One of the great seminary professors and theologians of the last century was John Gerstner of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He is the one to whom Dr. R.C. Sproul would often point when asked, “Who most influenced you and your life of ministry?”
Years ago I remember R.C. telling of one of his first classes with Dr. Gerstner when the professor was laying down some ground rules for the papers they’d write. He said, “If any one of you uses the illustration of the pastor and the gardener to speak of the relationship between God and man I will fail you for the course!” Do you remember that story? Here it is:
A newly appointed pastor went to visit the home of a congregational member. Upon his arrival the minister discovered that his host was an avid gardener who was only too delighted to show his pastor around the garden. It was a magnificent sea of greens, purples, blues, whites, yellows, and pinks.
Wanting to set the relationship on a strong, positive note, the pastor said, “Praise God for the beauty of His handiwork!” His host was startled and somewhat offended. He remonstrated, “Now pastor, don’t go giving all the credit to God. You should have seen this garden when the Almighty had it by Himself!”
Dr. Gerstner would flunk anyone attempting to use that story to illustrate the relationship between God and humanity. But, this week I read another person’s take on it. The person wrote, “The gardener, in fact, did have very good theology. God has designed the world in such a way that God works in partnership with us to achieve God’s ends.” To which the writer of Genesis would say, “Say what?” Are you joking! Every breath we take is a function of divine grace. And nowhere is that more clearly seen than in the story of Judah, the fourth son of Jacob.
Here in the middle of the final section of Genesis—the story of Joseph (chapters 37 to 50)—the writer of Genesis inserts the story of Joseph’s brother, Judah. It’s from the tribe of Judah that the Messiah will come. It’s from Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, that Jesus will descend. It’s from his line that the perfect, eternal Son of God will be incarnated. And yet, when you read about who Judah is and what he does it’s stunning to imagine anyone of any consequence descending from such a self-centered, corrupt jerk. There’s nothing in Judah and his character to commend him to us. He is as corrupt as his father, perhaps worse! In fact, the only thing Judah does in chapters 37 and 38 that is commendable is to talk his brothers out of killing Joseph. In all of the nobility he can muster, he convincingly suggests to them that they sell their brother to the traveling band of Ishmaelites that are heading from Gilead to Egypt. What a gracious act! To sell his own brother rather than to put him to death. If Joseph is a portrait of Jesus, Judah is a picture of Judas.
Unlike the foreign god of the gardener who depends on the cooperation and hard work of men, our God, the God of Judah, needs no help. In fact, He takes our myriad corruptions and turns them into a verdant field of divine majesty. As we dig into chapter 38 we will see just how wise Dr. John Gerstner was. Like the Law Giver in Exodus 20, who adds verses to 22 to 26 as a corrective for any who think that they can keep His law, chapter 38 is a clear clarion call to every Christian that in Him we live, and move, and have our being.
In preparation for a message entitled, “No One Like Him,” you may wish to consider the following:
1. What best proves God’s greatness to you?
2. What’s Paul’s argument about God in I Corinthians 1:18-31?
3. How would you describe the comfort Judah, his brothers, and sisters provided to their father, Jacob, in Genesis 37:35?
4. Why does Judah choose to leave his brothers and consult with Hiram?
5. How different is Judah’s approach to marriage than his father and grandfather?
6. Who are Shua and Tamar?
7. Why do the first two sons of Judah & Shua die?
8. Why does Judah lie to his daughter-in-law, Tamar?
9. How is Tamar more righteous than Judah? (verse 26)
10. What does all this tell you about God’s glory and grace?
See you Sunday!