Grace That Is Greater
This morning our scripture before the sermon came from the genealogy of Jesus. A lot of people avoid the first chapter of Matthew because it’s a lot of hard names that begat someone else with a difficult name. But I like them because they are nice and orderly. This passage sets down a clear path from Abraham to Jesus so that everyone in the first century would know that this Messiah was in fact Jewish. Along the way, that track runs straight through Judah and his family.
So as we get started and you have this genealogy in your mind, let’s turn to the back of the New Testament. Look at Revelation 5:1-5, here the apostle John writes, I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, "Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?" But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.
What a wonderful complement, while we are struggling to find someone who was qualified to open the scroll someone from the tribe of Judah comes on the scene and met the standard to open the mysteries of God. We know that someone was Jesus Christ.
So Judah must have been quite a godly man, after all he is the only one of Jacob's twelve sons who is mentioned in the genealogy of Christ. The other eleven were passed over by God. At the zenith of history in heaven, it is Judah's offspring who is hailed as worthy when all others fail the test. When we get to heaven someday, we will no doubt continue to hear Judah's name often.
But what do we really know about this man Judah? Judah gets a whole chapter of the Bible to himself Genesis 38, and that is the best place to get acquainted with him. That is if you have the stomach for it. The story begins with Judah drifting away from the rest of the family and marrying a Canaanite woman. That was his first mistake.
His uncle, Esau, had already been down that road, getting into a mess by marrying outside of those who served God. As a result, Judah's grandparents had gone to great lengths to make sure their other son, Jacob, didn't make the same error.
They told him in no uncertain terms to avoid Canaanite women and sent him on a long trip to find the right kind of wife. But Judah disregarded their counsel entirely. He married the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua.
Apparently their children grew up getting mixed messages about the true God versus Canaan's idols. The results of these mixed messages showed up quickly in the first son, Er. I am going to do a little sanitizing of the story here, because I don’t want to have that discussion around the dinner table, but you can read the whole sordid affair in the chapter, because the Bible is honest and tells the whole story.
The Text says in verse 7 that, Er, Judah's oldest son, did what the Lord said was evil, so the Lord killed him. The problem the family now faces is that they now have a young widow in the family named Tamar.
According to Deuteronomy 25 if your brothers dies without an heir, it is the responsibility of the husband's brother to marry her and the first son born will be named after her dead husband so his name won't die out in Israel. But if the brother doesn't want to marry his sister–in–law, she is supposed to go to the leaders at the city gate who call for the brother and confront him. If he refuses to take his sister-in-law as a wife then the woman is supposed to pull his sandal off his foot, spit in his face, and say, “This is what happens to the man who refuses to build up the family of his brother, his name in Israel will be ‘The house of him who had his sandal pulled off’.”
Apparently changing your name to represent footwear was a big deal, so Judah approaches his second son Onan and tells him to fulfill the requirement and have a son with Tamar. Onan agrees, well …. Not really. Knowing the child wouldn’t be his he acted selfishly and since what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord he was also put to death.
So, now there is a double widow in the house of Judah. As you can imagine, instead of giving his third son, Shelah, to Tamar, he asks for some time so that this little boy could grow up. He figured that Tamar was a black widow and he didn’t want to lose all three of his boys. The years went by, and Tamar kept waiting and waiting and waiting. She was getting past her prime, and she was lonely.
The text says that Judah’s wife passes away and after a time of being comforted, he travels to Timath with his sheep shearers. Sheep shearing time was payday for those in the sheep business. Money flowed and people partied. To Tamar, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to carry out a terrible plan. She covered her face and posed along the road as a prostitute.
Now Tamar had been living at her fathers house, for quite some time waiting on son number three. Apparently out of sight means out of mind, and Judah not realizing who she was struck up a deal. He offered to pay her a young goat from the flock, if she would spend some time with him. She agreed but requested a deposit until the goat could be brought back to her. Judah happily gave her his signet ring, its cord, and the shepherd's staff that he had.
The result of the affair was that Tamar became pregnant with twins. Judah went home none the wiser, but eventually the news made it back to Judah that Tamar was having a baby. When he heard the news he threw a fit. How dare his daughter-in-law cause disgrace on the family! He ordered that she be dragged out to the city square and burned to death.
As she was being dragged out into the public square, she revealed the ring, cord, and staff that belonged to the father of the twins. When Judah realized what he had done, he was humiliated and had to admit, She is more righteous than I.
Honestly I struggled with out text this morning because my first reaction is to shield my eyes from this kind of ugliness. It sounds like something in the National Enquirer or Jerry Springer. If you or I have an ancestor in our families who did something like this, we don't talk about it. We probably leave his picture out of the family album. We don't bring up his name to our children, and hope they never ask. People who mess up their lives, and others' lives, are best left unmentioned.
Are we disqualified by our sin?
