Sunday Recap Vol. 2.18

FROM THE DESK OF WILL SPOKES, SENIOR PASTOR

 

Welcome to the Red Mountain Sunday Recap! 

The Sunday Recap includes an assortment of items to help keep the Gospel in front of you throughout the week. Most are from the previous Sunday while a couple look ahead to next Sunday. As you read consider these questions. Did anything land with you during worship? What did it make you think? How did it make you feel? What did you find especially sweet or challenging from God's word? What did we sing, read, or pray that left an impression on you?

Food For Thought:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
 
None of the things we fear or suffer are untrue, but none has the power to center our lives, or dominate our emotions, or control our destiny. God does that. Anyone who tells us something different is lying to us. – Eugene Peterson

For next Sunday:

Sermon Text: Galatians 2:1-10

All Hail the Power of Jesus Name - Adoration
Alleluia! Sing to Jesus! - Adoration
Jesus, Lover of my Soul - Grace
Come, All Ye Pining Hungry Poor - Response
Fountain of Grace - Communion

Suggested Resources:
There is no shortage of parenting books. However, I recently came across one that I have never had recommended to me and I've never seen on anyone's list of best parenting books...whatever that means. I think I might have an idea why. This book is not a "how to" book. It is a gospel book that says parenting is as much about the parent as the child, especially as children enter the teen years. In fact this book suggests that because of the gospel there is hope right in the middle of the most challenging seasons of parenting. It's all there for the taking in the gospel. The book is called Like Dew Your Youth: Growing Up with Your Teenager by Eugene Peterson. If you read it, let me  know what you think.

Singing To God (Psalm 95:1-5)

Jesus Cast A Look On Me

Leaning on Thy loving breast, 
Where a weary soul can rest
Feeling well the peace of God, 
Flowing from His precious blood

In this posture let me live, 
And hosannas daily give
In this temper let me die, 
And hosannas ever cry!

Bowing Before God (Psalm 95:6-7b)

Prayer of Confession
Merciful Father, forgive us the sins of our tongues—for deception and untruthfulness in our dealings with others; for resentment, coldness, impatience, and ill temper. Forgive us for the sins of our eyes—for impurity in our glances and imagination; for pining after more beauty, comfort, status, and wealth than you have given us. Forgive us the sins of our hearts—for hard-heartedness toward you and our neighbors; for pride, self-absorption, self-pity; and above all for rebelling against you and doubting your love. Father, remove our fear, envy and pride and melt our hearts with the good news of the Gospel. Transform us by your grace to live wholly for your glory. Take away our mourning and replace it with songs of joy, for it is in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
 
Words of Grace
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
 
1 John 2:1-2

Hearing From God (Psalm 95:7c-11)

Sunday's Sermon: "Amazing Grace"

Sermon Text – Galatians 1:11-24
 
11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
 
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me.

Sermon Outline
1. Who Paul was: The need for God's grace (v. 13-14)
2. What God did: The experience of God's grace (v. 15-16)
3. What God will do: The fruit of God's grace (v. 16b, 23-24)

Sermon Summary
The Galatians are turning to a different gospel. Paul's message and ministry are under attack from false teachers. In response, Paul tells the story of how he came to know the gospel, the good news of freedom in Christ. Paul defends his gospel and his ministry not with anger and spite but with God's amazing grace to him who once sought to destroy the church of God.

In telling his story Paul teaches us how gospel freedom becomes his lived experience. First, his story teaches us that religion and the gospel are total opposites. Prior to his conversion Paul was a very religious man (v. 14). But his religion only nurtured in him a hatred for those who weren't like him and all in God's name (v. 13). Only God's grace and not religion has the power to draw out of the human heart pride, self-righteousness, and superiority that leads to oppression and violence. 

Second, Paul's story teaches us that gospel freedom brings a radical reversal to a persons life. In verses 13-14 Paul is at the center of all the action. However, when he is converted, God takes center stage bringing meaning, hope and purpose to his life that previously entirely depended on him and his striving (v. 15-16). God's amazing grace becomes the vantage point from which Paul looks backward (v. 15-16a) and forward (v. 16b).

Third, Paul's story teaches us that gospel freedom as a lived experience has the power to realign our hearts (v. 17) and to bring renewal and healing where there was once hostility, breakdown, and disintegration (v. 22-24).

