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November 26, 2017
Pastor Jeff Struecker
Today we’re going to take a look at a woman in the Bible by the name of Rahab. I’m going to tell you right up front about a mistake that I made this week, and the Lord really had to correct me, and frankly, I deserved it. Here’s this mistake: As I was doing some preparation for today’s sermon, I was reading a blog by a pastor by the name of James White, who pastors a church in Charlotte. He has a blog on his website called Paving Paradise. In this blog, he described a lady by the name of Kristina and her friend.
Here’s the background: Kristina and her friend left home, moved in together, got an apartment, went to college and they really majored in partying. Basically, what they did in college was, “’don’t care about school, ‘first time out of the house, ‘just going to get wild and crazy and do whatever we want to do”, and these two girls took it to a new level. They just started to get crazy.
In the course of doing this partying together and Kristina and her roommate living together, Kristina’s roommate ended up getting pregnant. She was not really sure who the father was. She didn’t know much about God either. Neither of these two ladies was raised in the church, and Kristina’s roommate decided, “I don’t really want to have an abortion, but I don’t know who to turn to.”
So, in this blog post, Pastor James describes how Kristina and her roommate decided to go to church. They didn’t have a church background, so they just went to the closest church to their little apartment, and here’s what they found when they went to church: They sat down and they got connected and people started to be friendly. They started opening themselves up to Kristina and her roommate. They invited them to go to a small group. They started to really make them feel like they were one of the crowd, and in this small group after a period of time, Kristina’s roommate made a courageous decision to let her guard down and to tell the people in that group her big secret…She was pregnant, and she didn’t know what to do next. She didn’t know where to turn.
Then in Pastor James’s blog (these are his words not mine), he said, “Then it began. When people in the church heard that Kristina’s roommate was pregnant and not married, they started to turn their backs on her. They started to make her feel like she’s not really welcome in their small group anymore. They didn’t really want to do life with her anymore. They didn’t want to sit next to these two ladies in church anymore. In fact, they started to kind of whisper to each other when Kristina and her roommate came in to church together.” (These are his words, not mine.) “Eventually, it got so bad that the pastor of the church came to Kristina and her roommate one day a few weeks after this and said, ‘You know, you’re just not really our type of people around here.’ Kristina and her roommate walked away from church and in Kristina’s words, confused and angry and feeling judged and condemned.”
Kristina and her roommate know exactly what it feels like to be this woman in the Old Testament by the name of Rahab. What we’re doing in this sermon series is, we’re looking at these stories of scandalous grace. We call these things “Oh my God!” moments of the Bible. Now, don’t get the impression that we don’t take the name of the Lord our God seriously. We do. We believe what the Bible teaches in Psalm 139, verse 20. -that anybody who uses the name of God lightly becomes an enemy of God. Because you don’t believe God, you don’t reverence God. You don’t give God the respect that he deserves when TV or the movies just flippantly use his name.
We’re saying that the proper use of this phrase “Oh my God!” is when God’s people, in reverent worship, say, “God, I can’t believe you just did what I read about in the Bible.” There’s a lady by the name of Rahab who is an extraordinarily good example of this sort of this scandalous grace. This is a woman who did wrong, and she knows it. In the midst of it, God reached in and he snatched her back from her mistakes and from her sin, and Rahab teaches us something. These stories of scandalous grace teach us something about God and about the Bible. What they cause us to do is re-examine what it really means to be a good person. Who is really good, or who is not a good person in God’s sight? These stories show us that some people are really easy to love, but let’s just be honest. There are some people who are not that easy to love. Perhaps they were at your house on Thanksgiving Day. Those folks are just hard to be around. They’re kind of unloving people, and the harder they are to love or the more they hurt you, the more challenging it is for you and me to respond the way God responds when he’s been hurt.
See, these stories of sovereign grace, of God’s scandalous grace, teach us this about God, teach us this about ourselves, teach us this about other people: Love is greatest where you’ve been hurt the deepest.
I. Grace prompts us to act in the face of fear
This lady that were reading about today, she was a wicked woman. I want you to hear what God did for this wicked woman, this bad girl of the Bible, a lady by the name of Rahab. By the way, I would have named my daughter Rahab; I’m so impressed with what God has done with this incredible woman.
