We saw yesterday how the first ever Christmas Card was God’s promise that a serpent crusher would come to defeat Satan and sin. Now here in Genesis 49 we have a second Christmas Card, a second promise, and it’s the promise of a coming king in the line of Judah. And alongside the promise of a coming King a glimpse of the nature of his kingdom.
There is a lot of imagery in this prophecy about Judah. But first comes the surprise, it is a surprise that this amazing blessing is given to Judah at all. After all he is not the firstborn, that’s Reuben, or Jacob’s favourite that’s Joseph. And Judah has a patchy record, in ch37-38 he is a jealous plotter, sexually immoral, and leaves the family of promise to live as a Canaanite. But he is so changed by experiencing God’s grace that he later offers himself in place of Benjamin when the brothers return to Egypt.
Judah doesn’t deserve the blessings given to him, but Judah is a trophy of God’s grace, he recognises his sin, repents and is changed by the grace of God. Judah is just as bad as Simeon, Reuben or Levi but he is changed by God’s grace. He listens to God’s warning(ch38) recognises his sin, repents and is changed. God doesn’t bless the good God blesses those who have received grace.
Judah and the tribe that will come from him will be prominent in Israel, a warrior tribe, and (9)with the image of a lion sat eating his kill who no-one dares disturb we see not just that Judah is powerful but the image of the lion also hold the promise of kingship. That implicit promise is made explicit in(10).
“The sceptre will not depart from Judah,
nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until he to whom it belongs shall come
and the obedience of nations be his.”
This isn’t a vague promise, this is a promise about a line of kings and specifically a coming individual, one day a king will come from Judah’s line and the obedience of the nations will be his. It is a deliberate echo of the covenant with Abraham that through him all nations will be blessed. A great king will come from Judah’s line.
But who is it? The big question is; where is he? Especially as Saul becomes Israel’s first king and he is from Benjamin. But then 1 Samuel 16 Samuel anoints David, in the line of Judah from Bethlehem in Judah. David becomes king after Saul’s death and Judah is the first tribe to proclaim him king. And David goes on to become a great king, the greatest king Israel ever had. But the promise is not complete, it’s only partially fulfilled in David. David is praised by the tribes, he does rule all 12, he does win battles and there are other nations which come to bring him tribute just as God promised in Genesis 49. But in 2 Samuel 7 God makes clear that the promise is not totally fulfilled in David, “I will raise up your offspring to succeed you...and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
David is like the trailer. When you go to see a film you sit through snippets of upcoming releases. They don’t show you everything, but you catch glimpses of what the film will be like, often the best bits but you don’t experience the full thing, it is meant to increase your appetite, your anticipation of that film, to make you want to see it. David acts like a trailer for the rule of God’s greater king in the line of Judah.
And God keeps both the promise to David and the one to Judah, the sceptre doesn’t depart Judah’s line. After David and Solomon as the kingdom splits into two; Judah and Israel, a descendant of David always rules on the throne of Judah the sceptre doesn’t depart, whereas in Israel there is no dynasty, no one line of kings. God keeps his promise, even as Judah are taken into exile David’s line continues, and two of David and Judah’s descendants are prominent figures in the return from exile to rebuild Jerusalem.
But the question remains where is God’s king, where is the lion of Judah? Matthew as a gospel is concerned about the coming of the king and his kingdom when the exile finally ends, and it opens with a genealogy that answers that question. If you are were a Jew anticipating the coming of the Messiah this genealogy is dynamite. You are waiting for a king in David’s line, the lion of Judah, who will fulfil the promises to Abraham reiterated to Judah about the nations.
“This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the Son of David, the Son of Abraham...” That is dynamite. Look at(2), Jesus is in the line of Judah, and Abraham, and David. And this genealogy is very carefully crafted so that it falls into 3 blocks of how many? 14. Why? In Jewish writing each consonant was prescribed a number: D was 4, V was 6, DVD = 14. Again Matthew is using a Jewish way of emphasising that Jesus is the Son of David, that he is the Messiah – God’s promised King bringing about God’s kingdom.
Everything about this opening genealogy announces that the king has come. Matthew records that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judah, the town of David, and that the Magi came to worship a king.
It’s as if Matthew is shouting at the top of his lungs THE KING HAS COME! God keeps his promises, no matter what has tried to derail them. God keeps his promises not despite the sinful actions of people as if he is constantly engineering a new path round obstacles but amazingly even through those sinful actions.
God is sovereign, he reigns, he keeps his promises, and his king has come. That ought to thrill our hearts as we think about Christmas. All Israel’s sin and failings, all the opposition of evil kings, enemies, people like Athaliah who try to wipe out David’s line, all of it comes to nothing because God reigns and rules and he will send his king. Christmas ought to remind us again, give us confidence again, fill our hearts with joy again because our God keeps his promises. And not on the basis of our behaviour or our deserving them but on the basis of his grace.
