The book of Joshua is all about how WE, the people God has made, are to TAKE HOLD of the promises of God our creator to us.
I could give you this £10 note. I promise on my word that it’s yours. It’s yours now. Freely given. But in order to begin to benefit from the inheritance that is fully yours you need to take some steps, not inorder to deserve it or earn it (it’s already yours) just to take hold of it. Perhaps it begins with feelings of happiness and well being as you first register in your mind that the promised £10 is really yours, you are now £10 better off, you can begin to think what you might do with your £10, then the reality becomes more concrete as you get out of your seat and begin to cross the room to take your money.
The promise is fully yours but to own and enjoy and take hold of the promise you need to take steps.
The people of Israel here in the OT are God’s model, blue print, prototype to teach humanity what all this means. The promise they had received and now must take steps to take hold of is the promise of a homeland of fruitfulness rest and security. They must enter and take possession of the land of Canaan.
The promise for all of US to which this model points is the promise from God of eternal life! Eternal life - A life that begins now and continues through death to a FULNESS of life on the other side. It’s difficult to get your head round what eternal life even means. It means to be truly home, truly at rest, deeply fulfilled in a renewed and creative world. But supremely eternal life is about knowing God, Father, Son and Holy spririt now and increasingly fully and completely.
That promise and inheritance is offered to all and it’s yours completely as soon as you say Yes please to God (and we’ll talk about that) but then the promise - thoughout our Christian life - must be taken hold of, progressively received.. We don’t stand still - we step forward through the Jordan into the land of promise..
So let’s learn about this from Israel our prototype.
- God brings us to the end of ourselves so we would depend on Jesus
At the end of Joshua chapter 2 Israelite spies have returned from Jericho in the land of Canaan with reports that the people are melting with fear. So you can perhaps imagine the enthusiasm as 3v1 Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over.
But i think that that initially self confidence very quickly would have ebbed away. It was probably easy to feel quite good about your prospects in Shittim which sounds like an awful place but actually it was a beautiful campsite the name means Oasis of Acacia trees. But now God brings them to camp for 3 days looking at the Jordan. The Jordan was a steep river valley with tangled trees and a mile wide fast moving river which was at its worst around the time of harvest when the river was in flood. Oh look v15 - the river was in flood! Nice one God.
How on earth are we gonna cross that?
The God who made us, wants us to know him. He is the fulfilment of all promises. He is who we were made for. Without him we cannot know rest. We cannot know fulness of joy. We will not know life.
For it to be possible for us to come into relationship with God we need to trust him. Trust him with our lives, trust that his ways are best. That he is God and not us.
The problem is that we all have a deep independent streak within us. We can handle our lives we say. We hold on stubbornly. Keeping God and life out.
Friends of mine who work with people with serious addictions and even those of us who are parents are familiar with the idea of tough love. Sometimes the most loving and kind thing is not to give another person what they want but to deny them , get hard on them, be tough with them. It hurts to do it but you’re doing it because you really care about what they’re missing out on in their own self destructiveness.
With stubborn independent humanity God has to bring us to places in our lives that we just can’t handle. Obstacles to bring us to the end of ourselves that we might start relying on him and come to know him and know life. he brings us to camp on the banks of the Jordan.
He sometimes does this when he wants to bring us to know him in the first place. I can get to God my own way we say but then he shows us the obstacle of our sin of our deathliness. Like a great Jordan. How are you going to overcome that? How are you?
As we go on in the Christian life such is his love that he will bring us to impossible Jordans to keep on breaking our destructive self reliance that keeps us miserably stuck. He wants us to take hold of our inheritance. For some of us that will mean getting to absolute rock bottom - never a nice place to be - before we will relinquish our grip on our own solutions and start looking for help..
2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3 giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4 Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.”
If all of your knowledge of the ark of the covenant comes from Indiana Jones - a radio for talking to God - I might need to put you straight.
The ark was a Gold plated box with a seat on the top flanked by gold plated angel figures. It would be carried a bit like a sedan chair with long poles. This was God’s chair. God’s throne - symbolising his presence. He is with us. Inside the box were the stone tablets of the 10 commandments and some other items that represented the way that God had provided for Israel - like a jar of the manna bread he had given to them everyday. So the ark was the ark of THE COVENANT - the pledged relationship between God and his people. God’s loving presence. The ark was a picture of what Jesus is to us. Pledged relationship, God present …WITH US.
The Israelites are being told to fix their eyes on the ark and follow it. The ark will be their Sat Nav v4 and they should keep their distance to about a kilometre - perhaps because the ark is holy but more so so that all of them can SEE the amazing things v5 that God is going to do among them.
They must consecrate themselves v5 wash their clothes, abstain from sex the reason: to inculcate in yourself a spiritual posture towards God of openness, dependence, obedience.
God brings us to the end of ourselves that we might put our eyes on Jesus and become open to, dependent on, submitted to him. He promises you life. Take hold of his promise.
2. God calls us to Step into the water
6 Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them.
7 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. 8 Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’”
Sorry … scramble down that slope toward that raging torrent and … start wading?
9 Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God. 10 This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. 11 See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. 12 Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 And …..AS SOON AS the priests who carry the ark of the Lord—the Lord of all the earth—set foot in the Jordan, [then] its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”
As soon as …
Im guessing the Priests must have been pretty nervous, maybe even terrified. But they needed to get their feet wet before God was going to work the miracle of faith.
14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (that is, the Dead Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.
God holds out his promise of life to us. It’s there… but until we actually take a step to receive it we won’t know his life, his goodness, his trustworthiness his power.
Often in our independent spiritual lives we want everything worked out ourselves before we’ll do anything.
For those of us seeking God. Of course it’s not wrong to investigate faith. Weigh things up. seek evidence. But there comes a point where God says ‘Now, step into the Jordan’
Step out beyond the known. Take the risk. Because then you will know me. I can’t show you my trustworthiness until you trust me. I can’t show you my power until you let me. If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat.
Your sin and death How are you going to overcome that? You can’t But I can. I have. I will send my son ahead of you into that watery grave so you can walk across on dry land to life on the other side.
Step into the jordan.
It’s like any committed relationship isn’t it? A marriage or a deepening friendship. You can never understand everything there is to understand about another person. there’ll always be another question. Relationships demand a step of faith. To give/entrust yourself to another. So it is with God.
What about those of us who have gotten stuck? But God is bringing us to the end of ourselves. The oasis of acacia trees is a distant memory we’ve been camped on the miserable jordan for years, wandering in the wilderness. Well there comes a point when God says, Now step into the Jordan. To grow - you have to seek help outside of yourself. You have to tell the truth. It’s a terrifying step. But until you do it you cannot know God’s transforming power and grace. The Lord longs to be gracious to you. Instead of wandering in the wilderness he wants to take you through the Jordan. He wants you to take hold of your inheritance, to know resurrection LIFE. Step out.
What about the thing perhaps that God is calling you to do? The work he has for you. It’s there in your heart. Has been for years. But it’s like a massive Jordan. It’s impossible. You don’t have what it takes. It can’t be a real thing. It terrifies you to even contemplate beginning. But you can’t shake it off. You know that life lies there. The time comes when God says “Now, step into the Jordan”
You’re right in one sense, you don’t have what it takes, not on your own. But God says, i’ve given you this vision because I want to do it through you. I am with you. Now step in the Jordan and see what I can do through you. Take the risk. Get your feet wet!
Look at the completeness of God’s salvation through the Jordan.
v16 the water flowing down to the Sea …was completely cut off.
v17 all Israel passed by
the whole nation completed the crossing
on dry ground. !
do you see - it’s utterly secure and safe - no one is left behind. they don’t even get their feet wet or their sandles muddy!
so it is with Jesus’ salvation work for us. there are no doubts about whether it will hold. Like a bit more might be needed to be done. No it’s complete. Finished. Once for all time. We will never be disappointed.
