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Who Needs Christmas?
Part:1 The Girl Who Got Ahead - The Story of Tamar
Opening: A couple of weeks ago- I was researching my family name, and specifically a man by the name of Henry Rathbone. I was under the impression that because of his dereliction of duty he had been a contributing factor in the death of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. You can imagine my relief as I quickly uncovered, that he in fact was not a contributing factor to that great tragedy at all, the opposite was true. Not long after “The Late Unpleasantness” (a folk term for the Civil War) had ended, President Lincoln invited his Friend Major Henry Rathbone, and his fiancée Clara Harris to join him and his wife at Ford’s theater for the evening. You can imagine my familial pride swell as I read of his heroism that night as John Wilkes Booth slipped into their unguarded box and shot President Lincoln at point blank range. In trying to stop and apprehend the criminal, Major Rathbone was slashed from his shoulder to his elbow severely and deeply but fought to keep Booth from escaping. As Booth jumped over the balcony to the stage below, Major Rathbone grabbed his coat, causing Booth to fall and land awkwardly, injuring himself and ultimately making it possible for him to be apprehended days later. A heroic man indeed, and a Rathbone at that. A Friend of the President.
Unfortunately, I kept reading. After that tragedy, Henry Rathbone was promoted to Colonel, but that night’s events haunted him. After resigning from the Army in 1870, his mental health continued to decline. In 1882, He, his wife and their children moved to Germany, but he was not able to shake the anguish. In December of 1883, in a fit of madness he attacked his children and when Clara tried to protect them, he murdered her then tried to commit suicide. He was committed to a hospital for the criminally insane where he lived the last 27 years of his life, dying there in 1911 then buried in the city cemetery. In 1952, because his grave was never visited, and there was no family interest, the cemetery management had his remains exhumed and disposed of to make room for new occupants. A life so full of plans and promise ended in horrible shame and tragedy and rejection, even in death.
Fortunately, (and you can trust me on this) Henry Rathbone is from a different line of Rathbones. I am sure of it because I closed my browser, deleted my history, cancelled my subscription to Ancestry.com, and after today, have no plans to mention this man again nor do any deep research into my family history.
Perhaps you have been in a similar place, researching your lineage and finding not only surprising heroes but maybe even a despicable villain or two. Perhaps your family tree is full of honorable men and women who have left a legacy to be proud of.
Perhaps you are convinced no good can come from looking so you are just moving on.
Whatever the case, we think that the next 4 weeks will be not only useful in your understanding, but perhaps even eternity altering, as we look at the lineage off Jesus of Nazareth, The Son of God. This December, by God’s Grace we will answer the Question – “Who Needs Christmas?”
When we say, “Who Needs Christmas?” we aren’t talking about the glitter, the lights, the materialism or the busyness that is sure to be on us, but the Message of Christmas, which is Jesus.
As we look at the lineage of Jesus over the next four weeks, we will understand that when God doesn’t just include notorious names in His family tree, but the Holy Spirit HIGHLIGHTS them, something important is happening. This December we unpack the surprising truth, that the message of Christmas is not for the holy & the whole, but for schemers, sinners, outcasts, and the broken. In Other Words, the message of Christmas is for people just like me and you.
Virtually every ancient or Biblical genealogy is an exclusive list of males. Simply because it was through the father’s that Prestige, Power, Titles and Inheritance passed. But in the lineage of Christ presented in Matthew’s Gospel, 4 women stand out for less than prestigious reasons. Today we will look at the first woman mentioned in the lineage of Jesus, Tamar , a lady often castigated and reviled, a woman who was a brilliant schemer. Tamar was the girl who got ahead.
The message of Christmas is for schemers like Tamar, and for you and me. vv. Matthew 1:3 Matthew 1:3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram,
Often whenever we think of the various characters highlighted in Scripture, our first thoughts are of their exploits- as in the case of Moses, or perhaps their evil as in Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus. But often when we do that we are observing scripture from a very narrow perspective – our lens is focused on the moment, not the purpose or the plan. This morning we are going to zoom out for a bit and examine God’s Redemptive Plan and purpose to understand
· Why Tamar is named in the lineage of Christ
· Why Tamar matters for me, and for you
· Why the message of Christmas will never fail
After all, without a Redemptive plan, without an eternal purpose, what we are left with when we look at the characters in the lineage of Jesus is another set of far distant relatives, that would make us want to delete our search history and close our browser.
1. Why is Tamar named in the lineage of Christ? Lets begin with a brief summary of the history of God’s plan to the days of Tamar.
· When we talk about God’s Plan of Redemption remember it is a plan that has existed before the world was created. To see that we have to go to the LAST book of Scripture, Revelation. Writing about those who will be deceived and worship a false God, exerience the full wrath of a Holy God and spend an eternity in torment John records that they will be :
Rev 13:8(b) …. everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.
Four Truths – God Created the Plan, God controls the plan, The Plan has always been in place, The Plan is For His Glory & our Good.
· Mankind was first given the promise by God that there was a plan in place shortly after Adam & Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. God cursed the serpent who deceived Eve and said this
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Genesis 3:15)
· The promise of God was simple, that one day a descendant of Adam & Eve would crush the serpent. That promise was the Hope for man to cling to, that one day sin would be defeated, and the relationship between God & man restored. It is still today a Secured Hope for all who repent and believe.
· As we move through early history we find that God called a man named Abraham to himself, established a covenant with Abraham and told him that he would have descendants as numerous as the stars. God told Abraham that not only would he have a son when it was naturally impossible for Sarah to have a son, God even named him! His name would be Isaac.
· Abraham faced a great test after Isaac was older when God asked him to take Isaac to Mountains of Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice. On that day, God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son, a foreshadowing of the Lamb who would take away the sins of the world. Abraham spoke of that place in Genesis 22:
So Abraham called the name of that place, "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided." (Genesis 22:14)
Hundreds of Years later, on those same mountains, Solomon would build the Temple, and then ultimately nearby, the Lamb of God would bear our shame and the wrath of God on a criminal’s cross.
· The blessing of God- the promise that through Isaac the nations of the earth would be blessed would continue through the descendants of Isaac and when Rebekah became pregnant, she felt a great battle raging inside her womb. God told her that two mighty nations were in her womb but the older would serve the younger- signifying Jacob- Later to be named Israel - would be the path of blessing.
· Jacob had his own encounters with God, one of which was a dream where he was told … in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” (Genesis 28:14)
· So now we are focused on the family of Jacob who would have 12 sons. Where would God Sovereignly place the lineage of Jesus – the one who would bless all the nations of the earth?
· Simeon & Levi, the 2nd and 3rd sons – they deceitfully made a treaty with a people group in the land iso they could murder & plunder the city in revenge for an assault on their sister Dinah. Because of their reckless actions, in fear the family had to move, but God protected them in a miraculous way- showing the inhabitants of the land this was God’s Chosen people and then God changed Jacob’s name to Israel.
· Reuben- the firstborn- committed sin with Israel’s wife, Israel found out. He said nothing at the time, but we find out later Israel will revoke his position and inheritance because of this.
· One of the sons – Joseph- was an exceptionally Godly man- so much so that he is regarded as an Old Testament “Picture” or “Type” of who the Christ would be. His brothers hated him, hated him so much they conspired to kill him, threw him in a pit to die, but then Judah- the 4th son of Jacob, convinced his other brothers that if they sold him to the Egyptians, not only would they make a profit, but somehow his blood would not be on their hands. So, Joseph is out of the picture for now, thought to be dead. Judah the brother with a plan and able to make a buck to boot.
Does this sound like a family that needs the message of Christmas? You see, the message of Christmas is for sinners like Reuben, people with anger issues like Simeon & Levi, people with a Godly example who really need rescuing like Joseph, people who try to make a buck and cover their sins like Judah. Unremarkable people who escape the notice of scandal, just trying to get along and get by like the other 7 sons of Israel. People like you, people like me. We need the message of Christmas.
· After Judah orchestrates Josephs being sold into slavery, He heads “Down” (geographically and Spiritually) to the flatlands. Genesis 38 contains the rest of the account of Tamar.
· One prohibition and two Cultural notes we make in looking through the lens of God’s redemptive plan. These are critical -
1. Abraham specifically prohibits Isaac’s wife from being a Canaanite woman due to their hardened idolatrous lifestyle. That prohibition was repeated from Isaac to Jacob- no Canaanite wife. That prohibition was still in place for the sons of Jacob and would be codified in the Law hundreds of years later.
2. The Father was to choose a wife for the son and ensure the family thrived. Today we fear the mother in law, then the father in law was in charge.
3. The second cultural custom already in place which would also be codified in the Law given to Moses was a levirate marriage. A levirate worked like this: In order to protect and preserve the ability for a line of descendants to exist once a father chose a wife for his son the father remained responsible to ensure the family line continued. If the husband died before a son was born, the father was to appoint either his next son or if there were none, his duty was to find the closest relative able to marry the widow. The son of that union would be the son of the dead husband, carrying on that family’s name, retaining all rights of inheritance, preserving the lineage, and also ensuring the widowed wife would have someone to care for her in her old age.
