Monday, October 13, 2008

The prostitute escapes...

Forty years or so after Israel’s first attempt at entering the promised land, the nation are poised to cross the Jordan and enter their rest. As they stood on the riverbank waiting, Joshua, their new leader, wanted to know what was going on over yonder, so he secretly sent two spies to scope things out.

“Go look over the land,” he instructed his info gatherers. “Check it out, especially Jericho.”

So the two went. They arrived in Jericho and, you’re not going to believe this, decide to hang out with the town hooker. A little disturbing, I suppose, but that’s where they end up: Jericho’s red light district. Makes you wonder what they were thinking…or doing!

Anyway, this prostitute – her name was Rahab – took them in, risking her own neck for theirs. You see, she knew who they were, or more accurately, who they represented. She knew they’re spies. She knew Israel plans to attack. She knew her king would want to know about this duo’s presence.

Well, somehow, not from her lips, Jericho’s ruler found out about the pair and sent word to Rahab. “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house,” his messengers demanded, “because they have come to spy out the land.”

But the woman had hidden the two up on her roof under some stalks of flax. She wasn’t about to give them up to the authorities. She deceived the king’s servants.

“Yes, the men came to me,” she began truthfully enough. “But I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don’t know which way they went, but if you go after them quickly, you may catch them.”

So all the king’s horses and all the king’s men went out that night to capture these men.

Alone again, under cover of darkness, Rahab climbed to the roof to chat with her friends. What she said then revealed a great deal about her, even more about her understanding of God.

“I know that God has given you the land,” she began. “We’re all afraid. Everyone in the country feels hopeless. We heard how God dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you left Egypt, and what he did to the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you put under a holy curse and destroyed. We heard it and our hearts sank. We all had the wind knocked out of us. And all because of you, you and God, your God, God of the heavens above and God of the earth below.

“Now promise me by God. I showed you mercy; now show my family mercy. And give me some tangible proof, a guarantee of life for my father and mother, my brothers and sisters – everyone connected with my family. Save our souls from death!”

“Our lives for yours!” the men said. “But don’t tell anyone our business. When God turns this land over to us, we’ll do right by you.”

Trusting these spies more than some would think prudent, Rahab, the harlot, let them go, lowered them on a rope to the ground outside the wall.

“Go!” she urged 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.”

The men replied, “In order to keep this oath you made us swear, here is what you must do: Hang this red rope out the window through which you let us down and gather your entire family with you in your house – father, mother, brothers, and sisters. Anyone who goes out the doors of your house into the street and is killed, it’s his own fault – we aren’t responsible. But for everyone within the house we take full responsibility. If anyone lays a hand on one of them, it’s our fault. But if you tell anyone of our business here, the oath you made us swear is canceled – we’re no longer responsible.”

“If that’s what you say,” she responded, “that’s the way it is,” and sent them off. The two spies hid out and then returned to Joshua with a full report.

“God has given the whole country to us,” they gushed. “Everybody is in a state of panic because of us.”

Rahab left the red rope hanging out the window.

(Adapted from Joshua 2 with some quotations from The Message.)

Okay, so who in this story gets into Heaven? I mean, who do we know we’ll get to meet when we walk the golden streets of the New Jerusalem? You know, don’t you? It’s the prostitute. Rahab’s the one we know for sure stands today before God’s throne, worshiping her Savior, She’s singing and shouting Jesus’ praises, honoring Him with all that she is and ever shall be.

The spies? We don’t know enough about them to say they’re in with absolute confidence. They’re likely there with their red rope rescuer, but we just can’t say for certain that they’re in Paradise right now. They’re never mentioned again. Rahab, however, is.

Three times her name is repeated in the New Testament. Every time she’s honored, praised, elevated.

She shows up in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ ancestry. She’s one of only a few women mentioned. We find out that she’s King David’s great-great-grandmother. Pretty cool, huh? From woman of ill repute to royalty. Who’d have guessed?

Then in Hebrews 11, she shows up again – right in the middle of a long list of faith-filled followers of God. Look at the words God inspired someone to write about her.

“By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days. By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.” (Hebrews 11:30-31, NIV)

Interesting, isn’t it, that the writer of Hebrews was inspired by God to mention Rahab’s faith. Interesting…and important. You see this whole chapter is showing what faith looks like in the real world. It’s showing the kinds of actions those who are saved take as life happens. It’s making a case that faith is necessary to please God.

A few verses before Rahab is mentioned, Enoch is the focus for a sentence or two. “By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:5-6, NIV)

What’s plain here is that Enoch, who had faith, is in Heaven today. Why? First, because he believed God existed. Second, because he believed God rewards those who earnestly seek him. God was pleased with Enoch. God is pleased with all who have the same faith as Enoch. Rahab had that faith. She was saved by that faith.

You tracking with me? This makes sense right? Have faith in God. Get saved. It’s plain as day here in Hebrews.

It’s plain in James, too. Rahab is mentioned in the second chapter of James’ letter to the church.

“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? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” (James 2:25-26, NIV)

Rahab is praised here for taking action based on her faith in God. Her actions, James argues, show that her faith was real, solid, genuine. Faith without deeds is dead.

The harlot’s faith is alive. Those who believe and act are credited with righteousness. Even if their past is checkered, they’re credited with righteousness and admitted into God’s kingdom forever! They survive judgment. They enjoy Heaven!

Believe on the Lord Jesus! Put your faith in God. That’s how you gain a right standing with God. Then act on faith so that the world sees your good deeds and praises your Father in Heaven.

Are you going to be an eternal survivor? This is real, after all. It’s not a game. Only the righteous survive. Not the good. Not the nice. Not the relatively decent. Only the righteous.

Now there’s one more thing to be said. The righteous are not righteous because of actions done in their own power. The Bible makes that clear.

“…no one,” Paul says in Romans 3:20, “will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” (NIV)

You can’t be good enough to get in on your own. The law just shows you how desperately sinful you are, how deserving of God’s wrath.

“But now…” Aren’t those hopeful words? They’re for us today. They’re contemporary.

“But now,” Paul says starting at Romans 3:21, “a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:20-24, NIV)

Only the righteous survive. Only the righteous are justified before the Perfect Judge of all men. Only the righteous will enjoy Paradise. Only the righteous who believe on Jesus.

Have you chosen to believe on Jesus? I urge you today to become a survivor, an escapee from God’s wrath, a recipient of His great mercy. If you’ll believe on Jesus, you’ll not perish, but have eternal life. That’s God’s promised gift to all who trust His Son. It’s his love gift to every faith-filled follower of Jesus. (See John 3:16-18.)

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