And notice that really and truly it IS ALL GOD’S WORK
The people do not achieve this rescue do they? They’re obedient. They have to do something to recieve it. But there’s this emphasis in the passage that as long as the ark is in place the waters are held back and 4v18 as soon the ark leaves the river bed the waters return and run in flood again. There are no natural coincidences here. Neither was this a feat of human engineering. This was an amazing thing of God. He dried up the Jordan v23. That v24 all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”
It’s all God’s work: salvation, sanctification, service. It doesn’t depend on us - our stength our consistency. Just take hold of your inheritance. Step out. He wants to do amazing things among us.
3. Never forget what God has done.
Every year in dunbar scotland European stone stacking competition. Different categories such as ‘most stones balanced one on top of the other’. The stacks are beautiful - look it up
But stone stacking starts here at the beginning of Joshua 4 on the banks of the Jordan. 12 stones, 1 for each tribe taken from the river bed where the ark had been and stacked on the western bank. As a lasting sign v6 for them and for their childen. A memorial of what God did here.
Notice the repetition
v1-3 Where God tells Joshua to find 12 strapping lads, one from each tribe, to heft a stone each from the bed of the Jordan to stack on the bank of the promised land.
then v4-7 where joshua tells the 12 hunks exactly the same thing
lug a stone each from the bed of the Jordan and stack them on the bank of the promised land.
And then v8-9 where we’re told that the Israelites did exactly that
They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, to stack em on the banks of the promised land.
Why do we need to be told 3 times?
For precisely the same reason that God gets Israel into stone stacking - because we so easily forget.
Don’t forget the amazing things God has done among you.
Why did Jesus give us baptism and the Lord’s Supper? so that we’d remember and not forget Jesus leading us into the watery death of Jordan (baptism) where he died for us (lord’s supper) so that we might walk through on dry ground to resurrection life where we shall never die.
- God brings us to the end of ourselves so we would depend on Jesus
- God calls us to step into the waters that he might prove his love and all sufficiency to us
- God calls us to remember his works as a spur for the future.
We’re in the book of Joshua
and we’ve said that the Bible gives us lines of application that make this ancient book, the OT, potently relevant to us.
For a start the Bible is of course about God who doesn’t change, He’s the same yesterday, today and forever. And more specifically, Jesus Christ, the author and perfector of our faith, says that the OT is about him. So we’re always asking where is Jesus in this text? where’s he being predicted and foreshadowed. He’s always there. The OT is about him. And in this passage we see that Jesus is mighty God and merciful refuge.
The OT is also about us. written for us, the New Testament says. It’s story is Fulfilled in us!
The OT is about God rescuing a people by sacrifice from slavery for a promised land. Israel were slaves in Egypt.. God rescued them and here in the book of Joshua we see God giving them their land/home/rest - it’s theirs but they have to fight and overcome enemies to take possesion of it.
And that story is like a blue print, a prototype, a rehearsal in anticipation of THE GREAT overarching story of human history. God rescuing a people (his worldwide church) by the sacrifice of Jesus from slavery (to sin and death) for a promised land (eternal life). And so we learn things about Us and God from the OT prototype. Here in Joshua we learn that just like Israel God gives us our full promised inheritance - he gives us eternal life - the moment we turn to him, the moment we became Christians BUT in this life - our Christian life - we have to fight and overcome enemies - all that is godless in our world and in our hearts - to take possession of that promised inheritance. The promise of God is received by the activity of faith.
We’re in a FIGHT
We have to get this.. Are you fighting?
Don’t think that you can just cruise. God’ll forgive me that’s his job. The promise of God is received by the activity of faith.
You know I think many of us give up fighting because we feel weak, fearful and overwhelmed by the battles or we just get despondent. It’s too hard and we feel like God is hard on us. We feel like he’s let us down, like he doesn’t love me.
Well I think Joshua 2 might help us if we feel like any of that.
Cos it says 2 things
- (to the weak and overwhelmed it says) Know that Your enemies are terrified because Jesus is mighty
- (to the despondent and angry it says) Remember that Your God is SO merciful. because Jesus is our refuge.
- Know that Your enemies are terrified. jesus is mighty!
v1 Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.”
Joshua is not being faithless, sending out spies instead of immediately crossing the Jordan. Having the promises of God doesn’t release us from acting wisely. There was precedent for sending spies into enemy lands. Moses, under God’s instruction, had sent 12 spies into Canaan 40 years earlier. Joshua had been one of those spies. One of only two who argued for entering the land - the other ten sowed fear among the Israelites with tales of giants and vast walled citadels and their hearts melted with fear, they refused to enter the land.
So Joshua must have chosen well for this reconnaisance mission. 2 spies.
Go look over the land - especially Jericho. Why Jericho? Jericho was the entry point to the rest of the land. The first obstacle. But as we will see, God had another reason why he wanted an advance party in Jericho.
So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.
Why did they stay in a brothel - these were godly men? Anonymity? Lots of men coming and going - No questions asked? Some commentators try to protect the spies’ reputations by claiming that Rahab was in fact an inkeeper. But the text does call her ‘Rahab the Prostitute’. Others claim that she used to be a prostitute but the name had stuck. I think there’s evidence that we’ll see in the text that that could well be the case. Maybe she’d found them in the city and welcomed them in? Certainly God had brought them to her door.
v2 The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” The spies have been spotted! They’ve been seen entering Rahab’s house. And pretty soon armed police are knocking at her door. These guys are toast. Their cover blown. They’re on the wrong side of town. In the house of a woman of questionable morals. The police are at the door and spies don’t get treated well in Jericho. they’ll be tortured for information and executed.
But then something remarkable happens.
4 the woman had taken the two men and hidden them.
At great personal risk Rahab the prostitiute spins out a yarn about how ‘the spies were here, yes, but they’re long gone.. almost certainly no longer in the city. you better get a move on if you want to catch them.’
You can’t believe that the police didn’t search the house. If they’d found the spies she would have been doubly guilty - a traitor.
It makes me think of the Opening scene of Quentin Tarantino’s movie Inglourious Basterds - which drawn out masterclass in tension and building suspense. It begins with Nazis approaching and entering an Idyllic farmhouse and - following Hitchcock’s decree that you tell the audience there’s a bomb under the table long before it goes off - Tarantino pans down to reveal that there are Jewish refugees hiding beneath the farmhouse’s floorboards. Centimetres from the Nazi jackboots. The scene builds and builds..
Was that what it was like for Rahab and the spies?
The spies are well hidden (v6) and the gestapo finally leave.
Why does Rahab do this? Why does she take such a risk for people she doesn’t even know?
Well she tells them. She gives the spies the priceless military intelligence that they have come for.
8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land 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.
The morale and confidence of an army is as, if not more important than the resources at their disposal. When Moses’s 12 spies 40 years earlier returned with news of the strength of the Canaanite armies it was the Israelites who’s courage failed and who’s hearts melted with fear. But here - the tables are turned. It is the powerful Canaanites who are crumbling at the Israelite threat. But why? The Israelites are not numerous, they’re poorly armed and inexperienced at war.
v10 Here’s why the Canaanites melt like icecreams on a hot day.
10 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. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
You have a massively unfair advantage, says Rahab to the spies. The reason we are afraid of you is because you have a Mighty God on your side. It’s plain to see - WE are toast.
Skip to the end of the passage v24 and when the 2 spies came back to Joshua They said to [Him], “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.”
