Scandal! Every Family Has One – Hearts not Labels

This month we have been looking at Jesus’ family tree where we discover some of the most unexpected characters and the importance they play in the Christmas story.

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As we recall the life of Mary and Joseph it may remind us of being at a Christmas family bash and all the relas have come over. Then you know how this goes . . . we start talking about the relas based on the drama that follow them . . . you know like the single boy crazy cousin, drunk uncle, indisciplined nephew, annoyingly talkative aunty. So knowing all too well the story of Mary and Joseph, what label would we have given them, if they were our relas? Mary the Liar, Joseph the Holy Joe, Mary Dame wa Kuhanya, or Joseph the Good Boy.

 

A PROSTITUTE IN JESUS’ LINEAGE?

In life, our behaviors and our past actions have a way pegging us a particular kind of reputation; a label that follows us wherever we go. The bible talks about a lady called Rahab. As a result of her lifestyle, Rahab had received several labels. If she lived in this day and age, most people would just call her a hooker, because that is what she was. She was Rahab the prostitute. That was her nickname; a label that followed her everywhere she went. But why talk about some prostitute from thousands of years ago. Here’s why: if you are familiar with the story of Rahab, you know that she was a prostitute. But what you might not know is that she is actually listed in the genealogy of Jesus, the recorded family tree of Jesus that we find in first chapter of the book of Matthew. This woman with the label “prostitute” plastered on her nametag is listed there; listed among some of the greats; and some of the not-so-greats; all of whom paved the way for Jesus the Christ – the Messiah. She’s in the family. Take a look.

Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.

There’s our girl, Rahab the prostitute. She right in there; branch number 5 on Jesus’ family tree. But the question remains, “Why would Matthew include a suspect and unexpected character like Rahab? Why would he include this women with the glaring label “prostitute?” Why would someone with this reputation be mentioned in the same breathe as Jesus? Matthew didn’t have to in include her. He could have easily left her and others out and stuck with Abraham and Isaac and David. That would have worked fine and told the story. But I think he was intentional to include the scandalous family members like Rahab. Because these scandalous members of the family are not just a part of the story, they are the point of the story.

 

NEGOTIATING WITH GOD?

You see Matthew was writing to a group of religious people in a day when the Law ruled the land. These people thought their good standing with God was based on the good things they had done and the bad things they avoided. Truthfully, that’s often the approach that we take. But when we do, it leaves us constantly negotiating with God. “Well God, I went to church 3 weeks in a row this month and I held back a few colorful words yesterday when my 3 year old dropped my phone in the toilet . . . sooooo we’re good right.” I think we’re in trouble if that’s the approach we take with God. Because the truth is we’ll never have done enough. So we need a new approach to God.

And the story of Jesus, and the family of Jesus, helps us to see the foundation for that new approach to God. His life and the life and story of his ancestors challenge the notion that our relationship with God based on what we have and haven’t done. These stories are highlighted to teach us that we can approach God, we can be in relationship with God, not because of what we’ve done but because of what God has done for us. God gives grace to the people who don’t deserve it—people like his own shady long lost relatives. Murders, adulterers, idol worshipers, and Rahab the prostitute. You see, it’s labels like the one Rahab developed, that so often indicate to us who’s deserving of a relationship with God, or who could be in God’s or who is even welcome to set foot in a church. And so what I hope will happen as we explore the unexpected and R-Rated characters, we’ll see that we need to rethink our approach to God because it’s not just about what we have and haven’t done.

Yet, with the weight a label can place on us, a question may still linger, “Am I still deserving? After all I have some baggage! I have a past! I have some ugly labels. People only know me as, Alison the Alcoholic, Pato the Porn addict, Lisa the Liar, Baraka the Bankrupt, Frank the Failure, Amos the Adulterer, Sarah the Single parent, Dave the Divorcee, Duncan the Drop Out. Whether someone gives it to us or we slap it on ourselves, we all have labels just like Rahab; labels that we think determine our value or our worth. If this picture describes you well, then Rahab the prostitute, the one listed on the family line of Jesus, is going to be your hero.

 

RAHAB’S STORY

Rahab’s story is found in the book of Joshua beginning chapter 2. A guy named Moses has just died. Moses had been leading God’s people their promised land – land of their own after being in slavery for years and years. Now they’re so close, they can smell it, but the only problem is, their land is currently inhabited by another nation of people (Canaanites…outsiders, they’re not God’s people). So God says to Joshua, the new leader after Moses, “You have to go conquer the city of Jericho and destroy the people in the land.”

That brings us to chapter 2 starting from v 1-2.

 

“Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia Grove. He instructed them, “Scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho.” So the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night.
But someone told the king of Jericho, “Some Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land. So the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab: “Bring out the men who have come into your house, for they have come here to spy out the whole land.”

