When does God decide to bring someone into His plan? Does He wait until they perform some act proving themselves worthy? Does He wait until they have demonstrated righteous behavior? Does He wait until there is some assurance they won’t fail Him? OR does He see something in their hearts.
You’ll find throughout Scripture God sets His plans on people who would never meet our criteria for usefulness. He works with unassuming, normal everyday folks who don’t even know He’s working through them. Some He chooses from birth.
Jer 1:5-7 Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." Then I said, "Alas, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth." But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am a youth,' because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak.
Luke 1:17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
But in them all, He never looks at what someone can do for Him, or what they bring to the table, or what they might accomplish for Him. He looks at what He can accomplish through them.
Let’s recap: we started with a plan set from before creation ever started. We brought in Adam and Eve to initiate the plan. They had Cain and Abel. Cain killed Abel. Then Cain was rejected. Seth was born. Seth began the movement of calling upon the Lord. The thread ran through Seth. Then eventually came to Abraham. God gave Abraham a promise. He was going to beget a son that would carry on the thread. That son, Isaac, came 14 years later. Isaac had Jacob and Esau. Esau was first born but was rejected. Jacob carried the thread. Jacob had 12 sons. God chose Judah. What was it about Judah that made him a better choice than the other eleven?
You’ll remember the story: the Brothers wanted to kill Joseph. Gen 37:26-27 Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers listened to him.
Now, because we know what happened as a result of what Judah said, God must have worked in Judah’s heart to influence his decision. Go to the end of the story and see how important that moment was.
Gen 45:6-8 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.
Gen 50:19-20 But Joseph said to them, "Do not be afraid, for I am in God's place. As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.
What Judah did to keep Joseph alive, even as harsh a reality it was for him to be sold into slavery, worked directly into God’s plan, not only for Joseph but for the whole family of Israel. Between making the right decision and God using that decision to bless the nation, there is much more to the story of Judah.
After Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt, Judah married a Canaanite woman and had three sons. Now the problem was: she was outside the family, among those from whom God said do not compromise with pagans. As far as the lineage through which the thread would pass, this was an illegitimate marriage and the sons from it ineligible to pass on the line through them. God had already determined the thread would go through Judah, but not through the children from this marriage.
The first son married a young lady named Tamar. That son died. According to tradition, the second son was to marry the first son’s wife and bear children for his brother. He also died. Actually, the Bible says, God killed them both. The third was too young so Judah sent Tamar home to live with her family. But that created a problem: God had determined to run the thread through Tamar.
Knowing Judah had taken her out of his family, she schemed to have him impregnate her. Why? A widow had no standing in society. Children might be able to take care of her. Or, to get back at Judah for promising but not delivering on the promise. Or, God was orchestrating this plan and she became pregnant with twins. When Judah found out, he wanted her burned, but then she proved he was the father.
Gen 38:25-26 It was while she was being brought out that she sent to her father-in-law, saying, "I am with child by the man to whom these things belong." And she said, "Please examine and see, whose signet ring and cords and staff are these?" Judah recognized them, and said, "She is more righteous than I, inasmuch as I did not give her to my son Shelah." And he did not have relations with her again.
He didn’t just experience shame and guilt; he had a sudden awareness he was not as righteous as he should be. You recognize that when you see in someone else’s actions a contrast with your own. Or, when you look into a mirror and suddenly see into your heart. I’m not the man…I’m not the woman I want to be. Did that change him? Let’s see.
The next part of the story is after Joseph had risen to second to Pharoah in Egypt. A famine hits the land and Judah and his brothers go into Egypt to get food. They didn’t recognize Joseph, but he recognizes them and calls them in for a private meeting. He accuses them of being spies and begins an investigation. He asks of their home, their families and their father. They also admit they have another brother. Joseph tells them if they want any additional food, they must bring their brother with them when they come. They leave Egypt and return home.
After they had eaten all the grain they had bought in Egypt, the famine continued. Jacob, their dad, told them to go back to Egypt and buy more grain.
Gen 43:3-5 Judah spoke to Jacob, however, saying, "The man solemnly warned us, 'You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.' If you send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you do not send him, we will not go down; for the man said to us, 'You will not see my face unless your brother is with you.'" Jacob refuses.
Gen 43:8-10 Judah said to his father Israel, "Send the lad with me and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, we as well as you and our little ones. I myself will be surety for him; you may hold me responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame before you forever. For if we had not delayed, surely by now we could have returned twice."
Jacob gives in and allows Benjamin to go with them. The plot thickens as Joseph sets a trap. He has a valuable cup placed in Benjamin’s sack of grain. When discovered, Joseph draws them into his plot by making them believe he is going to enslave Benjamin.
