Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Sermon from Joshua 2

Having been out of the pastoral ministry for a bit, it has been a while since I have written a sermon! Now that I am back in school, I was assigned to write a sermon as a part of a class. The assignment required us to tackle an ethical question. The ethical question in Joshua 2 is the issue of Rahab's lie. --Bill


Sermon Title: The Faith that Leads to Good Works and Good Words
Sermon Text: Joshua 2

Introduction

The most popular TV sitcom in the 1990s was Seinfeld. Seinfeld is still popular today, and is seen daily in reruns. One columnist said of Seinfeld, “The most obvious attribute of all four characters [in the show] is dishonesty. "They're all liars!" . . . They constantly lie, to strangers and to each other, without a second thought.”

In the 1990s lying also came to the forefront of our attention when our President lied to a grand jury, and eventually lost his license to practice law because of it. Now in the 2000s we live in an era that’s being called post-modern. The most striking thing about post-modernism is the loss of truth. We’re told that there is no longer such a thing as objective truth. Instead, truth is something each community and individual invents for himself. You have your truth and I have my truth, and that’s ok because there is no higher truth to which we may appeal.

It seems like we live in an age where truth has fallen on hard times. And yet, Pontius Pilate who lived 2000 years ago, seemed to share the spirit of our age when he cynically asked Jesus, “What is truth?”

One of the difficulties of our text is the question of truth. Rahab, the heroine of our passage, tells a big, fat lie, and instead of Scripture condemning her, Scripture commends her! The Lord praises Rahab in his Word. Our passage isn’t the least bit concerned with Rahab’s lie! The Lord himself does not condemn Rahab, but instead he saves her from the destruction of her native city of Jericho. There’s not even a hint in our passage that might suggest that Rahab’s lie was wrong.

The rest of the Bible praises also Rahab, first for her faith, and second, for her lie! Hebrews 11:31 praises Rahab’s faith saying, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” Part of that friendly welcome was her lying which protected those spies!

James 2:25 goes even further and praises Rahab’s lie directly, saying, “Was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” How did Rahab send the spies off by another way? Well, the answer is, she lied, and so James sees Rahab’s lie as a good work!

So this is an issue we want to consider in this sermon. When is it ever right to lie? And, why does the Bible not condemn Rahab’s lie?

Earlier we mentioned Pilate’s cynical view of truth. Pilate’s cynical view of the truth was occasioned when Jesus spoke to him of his kingdom in this way: “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

Jesus Christ’s kingdom is founded on the truth. Rahab became a member of Christ’s kingdom, just as believers today belong to Christ’s kingdom. As members of his kingdom we receive Christ’s witness to the truth and are joined to Jesus who is the truth.

Main Proposition

So a bit later in the sermon we will look at this question of Rahab’s lie and the question of truth. But before we return to Rahab’s lie, we need to look at the main message of Joshua chapter 2. And the main truth we learn in this chapter is that true faith leads to good works and good words. True faith leads to good works and good words. May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ renew our minds and warm our hearts as we consider his holy Word today. Amen.

I. Faith’s Object

At the heart of Joshua 2 is Rahab’s confession. In verses 8-13 Rahab confesses the greatness and goodness of the Lord God of Israel.

Chapter Structure

Chapter two, according to Old Testament scholar, Dale Davis, is sort of like a sandwich. On the outside you have verses dealing with Joshua and the spies. Verse one deals with the sending of the spies. Verses 23 and 24 deal with the spies return to Joshua. Verses 2-7 deal with the arrival of the spies and the concern for their safety. Verses 15-21 deal with the departure of the spies and their safety.

But in the middle of the passage we have the main concern of the passage, which is Rahab’s confession. Just like when you make a sandwich, the meat is in the middle and the meat is the highlight of the sandwich, so in the same way Rahab’s confession is the main focus of Joshua chapter two.

The Content of Rahab’s Confession

If Rahab’s confession is the main focus of Joshua two, what is it about? What is Rahab’s confession about?

Well, her confession is about the Lord! Her confession is about the character and works of Jahweh, the Lord God of Israel!

Whenever we read the Bible we should look to see what it tells us about God. What is the Lord like? What is his character like? What are his attributes? What has he done?

Rahab points to five truths about the Lord God of Israel. First, she is convinced that the Lord will be victorious. Look at verse 9. She says, “I know that the Lord has given you the land.”

