Summary: Rahab’s life illustrates how faith does not sit on the heart like a trohpy on a mantle collecting dust. God-created faith is active. (Sermon theme by Mark Anderson)
By now you may have decorated your Christmas tree. If so, did you hang any cracked and broken ornaments on the tree? Of course not! You only put on the tree ornaments that are beautiful and “worthy” to be displayed for all your Christmas guests to see.
During this Advent season we’re taking a look at the “ornaments” on Jesus’ family tree. By studying Jesus’ ancestors we’re interested to learn what we can about who Jesus is and why he came. The ancestor that we’re going to focus on today is Rahab. Rahab is a woman one wouldn’t normally brag about being related to. After all, she was a prostitute. Although Rahab seems like a cracked and broken ornament on the family tree of Jesus, we’re going to learn from her life how God makes heroes out of zeroes.
Rahab was a Canaanite who lived in the city of Jericho at the time Joshua was preparing to march the Israelites into the Promised Land. Indeed, their first target was the city where Rahab lived. Before Joshua made any move against Jericho, however, he sent two spies to see what they could learn about the city. The spies used Rahab’s house as their hub for exploration. Since Rahab was a prostitute, the spies figured that no one would pay any attention when they, two strangers, stayed at her place.
However, someone realized that the two men staying at Rahab’s weren’t regular paying customers of hers but were Israelite spies. The king of Jericho sent soldiers to arrest the men but when they came, Rahab told them that the spies had already escaped. The soldiers took off after the spies in the direction Rahab pointed while all along the spies were hiding on the roof of Rahab’s house. When the soldiers had gone, Rahab helped the spies escape through her window, which was built into the wall of the city.
Why did Rahab hide enemy spies? The New Testament books of the Bible, Hebrews and James, tell us that she did so because she had faith in the true God (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25). But I thought Rahab was a prostitute? She had been. But by the time the spies arrived at her place she had become a believer. How did she become a believer? Rahab, along with all the people of Jericho, heard about the miracles God had worked for the Israelites in bringing them out of Egypt. They knew how God had parted the Red Sea for them and then closed the waters on the pursuing Egyptians. If that’s what God had done to the super-power Egypt, what chance did a city like theirs have against the Israelites and their God?
We shouldn’t think that Rahab was just hedging her bets, however. She wasn’t just siding with the Israelite spies because she wanted to back a winner. She had genuine faith. Rahab must have also heard about the promise that all nations would be blessed through the Israelites (Genesis 12:3). This promise pointed ahead to the birth of Jesus who would come from the Israelite nation but be born to save all people from their sin. Rahab believed this promise and trusted that through the Israelites God would send someone to save her from her sins.
The way Rahab came to faith is a reminder that no witness about Jesus is a wasted witness. Rahab didn’t come to believe in Jesus because Joshua had come to town with a thousand Israelite priests to hold a spiritual rally for the inhabitants of Jericho. It seems that she learned about the true God through messengers who were themselves unbelievers. Maybe it was a neighbor or even a customer who told Rahab about what God had done for the Israelites. At any rate, God worked through that message to create faith in her heart.
Isn’t it encouraging to know that God can create faith in such a way? That should take away some of the excuses we give for not witnessing more often. God can create faith through that sermon you’ve forwarded to a friend, or through that Bible passage you signed that card with. He can create faith when you say something as simple as “I believe that I am a sinner and that Jesus died to pay for my sins.” Don’t think that “little” witnessing opportunities are not worth the effort. Nor should we think that there are certain kinds of people we shouldn’t bother witnessing to because we don’t think they will ever believe. Every sinner who hears God’s Word, no matter what his sin or her past, is a good candidate to become a believer, for the Holy Spirit can bring anyone to faith – even a prostitute like Rahab, and even a sinner like me!
The other important spiritual lesson this story teaches us is that faith does not sit on the heart like a trophy sits on a mantle gathering dust. Faith is active. Rahab’s faith moved her to put her life on the line to save the two Israelite spies. Admittedly our expressions of faith might not be as dramatic as Rahab’s but when Christians apply themselves to their schoolwork, to their parenting, to their job, and do this because they are grateful for Jesus’ love, what we do is as pleasing to God as what Rahab did.