4/9 2017 Lord’s day sermon review

There is a connection between God’s promise of the inheritance and Israel’s mission. What is it? God swore to give the Promised land to the people of Israel. However, Israel had to prepare itself and conquer the Canaanites. God’s free gift of inheritance in the Promised land became their life-long mission. Think about my life. What did God freely promise to me? God promises me eternal life in heaven and blessed fellowship with Him. God justified me on the virtue of Jesus’ death, life and resurrection. I’m so richly blessed with this spiritual blessing in Jesus Christ. Now that God has justified me, what should be my mission? My mission has to be what God has declared to me. God declared that I’m righteous. My goal in this life should be therefore sanctification. Furthermore, the reason God blesses me with so much is that I may share God’s blessing with other people. Look at pastor James. He is gifted with gift of teaching. He doesn’t keep it himself. Rather, he uses his gift diligently for edification of our church. Such should be my life, too. Whatever gift I have from God, whatever talents I have, I should use them diligently for serving God and serving neighbors.

From chapter 6 to chapter 12, weird thing happens. Seemingly contradictory thing happens. That is, even though God clearly goes before Israel to drive out the Canaanites, Israel fails to drive out some of the Canaanites. Why is this? This illustrates two realities of God’s sovereign rule over all creatures and our responsibility as free moral agents.

Jesus Christ is our true Bread from heaven, our Life and Resurrection. He earned for us all the spiritual blessings and inheritance. Actually, HE is our true Inheritance. He is the Living Water, Wisdom from God, our righteousness, sanctification and redemption.

God dispenses his gift according to his infinite wisdom and sovereignty. He remains equitable. He is not unfair when he gives more gift to one and less gift to another. God knows who we are and what we are capable of. God is in perfect control. And God sent his only Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins so that we can be made right with God and to live a perfect life of obedience so that we can be declared positively righteous.

Let me not forget that we are all equal in justification but may differ in degree when it comes to sanctification. In justification, it is God who does all the work. In sanctification, however, we become active participant and instrument of God in his work of renewing our image according to the image of Jesus Christ. I should work hard to be sanctified. I have to diligently use the means God appointed for my growth. My actions are not irrelevant. Rather, my actions are even necessary for sanctification. But there is no human boasting for even sanctification is the work of God’s free grace.

Josh. 24:29-33
04/02/2017
“Three Burials”

The Book of Joshua ends with three burial notices: of Joshua, of Joseph, and of Eleazar. These notices are quite short. The main point of all three notices seems to be this: each of them was buried in the land of his own inheritance. Only Joshua’s burial notice has an extra element added at the end, a short historical note: “Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the LORD did for Israel” (v. 31). While this is a positive statement, there is an undeniably ominous tinge to it. It evokes the question, What about the next generation, then? Thus, it sets up for the next book, the Book of Judges, in which we see a gradual degeneration of Israel’s spiritual condition.

Why does this book end with these burial notices? And what lesson does God want to receive from them?

Joshua’s Death and Burial
The Book of Joshua ends with Joshua’s death and burial. This is a natural ending to the book, which bears his name. Such was the way the previous book, Deuteronomy, ended–with Moses’ death. Many of you know that Deuteronomy is the last of the Five Books of Moses. As it was appropriate for the Books of Moses to end with the death of Moses, so it was for the Book of Joshua.

This is not because the Book of Joshua is his autobiography: it is much more than that. In fact, we don’t get much biographical information about Joshua in this book. We only know which tribe he belonged to and whose son he was. (And the book says nothing about Nun, Joshua’s father, either.) It begins with Joshua’s succession to Moses’ position as the leader of Israel, not with his birth narrative. And while Joshua is certainly the main human character in this book, it is clear that the true protagonist is God Himself. Joshua’s death points to this. Having finished his work, Joshua dies. But the story of God does not end with Joshua’s death. It continues on. In fact, his burial is not the final story: it is followed by two more burials. And we are told that the elders who had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel outlived Joshua. They continued to serve the Lord, who cared for Israel before Joshua became the leader of Israel and who would continue to care for Israel long after Joshua passed away.

In this world, everything comes to an end–for human beings and other creatures, it’s death; for things, it’s destruction or decay. Nothing is 100% guaranteed in this life except death. Joshua lived to be 110 years old. In those years, Joshua witnessed and experienced amazing things: the anguish and humiliation of abject slavery in Egypt; the return of Moses with nothing but a shepherd’s staff and the power of God’s presence; the awesome power of God that destroyed Egypt and delivered Israel from the Egyptian bondage; God parting the Red Sea; God leading them with the pillar of cloud and fire; the awe-inspiring sight of the glory-cloud descending on Mount Sinai and the terror of God’s voice speaking directly to Israel; God’s daily provision of manna during their wilderness journey; God stopping up the Jordan River; God obliterating the wall of Jericho at their shouting; God bringing the Canaanite nations to their knees one by one and at times one alliance after another; and the people of Israel receiving their inheritance in the land and settling down in it after all those years, just as God promised! And Joshua had the privilege of being used as God’s instrument in accomplishing some of these amazing feats! And at the end of this book, Joshua is finally called “the servant of the LORD” (v. 29), just as Moses was. But now the time has come for him to depart from this world.

