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"A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram...
Judah. An forefather of Jesus. Must be some guy, right? Well, not exactly. Judah reminds us, when we look closely at his life's story, that everyone of faith is also someone of sin. He tells my friend John and all the others, "You can't be good enough! And no one's been any worse than me!"
Judah has an entire chapter of the Bible written about him, Genesis 38. But don't turn there unaware. It is a sordid story of sinful, carnal, corrupt, behavior. It's so bad that you might think you're watching prime time television! Seriously, it is so steeped in ugly sinful behavior that I can't bear to tell the whole story here. It's best for me to tell some of it and edit out the X-rated parts that don't belong in a Christian magazine.
Judah's troubles begin when he marries an unbelieving woman. Then his oldest son, Er, grows up to be so wicked he's put to death by the Lord! Judah asked his second son, Onan, to bear children with Er's widow, Tamar (this was the custom, and obviously God's plan) but Onan wouldn't do it, so the Lord puts him to death too!
Whatever their sins were, poor Er and Onan realize too late what Paul says centuries later to the church in Rome."The wages of sin is death." No matter how ugly, dramatic, or mundane, sin is the choice of self over God. It results in separation from Him. If you doubt that, just ask Judah's boys.
Tamar is afraid she'll never have a child, so she cooks up a disgusting plot. Dressing up like a prostitute, she hides her face and waits at a certain place. And when Judah, her own father-in-law comes by he doesn't recognize her. You can guess what happens next. He pays for her favor and goes home. But we could never guess what happened next. She becomes pregnant with twins.
And when the news that Tamar is having a baby comes out, about three months later, Judah throws a self-righteous fit. How dare his daughter-in-law cause the family disgrace! "Bring her out and have her burned to death!" As she is being dragged out to the wood pile she calmly pulls out the personal items Judah had given her just 12 weeks before as payment for services rendered, identifying him as the father. Judah is humiliated before everyone and has to admit, "She is more righteous than I am!"
This awful story ends with a note of hope when the babies are born. One is named Perez and the other Zerah. I think we might very well forget their names, except for those verses in the ancestry of Jesus. And their names remind us about faith. Faithful people acknowledge their sin and accept the grace of God.
If you have a dark story like this one in your family, I bet you don't have the twins stand up in the middle of the circle at family reunions and sing "Kum Bah Yah"! This is something right out of National Enquirer, except people don't want to know! Why even retell this seedy affair? If a preacher dares to sermonize from this text, some parishioners will undoubtedly say, "There are just some Bible stories you shouldn't preach." And I tend to agree!
God wants us to know that anyone can have faith!|
God wants us to know that anyone can have faith! Anybody's family can be turned around. Ask Tamar and Perez! Judah is the most unlikely father of faith in the whole Bible. Yet there he is, and I think God is smiling. Not because of the sin. Never. But because of faith in His redemptive power.
Left to our own devices, anyone can self-destruct. The great Apostle Paul knew this. He says, again the those Christians in Rome, "There is none righteous, not even one" and"I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature." So there's no need to look down at Judah. Without Judah's offspring Jesus, our own sad tales would have no hope.
But often we climb on that roller coaster of condemning others for the very things we do. Or we plunge downward, unwilling to receive the good news that God forgives us of our own detestable sin. Holding our hands up with our eyes shut tight we scream, "I'm not good enough! I could never be forgiven!"
For a real double loop, take a look at good church going folk described in the New Testament. Paul is telling how the wicked will not inherit God's Kingdom, and he lists some shameful specifics in I Corinthians 6: "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!"
But then comes the last big curve: "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."
See, the early church had its share of Judahs, but where sin increased, grace increased all the more.
I believe today's church is like that too. We're a bunch of sinners, redeemed by God. It has never been about being good enough, or getting by in spite of bad things we've done. It has always been about being washed, sanctified, and justified in Jesus and by the Spirit. Get off that roller coaster and get into Christ!
One question you may have is the same one I have had about Judah. Does he ever repent? There is no lament on his part in all the Bible. In the 51st Psalm King David (another descendant of Judah) lays it all out before God, after adultery and murder. But, except for that one line, "Tamar is more righteous than I am," there is no such mea culpa for Judah. Or is there?
When his father Jacob blesses him in Genesis 49 there is a definite sense of great things. Even a great king, or even a redeemer to come from Judah's line. Maybe even the blessing of Judah's otherwise unknown repentance to God.
The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes.
I believe that is because of Judah's heart and faith, and repentance. And we live by faith when we wash our garments in the wine of the Lion of Judah, the descendant of this man and his son Perez, in the blood of His grapes.
Do you hear that John? You, like Judah, can be an unlikely father of faith.
HEARTLIGHT(R) Magazine is a ministry of loving Christians and the Westover Hills church of Christ.
Edited by Phil Ware and Paul Lee.
Copyright © 1996-97, Heartlight, Inc., 8332 Mesa Drive, Austin, TX 78759.
© 1999 Danny Sims. Used by permission.