· So, Judah – goes Down, and He picks his own wife out, a Canaanite woman. Notice Genesis 38:2
There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite whose name was Shua. He took her and went in to her, (Genesis 38:2)
Her name is not even mentioned in Scripture. (some say the daughters name is Shua – vv 12 disproves that) (1 Chronicles 2:3 says Bath-Shua – Hyphenated meaning = Daughter of Shua)
· Judah has 3 sons by this woman, Er, Onan, and Shelah. He picks a wife for Er named Tamar- The Scriptures say Er was wicked in the sight of God, and God put him to death. Friend if you don’t think God is involved in the everyday affairs of mankind, think about that. God saw him, he was evil, God ended his life.
Judah, being the good father, mindful of the importance of lineage, tells Onan to marry Tamar, which he does. Onan though was obedient only on the surface. He knew there was a cost to full obedience … If Onan fulfills the levirate duty and has a child with Tamar it will be very costly – as it stood, there are two sons of Judah left- Onan now the oldest, in line to receive a double portion -or 2/3 of Judah’s inheritance. If there is a child- It would be considered Er’s son – The double portion of the blessing would go to him (50% of Judah’s wealth) leaving Onan at 25% and being the middle son- well, it is said the oldest and youngest get the most attention..
Onan repeatedly refuses to fulfill the duty of having a child with Tamar, God strikes him dead. Now Judah has but one child left- Shelah. Judah senses a pattern here- son marries Tamar- son dies. With one son left Judah decides he needs a plan.
· His plan? Send Tamar back to her dads house to wait on Shelah to grow up, never send for her, cast her aside. He was trying to use a loophole in the levirate custom – which said if there was no son or close relative to marry a widow, she may return to her father’s house and eat of his bread- and remain a widow until she died. Great Plan.
Judah’s plan was really disobedience, not a loophole. Because he did not trust in the goodness of God, he was willing to cast aside Tamar as easily as he tossed away his brother, Joseph. Oh, how Tamar needed the message of Christmas, a message that even for schemers, for sinners, for Tamar, for you and me, there is Rescue & Redemption in the promised One- Jesus.
Remember however, it is God who is Sovereign over His redemptive plan, it is God who decrees where the lineage of Christ will be, it is God who utilizes the failed schemes and plans of man for His purpose and His Glory and it is God alone who can save.
· Tamar is a woman that the Scriptures are silent on regarding her lineage – it just doesn’t say. Some commentators label Tamar as a Canaanite, but I don’t think so. One, Scripture doesn’t label her that way- alerting us something is amiss, and two, even though the Canaanite people were predominant in that land, there were other people groups residing in clusters in the area. Three, unlike Judah’s wife whose name is intentionally left out, God wants us to know Tamar. She is there according to the will & purpose of God. Tamar needs the message of Christmas, just as you and I need the message of Christmas.
God will use Tamar to bring the 4th son of Israel to a place of admitting his sin, a place where repentance and faith can take hold. Tamar demonstrates three characteristics that infer God was working in her life for His purpose. - submission to the authority of Judah, obedience to his requests, and humility, not vengeance to bring him to a place where he saw and confessed his sin. Perhaps Tamar just desperately wanted a son who would care for her in her old age. God uses us and our schemes and our plans despite our short sightedness, despite our blindness to His presence.
Perhaps we have missed that before thinking of Tamar by looking through the lens focused on her sin, not on the Savior who can save anyone, even Tamar, even me, even you.
· Tamar had time to wait and see – but I am sure she was thinking- how can this be made right. How can this be made fair? How can Judah be put in a position where he MUST fulfill his responsibility to ensure the line didn’t end there. She conceived a scheme – and it is unsavory, disgusting for us to think about, but Tamar- The schemer Tamar – the girl who got ahead - was filled with the bravery that comes from a scorned but resilient soul, and she acted on her plan.
· Once she was convinced that Judah had no intention of sending for her and giving her Shelah as husband, knowing that Judah’s idolatrous wife had died, Tamar set her scheme in place for the spirit, if not the letter of the levirate to be fulfilled through Judah’s lust. She had friends who were watching the movements of Judah, and she knew that after his grieving he would be going up to shear the flock – and that was always a time for festival’s and debauchery and fun on the road so to speak.
