Peter saw heaven open and a large sheet lowered to the ground by its corners. The sheet was full of animals, reptiles and birds that the Jews considered unclean and would not eat. A voice commanded him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ ‘Surely not, Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’
Last week Pastor Vince spoke to us about the need to be authentic. In that message he said he was going to use a text, not to make a theological exposition but as a jumping off point. I will start off the same, before moving on to some expository. Yes, I am a theologian.
As such I am going to scratch the surface of a technique known as systematic theology which formulates an orderly, and rational account of the doctrines of the Christian faith. I will take topics that Pastor Vince has addressed recently and arrange them as steppingstones, or a path we can take a step at a time to get to our destination.
A few weeks ago, Vince noted that Praise not only glorifies God, but can left us like an eagle’s wings. So here is my first foundation stone in tying to days message together. Praise and worship are in our present age opened, like the tearing of the curtain in the temple. The Holy of Holies is open to us because Christ has torn the barriers to approaching God down.
Vince in the past has told us about the structure and importance of the Tabernacle and later Temple. As you approached that place of worship and praise, note we have the approach theme again, you would go from the mundane world to a sacred space, arriving eventually to the Most Holy Place.
During the period of the Babylonian Captivity, worship, prayer, and praise began to be made in the synagogue as the Temple had been destroyed and the people dispersed. When the Second Temple was built this new synagogue, system continued to operate along side of it as we see in the Gospels.
Not only this but structure of the Second Temple was extended from the Tabernacle plan to include an outer court sometimes called The Court of the Gentiles. It was open to non-Jews, though they could approach no closer to that to the Holy Places. But they were allowed in!
The synagogue too had a similar design, but in modern synagogues the holy place is replaced with the Ark where the Scriptures rest. These are brought out onto a platform called the Bimah where they are read aloud. The congregation sits facing this platform.
Look at Luke 4:
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.
So, what does that have to do with being authentic?
As Pastor Vince noted last week, authentic faith – loves and serves.
Our praise may help us soar like eagles, but never at the cost to others.
Hebrews 13:1 tells us, “Let brotherly love continue.” First John 4: 7-8 says, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God.He that loves not doesn’t know God; for God is love.”
In what is often called the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus makes it clear. Note some of the parallels from the passage we just looked at in Luke 4. “When I was hungry, when I was naked, in prison, etc.”
Authenticity is not about us soaring, it is about lifting others.
This authentic love was something Jesus had to teach. You may not know this but in the culture of Jesus’ times there was a belief that honour was a finite resource like gold or diamonds. If I had it, you didn’t. I kept it by keeping you down.
Vince spoke about humility, and what authentic humility is like. But this was a hard sell in Jesus’ day. This makes the Sermon on the Mount even more profound with the Meek, and Humble being praised.
Luke 16:19-31 gives us the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Their lives are contrasted, as are their deaths. Notice that even in Hell the rich man doesn’t change his attitude of superiority. “Send Lazarus to me.” “Send Lazarus to my brothers.”
Paul’s letter to Philemon is a wonderful study in authenticity. It shows Paul giving authentic and loving praise, It makes an example of authentic humility, and it shows not coercion as some have suggested, but rather Paul’s call on Philemon to realistically see things are the really are. Systematic theology at its best.
1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— 2 also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.
22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.
23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.
25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Philemon needs to extend himself. He needs authentic humility to get past any perceived wrongs. He needs to show love, and unconditional love that frees captives, and restores relationships. He needs to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and help fulfil the promise of the prophesy found in Luke Chapter 4.
Paul one step at a time calls for authenticity, and I have one step at a time taken three of Vince’s themes and presented them to you. Let’s be real together.
“Love is never having to say you are sorry. Well that’s what they say,” Joe said.
“But what does that really mean?” Susan asked.
“I guess it is about unconditional love. If someone does something, even a terrible thing, those who love them will love them despite it. It’s like they are forgiven before they ask, so it’s not necessary,” Joe explained.
“But just because someone is willing the bear hurt silently, and let it pass, doesn’t mean that the other person, if they are truly loving them back, doesn’t want to mend their feelings.”
