I was greatly encouraged to read the report from David Lazarus about a group of prominent rabbis calling for a renewed look at Jesus. At the same time I have been greatly inspired by a book about Joseph, the Jewish patriarch, and how he offered total forgiveness to his brothers who had sold him into slavery.
God Meant it for Good by R T Kendall was published by Kingsway 30 years ago, and is an absolute classic that could transform lives, communities and nations. The author’s main purpose was to deal with the issue of forgiveness, so vital in all our dealings. But I want to deal with the issue of Joseph, as a type of the future Messiah, revealing himself to his brothers in the flesh, and of course forgiving them.
Effectively given up for dead, Joseph is finally unveiled – alive and in charge of all Egypt – and instead of wreaking vengeance by handing out the punishment they fully deserved, he astonishes them by saying: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50.20)
This is the gospel, and especially so for the Jew, to whom it was first given; that though we put Jesus on the cross – and the Jewish religious leaders were especially culpable – it was meant to happen. “…It was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer…” (Isaiah 53.10)
Despite his brothers’ rejection, Joseph became the saviour of Israel, and was a sign of what would happen 400 years later when God’s method of substitutionary sacrifice for sin was demonstrated on the night before the Exodus from Egypt. Although Moses was the chosen human instrument in Israel’s deliverance from slavery, the vital spiritual element was the blood of the lamb daubed on the lintels and doorposts of their homes, prefiguring the death of the Lamb of God who was to lead them into true freedom.
Joseph’s brothers threw him down a well in a fit of jealousy over their father Jacob’s misplaced favouritism. Thanks to Reuben’s influence, they thought better of it and rescued him, only to sell him as a slave to passing Ishmaelites. But when, many years later, they were forced to go down to Egypt during the famine predicted by Joseph in interpreting Pharaoh’s dream (of seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine), they felt they were being punished for their wicked deeds and began to repent among themselves.
They did not at first recognize their brother, whose wisdom in hearing from God and thus storing up grain in preparation for the lean years was to save them from starvation, but of course it was a great shock when he was finally revealed as the Prime Minister of the greatest nation on earth!
And I imagine it was an even greater shock when they realized that he held nothing against them; that he wept with joy at being re-united with his brothers; and that they were totally forgiven.
It’s interesting that Joseph was taken into Egypt after being rejected by his brothers. After Jesus was largely rejected by the Jewish people (though a significant number accepted him, of course, or the Church would never have come into existence), the message about him was taken to the nations, and the Gentile world elevated him to a prominent role in their affairs. Isaiah had prophesied that the Gentiles would put their hope in Him. (Isaiah 42.4; see also Matthew 12.21)
As far as the UK and the USA are concerned, it would be true to say that from the 17th through 19th centuries the gospel of Christ and the Bible itself was the most influential teaching they possessed, affecting virtually every institution and producing great wealth and power in the process. At the same time a host of passionate preachers went out to the far corners of the world spreading this gospel to heathen nations. Jesus had in some respects become Lord of the Gentile world, a situation that would, in time, make Israel “envious”, according to the Apostle Paul, an orthodox Jewish rabbi who led the mission to the Gentiles. (Romans 11.11)
But just as Joseph never forgot his brothers, and longed for reunion with them, so Jesus – actually descended from Judah and described in the Bible as the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Rev 5.5) – reaches out in love to his long-lost brothers in the flesh, for whom things got worse before they got better. Now, over the past two centuries (even in the midst of multiple pogroms and the Holocaust itself), He has been revealing himself afresh to his people.
Though sadly Jesus is still seen largely as God of the Gentiles, Jewish eyes have gradually been opened. It is believed, for example, that there were as many as 100,000 Jewish followers of Jesus at the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Tragically, many of them would have perished in Hitler’s gas chambers. But out of the ashes of the Holocaust, we not only have a re-born nation of Israel, but a growing number of so-called Messianic fellowships bringing Jesus back to where he belongs.
Just as Joseph was a sign of what was to come 400 years later with deliverance from Egypt through the blood of the lamb, so the voice of the prophets recorded in the Jewish Tenakh (what Christians call the Old Testament) fell silent for 400 years until the revelation of Jesus in the New Testament.
Joseph provided his brothers with grain amidst the famine. And now Jesus is “the bread of life” – the manna from heaven – as he “fills the hungry with good things” (John 6.35, Luke 1.53)
There will come a time when, back in the land of promise and delivered from bondage in a hostile world, all Israel will recognize Yeshua, their Messiah. (Zechariah 12.10, Romans 11.26) What a day that will be – life from the dead as he who was despised and rejected of men is revealed to his brothers alive… and as Lord of all!
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon, and Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com