Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Sermon for the third mid-week Advent service - Gen 49:8-12


                                                                                                Mid-Advent 3

                                                                                                Gen 49:8-12



            What are the odds that Prince Harry will become king of England? Well on the surface it seems basically impossible.  The fact that Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle gave up their royal titles at the beginning of this year is not the real problem because ultimately that doesn’t void his place in the line of succession.

            No, the real problem is the line of succession in which Harry stands sixth.  Of course being first in line has not helped Prince Charles who, at the age of seventy two, is the longest living heir apparent in English history because his mother, Queen Elizabeth II continues to live at age ninety four. But after Prince Charles there is Harry’s brother Prince William, and then after him are William’s three children.  At sixth place in the line of succession it certainly doesn’t look like Harry will ever become king.

            But then again the same thing could have been said out Jacob’s son Judah.  It certainly didn’t look like the promised Savior – the Messiah – would descend from Judah. After all, Judah stood fourth in line.  Reuben, Simeon and Levi had all been born before Judah. As I mentioned last week, the first born son was number one and all the best would belong to him. Yet we see in our text tonight that Judah did in fact become the one from whom the Messiah descended. The way this happened, and the manner in which he actually fathered the line that led to Jesus continues our theme of God working in unlikely ways through sinners.

            Our text from Genesis chapter 49 is part of the blessing that Jacob spoke to his sons at the end of his life.  However the word “blessing” doesn’t really capture the full import of what is happening here. The first verse of the chapter says, “Then Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come.’”  Jacob is speaking a blessing, but he is also speaking a prophetic word.

             In our text Jacob first says of Judah, “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down before you.”  Judah, who is not the first born son is described as the one who will receive his brother’s praise and obedience.  His future is one of power and control of his enemies.

            Next Jacob says, “Judah is a lion's cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him?” The note of power is continued as Judah is compared to a lion that others fear.

            And finally comes the show stopper as Jacob says, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”  The language of scepter and staff designate Judah as the one from whom the king would descend.  It is from tribe founded by Judah that the Messiah – the Savior would descend.

            But what about Reuben, Simeon and Levi?  They end up being. passed over because of their sinful actions.  Reuben slept with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah, the servant of Rachel, who was mother to Dan and Naphtali.  His sexual sin was an act of incredible disrespect to his father.

            Simeon and Levi’s sister Dinah was taken and violated by Shechem a man from one the peoples that lived in Canaan at that time.  Shechem loved Dinah and wanted her as his wife.  He asked his father to make the arrangements for this to happen.  His father Hamor asked for Dinah to become his son’s bride, and proposed that his people and Jacob’s family intermarry.  Jacob’s sons said this would be a good thing. But in order for it to happen, all of the men in Hamor’s city needed to be circumcised.  This they were willing to do.  But on the third day, while all of the men were still recovering from this procedure in an era with no anesthetics, Simeon and Levi went in and killed every man in the city. Because of their anger and violence, they were passed over.         

            And so it was Judah, fourth in line, who became the one through whom the Savior would descend.  It was unexpected and it was caused by the sin of Reuben, Simeon and Levi. Yet in the midst of the sin of Jacob’ family God was still at work in order to bring forth the Savior. He was working in unexpected and surprising ways.

            When Matthew describes the genealogy of Jesus, he writes, “and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar.” Then Matthew continues to describe how Perez was the next in the line of fathers that led to Joseph. It all sounds simple enough … until we look a little closer.

            Judah’s first born son Er married Tamar.  However, Moses tells us that Er was evil in the sight of God, and God killed him.  In the culture of that day it was the responsibility of a brother to provide an heir for his brother who had died.  Judah told his next son Onan, to carry out this duty and to have a child with Tamar.  Onan repeatedly refused to follow through with this, and God killed him because of this wickedness.

            Judah told Tamar to remain a widow in his house until his youngest son Shelah was old enough to marry.  But in truth, he had no intention of doing this because his other two sons had died.  Eventually when Shelah had grown up, Tamar realized Judah was not going to be true to his word.

            So Tamar took matters into her own hands.  Judah’s wife had died.  So Tamar dressed herself up in the manner of a prostitute, and located herself at a place where she knew Judah would be arriving.  Judah saw this apparent prostitute and wanted to use her services. Tamar asked what payment Judah would give, and he promised a young goat. Tamar asked for a pledge of payment – she demanded Judah’s signet, cord and staff.  These were objects that identified Judah.  Judah and Tamar had relations, and Judah went on his way. Tamar also left.  As promised he sent the goat, but those bringing the animal could not the prostitute.  Judah chose to remain silent about losing the his signet, cord and staff because others would laugh at him. As far as he was concerned, the matter was over.

            But three months later Judah was told, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has been immoral. Moreover, she is pregnant by immorality.” Judah responded, "Bring her out, and let her be burned.” But as Tamar was being brought out, she sent word to Judah, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” She said, "Please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” Judah immediately recognized that they were his. Judah identified them and said about Tamar, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” Tamar gave birth to twins, and the first of them, Perez went on to be a father in the line of that led to King David and then to Joseph.

            The lineage of Jesus is filled with sin and surprises. God worked through these means to in order to bring the forgiveness of sin. He remained in charge, working in unexpected ways. And all of these led to the great surprise of Jesus’ conception.

            Matthew tells us that Mary and Joseph were betrothed.  They weren’t married yet, but this was more than just an engagement.  It had a legal status. Yet during this time, Mary was discovered to be pregnant.  Like Judah before him with Tamar, Joseph assumed that Mary had been sexually immoral.  Joseph wasn’t going to marry a woman who had been unfaithful before they were even married.  Joseph was just, but he was not vengeful. He decided to carry out the divorce – the ending of the betrothal – quietly so as not bring shame upon Mary.

            But Matthew tells us that as he considered these things  

an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

            What appeared to be immoral and sinful, was actually the sinless answer to sin, worked by the Holy Spirit. Joseph took Mary as his wife. He claimed Jesus as his son, and in so doing he made Jesus part of the line of Judah and part of the line of King David.  He made him the One who could fulfill all of God’s promises about the Messiah in the Old Testament.

            God’s surprising and unexpected ways did not end there.  Jesus grew up as the sinless Son of God, true God and true man.  He died a criminal’s death – that’s what crucifixion was – even though he was without sin and had done no wrong.  Yet though sinless, Jesus died as a sinner in God’s eyes.  He died bearing your sins and receiving God’s judgment against them. That’s how he saved his people from their sins. That’s how he saved you from your sins. He won forgiveness by receiving the wrath and judgment of God that you deserve.

            And then, on the third day, God did the most unexpected thing.  He raised Jesus from the dead.  He vindicated Jesus as the Messiah through whom the Father had carried the promise made in Genesis 3:15 about seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head.  God had defeated sin, death and the devil by the death and resurrection of Jesus for you. 







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