By Faith Alone
A sermon based on Joshua 2:8-21
Sunday, September 11, 2011 – Pentecost 13A
Brick after brick, the structure climbed high into the sky. It stood as a massive symbol of the strength of the nation. But it wouldn't last. Soon it would come crashing down, killing most of those inside. And what was once a symbol of strength would soon be nothing more than a pile of rubble.
No, I don't mean those twin towers that one decade ago today came crashing to the ground when terrorists flew their planes into the buildings. But the scene in the first chapters of Joshua is a similar one to that which we saw on our TV screens. The walls of Jericho, that city of military might and economic strength, would soon come crashing down. This is the setting of our sermon this morning.
And in an account, too shocking for a good, moral Israelite to ever make up, a foreign, heathen, prostitute, traitor turns out to be the hero of the story. And she's become a hero to us. She's not the hero not because she helped save the city from destruction. Nor is she the hero because she helped the Israelites destroy the city. But she's a hero because of her faith alone.
This morning as we take a brief look at a part of her story, we learn how our story, like hers, is all about faith in God. By faith we're saved! And now that we are saved, we're not content to sit around as spectators, but want in on the game. By faith we act!
8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, "I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign 13 that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death."
14 "Our lives for your lives!" the men assured her. "If you don't tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land."
15 So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. 16 Now she had said to them, "Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way."
17 The men said to her, "This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us 18 unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. 19 If anyone goes outside your house into the street, his blood will be on his own head; we will not be responsible. As for anyone who is in the house with you, his blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on him. 20 But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear."
21 "Agreed," she replied. "Let it be as you say." So she sent them away and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.
I. By Faith I'm Saved
What if you were dating a prostitute and brought her to the family reunion to meet everyone? What would the family say? What would mom and grandma think? What if you took her to church with you on Sunday? How would the people there respond? How would they look at the two of you? Would she be welcome?
God told his people that as they entered into the land he promised to Abraham, they were to wipe out the Canaanites who long ago had exchanged his promise of grace for the perverse worship of their made-up gods, for child sacrifice and shrine prostitution. He didn't want his people influenced by such detestable practices. But what a surprise here! God saves a Canaanite! And what's more, she's not exactly Miss Morals! She's a prostitute! She wasn't an Israelite. She wasn't morally pure. So, how then was she saved? By faith in the promise. We can only speculate how she heard the message, but we know she heard it. And she believed. She knew the true God. Her confession makes that clear:
"I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign 13 that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death."
She knew God as a just God who punishes sin and that because of their wickedness God had acted against Sihon and Og using the Israelites as his agents of wrath. She knew that because of her sins she deserved to be a recipient of that same wrath. She confessed that a great fear had fallen on her, that she was melting in fear, that her courage had failed, because she now knew who the true God was, not Molech or Ashtorah or Baal for none of these existed. But there was only one God: the LORD. "The Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below."
But it would appear that she knew God not only as a just God who must pour out his wrath against sin, but she also knew him as the God of faithful love. She used his covenant name, Jehovah, or Yahweh, "I Am." And she used that Hebrew word for kindness, "kesed," faithful and unfailing love, that was most often used to describe God when she asked for "kesed" to be shown to her. In faith in the true God, she abandoned her false gods and her own people and pleaded to become an "Israelite." And if there's any doubt that she had saving faith, trusting in the promise of the coming Savior, the Holy Spirit inspired the New Testament author to write in Hebrews 11(:31), that great "Hall of Faith" chapter, "By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient."
And by faith she was saved! When the walls of Jericho miraculously came "a tumbalin' down," miraculously God also must have preserved that section of wall in which Rahab lived. For she was spared, she and her whole family. And in Joshua 6(:24) we're told, "she lives among the Israelites to this day." In fact, she married an Israelite. And she had a baby. And she named that baby Salmon (like the fish). Salmon's son, Rahab's grandson, Boaz, married Ruth, the Moabite woman after whom a book of the Bible is named. And she was the grandmother of King David. Matthew 1:5-6 tells us, "Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David." And by faith, Rahab received more than a home with the Israelites in the Promised Land of Canaan. By faith in the Savior, that would come from her family line she would receive a home with the Israelites in the Promised Land of Heaven. So it's still true that, "she lives among the Israelites to this day."
What grace God showed to Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute, who was saved, not because of her nationality, not because of her morality, but because of God's grace, through faith alone! And we rejoice in that grace shown to Rahab because we know that it's not just for her. It's for us too!