Here is a quiet yet solemn reminder that our days are numbered. Unless Jesus returns anytime soon, we are all going to die–from the poorest to the richest, the dumbest to the brightest, the meekest to the most powerful, from the youngest to the oldest. Death does not discriminate or play favoritism. Death is an equal opportunity Monster. Some of us may live to be over 100 like Joshua. Many of us won’t make it that long. But we will not exit the world in the order we entered it. So, we better get acquainted with the idea of death. If we ignore it and deny it, we do it to our own peril. Seneca observed how we complain about not having enough time and yet live like we have all the time in the world. We don’t have all the time in the world. There will be the last time your child will fall asleep in your arms, hold on to your hand to walk, need you to change his diaper, need you to drive her around, live in your house, etc. There will be the last time you go to work, or play your favorite sport. There will be the last time you take a walk with your loved one, speak to your children and laugh with them. There will be the last time you take a gulp of refreshing water and enjoy a delicious meal. There will be the last time you take in a breath of air. We must make the best use of whatever time God has given us (Eph. 5:16).

Joshua died at a ripe age of 110. We don’t feel sorry for his death. Why? Is it simply because he lived a long life? Not really. Rather, it was because his death was a peaceful, blessed ending to a life well lived in service of God and His people: he finished fighting the good fight and running the race set before him. And Joshua left an excellent legacy, too: “Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the LORD did for Israel” (v. 31).

But the most important point of Joshua’s death, I believe, is this: “they buried him in his own inheritance at Timnath-serah…” (v. 30). Unlike Moses, Joshua died in the Promised Land and was buried in his own inheritance. Here we have a strong testimony (with a sense of closure) that the land of Canaan has been given to the descendants of Abraham just as God promised them. God is faithful and He has kept His promise to His people and to Joshua particularly. For, along with Caleb, he was the only one in his generation, who was allowed to enter the land and take possession of it.

The Burial of Joseph’s Bones
The second burial notice is regarding Joseph. Joseph was not Joshua’s contemporary, as Eleazar the high priest was. Joseph had died a long time ago in Egypt and was buried there. But when he died, he made the people of Israel swear that they would take his bones and bury him in the Promised Land when God would deliver them from Egypt. So, at the time of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, his people brought his bones along with them (Ex. 13:19).

Obviously Joseph’s request showed his desire for the Promised Land. He knew that he was richly blessed by God. It was not easy to be sold as a slave, and by his brothers at that. It was not easy living away from his family in a faraway country without knowing anyone and having anyone to depend on. But in his loneliness, he learned to depend on God and wait on him. This was the most valuable lesson he could ever attain, worth much more than all the time he spent in slavery and imprisonment, much more than every drop of tear he shed in loneliness and sorrow, much more than all those times he desperately asked, “Why?” and felt no one heard him, not even God.

We get attached to people and things. We feel like we cannot live without them. Then, they are taken away from us. We are devastated and yet life goes on. We even feel guilty that we can go on living. But we realize that what has been taken away from us is not what has sustained us. It has been God all along. The people that have loved us and cared for us were merely the instruments whom God used to take care of us. The things we have been so attached to were merely the gracious gifts which God blessed us with. It is not the laws of nature, which hold the universe together; it is the power of God. What are the laws of nature anyway? They are the multi-faceted manifestations of the providential power of God, by which He upholds and sustains the universe! It is He whom we should trust and hold on to. His instruments are wonderful and precious gifts. But they will come and go when they have served their purpose as God’s gracious instruments. But God is faithful through them all, never leaving us nor forsaking us.

Indeed, God did not disappoint Joseph. Against all odds and best of his hopes, God made him Egypt’s prime minister, second only to Pharaoh. As such, he lived a life of luxury and privilege. And he had the joy of saving his family from starvation. He understood why he had to suffer so much earlier on. He understood that his suffering was not in vain; it was for God’s good and redemptive purpose. But he could not have everything in this world, even as Egypt’s prime minister. He knew that the privilege to live in the Promised Land was not his. He himself was an instrument of God. And he also knew that Egypt was not his home. If he could not live in the land that God promised for His people, he wanted to be at least buried there. With his request Joseph showed that his ultimate hope lay with God and His promise to His people. And God granted Joseph’s wish.

