February 17, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Joshua 1:1-9
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
Through much of Epiphany we looked at several different prophetic books that were addressing the fact that Israel would either be going into the Babylonian exile or coming out of that exile. The fact of the matter is that exile is a major theme in scripture, we notice it especially in the Old Testament – but it is a pervasive idea, lying in the background in the New Testament as well.
This morning we find Joshua, the successor of Moses on the eve of entrance into the promise land. In this case, Israel is returning from exile in Egypt. While their forty years of wandering in the desert was a result of sin, just as the Babylonian exile was because the house of Judah has become recalcitrant – it would seem their exile in Egypt itself was much more to show God’s faithfulness to His people and foreshadow a greater deliverance from a greater exile to a greater promise land.
Now, before we focus in on the text, we need to understand what the greater exile and greater promise lands are. The greater exile is the exile which occurs in Genesis chapter 3, the fall of mankind, the exile from the Garden of Eden, the perfect temple garden where humanity was to walk with God and enjoy His good gifts.
Humanity was not designed to live in the sinful state that we know, we were not design to live apart from God – but rather as the Westminster Catechism aptly puts it – the chief end of man, that is humankind, is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. However, instead, our first father Adam chose to rebel, chose to eat the forbidden fruit – first so that that he could have godlike powers, and secondly because the temptation seemed so great.
There are few sections of scripture that are as utterly important to understand as Genesis one through three because it reveals so much about God and humanity. It reveals that God’s creation is good – it reveals that God delights in His creation. It reveals what humanity was meant to be – we were meant to walk with God in the garden in the cool of the day. It reveals why we struggle, why we cry ourselves to sleep, it reveals why there is so much pain in the world around us – the sinful rebellion of our first father, and the curse that has separated us from God. It reveals the first exile of humanity.
For in the rebellion of Adam and Eve, in their choosing to set themselves up as their own gods they made a choice to leave the garden and when God sent them out of the garden – we find the first exile in scripture, the exile that we know how it will come to an end, but has not yet come to an end.
As we take an overarching view of scripture we see foreshadows of what will come – we see types, as in prototypes, of greater promises – in this sense Moses and Joshua are types of Christ. That is to say they are foreshadows of Him, but Christ is the better Moses and the better Joshua for in Christ’s wandering in the desert for forty days he was tempted but did not sin, and in Christ we find entrance into the greater and better promised land.
What is this promise land? This promise land is the re-created heaven and earth – it is the place that Revelation refers to as the “New Heavens and the New Earth” prepared as a bride. It is the city that has no temple because the whole city is where the Lord will dwell. For in that city mankind will dwell perfectly with God, we will yet again walk with God as we were deigned too, but yet knowing the wages and pain of sin we will delight to submit ourselves perfectly to His will. No longer will we desire to sin and satan will be caste away, no longer will he be able to tempt or accuse us.
For now, as Christians we live as exiles in a world full of death, horror, heartache, and sadness. Yes, there is joy to be had, this joy is but a glimpses of the future goodness. In fact – when we dwell in Christ we know the future joy that we will have, and we have glad hearts for the redemption that we find in Him. When we dwell in Christ we are learning to rejoice no mater how dark or dim they day may get. We learn to depend upon him and Him alone for He alone will not betray us, but is the great high priest, who can perfectly sympathize with us in the day and in the night for he has suffered, and felt shame. He is the good shepherd of our soul – not simply because he is God but because he is the God who became incarnate, walked among us, felt the same things we feel, suffered a profound pain and shame, and was raised from the dead, he is the God who died for us that we might live. He is the God who is leading us through our exile – into a greater promise land, into the New Heaven and New Earth, into the place where heaven and earth will connect perfectly for all of eternity.
This is where the church is heading, this is our exile life is our exile and the eternal heavenly kingdom is the promise land. So we learn to cling to our good shepherd – we learn to lean upon him so we can know that day when it fully comes.
And now, let us go back to Joshua as he learns of Moses’s death, Moses who lead Israel through the desert for forty years. But even Moses had rebelled against God and would not be permitted to enter into the promise land. For even Moses, who the author of Hebrews praises for great faith – lacked the faith to cling to God perfectly and so he dies without experiencing the promise land, and we look for a greater Moses. But first – Joshua takes up the mantle to lead Israel into the promise land, and we know that he will. The book of Joshua is about this triumph.
God takes the next few verses to reaffirm the promises made to Moses, the promises that he will be with His people as they enter into the promise land. He maps out the area of the promise land for Joshua.