Paul's story takes gospel freedom out of the realm of theory and ideas and brings it right up into our "grill," as we say in the south. It's for people who aren't even interested or looking for it. It's for people who think they are fine on their own. It's for people who can't let go of holding on for dear life. Paul's story invites us into the very heart of the Christian story...the surprise and beauty and power of grace revealed in Jesus Christ.

"We accept Christ as Lord and Savior. We realize that God is the living center of life and that he has provided the means by which we can live in conscious, glad relationship with him. We live not by what we know, but by trusting in the God who is for us. We live not by moral projects but by obedient faith. The moment we do that we have our first authentic taste of freedom." (Eugene Peterson)

Reflection Questions

  1. What was new or compelling to you? What stood out to you from these verses?
  2. What questions do they raise for you?
  3. Was there anything that bothered you?
  4. How would you define and distinguish between religion and the gospel based on Paul's story?
  5. What things in your life push God out of the center? How does God, by sheer grace, take up center stage in your life? (v. 15-16a)
  6. Where do you long for God to bring renewal and healing in your life? Do you think it can happen?

Confession of FaithWestminster Shorter Catechism Q. 100
 
Q. 100. What does the preface of the Lord’s prayer teach us?
 
A. The preface of the Lord’s prayer, [which is, Our Father in heaven,] teaches us to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father, able and ready to help us; and that we should pray with and for others.

Sunday Recap Vol. 2.15

FROM THE DESK OF WILL SPOKES, SENIOR PASTOR

Welcome to the Red Mountain Sunday Recap! 

The Sunday Recap includes an assortment of items to help keep the Gospel in front of you throughout the week. Most are from the previous Sunday while a couple look ahead to next Sunday. As you read consider these questions. Did anything land with you during worship? What did it make you think? How did it make you feel? What did you find especially sweet or challenging from God's word? What did we sing, read, or pray that left an impression on you?

Food For Thought:

The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express that same delight in God which made David dance…I am comparing it with the merely dutiful ‘church-going’ and laborious ‘saying our prayers’ to which most of us are, thank God not always, but often, reduced. Against that it stands out as something astonishingly robust, virile, and spontaneous; something we may regard with an innocent envy and may hope to be infected by as we read.
 – C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms

For next Sunday:

Sermon Text: Galatians 1:1-5

For All The Saints - Adoration
Jesus, I Come - Confession
Amazing Grace - Grace
The Church’s One Foundation - Response
Christ Whose Glory Fills the Sky - Communion

Suggested Resources:
Earlier this year Nikole Hannah-Jones, a writer for the New York Times Magazine, wrote a thought provoking and challenging piece about segregation in NYC schools and the ongoing realities we still face. The issues are complex and raise questions and challenges around advantage, power and resources not available to all who have a vested interest in high quality public education. While Bham is not NYC it seems we face analogous challenges in our own city.

Singing To God (Psalm 95:1-5)

Praise My Soul The King Of Heaven
Praise, my soul, the King of heaven; 
To His feet thy tribute bring. 
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, 
Who like me His praise should sing? 
Praise Him, praise Him, 
praise Him, praise Him, 
Praise the everlasting King.

Bowing Before God (Psalm 95:6-7b)

Prayer of Confession
Heavenly Father, we confess that our glory has been our own comfort, rather than your Son's cross; that we have craved the fellowship of those already like us, rather than the fellowship of Christ's sufferings; that we have worked to save our own lives, rather than lose our lives for Christ’s sake and the gospel. Have mercy on us, Father, and grant us the gift of gospel repentance. Cleanse us by the finished work of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and restore to us the joy of your salvation. Amen.
 
Words of Grace
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
 
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
 
1 John 1:8-2:2

Hearing From God (Psalm 95:7c-11)

Sunday's Sermon: "Doctor My Eyes"

Sermon Text: Psalm 103
1    Bless the Lord, O my soul,
           and all that is within me,
           bless his holy name!
2    Bless the Lord, O my soul,
           and forget not all his benefits,
3         who forgives all your iniquity,
            who heals all your diseases,
4          who redeems your life from the pit,
            who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5          who satisfies you with good
            so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

6    The Lord works righteousness
            and justice for all who are oppressed.
7    He made known his ways to Moses,
            his acts to the people of Israel.
8    The Lord is merciful and gracious,
            slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9    He will not always chide,
            nor will he keep his anger forever.
10  He does not deal with us according to our sins,
            nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11   For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
            so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12        as far as the east is from the west,
            so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13   As a father shows compassion to his children,
            so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14   For he knows our frame;
            he remembers that we are dust.