So why would God put this sleazy story in the Bible? It doesn't seem fit for print. And if God had to include the story, why didn't He then say to us, The lesson of this is that the lineage of my holy Son will be Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Benjamin, or one of the other sons? After all, isn’t Judah disqualified because of this sin?
What we are afraid to admit sometimes is a point that God clearly understands. Left to our own devices, any of us can self-destruct just as Judah did. Paul writes in Romans 3:10 There is no one righteous, not even one. A little later in Romans 7:18 he says I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature
We need to be honest enough to admit we don’t have a right to take a self-righteous stance as we read Judah 's story. God is been pretty honest about our moral standing with Him. And instead of owning up to who we really are, we like to play this game where we try to hide our sins by pointing out someone else's, or at least find redemption because our sins are not as bad as someone else's. We have become very good at condemning others for the very things we also do. You are so selfish . . . They are so racist . . . I can’t believe they’re so is a hypocritical. But somehow, the mirror doesn't work for us.
Like Judah when he was told about his daughter-in-law's pregnancy, we can get so self-righteous and pompous. In truth not only are we weak, but we are judgmental on top of it! Wouldn't it be better to stop giving opinions about everyone else and do a better job of humbly looking after our own hearts? I doubt I could find any one to volunteer to allow their past to be put on the big screen at church. I can tell you right now, I’m not volunteering.
My biggest struggle with this story is that many of us have no idea why God wanted it included in the Bible. We are slowly drifting away from the Bible’s message of God's amazing grace to change and redeem broken people; instead churches are becoming places filled with self-righteous disdain over the horrible lives others are living around us.
Instead of exalting Jesus as our Messiah who came to offer us salvation, we want to focus on telling people about the laws of God. Somehow we believe that the law could change a single soul. We are focusing on the law when our world desperately craves the love and grace of God. Remember that you could not keep the laws, that’s why you acted in faith and were baptized.
We have forgotten that God specializes in cases like Judah. We need to tell everyone we come in contact with and remind one another what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Most of us like to stop there, but we never get to the best part of this passage: And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God
The early Christian church had its own share of Judah’s, and so does Park Central. I believe we need to write the words of Romans 5:20 on our hearts; where sin increased, grace increased all the more.
Our God gives us mercy and grace beyond reason
Our enemy, the devil, takes joy in whispering in our ear, You did it! You really messed up! If people only knew what would they say? You're not what you seem to be. Do you think you're going to get away with this?
We have all heard these words and had these thoughts and instead of coming clean with our brokenness we are left feeling unworthy to talk with God, or go to church. We avoid our Bibles and friends. We see no hope of change. More than anything else Satan wants to hide the fact that God gives mercy beyond reason to everyone who has messed up. James writes in Chapter 2:13, Mercy triumphs over judgment.
God’s specialty is forgiving; He delights in taking failures such as Judah and weaving them into a beautiful picture of His love. This is shown in the very fact that in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew goes through Judah and through not to his legitimate son, Shelah, but to Perez, Tamar's boy, the child of incest.
I believe that’s just remarkable. It is as if God were saying, I don’t want my people to forget that I not only forgive sins, but I can take them and touch them and heal them-and put them in the line that leads to Christ. What Satan means for evil, God is able to change and work out for good.
Even today, God delights in hearing Judah's name echo through the heavenly halls. He takes sinners like you and me and makes us right. He takes dirt and pollution and transforms them into holiness. He takes the crooked thing and makes it straight. He takes the tangles of our lives and weaves something new, so that we emerge singing Hallelujah. We love God, not because we’ve been so good, but because He is so good, and His mercy endures forever.
The Lion of the tribe of Judah is about deliverance, not condemnation. He takes our mistakes and wanderings and redeems them for His glory. No record is so stained, no case so hopeless that he cannot reach down and bring salvation to that person.
It is our privilege to spread the message that Jesus Christ has the power to save! No matter how ruined the life, His blood can erase even the darkest stain, and His Spirit can breathe new life into fallen men and women. He is the God of Judah, the man who was a moral failure, a hypocrite, and a disgrace to God and his family. But through Judah we see more clearly the depth of the Lord's love and the incredible richness of His mercy.
The failure and brokenness of Judah reminds us that Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Questions For You To Consider
What strikes you as the most disturbing part about the story of Judah and Tamar?
Why do you think God would interrupt the story of Joseph to include this story?
While we focused on Judah this morning, God is open about the sin of the other people in this situation. Since everyone in the story is broken, and all have sinned, why do we try to rate the sinfulness of actions? Example was Judah worse that Onan?
Judah says that Tamar was more righteous than he was. Could that be possible?
How does the fact that Perez is listed in the genealogies of David and Jesus help us appreciate God's grace?
How does God work today to bring good out of tragedy and brokenness?
If God is honest about the sins of Judah and Tamar, and even used their sinfulness to bring about good, then why do we have such a problem be honest with our brokenness?