Grace in an Unlikely Place

October 18, 2015

If you are like most people, then your family tree probably has
some folks in it that you’d rather not talk about. Not just the nuts and saps
that collect in most trees but people that when you are drawing your family
tree you are tempted to use the white out. 
We just don’t like to talk about the horse thieves, crooks and
politicians that we find there. 

But as Thomas fuller said, “He that has no fools, knaves nor beggars in his family
must have been begot by a flash of lightning.” 
And in many cases families will often try to sanitize their past,
except for Aussies who seem quite proud of the criminal heritage of their
country, if your ancestors arrived in Australia in chains that’s something to
brag about. 

And sometime in February when we are buried in snow up to our
noses and it’s a thousand below zero I want you to think about the fact that
people settled Canada willing but they had to be sent to Australia as prisoners. 
This is our second week of Moments of Grace and you’ll
remember from last week that the Oxford English Dictionary: defines grace as “The free and unmerited favour of
God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowing of blessings.” 
At Cornerstone I often say: Justice is getting what you
deserve.  Mercy is getting less than what
you deserve.  Grace is getting what you
don’t deserve. 
Bob
Goff, Author of “Love Does” tweeting a while ago this great definition of
Grace  “Grace is a painting God’s still
completing over our torn canvases.”
This week we find grace in a most unlikely place . . . a
brothel.  Not many stories in the Bible
start in a house of ill repute, as a matter of fact I can only think of one other. 
We read the original story earlier but it is summed up in one
verse in Hebrews 11, a chapter in the bible that is often called “The Faith Hall
of Fame,”  and there is a lot that was
left unsaid in the Hebrews account that could lead to some wild speculations.
So here is the verse from  Hebrews 11:31 It was by faith that Rahab
the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to
obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.   Nod Nod, wink wink. 
Friendly welcome indeed. 
And that is why a text out
of context is a pretext.  You see the
original readers of Hebrews 11 would know exactly what was meant by “a friendly
welcome”  while the rest of you just
think you know.  And as a boss of mine
used to say “The only thing you get from jumping to conclusions are sore feet.”
And to be fair Rahab may
have given the spies a “friendly welcome”, nod, nod, wink wink, but that wasn’t
what she was being commended for in Hebrews 11. 
So let’s go back to the beginning and find out the rest of the story.
You know the history here.  Moses has led the Hebrews in the greatest
escape every chronicled.  You can read
about it in the book called Exodus, not the Leon Uris novel but the second book
of the Bible. 
Now what should have been a fairly
straight forward trip across the desert turns into a 40-year epic because of
the disobedience and unbelief of the Hebrew people. 
Now however, the promise is about
to be fulfilled.  The Promised Land lies
just within their grasp, the people have left the desert, now they have to
cross the Jordan and get past the city of Jericho. 
And so we read in  Joshua 2:1 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.  
The guys don’t seem all that
focused on their trip, the two men set out and immediately end up at the house
of a prostitute. 
But to be fair a brothel would be
a place where people would be used to strange men showing up at all hours.  So let’s give them the benefit of the doubt
and say that there were strategic reasons for ending up at Rahab’s place. 
However, word had somehow gotten
out to the King of Jericho, who I would suspect was King like Mike Savage is
King of Halifax, that spies had entered the land.  And he immediately sends his men to Rahab’s
place.  
Must have been one of those “If I
was a spy where would I go first?” questions and the answer was “Oh yeah,
Rahab’s, she has that discount that she gives to spies.”
So the King’s men show up at the brothel
but Rahab tells them, “Oh those spies, yeah they were here but they left
earlier, they are heading out of town but if you hurry you can catch them.”    The king’s men obviously believed her
because they get a posse together and head out of town after the guys.
But, it’s here the plot
thickens.  You see the guys hadn’t
actually left, Rahab had hidden them on the roof of her place and it was there
they spent the night.   Obviously this
was the friendly welcome that is alluded to in the book of Hebrews.
As a reward for her saving
the spies they agree to spare her and her family when the Hebrews eventually
overthrow the city on their way into the promised land.  And that is a whole other story that is mentioned
in the previous verse in Hebrews 11.
A story that you probably
remember from Sunday School.  And it if
you don’t the recap is in Hebrews 11:30 It was by faith that the
people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing
down.
When the battle breaks out, Rahab
hangs a scarlet cord from the window of her home and she and her family are
spared in the battle.
So what is it that we learn from
the story?  Hebrews 11:31 It was by faith that Rahab
the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to
obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.  
Rahab Had a Past It was
interesting as I was preparing this message how hard some commentators worked
at cleaning up Rahab’s past.
Adam Clarke writes “the word which we translate harlot, should be
rendered innkeeper or tavern keeper, as there is no proper evidence that the
person in question was such a woman as our translation represents her. As to
her having been a harlot before and converted afterwards, it is a figment of an
idle fancy”.
So I thought “maybe
they just called her a hooker to spice up the story, it already had mystery and
intrigue, all it needed was a hint of sex.” 
So I went back to the original languages to see if that was actually the
case.  
In the book of
Hebrews the Greek word that is used is πόρνη Porne, and that word does not mean
innkeeper or even tavern keeper.  It is
only ever used for a prostitute. 
And it is no
different in the original story in the book of Joshua, the Hebrew word used
there is זָנָה‎ zānâ, and again there is no ambiguity there at all.  One meaning and one meaning only.  
Today she might have
been called a “Sex Worker” but no one would have mistaken her for the manager
at the Holiday Inn.
Technically if
someone said they were a hooker it might mean that they made rugs, but probably
not. 
John Wesley used a
great phrase to describe Rahab, “Formerly one not of the
fairest character.” 