15   As for man, his days are like grass;
            he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16        for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
            and its place knows it no more.
17  But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
           on those who fear him,
           and his righteousness to children's children,
18       to those who keep his covenant
           and remember to do his commandments.
19   The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
           and his kingdom rules over all.

20   Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
           you mighty ones who do his word,
           obeying the voice of his word!
21   Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
           his ministers, who do his will!
22   Bless the Lord, all his works,
           in all places of his dominion.
       Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Sermon Outline
God's love reinterprets our experiences of
1. Discipline (vv. 6-14)
2. Disappointment (vv. 15-19)
3. Devotion (vv. 1-5, 20-22)

Sermon Summary
Anyone who has ever had a bad experience at something knows that its power extends far beyond the time when it happened. I once got the flu twice in a row after eating at Taco Bell, and was hesitant to eat there for a long time afterward. Even though I knew that I was just as likely to get the flu anywhere else, I found myself going to other restaurants when opportunities arose. My experience shaped how I viewed the world. The truth became distorted, as I subconsciously had greater reverence for my experience than I did for reason. This is often how we approach God’s character as revealed in His Word. Especially when we have had very painful experiences in our lives, we revere that pain most of all, and view God through it. The result is that we often respond to God not according to who He is, but according to our distorted image of Him. We may even lament with Jackson Browne in his song, “Doctor My Eyes,” that we have seen so many bad experiences that we are now powerless to see properly anymore. Psalm 103, however, challenges our views of who God is. It shows that His love is behind all of our experiences. His love reinterprets our experiences, and challenges us to revere God more than them.
 
There are three themes in this Psalm that God’s love reinterprets for us:disciplinedisappointment, and devotion. First, discipline comes from vv.6-14, where the psalmist describes how God dealt with Israel on their wilderness journey. V.9 says, “He will not always chide.” “Chide” means to stand against, or oppose in a legal sense. Many of us often feel that God stands against us. When we are conscious of our sin we feel that He is frustrated with us, and when our lives are not going how we want we feel that He must not be on our side. Israel likely felt both of these things in their desert wanderings. They experienced God’s opposition when they worshipped a golden calf (Ex.34), and when He did not let them return to Egypt when they wanted (Ex.16). When we sense God’s opposition to us, we often conclude that He must not like us. This, however, would be to view God according to how we have experienced humans. But what is God really like?
 
Vv.6-14 reinterprets our human experience of discipline by displaying God’s love. We see a God who does not deal with us according to our sins (v.10), a God who knows our breaking points (v.14), and a God whose love is like a father to his children (v.13). This means, that God is not like us. The decisions He makes toward us are not based on what our sins deserve. Then what are they based on? Like Israel, God is not content to leave us where we are, but is taking us somewhere much better. This often means He has to oppose us when we wander off. However, it does not mean He doesn’t love us. I had a difficult day disciplining my son on his birthday recently. We ended the afternoon at the Lego store where he spent his birthday money on a new set. As we walked home, he was beaming with excitement. I could not have been more proud to see him so happy. Though I may not always understand God’s discipline, this gave me a picture of the posture He holds toward me. If God loves me more than I love my son, His opposition starts to look very different. His love reinterprets my experience, and gives me reason to revere Him most. We know this even more because he sent Christ to show us how much He loves us. Christ gives us confidence that God does not deal with us according to our sins. He deals with us out of love. Let’s let that love challenge how we view God, and allow it to reinterpret what we experience.
 
At times we are conscious of our sin and experience God’s discipline. However, sometimes we experience struggle that has nothing to do with our sin. This often leaves us wondering whether God is there at all. Vv.15-19 speaks to this situation, and shows how God’s love reinterprets our experiences ofdisappointment. Disappointment is one of the most common human experiences. We say things like, “a pessimist is merely an optimist with more experience.” We also live in a culture of skepticism, where doubt is seen as a higher virtue than belief. This largely has to do with the fact that life is full of disappointments. Relationships rise and fall, leaving a wake of destruction behind. Bodies are strong in their youth, and fail as they age. Mentors inspire us, and then disappoint us. We often have spiritual highs, only to be met by spiritual lows. According to human experience, this could only mean that things are random, and that God is distant. But what is God really like?
 