· She removes her “widows garments” (Maybe a Baggy sweatshirt with I am A Widow?) dresses herself as a lady who entertained men who were on the road - making sure to cover her face so Judah would not know it was her and sat by the roadside. Sure enough, Judah shows up- approaches and propositions her- and she asks what he has to offer?
· He offers her a goat from the flock – but Tamar insists on something of value to ensure he will return. She asks for the very things that will unmistakably identify him - His signet ring- His cord, and his staff. In today’s culture she would have said I need your American Express Platinum Card, your driver’s license and let’s take a selfie together. Judah says sure thing. By now, you must be convinced Judah needs the message of Christmas.
· Later he sends his servant back with a goat to exchange for his belongings, but the woman by the side of the road cannot be found. Judah desirous to not make it a news item that he was looking for his valuables back, decides the best thing to do is forget about it and chalk it up to a bad experience.
· 3 months later word comes to Judah that his daughter in law the widow Tamar is with child – an offence so immoral death is the sentence that could be imposed. So Tamar is brought before Judah to be sentenced to death and she humbly passes the valuables to Judah and says “please identify whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff”
· Judah is immediately overcome with guilt and confesses his sin and says “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah."
· She goes on to have twins, Perez and Zerah. Notice what has happened- because of this levirate union- Tamar replaces the Canaanite daughter, and in doing so since Perez is the first born of the first born, He is now the new firstborn- Got that? There is now no Canaanite blood in the line of Judah
· After Genesis 38, Tamar only mentioned twice more in the Old Testament (Ruth & 1 Chronicles – both times as the mother of Perez) and once in the New Testament Matthew 1:3 that we read earlier). But Tamar is present in these genealogies because she was placed there by God for His purpose to continue His plan of redemption. She brought Judah to a moment of recognizing his sin and confessing that sin.
· A remarkable thing happens roughly 30 years later though. Israel is about to die after being reunited with Joseph in the land of Egypt. Israel’s sons were gathered for their blessing, and it would be this prophetic blessing that would reveal the next step in the lineage of Christ.
· Israel says this: "Judah, your brothers shall praise youThe 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. (Gen 49:8-10)
· If man was writing the lineage of Jesus- he would certainly sanitize this sordid affair. God has Tamar included in the lineage of Christ to show
A. God is in control of all things
B. God relates to all of us, even in our sin
C. Grace is available to all
2. Why does Tamar’s story matter? She is so different than me.
Tamar’s was not only a schemer who out schemed another schemer, Judah, but Tamar was willing to violate her dignity and every moral norm to achieve her end. So, in that regard, we may say I would never do that.
But I know what it is like to have a close family member who abused and violated trust. When I was a young Christian, in a different era early 1970’s it was a time when children were to be seen but not heard, especially in church. It was a time, when, often, victims were examined sometimes more harshly than the victimizers. Because of that and having a rebellious spirit, I allowed distrust and resentment to guide my life for more than 20 years. I was determined to control every situation, every relationship, everything that was forbidden I wanted to find out why. I found out the hard way. I even schemed how to bring what I considered justice to the situation. I never acted on it, but I schemed. It wasn’t until I was in my mid 30’s that I gave it all back at the foot of a blood-stained tree called Calvary and experienced that Grace is for schemers like Tamar, Grace is for schemers like me.
Grace is for schemers, perhaps you are familiar with one? Chances are, if you are not a schemer yourself, you have experienced the damage one can cause. Maybe you are carrying today baggage that can be laid down for the last time today
Here is the truth- We all will be judged guilty of not being perfect if by our actions we are judged by a Sinless Perfect God on judgment day. It doesn’t have to end that way. Don’t let your soul be rejected, even in death, like Henry Reed Rathbone’s remains were. After the Civil war ended, that bloody horrible conflict that took over 500,00 lives into eternity, the term Late Unpleasantness became vogue- it sounded so much cleaner and innocent than War. We do the same thing with our sin. It becomes a “Late Unpleasantness” rather than admit that we too are a people in need of Mercy – not getting what we deserve, and Grace, being given what we have not earned. There is only One Place that Mercy & Grace flow together- that is the message of Christmas.
The message of Christmas is the message of Hope eternal, Redemption complete, Relationships restored. Justice for the vulnerable, Mercy for the sinner. Grace for the undeserving. That is a message that was needed in every person associated with the lineage of Jesus, for Tamar and for you and for me.