In order to tell her story, I want you to see 4 things about God’s scandalous grace. Here’s the first thing that you’re going to see: The grace of God prompts us to act, to respond in the midst of fear. It prompts us to act in the face of fear. I want us to focus on one verse in the Bible, Joshua chapter 6, verse 25. But in order for me to explain this verse, we really have to take a look at 2 chapters from the book of Joshua. Joshua chapter 2 is where we’ll start, and we’ll move our way to Joshua chapter 6. Here’s what the Bible says in Joshua chapter 2 starting in verse 1. Listen to the background behind this woman, Rahab’s, story:
1 Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia Grove. He instructed them, “Scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho.” So the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night. 2 But someone told the king of Jericho, “Some Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” 3 So the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab: “Bring out the men who have come into your house, for they have come here to spy out the whole land.” 4 Rahab had hidden the two men, but she replied, “Yes, the men were here earlier, but I didn’t know where they were from. 5 They left the town at dusk, as the gates were about to close. I don’t know where they went. If you hurry, you can probably catch up with them.” 6 (Actually, she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them beneath bundles of flax she had laid out.) 7 So the king’s men went looking for the spies along the road leading to the shallow crossings of the Jordan River. And as soon as the king’s men had left, the gate of Jericho was shut. 8 Before the spies went to sleep that night, Rahab went up on the roof to talk with them. 9 “I know the Lord has given you this land,” she told them. “We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror. 10 For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. 11 No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below. 12 “Now swear to me by the Lord that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you. Give me some guarantee that 13 when Jericho is conquered, you will let me live, along with my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families.” 14 “We offer our own lives as a guarantee for your safety,” the men agreed. “If you don’t betray us, we will keep our promise and be kind to you when the Lord gives us the land.” 15 Then, since Rahab’s house was built into the town wall, she let them down by a rope through the window. 16 “Escape to the hill country,” she told them. “Hide there for three days from the men searching for you. Then, when they have returned, you can go on your way.” 17 Before they left, the men told her, “We will be bound by the oath we have taken only if you follow these instructions. 18 When we come into the land, you must leave this scarlet rope hanging from the window through which you let us down. And all your family members—your father, mother, brothers, and all your relatives—must be here inside the house. 19 If they go out into the street and are killed, it will not be our fault. But if anyone lays a hand on people inside this house, we will accept the responsibility for their death. 20 If you betray us, however, we are not bound by this oath in any way.” 21 “I accept your terms,” she replied. And she sent them on their way, leaving the scarlet rope hanging from the window. 22 The spies went up into the hill country and stayed there three days. The men who were chasing them searched everywhere along the road, but they finally returned without success.
Here’s the deal. Every time you see this woman’s name in the Bible, Rahab is referred to as a prostitute. It’s not just some childish name that you get on the playground when you did something wrong. No, this is a persistent sin that she’s been associated with for so long, that everyone in town knows this woman by what she does. She’s referred to as “Rahab the Prostitute”. It’s a part of her reputation that she can’t escape.
Just this week, on our church website, I put a blog on there about the importance of a name, and sometimes you and I can mess up, and we developed this reputation that sticks with us for the rest of our lives. That’s what it’s like for Rahab. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t escape her past. She’s referred to over and over again in the Scriptures as “Rahab the Prostitute”. It’s like the actor Sean Astin. He starred in a whole bunch of movies, but the movie that everybody in the world knows this guy from is the movie Rudy. For the rest of his life, no matter what Sean Astin does, people are just going to simply refer to him as Rudy. That’s all they know about this guy 22 years later.
Long after, people are still calling her “Rahab the Prostitute”. No matter what she does, for the rest of her life, she’s associated with this sin that she’s been involved with, and God does something incredible. God does something miraculous for this woman. He rescues her. Of all people, he decides to rescue this woman in the city of Jericho. I just want you to understand something. She’s putting it all on the line for these Israelite spies.
Look, in ancient Israel, just like today, if you’re spying in war, the penalty for spying in a time of war is death. That’s what happens to you today. That’s what happens to you back then. In ancient times, if you were caught helping somebody spy in war, you also would be killed. She said, “I believe more in the God of Israel than I do my own king, my own armies. I believe more in your God than I do my own people, and she’s willing to risk it all for these people because God has started to grasp a hold of her with this scandalous grace, and now she’s finding faith in the face of fear. Now she’s finding strength in the face of fear.
