The Testimony of the Christ

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - Joseph's Testimony

"And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself... And He said unto them, These are My words which I spoke unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the psalms, concerning Me" (Luke 24:27,44). 

The Large Place Given to Joseph in the Scriptures

Now we come to the close of the first of the distinctive men. The man who closes that series and that course of individuals, is Joseph. There is something very important, I think extra important, bound up with this message. And I will trust that as we go on, we shall be gathering up what has already been said without going back over it. At the outset, I am quite sure that you must have been impressed in your reading of the Bible with the very large place that was given to Joseph.

Of course, the writer did not divide his narrative into chapters, but in our chapter division the story of Joseph occupies no less than eleven long chapters, and then you have other references to him such as Jacob's blessing of Joseph and the reference to him in the psalms. "He sent a man before them; Joseph was sold for a servant: his feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in chains of iron, until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the Lord tried him" (Psa. 105:17-19). The margin says, "His soul entered into the iron". "The king sent and loosed him; even the ruler of peoples, and let him go free" and so on. Then Stephen in his great discourse brought in Joseph. This man has a large place.

It is rather surprising, and we may ask the question, 'Why did the writer of these books take all this time and all this trouble to give such a full and large place to this one man?' and I expect you have been caught in the fascination of the story. You start to read this story in Genesis 37 and you do not want to put it down till you have finished, you must see this thing through, it just grips. Now there must be some reason for that. If one person wrote these books, then there must be some very good reason for his deciding that, with all he had to write, the tremendous amount that he had to crowd in, he gave so full an account of the life and experiences of Joseph, and of course he had very good reason.

Joseph Ends the Individual Line

We have already mentioned one part of the reason. It is that Joseph does end the individual line. He marks a climax in a certain phase and form of God's movement. He is the crown of that movement. Joseph gathers up in fulness and finality all the testimony of all those who preceded him. You will find in Joseph all the features of those who went before. Whereas they represented some particular feature, Joseph is cumulative of them all. Then Joseph, gathering up in fulness and finality all that has preceded him, passes it on to a family nation and has gathered up all that is required for a corporate expression. He is the link between all the individuals and the corporate, the nation. He gathers up and he passes on for corporate continuance of the testimony.

If you think about that in the light of the Lord Jesus you will say, 'Well, without considering all the parts and the details, that is true in an infinitely greater way of the Lord Jesus'. He gathered all the parts of the past in Himself and handed them on to the church. God knew the meaning of things, the Spirit of God was alive to all that was intended in these figures and these types. God was acting in full view of His Christ and His church, and that is why the Spirit of God Who made men write, made this man write so much about Joseph. I think we should not be wrong if we said that there is no greater type of Christ in the Bible than Joseph. I leave that with you if you want to dispute it, but we could very easily spend hours, without exaggeration, upon the typical aspects of Joseph's life as pointing to Christ. It is like that. It is very comprehensive.

Joseph Suffered for the Family of God

Well now, having said that, let us come to this matter and try in his case, as we have done in each other case, to sum him up and to put him into some concise form. Joseph is the man who went the way of suffering and death and resurrection for the sake of the family of God and the perpetuation of the Lord's testimony in a spiritual family. That summarizes Joseph, that is the ultimate verdict upon his life.

I am taking it that you know the details of his story. Joseph's ultimate verdict upon his own experience, his own life, with all that at one time looked like tragedy, heartbreak, misfortune, accident, with all the anguish, his own verdict upon it all was this - "Ye meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive" (Gen. 50:20). That is the summary, the verdict. You have to wait to get to the end before you can really say a thing like that, but he did say it at last. "God meant it..." - what? The jealousy and the envy, the hatred and the malice of his own brethren; they are selling him into Egypt after having put him into a grave. Taking him up again, that terrible thing that happened in Egypt resulting in his being flung into the dungeon and kept there and forgotten - yes, what the psalmist calls "his soul entering into iron" - "God meant it for good." And what was in God's mind and intention was, through it all, to send him before to preserve life. This is the issue again. It is this whole matter of Life coming up, to preserve Life. It is the battle again over this issue, it is the testimony of Life. Joseph most certainly was the embodiment of this great truth of Life triumphant over death, death destroyed and Life victorious.

