Jesus Came to Save

It is difficult to place the last sermon preached by Christ, as recorded by John in the last 7 verses of chapter 12. He has already said that Jesus went and hid Himself, but then He tells us Jesus cried out this other message recorded here. I cover the various ideas presented as to when this last gospel exhortation was preached, with the most probable conclusion being that these words do not form a unique sermon, but rather are John’s recapitulation of the main doctrines preached by Christ throughout His ministry. I draw this conclusion because everything spoken here was spoken in the same or similar terms earlier in this gospel.

Whenever and however the words were spoken, they are of great importance. Once again Christ urges upon men the necessity of faith in Himself, the only Light of the world. He reminds us that He did not come into the world to condemn it, but that the world through Him might be saved. This was the blessed and wonderful reason for His first coming. It is imperative that we believe on Him now, for when He comes the second time, it will not be to preach a message of salvation, but to sit as Judge over all men.

Proceeding with the narrative, we find in verse 11 that Judah directed Tamar, who by now would have been considered a member of his household and under his authority, to remain in widowhood at her father’s house until his third and final son Shelah reached an age when they could marry. It appears that Shelah was not a little boy at this time, but in all probability a teenager, who would at least potentially have been old enough to marry and father children. I say this, because Judah’s reason for delaying their marriage was because he feared that in youthful ignorance Shelah might sin as his brothers did, and be killed by God as they were. His hope was that if he gave the young son a period of time to mature, that he would do his duty, and raise up an heir to his dead brother by Tamar his sister-in-law.

Tamar was obedient to her father-in-law’s direction, returning to her father’s household to wait for Shelah. Judah, however, was not faithful to his own word. We do not know if it was through simple forgetfulness, or perhaps he considered Tamar a bringer of bad luck, or perhaps because he was distracted by the death of his own wife, which is recorded in the 12th verse. Whatever the reason, his failure to do right by Tamar led her to take a desperate, and undeniably immoral, measure. One cannot but believe that the reason she chose to pose as a prostitute and seduce her father-in-law is because she saw no prospect of marriage, since she had not been given to Shelah, and like most women of that time, she did not want to live and die childless.

The Consequences of Making God a Liar

It would be almost impossible to overstate the dreadfulness of the sin of Unbelief. The New Testament, of course, makes this very clear, speaking of “an evil heart of unbelief,” and making it plain that those who refuse to believe on God’s Son must suffer eternal destruction. But judgment has always been the result of unbelief, as the text preached from here shows. The people of Judah refused to accept the warnings God constantly sent them by His prophets, and therefore God would bring the judgment upon them with great fierceness. His word, which determines the destiny of nations, would become like a fire that devoured them.

As we so often find in the prophets, even in the midst of the grimmest denunciations, there is a small ray of light. In verse 10, addressing the Babylonian forces, God tells them, “Make not a full end.” In other words, though the judgment would be exceptionally severe, it would not be the final extermination of the people and kingdom. God yet had plans for them; there was a faithful remnant, though very small, that would be saved, and eventually the people would return to their land. May we be numbered among that remnant, no matter how small!

We are given more details about the fate of Er’s brother Onan. Apparently, long before the law of Moses was given, a tradition already prevailed among the Lord’s people of a man taking the wife of his deceased brother, who died without children, to raise up an heir in his name. Judah directed his son Onan to take Tamar, his brother Er’s wife, and raise up seed for his brother.

Onan, however, appears not to have been pleased with this turn of events. He took Tamar, as he was commanded, as his wife, and took her to his bed, but he was not at all inclined to father a son by her, since that son would not be his own heir. Thinking from nothing but base, selfish motives, he chose an early method of birth control (verse 9) to prevent the conception of a child. This, before God, was as reprehensible a crime as whatever it was Er had done. So evil was it before the eyes of the Lord that He killed Onan, just as he had his brother.