Be strong and courageous. Your enemies are terrified because the Lord is mighty
So often we feel desperately weak and fearful in the face of our battles. Speaking up for what is right in our workplaces we feel isolated. Working for justice in our communities we feel overwhelmed. Sharing the gospel with our friends we feel foolish. Fighting our apathy and addictions in order to grow we feel powerless. The church feels fragile, we feel weak. We melt.
But look look- Your enemies are terrified….terrified .. that you might speak, that you might start that project that beats in your heart.. terrified that you might share the gospel with a friend, or read your bible, or start getting praying friends around you to kick start your spiritual growth. terrified because they have seen how Jesus opened up a way through the sea, by his death and resurrection for all who believe in him to be forgiven and have life, they have seen how HE has thoroughly defeated our greatest enemies sin and death who he has completely destroyed. Their hearts melt and courage fails because Jesus our God IS God in heaven above and on earth below. He is mighty.
Be strong and very courageous says Jesus to you. Because I am with you and I will never leave you nor forsake you. Enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you. Fight the battles that you must fight to inherit your Rest.
Know that Your enemies are terrified
2. Remember that Your God is rich in mercy - Jesus our refuge .
‘Go look over the land, especially Jericho’
Joshua didn’t send the spies especially to Jericho just because this was the strategic entry point to the land, OR because it was the place where they would glean the crucial intelligence that their enemies were melting with fear. There was a deeper reason for the spies being sent to Jericho that even Joshua was not aware of. The spies didn’t get spotted just because of their sloppiness or because of canaanite vigilance - there was a deeper reason for the spies being spotted. The spies didn’t enter the house of Rahab the prostitute just because a brothel was the perfect cover for strangers or because it was the first place they found a welcome. There was a deeper reason for them coming to that house. God is at work here..
The reason for it all was Rahab. God sends the spies to Jericho; allows the spies to be hunted down; leads the spies to stay in that house for the sake of Rahab for the sake of her refuge.
Let’s ask the question again: Why does Rahab, at great personal risk, hide the spies and deceive the police? Is it just because she’s weighed things up, knows that Jericho doesn’t stand a chance against the LORD and is tactically changing sides? Well, the rest of Jericho have heard of God’s might and are melting with fear. But they make no effort to make peace with this God. There’s no delegation sent out to surrender to the Israelites. Fear alone doesn’t break defiance.
But Rahab, in contrast seems to have gone much further than her fellow Canaanites. She, like them has heard of his might, but she goes further and recognises his majesty and appeals to his mercy.
She recognises God’s majesty. At the end of v11 in what sounds like a declaration of faith she says ‘It’s because the Lord your God IS God in heaven above and on the earth below’
There is no other god, she says.
Is this true faith, true belief? - well faith shows itself in action - a changed life and changed allegiance.
Remember I said earlier that there’s an indication in this passage that Rahab the prostitute is no longer a prostitute. v6 tells us that she had hidden the spies under the stalks of flax that she had laid out on the roof. Flax was a plant that was industriously harvested, dried in sunshine and used for spinning and weaving cloth. In the last chapter of the book of proverbs - The woman of godly character - works with wool and flax. Has God’s grace been at work in Rahab’s life to make a prostititue a woman of character?
The passage makes no judgement on whether she was right or wrong to lie to the police at her door. Did necessity make it legitimate? Certainly the courage and conviction that she shows in defying her own government and nation for the greater good of protecting God’s spies is further evidence of a change of allegiance.
And her appeal for her whole family to receive God’s mercy needn’t be seen as presumptious but as further evidence that she had perceived the infinite mercy and willing grace of God. And she wasn’t disappointed.
Rahab miraculously had become a christian. In the NT in Hebrews 11 and James 2 Rahab is commended for her actions rooted in her faith.
It’s amazing that with no church, no Bibles, no believers around her - out of a pagan cuture and an immoral life Jesus has sought this woman out - not because of anything in her, not because she is inherently good, but out of his sheer kindness. She hears of God’s might and by grace she bows to his majesty and appeals to his mercy.
And having become his child she now receives God’s refuge. The spies are in Jericho for Rahab. To make the covenant with her in vv17-21 which will guarantee her family’s safety .
She must tie a red cord in the window of her house - which is in the city walls. It’s the sign that this house is covered, protected, a refuge. She must bring her family into the refuge and they are only safe inside. They mustn’t venture out.
It’s vivid language that unmistakably takes us back to Noah and his ark - the refuge through the flood. And more so takes us back to the passover - when the Israelites in Egypt had to paint a line of red blood from a sacrificed lamb on their door frame and shelter in the house so that they wouldn’t die when the angel of death passed over. The lamb died in their place. The lamb was their refuge.
An incredible picture pointing forward to it’s fulfilment in Jesus. the lamb of God who sheds his blood to defeat our enemies who were against us - sin and death. He dies in our place and we take refuge in HIM!
are you angry with him in the face of your battles. It’s too hard and he’s too hard on you. you feel like he doesn’t love you.
Just Remember the kindness and mercy of Jesus your refuge.
Jesus first came for me - when i was 12 years old - he called me to be his. He showed me that he’d died for me that i could be forgiven. And he has been my refuge ever since. In his kindness he has pursued me in all my wilful wanderings - to protect me and bring me back. And as Psalm 23 says: Surely his goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives.
Welcome to the OT book of Joshua.
This is the narrative account of how the nation of Israel, having been miraculously sprung out of slavery in Egypt, having wandered in the desert for 40 years. Now under the leadership of Joshua, enter into, conquer and take possession of the land of Canaan that had been promised to them by God.
It’s an ancient story, 3000 years old. another time and another place. It’s not without it’s difficulties. Not least the God ordained genocide of the Canaanite nations which i will cautiously try and make some sense of in these coming weeks ..
Why would we study this ancient seemingly primitive book?
Well because it is not as distant as we might think.
Jesus says in Luke 24:27 that all the OT Scriptures are about Him, So, Institutions in the OT - like the temple and sacrifices - they teach us about Jesus. People in the OT particularly prophets, priests, leaders and Kings in so far as they are good, they point us to the character of Jesus, in so far as they are bad- they point us to our need for Jesus who is the perfect prophet, priest and king. So Joshua the man foreshadows Jesus (actually Joshua and Jeshua are the same name). Joshua the leader points us to the ultimate leader - Jesus. So the story is about him.
And the story is also about us. The apostle Paul says in a couple of places - Romans 15, 1 Corinthians 10 - that the history of Israel occured and was written down to teach, warn and encourage us. Christians. This OT story of a nation rescued through sacrifice from slavery for a promised land is kind of like the prototype, the model, the mini-trailer in anticipation of the fulfilment of the ultimate plan of God: A world rescued through sacrifice from sin and death for a promised eternal rest.
You can see this link made in the NT. Hebrews chapter 4 verse 8 says
if Joshua had given [the people of God] rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.
The Israelites entry into their promised land teaches us about OUR ultimate entering into God’s eternal land/rest to which all of this points.
So let’s begin there with the promise of rest.
1. Our promise
Do you long for a place called home? Your own bit of land that is your possession? Perhaps you own a home but that experience of settledness? .. It feels like something so fundamental doesn’t it? A human right. A heritage. Do you long for a home?
Do you long for rest? Rest from all your enemies. Security. Rest on every side. Rest from your restlessness. Peace for your mind and soul?
God had long promised a land, a rest, a home for his people. It had started with Abraham nearly 600 years before Joshua when the nation of Israel were then but a twinkle in Father Abraham’s eye. And now here the time has come for God it seems to make good on all his promises up to this point:
1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
Here was the promise - the land of Canaan, A land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ as God described it to them. (A land also full of enemy squatter nations that will need to be removed - but we’ll come to that). This was good land that God who is owner and ruler of all the earth has pledged to these people to be their inheritance at this time.
Notice that the inheritance of this land is a gift from beginning to end. It’s the land I am giving you, says God.
It’s not a portion to which they were entitled. not some birthright.
nor had they or their ancestors done anything to merit such a heritage
and nor would their subsequent conquering of the canaanites suggest that they had earned it. It is a gift from beginning to end.
And so it is with our entry into the eternal rest of God. It’s never something that we deserve or that we have warranted or that we have earned. It is from beginning to end a gift of grace and mercy to be received by simple faith.
It’s a gift
and it is also a certain gift.
God has sworn (v6) to give it.
And as we read the book we will see Israel enter and conquer and settle in the land just as God has promised. Joshua 21v43 towards the end of the book sums it ll up. So the Lord gave Israel all the Land he had sworn to their fore-fathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed, everyone was fulfilled.
This week’s News - a soldier in the american reserves lost her job after attempting to make a viral youtube video to impress her kids. She had a colleague video her taking her oath of allegiance with her commanding office with a dinosaur head puppet on her raised right hand mouthing the words of the oath as she repeated them. The commanding officer was also forced to stand down for colluding with the stunt and failing to raise his right hand.
The swearing of oaths is a serious business.
God promises on oath - his right hand raised - an eternal rest for his people. Peace and justice. Land and home. He swears on his life that he will bring it about. He did so for the children of Israel. Not one of his promises failed. Neither will he let us down. he is faithful and he will do it. Our promise
2. Our battle
v10 (we’ll come back to verses 6-9 in a bit)
10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God IS giving you for your own.’”
notice that present tense there? It’s the land - not that God has given you - so that you just can wander in when you’re ready when you fancy. No, it’s more dynamic. It’s the land that God is giving you that now you have to cross the precipitous Jordan gorge while the river is in flood and face formidable obstacles - armies and walled cities in order to take possession of what is yours. the promise is assured but must be claimed. The land is God’s free gift and yet there is a command to lay hold of that gift. It is as the Israelites go in and take possession of it that God will progressively give the land to them. THE PROMISE OF GOD IS RECEIVED BY THE ACTIVITY OF FAITH.
it was actually part of God’s compassion that Israel should inherit their rest progressively - as they moved forward. Back in Exodus 23 God had said this about entering the promised land. “[I will] drive [your enemies] the Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites out of your way. 29 But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.
Israel will enter into their land, their rest. But there’s a now and a not yet dimension to it. The land is theirs now but battles must be fought, obstacles overcome before they can enter into possession of and enjoy their inheritance.
And it’s exactly the same for us in Christ in whom all these promises are being fulfilled.
So, Hebrews 4v3 says ‘We who believe enter God’s promised rest.’ As soon as you believe in Jesus - the burden of your sins are rolled away, peace of conscience, rest of soul, assurance and acceptance by God are now yours…
BUT you are not there and then taken straight to heaven. No, you have to: fight a fight, run a race, keep the faith before you can fully enter your eternal rest. Become a Christian, cross the jordan, alive in Christ and suddenly you’re facing foes both within and without of which previously you knew nothing. Foes that God wants to rid you of that you might flourish. Now let’s be clear OUR foes are not fellow human beings; enemy nations that need to be defeated just as our inheritance isn’t a plot of land in the middle east. No Christians love their human enemies and pray for those who persecute them precisely because our real enemies are injustice and apathy and the evil desires that war against our souls - our anger, our hate our lust. God wants to lead us to overcome all that is godless in our world and in us to prepare us for our eternal rest. That’s the battle that you enter into inorder to take possession of your inheritance. It’s the battle for justice, the battle for our church, God’s kingdom, the battle for the restoration of our souls in the midst of the hardships of life. It’s the fight for the formation of christlike character within us. Our healing. That’s our battle.
and so 6 verses after telling us that we who believe have entered God’s rest Hebrews 4v9 says ‘There remains, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; …11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.’ Rest is now and rest is not yet. And the promise of God is received by the activity of faith.
It is when we step out in faith - ceasing from fighting God, instead trusting and obeying Him that we find progressively the rest for our souls that we are promised. It is in losing our lives for Christ that we find life.
I wonder where you are at in all of this?
I guess there would have been some Israelites back then who were very hesitant to enter the promised land at all. And perhaps you’re in that place with Jesus. I just want you to encourage you that his promise of rest and his love is real. Rest is found nowhere else. Step out in faith and you will find him unrelentingly faithful.
perhaps other Israelites were deeply discouraged by the presence of so many enemies in the land. and we can become discouraged in the fight of our faith. cut off one temptation and three more appear in its place and nothing changes very fast. well, remember that it is a battle. If you’re struggling on that’s a good sign. And remember God doesn’t give victory over all our enemies all at once it wouldn’t be good for us if he did. God is patient and his timing is perfect. He waits to be gracious to you. He has many victories to give us that we are not yet quite fitted for. But we shall be. Gradually progresively he will do it. so don’t lose heart. Keep on.
I bet there were some Israelites who were over confident. A bit like some Christians who use the promises of God like a couch to relax on rather than a spur to action. God has promised us eternal rest, they say, God has promised never to leave or forsake us and therefore it’s not then end of the world if i make peace with my weakness and sin. I’m not saved by what I do or don’t do but by God’s grace. But this of course is a cheap grace a non grace that releases us from the following of Jesus Christ! Don’t give up and rest on cheap grace. Don’t do it. There is no true rest there.
I wonder finally if some of the Israelites felt weak, isolated and alone. I can’t do this. Is anyone watching my back? Do you ever feel that? Well, our passage answers this need for community wonderfully. See we’re to fight the good fight together. We’re to fight for one another.
12 … to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, 13 “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ 14 Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”
16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.
These 2 and a half tribes - the reubenites, gaddites and half Manasseh had already been given their inheritance of land and rest on the east side of the jordan river. But they could not be at rest until all their brothers and sisters were at rest as well. And so they are called to the frontline to selflessness and sacrifice for the sake of their fellow Israelites’ rest. And they agree to it!
In the same way Hebrews 4v1 says to us. since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us (plural) be careful that none of you (singular) be found to have fallen short of it.
We fight for one another.
But finally we never fight alone because of Our Joshua. 3rd point. Our promise, Our Battle, Our Joshua.
Look at the way the leader is prepared. His high calling.
Taking over from the greatest of all the prophets Moses and Joshua is called to strength and courage v6 and 7, commanded to it v9!
He’s called v7 to complete, unswerving obedience to God’s word
that will spring v8 from constant careful meditation on God’s words
and God end of v9 will be with him and will never forsake him.
Courage, faithfulness, bearing the presence of God. It’s an extraordinarily high calling for the leader of God’s people. And while Joshua is a wonderful leader we know that we are being pointed forward here to the true Joshua, the author and perfecter of our faith - Jesus.
He is the one who with extraordinary strength and courage, in perfect unswerving obedience to his Father’s word which he had internalised from his youth, he lays down his life that he might lead us into an eternal future. he enters the battle with us and he has promised to never leave us nor forsake us.
He is our strength in the battle.
Our response to Jesus could be none better than those tribes to Joshua in v16
‘Whatever you command us we will do and wherever you send us we will go’
In christ we are called to strength, courage, obedience, internalising his words, living on his presence.. that we might be fruitful in the battles of our faith.
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen! Just as he told you he would.
Read the gospel texts and you will see that Jesus had told his disciples again and again that he would suffer and die but then after 3 days he would be raised from death to LIFE.
Perhaps he put it like this: Christ will die, Christ will RISE, Christ will come again
He had told them that he would be raised from death to life but here are the women rushing to the garden tomb early in the morning on the day after the sabbath and they are here not to witness a resurrection but to embalm Jesus’ dead body. They are shocked to find the stone rolled away and the body gone!
When the women bring the news of resurrection to the 11 and all the other disciples the news is not met with joy it is discarded as nonsense.
Peter ran to witness the empty tomb and grave clothes and he went away wondering what had happened.
Jesus had told them THIS would happen!!
Christ will die, Christ WILL RISE, Christ will come again
Perhaps it’s a bit like when my wife, Fiona was pregnant for the first time and various dads offered this ‘dad to be’ advice about babies and fatherhood and nappies and i listened and i heard but i didn’t really hear, i couldn’t really hear. You can never be prepared for all that. I still couldn’t get my head around the fact that there really were twin babies growing inside Fiona who would one day be in our arms and in the world - let alone taking nappies on board. I heard but i didn’t really hear
Is that what it was like with the disciples? they believed in Jesus, they had followed him, they had listened to him. But the words about his resurrection had not really …entered them; had not captured them, had not affected their hearts and their hopes. The words.. they had heard them but they hadn’t actually heard them. The words didn’t change their lives.
And It’s only when the shining angels graciously visit the perplexed women and say, “What are you doing here looking for Jesus? He told you he’s not gonna be here.” It’s only then that they begin to re-member - put together - his words.
I wonder if it’s the same for us when it comes to Easter?
[Some of us struggle to believe this stuff at all and i’ll come to that in a moment]
But many of us do believe in Jesus, we have followed him, we have listened to him. And we’re told by God in his word again and again that Jesus suffered and died and then after 3 days he was raised from death to life. Christ has died, CHRIST is RISEN, Christ will come again. We remind ourselves sunday after sunday. BUT these words about his resurrection .. they haven’t really entered us; haven’t captured us, haven’t affected our hearts and our hopes. We’ve heard the words but we haven’t actually heard them. The words haven’t changed our lives. And we end up looking for the living among the dead and he is not there. HE IS RISEN
We need a shining angel, the Holy Spirit of God - to redirect us and open our eyes to the significance of what we are being told!
What about those of us who have real difficulty believing that these events could even have happened. dead men simply do not rise. it’s impossible. and therefore this text must be a fabrication presumably intended to promote a religion after it’s leader had died. it might have some universal themes but is not to be taken literally..
Well. look. I agree that dead men do not rise .. normally. But if there is a God who governs reality we cannot rule out the fact that God could raise a dead person.
Furthermore. If these texts as you suppose were fabrications written a generation after the events to promote Christianity then not only would it’s author not have had women going first to the tomb (women were not considered credible witnesses in the ancient world, as this story itself bears out); but also the author would surely have had the 11 disciples believing in the resurrection gospel at once, ready to be models of faith to lead the church into God’s future. The only real explanation for why these events are written in such a real way is the same explanation for why from this feeble few the church exploded across the roman world: something really happened. there really was a resurrection. Jesus Christ really is Alive.
And so what does it mean?
O spirit open our hearts to hear
Luke tells us that it was in the very early morning of the first day of the week that the stone was found to be rolled away and the body gone. In other words - Because of the resurrection of JC there is a new dawn, a new day, a new start, a new week, a new world.
the overturning of our greatest and most pervasive enemy - death.
When Adam - the father of humanity - sinned; when he pushed God aside - the consequence was death. Death came… to all : All Adam’s race (the human race) who sin just like him; and even to our planet - the earth was subjected to decay. Death. Death.
Until Good Friday when ‘Christ died for our sins.’
Astonishingly while we were the sinners, while we deserved our death penalty…
Christ died…. For our sins.
Like the little boy who with his magnifying glass on a sunny day concentrates all the suns rays into one laser beam of light that can incinerate dry grass or small creatures or his sister’s hair…
So when Jesus hung on that cross it was as if some cosmic magnifying glass redirected and concentrated all of the destructive consequences of our sins and all God’s holy anger against sin onto him - bringing him death for the wages of sin is death and there dying on his cross jesus paid off the debt of sin once for all time. And Sin and death were stripped of their power. And now here on the first Easter day we begin to see the results..
The day that death died. Like the first green shoot of spring forcing its way up through the frozen ground of an eternal winter. Like the golden light of the dawn ending the longest and darkest night. So Jesus bursts from the tomb of death. Not a ghost having entered some new mode of existence, no, notice the emphasis that Jesus’ body was gone. His body is raised. This is life returning to this world. Jesus - bodily alive and strong, complete forever. The resurrection marked the greatest turnaround in history. Death has lost its sting. Death has been swallowed up in victory. Death has been defeated!!!!
in another place in the NT the apostle Paul describes the risen Jesus as the firstfruits of those who have died
We are to Imagine a farmer toward the end of the growing season daily, anxiously looking over his crop. Watching the skies for sun and rain. His very life depends on the success of the crop. If it fails.. his family will die.
And then.. early one morning… the thing he’s been watching for: in one corner of the field which receives the first sunlight of the day tiny ears of corn have begun to form and appear in the stalks of the crop. The first fruits!! The first fruits means the whole crop is successful! He tears it out of the ground and runs home to his wife.. Just a tiny part of the crop but proof that a harvest will follow..
Jesus is not raised alone. His resurrection is the firstfruits - the guarantee of a great harvest of people raised from the dead. Jesus is like a needle, he has pierced through the great shroud of death to life on the other side and those who are joined to Jesus by faith, as the thread is connected to the needle, shall surely follow him through.
Christ is risen from the dead and we and all this broken world will follow.
1. We do not grieve as those who have no hope
Death. it’s horrible, it’s unnatural. Have you had a loved one close to you who has died? Do you fear your own death? Are you stuck in grief? Whether untimely or at ripe old age. Death is not the way the world is meant to be. To lose our lives. To lose the presence of a loved one is always agonizing..
But Easter says that death has ultimately been defeated. Where o death is your victory? Where O death is your sting. Jesus is RISEN from the grave.
Many people reach out to Jesus as death approaches and we should long for all to know him because Jesus says ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
ill. We’re going to live forever.
Do you hear this? Can you take it deep into your soul for yourself and your loved ones.
Through Christ death is now merely a gardener and we are the seeds .
We will be raised and united eternally bodily with our loved ones. We will embrace.
Our popular culture’s view of the afterlife is one, if any, of vague immateriality. Occasionally Harry Potter catches a glimpse of his deceased parents or Luke Skywalker glimpses a shimmering Obi Wan Kenobi. But these silent, transparent ghostly holograms what comfort do they provide - you can’t hug them. I want to hug. And the resurrection says - you will.
Jesus will wipe away every tear. he will reunite us on the day when death is no more.
In the face of defeated death we do not grieve as those who have no hope
We do not live as those who have no hope
If Christ is not raised from the dead then the Bible tells us (1 corinthians 15) we should eat and drink for tomorrow we die. If this is all there is then maximise your happiness now! What are you doing here?? See the world, realise your dreams. You only live ONCE. Make a list - a thousand things i need to do before I DIE.
The problem of course is we don’t even know how to live well with the one chance we have and time like sand is running through our fingers. If Christ is not raised from the dead we should eat and drink for tomorrow we die. But even this brief life does not go as we plan - i haven’t seen the world, i haven’t used my gifts, i haven’t realised my dreams…
But….. Christ has been raised from the dead. The tomb was empty. His Body was gone. His body was raised. The first fruits of the renewal of this world. This reality. The future is not some abstract ethereal heavenly existence. The future is this world restored forever. A new dawn, a new day, a new start a new ….CREATION.
And therefore - we do not despair
see, listen.. take it to heart
You don’t have to explore the world now
the world’s not going anywhere ..
You don’t have to realise all your dreams now
plenty of time to develop your gifts
You don’t have to maximise your happiness actually
You have an eternity when all things shall be made new
So how then should we live in the light of this glorious resurrection hope for this world?
Trust Jesus and tell people about him? Yes, absolutely.
But also, if the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ means that this world, every part of it that is good, has a future. Then everything matters. Everything
whether you eat or drink or whatever you do - work, play, rest, love, nurture, rebuke, study, create, comfort, learn, teach, pray, weep, laugh - whatever you do. do it all to the glory of God.
Do it all for others. cos you don’t have to cling to this life like it’s the only one you’ve got.
Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen! Just as he told you he would.
Last Sunday, Palm Sunday around midnight a 26 year old man was murdered on my street. Shot dead in cold blood as he got out the car in front of his mum’s house. Shocking, appalling… challenging.
Where is the love of God that comes in to redeem our lives, our communities, our world? The love that really makes a difference. The love that enables us to love with courage?
The problem is that there is something about THAT LOVE that also shocks and appalls and challenges us..
This is Maundy Thursday. There’s something about Maundy Thursday that makes you squirm. One of the ancient practices of the church on this day is to submit to having your feet washed. We’ve often talked about whether we should adopt that practice here - does it culturally translate? maybe it would make people feel too embarassed, too awkward. But you see - that’s the whole point! There’s something about the love of God that makes us uncomfortable but until we move beyond that discomfort and accept his love and our utter need to be served by it we can never become agents of real change in his world..
The term maundy in Maundy Thursday comes to us from the Latin root maundatum, or commandment, from Jesus’s words in John 13:34:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
The command to love of course was nothing new. But the command to love in the manner that Jesus has loved - that is new. And the command to love, having been loved first by Jesus - that is new.
How is it that Jesus has loved us ‘to the end’ - that we might then love?
v3 “Jesus, knowing that the father had given all things into his hands, that he had come from God and was going back to God, got up from the meal … and began to wash his disciples feet..”
For the sandal-wearing disciples, washing your filthy feet was a common cultural practice, as common in their day as brushing teeth is for us. When you arrived at a home a basin of water was provided for you to do the necessary… Now it could happen that in a very well to do household a servant would wash your feet. But this would only be the lowest gentile slave. Jewish slaves were exempted from such a low task. Everybody knows washing dirty feet is nasty. It’s base.
It’s difficult to find a contemporary cultural equivalent for the washing of another’s feet in Jesus’s day. A number of years ago i travelled by train from Mumbai to Delhi. Travelling by train in India, it is the lowest caste people - often those with disabilities - who clean the trains. They do it by crawling on their bellies across the floor and gathering up rubbish and food which has been dropped there with their clothes. And they are largely ignored because their work is so humiliating.
Do you get, then.. Do you get ..something of the utter, raw, appalling sigificance of what Jesus does here when HE takes off his outer garment and drops to his knees to wash feet?!!! We hear the shock in the voices of the disciples who are SO embarassed by his actions.. Jesus, their master, their LORD - is crawling on his belly gathering their filth.
The Creator on his knees.
And this.. is only the beginning, this is nothing….
incredibly, He will go even lower still -- for contained in John’s account are allusions everywhere to Jesus’ imminent humiliating death.
The verbs John uses for Jesus laying aside his outer clothing and then putting his clothing on again are not usual. They are the verbs John uses elsewhere in his gospel for Jesus saying he will lay down his life only to take it up again at the resurrection. The footwashing, this whole scene, is a picture, a parable of the greater humiliation of God - mocked, spat on, stripped, bruised, bleeding, stretched out, naked, nailed to a cross. A slave’s death. The cross - where the righteous and pure son of God became sin .. so that sinners like you and me could be made righteous and pure..
‘You do not realise now what i am doing,’ Jesus says to Peter v7 as he washes his feet.. ‘But later you will understand.’
Understand the breathtaking servant love of our God. Who serves us right at the point of our need - for cleansing, for forgiveness. Who loves in humility. He gives up His rights and privileges. Who loves in an utterly costly way. Who loves even under pressure – the cross was just hours away! Who loves unconditionally – these men would, by the end of the night, betray Him, desert Him or deny Him. Yet He lovingly washes all their feet, even Judas’s. And He loves in self-forgetfulness – He doesn’t care that He loses face. He is not concerned for His own self-image.
Here is the God who stoops, who serves, who gives everything, who gives his life that we might live.
And Jesus says A new commandment I give to YOU: love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another.
How? I mean I’m an incredibly loving person … until it means inconvenience, or a loss of face, or until my love is not returned in kind. And how often does my love evaporate when i’m under pressure from other quarters? As i have loved you, you must love one another??!! Are you kidding me???
But Jesus doesn’t just give us the manner in which we are to love. He also gives us the means by which we are to love. As I have loved you ..so you must love ..
See the order? First be loved. Then love. First know, realise, appreciate – then do. First receive Jesus’ love. Then pass it on.
But receiving is hard for us. It humbles us. We like to provide for ourselves. You can’t love me, God. I haven’t had the chance to prove my own worth yet. And so we resist ‘You shall never wash my feet’ says Peter.But Jesus answers ‘unless i wash you, you have no part in me.’
It reminds me of those extraordinary moments I’ve witnessed where one cares for the physical needs of an infirm loved one.. maybe helping feed them or wash them when they cannot do it for themselves. For those of us who are able bodied, the idea of submitting to that would be startling, humiliating, weird..
But the truth is, spiritually we are infirm, utterly dependent. We can only serve like Christ if we are first served by Christ. We can only love as he has loved if we are first loved by him.. We must overcome that aversion, lay down our pride and let him serve us. Apart from me you can do nothing… nothing
God knows about the murder of young men. Maundy Thursday reminds us that God the Father sent his only Son who willingly came as a lowly slave, to serve us, to be crushed for us, to free us from the sin slavery that leads to eternal death.
Sisters and brothers, we are in receipt of incredible love.We have gathered here on this special night to experience that Love again. We are here to be fed so that we might go out and feed others.
Tonight, let us remember to claim the love that Jesus gives, and to receive the command that comes through Christ’s self-giving spirit to share that love with a hungry, love-starved world. Amen
Reconciliation. Colossians 1:19-20
Welcome to SBD. Through the sundays of Lent leading up to Easter we’re focussing on one of the central events in the Christian faith, the cross of Jesus Christ. In these last weeks we have seen how the cross deals with our guilt (justification), our slavery (Redemption) and our shame (cleansing/expiation). This week we’re going to focus on how the cross deals with our alienation. We’re going to think about how the cross reconciles. We’re going to do that by looking at some verses from our reading in Colossians 1 on page … vv19-20.
What do I mean by alienation? Here’s an ancient story.
Once a man and a woman lived in an unimaginable paradise. They had everything they could possibly want. They enjoyed an intimate relationship with God, with one another and with the world in which they lived. They had a freedom to know and to explore.
But, they chose to betray the trust God had given them… Soon, instead of rushing to meet him, they hid from him; instead of selflessly loving one another, they began to blame and accuse; instead of developing the richness of their home, they experienced it as a place of frustrating labour. The story ends with an eviction. The couple are exiled to the east, from where no good thing can come. They are alienated from God, from one another and from home.
The Jewish Intellectual Edward Said, begins his essay Reflections on Exile with these words: “Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.”
Now, I am sure many of you are familiar with that story from the opening chapters of the Hebrew Bible. It’s a story which has been told by Jews and Christians for thousands of years. It gives an account of our experience of tense sadness in the world.
See on the one hand we’re aware that the world is a place of great beauty and goodness. It is full of endless riches and feels like home. [Science museum - Testament to the work of human discovery and ingenuity for the common good - you can watch IMAX 3D film about life under the oceans ..extraordinary - coral reef, touch it. - miracle: on a precise day once a year the coral spawns - new life… ] endless riches.