In other words, Rahab says, “I know that the Lord is victorious. He will win the war. Jericho, my city, will lose, because the Lord is the victor. The Lord is going to win the victory.” Rahab is convinced that Israel is on the winning side, because the Lord is on Israel’s side. It’s that simple. The Lord is victorious and his side is the winning side.

It’s a poor illustration, but suppose you had a peewee football team of ten year olds. But one of the teams got to have Adrian Peterson, the biggest, fastest NFL running back on its team. Well, you can be sure that Adrian Peterson’s team would win that game. No ten year old could tackle an NFL running back.

And that’s the way it is with the Lord. The Lord is all that’s needed to make a winning team. Whoever is on the Lord’s side is on the winning side. Rahab confesses that the Lord is victorious.

Second, Rahab confesses that the Lord is powerful. She says, “For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction.”

By his power, the Lord was able to defeat Egypt and the great power of Pharaoh. By his power, the Lord was able to defeat the Amorites and their two kings, Sihon and Og. By his power the Lord was able to control nature, drying up the Red Sea. Rahab knew that the Lord was powerful, and when he decided to devote a nation to destruction, then that was it for that nation. No nation’s power was a match for the Lord’s power --- that was Rahab’s confession.

Third, Rahab confessed that the Lord was sovereign. This means that she confessed that the Lord is king over all.

We see this in verse 11. She says, “For the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.”

When the Bible speaks of the heavens and the earth, it’s referring to the whole created universe. It’s referring to all things visible and invisible. Rahab is saying that no one is above the Lord. No king on earth is greater than the Lord. No principality or power in the spiritual realm is greater than the Lord. The Lord alone is God, and he rules over all things.

This is what we say also as Christians about the Lord Jesus Christ. We confess that he is Lord of lords and King of kings. We confess that the Father has raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand, where he rules all things for the good of his people.

Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus Christ rules over all things in heaven and on earth. Even at this very moment Jesus Christ is ruler over all things, including the things of this earth. That was Rahab’s confession as she confessed the Lord, and that’s our confession as we confess the Lord who came from heaven, taking to himself our human nature.

Fourth, Rahab confessed that the Lord knows all things. She calls on the Lord to be a witness in her agreement with the spies. She didn’t call on her own Canaanite gods. She didn’t call on the gods of her city Jericho. No, she called on the Lord to be the witness to the covenant she made with the spies.

The fact is that the Lord sees us, and that’s the reason we call on him to be a witness to our words and our truth telling. The Lord not only hears our words, but he sees our hearts. Our hearts lay entirely open and exposed before the One to whom we must all give account.

Fifth and finally, Rahab’s confession ends with a confession of the Lord’s kindness, mercy, and salvation. She asks that the Lord deal kindly with her and her family. She asks that the Lord save her and her family.

This confession of the Lord’s mercy is remarkable, for she knows that Jericho has been devoted to destruction just as Sihon and Og and the Amorites were devoted to destruction. And yet, she somehow believes that the Lord is merciful and will deal kindly with her and her family even though she lives in a city devoted to destruction.

II. Faith’s Definition

This leads us to the definition of faith---the faith that Rahab possessed and that Scripture praises. For faith goes beyond the confession of our mouths to the belief in our heart.

True Faith is More than a Right Confession

A right confession is very important for faith. Rahab had that right confession. We’ve just seen how Rahab believed that the Lord is victorious, the Lord is powerful, the Lord is sovereign, the Lord is all-knowing.

But most of Jericho knew the same thing! Most of the people devoted to destruction in Jericho knew that the Lord was victorious, powerful, and sovereign. That’s why we read in verses 9 and 11 that the people’s hearts were melting. Verse 9: “ the fear of you has fallen upon us . . . all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.” Verse 11: “as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.”

You see, just confessing the right things is not enough. We need a faith that goes deeper and into our hearts. This is why James tells us that “even the demons believe—and shudder!” Even demons know the truth about God. But just knowing about God is not enough. That truth has to sink down into our hearts for it to be true faith. The fact is Rahab’s confession was good, but her fellow citizens in Jericho could have made the same confession.

True Faith’s Three Elements

So what made the difference with Rahab? Why did Rahab have a true faith that saved her? Why did Rahab enter the kingdom and the nation of Israel, while her fellow citizens of Jericho perished? Why did Rahab transfer from the kingdom of Jericho into the kingdom of God, while the rest of Jericho did not?