Now it’s easy to cast stones and wonder how this woman could sell her body like
this, or perhaps wonder what men did to cause her to become a prostitute.  Some will scorn her and others will pity her
but the reality is we don’t know why she was what she was.  She obviously had a story that had brought
her to this place in her life.  And
without knowing the story it isn’t fair to judge her past.
Every once in a while you read a story about someone whose
past has come back to haunt them.  During
the Federal election it seemed that each of the three major parties had to
struggle with actions and comments that had been in some candidates past.  They probably thought they were safe, not. .
.
Even now 70 years after the end of the war you will hear of a
war criminal from World War Two who has been discovered living in Canada or the
States.  Their past comes back to haunt
them. 
Every one of us has a past. 
I would suspect that there isn’t a person here who would want all of
their past revealed.  I know that for the
most part your past is spotless that you never did anything that you are
ashamed of.  Because you are really nice
people, but I would suspect that if tomorrow you got up and someone had left a
note on your door that said “I know what you have done.”  Your mind would immediately jump to some
incident and wonder how it is they knew and whether they would tell others
about it. 
Maybe it was something you did as a child, or maybe something
you did while your brain took a nap during your teen years.  Perhaps it was just a moment of indiscretion,
but it is there and even though nobody else or very few people know about it,
you do.
I have come to the
conclusion that nobody should be judged by the worst moment in their lives
It’s easy to cast stones but
listen to what Jesus said in  Matthew 7:3
“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not
consider the plank in your own eye?”   And in the book
of John when the crowd had gathered around the woman caught in adultery so
eager to judge her, Jesus told them John 8:7 . . .”He
who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”
Two mistakes that we make about our past, one is to forget
about it.  The ex-smoker who has little
or no sympathy for those who still smoke. 
They have forgotten the cravings and desires that went along with
nicotine and say stupid things like “Why don’t you just quit.”  Forgetting the 247 times they tried to quit
before they got it right.
The adult who forgets what it was like to be a teen, all the
pressures and all the things waiting to be discovered and tried, for right or
for wrong. 
And they forget how they behaved as a teen, for right or for
wrong.  We want our teens to emulate the
good things we did when we were their age but are terrified they will discover
the real stupid things we did.  A friend
of mine calls it “Boomer Guilt.” 
The second mistake we make about our past is not forgetting
it.  We dwell in it, can’t get over it
and can’t forgive ourselves for the mistakes that were made.    We
spend our lives saying “If only” and “If I had my life to live again.”  
Thomas
H. Raddall who said “Don’t brood on the past, but don’t forget it either.”
Everything that happened up to a minute ago is part of your
past, you can’t change it or undo it, you simply need to accept that it
happened and learn from it. 
And so Rahab stood at the intersection of her life, her past
behind her and her future ahead of her. 
She had to decide what part of her past she was going to embrace and
what part she was going to reject. 
Because not only was part of her past made up of Rahab the hooker, part
of her past was made up of Rahab the virgin. 
There was a time in her life that she wasn’t what she had
become.  Sometimes when we look backward
we are overcome with shame, but that wasn’t always the way it was and isn’t the
way it has to stay.
Rahab had a Choice So, the King of Jericho heard that spies had arrived in his city and
he made the logical leap that they were at Rahab’s home.  His men arrive and demand that Rahab
surrender the spies. 
And it was at the point in time
that Rahab had to make a decision.  Will she do what is easy or will she do
what is right?
 And even in that
there were issues.
As a citizen of Jericho what was
right was different than what was right for the two Hebrew spies. 
Contrary to what some people will
tell you not every issue is black and white, right or wrong.  And there are issues that will divide people
and one side will think you did a great job and will put up monuments in your
honour while the other side will stand in line to spit on that very same
monument. 
To the Hebrews Rahab was a hero,
to the people of Jericho she was a traitor and worse. 
There are a number of us here at
Cornerstone who hail from Saint John New Brunswick.  And Saint John proudly proclaims that it is
Canada’s Loyalist City.  But those people
who proclaimed their loyalty to the crown in the 1700’s during the American
Revolution certainly weren’t considered to be loyalists by their neighbours, but
they were willing to give up their lands and their lives in order to stand by
their loyalty. 
When you think about it Benedict
Arnold may have been considered a traitor by the revolutionaries in the US but
to the British he was a hero.   
And so Rahab hides the spies and
then lies to the authorities before sending them on a wild goose chase. 
Why? 
I’m sure as the spies lay on her
rooftop hidden under piles of flax that they wondered the same thing and as
they heard her footsteps approach they probably wondered if she was alone, if
she had changed her mind and what their future would be like or even if they
