A few weeks ago, Susan and I watched the movie Yesterday which is about a young man who reintroduces the world to the songs of the Beatles because no one can remember them, except for him. I don’t want to give away too much, but at the end of the movie, one of the characters says, “I feel like Harry Potter after he defeated Voldemort. At last everything can go back to normal. Isn’t normal wonderful?”
The next day, I said to Susan, “I think that the movie we watched last night was a parable.”
“What do you mean?,” she asked.
I said, “Well, it talked about the things we actually deal with in life. We all want to become famous and rich, and in the movie was someone who actually did become famous and rich, and they then realized that the ordinary life was best.”
We need stories like this to help us to look at our life in this world from a different perspective. Often, we cannot see the changes that we need to make in our own life. But when we see how someone else, through a story or a movie, has been transformed by a major life experience, we can learn from what they went through, apply those lessons to our own life, and be transformed as well.
But then there is another kind of situation which is perhaps even harder for us. Sometimes, we can see the changes that we need to make, but we cannot see how we can make them. Life can beat us down so badly that we cannot believe that something good can come from our life. Consider this question: Are there any people or situations which God cannot use to accomplish great things that will last forever? Can God use your life and your situation to bring forth a great good that endures? Is there any failure or guilt that puts you or someone else beyond God’s redemption? Is it logical for us to hope for good things to happen, for us and for others, even when our track record says that it is not likely?
Having hope for ourselves and others is important because that’s what enables us to face the future with confidence and step into those opportunities that God gives us to be part of the wonderful future that he is bringing into the world.
To help us grow in hope, we are going to continue our Faith Over Fear series, where we are looking at key parts of the book of Joshua to help us move forward in life with faith instead of being driven by our fears. Last week, we reflected on how the power of God’s presence makes all the difference when facing an anxious time. This week, the passage that we are looking at is Joshua 2:1-14, and if you have a Bible or a Bible app, I invite you to turn there now.
Here is a bit of background to help set the scene for that passage. Last week, we saw how God’s People, the Israelites, had completed their forty year journey of formation through the Wilderness and were now camped on the east side of the Jordan River at Shittim. Moses had died and Joshua was chosen by God to be the one to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. God then encouraged Joshua to be strong and courageous with the promise that he would always be with Joshua, an encouragement and a promise that God also gives to you.
In today’s passage, Joshua prepares for the first in a series of battles that will need to take place to conquer and inhabit the land by sending two spies across the Jordan River to check out the fortress city of Jericho. Standing guard near one of the few places where the Jordan River could be crossed, Jericho was the gateway to the Promised Land and conquering it was a necessity.
Joshua, you may remember, was one of twelve spies sent to check out the Promised Land forty years before. This time, Joshua only sends two spies. They swam across the Jordan River, snuck into the city of Jericho through the only gate into the city, and began mixing with the people. Though the Bible doesn’t tell us how, they encountered a prostitute named Rahab. Though it seems odd to us, it makes sense that the spies would seek out a prostitute, for a person in such a role could potentially be a source of important information.
Unfortunately, the two spies were spotted when they entered the city and the king of Jericho sent messengers to Rahab to tell her to give the spies up. Instead of turning them in, which is what a loyal citizen of Jericho would have done, Rahab hid the spies and lied to protect them. After the king’s messengers left to search for the spies, Rahab talked to the spies and told them three things:
1. She knows that the Lord has given them this land.
2. Everyone is fearful of the Israelites because of what God has done for them in the past, and
3. She confesses that the God of the Israelites is “God in heaven above and on the earth below” (Joshua 2:11).
That is an extraordinary phrase that, elsewhere in the Old Testament, is only used by God and only when he is declaring that he is the one true God over all things everywhere.
This is an incredible shift of faith. Rahab has switched her allegiance from her own people, culture and religion, to believing in and trusting in Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, a foreign people from another land. Because of her new faith in Yahweh, Rahab protected the two Israelite men who meant harm to her own people, and she did that even though her actions and her new faith put her in grave danger.
And the reason that Rahab made that dramatic switch was because of fear and grace. She knew, as did all the other people in Jericho, that 20 km to the east was a massive camp containing as many as two million people who were on the verge of marching toward Jericho. She had heard, as did all the other people in the land, of the Ten Plagues God used to bring the powerful nation of Egypt to its knees forty years prior. The people in Jericho and beyond remembered how God divided the waters of the Red Sea to save his people and then allowed that same water to return and destroy the best of the Egyptian army. No god of a local area could do such a thing. No god with power over one particular aspect of life could carry out the massive assault on the false gods of Egypt. Only a God who is above all things everywhere, only a God who is all-knowing and all-powerful could accomplish what the God of the Israelites had done. Rahab knew that the God of the Israelites was all-powerful.
But Rahab also knew that the God of the Israelites was a God of love. The gods of the land in which she lived were thought to only bless, protect and provide if you performed and sacrificed according to their demanding and fickle standards. But the God of the Israelites stepped into human history and acted to save the Israelites even though they were not powerful, wealthy or deserving. In fact, God saved the Israelites in a supernatural way even when they, as slaves in Egypt, had nothing that they could give to him, which was the same situation that Rahab was in. The God of the Israelites had shown himself to be a God of incredible power and incredible grace. So Rahab took the radical step of placing her life in the hands of that powerful, gracious God.
