A SCARLET CORD
A Message around Communion
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
(An effective liturgical symbol is to tie a scarlet cord around the wine decanter on the communion table letting it hang down from the table.)
Joshua 2 NIV
1 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.
2 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."
4 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, the men 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.
8 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 melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. 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."
14 "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."
15 So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. Now she had said to them, "Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way." The men said to her, "This oath you made us swearwill 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 anyone goes outside your house into the street, his blood will be on his own head; we will not be responsible. As for anyone who is in the house with you, his blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on him. But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear."
21 "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.
22 When they left, they went into the hills and stayed there three days, until the pursuers had searched all along the road and returned without finding them. Then the two men started back. They went down out of the hills, forded the river and came to Joshua son of Nun and told him everything that had happened to them. They said to Joshua, "The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us."
Brothers and sisters in Christ:
Faith in a scarlet cord handing out of her window, a scarlet cord that signified an agreement saved Rahab and her family. That is the point of this message and if you were to go home now, you would have the point, taken out of context. It doesn't seem to say to much all by itself. This I suspect happens to you at times. You're having fun with someone and you say something, and it is outrageously funny. But when you try to tell someone else the funny thing that happened, it just doesn't sound funny anymore. And they don't laugh. And in the end you say, "Well, you had to be there." Context gives riches and meaning, and that riches and meaning will be the content of this message.
Faith in a scarlet cord handing out of her window, a scarlet cord that signified an agreement saved Rahab and her family.
When it comes to the redemptive message of salvation, there is no other way to read this passage. It was trusting that cord that saved her!
We cannot say that Rahab was a good person and that her goodness saved her. These spies went to herebecause she was an active prostitute, maybe even the owner of a brothel, the owner of a house of prostitutes. They went to her because in staying in the city, staying with her would raise the least suspicions. After all, traveling men would frequent the homes of prostitutes, not only would it give them a place to stay for the night, it also gave them their evening of entertainment. There is obviously nothing in this women's life style that merits out of this entire wicked city, being saved.
We cannot say that Rahab was saved because of who she knew. She did not know these spies except that they were the enemy, an enemy who had a reputation of incredible power, and as was in those days, their power was attributed to their God. But she didn't know these spies. When she made an agreement with them, she didn't know if they would keep their end of the bargain. Spies have a notorious reputation of being treacherous. And frankly, she was taking her own life in her hands. If the ruler of her city found out that they were there and that she was hiding them, her life would be taken in a flash.
It was not her good qualities. It was not who she knew. Nor was it that she was different from other people by race or otherwise. She was from the city of Jericho, a gentile. Her family lived there. She was probably a cultic prostitute, serving the cults of Baal and Ashtoreth, she was in every way as worthy of judgement as all the people around her in that city.
And we cannot say that her accomplishments would save her. What did she accomplish but to be a traitor to her own people? In any society, she would have been regarded shamefully, with deep distrust. She was like the people in the Netherlands who gave secret information to the Nazis as they came and took over the land. But she was worse, she gave the information before the Israelites came so that they would be able to take over the land.
There is no way we can find anything about this women that would merit her being saved in this coming onslaught by the nation of Israel except for the fact that Rahab trusted an agreement symbolizing scarlet cord hanging out her window,
Why an agreement and a scarlet cord?
The scripture are rich with symbolism - and here we discover symbolism interwoven throughout the scriptures in ways that cause us to stop with awe. The symbolism behind this cord we find in the beginning chapters of Genesis to the last chapters of Revelation. In the short time that I have, I can only focus on the highlight....
The place were we meet the symbolism of the scarlet thread or cord the clearest was in the tabernacle. If you remember the Old testament Tabernacle, that was the movable temple in which God would dwell while Israel moved throughout the desert on their forty year journey to the promised land. There, because of the agreement that they had with God, (outlined in Exodus through Deuteronomy,) God would live with them, they would be his people, God would be their God. The tabernacle was the place where the agreements of the covenant were kept, (in the Ark) where the contract of the covenant was repeatedly signed and sealed (through sacrifice).
If you remember what the tabernacle looked like, you might remember that throughout the tabernacle, its walls, its curtains, its embroidered cherubim, its clothing for the priests - throughout it all, there was interwoven scarlet thread. And between the walls of those scarlet woven and embroidered curtains, a ritual happened repeatedly, the ritual of sacrifice. Animals were taken, their scarlet blood drained and gathered, sprinkled, their carcass butchered and placed again and again on the alter to signify to the people that once again, this covenant they had with God was signed and sealed, they were his people, God was their God, their sins were forgiven.
To the Israelites, the scarlet thread interwoven throughout the tabernacle, along with the repeated ceremonies of sacrifice were for them symbols of covenant, of their agreement with God, sealed through the shedding of blood, that their sins were forgiven and they were God's very own people.
It was for good reason that these spies, who were about to be let down by a scarlet rope to escape from the city, insisted that the sign of their covenant agreement with Rahab, to save her and her family, would be the sign of that scarlet rope hanging out of her window. They were giving what Rahab had demanded, a sure sign, the covenant was sealed. Having made the agreement with the spies, Rahab quickly tied the rope so that it hung out of her window, a visible witness to an agreement made. She would have to trust that rope, that it would secure her future because of that agreement.
Like Rahab, we too are saved by Faith in an agreement, sealed by a scarlet cord.
The writer of the book of Hebrews points us to this truth in Hebrews 9:19ff
"When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, "This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep." In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."
The scarlet cord, symbolizing the shedding of blood, is what seals for us our covenant with God. That is why Jesus in the institution of the Lord's supper said saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."
When Jesus said this to his disciples, he too was pointed toward himself as a sacrifice. He would have a scarlet robe placed over his shoulders as king of the Jews, he would be mocked and judged by Pontius Pilate, who would send him, according to the peoples wishes, to a cross, there to hang and die. And when the soldiers came and pierced his side, out of his side came a flow of blood and water, a scarlet cord, signing once and for all an eternal covenant between God and mankind.
As we look at Rahab, what saved her on that day was that she placed her trust in a scarlet cord that signified an agreement with the spies of Israel.
Today, what saves you?
Do you think you are good? Goodness makes no difference to God. God's law will never be watered down for your sake! We all have fallen short of that perfect will he intended for us. Certainly there were people who were better than Rahab in the city of Jericho. It did them no good!
Do you think what you have accomplished will save you? James says: All that does not arise from faith is sin. Your works cannot save you. Certainly there were people in the city of Jericho that accomplished significant and good things. It did them no good!
Do you think you will be saved because of who you know, of your participation in a church, a family? If you put your trust, your confidence for eternity on those things, it would be right for you, like the city of Jericho to tremble at the coming of God.
What will save you?
A scarlet cord, the blood of Jesus. Trust that what Jesus did on the cross is for you, that his blood will never loose its power. That the eternal covenant has been signed for you.
As you come to the table this morning, I invite you to come in faith, trusting that the symbols of Christ's broken body and shed blood, are signs and seals of this eternal covenant, this is the agreement that God makes with you. Through Jesus sacrifice on the cross, the covenant is sealed to us, there our sins are forgiven, our life made new. There is nothing else that will do. On the cross, we see the crimson tide from the heart of God to us, we see the scarlet cord hanging out of the window of eternity.
There is an old Christian Hymn which places before us the truth of the gospel in very clear fashion. "Nothing But the Blood of Jesus" (Words: Robert Lowry, in Gospel Music, by William Doane and Robert Lowry (New York: Biglow & Main, 1876).
"What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Chorus: Oh! precious is the flow That makes me white as snow; No other fount I know, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
2. For my pardon, this I see, Nothing but the blood of Jesus; For my cleansing this my plea, Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Chorus:
3. Nothing can for sin atone, Nothing but the blood of Jesus; Naught of good that I have done, Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Chorus:
4. This is all my hope and peace, Nothing but the blood of Jesus; This is all my righteousness, Nothing but the blood of Jesus. Chorus:
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.