V.17 shows that it is not the things of life that last, but God’s love. This means that all of creation may fade away, but the objects of God’s love never will. Those He loves ultimately will not go down, but will go where He goes. The human experience may look the same as if God were absent, but the promise of His love gives us new meaning through which to view Him. It reinterprets what we experience, and gives us reason to believe that we are headed in a very different direction than toward disappointment. I once lived in a house that got torn down shortly after I moved out. I remember passing by it one day and seeing the pile of rubble and sparse boards standing in a row. I then passed by again at a later time when they were rebuilding it, and it still looked like a pile of rubble with sparse boards standing in a row. However, the two images where heading in very different directions. Ultimately, it is God’s love through Christ by which we have confidence that our lives as Christians are not headed toward disappointment as it may appear. Christ left many disappointed for three days. However, His disappointment was not the end of Him, but only the beginning. This is the same hope for all who belong to His love by faith. What a reason to give Him more reverence than our experiences.
 
Finally, we may want to ask how we partake of God’s love. This psalm uses words like, “those who fear him,” and “those who keep his commandments,” to describe the recipients of God’s love. What about those of us who struggle to obey Him? From human experience, this sounds like those who obey God earn the right to be recipients of His love. However, the third theme we see here is how God’s love reinterprets out devotion.
 
In the first place, when the Old Testament refers to those who fear and obey God, it is referring to those who participate in the life of God’s covenant. God’s covenant people sinned frequently, but took their sins to God as God commanded them. They confessed, ritually washed, sacrificed, and enjoyed being in God’s presence. They did not earn His favor in any way. They merely responded to His grace through the covenant means. A Christian today who struggles to obey God, acknowledges their sin, and looks to God in hope of cleansing through Christ, would be considered someone who fears and obeys God.
 
However, this psalm does more than describe the love of God that He has toward those who belong to Him. It also shows how His people are to devote themselves to Him. It begins and ends with shouts of jubilation toward God. From a human standpoint, this type of devotion may sound like labor. However, if we know the extent of God’s love for us, it changes our devotion completely. Any sports fan knows what it is like to be watching a big game in a room full of people. When the team makes a big play, everyone shouts in unison with excitement. This is not labor, but love. This is the type of worship being portrayed in this psalm. What is so exciting? The fact that God sets free those who were in bondage, and makes them into new creatures (vv.3-5). Those who know God’s love through His great redemption have great reason to shout. True devotion is merely responding to such love in thankfulness, and longing for the whole earth to sing such songs. The redemption of God through Christ Jesus should prompt us to take notice of what God is truly like. This year, let us reflect on the reality of Christ’s redemption, and ask ourselves two questions. “What is God really like,” and “How does His love reinterpret what we experience?”

Reflection Questions

  1. What was new or compelling to you? What stood out to you from these verses?
  2. What questions do they raise for you?
  3. Was there anything that bothered you?
  4. Where are you most tempted to view God according to how you have experienced people?
  5. Does God's love through Christ change how you see your situation, or does your situation change how you see God's love?

Confession of FaithWestminster Shorter Catechism Q. 97
 
Q. 97. What is required for the worthy receiving of the Lord’s Supper?
 
A. It is required of them that would worthily partake of the Lord’s Supper, that they examine themselves of their knowledge to discern the Lord’s body, of their faith to feed upon him, of their repentance, love, and new obedience; lest, coming unworthily, they eat and drink judgment to themselves.

1 Corinthians 11:26-29
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Sunday Recap Vol. 2.11

FROM THE DESK OF WILL SPOKES, SENIOR PASTOR

 

Welcome to the Red Mountain Sunday Recap! 

The Sunday Recap includes an assortment of items to help keep the Gospel in front of you throughout the week. Most are from the previous Sunday while a couple look ahead to next Sunday. As you read consider these questions. Did anything land with you during worship? What did it make you think? How did it make you feel? What did you find especially sweet or challenging from God's word? What did we sing, read, or pray that left an impression on you?

Food For Thought:

The legacy of God’s word to [Abraham] lived on – not only in Israel’s [identity] but also in the haunting bottom line – ‘through you all nations will find blessing.’ Somehow, sometime, there would be universal effects from these [words]. For YHWH, the God of Israel, is also the God of all creation, to whom belong the whole earth and all its nations. – Christopher J. H. Wright

The gospel is Jesus Christ given to us with all the blessings of God contained in him. – Ian Murray

For next Sunday:

Sermon Text: 2 Samuel 11
Note: During Advent and Christmas we are going to look at the 5 women of Christmas from Matthew's genealogy of Jesus in Matthew chapter 1. Who were these women? Tamar (Genesis 38), Rahab (Joshua 2), Ruth (Ruth 1-4), Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11), and Mary (Matthew 1). Why does Matthew include these women in Jesus' genealogy? That's the question we will be trying to answer as we listen in on the story Matthew is telling us about Jesus who came to save his people from their sins (Mt. 1:21).