God is faithful. And He desires to give what is good to His people. If He doesn’t give us what we ask for, it’s not because He doesn’t love us or He is not capable. It may be because we are not ready. A Tesla may be a cool car to receive as a gift but it is of no use to a kindergartener, at least not yet. And our heart being a factory of idols, we may not have the spiritual maturity to enjoy what we ask for without making it into an idol, which will take our heart away from God.

We must also remember that our relationship with God doesn’t exist in isolation. Yes, there are times when we have to go into our closet to spend time alone with God. And God is able to give each of us His full attention. He is able to detect the smallest changes in our mood and hear the slightest whimper of our soul. But He is not just my God. He is your God, too. He is the God of all peoples and nations. His plan, His eternal decree, involves not only our life and our affairs but also the lives and affairs of everyone and everything in this universe. In His infinite wisdom the timing of God’s answer to you prayer may be related to what’s going on in my life, what’s going on in the White House–in fact, to everything else that is happening in the whole universe! Everything must be aligned according to God’s perfect plan before He answers my prayer.

One of the most important factors is God’s redemptive plan. God doesn’t do things randomly and haphazardly. God does everything according to the counsel of His will. God did not give the land to Abraham when He called him. He and his descendants had to wait four hundred years because the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet complete (Gen. 15:16). You see, Israel’s possession of the land and the sins of the Amorites were intimately connected. That’s why Joseph could not live in the Promised Land no matter how much he wanted. But his desire to be at least buried in the land was granted. Some of our prayers will not be answered in our lifetime. But God is faithful and He will not forget our prayers even after we have been long gone. He is faithful and He will see it through in His perfect timing!

The Burial of Eleazar the High Priest
The third burial notice is regarding Eleazar the high priest. We haven’t heard much about Eleazar in the Book of Joshua. But he had an important role in the distribution of Israel’s inheritance. Why? If you recall, the distribution of the land was by casting lots to discern the will of God. This fell under Eleazar’s responsibility as the high priest. When Joshua was appointed as Moses’ successor, the Lord said, “And [Joshua] shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the LORD.” The Urim and the Thummim, which were sometimes simply called the Urim as here, were associated with the breastplate that the high priest wore (Lev. 8:8). This breastplate was also called “the breastplate of judgment” (Ex. 28:30) because it was used to divine God’s will.

Why is Eleazar’s death mentioned here? Joshua was the undisputed leader of Israel. But he was not the only one. There were elders. There were tribal leaders, too. But for the theocratic nation that Israel was, the role of the high priest was obviously one of the most important ones. In a theocratic nation, the church and the state are inseparably connected; in fact, the state is under the authority of its religion. The sanctuary is therefore not only the center of its religious life but also its national life as a whole. And it was the high priest who was in charge of the sanctuary and its worship. So then, the fact that Eleazar died would be notable news because of the significant role he played in the life of Israel. But it would not be anything extraordinary because everyone dies in the end. It was his turn.

But the New Testament presents this phenomenon as an evidence for the deficiency of the old covenant order of things–not the death of Eleazar particularly but the deaths of priests in general: “This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:22-25).

This shows us that we don’t view things in a vacuum. What we see and think about it depends on the inner filter we have, through which we process it. Many people call it one’s worldview. It is a complex set of what we think the world is like as well as what we think the world ought to be. Our mind does this because we cannot absorb everything that happens in our life. Since so much is happening all around us, we need to filter out what is not important so we can focus on what is important for our survival and sanity. Our perception of reality is only a tiny sliver of it. It is humbling to think that we are not as objective as we think we are. (And if we remember this and refrain ourselves from rash judgment of others and their motives, we may not have as many conflicts as we do now.)

Human beings are unique also in the sense that we don’t just observe how things are; we also cannot help but think about how things ought to be. This is what propels people to invent new things and engage in socio-political, moral reforms. But there’s more. Such things are merely earthly reflections of eternity God has placed in our heart (Eccl. 3:11). We have a deep longing for eternal life, a world where there is no death, no goodbyes. The fact that Eleazar died may be the most natural thing in the world. But the Bible presents a different perspective. According to this perspective, death is not just scary and tragic–scary because it is a great unknown and tragic because it robs us of everything we hold dear in this life; it is also unnatural. What is most natural in this fallen world–that which is 100% guaranteed–becomes the most unnatural and even despicable thing from the heavenly perspective.

It might have seemed only natural that the Levitical priestly system had to be dynastic in nature–that is, each generation of priests to be replaced by the next. How else can it be when everyone dies? But God’s creational intent for man was not death, all the vibrancy and vitality of life swallowed up by the nothingness and meaninglessness of death: God had a better plan for His people–an eternal life with Him. Even the best arrangement we can make in this world is but elementary and pathetic in comparison. Seen from this perspective, even the best possible arrangement in this world is elementary and pathetic in comparison. The most basic function of the Levitical priesthood was to offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins. But how efficacious could that system be if the priests themselves had to succumb to death, which is the wages of sin?