II. No power is stronger than God’s grace
Here’s the other thing that we learn from Rahab. There is no power stronger than God’s scandalous, God’s sovereign grace. Nothing on planet earth can stop it. Can I remind you that the people inside Jericho are freaking out right now? -because Israel’s right on the other side of the river, and there is nothing between Israel and Jericho than the Jordan River at flood stage, and they are scared to death, and they know how this battle is going to turn out.
Israel now gets some instructions from God. We’re going to fast-forward to Joshua chapter 6. I want you to hear what God says to the people of Israel in Joshua chapter 6, starting in verse 1:
Now the gates of Jericho were tightly shut because the people were afraid of the Israelites. No one was allowed to go out or in. 2 But the Lord said to Joshua, “I have given you Jericho, its king, and all its strong warriors.
Back in ancient times, you had this walled city, this humongous wall that was almost impenetrable. The only way to get in and out of the city was through the city gates, and you close those gates if you were about to be invaded. That became the part where your city was vulnerable to an attack, but in Jericho’s case, not only did those gates keep people out, but they also kept people in.
Jericho is freaking out right now. In verse 2, the Lord said to Joshua (look at the verb tense. It’s very important), “I have given… Joshua (past tense), It’s already done. I’ve already settled this in my mind. Joshua, I’ve already given the city of Jericho over to you. It’s already done. Joshua, I’ve already handed over its king. That’s a done deal. Joshua, I’ve already handed over all of the strong warriors. You’ve got nothing to worry about. This land belongs to you.”
Here’s the brilliant military strategy that God gave the people of Israel when they were going to attack the city of Jericho. He said, “I tell you what I want you to do. I just simply want you to walk around the city for six days in a row, one time. Just a walk around the city gates, and do nothing else.” You can only imagine the people inside the city of Jericho freaking out like, “Why are these crazy people walking around my city but not attacking right now?” God said, “On the seventh day, when I give you the command, all you have to do is simply follow my instructions, and Israel, I will take care of everything else after that.”
Now, this city was incredibly well-fortified. Back in ancient times, those walls would protect a city for months or for years. You could hide behind those walls as long as you had water and as long as you had food. It could take an invading army years to get through those walls, and God is saying to Joshua and to the Israelite army, “These walls of Jericho, there is no problem. What are you guys worried about? I got this. Nothing is strong enough to stand against me.”
God’s reminding his people who have been purchased back by his scandalous grace, nothing is stronger than the grace of God. There is no power good on planet Earth that can surpass the goodness of God’s grace. There is nothing on planet Earth that can stop the grace of God. Those warriors can’t do it, Joshua. That wall can’t do it. That King can’t do it. Their weapons of war cannot stand against me, Joshua.
I’m convinced if he were here today, Joshua would tell you, “Church, let me remind you. Your government can’t do this. The police force can’t do this for you. Courts can’t stop it. Nothing can prevent the scandalous grace of God.” -which means when you’re struggling with sin, that grace is stronger. It means when you’re dealing with temptation and you feel yourself ready to give in, his grace is greater. You don’t have to worry about your past mistakes. You don’t have to wonder about your future. His grace is greater than whatever you’re facing, today, and God throws his grace on display here for the whole world to see. -this kind of scandalous grace that says, “You trust in me, and I’ve got this thing right in the palm of my hand. All you have to do put your hope in me, and watch and see what happens next.”
III. Grace can break through the hardest heart
You see, there’s no power stronger on planet earth than God’s grace, because his grace can break through to the hardest heart. His grace can break through to a heart like Rahab’s. His grace can break through to a woman like Kristina. His grace can break through to a heart like mine. No force can stop the scandalous goodness and grace of God.
We’re going to fast-forward just a few minutes to see what happens when God gives Israel some instructions. These gates are shut. Nobody can get out. Nobody can get in. Here’s how God wants this battle to go down. Joshua chapter 6, starting in verse 18. Here’s God’s instructions to the armies of Israel:
“Do not take any of the things set apart for destruction, or you yourselves will be completely destroyed, and you will bring trouble on the camp of Israel. 19 Everything made from silver, gold, bronze, or iron is sacred to the Lord and must be brought into his treasury.” 20 When the people heard the sound of the rams’ horns, they shouted as loud as they could. Suddenly, the walls of Jericho collapsed, and the Israelites charged straight into the town and captured it. 21 They completely destroyed everything in it with their swords—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep, goats, and donkeys.