But now we get to His promise and commandment, His promise and commandment were true for his people as they awaited entrance into that promise land and they stand as a reminder to us as we await entrance into the eternal and better promise land.
The first promise – “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” The Lord will not leave His people. The Israelites had sent spies into the promise land and they saw fierce armies and giants. They trembled and quaked and under Moses they did not trust God to deliver them. So God reminds them of the promise of the utmost importance – God is with them.
God is with us – the world around us may quake and tremble, we may see death come close to home, we may see empires rise and fall but God never quakes, God never trembles, God never dies, and His kingdom will remain for ever. Friends, God will never leave us, and never forsake us. So cling to him, rejoice in Him when life is Good, and run to him, and cry out to him when life makes no sense. For he is there, he is our good shepherd throughout all the stormy weather we may face.
Then the Lord says to Joshua – be strong and courageous – not once, not twice, but three times, each time unpacking what this means a little more deeply. It would be easy to turn this into an man-centered statement. I think – if our tradition were different and we did not wish to understand this passage appropriately – we might flash to an image of a centurion up on a screen and I could give you a pep talk about how important having a strong will is and so we need to stand up and fight for our faith.
But this is not Christian strength – no St. Paul talks about his weakness being his strength, that when he is weak is he strong. No, friends, Christian strength comes not from our inner will, not from some pep talk about how we need will ourselves into a deeper strength but from learning more and more to trust in Christ. So, God is calling us to be strong and courageous – but that strength and courage means throwing all our cares on Christ. It is not tapping some inner force – but recognizing our own frailty and leaning totally upon Christ.
As I was preparing this sermon I was thinking about the counter cultural ways in which Christians can be strong and courageous – not just for our own sake, but for the witness to Christ in our world. Here are some of the ways that I thought of:
Be strong and courageous in recognizing that despite the cultural narrative that all people are generally good we possess a sinful nature handed down from our father Adam. That we have a bend towards selfishness, towards wanting to be our own gods, towards rebelling against the God and creator of the universe.
Be strong and courageous in realizing we need a savior – that we need to have the humility to recognize that we are separated from God and only God can save us and reunite us to Himself.
Be strong and courageous in rejecting works righteousness, but leaning totally upon Christ.
Be strong and courageous in leaning not on our own understanding or our own works – but letting Christ use our weakness for his glory.
So, the Christian, too is called to be strong and courageous for the days are evil, as St. Paul says, but the strength we put on is the strength we find in Christ. The courage we find is from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the journey we are traveling on is the journey not towards an earthly promised land – but an eternal promise land.
As you may have figured out, I can be a little punchy at times, and I also find myself to be funny. I was thinking about this idea of the eternal promise land, the heavenly kingdom the other day and started to laugh. Many of us come from great privilege, we are well educated, we have lived in a reasonable amount of comfort. For us – it is hard to imagine the hardship of many of the Christians who have come before us and I think we struggle with clinging too tightly to this life. As I contemplated this I thought “man, if you think this life is good, just wait until the heavenly kingdom is instituted!” (this made me chuckle, but it is a serious thought as well).
One of the greatest tragedies of the health and wealth movement – is that is lacks imagination. They cannot imagine anything better than this life, and the muzzle the promise of eternity. They muzzle the glory of God – and cannot see that something far greater awaits us.
This world which we live in – the blessings we enjoy in the here and now pale in comparison to the eternal kingdom. So yes, be grateful for what you have now, give thanks to the Lord for that, give thanks for those who have made your life possible – but cling loosely to it, recognize that it can be gone in a blink of the eyes – and look forward to the eternal kingdom.
I realize that this can be a scary idea – we want security in this life – but our ultimate security is Christ and he is bringing us into the land that truly flows with goodness – flows with milk and honey. So cling loosely to the gifts of this life, and cling with all your might to Christ.
And when this life seems to slip away, when the gifts you have so readily enjoyed fade, when the world seems to shift cataclysmically – “do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed,” Why? “for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
As we prepare to enter the season of Lent, the season of remembering – Israel’s exile in the desert, the season of remembering Christ’s forty days of fasting, the season of remembering our own exile – this is the promise that we cling to. The Lord our God is with us. The Lord will not forsake us. So be strong and courageous in Christ. For it is Christ who is the ultimate good shepherd, bringing us into that eternal promise land flowing with milk and honey, and what a good promise that is.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.