Now why the spies chose to stay at a prostitute’s house is unclear. Maybe she had free Wi- Fi…maybe not…it doesn’t say. Sometime brothels served as hotels too, so we’ll give the spies the benefit of the doubt, if any of you are concerned. Either way, what is clear is that the spies do a pretty bad job of covering the tracks. Because the king of Jericho finds out they are in town; to which he sends some troops over to kill them. Now take a look at how Rahab handles the situation.

 Rahab had hidden the two men, but she replied, “Yes, the men were here earlier, but I didn’t know where they were from. They left the town at dusk, as the gates were about to close. I don’t know where they went. If you hurry, you can probably catch up with them.” (Actually, she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them beneath bundles of flax she had laid out.) So the king’s men went looking for the spies along the road leading to the shallow crossings of the Jordan River. And as soon as the king’s men had left, the gate of Jericho was shut.

 Phew! Rahab bails them out. Now we could freak out about her lying, yes lying is wrong, but lying was actually quite common in wartime to save innocent lives; and that’s what Rahab did so we cut her some slack because the bigger deal here is what’s going on with Rahab . . . why she would stick her neck out on the line for a couple of Jewish spies trying to destroy her hometown. She’s taking a huge risk by hiding them and covering for them. It was an act of treason punishable by death.  Why would she do it? What prompted this? It’s actually quite fascinating . . . It’s a moment that would change everything for Rahab. Take a listen. Verse 8-11

Before the spies went to sleep that night, Rahab went up on the roof to talk with them. “I know the Lord has given you this land,” she told them. “We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror. For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.

This is huge. We can’t miss what’s happening here. Rahab is Canaanite. She’s not Jewish, not a part of this nation of Israel, not a part of God’s people. Her people have their own gods, their own worship, their own deal completely. She’s an outsider…a foreigner. But she’s saying, “Look, there’s lots of gods there that people worship, but I’ve heard the stories, I’ve heard what’s happening and I believe your God, the God of Israel, is the God. And there’s a few clues here that indicate this is some serious stuff.” The way that it’s recorded, indicates that Rahab used a name of God that was so scared, so significant, that not even Jewish people would refer to God with the name Rahab has apparently used. It was the most high and legitimate name that you could use to refer to God, and that’s what Rahab says. She says, “that God, your God, in my opinion, is the God.”

It’s a moment, a confession, a little window into her heart that would change everything for Rahab. We’ll see ultimately what happens to her but let’s pick up the story to see how this shakes out. Rahab isn’t quite aware of the significance of what just came out of her mouth, so in her mind, she has to scramble to try and save herself from the army of people that are headed for her hometown. So here’s her plan.

Now swear to me by the Lord that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you. Give me some guarantee that when Jericho is conquered, you will let me live, along with my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families.”
“We offer our own lives as a guarantee for your safety,” the men agreed. “If you don’t betray us, we will keep our promise and be kind to you when the Lord gives us the land.”

They go on to create a couple contingency plans or clauses saying hey if you or your family screw’s this up, the deal is off. If we hurt anyone we’ll take responsibility, if you betray us, the deal is off too.

So they all agree, and Rahab lets the spies climb out her window and escape to the hill country where the army from Jericho searched for them and ultimately gave up. The Israelite spies make it back to camp and tell Joshua everything that happened and everything they agreed to.

Well eventually, the Israelite army does conquer Jericho decimate all its people, save for one family amidst all the chaos and all the rubble. The Israelites told Rahab to leave a scarlet rope hanging out of her window so that God would know who to spare when Israel conquered Jericho. And when the destruction was over, the spies went to pull Rahab and her family out of the house to a safe place near the camp of Israel. Their lives were spared.

 

GOD MEASURES OUR HEARS, NOT OUR LABELS

But here’s the cool past of this story. The part that should be an incredible inspiration to any of us with an ugly label from our past…to any of us who feel like we’d be the unexpected or the unwanted guest among God’s people. Rahab and her family didn’t thank Israel and ride off into the sunset never to be seen or heard from again. Instead Rahab the prostitute and her relatives who were with her in the house, lived among the Israelites to this very day. This foreigner, outsider, this Canaanite, worst of all this prostitute is now a part of God’s chosen people, Israel, and beyond that she’s apart of the family tree of Jesus. As a result, God’s grace is on full display. Because once again we see that the R-Rated characters like Rahab are not just a part of the story of Jesus, they are the point of the story . . . so that we see God’s grace for people who least deserved it or who had a past that said they were undeserving. Most of all we see God’s grace for people whose hearts are open to God. This is the one point; God measures our hearts, not our labels.

That’s what He did for Rahab. He didn’t measure her past, her mistakes, and He certainly didn’t measure the label that most people associated with her. He measured her heart. He measured the one moment when her heart lead her to confess, “Your God is the God.” And this God was far more interested in her future than her past. And the same is true for you. God cares more about your future than your past. God measures our hearts, not our labels

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