Joseph woke early, and for a moment forgot he was in a dungeon. He pictured himself back at his father’s side, wearing his royal coat—the coat his father had given him as a gift. The false reality was comforting, and for a second Joseph felt peace, but the damp cool air of the dungeon quickly stole the fantasy away.
As Joseph’s confusion left him, he began to reflect on his descent from life at his father’s side to life in a pit. He thought back to the coat again. It wasn’t the cause of his descent, but a trigger—a reminder to his brothers that he was their father’s favorite son. A truth that unleashed their jealousy. They desired evil. They wanted his death, but instead stripped him of his status, destroyed his coat, and sold him into slavery. If that weren’t enough, in slavery he thrived, but that too had been taken from him. He had caught the eye of his master’s wife, but when she tried to seduce him, he resisted. She took his cloak and used it to change his status again—this time from servant in Potiphar’s house to prisoner in a dungeon—a metaphorical realm of the dead.
In the midst of his humiliation, Joseph was tempted to believe that God had forsaken him, yet even here in the cold damp pit, hungry and deprived of light, Joseph could not deny the Lord’s provision. He had found favor with the warden and had been given responsibility and authority over the other inmates.
As Joseph made his morning rounds, his mind still filled with memories of the past, he found two of his fellow prisoners deeply disturbed by their dreams from the night before. Pharaoh’s former cupbearer had seen a tree with three branches, and he had pictured himself squeezing grapes into Pharaoh’s cup. Likewise, Pharaoh’s former baker dreamt that three baskets of bread balanced on his head while the birds of the air feasted from them. As Joseph listened, the Lord revealed the meaning of the dreams, and Joseph relayed the message to the two men. He said to the cupbearer, “In three days your head will be lifted up, and Pharaoh will restore you to your place in the palace.” But to the baker, he said, “In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you!—and hang you on a tree.” Joseph’s prophecy came true. The cupbearer was restored and the baker executed. But the cupbearer forgot Joseph when he returned to Pharaoh’s side.
Christians have long recognized the parallel between the stories of Joseph and Jesus. Joseph’s life was a steady descent from miracle-child born to his father’s barren wife, to supervisor of fellow inmates in a dungeon. There he stayed for two years, until the Pharaoh was troubled by a dream, and the cupbearer finally remembered the prophet in the pit. Joseph was given a change of clothes, shaved, and brought before Pharaoh, where he interpreted the king’s dream and became savior of Egypt. He was elevated to the right hand of Pharaoh, and even the brothers who betrayed him would soon bow down at his feet.
Though the similarities between the stories of Joseph and Jesus are striking, the contrast is equally so. Joseph’s descent was unwilling, and who can blame him? Who would submit to such a fall from grace?
Jesus said, “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.”
The Bible tells us that Jesus submitted himself to his Father’s will. It tells us that Jesus gave up his status, that he was made lower than the angels, so that by his suffering he might restore those held captive to Satan, sin, and death. Jesus left his place of privilege to become human, a miracle-child born of a virgin, but born into poverty. He was not radiating glory as he lay in the manger. There was nothing majestic to attract us to him as he grew into a man. No halo hovered over his head as he entered Jerusalem. He could have saved himself from the fate in front of him. He could have silenced his accusers, but instead he allowed himself to be stripped and mocked—clothed in purple (the color of a king), stripped again, beaten, and crucified.
By the time his body was removed from the cross, and placed in a cold damp tomb, his spirit had already departed—into the realm of the dead. But unlike Joseph, Jesus did not descend into the pit a prisoner. He entered in triumph—given authority to judge the living and the dead. Abraham, and all those gathered to his bosom, rejoiced—while the faithless wept and gnashed their teeth.
As Joseph was lifted up from the dungeon, so Jesus rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again, and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord.
Do not forget him!
He has not forgotten you. Believe in him, and he will not let your body go down to the pit. He will lift you up, clothe you in a robe white as snow, and restore you to the warmth of your Father’s side.
Rev. Troy Tysdal is Director of Communications and Prayer for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren and serves as editor in chief of Faith & Fellowship magazine.