This passage is, of course, at the center of the controversy over birth control, which has swirled ever since Margaret Sanger’s efforts made the prevention of children popular even among church-going people. It is not my intention to delve deeply into that subject here, except to notice that the question here is whether Onan’s sin was not raising up an heir for his brother, or the act of attempting to prevent conception. I am inclined to the latter view, for the simple fact that we have no evidence that the raising up an heir for one’s deceased brother was a divine command at this time. Indeed, in the law respecting this situation in Deuteronomy 25:5-10, the brother had the option of declining to take his brother’s wife, although he was commanded to experience public humiliation if he so chose. However, it does seem significant that the penalty was not death, which the Lord inflicted upon Onan. That leads me to conclude that the preponderance of evidence is that the deliberate prevention of conception is what outraged the Lord’s justice. Without going any farther, I will simply say that the uniform testimony of scripture is that childbearing is a great blessing from the Lord, barrenness was considered a hardship at best, a curse at worse, and that children are considered a heritage and reward from the Lord (Psalm 127:3). It was only when the church began to buy far too much into the tenets of feminism and the dogmas of Margaret Sanger, that the practice of birth control came to be considered normal, instead of abhorrent, within the Christian community. The historical evidence for this is undeniable.

We might have expected Moses to continue right on with the narrative of Joseph, but he makes a sudden turn here to relate a very sordid story about Judah, and how he conceived twin sons by his daughter-in-law. A careless reader might think that this is simply a disgusting story of sexual lust gone awry, but the careful biblical reader will discern that there is excellent reason for the Holy Spirit to include this story in sacred writ. As disgraceful as Judah’s behavior was in this story, his very sin was the means God used to bring into the world the son who would continue the lineage that ultimately would bring forth the Saviour of the world. Similarly to the selling of Joseph into slavery, what a sinful man meant for evil, God was able to turn to good.

In describing the life of Judah in Canaan, we get the impression that he was not very wise in the associations he made for himself. His father Jacob had been sent far away from home to seek a wife, and his grandfather Isaac before him had had his wife also brought back from Haran, where there was more fear of God than in Canaan. But Judah made friends of the heathen of the country, and while visiting with his friend Hirah the Adullamite, he saw the daughter of a Canaanite named Shuah, and took her for himself to wife. He ought to have learned from his grandfather Isaac what a grief of mind Esau’s intermarriage with the local heathens had been to them, but instead he went in the same direction as his profane uncle.

From this woman, Judah fathered three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah, as we learn from verses 3-5. Several years elapsed, and when Er was of age, Judah chose a bride for him, a young woman by the name of Tamar. But this marriage was not destined to last long. Er, we are told, was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and God killed him. Scripture does not tell us what Er’s transgression was, but we may be certain it was something of a very serious nature.

Jacob, of course, recognized the coat of many colors he had specially gifted to Joseph, and was overwhelmed by this unexpected tragedy. What other conclusion could he draw but that Joseph had been seized by some wild beast, and torn in pieces? We know that bears and lions both roamed the area in those days, and throughout biblical times it was not uncommon for men to be attacked and killed by either. How the old patriarch’s heart must have broken to think that his son, the crown jewel of his posterity, had died so young, and so tragically!

And so, Jacob immersed himself in mourning, tearing his clothes and arraying himself in sackcloth. His daughters, as well as his hypocritical sons, came to attempt to comfort him, but even the kindliest ministrations could do nothing to alleviate Jacob’s grief. Jacob is not exactly a sterling example of how to submit to God’s sovereignty here, though we dare not criticize someone suffering so bitterly. He utterly refused any kind of comfort, declaring that he would spend the rest of his life mourning, and go down to the grave to Joseph mourning. We see how strong Jacob’s attachment to Joseph was in that his mourning here far exceeds his mourning for Rachel, his most beloved wife.

But, unbeknownst to Jacob, his son Joseph was yet alive. The last verse of the chapter tells us that the Midianites sold him into Egypt, to an officer of Pharaoh’s court named Potiphar, described in the Authorized Version as “captain of the guard,” although he is alternately described as the chief marshal or chief executioner. Whatever Potiphar’s precise duties were, it was no accident that Joseph was sold into the power of a royal officer. Joseph was not dead, and Jacob would not go down into his grave mourning for him. Slowly but inexorably God was working His sovereign purpose, which would unfold before the eyes of Jacob and his family over the course of the years ahead.