But, we are also aware that the world is a hard place in which to make our home. often something is wrong. We feel displaced. Something is wrong. [Our work in the world, without which we feel less than human, often feels nothing like discovery for the common good. And more like slog and frustration. It can easily become selfish. Those same coral reefs that regenerate every year cannot do so fast enough to counter their destruction caused by human greed. Great beauty and goodness in the world but…something is deeply wrong
We’re aware too that human beings are extraordinary creatures with an intense ability to create and to love. This last week i cam across another amazing growing charity operating in Hackney. The happy baby community provides support for women who are pregnant or have small children and are survivors of trafficking. But, we are also aware that human beings struggle to get on. We argue, we fight, we wage war, we retreat from one another. [Syria: 450k dead in 7 years/national, racial, class pride - we flock with those like us, we love those who love us. Roots of Bitterness can set in.
Finally, many people are aware that there is more to the world than meets the eye. There is a sense of something, maybe somebody, which is transcendent. [Walk the city. encounter churches, temples, synagogues, meetings in homes where - something transcendent is being sought] But, we’re also aware that the transcendent is elusive. We often ignore it or struggle to find it. When we encounter it we often recoil from it or reject it or hate it. [Last week have you found even yourself withdrawing from God?].
All this is what it means to be alienated from the world, from each other, from God. We live east of Eden.
Now the story says that When alienation sets in there is need for reconciliation. Parties who are set against each other need to be brought back together. Severed relationships need to be mended and restored. The ancient Jewish prophets imagined humanity reconciled to God, to each other and to the world. They called it, Shalom, Peace. [Extraordinary set of images to imagine what that will be like Wolf/lamb; child/snakes nest] All things will be reconciled
Colossians 1:19-20 tells us that God has already done that comprehensive work of reconciliation through the blood of Christ shed on the cross. Have a look at it.
Notice first God’s passionate desire for reconciliation. God takes the initiative. ‘God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Christ’ [Many of us when we fall out with each other. We specialise in the silent sulking approach, you don’t say anything but you let the other person know that they have deeply wounded you and you wait for them to come and talk to you] Colossians 1 says God does not sulk in a corner brooding over how mean human beings have been to him. Rather, he draws close. He holds nothing back. He is pleased to allow all his fullness to dwell in Christ who dwells with us in order that he might reconcile all things to himself.
Notice too that reconciliation is costly. The God who draws close in Christ does so to shed his blood on the cross. It’s about violent death. At one level we know that reconciliation is costly. If you have ever fallen out with someone then it will often take a lot out of you emotionally, spiritually and physically to restore the relationship. Have you ever felt that? And the greater the offence, the greater the cost particularly if you are the innocent party.
[Marilyn Robinson’s novel Home is the sister novel to her acclaimed Gilead. It tells the story of Glory Boughton - a teacher in her 40s who has never married and returns home to care for her dying Father. At the same time her youngest brother, Jack, the prodigal son, who has been gone twenty years, returns home seeking refuge and to make peace with the past. He is welcomed with love.. But reconciliation is costly. Old wounds are opened. Deep hurts and regret. And the fear of a repeat performance looms..
Reconcilation is costly. The greater the offence the greater the cost particularly if you are the innocent party.
God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to himself all things… by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.
God draws close as the rejected creator and lover in order to make peace with his creatures who have chosen to be… his enemies.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[g] your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—
Enemies? Now you might say.. hang on a minute. Isn’t that overstating the case? I might not be that interested in God but I am not his enemy. We may not be on speaking terms but I don’t wish him any ill.
Maybe it’s only when we get up close to the God of the Bible that we realise we might be his enemy after all. See, what if I said to you that this God says that He alone is the way to spiritual life and you can contribute nothing, you must come to him. What if I said to you that this God demands that you serve him with every part of your life that he has given you? What if I said to you that this God says you can hold nothing back from him? He wants everything.
Maybe you don’t feel quite so neutral towards him then. Maybe we say ‘no’ and we fight him for control of our life. Maybe it’s not so far fetched to say that we are his enemies in need of reconciliation.
Neither is it simply a one sided affair. As if we don’t like God and that hostility on our part just needs to be overcome by some good PR. We just need to see how great God actually is. No, the enmity is on both sides. Our human rejection of God, our taking of the gifts but rejecting the giver. Our human self-love. Living like we are God. All this that the Bible calls sin - has provoked God’s righteous, holy anger.
We have rejected God in his world and he is perfectly within his rights to reject us. It’s a punishment we perversely welcome and deserve.
But still he comes after us in love. Even while we are still his enemies he loves us and he gives himself for us. In the shedding of his blood he does the costly work of reconciliation. In Christ, God takes upon himself his anger against our sin so that we will never have to bear it. He takes our place. This is an incredible discovery.
Once when i was at university and a foolish young man, I inadvertently had managed to offend this guy who was a bit of a nutter. Apparently he was on his way round to my house to ‘kill me’ some friends of mine waited outside my house to bar his way incase he came. All the time i was totally unaware that this was happening - I was sleeping in my bed (suffice to say the misunderstanding was cleared up). But look, we were in terrible danger, having rejected God, perhaps we weren’t even aware of it. But while we were sleeping soundly in our beds, Jesus met that danger in our place and dealt with it. In paying for our sins Jesus absorbs the deep brokenness and alienation which have invaded reality and he mends it. He makes possible a new relationship between God and humanity, within humanity and between humanity and the world. In all the circles of our alienation He creates and brokers peace.
The Apostle Paul says an extraordinary thing in Ephesians 2 – he says, “Christ is our peace”. That’s unique. All the prophets of the world’s religions in one way or another call their followers to live lives of peace; all the people of good will who do the hard work of reconciliation from marriage counselling to inter-community relations to international diplomacy invite people to make peace. But, here we are promised that there is a man in whom dwells all the fullness of God and he is our peace!
This is an extraordinary claim.
[Imagine: Tony Blair – UN Envoy for Middle East – Jerusalem “I am your peace!” unimaginable. (actually maybe you could imagine it but would be ridiculous. no mere human being would make that claim.] Christ is our peace. An extraordinary claim.
Let me end by working that out in the three circles of alienation where Jesus reconciles all things to God. First of all he turns us from being God’s enemies to being God’s friends as we trust in him. Access to God! He allows us to draw near to God the Father with confidence. Important to hear that because Maybe some of us are fearful of drawing near to God. We think that we’re not good enough. Maybe some of us are working hard to try and get close to God. Maybe some of us have allowed ourselves to grow distant from God. Listen: Jesus is our peace. Rest in Him. There is hope. [This is the great reality of adoption. Through union with Christ the Son, we now have the same Father. Jesus taught his disciples to pray Our Abba. More intimate word than Father.. more respectful than Daddy. Dad. Pray to your Dad in heaven. This is who he is to you. You who were once God’s enemies as you rest in Christ’s reconciling work - you now are able to call him Abba]
But, secondly Jesus our peace restores us to relationship with one another. If you put two or more human beings together for any length of time then conflict will emerge. There are no exceptions. Our default is to quickly blame each other. Or retreat into our comfortable tribes. The good news of the Gospel is that Christ is our peace. If we rest in him and see the cost of our reconciliation then maybe we stop blaming the other and are open to forgive. Christ our peace can and does restore broken human relationships. [CTC Europe. Prague, Urban church plants 50 different cities, 20 European countries. Our best friends - the Germans. Berlin and Hamburg guys.. Communion - moving because 100 years ago.. and again 75 years ago our ancestors were killing one another. And now we break bread together because Christ is our peace.]