The prophecy doesn’t just promise that a king will come but gives an appetising snapshot of his kingdom. (8)It’s a kingdom where enemies will be defeated, where the king is praised(8), where the nations come and bow the knee in obedience(10), and where there is prosperity and abundance(11).
Again much of this we see partially fulfilled in David, like a trailer for Jesus rule. The Philistines are defeated, he brings safety, security, prosperity, and Israel enjoy the blessings of being God’s people living under God’s king, the nations come and bring tribute.
David’s reign is Israel’s golden era and every subsequent king is compared to David. But David’s reigns is not forever, nor is Solomon’s and increasingly as you read on you find yourself asking where is the lion of Judah? If David is the trailer where’s the real thing?
As the angel speaks to Mary her words are loaded with significance “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Judah for ever; his kingdom will never end.”
The King is here. It is little wonder that Luke’s Christmas narrative is shot through with joy, celebration and people bursting into spontaneous exuberant praise of God. The embryonic John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth’s womb, Elizabeth bursts into praise, Mary breaks into song, Zechariah praises God, the shepherds are told tidings of great joy and having seen Jesus return glorifying and praising God. Simeon and Anna praise God and give thanks.
Do you remember the happy, joy filled atmosphere of the Queens Jubilee, that sense of celebrating her rule and reign? Multiply that by thousands of years spent waiting anticipating the coming of the king and you begin to get a sense of the joy that surrounds this kings coming. And the glimpses of the kingdom continue, demons recognise his rule and authority and are defeated, the Gentiles come and bow at Jesus feet both recognising, putting their faith in and obeying him, and in John’s gospel we see him turn water into wine, a lavish quantity of the best possible wine, before he then multiplies bread and brings satisfaction.
We enjoy Christmas, the fun, the joy, the food, all as a gift from God our Father, the celebration points us to God’s goodness and the nature of his kingdom. A kingdom not of bah humbug, but of joy, plenty, security, welcome. We ought to celebrate all that as a blessing from God and a reminder of what Jesus promises to bring.
Christmas declares to us what God’s kingdom is like. It is not a place overseen by a cosmic killjoy, but a place of plenty, security, safety, relationship, and enjoying life under his loving good rule. And we enjoy living in that kingdom now, we know it is not fully here, but we live under God’s loving fatherly care, and that is our security.
What are you excitedly anticipating about Christmas? What’s the bit you love? Is it the furtive secret wrapping, is it the look on faces as people open their gifts, the bright shining excitement in the eyes, the moment when the Christmas pudding is all aflame, or the when the meal is finished and you sit back relaxed and full?
For Israel they excitedly anticipate the coming of the king. But what about us? Jesus has come so what do we anticipate?
Turn to Revelation 5:5. John in his vision is distraught because no-one can open the seal on the scroll, until “Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” After the scroll is opened we see with John into heaven and there is a multitude from all nations praising God and bowing down to the lion who is the lamb, the obedience of the nations, and they live in a kingdom of provision and security, where enemies have been defeated. And the book ends with the King returning, his kingdom complete and his people sharing in his reign.
And what is John’s conclusion having seen all that, having seen the promise that the King will return, the offspring of David, the lion of Judah who is a lamb (22:16-17), John cries out “Come, Lord Jesus.” It’s as if his appetite has been whetted, his hunger and passion stirred and he can’t wait, he anticipates living life eternally enjoying the king’s rule.
We are always anticipating the next big thing, straight after Christmas Easter eggs come out, then it’s time to think about summer holidays, and so on. Always moving on to the next big thing. But what about our anticipation of Christ’s return? We live as his people under his rule now, but don’t you feel its frustrations? As around us people live for everything but God, as we battle with sin, as the world lives in the midst of its fallen-ness and brokenness. Doesn’t it make us want to shout out come Lord Jesus!
We as God’s people ought to live life with a sense of holy discontent. Not moaning and grumbling but aware that this world will not fulfil all our dreams, our hearts desires. We live not disheartened because we know this world can never satisfy us. We live in the now and not yet of the kingdom of God. We are part of his kingdom now, a kingdom where we enjoy living under his gracious rule, where our security doesn’t come from our job prospects, or family situation, or circumstance, but from knowing God. A kingdom where grace is our security and God’s unbreakable never giving up promise our certainty. We live enjoying all the good things God has blessed us with now but never letting them distract us from God the giver. But discontent because the world around us does not recognise Jesus our Saviour King or God our loving gracious Father. Discontent because its rebellion wounds us and causes us to live longing for the day when the obedience of nations will be his.
Genesis 49 lifts our eyes and says look for the coming of the king, at Christmas we remember with joy his coming and all that he has secured but it also ought to stir in us an anticipation of his coming again.
God has not forgotten his promises he will keep them. The King has come and we are his people and he will return. Christmas doesn’t whisper those truths quietly it confidently shouts them from the rooftops and calls us to live in the light of his coming whilst living looking forward to his return.