THE SUFFERING SAVIOUR— THE SAVED AND LOST.
This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. Luke 2:34, 35.
Then were there two thieves crucified with him; one on the right hand and another on the left. — Matthew 27:38.
Did it depend on our remembering him — had it depended even on that penitent and pardoned thief remembering him — to fix and determine how soon Jesus should come to his kingdom, — who can tell but that he might have been left dying, or dead, — as Joseph was left languishing in the prison, — aye! to this very hour. Thanks be to God, it was the Father's remembrance of him, and not ours that was to bring our Joseph out of his dungeon to his royal court; — to bring Jesus from his cross to his crown. It is ours to ask him to remember us in his kingdom. Nor will he ever fail to do so.
He will not forget his having shared our imprisonment, our condemnation, our guilt and doom. All that he endured with us and for us, when he took his place beside us, and accepted as his own our criminality and our curse, must ever be fresh in his mind and heart. Joseph's fellow-sufferer might cease to think, in his prosperity, of the pains of their common distress; but our fellow-sufferer is ever mindful of the agony of the time when he made common cause with us, and bore instead of us our sin and sorrow. Therefore we may ask our fellow-sufferer to remember us with somewhat more of confidence than Joseph may have felt when he asked his fellow-sufferer to remember him. For have we not his own gracious words, — "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me" (Is. 49:15, 16).
II. The case of the chief baker stands out in sad contrast to that of his companion in tribulation (ver. 16-19). He had not been so ready to place his trust in Joseph, and to own him as entitled to speak for God. Rather, as we may too probably gather from the whole scope of the narrative, he had continued incredulous, perhaps contemptuous. When Joseph spoke so simply, — "Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me the dreams I pray you," — he may have been inclined to rail at him, saying: If thou be such a favourite of heaven, save thyself. Wouldst thou be where thou art, if God were so with thee as to warrant thine assumption of being his mouthpiece? So this unbeliever may have derided Joseph's claim at first. But now his comrade's good fortune, as he perhaps accounts it, tempts and encourages him to try his chance. He may have the luck to get as favourable a response from the oracle; and, at all events, it can do no harm to make the experiment. He, too, will now tell his dream, and abide the issue.
Alas! it is only ominous of evil. The servant of the Lord can speak of nothing but judgment. And if the doomed man should still affect to be skeptical, and set coming wrath at defiance, three short days are enough to dispel his miserable delusion, and prove Joseph a true prophet, alike of death and of deliverance. "It came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. And he restored the chief butler to his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh's hand; but he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them" (ver.20-22).
1. Thus "one is taken and another left." For that, in the first place, is a lesson to be learned from this prison-scene. It is as it was in the days of Noah; and as it shall be also in the days of the Son of Man: "I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken and the other shall be left. Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left" (Luke 17:34-36). Even so it seems good in God's sight. Any two of us may be together in the same prison or in the same palace, — in the same trial or in the same triumph, — in the same sorrow or in the same joy, — sleeping together in the same bed, — grinding together at the same mill, — working or walking together in the same field; both apparently alike good, — both destined surely to be alike safe. But how long can we reckon on our companionship lasting? How soon and how suddenly may that saying come true; "One shall be taken, the other left?" How does it concern every one of us, in the view of that separating and sifting day, to be looking out for himself individually. Whoever I may be with in bed, at the mill, in the field, my being with him then will avail me nothing. Let me give earnest heed myself to the things which belong to my peace, before they be forever hid from my eyes. And let mo remember the Lord's own solemn and emphatic warning: “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it (Luke 17:33).
2. If Joseph was "set for the fall" of one and "the rising again" of another, and "for a sign that should be spoken against that the thoughts" — if not of many yet of some—"hearts should be revealed" (Luke 2:34, 35), — behold a greater than Joseph is here. Jesus is still set forth before our eyes, crucified between two malefactors. His cross draws the line sharply between them. Both alike are sinners, breakers of the law. Both alike are guilty, justly condemned. Both alike are utterly helpless in their condemnation. But that central cross discriminates between them! It sets them, near as they are, at infinite distance apart!
On one side is the man of broken spirit, of contrite heart, accepting the punishment of his sin, consenting to lose his life that he may preserve it, — to have no life of his own, that he may owe all his life to Christ. On the other side is he who still seeks to save his life, — who even in the jaws of inevitable death will not give in, — who will not renounce his own poor conceit of innocence, goodness, and security, and agree to accept life in Christ, as the free gift of God.
On which of these sides art thou my brother? To which of these two crosses, on the right and on the left of Christ's cross, art thou billing to be nailed? Wilt thou be crucified with Christ,— trusting in him, praying to him, looking to him, believing his sure word, " To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise?" Or wilt thou be crucified without Christ, — near him, but yet without him, — setting him at naught, and thyself alone braving the terror of the Lord, of which his crucifixion is so sure and sad a presage and pledge?
3. If Joseph said to the man whose sentence of release he had pronounced, Think of me — and if he had some good ground for thinking that his friend ought to think of him, and would think of him — how much more may he who is greater than Joseph, and who procures for us — not by the interpretation of a dream merely but by what costs him something more than that — a sentence of release from doom and restoration to favour infinitely more valuable than the butler got — how much more may he, I say, prefer such a request to us — Remember me. Surely it is a sad thing if our hearts have not a better memory for Jesus than this man had for Joseph. And yet what need of constant watchfulness and prayer that such ingratitude may not be ours! And what reason to bless God have we in the fact, that so many means and appliances are provided for helping us always to remember him — his blessed word ever in our hands ; his gracious gospel preached to us; the holy sacrament of communion; his Spirit taking of what is his and showing it to us.
4. If it had been Joseph who had been asked to remember his fellow-sufferer, that asking would not have been in vain. Jesus at all events will not suffer any one of us to say to him in vain, "Lord, remember me, now that thou art come to thy kingdom!" "We have not an high priest who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities."
When we appeal to him, by his remembrance of all his own sufferings to remember us in our sufferings, the appeal touches his heart. Remember, Lord, thy loving-kindnesses. Call to mind all thy dealings with the sick, the sorrowful, the poor, in the days of thy flesh. Call to mind all thine own trials and afflictions manifold. Remember us. Lord; and show in thy remembrance of us that thou art "the same yesterday, to-day, and forever."
(This and the previous two posts are from Chapter 54 of Robert Candlish's Studies in Genesis, published in 1868.)