph] from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, "Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams." But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, "Let us not take his life." And Reuben said to them, "Shed no blood; cast him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him"- that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and cast him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
 
Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers listened to him. Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt. (ESV)
Prayer
Lord God, You rescued the patriarch Joseph in the midst of suffering and cross-bearing, by granting him the faith and confidence to trust You absolutely. Grant us in our day to bear Your crosses and trust You to rescue us in the midst of our suffering. Amen.
 
For Charlie Hinrichsen, who is traveling for work, that the Lord would send His holy angels to watch over him
 
For Bob Schreiner, that the Lord Jesus, his good Shepherd, would be his strength and hope
 
For the office staff of Memorial Lutheran Church, who are welcoming Rob Weber to the team, that the Lord would bless our labor together to His glory and the growth of His church
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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