“It’s like in the Bible,” Joe said. “The Prodigal Son. He rips off his dad, then wastes everything, then he goes back to say he was unworthy to be a son. But before he even gets a chance to give his prepared speech, his dad has come and hugged him and put clean robes and an a ring on him. His dad loved him so much that he didn’t need to hear the apology.”
“Okay,” Susan retorted, “But he still went there with the expressed purpose to say he had failed. So maybe you’re right, ‘Love means you don’t need to say sorry,’ but that’s not the same to say a person who loves should never feel sorry, or acknowledge regret. Otherwise they will never grow. Or worse still they might cause the hurt all over again.”
“You know,” Joe said. “I think you are right, its about attitude not words. I’m sorry I disagreed with you.”
The Harlot of Jericho and the Two Spies by James Jacques Joseph Tissot
As in the case of Zapporah and Ruth, Rahab in the Book of Joshua is a foreign woman of note. She is presumably a Canaanite, or at least lives in Canaan. She lives on the border of the Jordan in the city of Jericho, the first place of conquest by the Israelites within the Land of Promise.
The main account of Rahab is found in Joshua chapter 2. She offers refuge to the Hebrew spies, and takes great risk in hiding them within her home.
“Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. ‘Go, look over the land,’ he said, ‘especially Jericho.’ So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.The king of Jericho was told, ‘Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.’ So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: ‘Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.’ But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, ‘Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.’ (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut (verses 1-7).”
Okay, the account tells us she is a prostitute. It could be argued that her protection of the men in her house was a occupational or “professional” decision. The details, however, do not stack up to such a narrow line of thinking. She not only gives them shelter, but vital intelligence as well.
“Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, ‘I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.When we heard of it, our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below (verses 8 – 11).”
This information is valuable militarily (as it shows the low morale of the people of Jericho). It also, however, shows her clear belief in the power of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Herein, lies a dilemma. She as a Canaanite is marked for destruction (Deuteronomy 20:17). Yet, she has just expressed a faith in God, and has aided the cause of the Hebrews. Her redemption is promised in the following passage.
“‘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 signthat 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.’ ‘Our lives for your lives!’ the men assured her. ‘If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.’ So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. She said to them, ‘Go to the hills so that the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there for three days until they return, and then go on your way.’Now the men had said to her, ‘This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. If any of them go outside your house into the street, their blood will be on their own heads; we will not be responsible. As for those who are in the house with you, their blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on them. But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.’ ‘Agreed,’ she replied. ‘Let it be as you say.’ So she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window (verses 12 -20).”
Okay, life spared, and her household. But there is more! Let’s look at some details.
While some Evangelicals have tried to sanitise Rahab’s reputation by noting that she was some sort of weaver (thus the flax bundles on her roof), this does not diminish the testimony of several scriptures to her being “a harlot” (Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25, and others). This view is also found within rabbinic tradition as well. In fact, rabbinic literature not only acknowledges her prostitution, but her repentance and conversion to the faith.
The texts have a conversion process mentioned for Rahab, “Master of the Universe! I have sinned with three things [with my eye, my thigh, and my stomach]. By the merit of three things pardon me: the rope, the window, and the wall [pardon me for engaging in harlotry because I endangered myself when I lowered the rope for the spies from the window in the wall].” (Babylonian Talmud, Zevahim 116a-b).”
And now, what about the woman herself? In Joshua, Rahab is apparently in her forties or even aged fifty, but still able to bear children as she is cited as being the mother of Boaz in some traditions. There is a spelling variant (Rachab/Rahab) in Matthew 1: 5 which various interpreters have argued makes her a different woman. If she is the same, she would be the wife of Salmon and therefore an ancestor of Jesus. Rabbinic tradition suggests, however, that Rahab married not Salmon but Joshua himself (Midrash: Eccl. Rabbah 8:10:1).
Rabbinic sources state she was 10 at the time of the Exodus and therefore 50 when the spies came to her. This does seem to be supported by the knowledge she possesses in Joshua 2: 8-11.
Whether she is in the line of the coming Messiah, or the wife of the leader, Joshua – Rahab remains a woman of faith. She was willing to risk her life, forsake her nation, and defy her king in the service of the King of kings. She is an inspirational “Bible Lady” who shows that no matter what one’s background, and past sins, that God is willing to accept and use them for the kingdom.