Reuben evidently had been absent as the deal was struck, and he returned hoping to find an opportunity to release Joseph, so that he may return him safe and sound to Jacob their father. But when he discovered, to his horror, that his little brother was nowhere to be found, he assumed the worst, and rent his clothes, exclaiming, “The child is not; and I, whither shall I go?”

Reuben may not have known what to do, but his scheming brothers had a plan ready to hand. They took the special coat that that Joseph had been wearing, and dipped it in the blood of a kid of the goats they had just killed. Then they sent it, apparently by the hand of a messenger, to Jacob, claiming that they had found the coat only, and whether he could identify it as Joseph’s coat. How cold-hearted and calculating these men had become, not only that they could so cruelly deal with their own brother, but that they could deliver such a devastating blow to their own father!

They Would Not Confess Christ

In the city of Jerusalem, there were many and deadly enemies to the Lord Jesus Christ. Though He encountered opposition everywhere, it was there in the “holy city” that enmity toward Him was most fierce. However, the power of His words, and the glory of His miracles, had their effect even there. In fact, not only did some of the common people embrace Him, but John says some of the chief rulers believed in Him.

This would seem good, but it is followed up with a negative. Although they were personally persuaded Jesus was the Messiah, they would not confess Him, for fear of the Pharisees, who bitterly attacked and even excommunicated from the synagogue Christ’s followers. “They loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” This is a terrible danger, and one which destroys many souls. If our craving for man’s admiration exceeds our fear of God and devotion to Him, then we cannot be Christ’s disciples.

Looking up from their meal, they saw a company of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, a trade convoy heading down to Egypt, bearing spices and balm and myrrh to sell. An idea occurred to the conniving mind of Judah, a plan that would rid them of Joseph once and for all, without involving them in the horrible deed of shedding their own brother’s blood. He suggested to his brothers (Reuben apparently being absent), that they sell Joseph to these Ishmaelites. (It appears Midianites were with them also, judging by their inclusion in verse 28; this is unsurprising, since the Ishmaelites and Midianites were neighbors.)

Judah’s brothers agreed to this unexpectedly convenient plan. Not only would they be rid of Joseph just as surely as if they had murdered him, but they would also make a little money of their own. And so, they bargained with these tradesmen, and sold him for twenty pieces of silver. And thus, Joseph and his dreams were carried away from them—forever, as they thought, but that would not prove to be God’s purpose.

The following poem was passed on to me by a friend through email. It was written by a British Christian lady named Grace Kempster in 1930, and is well worth pondering.

The seasons passing quickly by,

Remind me I must shortly die;

How soon I cannot tell!

It may be weeks, or months, or years,

But O the thought brings many fears,

With me will it go well?

I think of those who die in sin,

Who never knew a change within.

But rebels lived and died;

For where God has not changed the heart

The word can only be, “Depart.

With Satan’s host abide.”

And some die dreaming all is well,

Because they can of good works tell;

But ‘twill be all in vain.

Many will seek to enter in,

But none can life eternal win,

If never born again!

And who are they? The Lord’s elect,

Not one of these will He reject.

For each was bought with blood.

All are included in that plan,

Which God worked out e’er time began.

Jesus as Surety stood!

These happy souls are called “The Bride”

And they in glory shall abide

Forever with the Lord.

There they shall reign with Christ their king.

And of His lovingkindness sing.

His faithfulness record.

But ah, how stands the case with me?

Shall I those mansions ever see,

And dwell with saints above?

Dear Lord, do grant it may be so,

For where they are, I want to go,

And bask with them in love.

Thus while I journey here below,

May I be more concerned to know,

How matters stand with me.

Let me not cold and careless grow,

Nor rest contented till I know

That I shall dwell with Thee.