Conclusion
From this heavenly, eternal perspective, we can see the limitations of the Promised Land. It may seem like an earthly paradise, a land flowing with milk and honey, in which people lived a long, prosperous life and died peacefully at a ripe age. But is that the epitome of human existence or happiness? Even in the Old Testament God told Aaron and his priestly descendants, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel” (Num. 18:20). From the heavenly perspective, the land of Canaan was one big cemetery where the dead were buried. That has not changed at all: that reality continues on to this day and will continue on. Many refuse to be daunted by this reality. They face death head on and accept its reality and inevitability. Instead of subjecting themselves to despair, they use the fact of death to motivate themselves to live each day more fully. And their efforts are admirable and inspirational. But each and every one of their stories will end with a burial notice. Whatever the sentence of their lives might have been, its inevitable end will be that final punctuation mark.

This was true of all men, except Jesus Christ. (Yes, Enoch and Elijah did not taste death. But Jesus is unique in that He rose again from the dead, having conquered sin and death.) By His death and resurrection, He showed that death is not the final punctuation of our life. Death is not the worst part: “just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Heb. 9:27). This is why Jesus had to be greater than Joshua, Joseph and Eleazar.

Jesus is greater than Moses and Joshua. He did not come to take possession of an earthly paradise. He did not come all the way from heaven to restore a plot of land to the nation of Israel, which was not much more than a burial ground! As the greater Joshua, He came to bring His people to the heavenly Paradise where His people can live forever in the presence of God Himself!

Jesus is greater than Joseph whose last wish was to be buried in the land of Canaan. Jesus came to die on the hill of Calvary. And He was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. But that was not His final destination. He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven. He is there to prepare a place for us in heaven, not in Egypt as Joseph did for his family.

Jesus is greater than Eleazar. Eleazar was a faithful priest but his ministry ended when he died. Jesus “holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:24-25).

Let us not put our hope in this fallen world, which will be our burial ground in the end. Let us live our life in joyful anticipation of our imperishable, undefiled, unfading inheritance in heaven. If this world, fallen as it is, can offer so many things of beauty and delight, how much better will be the new heaven and the new earth, glorified and perfected! Death is inevitable. But for those who are in Christ Jesus, it is no longer a punishment for our sin; it is rather a launching pad for our flight into heaven. Such a wonderful arrangement Christ made for us should be all the more reason that we fight the good fight and finish the race that is set before us with all our might.

© Copyright 2017 by Jeong Woo “James” Lee
All Rights Reserved.

Josh. 24:28

Josh. 24:28
04/09/2017
“A Review of Joshua”

If you were to summarize the Book of Joshua in one word, what would that word be? I believe it is the word, “inheritance.” Consider the four major divisions of Book of Joshua:

Chs. 1-5: the preparation for the conquest of the Promised Land;
Chs. 6-12: the conquest of the Promised Land;
Chs. 13-22: the distribution of the Promised Land;
(Chs. 23-24: covenant renewal in the Promised Land and the burial notices of three individuals in their respective land of inheritance.)

The Promised Land is of course what God promised to Abraham and his descendants as their inheritance. So, even in v. 28, we are told that “every man [went back] to his inheritance.”

The Preparation for the Conquest of the Promised Land (Chs. 1-5)
What did Israel do in preparation? There were some practical things that Israel had to do, such as sending out the spies and crossing the Jordan. But there are two things that are quite unusual or unexpected. The first is that there is no mention of any military training. This is not to say that there was none. As we mentioned on numerous occasions, the Bible does not mention every fact. It mentions only the things that are pertinent to the truth God wants to communicate. But the fact that no military training is mentioned is significant.

Add to this what is mentioned: a covenant ceremony of sorts in setting up the twelve stones of witness (Ch. 4); the circumcision for the new generation as well as the celebration of the Passover (5:1-12). We can easily see the religious nature of these incidents. What about Joshua’s encounter with the commander of the angels (5:13-15)? Interestingly, the point of this encounter wasn’t any discussion of military strategy; rather, it was more religious in nature. The command he gave to Joshua was to take off his sandals because the place he was standing was holy.

All these things point to the true nature of Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan. It was not just a military affair. It was not just to forcefully acquire a territory for this nomad people. It was first and foremost a holy, sacred war. Israel was God’s instrument of bringing divine punishment to the Canaanites because their iniquity reached the full measure of sin (Gen. 15:16). It was a way of cleansing the land of sin by the blood of the perpetrators. This is why it was important for the people of Israel to purify themselves by receiving circumcision; to renew their covenant with God by celebrating the Passover. This is why the commander of the angels reminded Joshua that the ground he was standing on was holy.

