8/18/08 Bulletin Message
Last week, I pointed out that Jesus really understands our dysfunctional families. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who actually read the stories of Genesis 37 and on. A number of people were shocked at some of the stories. I had a number of "Wow. His family was way more screwed up than my family" comments during the week. Some could not get over the fact that Reuben tried to sleep with one of his father's wives (hey, at least it was not his mother). A couple were shocked at Judah's off-handed use of a prostitute to scratch his itch. One or two picked up on Reuben's willingness to have Jacob kill his own grandkids (Reuben's children) if Benjamin was not brought back safely. And not a few were condemning of Joseph who tortured his brothers during this period. Hopefully, if I did my job Sunday, each of you present recognized that there were even way more dysfunctions occurring. Jacob calls Benjamin his son, as if Reuben and Judah and all the others are strangers. Jacob refers to Rachel as his wife, as if Leah and the others are non-existent to him. There are enough dysfunctions in this family for any family therapist to write a few books.
In fact, the hero of the story is so misled that he first leaves his family to go among the Canaanites. Think of that, Judah would rather associate with and marry the very nation which will later lead his people into idolatry. Such is how he despises his birthright. And then, only after his daughter-in-law demonstrates that she is more righteous than he, Judah begins to understand his relative worth. And then, as he begins acknowledge his behavior before family and friends, God goes to work. Judah has engaged in a number of sins, and yet God is able to turn him into an image of Christ. How does this happen. Think back to last week's reading. Who proposes to sell Joseph rather than kill him? Judah. Judah is so selfish at the beginning of this that he wants to "make a little money" off his dislike of Joseph. He is so selfish that he refuses to give Tamar his third son to continue the line. He is so selfish that he thinks nothing of giving a prostitute his more valuable possessions to satisfy his itch. Even when Joseph's steward puts back the money in the bags, Judah assumes that God is finally repaying them for the sin against Joseph. And though all the brothers agree that God is out to get them, none confess the sin to Jacob.
Yet, right before our reading, it is Judah who pleads with Joseph for the release of Benjamin. And Judah uses the words of Jacob to beg for Benjamin's life, words which must have surely hurt as much as any wound could. Please, Lord, if I return without Benjamin, I shall bear the blame before my father all my life. I fear the evil which will find my father. Though Jacob has been a horrible father and terrible husband, though Jacob has reduced his sons not born of Rachel to mere strangers, his son still loves him. And Judah would rather finish his life as a slave rather than return the evil to his father. Now Judah belongs to God. The same man who decided to profit off his brother's misfortune is the same man who proposes to spend his life as a slave. The same man who tricks his dad by smearing blood in the robe is that same man who lays down his life that no evil may come upon his dad. And Judah does this despite the fact that his father does not love him as he did Joseph or does Benjamin and despite how his father treats his mother.
We might understand Judah's motivation. He is willing to become a slave to preserve his father and brother, both of whom are more righteous than he. Judah had committed any number of sins, and he was all too away of his guilt because of them. And yet, his actions point to God's true Man, His Son, our Redeemer. Brothers and sisters, so often we are like Joseph's brothers. We think that God is out to get us for our various sins. Yet the whole of Scripture reminds us that everyone pales in comparison to Jesus. While we might understand Judah's motivation, we must acknowledge that Jesus loves us more. Judah was willing to give up his life for family members. Jesus gave up His life for complete strangers, stranger who would do terrible things to each other. And, unlike Judah, Jesus was without sin. Of all people, He had no guilt! He had no need to lay down His life except for His love of you and me. Still, he wondrously, lovingly went to the cross for the sake of all sinners who would repent in His name.
Brothers and sisters, what in your life resonates with the stories of Joseph's brothers? What sin is it in your life that causes you to fear God? If you fear Him, you are not listening to Him or His offer. Jesus came and bore the sins of the enemies of God, the very ungodly, you and me. He has offered you and me and all whom we meet glorious forgiveness. He has offered to bear our guilt and leave us with a light burden. All we need to do is ask Him to forgive our sins and he can transform our hearts just as He did the heart of Judah. Brothers and sisters, Jesus laid down His life that the glory of God might show forth in each of our lives. Accept His offer of forgiveness, and go forth into the world rejoicing in His power to transform the hearts of all!