Summary: God is ready to forgive all sinners and use them for His purposes; and God’s people must receive them, no matter the nature of their sin, for all have sinner and are forgiven. (Spools of scarlet thread were distributed for people to unroll and hold).
Soon through your hands will be passing a scarlet thread, a scarlet cord. I do not say a red cord, but a scarlet cord.
Scarlet, you see, is a special kind of red color. The art books tell us that scarlet is a bright red with just a tinge of orange in it. And scarlet has some special characteristics.
Scarlet is, for some, an attractive color, a festive color. Scarlet makes a brave statement. When the United States Marine Band suits up to play for the President, scarlet tunics are worn. When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police get their man astride of powerful horses and strap on their broad-brimmed hats, their coats are not just red – they are scarlet. Scarlet makes a statement.
Scarlet, too, can be seen. It can be seen at a distance and it seems just about indelible. It attracts the eye. The chapel staff at American University, one of the places where my wife serves, did a brochure a few years ago. The brochure was printed, for the most part, in soft grays and white. But here and there, dotted throughout that gray brochure, a scarlet swatch where they really wanted to make sure you did not miss something important. Scarlet is visible, it seems unmistakable, it seems indelible.
Ah, but scarlet has also been for centuries the color of sin. Who knows how it began or why? All I know is that the prophet Isaiah spoke of our sins being like scarlet, and that the seer of the Book of Revelation pronounced the doom of the city of Rome and described its sin as clothed in purple and scarlet and sitting on a scarlet beast. Scarlet the color of sin -- so powerful, so unmistakable, so indelible.
In fact, this distinctive color, which you now hold in your hands, and which is threading its way through the entire congregation … not missing a one of us ... this bawdy color became known not just as the color of sin but as the color of sexual sin. It became known as the color of prostitution and of sexual infidelity. Revelation again speaks of the harlot clothed in scarlet, and in more recent times, it could be used as a way of labeling that wayward woman who sells her body to equally wayward men ... we speak of a "scarlet woman". The novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote of "The Scarlet Letter", referring to the awesome punishment inflicted on adulterers in colonial New England - a big, brazen, letter A, a scarlet letter, an unmistakable message, an indelible thing.
I’ll bet some of you have let go of the scarlet thread by now, haven’t you? Don’t want to be associated with that!
Oh, but today hear of the designing woman for whom the scarlet thread became the unmistakable message of redemption. Hear today of the designing woman for whom the blazing scarlet became the red badge of courage. Hear today of the designing woman named Rahab whose scarlet sin, thought to be indelible, was taken away.
And hear today of a God of surprises: hear today of a God who will enter even a red-light district to extend the ties that bind us to Him. Hear today of a designing woman, working the world’s oldest profession in one of the world’s oldest cities, encountering the design of God.
And hold on to that scarlet cord. It marks you, but it will demonstrate also your salvation.
The writer of Hebrews, summarizing the life of the third designing woman we have reflected on this summer, says:
"By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace."
That summarizes very succinctly what you read about in the second chapter of the Book of Joshua. Remember, now, the setting: For forty years the people of God had meandered through the wilderness of Sinai and of the Jordan, led by Moses. They were now in sight of the land promised to them by their God, who had freed them from Pharaoh’s slavery. They no longer have Moses, but they do have a bright, capable, energetic younger leader, Joshua. And it falls to Joshua to get them across Jordan’s stormy banks and to secure a place for them among all the hostile Canaanite peoples who already live there.
And so as the story in the Book of Joshua opens, the commander has cast a wishful eye at Canaan’s fair and happy land, and has decided to send in the CIA ... he’s sending in spies to find out how strong the defense of Jericho is.
When the spies enter, they go immediate1y to a certain house that is built right into the city walls, the house of Rahab, the house of ill repute. Listen to the account: