Of Whom the World Is Not Worthy
By Michael A. Milton | Ph.D., President and The James M. Baird Jr. Chair of Pastoral Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina
Joshua 2; Hebrews 11:30-12:2
A Memorial Day Weekend Message
Introduction to the Reading
Many Americans and presidents have made their way to the center of Arlington Cemetery. There stands a monument that is beloved by all Americans. It is the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. Guarded seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by the Old Guard of the United States Army, it has engraved on it these words:
“Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known but to God.”
It’s hard to view that sight and not be moved.
I want to look at a place in God’s Word that has been visited by many believers through time. Here we will honor whom God has honored and memorialized in His Word. Some of these people are known only to God, but He has erected a monument in His Word to the story of His grace in their lives that we, too, may view that sight and be moved, strengthened and encouraged.
That is my prayer as we study these passages from Joshua 2 and Hebrews 11:30-12:2, in the inerrant and the infallible Word of the living God.
Camp Wolverine, Iraq, is not where you want to end up. It’s not just that it is another sandy, forsaken sort of place in a far away, war-warped country. It is the home of the 4th Quartermaster Company, which is the mortuary affairs camp for the United States Army in that area of operation.
The soldiers there say, “We like it when we are bored with nothing to do.” There have not been many days like that. One of the young soldiers granted an interview and talked about her support role to those on the front line. Pfc. Mari-Ann Lopez was a mortuary affairs specialist serving at Camp Wolverine. As I read her words, I was proud of her determination to do her mission even though it was hard. I was thankful that she could find meaning in that most difficult of assignments. She felt that she was there to return loved ones to families. She was one link in the chain to aid a grieving family, and she has ministered to the families of men such as:
• Staff Sgt. Jorge A. Molina Bautista, 37, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Rialto, Calif., who died as a result of hostile action in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, May 23, 2004;
• Spc. Jeremy L. Ridlen, 23, 1544 Transportation Company, Illinois Army National Guard, Paris, Ill., who was killed by small-arms fire after an improvised explosive device hidden in a parked dump truck was detonated as his military convoy was driving by in East Fallujah, Iraq, May 23, 2004;
• Staff Sgt. Jeremy R. Horton, 24, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Division, Carneys Point, Pa., who was killed when his vehicle was ambushed by a vehicle-born improvised explosive device near Al Iskandariyah, Iraq, May 21, 2004;
• Lance Cpl. Andrew J. Zabierek, 25, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, attached to 1st Marine Expeditionary, who died due to hostile action in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, May 21, 2004.
There have been 4,400 others, as of the official count earlier this week; every time the remains of those soldiers arrived, PFC Lopez did her job with dignity; but her humanity broke through her official words, when she said:
“The first time I saw a soldier in the same uniform as me, it was hard,” she said. “It hit home.”
The truth is that the majority of those heroes throughout all our wars are people just like us, and that hits home. They are people who are plumbers, mechanics, bankers, nurses, wives, sons, fathers, the fellow next door. Their lives seem to be “unworthy” of such honor to be called American heroes, but we know it is true.
Thus it is with faith. The Bible speaks in Hebrews 11:38 about those “of whom the world is not worthy,” those whom the world would count as unworthy of honor God’s honors. Hebrews 11 is a veritable hall of heroes for faith. The names of those memorialized in Hebrews 11 include Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah and Moses; but beginning in verse 30, the author of the Book of Hebrews makes a shift. Included are people whose names are almost hidden in the pages of Scripture, people whose names would be unfamiliar to many Christians, and certainly to those who know little of their Bibles. These people are special to us. When I see them before me, living lives so much like my own, “It hits home.”
That is precisely what God wants to do with this passage. The aim of this section of God’s Word is to encourage you in your faith: Heroes of faith are people like us. In Hebrews 11:30-32, we see the little-known names of Barak and Jephthah mingled with the names of spiritual giants whom many of us recognize, such as Gideon and David. It all starts with a woman named Rahab in verse 31. Let’s listen to the story of her life, learn the lessons of God’s grace, and look to the author of our faith.
Let’s Listen to the Story of Her Life
The phrase “of whom the world is not worthy” is a condemnation of the world and its inability to grasp the power of God at work in the most common of lives. It is reminiscent of Paul’s analysis of God’s glorious ways:
“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong (1 Cor. 1:27).”
God has elevated what man has despised. God has commended to us as examples those whom the world would throw on the ash heaps of history.
Let’s Consider Her Past
Rahab was, it says in the Book of Hebrews, in the Greek, a porne. In Joshua 2:1; she is called in Hebrew a zonah. In English, those words reveal that her identity was the epitome of sin and shame for a woman: She was a harlot. She was a woman who operated a sort of inn at the very wall of the city. The passage is clear: She was a woman living in sin, a woman with a past, a woman living off of the sins of others, a woman on the edge, a throw-away life, unable to be redeemed. Or so one might have thought. She was an Amorite. Her name is derived from Ra, the name of an Egyptian god. She was a member of an idolatrous people who had left the one true God many generations before and who by this time were about to be destroyed because of the moral decadence which had polluted the land. Rahab not only was condemned by the Law of God, but also abhorred by her own pagan people. The Lord had His heart set on this Amorite prostitute, and as Christ stood for the woman caught in sin in John 8, He stood for this woman. Her past in no way could indicate the glorious future God had for her.
As we learn about Rahab, we learn more about what God has for us.
Let’s Consider Her Plot
The dramatic real-life tale of Rahab and the Hebrew spies surpasses any military espionage novel by Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum or Stephen Coonts. The two spies, sent out by Joshua with a mission to conduct covert operations inside enemy territory, find shelter inside a harlot’s home. They did not go there for the same reason as other unscrupulous men went there, but instead to discover what really was going on from a woman who probably could’ve been the neighborhood watch person. They took cover in her home, and their covert plan compromised. They were discovered.
In an amazing scene in Joshua 2:3, the king of Jericho, finds his life and nation in a negotiation with a prostitute. He orders her to hand over the men. A troop is sent to seize the men; but Rahab in a wartime act covers the truth of the matter, concealing the spies under stalks of flax on her roof and sending the Amorite gestapo on a wild goose chase. A deal is made: Because of her aid to Israel, when they come into the land, if they see a scarlet cord hanging in her window — the sign of her covenant with the spies — Israel would not destroy her home or her family.
The spies and the plan were secured, and God’s promises carried out — all because of this woman’s plot. When Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came a tumbling down, Rahab and her family were saved. That is what Hebrews 11:30-31 are saying. The writer of Hebrews is saying first that by faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. In the next verse, he shows that it was because of Rahab’s faith that the great event to take place. In the end, what others see as a red cord in a harlot’s house is seen by Israel as a sign, very much like the blood of a lamb on doorposts.
Let’s Consider Her Profession
No, I am not talking about her old profession at the inn. I am talking about the key to the story in Joshua 2:9-13: Rahab’s profession of faith:
“I know the Lord has given you this land; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”
The passage is amazing. She believes in her heart that there is a God and that He is the only way to be saved. Her faith leads her to works of righteousness out of worship for this God and a heart’s cry for her own salvation. She enters into a covenant with the Lord through God’s people, turning her back on her old ways and turning to the living Lord. The scarlet sign in her window became the token of her faith, a sort of sacrament that she was identified not with the Amorites but with Israel. “By faith are ye saved,” and her faith saved her life and saved her soul.
Make no mistake about it. This woman was trusting in all of the promises. She was trusting in a God who would cover her sins, cover her past and secure her future and her families. No longer would she be a woman of sin. She would become a woman of faith.
We hear the words of the apostle Paul echoing all through this story:
“Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all (Rom. 4:16).”
“It is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring (Rom. 9:8).”
“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:29).”
Let’s Consider Her Place
Through her profession, this woman with a past becomes a woman with a place.
Not only is she mentioned in Hebrews and James, but she also ends up in a remarkable section of Scripture. Her name, the name of this woman of sin who sided with God’s people, ends up memorized in Matthew 1. There we read her name listed as the mother of Boaz, who married Ruth, and as the grandmother of King David; she’s in the direct lineage of the Savior of the and Lord Jesus Christ.
The world that is in unbelief, the world that would have accused her for her sins is not be worthy of her, says the Lord.
The Pastor of Geneva John Calvin wrote, “Although the world may reject the servants of God as rubbish [the world] cannot bear them to be thought of [which is its] penalty because along with them goes some blessing from God.”
There are rich blessings of God to be found for us in this woman of God.
Let’s Learn the Lessons of God’s Grace
The lessons are so many in the life and salvation of this woman of God:
1. By faith in Jesus Christ, human beings are valued. Whoever they are, whatever they have done, there is value in human beings. As with Rahab, behind every broken, sinful person is also a very real human being in need of the love of God. No one can claim moral superiority over another. We are all level before the Lord, all human beings in need of Christ’s righteousness. The church is filled with such people. So Paul would chronicle a list of sins of the worst kind and say, “Such were some of you.”
2. By faith in Jesus Christ, human pain and sorrow may become transmuted into godly gain. Rahab’s story would not be found in Scripture if it were not for her pain. In Christ, our broken past becomes the fuel for a testimony of grace. The very things which seem to destroy us become the instruments God uses to transform us. For so Paul taught us, “When I am weak, I am strong.”