Perhaps today, you came to see if there was a message of hope for you in this place. There may be relationships that have been shattered, health that has declined, perhaps you have circumstances that on the outside appear ok, but inside you know the opposite is true. The message of Christmas is for you.
You may be here today thinking, there may have been a chance long ago, but you don’t know the depths of what I have done. There is no hope. I am too far gone. Dear friend, the message of Christmas is for you.
You may be here thinking I am already fine. There was a time I said a prayer, walked an aisle, filled out a card and punched my ticket to heaven. I try to come to church at least once or twice a year, but really, who needs to hang around a bunch of church people. Once saved, always saved, while I am living, I can do my own thing. The message of Christmas is for you.
You may be here today and say God is well pleased with me. I am here when the doors open, I serve, I give, I sing, I even take communion - I check all the boxes. Dear church member, Heaven is not filled with church members, but sinners Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. The message of Christmas is for you.
3. Why the message of Christmas will never Fail
The message of Christmas will never fail because it is a completed story. We no longer must wait for a Savior, we no longer must wonder if the promise of a deliverer will stand, we no longer must wait to see if the serpent will be crushed, Jesus Has come.
The story is complete, but it is far from over. The Good news that Jesus has completed the work of Redemption is still vibrant, relevant and needed today for all of us. Salvation is available to all who come in repentance and faith. That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of Christmas.
We believe that God created all things by His power. He created man in His image, meaning every human has value and dignity because of that. But our ancestors, Adam & Eve, willfully disobeyed God our creator, and by their sin, broke relationship with a Holy and sinless God. Every human born since that day has inherited a sinful nature, and willfully chooses to sin
But God, had an eternal plan before the world was created. That plan is that God would send His Son, Jesus, to be born of a virgin, lead a sinless life- willingly die a criminal’s death at Calvary’s Cross taking upon himself the punishment for our sin, my sin, Tamar’s sin, Judah’s sin – the sins of all would repent and believe in Him. His death satisfied the wrath of God and three days after He died, He bodily rose from the grave, ascended after 40 days to heaven where He rules and reigns today. We believe that one Day Jesus will again physically return and even the last enemy, death, will be eternally defeated.
The message of Christmas is that all who turn from their sin and place their trust in Him are saved and adopted into His family. Never again to be abandoned, never again to be cast aside, never again to be separated from the Love of God. This is God’s plan, orchestrated by God, controlled by God, for God’s Glory and our good.
HE is the one who pursues us, we do not pursue him. Just as Tamar was sovereignly placed in the life of Judah, to continue the lineage of Christ and bring Judah to a place of recognition and confession of His sin, God has placed the Gospel in front of you today. How will you respond?
If you are here today and have never responded to God’s offer of hope, I believe that He is calling you to himself today, that as your hear the Gospel, the Holy Spirit is doing His work, convicting of sin and pointing to Jesus Christ, our Righteousness. Will you confess your sin to him, your need for a savior, repent and believe? There is Hope in only one place, the finished work of Jesus. Right where you are today you can be saved.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9)
What are you trusting in today? Your goodness or the sinless perfection of Jesus? It is His Plan, His Son, His Righteousness, His blood. Come today to Christ.
Titus 3:5 says he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5) If you are here today trusting in a fading memory of a decision of your mind or emotion to say a prayer or sign a card and you think you are safe from hell but other than that nothing has really changed - you are still doing your own thing be reminded of this from the Apostle Paul.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2Co 5:17) Ask yourself- Has there been a real change in my life? It is a question with eternal consequences. Don’t be like Judah and think that guilt will disappear. Repent and believe.
The Gospel of John records
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (Joh 1:12-13)
If you are here and say I love Jesus, but I hate the church, I just don’t like being around people. Believers are brought into a family, not a perfect family, but a redeemed family. We are no longer of a different Lineage. There is no closing your browser and clearing your search history. It is a struggle- but realize just as Rebekah had a war raging in her womb- there is a struggle that happens every day in the life of a Christian- the struggle of the old nature vs. the new nature in Christ. Today, may the Gospel continue to bring you to a place of submission and obedience to His will.
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. (1Jn 3:14)
Are you fully in on Christ? There is a cost to obedience- there is – but don’t be like Onan and only obey on the surface. What is loss of this world will be rewarded a hundredfold in eternity. Have you really responded to the Message of Christmas. Please don’t leave here today if you have any questions about what it means to be a Christian, what it means to have the message of Christmas written on your heart. Don’t leave thinking your name is in the Book of Life, when it may not be there at all.
Repent & Believe. Let us pray