Nothing was to remain alive. This is God’s covenant promise to Abraham 400 years earlier in Genesis 15 and 16. “Abraham, I promise you I’m going to give your descendants this land, but before that happens, the people living in the Promised Land, when their sin gets so bad, eventually I’ll annihilate all of them, and then Abraham, I’ll give that land to you and to your descendants.” God’s now ready to put his judgment on the city of Jericho. By the way, this is judgment that every human being on planet Earth deserves, because the wages of sin according to the Bible is that all of us deserve what happened in Jericho. Nobody can stand before God and say, “God, I’m perfect. I don’t deserve to pay the penalty for sin.”
God decides the city of Jericho is going to pay the full measure for their sin, and in the process, God radically takes care of the biggest single challenge that Israel had. Can I remind you about this conversation between Moses and the 12 spies that happened 40 years earlier back in Numbers chapter 13? Moses was at the Jordan River right on the other side of Jericho, and Moses sent 12 dudes to go over there and to spy out the Promised Land. “Go check out Jericho. Go check out the other cities in there. Come back and give me a report.”
These guys come back, these 12 guys, and they say, “Moses, are you crazy?! There is no way our little army can possibly defeat the armies on the other side of the Jordan River. In the city of Jericho, Moses, and the other towns around there, they have many more soldiers than we have. We are outnumbered, Moses. This is bad. And the kind of soldiers that they have are like super soldiers. We [this is their language in Numbers 13], we feel like grasshoppers compared to the soldiers that are across the river. Really, Moses, here’s why we’re not to win this battle if you sent us over there. You’re sending us on a suicide mission, ‘cause they have giant walled cities.” They’re saying, “Hey Moses, do you know that armies will go and spend weeks or months or years trying to chip away at that wall before they get inside there? There’s no way that we can be successful if we attack this wall. In fact, they’re going to annihilate us if we attack this wall.”
God says, “Joshua, here are my instructions to you. All I want you to do is to simply march around the city for six days in a row, and don’t say a word. On the seventh day, Joshua, when I tell you, I want you to shout really loud, and then I’ll tell you what I’m going to do next. I’m going to cause all of the walls in the entire city to just collapse on themselves if you just simply scream really loud.”
Now, these are the primary defenses in the city of Jericho, and all Joshua has to do is simply believe God and trust that those walls will fall if the people will scream really loud, and sure enough, the ram’s horn blows, the people shout, and the walls, Bible archaeologists tell us, fell on the inside. They fell from the outside in, and now all Israel needs to do is just simply rush in and take the precious stuff and bring it out of the city and put it in the camp of Israel.
IV. God’s grace spares the greatest sinner
Everything else in the city must die, except one woman where God’s grace spares the greatest sinner in Jericho. Listen to what happens in Joshua chapter 6, starting in verse 22:
Meanwhile, Joshua said to the two spies, “Keep your promise. Go to the prostitute’s house and bring her out, along with all her family.” 23 The men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father, mother, brothers, and all the other relatives who were with her. They moved her whole family to a safe place near the camp of Israel. 24 Then the Israelites burned the town and everything in it. Only the things made from silver, gold, bronze, or iron were kept for the treasury of the Lord’s house. 25 So Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute and her relatives who were with her in the house, because she had hidden the spies Joshua sent to Jericho. And she lives among the Israelites to this day.
When there’s something impure or unclean the camp, it has to go outside the camp of Israel. It has to stay out there and go through this period of ceremonial cleansing. So, they grabbed Rahab and everybody in Rahab’s house and they put her on the outside of the camp. She’s an unclean woman. She’s impure. They leave her outside the camp, but they didn’t leave that woman and her family outside the camp. They brought her back in, and they treated her like one of their own.
This is the “Oh my God!” moment in Joshua. This is the moment that if you were walking down the checkout aisle of the grocery store and you saw this on the tabloids of the newspaper, you’d say, “That can’t be right. That certainly has got to be wrong. Why would God let this woman live?” I mean, think about it for just the second. Of all the people in Jericho, God could have spared the king or he could have spared soldiers or he could have spared just the everyday ordinary citizen. Why this woman of all people? Why God, would you choose to preserve this woman’s life and annihilate every single living thing in her town except her and her family? Why God, didn’t you give her what she deserves?