Here we see a close connection between God’s gift (the inheritance of the land) and Israel’s mission. This may not sound very pleasant at first but God’s gift is not just for our enjoyment. We may not like gifts with strings attached. Of all people, we expect God’s gifts to be this way since He is generous and He has no need.

But it is precisely because God is generous and good that His gift is not just for our enjoyment. Listen to what Linda Sattgast says about the life of the foolish rich man in one of Jesus’ parables: “Those who GET, / But never GIVE,/ Choose a foolish / Way to live. / When that night / The rich man died, / Not one person / Even cried” (Linda Sattgast, The Rhyme Bible Storybook, “The Poor Rich Man,” p. 372). That is no way to live, is it? Consider the Dead Sea–how it came to be what it is. While it is fed with the water from the Jordan River, it does not have an outlet: all the water just sits there, trapped. The result is that now nothing can live there (except some micro organisms) because of the high concentration of salt and other minerals that have built up. Such will be our life if we just receive and receive and not use God’s blessings for a greater purpose (of serving God and serving others around us). If God loved us, He could not, and should not, spoil us rotten to our own destruction!

Think also about how our joy is multiplied when we bless and enrich the lives of others. (The story of a couple with their extra $400.)
I hope you can take some time to count your blessings and give God the kind of gratitude He deserves from you. I also hope that you would think about why you have been blessed so richly. What do you think is the “mission” for which God has blessed you? How can you advance the kingdom of God in the world, in your home, in your heart? How can you let other know of Jesus’ glory, beauty, love and goodness?

The Conquest of the Promised Land (Chs. 6-12)
The next section deals with the actual conquest of the Promised Land, starting with Jericho. This section starts slowly with an extensive account of Israel’s battle against Jericho. Then the pace picks up and it climaxes with a long list of the kings conquered under Moses and Joshua. The main point of this section seems to be two-fold: 1) God went before them to drive out the Canaanites and conquer the land; 2) But not all the Canaanites were driven out of the land because of Israel’s timidity. These two points seem contradictory, don’t they? If God was responsible for chasing out the Canaanites, why should it fall short because of Israel’s timidity?

The two points are not contradictory to each other. They actually point to the complexity of our Christian life, which is a delicate intersection of two realities at work. One is the reality of our responsibility as free moral agents. The other is the reality of God’s sovereign rule over all His creatures and all their actions, including those of human beings.

What do these two points communicate? First, the Israelites could not have conquered the land on their own: they came to possess the Promised Land only by God’s gracious intervention. Second, God’s grace does not eliminate man’s responsibility (although it does eliminate man’s boasting). This is why there seems to be a “mixed message” in Joshua: on the one hand, Israel came to possess the land just as God promised; on the other hand, Israel failed to drive out all the Canaanites.

There was no way Israel could fail to take possession of the land: it was God’s gracious promise to Israel and as such it was 100% guaranteed (including the gift of Israel’s faith). If God’s plan can be frustrated, if His will can fail in any way, He is not God–at least, not the God of the Bible: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isa. 46:9-12). We can say that God determined the exact extent of Israel’s conquest from the foundation of the world–down to how many Canaanites would survive and who each of them should be. That meant Israel could not succeed beyond this point or fail below this point. But this was not because God actively prevented them from achieving more. You see, we should not think that Israel was good and God predestined its failure. It’s the other way round: Israel in its sinfulness could not obtain the land on its own but God in His grace granted the land to Israel.

Because He is extending His grace to sinners, there are some areas in which He must do everything–that is, He must accomplish His will in spite of our inadequacies and failures: we are totally passive beneficiaries of God’s work. Think about the Ten Plagues by which God brought Pharaoh on his knees in defeat. Israel did not contribute anything to this. They just reaped the benefits of God’s work. Think also of the crossing of the Red Sea. Did Israel contribute anything to the parting of the sea? Nothing, absolutely NOTHING! God did it all. All Israel had to do was just cross the sea on dry ground. This corresponds to our justification. “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (WSC, #33). In justification, God pardons all our sins because Jesus died for our sins; He accepts us as righteous in His sight because Jesus lived a life of perfect righteousness for us. Our justification is based on what Jesus did for us, outside of us, without any contribution from us.

But there was also a definite sense in which the extent of their conquest and the quality of their life in the land depended on the Israelites–not absolutely but partially, not as the cause but as an instrument. As such, Israel was called to be an active participant in His work. Think of Israel’s crossing of the Jordan River. Unlike the Red Sea crossing, the priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant had to step into the flooded river before it was cut off. Also think of Israel’s conquest of Jericho and other Canaanite nations. Israel could not just sit back and watch God destroy them. They actually had to pick up their swords and fight the battles, each and every one of them.