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus - Advent
Holy, Holy, Holy - Adoration
Jesus, Lover of My Soul - Grace
All Things New - Response
Angels We Have Heard of High - Communion

Suggested Resources:
Our steering committee for Hope For Birmingham met for the first time last week. We had a really good meeting. We are planning to meet monthly as a committee, an aspect of which will be to plan four congregational wide gatherings over the next year. Depending on a number of factors we may even try to pull together a Friday-Saturday Hope For Birmingham Conference with opportunities for learning and dialogue around issues of mercy and justice to our city. In the mean time I want to keep putting resources in front of you that will deepen your understanding of the scriptures and the issues that face us. Here are five books and one video.

1. Generous Justice by Tim Keller
2. When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett
3. Video: Helping Without Hurting - Part 1: Reconsidering the Meaning of Poverty
4. A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good by Miraslov Volf
5. Public Faith In Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote With Integrity by Miraslov Volf
6. Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in Americaby Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson

It's always important to mention that recommending a resource doesn't mean agreement at every point along the way. I put these resources in front of you as good places to begin wrestling with the implications of the Gospel for loving our neighbors and seeking the common good of our city.

Singing To God (Psalm 95:1-5)

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Come Thou long-expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free; 
From our fears and sins release us, 
Let us find our rest in Thee. 
Israel's strength and consolation, 
Hope of all the saints Thou art; 
Dear desire of every nation, 
Joy of every longing heart.

Bowing Before God (Psalm 95:6-7b)

Prayer of Confession
We confess, our Father, that we do not live up to the family name. We are more ready to resent than to forgive, more ready to manipulate than to serve, more ready to fear than to love, more ready to keep our distance than to welcome, more ready to compete than to help. At the root of this behavior is mistrust and self-love. We do not love one another as we should, because we do not believe that you love us as you do. Forgive us our cold unbelief. And make more vivid to us the gift and power of your love on the cross. Show us what it cost you to give up your Son that we might become your sons and daughters. We ask this in the name of Jesus, our only righteousness.  Amen.
 
Words of Grace
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
 
1 John 3:2-3

Hearing From God (Psalm 95:7c-11)

Sunday's Sermon: "Rahab"

Sermon Text: Joshua 2
2 And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. 2 And it was told to the king of Jericho, “Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” 3 Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” 4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. 5 And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” 6 But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof. 7 So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out.

8 Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof 9 and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 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. 11 And 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. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father's house, and give me a sure sign13 that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 14 And the men said to her, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”

15 Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she lived in the wall. 16 And she said to them, “Go into the hills, or the pursuers will encounter you, and hide there three days until the pursuers have returned. Then afterward you may go your way.” 17 The men said to her, “We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. 18 Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father's household. 19 Then if anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless. But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head. 20 But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that you have made us swear.” 21 And she said, “According to your words, so be it.” Then she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

22 They departed and went into the hills and remained there three days until the pursuers returned, and the pursuers searched all along the way and found nothing. 23 Then the two men returned. They came down from the hills and passed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they told him all that had happened to them. 24 And they said to Joshua, “Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.”

Sermon Outline
God is Committed to His People
     1. Those Inside His Community
     2. Those Outside His Community

Sermon Summary
We humans have a hard time getting our commitments in balance. On the one hand, we can be too lax where we should be committed. On the other hand, we can cling so hard to our commitments that we forget their original purpose. In my family, we started reading The Hobbit to our kids because we felt that we were too lax in spending quality time together. However, we got so committed to reading the book that we forced our kids to listen even when they didn’t want to. We were so committed to our task that we forgot its purpose. This is s similar situation to Israel in Joshua 2. They are on the cusp of crossing the Jordan River into the Promised Land. On the one hand, there is a risk that they would be too lax in their commitment to God’s law, thereby forfeiting their place in the land. On the other hand, there is a risk that they will be so committed to God’s law for their own sakes, that they will forget their original purpose for being there. The inclusion of Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute, provides a reminder that Israel’s whole purpose in the Promised Land is to extend God’s blessing and grace to all peoples and nations.
 
