9 “And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him 10 and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him ruler over Egypt and over all his household. 11 Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan, and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food. 12 But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent out our fathers on their first visit. 13 And on the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph's family became known to Pharaoh. 14 And Joseph sent and summoned Jacob his father and all his kindred, seventy-five persons in all. 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. (Acts 7:9-16 (ESV)
Stephen moves on to a second example showing how it is the witnesses to God who are persecuted by the majority of Israel, but how God always uses them to save the people. Jesus will be the final crown of this work as Stephen shows all of these men as types. Now he turns his attention to Joseph, who was sold into slavery by the patriarchs, but who was then able to use this for good and save his brothers. So too Joseph is a type, a model in which the early church could see the work of Christ foreshadowed in the history of Israel. It is this sort of thing Jesus means when he says, “You search the scriptures because in them you think you have eternal life, but they are these who speak of me.” (John 5:39)
The twelve tribes of Israel are named after Joseph and his brothers. It is for this reason that they are called the patriarchs. Stephen shows that even the partriarchs themselves were guilty of persecuting God’s chosen. Even here, at the beginning of their nation’s history the majority of Israel are unbelievers who don’t understand the word of God. Who think they can thwart God’s plans with their own evil intentions, but God even uses their evil to bring about his plan of salvation, and uses there sinfulness to accomplish his purpose and their salvation. Just so, now, they follow in the footsteps of their fathers, and God has used their sinfulness to bring about their salvation.
I think we Christians can learn something from this. Too often we let our sin shame us. We feel weak and unworthy of the love of God. And these things we are, but it doesn’t stop God from loving us. There are times that we wake up in life to see the blood on our hands. We are horrified at what we have done. And rightly so. The patriarchs had no cause to shrug their shoulders and think that since God had used their evil deeds for good, they had no guilt. At the same time, Joseph having seen the work of God and how God used their evil to do him good, was in a position that made him willing to forgive, which is always God’s will.
Finally, that is the essence of Christianity though. Often we look at those who seem to have it together, who hold to some straight and narrow path, who never seem to have family troubles, run ins with the police, who live exemplary lives as being the epitome of the Christian faith and what it is all about. We look up to them and try to live our lives the same way. Really, no one wants all that sort of trouble. On the other hand, I’m convinced there isn’t anyone who actually succeeds at that sort of thing. We are all sinners and all weak. We realize this I think to a certain extant. We come to grips with it. In our minds though we start classifying our sins, and we think we are good to go because the sins that we hide are not as bad as all of that. Then they catch up to us and catastrophe hits. We find ourselves doing things much worse than we ever imagined we could be doing. It’s all over and done before it even registers with us.
And then we are at a tricky cross roads. Our pride, you would think it is shattered at this point. You just had an abortion, or you paid for your lover to have one so your wife wouldn’t find out. You realize you are as sinful as all those people out there, those faceless people you railed against with statistics. Now you are the statistic! How could this be? And your pride kicks in to drive you further into despair. You want to quit going to church, because you can’t keep up the appearance of being a Christian anymore. But it is precisely then stripped of the appearance of being a Christian that God gives to you forgiveness, and focuses you on the cross, so you can stop trying to appear Christian, and be one. It is at times like these that your righteousness has gotten in the way of God’s righteousness. So he strips you of it. He strips you of your righteousness so you can no longer wear it over his. You can no longer hide his righteousness underneath yours, but now his is exposed in you, his righteousness that is the forgiveness of sins and nothing more. His righteousness is his blood that has washed away your sins, and stripped you of your righteousness.