This is God showing incredible mercy for her when Rahab didn’t get what she deserved. But God does something even greater. He gives her something that she doesn’t deserve. This is God’s scandalous, sovereign grace. He gives her an opportunity to become part of his family.
I said every single time this woman is mentioned in the Bible, to include Hebrews chapter 11, this great history of faith in the Bible, Rahab is called a prostitute. In James chapter 2, Rahab the Prostitute is referred to as an example of what it looks like to have faith that has actions with it.
There’s one time in the Bible, one time only in the Bible, when this woman is mentioned and she is not called a prostitute. It’s found in Matthew chapter 1, and here’s what I think is fascinating. Matthew chapter 1 is the lineage that Jesus came from. Here’s what Matthew chapter 1 tells us: Rahab found a man from Israel. Rahab fell in love, and Rahab got married. They had a baby, and that baby had a baby, who also had a baby, and that child became the greatest king in ancient Israel. That child became David, the king whose line God would use to bring his son, Jesus. Did you hear what I just said? Rahab is not called a prostitute in Matthew chapter 1 when the Bible reminds us God brought his son into the world through this woman and through her offspring. -through this woman’s great-grandson, David, and through his direct descendent, Jesus. “Rahab the Prostitute” became Rahab, one of the founders of our faith. Rahab, the direct ancestor of King Jesus, our Savior.
This is where God really, really showed me that I had made a huge mistake when I was studying about Rahab. I was reading the rest of this article about Kristina. Let’s go back for just a second; I’ll wrapped up with this. The rest of this blog post by Pastor James says that Kristina should have given up on the church, but she didn’t. She decided to give another church a chance, and she and her roommate stumbled into the doors of Pastor James White’s church in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was in that church that they were confronted with their sin. They found the scandalous grace of God, and Kristina and her roommate’s lives were radically changed.
Kristina would go on to fall in love, get married, and have children in this church. God called her to ministry in this church, and she has been for 20 years in a position of ministry in this church outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. And then Pastor James says, “Do you know about that church that told Kristina and her roommate, “Hey, you’re not welcome here”? You know where that church is right now? They knocked it down, bulldozed it, and put a parking lot on top of it.”
As I was studying this, I was thinking, “God, you did something incredible in Kristina’s life. Look at who she became after this. God, you did something amazing through Rahab, who became the great-grandmother of David and the direct ancestor of Jesus, our king.” And then God reminded me, “Jeff, wait a second. Don’t get in your mind that I did this for these ladies just because of what they would eventually become.” Here’s where God showed me, “Jeff, you really are missing the point here.” He reminded me, “Jeff, I did this for Kristina because I love her and for no other reason. Jeff, I did this for Rahab because I love her and because I want a relationship with her, for no other reason than that. And Jeff, I did the exact same thing for you, because I love you and because I want a relationship with you. My scandalous grace cost me my son having to go to the cross and pay the price for your sin. That’s how much I love you.”
See, what God’s grace shows us is, his greatest act of love is the thing that hurt God the most. -his sacrifice of his son on the cross so that he could forgive me, so that he could forgive a woman like Rahab, so that he could forgive a lady like Kristina, so that he can forgive you. God’s scandalous grace shows us, where you’re hurting the most, love runs the deepest. -when you let your guard down and when you let people back in who have hurt you badly.
Maybe somebody hurt you like that over the weekend, and you were burned really badly in your back and you’re thinking, “I don’t know if I can ever trust them again.” I want to remind you what it took for God to show scandalous grace to a guy like me or what it took for God to show scandalous grace to a person like you.
• I’ve sinned against God. Today I asked Jesus to forgive me and give me his gift of scandalous grace.
– I’ve been living in fear lately. Pray that I will find strength to face my fears by focusing on my relationship with Jesus.
+ This week I’ll reach out to someone who has hurt me.
- Did anyone ever give you a hated nickname? If so, where did the nickname come from?
- When you’ve messed up in the past, have you had someone keep holding it over your head? How does it feel when someone holds a past mistake over your head?
- How do you handle scary situations?
- In your opinion, what do people who don’t know Jesus personally turn to, in order to deal with their fear?
- Has someone ever shown you undeserved kindness? Have you ever shown underserved kindness to someone else?
- How did God get your attention before you came to faith in Jesus?
- Dwell on the scandalous grace of God for a few minutes. Thank him for loving you enough to rescue you from your sins.