 Joseph's Spiritual Greatness

But look again. What a great man Joseph was spiritually, in this sense how cumulative he was, for he gathered up all those features of the individuals constituting this line of testimony who had gone before. Adam, as we saw, opening the door to death, death entering through Adam, and that is the world and the realm in which Joseph lives out and fights out the battle. For Joseph undoubtedly it is a matter of life or death. That is the significance of his life, he is up against that thing. Do I need to argue it? Look on to the great antitype. The hatred of his own flesh and blood towards him - and the Lord Jesus. "For envy they delivered him" (Matt. 27:18) it says distinctly. The envy, the jealousy, and through all that, murder and death. Oh, those counsellings to put Him to death! They "took counsel against him, how they might destroy him" (Mark 3:6). You are reading the story of Joseph and Christ in one. Actually that is what Joseph's own brethren did and what Christ's brethren after the flesh did. Joseph is precipitated into this great issue in a typical and prophetic way. So he took up the issue which came in with Adam.

Abel - here again we find the hatred, the malice, the envy, the jealousy of his brother Cain leading him to murder. And Abel was the victim, the shepherd victim, who offered his lamb, and in offering his lamb involved his own life and had to offer his own life with it. What a picture of the great shepherd of the sheep, Who was the Lamb and the Shepherd together in one. Joseph took up Abel and what was true of him.

Abraham - we said that the one inclusive thing about Abraham was his detachment from this world and his attachment to heaven. Was that true of Joseph? Most certainly it was. The testimony for which he was standing involved him in having to let go everything of this world and finding his everything in heaven. Of course, it is type, it is imperfect type, but there it is, there is no doubt about it. Here is quite a young man, and if a young man were involved in a situation like this, well, it would be goodbye to this world's prospects. See him, then, cast into the grave, into the pit. See him taken out and sold as a slave to an Egyptian household. See him maligned and lied against. See him forgotten in the dungeon. What sort of position is that for a young man of worldly prospects? But it is quite clear from all we read about him that he never lost his faith. He clung to heaven, he clung to God, when everything else here was apparently impossible. How he took up Abraham's position into himself, how he was baptized into that Cross whereby the world is crucified!

What was the only feature of Isaac? We said that Isaac is only explained and defined in one word - that is: resurrection. In the sovereignty of God, he had to be a young man whose life had to be lived on one issue: that he was raised from the dead and that he knew for his life the meaning of resurrection. You can never know that unless you are baptized into death. We are not given the inner story of how Isaac felt about it all, how he felt when he discovered that he was the victim in view or when he discovered that his father was going to slay him. We do not know how he felt about it. He went through something, he must have gone through something, but God raised him. And Joseph took this up, he went into a very deep death and God raised him and brought him up.

And as for Jacob, we said about Jacob that he had to have the experience of a deep application of the Cross to his self-hood. Many people who have written about Joseph have said a lot about that side of him. Strangely enough, the Bible does not say anything about it. It is there, no doubt. Perhaps he was a young man; when you are seventeen years of age you are capable of a lot of mistakes. They have made a lot of the fact that he 'told on' his brethren and took back stories to his father about his brethren's misdemeanours. The Bible does not make anything of it - men do. Perhaps it was there. Yes, and he talked about his dreams in which he was more important than his brethren. The Bible does not make anything of that. It has Christ in view. It may have been true. There may have been faults and weaknesses, failures... yes, much unworthiness, and Joseph was no exception, but did not God take him in hand! If there was that side, and no doubt there was, he went through enough discipline to have put him well alongside of Jacob. If Jacob went through it to break that strong selfhood, there is no doubt about it that Joseph entered into that meaning of the Cross where the self-life was thoroughly dealt with.

So he gathered them all up in himself. How comprehensive he is! What is it all for? Well, as we have said, the end in view is the testimony of God, the testimony of Christ in terms of Life and coming to the place of the throne, absolutely in dominion, in ascendancy; the testimony of Life to be found in an elect people. That is the principle and it is no small thing. And the Lord Jesus, in a far fuller and deeper way than in Joseph or all the patriarchs or all the other representations put together, went that way for the same object: not that it should remain in Himself as an isolated, independent unit, but that all should be handed on to an elect people, that that elect people should be the vessel of His testimony. That is a tremendous thing to foreshadow in one life, and that is the end. There is no getting away from it, that is the end God had in view.