In the church of Jesus Christ, God is creating a new humanity - a disparate people, enemies, people who are chalk and cheese - he makes us One in Christ. Jesus says doesn’t he: ‘Don’t just love those who love you (who are like you) - everyone does that. Love your enemies.. Love the different. Love those who are difficult to love. Then you’ll be true children of your Father in heaven.’ In our church, in your workplace, at the schoolgates - move beyond your comfort zone - talk to people you’ve never talked to before. Find out about them. Christ is our peace. We commit ourselves to the peace of our church and our communities and our world because of Christ.
Finally, Jesus our peace ultimately reconciles the whole created order to God – all things whether on heaven or on earth. His body in which God’s fullness dwells, is raised from the dead. He promises that in and through this body the whole material created order will be renewed. We will one day no longer be alienated in this world. It will once again be our home. So, in and through Christ our peace we anticipate that life now. We seek the good of the earth. We pursue shalom. Because we know in Christ who is our peace there is hope.
Christ is our peace. Through him God has reconciled to himself all things in heaven and on earth by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.
The idea of being clean through and through. Body and soul and mind. Pure, white as snow is very appealing isn’t it. To be clean, fresh, light and clear. That’s what we’re thinking about today.
As we’re approaching Holy week and Easter in this season of Lent we are thinking about the Cross; the death of Jesus and what it achieves;
It Rescues us from Judgement
Redeems us from Slavery
and today we’ll see that the Cross removes our Dirt and ShameRead More
The scriptures preach to us the multifaceted achievements of the cross. The death of Jesus rescues us from judgement, removes our shame, reconciles us to God.
and - what we’re thinking about today - The cross Redeems you
To redeem is to purchase something or more accurately to buy something back. It’s the language of the pawn shop where I redeem my property - i pay to get it back.
Or it’s the language of ransoming a hostage or liberating a captive slave. Purchasing freedom.
The cross of redemption tells you what you are really worth. what you are worth to God.Read More
The cross (accompanied by the resurrection) is the means by which humanity is brought back into relationship with God, with one another and with our very selves. It is the place of salvation, healing and restoration rescue.
It transforms our human destiny and can transform our lives now..Read More
While there is a place for an appeal to emotions, or reason or conscience - here Paul focuses on a different reason for being generous. In a word it’s what the Bible calls ‘grace’. As you may know grace is underserved favour – it’s getting something good – when you deserved the opposite. Paul thinks it’s at the heart of generosity.Read More
We're thinking about church; about the Christian community.
Community, real relationships - to know and be known, to love and be loved is something we all long for. It’s inherent to our humanity. The God in whose image we are all created is in himself a community of loving relationships. The glorious Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
When humanity fell out of relationship with this God - we also lost one another. Community is fractured at every level of existence.
So.. part of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ, his restoration of humanity back to the image of our creator is to bring us back into true community together, Christ is our peace. And the beginnings of that - the full realisation will only be seen when Jesus returns to establish his kingdom - but the beginnings, the first fruits is the Christian church.
Church is not a human institution. It’s not an optional extra that you can tick or leave when you become a Christian. As if being a Christian is just about my personal relationship with Jesus which occasional church attendance may or may not resource. No, becoming a Christian means being incorporated into Christ’s body - the church. Becoming part of the new humanity.
Furthermore It is for the sake of the watching world outside that the church exists
The church at its heart has a missionary dynamic. That’s what we’re thinking about today.Read More
What is it that no one else knows about you?
Maybe there are details of your life that you would hate to be disclosed. The idea fills you with dread, with terror. A decision you wish you’d never made; an event you want to forget, a pattern of behaviour that you can’t shake. Maybe it’s not something you did but something done to you. Perhaps you wrestle with tormenting thoughts and feelings that you are convinced no one will understand.
Secrets. We all have them. Human nature seems wired to withhold and tuck away areas of our lives we deem undesirable. The best option seems to be keeping our secrets in check and out of sight.
We dare not come into the light to show who we truly are because we fear shame and we fear rejection.
But there’s great danger in keeping secrets hidden. Secrets have the power to hurt everyone you know and love.Read More
A small boy was at church with his dad and asked, "Dad what are those names carved into the walls?”
“That’s a list of names of people who died in the services,” his Father answered.
The boy’s eyes widened. “The morning or the evening services?”
We’ve been talking about the centrality in the plans of God of this peculiar thing called church!
The church is the beginnings of God’s New world. Humanity restored in his image.
It’s the community that all people are made for!! Come to church!
Here’s the story we told last week:
God the Trinity.. God who is in himself the perfect community of persons united in love -Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 3in1
Creates humanity in his image - that is, to be in community. Relationships are at the heart of what it means to be human.
That community is lost and broken when humanity breaks contact with God
But is now being restored again by Jesus Christ IN THE CHURCHRead More
Here’s a radical conviction:
That it is inside the church that is found THE community that we were all made for and that we all long for. All people
Does church matter? Does church have a future?
it is inside the church that is found THE community that we were all made for and that we all long for. The church is where it’s at. It is the showhome of the New Creation!!! It is the trailer for the main event!!!Read More
This last week I had the privilege of holding a newborn child in my arms. The first son of my friends Emily and Saadat: Ezekiel Hasan Jesper Mir. Less than a week old. Beautiful little lad. I held him and he cried a few tears. And you know how it is the parents anxiously try and work out why he’s crying: is he hungry? it is wind? has he filled his nappy? is it just Giles’s face? Why’s he weeping?
And it reminded me of part of a Christmas poem written by William Blake to a newborn child entitled ‘A song.’ It goes like this:
Sweet babe, in thy face
Holy Image I can trace;
Sweet babe, once like thee
Thy Maker lay, and wept for me:
Wept for me, for thee, for all,
When He was an infant small.
why’s he weeping? For us!Read More
The season of Advent.
Advent means coming and this season exhorts us to think deeply about the coming of God to us..
Did you know that God is not distant; nor is he indifferent to our troubles..
He has come to us in the past - Christmas, the child in the manger.
He does come to us in the present - he meets with us by his Spirit
And he will come to us again in the future - the promised second coming of Christ to judge the world and restore all things.
The advent of God.
In our passage today, 700 years before the first Christmas - the prophet Micah predicts that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. That this child would be a King who’s greatness and peace will one day fill the earth. And so Micah’s great Advent theme is HOPE. I wonder how is your hope? Your hope for the world, for your family, for yourself. Sometimes in our frailty we can feel hopeless. But Micah says to us God is coming - in your weakness be people of hope.Read More
In december before Christmas day it is the christian season of advent
It’s all about waiting
But not just waiting for Christmas day
Advent is all about waiting for God to come
because you always have to wait for God. alwaysRead More
Last week Greta, my daughter, said La La Land had arrived on Netflix so Saturday evening we watched it. Her for about the 6th time. If you haven’t seen it – I’ll try not to spoil it.
I was struck by how a song in the middle of the film summed up a lot of what was going on. It’s when Mia is auditioning and they say – tell us a story. She talks/sings about her aunt in Paris and how she got her into acting. The chorus is:
Here's to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here's to the hearts that ache
Here's to the mess we make
I thought that summed up a lot of the film because it’s all about two people’s dreams. Their hopes and ambitions – to be a film star, run a jazz club. And you see how those dreams – drive them in life. Lead them to do rubbish jobs, make certain decisions about relationships.
I think – those dreams drive them too much and other things get sacrificed. But you get a clear picture of dreams driving life.
I mention that because this passage talks about the future – thinking of advent and God coming – and that raises questions of what we are looking forward to – hoping for – dreaming of.
Or more – if we’re Christians or were to become Christian – what does God say about the future - what should we dream of?Read More