The answer has to do with the definition of faith. Faith has three elements: knowledge, conviction, and assurance.

First, true faith must possess knowledge. You cannot believe in the Lord if you’ve never heard of the Lord. You have to know some things about the Lord in order to believe in him. Rahab knew that the Lord was victorious, powerful, and sovereign, just as we know that Jesus is the resurrected Lord, victorious, powerful and sovereign over all things.

But second, knowledge must lead to conviction. Conviction means to be convinced. Rahab was convinced that Jericho would be destroyed. Rahab was convinced that the Lord would win a great victory over her native city. Rahab was convinced about the past victories of the Lord over Egypt and the Amorites, and she was convinced of the Lord’s future victories over Jericho and the Canaanites.

In a similar way, you and I are convinced that Jesus won a great victory in the past over sin and death and the devil, when he died and rose on the third day. We are convinced that this victory actually took place. But we are also convinced that Jesus will win a great victory in the future when he returns. We are convinced that this present world will be defeated and Christ’s kingdom will come in its fullness.

And so a true faith consists of knowledge and conviction. We know the facts about the Lord and his victories, and are convinced of the truth of these things.

But finally, true faith has a third element that’s vital. This third element is assurance.

Another word for assurance might be commitment. We commit our way unto the Lord. We call upon him to be our Lord. We seek a change of kingdoms. We desire and ask to be transferred from the kingdom of darkness and into the Lord’s kingdom of light.

In other words, we seek the Lord’s mercy. We seek the Lord’s salvation.

And this is what Rahab did. She sought the Lord’s kindness and favor. She sought a change of kingdom based on his mercy.

And, you see, God’s mercy is the only basis on which we can seek to enter his kingdom. Because if the Lord gave us what we deserved, we would receive his wrath and destruction. Like Jericho we are devoted to destruction. We live in a fallen world that is just as devoted to destruction as Jericho. Like Isaiah we must cry out, “Woe is me! . . . for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Based on what we deserve because of our sins, the sentence can only be everlasting death away from the presence of the Lord.

But true faith confesses that the Lord is right in his judgment of our sins, but it also says, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. Receive me into your kingdom for Christ’s sake. You sent him into the world for sinners. Have mercy on me and my family for his sake.”

This is what Rahab did. Rahab appealed to the mercy and grace of God. What else could she do?---she was a prostitute in a condemned city devoted to destruction! But so are we, dear friends! We live in a world that’s passing away and will be destroyed by fire when the Lord returns from heaven. We are people who have prostituted ourselves to idols and false lovers. Like Rahab, what else can we do? All we can do is seek the Lord’s mercy and grace offered to us on account of Jesus Christ.

If you come to the Father through the cross of Jesus, let me assure you that the Lord will save you and receive you into his kingdom. Just as he saved Rahab from destruction, so he will save you. And so I urge you to take the humble place of Rahab, by doing two things:

  1. First, acknowledge your sinful condition. Acknowledge your prostitution with idols and false lovers. Acknowledge that you have not sought God’s kingdom and righteousness with all your heart.

  2. Second, call upon the Lord for mercy. Seek to be saved from the coming wrath of God’s judgment. Jesus died and took the wrath and judgment of God upon himself. On that basis, come to your heavenly Father through his Son.

If you sincerely do those two things and continue to do them, know that you are saved. Know that you are a member of Christ’s kingdom. Know that you have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness and into the wonderful kingdom of light, love, resurrection power and joy. Praise the Lord for his grace and mercy to you.

III. True Faith’s Works and Words

True faith is what saves us. True faith is the hand that takes hold of Jesus Christ and his benefits. True faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the way in which we enter God’s kingdom. We are saved by faith alone as faith takes hold of Jesus Christ and his work on our behalf.

Rahab’s faith led to good works, which included lying!

But true faith will show itself in good works. If true faith connects us to Jesus Christ, then good works will be produced in our lives. If Jesus is the vine and our faith has brought us into the vine as branches, then we can’t help but do good works. When the life and love of Christ are flowing into our lives, then a change must happen.

And we see that change in Rahab. I want you to think for a moment about what Rahab did in hiding these spies.