God wanted Israel involved in the battle as an active participant; God wanted Israel to know that it had a definite, significant role in it. This could only work in the direction of falling short of what God commanded because of its sinfulness, of course. This was an unfortunate yet unavoidable consequence of God working with fallen sinners who are not irrelevant in His redemptive plan. Israel could not possibly take any credit for its victory at Jericho (and for all the battles that followed) since their circling and shouting in and of itself obviously had no power to bring down Jericho’s wall. But their actions were necessary. Maybe it’s like being invited to a royal wedding. Is your presence necessary for the wedding to happen? No, there need to be only the bride and the groom, the officiant, and two witnesses (at least in California). But your presence and that of other guests play an important role in making the wedding what it is, especially in its festivity. Of course, no analogy is perfect but it somewhat explains the nature of the role Israel played.

This corresponds to our sanctification. “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness” (WSC, #35). In sanctification, God works in us (as opposed to working for us, outside of us, as in justification). God must work in us because the goal of sanctification (and salvation as a whole) is to renew us in the whole man after the image of God. This renewal is not as simple as switching out one computer program with another. This renewal involves change of our character.

Character is not something that just happens because we read an insightful book or hear an inspiring speech. Character formation is likened to construction of a building, one brick at a time. It is formed by a gradual accumulation of each thought we entertain, each word we speak (both to ourselves and to others), each choice we make, each action we take, each habit we form. God’s work in us is intimately involved in this process: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). What an awesome idea this is that God works in and through us, even our inadequacies and failures! We are part of His redemptive work–not only as the beneficiaries of His grace but also as the instruments of His work.

So, as far as justification is concerned, we are all equal–Paul is not more justified than the thief who believed in Jesus as he was dying on the cross next to Jesus. But as far as sanctification is concerned, there are varying degrees of sanctification among us. From the eternal perspective, even the degree of our sanctification is determined by the measure of grace God assigned to each of us. But this belongs to the secret things of God (Deut. 29:29). All we know is that we are called to trust in the Lord and engage in the works of faith. So, from the practical standpoint, we can say that the degree of our sanctification depends (at least partially) on our work of faith. This leads to our third point.

The Distribution of the Promised Land (Chs. 13-22)
What do we learn from the way God distributed the land? The first lesson is that God is sovereign in dispensing His gifts to His people. This is shown by the fact that the land was to be distributed by casting lots: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Prov. 16:33). Can we argue with this? He is the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth. All things belong to Him, who made them all out of nothing. As the Owner and Master of all things, He can do what He wills with them, can’t He? Jesus said in one of His parables, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me” (Matt. 20:15)? Paul too asked, “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use” (Rom. 9:21)?

The second lesson is that God is equitable in His dispensation of gifts to His people: He does so according to His infinite wisdom and perfect knowledge of who we are and what we are capable of. We saw that in the order in which the land was distributed to the tribes–the tribes with more significant roles in Israel’s history received their inheritance first–for instance, Judah and Ephraim, which later became the dominant tribes in the divided kingdom. And the larger tribes received larger portions in the land. The people of Joseph (Ephraim and a half tribe of Manasseh) complained that their portion was too small for their number. But it turns out that the lot itself was large enough, just not enough ready-made, inhabitable area. Joshua gently chides them to clear the forest within their portion.

We complain to God at times, not because God is unfair or tight-fisted, but because what He gives is not exactly what we want and how we want it. We must remember that God’s gifts to us come in two types: those that give us pure pleasure and delight, such as delicious fruits and breathtaking landscapes; and those that are designed to make us stronger, such as various trials in life, which stretch us and challenge us to grow stronger in faith and deeper in wisdom. Matsushita Konosuke, the founder of Panasonic, was once asked about the key to his success. He replied,

“I was able to succeed because I have been blessed with three things. First, I was born into an extremely poor family. So I had to work from my childhood, shining shoes and delivering newspapers. Through them I gained a lot of helpful experiences for living. Second, I was not healthy as a child. So I had to be very intentional about exercising and as a result I was able to maintain good health. Third, I could not finish the grammar school. So, I considered all the people in the world to be my teachers and applied myself diligently to constantly educate myself” (as quoted by Ok Pyo Jun in Winning Habit, translated from Korean by James Lee).

What a convicting lesson!