In the wonderful way that the Old Testament does, the Rahab story aligns our commitments by illustrating how God is committed to His people. It does this in two ways. First, it shows God’s commitment to those inside His community. There is an awful lot at stake with Israel, both as a corporate nation and as a moral people. Will they be able to defeat much more powerful armies in their conquest of the Land? Will they again fall into disobedience as they had so often done in the journey to the Land? As these questions provide a great deal of tension at this point in Israel’s narrative, the plot reveals some extraordinary findings. First, the spies learn on their journey that God is already at work ahead of them. The people in the Land are deathly afraid of Israel and their God. Second, a Canaanite prostitute somehow knows God’s true character and covenant name. Not only that, this prostitute, who was a great risk to the spies’ fidelity to God in this moment, actually shows them what commitment to God really looks like. She puts her own life at risk for the sake of God’s mission. The only explanation is that God is already at work, and is committed to His people.
 
God’s commitment in Joshua’s day means a great deal to us in ours. We often fear that the church is becoming more irrelevant in our culture, that it is ineffective in people’s lives, and that God is not preserving its existence. However, this story shows that God is greatly committed to the success of His people as a whole. Christians today inherit stories like this, and belong to the same people. Therefore, we can have great confidence in God’s commitment to us. In an even more meaningful way, however, the inclusion of Rahab in Jesus’ genealogy is a further fulfillment and demonstration of God’s commitment. Through the many ups and downs of Israel’s story, He did not give up on them. He rather, sent Jesus into the story, to ultimately become the heir of all things. Jesus brought not the Promised Land, but a creation wide kingdom that He would rule over in prosperity. No longer would God’s people be under threat of losing such an inheritance because of their lack of commitment. The gift of Jesus answered the hope of those inside God’s community, in Rahab’s day, and in ours as well.  
 
Second, the Rahab story shows God’s commitment to those outside the community as well. Rahab has everything against her in her day. She is a national outsider as a Canaanite, she is a moral outsider as a prostitute, and she is a social outsider as a poor woman. However, her covenant with the spies, and her inclusion into God’s people, demonstrates God’s commitment even to such outsiders. Rahab’s covenant is an interesting plot feature, as Ex.34:11-16, and Deut.7:1 forbid Israel from making any covenant with the people of the land, lest they be drawn into Idolatry. The difference with Rahab, however, is in her confession in Josh.2:11. She throws away all loyalty to anything but God, and serves His mission. This demonstration of faith changes her status from being a dangerous outsider, to a committed insider. Rahab is an important character in this story because she provides a glimmer of God’s original purpose for Israel. God’s call to Abraham in Gen.12 says that Israel would be blessed, so that they would be a blessing to all people and all nations.
 
This glimmer of God’s larger purpose is a reminder that God is not just committed to those who are of the right nationality, right family, right skin color, right gender, or right character. God is committed to extend His grace and blessing to those outside His community. He is committed to bless all people groups, and great sinners as well. To those who are outside of God’s community, this provides an invitation to come in as Rahab did, and taste the blessing that God provides. To those inside God’s community, this provides a call align our commitments with God’s. We belong to God’s people not only for our own sakes, but to extend God’s grace those outside as well. That is what the community is all about.
 
This is all especially true because of the gift of Jesus. God sent Jesus into the story, to make atonement for sins, so that no one would be denied entrance into His people because of their nationality or moral record. Jesus is the ultimate demonstration of God’s commitment to outsiders. He is also the ultimate invitation to faith and repentance like Rahab: by throwing off all other loyalties, and throwing all commitment and safety into the hands of God’s grace. Many of us often feel that our lives are too messed up to ever think of ourselves as insiders. It is ultimately the work of Jesus that reminds us that His timely gift allowed even a Canaanite prostitute to stand righteous before God. However, it is also the gift of Jesus that reminds insiders that they stand side by side in righteousness with a Canaanite prostitute. The only righteousness that matters is that which is given in Jesus. Jesus invites all of us this Christmas to celebrate Him as the commitment of God to both insider and outsiders. There is no better place to cast our commitments than on the God who is committed to the prosperity of His people, and the God who gives a home to idolatrous prostitutes.

Reflection Questions

  1. What was new or compelling to you? What stood out to you from these verses?
  2. What questions do they raise for you?
  3. Was there anything that bothered you?
  4. Where is it hardest for you to believe that God is committed to His church today?
  5. What outsiders in your own life (people groups, demographics, sinners, etc.) has God committed to bless?

Confession of Faith: Westminster Shorter Catechism

Q. 94. What is baptism?
 
A. Baptism is a sacrament, wherein the washing with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, does signify and seal our ingrafting into Christ, and partaking of the benefits of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.