Gen 44:16-34 So Judah said, "What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; behold, we are my lord's slaves, both we and the one in whose possession the cup has been found." But he said, "Far be it from me to do this. The man in whose possession the cup has been found, he shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father." Then Judah approached him, and said, "Oh my lord, may your servant please speak a word in my lord's ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are equal to Pharaoh. My lord asked his servants, saying, 'Have you a father or a brother?' We said to my lord, 'We have an old father and a little child of his old age. Now his brother is dead, so he alone is left of his mother, and his father loves him.' Then you said to your servants, 'Bring him down to me that I may set my eyes on him.' But we said to my lord, 'The lad cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.' You said to your servants, however, 'Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.' Thus it came about when we went up to your servant my father, we told him the words of my lord. Our father said, 'Go back, buy us a little food.' But we said, 'We cannot go down. If our youngest brother is with us, then we will go down; for we cannot see the man's face unless our youngest brother is with us.' Your servant my father said to us, 'You know that my wife bore me two sons; and the one went out from me, and I said, "Surely he is torn in pieces," and I have not seen him since. 'If you take this one also from me, and harm befalls him, you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol in sorrow.' Now, therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad's life, when he sees that the lad is not with us, he will die. Thus your servants will bring the gray hair of your servant our father down to Sheol in sorrow. For your servant became surety for the lad to my father, saying, 'If I do not bring him back to you, then let me bear the blame before my father forever.' Now, therefore, please let your servant remain instead of the lad a slave to my lord, and let the lad go up with his brothers. For how shall I go up to my father if the lad is not with me—for fear that I see the evil that would overtake my father?"
We’re seeing something in Judah we didn’t know was there. Righteousness. Righteousness is being right with God and doing right. It expresses itself in righteous behavior. Choosing right over against wrong. Good instead of bad. Light instead of darkness. It is a motivation to do what’s right. It was right for him to exchange his life for the life of his brother.
He willingly became the one who would pay the ransom for his brother by giving his own life in exchange. He demonstrated a family trait that would later accomplish a much greater exchange necessary for salvation. Jesus would give His life for us.
1Tim 2:5-6 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.
Matt 20:28 the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
For many? I thought Jesus died for the whole world. He did. But is the whole world saved? No. Only those are saved who receive the benefit of His death. He exchanged His life for theirs by paying the ransom price for what held them captive. But unless that exchange is accepted, they remain a prisoner. Jesus’ death does them no good unless they receive.
John 1:10-12 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,
Upon Jesus’ death, the ransom was paid. It is applied when the benefits of that payment are received.
In 1829, George Wilson and James Porter, robbed a United States mail carrier. Both were captured and tried in court. Both men were found guilty of six charges, including robbery of the mail “and putting the life of the driver in jeopardy.” Both Wilson and Porter received their sentences: Execution by hanging.
Porter was executed on schedule, but Wilson was not. Influential friends pleaded for mercy to President Andrew Jackson on his behalf. The President issued a formal pardon, dropping all charges. Incredibly, George Wilson refused the pardon.
An official report stated Wilson chose to “waive and decline any advantage or protection which might be supposed to arise from the pardon….” The matter went to the U.S. Supreme Court which determined, “The court cannot give the prisoner the benefit of the pardon, unless he claims the benefit of it…. It is a grant to him: he may accept it or not as he pleases.” Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, “A pardon is an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the laws…. (But) delivery is not completed without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered, and…we have no power in a court to force it on him.”
The idea of ransom – a divine pardon – is a powerful, crucial concept within Salvation. It is the deliverance built into God’s work of redeeming mankind.
In Israel’s history they were captive to foreign powers many times. They were in bondage in Egypt for over 400 years. Assyria took the Northern Kingdom into captivity in 722 B.C. Babylon took the Southern Kingdom into captivity in 587 B.C. The Greeks came in aro0und 180 B.C. and then Rome took over in 67 B.C. Israel remained under Roman rule until the Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. At that time, they were scattered and were no longer a nation until 1947.
Throughout their history and even today, the prayers of the Jews regularly included prayer for a Deliverer to come and remove the occupation of foreign powers and set them free. Ps 14:7 Oh, that the salvation [deliverance] of Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores His captive people, Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be glad.
That’s behind their hope for Messiah. That He would champion their cause and deliver them from their captors by removing the enemies and setting up His protective reign on earth.
When you’ve lived under the control of some power that has overwhelmed you, held under various levels of restraint, freedom becomes the heart cry of every captive.
The Bible shows us how our sin nature imprisons us by obligating us to obey desires we wish we could escape. But it also shows us God’s promise to always provide a way of escape.
That was the plan from the beginning. God would create the world. That world would grow evil under the influence of Satan working with man’s nature to sin to keep mankind separated from God. God would set his solution onto the earth in the Garden of Eden, through Adam and Eve, who would produce a child, who would produce a child, who would produce a child, to create a lineage of righteousness throughout history to end up in Bethlehem with a young girl named Mary delivering the Deliverer to the world.
This Deliverer would say: John 8:36 If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. Why? Because he was sent to pay the ransom price to set the captives free.
Titus 3:3-7 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
So, there’s the plan: The mission of Jesus was to die, paying the price of sin, opening the door for the forgiveness which grants relationship with the Father. The whole Bible aims toward one event – the moment Jesus died on the cross. It was the pivotal moment in all history.
By embracing that moment as our day of deliverance, what Paul says becomes ours.
Eph 1:3-14 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to a plan suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.
Jesus came to pay the ransom price to set the captives free. As with Judah, it comes down to a life for a life. His life in exchange for our captivity. Which takes the story of the entire Bible down to one person - you. Have you received what Jesus provides to set you free?
- Freedom is the heart cry of every enslaved person.
- When that slavery is the power of sin over us, we need deliverance that opens prison doors and sets us free.
- Only in Jesus can we experience the forgiveness that pardons us and makes us right with God.
- When we accept our pardon by receiving Jesus, we are granted the right to become Children of God.