The Greatness of the Cost

But if there is going to be a people and a corporate vessel and instrument of so great and high a testimony, how great will be the cost, how deep will be the discipline, how keen will be the trial. The words are not too strong, "the word of the Lord tried him". I venture to say that that is just the point at which our greatest trial takes place, our most acute and poignant trial is there. The Lord has said... the promises are so-and-so... but He seems so slow in fulfilment. He seems to be contradicting even His own promises and we are not in the good of all that we have been led to believe He wants, and we are going through it. And we are going through it on the word of the Lord. Is not that your point of keenest trial? It is not that the Lord is unfaithful, in the long run it is going to be all fulfilled, but in the meantime it is true, we come to the Lord about something He has said and promised, and He does not do it now. He keeps us waiting, He takes us through experiences which seem a direct contradiction to what He has said. It looks as though the Lord is not true to His word and not faithful to His promise, He is not honouring what He has said. For a moment it is like that. Sometimes it is like that and all seems dark as to the word of the Lord. It is not fulfilled. The word of the Lord tries us. It tried him. Joseph evidently believed that those dreams of his were not just dreams. They were prophecies and promises. God meant that. It proved to be so. Oh, where is the fulfilment? Instead of his brethren bowing down to him and making obeisance, he is in their cruel hands, their victim, the victim of their spite and malice. Where is the word of the Lord? He has seen himself exiled by his brethren and here he is in a dungeon. Where is the word of the Lord? The word of the Lord tried him...

What is it for? God has an elect people in view who are to take up the fruit of this man's suffering, to come into the good of this man's discipline and know the value of this man's trial. He is pre-fighting out the battle for a people, and that is very true. It was true of the Lord Jesus in the full sense, but what about all these passages - "To you it hath been granted in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer in his behalf" (Phil. 1:29). "I... fill up on my part that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church" (Col. 1:24). Why is this man going through it? "The body's sake" is the answer. Why did Christ go through it? - for His church's sake. "Christ... loved the church, and gave himself up for it" (Eph. 5:25). What the Lord is after is a corporate vessel of testimony. He has paid the price for that, but we do not come into it mechanically and automatically. We come into it along the same line of suffering, that, baptized into His death, we too may be in the likeness of His resurrection. Oh, what suffering is involved! What discipline is necessary! But it is all training. You must recognize that aspect of the experience, the painful experience and the years of trial for Joseph. It was training, training to rule. Yes, it is training. It was the enlargement of spiritual capacity for administration. There is no other way.

Food for the People of God the Focal Point

Now I want to come to the real point in this story and the real message for now and for our day. All this is true in principle as a foundation and a background, but you notice the testimony, the whole testimony for which Joseph went through all this, is focused upon one thing: bread, food - the matter of keeping alive, the matter of bread and keeping alive in a day of famine; keeping alive when death was making famine its vehicle of operation.

There is a very serious crisis involved in the world situation today upon this very point. It is the crisis of spiritual stamina, the strength to endure, to go through. It is a matter of whether there is the constitution to stand up to it. What has happened in China? Thank God for all who have stood up to it and have gone through and are going through, but many have been swept away - yes, Christians, and I believe born-again Christians, have capitulated, surrendered, broken down and gone over. That is the tragedy. That is not going to remain true of China alone. That is going to spread, it is spreading. We are in a new situation, we have had world upheavals, a lot of us have lived through two world wars, but they were not of this kind. They tested Christians - yes, some failed under the test, others came out gloriously. But it is not the same thing. Those two great world upheavals were not essentially a spiritual issue, but the present is. It is God and anti-God. It is a distinctly defined spiritual issue. The whole thing is against the Lord and His Christ, and therefore it presents an altogether new situation.

Spiritual stamina is the need now and from now onwards - not just to be a Christian, but to be able to go through the full force of the spirit of antichrist unto God. It is so clear that is the situation now, and it is not just a question of whether you are a Christian. It is a question of whether as the Lord's you are marked down by this whole spiritual system back of the world powers, marked down for death, for destruction, simply because you are the Lord's and you are known. The great question of this present and growing new situation is stamina, the power of endurance, spiritual constitution and maturity of the spiritual life.

The tragedy of so much of our evangelism - thank God for every soul born again, for every life brought to the Master, but oh, what a cry that they should be built up and not be swept back again by the on-rush of the counter forces - and that is what is happening. Oh, build up these Christians, see to it that there is body, there is constitution, there is maturity, that they are not left poor children to be carried away by every wind of doctrine or to be swept away by the waves of adversity. Get them on their feet. Yes, that is the need, that is the situation, that is the message. Oh, do not think for one moment that in what I am saying there is any hint or suggestion of taking away from evangelism. No, thank God for every bit of it, however faulty or defective it may be. Thank God if it is bringing souls to the Saviour. But oh, there is this other thing. You see, they have to meet something new, it is spreading.

And let me pause here. You see, although that thing may be fully developed as a system in certain parts of the world and spreading as such, it is not just there. It is the breath of this thing that is going beyond the system. We in our country are beginning to feel more than ever the death in the atmosphere, something evil spreading over the world. It has not come yet as a fully instituted system of things, it is not set up in our Western countries, but the spirit of it, the breath of it, something indefinable is at work. Men are becoming more and more impervious to the things of the Spirit. There is something hateful and evil in the air. It is true. It is the spirit of this thing that is in advance of the system. It is something from hell, and if we are not at present involved in the ultimate issue that our dear brethren in China and the East are involved in, we are involved in the battle, the spiritual battle of the breath of death, spiritual death. We are in it and we are going to be in it more and more.