You see, most of us aren't Israelites either. We're Gentiles, that is, we're not Jews. But that doesn't exclude us from God's grace any more than it did Rahab. And we're not exactly sin-free either. Sure, we may not be into prostitution, exchanging sexual favors for cash, but that doesn't make us any less guilty than Rahab. We're guilty of sexual sins too. Jesus said if you have an impure thought about someone else, you are an adulterer. It doesn't matter if you've committed adultery once or a thousand times, you've broken trust, right? In the same way, it doesn't matter if you've had an impure thought or sold your body, you've broken trust with God! And even if you have kept your thoughts perfectly pure all the time, you've sinned in other ways. We all have. We're no better than a prostitute. We're worse! Paying money to cheat on God with all kinds of false gods, serving other things instead of him.
We're no better than Rahab. But we're no worse either. If God's grace could cover the sins of a prostitute, it can cover yours and mine too. No sin is too great to exclude one from God's grace. And by his grace, you have come to know this about the true God: that he is not only a God of justice who must pour out his wrath against sin, but also a God of grace, who in the fullness of time, sent his Son, born of a woman, born a descendant of a Caananite prostitute, in order to rescue and redeem sinful, promiscuous, immoral people like you and me. By faith, you are saved! You don't have to clean up your act first, and then you might be forgiven. You don't have to make amends for what you've done wrong, and then you'll be right with God. You don't have to do anything! Jesus did it all. Believe it! And by faith, you too will be saved from destruction -- not just destruction at the hand of an Israelite army or Islamic terrorists, but from the destruction of hell that we all deserve! And by faith, you have the "kesed," the faithful and unfailing love, of God. By faith, you know the peace that that brings, even in the midst of economic uncertainty or national wartime. And by faith, you, like Rahab, will enjoy a perfect home in the Promised Land of heaven one day soon.
And now, knowing that we are saved by faith, without having to do a thing, we cannot help but respond! We want to do a thing! By faith I'm saved, and so now, by faith I act! Just like Rahab did...
II. By Faith I Act!
Rahab didn't just plead for her life and then sit back and do nothing. No. She put her new-found faith into action. Imagine the courage it must have taken to do what she did. She turned traitor to her people and to her king. She hid the spies and when questioned about it, she lied right to guards' face -- an act that certainly would have been punished with death had she been discovered. Then she helped the men to escape trusting that they would keep their word and somehow convince the general of the Israelites and the entire army to honor the promise they made to a prostitute. Then she didn't leave the city herself, which may have saved her life, but aroused suspicion in Jericho. But she stayed put.
She risked her life when she hid the spies. She risked her life when she lied to the guards. She risked her life when she helped the men escape. She risked her life when she stayed in the city. And she may have even risked being found out and risked her life again when she hung the scarlet cord in the window.
But why? What would make her risk her life like that? Why not report the spies then, after their arrest, head out of town away from Jericho to Ai or Moab or Edom? You know the answer. It was because she now knew who the true God was. And she wanted to learn more. Her faith led to her to act -- and act boldly! She would choose sides well -- not with the heathen that she called fellow countrymen, but with God's people… now her people.
No wonder Rahab is listed in the great "Hall of Faith" chapter of Hebrews 11! Her faith wasn't just a head knowledge. It wasn't just nodding in agreement. It was a real and living faith that couldn't help but act and produce fruits of that faith. No wonder James praised her in his dialogue on faith and works. He wrote in James 2(:14-17, 25), "14 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead… In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?"
And friends, it's no different for us. We are saved by faith alone! But that saving faith is never alone! Let me say that again. Faith alone saves. But saving faith is never alone. By faith we are saved and so, by faith, we act. We're not content to be spectator Christians sitting around and watching all the action, but never getting into the game. No! We're ready to join in the action, to get in the game, to fight the good fight and to risk even life itself to live out our faith!
Yes, we might face pain and death from those who hate Christ and his church, like those who were killed a decade ago today. We may be asked to give our lives to keep our faith. But, like Rahab, we're eager to risk it! Because sitting around doing nothing just doesn't work for us! We can't help it! We simply have to serve our Savior in thanks! We're eager to live our lives or give our lives for him, knowing in advance that we win the game!
What does that look like? It means that you, like Rahab, gladly count yourself among God's people and be among them -- in worship, in study, in the life of the church, never content to be a spectator! It means that you boldly share your faith -- risking friendships! risking jobs! -- to speak what your heart simply cannot contain! It means that you prayerfully plan your finances (and maybe the use of your PFD check coming next month), risking your "so-called" security -- which you know could disappear in an instant with another terrorist attack -- and give in thanks to God giving your offering to him first, then looking for the fun things you can buy for yourself. It means you prayerfully plan your schedule, risking missing out on fun things or good things, to serve God and others and promote the best things.
Will it all be fun? I bet it wasn't always fun for Rahab. But it doesn't matter. Because it's not fun that we seek. But strengthened by our Savior, always at our side, always living to serve us, we're eager to serve him. And in serving we find more than fun. We find joy! For by faith we have been saved! Now by faith we live and act! Even when the walls come tumbling down. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.