Conclusion
We talked about the close connection between Israel’s inheritance and Israel’s mission. We also talked about Israel’s inheritance as God’s gracious gift and Israel’s role in obtaining it and enjoying it. And we just talked about God’s sovereignty as well as His wisdom in dispensing Israel’s inheritance to the twelve tribes. How about us who live on this side of the cross? We saw the connection between our salvation and the Great Commission that is entrusted to us. We also saw the equality of our justification (all the Jews living in the Promised Land) and the varying degrees of our sanctification (the extent of Israel’s conquest of the land and the quality of Israel’s life in the land). We also saw how God sovereignly grants us differing gifts for service.

While we see the parallels, we also see the differences, too, don’t we? The Book of Joshua is about Israel’s conquest of Canaan as their inheritance. The New Testament is about the church’s inheritance of heaven and eternal life in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Pivotal Point–from Israel to the church of Jesus Christ, from a holy war to a spiritual war (the Great Commission), from the earthly inheritance to the heavenly inheritance, from types and shadows to substance and fulfillment. In fact, Jesus is the Life and the Resurrection. Jesus is the Bread from heaven and the Living Water. Jesus is the Wisdom from God, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30). He is our true Inheritance, in whom we have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places!

Although we are finishing up with the Book of Joshua, our Christian life continues on. Let us persevere in faith, for Christ is our great Joshua. He has put to death sin and death by His death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day. Thus He won for us all of heaven and every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. Let us march to the drumbeat of the Great Commission. Let us strive to be in sanctification what God has declared us to be in justification and this by faith in Jesus Christ, our justification and sanctification and glorification! And let us faithfully exercise our gifts to build one another up to the glory of our God!

© Copyright 2017 by Jeong Woo “James” Lee
All Rights Reserved.

Sermon

Josh. 24:14-28
3/26/2017
“Joshua Made a Covenant with the People”

Why are we here? Why do we come to worship service week after week? One of the pitfalls that come with religious freedom is the consumer mentality in religion. What the people with that mentality care about the most is, “What does this religion have to offer to me? How can its community and worship benefit me?” Why is that a problem? When we approach anything in that way, especially our religion, we care more about what we like or what we want rather than what is true. This is a problem because what we want and what we like may not be what is good for us.

What about Christian worship? Why does God call us to worship Him? Surely, His intention is to bestow His blessings on His people. And this is welcome news. Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the challenges we face in life and we want some assurance that everything will be OK. Sometimes we feel lost and we are desperate for some direction. Sometimes we are discouraged and we can use some inspiring words. But what is worship? As a compound word made up of “worth” and “ship,” it means to acknowledge God’s supreme worth. It is something we give to God. Then, what is worship? What’s supposed to happen during our worship?

Today’s passage deals with Israel’s covenant renewal. We are going to see how it applies to our life, to our worship, under the new covenant, if at all. We are going to see whether this covenant renewal is unique to the Mosaic Covenant or common in all administrations of the covenant of grace. And if there’s anything unique, why and in what ways.

I just said that what we see in today’s passage is a covenant renewal. But doesn’t v. 25 say, “So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day”? But it was not a new covenant; it was a renewal of the Mosaic Covenant, which was ratified at Mount Sinai. We say this because the content of this covenant was no different from the Mosaic Covenant. At Mount Sinai, after hearing the law God gave through Moses, the people responded, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient” (Ex. 24:7). In this covenant, too, the people of Israel promise, “The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey” (v. 24).

Throughout Israel’s history, we see the Mosaic Covenant being renewed on different occasions. In fact, the first instance took place almost right after its ratification. Israel broke their covenant by building a golden calf and worshipping it while Moses was communing with God up in Mount Sinai. Upon witnessing Israel’s idolatry, Moses threw down the two tablets of stone (Ex. 32:19) upon which God inscribed the Ten Commandments with His own finger (Ex. 31:18). The smashing of these stone tablets was a dramatic picture of the covenant broken. The tablets represented the terms of the covenant, which Israel promised to keep. These tablets were like the contract papers. As such they were to be kept in the Ark of the Covenant.

God was ready to destroy Israel but He spared them at Moses’ request. (Of course, God did not really intend to destroy Israel and had to be held back by Moses’ wise counsel. It was rather to show the gravity of their idolatry–Israel deserved to be destroyed for their sin. But it was also for the purpose of testing Moses as the leader of Israel. Through all this, God was pointing us to Jesus Christ, our ultimate Mediator and Advocate.) The covenant thus broken so soon, it had to be renewed. So God renewed His covenant with Israel by giving them another set of stone tablets. (And interestingly here, too, God says, “Behold, I am making a covenant” [Ex. 34:10] while He is simply renewing the covenant.)

We can also see the Book of Deuteronomy as a covenant renewal. The exodus generation perished in the wilderness for their unbelief and rebellion. A new generation arose in their place to enter the Promised Land and take possession of it. So, Moses read the Law again (which is what Deuteronomy means) and the new generation renewed the Mosaic Covenant as the new beneficiaries of the covenant.