The Importance of God’s Lovingkindness
Rahab also placed her life in the hands of God’s people. She then said to the spies, “Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—and that you will save us from death.” (Joshua 2:12-13) Behind our English word “kindness” is the Hebrew word chesed, which means “merciful, faithful, lovingkindness.” Chesed is the word Joseph used when he made this request after interpreting the dream of Pharaoh’s butler: But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. (Gen. 40:14)
In Psalm 136, all 26 verses end with the same phrase containing the word chesed; “His love [his chesed] endures forever.” lt is as if God is trying to break through the grip that fear can have on our hearts by repeating over and over again words that ideally we would speak into our own heart: “His love endures forever.” I invite you to read aloud the following selected verses from Psalm 136.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever….
He remembered us in our low estate His love endures forever.
and freed us from our enemies. His love endures forever.
He gives food to every creature. His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1-3, 23-26)
The two spies agreed to protect Rahab and her family when the Lord gave them the land on the condition that she does not reveal their secret mission. She agreed and let them down the outside of the city wall with a scarlet rope. That red rope then became Rahab’s passover, for the spies told her that she and her family would be safe in her home when the Israelites attacked Jericho as long as the red rope hung from her window. The rest of the city was destined for destruction, but that destruction would pass over Rahab and her family when the Israelite soldiers would see the red cord and leave her and her family unharmed. The spies kept their word, and when the Israelites attacked and destroyed Jericho, Rahab and her family were spared, and she became part of the family of God. Rahab even became part of the lineage of Jesus, appearing in the list of Jesus’ descendants recorded for us in Matthew, chapter 1. There we see that Rahab is the great grandmother of King David. God can make lasting good happen through the life of anyone!
With Faith, Fear No Longer Rules Our Heart
So what does all this mean for us? Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. But we need to keep fear in its proper place so that fear becomes our friend. We should be afraid when evil raises its ugly head in this broken and hurting world. We should be afraid when sin leads us away from God. We should be afraid when death strives to steal life from this world. We should be afraid of what things would be like if the Lord was not on our side. That kind of fear is needed to keep bringing us back to the God of unfailing love and mercy.
But when, like Rahab, we have switched our loyalty and allegiance from the familiar people, culture and religion of our doomed surroundings, to Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, fear doesn’t get to rule in our hearts anymore. Faith does, because it is now the main feature in the operating system of our life. And the reason that we can continually move forward with confident faith, regardless of how scary and dangerous our situation may be, is that the Lord’s merciful, faithful lovingkindness is always, always, always greater than anything that could ever harm us.
We know that is true because of Jesus. He is God’s chesed, God’s merciful, faithful lovingkindness personified. He is the spy sent to this world to prepare it for an invasion from heaven. Yes, there are fearful things happening all around us, but remember the power and lovingkindness of God. God parted the waters of the Red Sea to bring his people to safety. God defeated the enemies that attacked his people on their journey toward the Promised Land. And God the Father sent his Son, Jesus, to be our Savior. In his great and mighty power, Jesus chose to stand in our place and become weak and helpless, like we are. Though pure, holy and sinless, Jesus chose to go to the cross, wear our sin and suffer the punishment that we deserve. The faithful, merciful lovingkindness of Jesus is so great, that in him we have new creation life, forgiveness for all our sins, and soul healing now with physical healing to come in the future.
We are Rahab
With our allegiance and loyalty in Jesus, you and I are Rahab. In this world, we might be despised or forsaken by our own kind. We live in enemy territory and our faith could cost us our life. But we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who will invade this world with Jesus when he comes to make all things new and right once again. All evil will be totally defeated and banished. All injustice will be overturned. All creation will be healed and restored. And death will be overcome as Jesus raises everyone who trusts in him to live with him forever in the renewed and restored new heaven and earth.
So we wait for Jesus’ final invasion to come. But as we wait, we remember where our loyalties lie and our purpose as we wait. We belong to Jesus and our loyalty is to him above all else. Our purpose is to prepare ourselves and others for the healing invasion of Jesus. It takes discernment and wisdom to know what to say and do in these trying times, but the Holy Spirit will guide us. It is easy to get upset during these disruptive times, but we have a Father in heaven who will lovingly provide all that we need to do what he calls us to do. Above all else, we remember the chesed, the merciful lovingkindness of God given to us in Jesus. Jesus’ lovingkindness is much more powerful than the things that cause us fear. Jesus’ lovingkindness is much more merciful than the guilt of all our sin. Jesus’ lovingkindness is faithful and will outlast and overcome all the temporary worries and anxieties which plague our frail and feeble heart. You can trust in Jesus and his lovingkindness. He will not let you down.
Can you imagine what it would be like if all God’s people everywhere were able to live with bouyant, confident faith? We could be like bright lights in the midst of a dark and turbulent time, pointing people to Jesus, who has come and is coming again to heal them and set them free. And one day, we will see what we have always longed for …a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:9-10)
So the challenge that I am giving you today is, if you have not already done so, is to Create a reminder of God’s lovingkindness for you. That could be a Bible verse on your bathroom mirror or above your desk. It could be a ring or a pin that you wear. I wear a red cord on my right wrist as a reminder that Jesus shed his blood for me on the cross. Whatever works best for you, put something where you can see it to remind you that you can live with faith over fear because of the chesed, the merciful, faithful lovingkindness of Jesus. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church on October 3, 2021. For more info, please go to wglc.org.)