would have a future.
But it wasn’t the fact that Rahab
had defied the King’s men that got her mentioned in the book of Hebrews, it was
why she defied the King’s men that got her mentioned in the book of
Hebrews. 
After she has sent the authorities
away she goes up on the rooftop to let the spies know they are in the clear and
she tells them why she has saved them. 
Her explanation begins in Joshua 2:9 Rahab said to the men: “I know that
the LORD has given you the land, …” And finishes in Joshua 2:11 “. . .  for the LORD
your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”
She came to a place that she
was willing to leave her past behind her and claim and believe the promises of
God.  
No matter what your past may
hold your future stretches out before you and God invites you to step into it with
him.  At the end of the book of Joshua as
the people of Israel prepare to finally settle into the land that God promised
them Joshua issues this challenge to the people.  Joshua 24:15 But if you refuse to serve
the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. . . . But as for me and my
family, we will serve the LORD.”
By the time that
challenge was issued we know that Rahab had already aligned herself with the
Hebrews and was probably part of the crowd that heard those words. 
Choose today what
you will serve, will you continue to serve the past or are you ready to step
through the door into the incredible future God has for you through His grace?  It’s your choice. 
Years ago my mother
introduced me to a book called “Seeds of Greatness” and the author Denis Waitley wrote “Losers live in the past. Winners learn from the past and enjoy working in
the present toward the future.”
Rahab had a future So the
Israelites capture the city, you know the story how they marched around the
city for six days and on the seventh day they blew their horns and shouted and
brought the walls of the city down.  And
how Rahab hung a scarlet cord from her window and was spared along with her
family. 
By the way some people believe that the scarlet cord was the
beginning of the “red light” tradition. 
And the story could have ended there, alls well that ends
well.  Joshua and the people of Israel
could have settled the promise land and Rahab could have gone back to . . . providing
a friendly welcome for people.
But that isn’t how the story
ends.  The story continues in Joshua 6:25
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.
And then we hear nothing
about Rahab for the next thousand years, nothing zip, nada.  And then she reappears out of nowhere. 
And it is in the most
unlikely place, the genealogy of Jesus!  Matthew
1:5-6
Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab). Boaz was the
father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth). Obed was the father of Jesse. Jesse was
the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was
Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).
Did you catch that?  Rahab the prostitute was the Grandmother of
King David, the greatest king who ever ruled over Israel and ultimately at the
very end of that list was Joseph. 
You know, Joseph who married the Virgin
Mary and who raised Jesus as his own son.  
You understand? No Rahab, no Boaz.  Boaz was the man who married the widow Ruth,
there’s an entire book in the Bible written about that love story. 
No Rahab, no David to fight Goliath, no David to bring the
Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, no David to plan the Temple that Solomon
would build, no David no 23rd Psalm. 
And you understand that without a Rahab there would have been
no Joseph to believe in Mary, no Joseph to raise Jesus in a loving and caring
home.
And while Rahab doesn’t appear in Mary’s family tree her son
does, so no Rahab no Mary to carry the Son of God
And it all began in a
brothel with a woman that good respectable people had given up on long
before.  But Rahab hadn’t given up on
Rahab and neither had God. 
Rahab saw beyond the present
reality and could see her preferred future and she made a choice that would
affect an entire nation.  When she not
only came to the point that she knew Joshua 2:11 “. . .  for the LORD your God, He is God in
heaven above and on earth beneath.”  But when she
acted on that belief doing what was right instead of doing what was easy. 
It’s easy to say “I believe
in God” Well, good for you, people have been saying that for thousands of years
and to quote James the brother of Jesus, James 2:19 You say you
have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the
demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.   James goes on to say James 2:20 How
foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?
And then as an example of
that statement he tells the story of Abraham, and then we read James 2:25 Rahab the
prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her
actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different
road.  She didn’t just believe God,
she was willing to put that belief into action.
And so the Grace of God reached down into a most unlikely place,
and provided a most unlikely recipient with a new life and a great future, he
was painting a beautiful picture on  the torn
canvas of her life.
And what God did for Rahab he can do for you.
What is it that God could do with you if you made the choice
to not only believe that he is God but to believe that he has great things for
you to do? 
I would suspect that you all believe in God, otherwise you
would be at the out picking apples today, but what can you believe that God can
do with you and through you?  And are you
willing to take that next step? Are you willing to ember God’s grace?