3. By faith in Jesus Christ, the worst sinner may become the greatest saint. Rabah was a great sinner, but Christ is a greater Savior. So it is with all of us. For so Christ taught us, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”
4. By faith in Jesus Christ, our painful past is no indicator of a painful future. In fact, God will redeem our painful pasts and use them to send us into glorious futures. As the prophet Joel spoke to a people recovering from the judgment of God against their sin, a people who had been ravaged by the locusts, “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten (Joel 2:25).”
There is a certain artist I have heard of who rummages through the junk yard to find what others discard. He locates the broken glass, the twisted steel, the abandoned toasters, the wrecked pieces of junk and takes them to his studio. There, with the eye of a master artist, he takes what the world has left behind and shapes it into a piece of art that sells for millions.
So it is with the Lord of grace. He moves even today across the landscape of our generation, which has been so devastated by pain, seeking what the world has disregarded. This Lord of grace locates the broken spirits, the twisted stories of family lives, the abandoned dreams of lost people, the poorest of the poor who are but pieces of junk to a world that prizes beauty and fame, and He takes them to Himself.
For He, too, was rejected, abandoned on a cross, left in a grave for three days; but the Christ who was reanimated by the power that created the world reforms, reshapes and gives eternal life to the abandoned people of this world. They in turn become the prized and invaluable sons and daughters of the King. Their stories are not stories of great power, but stories of great loss redeemed by this beautiful Lord of grace.
Are you wondering if you are beyond repair? Maybe as a young girl you were tortured by the pain of a broken family. Maybe as an older man you’re looking back at life to see mistake after mistake, and now the setting sun of life condemns you as being unfit for heaven. Maybe you are an alcoholic who has been labeled as a failure all of your life and have no hope for a new life.
The story of Rahab is here for you. Let this story stand as a giant memorial stone engraved with these words: “Of whom the world is not worthy.” Then you will begin to understand the glory of this passage and of this story of grace. For in Christ Jesus, He who redeemed Rahab and put her in the royal line of the Savior, will redeem you and make you an heir of the Kingdom of Christ.
The words of C.S. Lewis ring true in this matter:
“No creature that deserved redemption would need to be redeemed.”
You see, we are all Rahab. We are not only born sinners as sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, but we have all prostituted ourselves: sold ourselves into sin by our malicious hearts toward others, our pride before God, the lusts of the eyes and lusts of the flesh.
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, so death spread to all men because all sinned (Rom. 5:12).”
Thank God a Savior has come into our camp. A free offer of salvation is here. All who will call upon the name of Jesus Christ will be saved. No fiery judgment will touch you, though it rages over the universe. A righteous God shall surely bring down the walls of this world, but the destruction shall not touch you if you are in Christ. Not even death can destroy you. There is a scarlet cord hanging in the window of the house of every harlot who has professed faith in Jesus Christ. That cord is the blood of a Savior sealing that house. That cord is the sign that you, an unworthy sinner in the eyes of the world, have come into the covenant of grace. God now calls you His own.
Therefore, We Look to the Author of our Salvation
Look at Hebrews 12:1-2. Can you see how the writer makes the transition from Chapter 11 and the Hall of Heroes of Faith to show the reader how we are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses in order to run the race of faith? We see them around us: Abraham and Sarah, Rahab and David — all of them — great sinners who called on a great Savior and became great people of faith.
All of this is given that we might be free from the accusations of self, Satan and the world. What God has called clean let not man call unclean. You are saved. Do not let sin have dominion over you. Do not let your past sins accuse you as you run the race of faith. How do you do that?
We are told:
“Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).
You will not advance in your faith by looking back at the pain of your past, but by looking at the greatness of Jesus:
• Jesus, the great, great-grandson of Rahab who bore his grandmother’s sins on Calvary;
• Jesus, the great, great-grandson of a harlot, who though He was without sin became sin that we who are sinners might become the righteousness of God;
• Jesus, the great, great Savior of sinners, who was punished by God for our sin that we might be set free from the bondage of sin.
• Jesus, the great, great One who led the captives free and who now rules a Kingdom of recovering sinners whom He calls saints from His throne in heaven.
We know that a ship struggling for safety in the midst of a great storm at sea does not find its way to shore by looking back into the storm, but by looking to the light on the shore.
You, Beloved, will not recover from the storms of the past or the wounds of your sins by looking back into the storms or by focusing on the wounds of your pain, but only by focusing on the gospel of grace and the author and the finisher of our salvation. When you reach those shores, you will be met by Rahab’s boy, the everlasting Son of God, the light of the world. You will then, to the glory of Jesus, come into the company of Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Paul, Peter and all of the nameless and countless others who by faith in Jesus Christ became people “of whom the world was not worthy.”
Of Whom the World Is Not Worthy
Of Whom the World Is Not Worthy