Scandal! Every Family has One – Unlikely Candidate

We seem to always try to make Christmas so perfect, neat, pretty, and predictable, don’t we? We want to make sure our decorations are perfect, and our food is perfect. We like to sing our favorite carols. We want our family wearing their best and looking nice. We want everyone on their best behavior with no family drama, right?

Scandal

But there wasn’t much that was perfect, neat or pretty over Jesus’ birth, though we like to pretend that “all was calm, all was bright.” The truth is, the Christmas story was chaotic, messy, and even scandalous. There was a cloud of scandal hanging over Jesus’ birth from the very beginning.

Last week we began a new series “Scandal” and we saw how the story of Jesus is recorded by Matthew but with slightly different emphasis. Matthew seems to go out of his way to include women – odd for a male dominated culture – foreigners and people of ill repute. He pauses on the story of David and Bathsheba, as if anybody needed to be reminded of that. It’s like he went out of his way to emphasize the fact that in Jesus’ lineage there are some really interesting, colorful, r-rated, creepy characters.

It seems that if you’re trying to make a point that the person you’re talking about comes from God and is the Son of God you want to build a pretty positive rock solid case. But Matthew goes out of his way to underscore the fact that not everybody related to Jesus was very divine or very holy or very righteous, or even very good. Why would he do that?

 

SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

Matthew may have done this because they are part of the story, but also because they are the point of the story. Matthew was about to unfold the story, the teaching, the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus and he wanted to show us that this Jesus had a past too. It was very evident that he wanted his audience to understand the nature of the message of good news. Many times when people approach God they begin to act or think religious; that their standing with God is basically what they have done or they haven’t done or the things they promise to do or have tried to do or the things they intend to do from a certain point forward. So, consequently, there are many people who feel like they can come to God and get Him to answer their prayers, cause good things to happen simply based on the fact of “here I am, look at me and things I have done, I am good enough for you to do good things for me.” We said last week that this is called self-righteousness, meaning we can earn righteousness (God’s love) by good works.

The religious leaders of the day were great at this. They demanded people to do more and be more for God to love them. Another, not so prominent, group was and is those that think, “I’ve done so much wrong, or such terrible things that God would never love or forgive me.” but last week we saw that the church is a hospital of sinners and not a hotel of saints.

 

THE UNLIKELY CANDIDATE

Matthew went out of his way to make sure his audience knew that Jesus not only came for sinners, but that Jesus also came from sinners —and not just any sinners, sinners that could win awards for their sin. Sinners that you wouldn’t invite to your family reunion—people with a past that in most cases they tried to keep a secret. So, maybe with a grin on his face, maybe with a gleam in his eye, Matthew gives us the genealogy of Jesus and goes out of his way to underscore all the different kinds of characters. With that in mind, let us make reference to the first part of the family tree of Jesus as recorded by Matthew. Matthew1:1-3

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the big three of the Old Testament – the ones most definitely know of in the genealogy. Jacob had twelve sons: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin. Look at those names. If you know the story of these guys, which son is the obvious choice through whom God might send His Son? Think Hollywood Movie, DreamWorks Cartoon: Joseph and the Technicolor Dream coat. Yes! Joseph was the obvious choice. He was the hero of the twelve.  You’d think if a movie was made about his life that God would send the messiah through Joseph!

For as it was Joseph had a number of savior-like qualities. His brothers threw him into a well and left him for dead. Then he “rose from the dead” – so to speak – and ended up saving both the Egyptians and the Israelites from a famine. Plus Joseph forgave his brothers for their sins against him. Sounds a lot like Jesus.

But God didn’t choose Joseph to send his messiah. God chose Judah. Judah was another unlikely candidate in Jesus’ family tree. If Judah beat out Joseph for the blessing, he must have been quite the guy. What did he do to deserve the blessing? Actually…nothing. In fact, Matthew threw Judah under the bus twice in how he related the genealogy. Maybe you didn’t notice it in Matt 1:2-3 “Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar.” It’s this introduction that Matthew used to highlight the dark side of Judah’s story. So here is the story.

When Matthew mentioned Judah AND HIS BROTHERS…he was placing a reminder that it was Judah who recommended to his brothers that they sell Joseph to traders and tell their father he was dead.  The full story proceeds to show how responsible Judah felt for what he did. He just may have felt so guilty about it enough for him to leave his family. Gen 38:1-2 “Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam . . . There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man . . . and married her . . .”