What if the king of Jericho would’ve found out she helped the enemy by hiding the spies? What would’ve happened to Rahab? Well, undoubtedly she would’ve died. Rahab was risking her life by hiding these spies. By siding with God’s kingdom against the kingdom of Jericho, Rahab risked her life. Rahab’s faith led to good works that benefitted the kingdom of God.

Defining Good Works in Relation to Christ’s Kingdom

And really, that’s what good works are, aren’t they? Good works are works that advance and build up the kingdom of God. Good works are actions and words that seek first God’s kingdom.

Our Lord Jesus teaches us that there is no value and no priority higher for us than his kingdom. Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”

When Rahab hid the spies and protected them this is exactly what she was doing. She was doing a good work for the kingdom of God. She was siding with the kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of Jericho, which was resisting God and his kingdom.

Rahab protected two members of God’s kingdom from certain death, and Jesus taught us that how we treat the members of his kingdom is how we treat him our king! In Matthew 25:40 our Lord teaches us how important it is to treat our fellow Christians and kingdom members well. He says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

The Important Context of Spiritual Warfare

But someone might still object and say, “But Rahab lied. How can that be right? How can the Bible praise her for lying?”

Have you ever considered that God himself commands us to lie and deceive in certain situations? In a situation of holy war the Lord commands the army of Israel to set up an ambush and to feign a defeat by fleeing from the city. In both of these situations, ambush and pretending to flee, there is deception, and in every deception there is a lie. What we learn from this is that in holy war deception is permissible and sometimes even commanded by the Lord.

There are other places in Scripture where we see deception on the part of the Lord himself! In Psalm 18 we read:
25 With the merciful you show yourself merciful;with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;26 with the purified you show yourself pure;and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous.

This is even clearer in 2 Thessalonians 2. There we read about how the Lord deceives the wicked who refuse his truth. It says: “they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

You see, there is a spiritual war taking place in this world. In this holy war the stakes are terribly high. The stakes are the eternal welfare of men’s souls. In this war there are two kingdoms. The kingdom of darkness opposes the kingdom of light, and the kingdom of light opposes the kingdom of darkness.

Into this conflict comes the gospel of Jesus Christ and his victory. And this gospel calls on people to choose sides. If we choose for Christ and his truth, then there is life and blessing and joy. If we refuse to choose for Christ, then there can only be lies and darkness and deception.

Rahab chose for herself the truth of God’s kingdom, but immediately that brought her into conflict with the kingdom of darkness. We need to remember that the context of Rahab’s lie is this context of holy war.

Here are some things to learn as we conclude this sermon and consider the issue of Rahab’s lie:

  • First, the highest value for the Christian is God’s kingdom and righteousness, which we are to seek (Mat. 6:33).

  • Second, there is a spiritual battle between the world (Jericho), i.e., the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of Jesus Christ. How this should sober our minds as we live our lives in this spiritual battleground!

  • Third, when human authorities side with the kingdom of the darkness, as they sometimes do, and ask us to disobey the Lord, we cannot (Acts 5:28-29; Ex. 1:15-20).

  • Fourth, when human authorities side with the kingdom of darkness and want our cooperation in doing evil, we should disobey and may have lie to protect the innocent.

Lying is a very irregular thing for the children of God. We follow the One who is the truth! We have believed his witness to the truth! We are to be messengers of the truth of the gospel to the nations.

But by believing the truth of the gospel we have transferred kingdoms and are brought into spiritual conflict. Such a time of spiritual conflict sometimes leads to ethical dilemmas. The good news is that by God’s wisdom and strength, we can do good works for the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. It will probably be a rare occurrence, but such good works may even include lies to protect innocent lives to the glory of God.

Conclusion

Dear friends, if you are a believer, consider the grace of God he has shown you. Such grace has saved you from a Jericho-like world destined for destruction. God sent his beloved Son on your behalf. Come to him again. Trust him.

Consider also the nature of the world you live in. This life is serious. This present life is the battleground for men’s souls. The gospel of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection is the instrument by which God is saving souls. Believe it. Tell it. Support it. Don’t change it.

Finally, consider that your highest value in life is Christ’s kingdom. Seek to live your life in a way that honors that kingdom. Pursue right relationships, that is, righteousness, in every area of your life. Live your life for the love of your King, who saved you. Live in fellowship with him and with the Father.

Let us pray.

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