The Chinese New Year comes soon and our little Red Dot turns redder as lights are turned on to greet the Dog Year!
My friend, Daniel, gave me a set of freshly minted Red Packets his church had printed. At the back of it was the benediction of Moses in gilded Chinese characters. Certainly it was a pleasure to receive!
At that time, I had been mulling over the Gospel of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament. The first account by Matthew presented Jesus beginning with his genealogy in chapter 1. To the Jews and Semitic people Jesus’ identity is proposed by his claim of pedigree! Then I thought the genealogy looks like “Red Packets”!
Three sets of fourteen generations are recorded to trace Jesus as the Son of David, and the Son of Abraham. Three Red Packets! What fills these Red Packets? Will they fill you with real pleasure or will the contents turn your faces red?
The first packet of fourteen began with Abraham to King David. Very nice…we all love that packet. The second began with David but it ended with the generation exiled to Babylon. This packet has a tinge of bitter herbs. The third packet has also fourteen generations in exile ending with a surprising twist!
Well, well…this Chinese New Year, will you be pleased with these Red packets? Will our faces be red with shame or red with pleasure? What will you receive when you open each packet?
The First packet of fourteen names began with Patriarch Abraham to King David. That lineage should fill your heart with pleasure: Abraham to Isaac, Isaac to Jacob and then Judah and his brothers – no issues there.
But what about Tamar? Why? And as you continue you discover later another name, Rahab, the mother of Boaz? And yet another, Obed, whose mother was Ruth, and she was grandmother of David! Will these women turn you red with pleasure or with shame? If you embrace the patriarchal names with pride, will you find yourself covered in shame by the these mothers?
The Second pack of fourteen names began with David, the father of Solomon. Of course both names are prestigious. Solomon is David’s most famous son. This was the peak of their Kingdom! But then thereafter was the clear slide and dissolution into the Babylonian exile. All the names of the kings after Solomon did not measure up to Solomon’s earlier reign. If they did achieve fame it was their notoriety rather than their righteousness! Manasseh is someone we have nothing good to say about. This packet brought no relief from disgrace, except Solomon!
The Third packet began with the Jewish returnees. Post-exiles were an assortment of families restarting their life again in Palestine. It was important they could re-establish their lineage and claim to the land. They were all returning refugees. Jerusalem was in ruin and the temple destroyed. All had to be rebuilt and the throne of David restored! But when? Who? The third packet ends with the promised hope revealed? This is the Red Packet that should fill our hearts pumping with pleasure. Another woman is named – Mary of whom was born Jesus, who is called the Christ! Mary, her virgin birth was the exceptional measure of grace to restore hope to Israel and justice for all nations!
These women in the Red Packets are the real source of pleasure! They are seldom spoken of. They are obscure characters in the history of salvation. But they were made the obvious instruments of extreme grace! Their reputation may turn you red with embarrassment but their bold faith and action brought justice to Israel and restored justice to all the nations.
Tamar was Judah’s Canaanite daughter-in-law. She had to play the harlot to get herself impregnated! That was the extreme measure she took. She deceived her father-in-law so that she could preserve her late husband’s covenantal right and hers by marriage. Here was a Canaanite more righteous than Judah!
What about Rahab? She was a harlot and resident of Jericho, which was destined for destruction by Joshua and his advancing troops! By hiding Joshua’s spies, she saved them from their enemies. Her treacherous act gained her a place in Israel's promised land. She later married into Judah’s clan and her son, Boaz , later married Ruth – another righteous woman and a Moabitess! Ruth was yet another example of extreme grace: her mother-in-law conceived an indecent proposal that Ruth carried out on the threshing floor of Boaz. That moved Boaz to right the wrong publicly: he shamed the rightful kinsman redeemer by gaining the right to marry Ruth and restore Naomi's land right and place in Israel.
These women were non-Jews. Yet it was through them that Israel’s favoured Son, David, came! All three gained their rights and justice for Israel through bold faith and extreme grace. These form a red chord that was weaved into the fabric of Israel that restored justice and righteousness!
What about the second red packet?
The name of Solomon’s mother was not mentioned. Instead she was introduced as Uriah’s wife! Why? On first reading, this seems like it was aimed at disclosing the dirt in David’s closet. Was this to embarrass, to emphasize the extreme ways of God? Grace in the extreme justifies the righteous and innocent who has been taken advantage of. David, the King, in a moment of passion, took advantage of Uriah’s wife. While Uriah, the Hittite, was fighting for David – David in a moment of self-indulgence saw and took Uriah’s wife to bed! What a shame! To cover his deed, David plotted Uriah’s death as well. It was only by grace and grace alone that he was uncovered and later forgiven. To right the wrong he did to Uriah’s wife and to establish the purity of Solomon’s mother – he put Solomon, his son by her on his throne! Grace is an extreme measure used to establish what is just and right!
What will we find in the final red packet?
None of the men’s names were really noteworthy? But their claims remain just and sustained Judah’s right to establish the Kingdom of David. The temple had been built and Jerusalem re-occupied. The expectation of that eternal reign requires One to come – the Messiah, Christ – to reclaim the throne of David. None came till the birth of Jesus, the son of Mary! What a surprising Red Packet! The virgin Mary with child even before the consummation of marriage would have turned all our faces red, except that this was the extreme measure of the Grace of God! Mary submitted herself to this earthly shame but God established her innocence by raising her son to the throne of David forever: Jesus the Messiah, the Christ!
This is one Red Packet that will have eternal currency. All of Judah’s shame and all nations’ as well will be wiped out and all will rejoice in this Son of Mary – who died and rose again to take the eternal throne. For this is not only Israel’s Lord but the Judge who will deliver justice to all nations.
May these Red Packets bring much prosperity and true peace - Shalom for the New Year!
Now we are red with pleasure…