This is one of those moments in the Bible where you need to pause and put yourself in the shoes of the character. You need to imagine what was going on in Judah’s head. To leave his family and marry a Canaanite was a radical move, for two reasons: number one: families stuck together. They lived a stones throw from each other. So why would Judah move unless there was a problem? Plus, Jews didn’t marry Canaanites. Canaanites were idol-worshippers. So I have to imagine that Judah moved because he felt awful for betraying both Joseph and his father. He brought shame and dishonor to his father’s name and so his answer was to banish himself from the family. He married a Canaanite because he gave up on himself. He didn’t even try to keep up the image any more.

 

JUDAH THE SCANDALOUS

Judah tries to start a new life. Let’s see how he does. Judah and his wife had three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah. And then it says Gen 38:6 “Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar.” So here we meet Tamar.  But…this is a little confusing. Is there a problem with this picture? Matthew said that Judah and Tamar had a child. But here Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law. What’s wrong with this picture? This is where the scandal comes in.

Tamar married Judah’s oldest son. But he died. So, according to Jewish law, Tamar married Judah’s second son. But he died too. Judah told Tamar she could live with his family and promised Tamar that she could marry his third son when he was old enough. But the truth is: Judah thinks Tamar is bad luck. He thinks she caused his sons death. Judah never intended on letting his third son marry Tamar. When it dawns on Tamar that she’ll remain a widow and never bear children, she takes matters into her own hands.

Now, about that time Judah takes a trip. His wife just died, so he travels to a party with his shepherds. When he travels through a town he comes across a prostitute and he hires her. It’s dark and she’s veiled, so he doesn’t get a good look at her. You can read the whole story in Genesis 38. When it comes time for payment he promises her a goat, but she wants some kind of guarantee, so he gives her his staff and his ring. When he gets back home he sends a servant to give the prostitute the goat. But she’s not there and no one knows anything about her. The locals say they don’t have a prostitute in their town.

That’s kind of odd, but Judah forgets about her. Fast forward… Gen 38:24 About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.” Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”  It’s suddenly obvious that Tamar is pregnant. Her family is outraged. She’s not married. Clearly she has shamed the family by having an illicit affair, so they do what every noble Middle East family did back then, they plan to kill her. That is the only way to clear the family’s good name.

Judah does what every person does who has a secret and who is pretending to be something they are not; Judah gets real self-righteous. Judah says, “My daughter-in-law has shamed my family! She must be burned alive.” The irony of it is that Judah is the one who has dishonored the family. This is the same Judah who sold his brother into slavery, broke his mom and dad’s heart by lying to them, married a Canaanite woman, lied to his daughter-in-law that he will take care of her, almost forced her into poverty, forced her into a life of shame. This is the same Judah who hired a “prostitute,” a secret that nobody is going to know about, that he is going to go to his grave with. Judah is like, “she must be burned; she has shamed my family publicly!” REALLY?

Here is a question to ponder on; have you ever met somebody that just hammers on an issue and then you discover that secretly in their personal life they actually have a struggle with that very issue? Did you ever meet a self-righteous person that judged everybody for one thing in particular only to find out they had a problem with that thing? But have you noticed that people who have admitted their failures, exposed their short-comings willingly, often give the most grace and mercy to those who are falling or have fallen?

But Tamar had an ace up her sleeve. Gen 38:25-26 As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. ‘I am pregnant by the man who owns these,’ she said. And she added, ‘See if you recognize whose ring and staff these are.’ Judah recognized them and said, ‘She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah. And he did not sleep with her again.’” Tamar gives birth to a little boy and his name is Perez and he is in the genealogy of Jesus, the Christ.

 

GOD’S PLANS ARE BIGGER THAN YOUR MISTAKES

In Genesis 49 Jacob blesses Judah with the promise that God’s messiah will come from him. God looks down and says, “I think I’ll skip the savior-like Joseph and go with the liar and this messed up guy. I’ll bring my son into the world through Judah, not Joseph.” Matthew underscores that little snippet of history in his genealogy. Why? Because Judah is a picture of you and me. Judah is the picture of a person who deserved one thing and got something else. He is a picture of a person who is in the process of learning that God’s grace is available to people who have not made themselves available to God.

So, when Matthew lists the names of Jesus’ family he makes sure we remember all the mess and failure. It’s not squeaky clean. Matthew wants us to know that Jesus came to save broken messy people . . . just like the people in Jesus’ family-the men and women, good and evil; and thankfully, no one’s dark side disqualifies him or her from God. No sin is outside of God’s forgiveness. God can use people, like Judah, even though they keep messing up. God throughout history has chosen the broken people, the messed up people, the people with a past, the people with secrets, the people who have created disappointments for other people—those are the ones He has chosen. The one point of this message is this: God’s plans are bigger than your mistakes!