There is an appalling lack of spiritual food in our evangelism. How thin and superficial and empty it is. I am not talking about Bible teaching - there is any amount of Bible teaching - but Holy Ghost revelation to the spirit. That is food. We have yet to say, before this conference ends, something on that very point. These men on the Emmaus road - they had the Bible, but it did not save them. They needed a revelation. But we are coming to that. You see what I am after. It is not Bible lectures or the content of the Bible or the analysis of the Bible. It is the Holy Ghost ministering that to the inner man to build him up.

Any instrument, individual or corporate, who is going to fulfil that ministry is going to have a hard time and is going through suffering. You may preach and lecture on the Bible and never know anything about this, but if you are going to be a vessel through which the Lord ministers real spiritual good to bring about this something which will withstand the tides of death and iniquity, you have to go a very deep way. You will not be allowed to have a shallow, superficial life. This is the story of Joseph, this is the story of Christ, this is the story of every instrument ever used by God for the purpose of really building up the spiritual Life of His people. "I... fill up... that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church." That is the language of a man to whom we owe an incalculable debt.

The Lord has never Himself stayed at the point of being born again. On this very matter of Life He has said "I came that they may have life, and may have it abundantly" (John 10:10). He did not just say "I came that they may have life" - that is your new birth, that is your initial salvation. You have Life, the gift of God, His grace, Life... ah, but the Lord never stopped there. "I give unto (my sheep) eternal life" (John 10:28), that is the gift. But oh, see the afterward, and the increase of capacity working out in the mighty fulnesses of Life! That is something more. Christ risen and exalted; not only Christ crucified, but Christ risen and exalted is the fountain of abundant Life. Joseph risen and exalted - fulness of Life for others. Christ risen and exalted - fulness of Life for His church: abundance.

And coming back to our wonderfully detailed story in Luke 24, you see the very change that took place in that short space of seven and a half miles was the change from the local to the universal, the change from the temporary to the eternal, the change from the earthly to the heavenly. All the principles of Christ risen and exalted are there. From the local to the universal - He is no longer the local Christ pinned to one place at a time. He is liberated, released, free, bounding all space, and time and space have been put out. Christ is risen. The church ought to be like that; no local thing, but its spiritual influence and power universal to touch the whole world by the Throne - that is the principle. We ought to be touching the world by the Throne. Christ on the Throne is our focal point of influence over the nations. When the church gets to prayer and touches the Throne, the nations ought to be affected. That is not just language and idealism. That is how it ought to be. They discovered that the local had given place to the universal, the earthly to the heavenly, the temporary to the eternal. All these limitations down here had gone. That took place in a very short time.

How much more should I say? I do not want this to end with a lot of words loudly and emphatically uttered. I am so concerned that we should see what all this means for our own time. I have come into this conference with one word ringing in my heart - victory over death. That is to be the church's testimony through to the end - victory over death. It means far more than we understand, and when I say the church, it is just there that our hearts faint. We have to come back and see that when we come to the end of the Bible, when we come to those final scenes of the testimony in the book of the Revelation, this testimony is not the testimony of all who believe, but it is the testimony bound up with a representative company of believers. It is there. And so, while it would be so imaginative, in a sense so foolish, to think of the whole church as it is today being like that: the embodiment of this testimony, expressing victory over death; and seeing how things are, we have to say, "Yes, that may be true, but God will have a representative company there first." He will never abandon His purpose, He will never give up His intention, and, as we shall see in the case of the nations, this great nation which came in after Joseph to take up the testimony, eventually failed in the testimony. But God had a remnant even of that nation. It is not that the few of them will be saved, but it is that the few will fully answer to God in His thought - yes, comparatively few. But oh, may we be of the few!

I think I have said enough to convey to you this: that there is a very real place for, and need of, a food ministry. However great and pressing may be the need of a soul-saving ministry - and it is great - there must be this other. The need of this other is equal, and in the light of the end, I would almost say greater, to stem that tide which will carry away so many. The only thing is real solid food for making constitution. Do you not think that that is the reason why so large a proportion of the New Testament is focussed upon the building up of Christians already saved? Yes, that is it.

Well, may our eyes be opened for we are truly in the presence of a great crisis in the whole history of the things of God in this world. There is no doubt about that and many will be carried away in the famine, the famine of real spiritual bread. Oh, let us pray that the Lord will raise up this Joseph ministry and fulfil it for keeping men alive.

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