How did Judah assess his own life? I’m guessing that he assessed his life as a huge tragedy. A liar, sexually immoral, disappointment, betrayal and self-righteous etc. His life isn’t what he wanted it to be but he did produce a son and that son turned out alright. And he had a son who had a son who had a son who had a son who had a son who had a son who had a son who is the Son of God. What is amazing about the Bible genealogies is this, zoom out and take a 42-generation perspective. Sometimes, we get so embroiled in the minute, circumstantial details of our lives, we just feel like our lives aren’t what we want them to be and what we need is a little bit of eternal perspective.  God’s plans are bigger than your mistakes-sexual or otherwise. Sometimes we reduce God to the size of our biggest failure. Remember God’s plans are bigger than your mistakes.

So I think Matthew is saying, Look, God is bigger than our scandals. God has never been limited by scandals. If you’ve been touched by God’s forgiveness, it doesn’t matter what’s in your past and God isn’t fazed by it. He can handle anything you’ve done, and still use you. Matthew wants you to know that Jesus came to rescue you from your past. God sent a savior to cleanse you from bad choices and give you a fresh start. So if your life is less than perfect today, if your story is complicated, if there’s more chaos in your life right now than peace and joy, and maybe even some scandal, then you qualify to be in Jesus’ family. Jesus came into the world to use unlikely candidates like you. God’s plans are bigger than your mistakes.

Matthew had heard Jesus say these words, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick . . . I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,” like a Judah, like a Tamar. The story of Christmas, the story of Jesus is about God drawing near to sinners, God drawing near to people who had drawn away because of their past, God leaning towards those who had leaned away because of their guilt.

When Jesus came into our world He changed the rules in terms of how people approach God. The thinking back then was like the thinking now, “That in order to approach God, I approach Him based on what I have done, or what I have not done. The only way God will take me seriously is I have to be good enough, I’ve to do more good than bad.” Or ”The reason God won’t take me seriously is I haven’t been good enough, I’ve done more bad than good.” Matthew knew that Jesus changed the rules. It’s not about what I have done, good or bad, it’s about what God has done for me, in Jesus. Jesus not only came from sinners, He came for sinners. Jesus came for those who needed gifts only He could give – acceptance, forgiveness, righteousness and hope. God’s plans are bigger than your mistakes.

Whether you are a Christ follower, or not; whether you have been in church for years, or just trying this stuff out, is that if you still approach God in any way based on what you have done, or if you lean away from God based on what you have not done, abandon this approach to God completely. Because no matter how good you are, you are not good enough; and no matter how bad you are, you are not bad enough that his gift won’t work for you. God’s plans are bigger than your mistakes.

You may push back: you’re thinking, “There is so much I’ve done wrong; there are so many things I have done that would disqualify me. So many inconsistencies, so many scars, so many things I am ashamed of, so much secret guilt. When I think about approaching God, there is just too much baggage, too much disbelief, too much immorality and chaos.” Understand that it is not about what you have done, it’s not about what you haven’t done, every one of us comes to God purely, 100%, on the basis of what God has done for us in Jesus.

So, as Matthew wrote his genealogy how could he resist the temptation to include these failures? Because it is the failures who are the point of Christmas. Jesus came into the world to be a Savior, and He is really good at that. The message is that we should be a people liberated from any false sense of righteousness, and liberated from any false sense of hopelessness, because we understand, “I come to God not on the basis of what I have done, or what I have not done. I come to God on the basis of what He has done for me.” It’s all gift, it’s all grace. Remember God’s plans are bigger than your mistakes.

To those with a past, with shame, with secrets – things that you plan to take to your grave, God says “I’m inviting you to simply accept what I’ve done for you before you try to do anything about what you’ve done to yourself or to other people. I’m inviting you to approach me as the giver of grace and mercy and forgiveness. Then, in time I’ll show you how to forgive yourself. In time, I’ll show you how to begin to mend those relationships, but I don’t want your sin to separate us relationally any longer—because I sent my son into this world to fix that once and for all, for everybody.”

If you want a start over, only this time with God at the center of your life, pray this prayer, “Jesus, thank you for coming into the world to rescue me from my sin and failure. Thank you for forgiving me of my past and being willing to use me like Judah, in spite of myself. I invite you to come into my life by your Spirit. Fill me up, change me into your likeness, show me the path to follow, and use me to promote your purposes in this world.”

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One Response to “Scandal! Every Family has One – Unlikely Candidate”

  1. “Jesus came into the world to be a Savior, and He is really good at that. The message is that we should be a people liberated from any false sense of righteousness, and liberated from any false sense of hopelessness, because we understand, “I come to God not on the basis of what I have done, or what I have not done. I come to God on the basis of what He has done for me.”….That’s what i love about this message.I have fallen short of the glory of Christ over and over but knowing that he still wants me,makes this journey called life all worth it.

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