How about the renewal Joshua officiated here in this passage? It was prompted by his challenge to Israel to choose whom they would serve–the Lord their God or the pagan idols of Gentile nations. The people of Israel responded positively. And despite Joshua’s discouraging words–“You are not able to serve the Lord…”–they persisted on their pledge to serve the Lord alone. So Joshua made a covenant with Israel on behalf of God (which was to renew the covenant already ratified at Mount Sinai). This was appropriate, now that Israel had begun living in the land and their leader was about to pass away.

Israel renewed the covenant again under Josiah’s reign. This came after a long time of Judah’s apostasy. By this time, Israel was divided into the southern kingdom (Judah) and the northern kingdom (Israel). From its inception, the northern kingdom was in rebellion against God and His temple. The southern kingdom, Judah, was the continuation of the Davidic kingdom (as David was from the tribe of Judah). When Josiah inherited the throne, the temple was in disrepair and the law of God was long forgotten. While repairing the temple under Josiah’s religious reform, Hilkiah the high priest found the Book of the Law. When Josiah heard the Law, he tore his clothes in sorrow and fear because he understood the reason for Judah’s shame and misery: God promised to punish His people with covenant curses if they disobeyed Him and sought after the pagan idols. So, Josiah made a covenant with the Lord to walk after the Lord and keep His commandments and so did the people of Judah (made up of the tribes, Judah and Benjamin).

Something similar happened with the post-exilic community under Ezra and Nehemiah. After restoring the wall of Jerusalem, the people celebrated by having Ezra read the Law of Moses. When they heard the Law, they were deeply convicted by their failure to keep the law of God. This led to the renewal of their covenant with God (Neh. 9:38).

But covenant renewals were not unique to the Mosaic Covenant per se. The Abrahamic Covenant was renewed many times. The covenant was inaugurated in Gen. 12 when God called Abram. It was renewed in Gen. 15 when God passed through the path of self-malediction between the rows of cut up animals. It was renewed again when God instituted circumcision as the sign of the covenant. This was renewed again when Abraham passed the test and showed that he loved God more than his son Isaac. Of course, this covenant was renewed with each of the succeeding generation of the Patriarchs, namely Isaac and Jacob.

Why was it renewed so many times? When God renewed the covenant in Gen. 15, Abraham found himself in a dangerous position after getting involved in a war when he rescued Lot and his family. In Gen. 17, it was after Sarai and Abram resorted to their way of acquiring an heir through Hagar, Sarai’s handmaid. God appeared and renewed His covenant to Abraham when he felt vulnerable and weary of waiting.

God established the Davidic Covenant in 2 Sam. 7 after rejecting David’s plan to build a temple for God. The Lord promised to establish David’s throne forever. This covenant was renewed to Solomon after he built the Jerusalem Temple (1 Kings 9:4-5).

You can see some obvious differences between these and the Mosaic Covenant, can’t you? Think about the circumstances in which the Mosaic Covenant was renewed. Those renewals were occasioned by Israel’s breaking of the covenant and their recognition of the need to renew their commitment to the covenant. So the people took the initiative to renew their covenant with God. In contrast, God took the initiative in renewing the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. Why the difference?

We get a clue in Jer. 31. There God promised to establish a new covenant with His people: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband…” (Jer. 31:31-32). When God said He would establish a new covenant, He implied that there was an old covenant–“the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.” This referred to the Mosaic Covenant.

How would the new covenant be different from the old covenant? God declared that the new covenant would be “not like the [old] covenant… that they broke….” The old covenant was a breakable covenant, which the people of Israel indeed broke. The new covenant would be an unbreakable covenant.

How can the Mosaic Covenant be breakable? Didn’t we affirm that the Mosaic Covenant was an administration of the covenant of grace? And if it is a covenant of grace, it cannot be broken, can it? Grace is God’s favor extended to sinners. The sinfulness of sinners, their inability to keep God’s law, is presupposed. When God established the covenant of grace, He did so with His omniscient, full knowledge of our sinfulness. He does not get shocked and dismayed because we are more sinful than He thought! That is why the covenant of grace cannot be revoked or broken. A covenant of works, like the covenant of life God made with Adam, is bilateral–that is, it requires man to fulfill certain conditions to receive the blessings of the covenant. As such, a covenant of works is breakable. The covenant of grace, on the other hand, is unilateral in nature–that is, it is not contingent on how we perform but wholly dependent on God’s sovereign grace toward us.

Does this mean that the old covenant (i.e., the Mosaic Covenant) was a covenant of works? No, we have already pointed out in previous sermons the peculiar feature of the Mosaic Covenant: while it was an administration of the covenant of grace, it included in it the Law and its works principle. Why? Paul explains in Gal. 3 that the law was added to the covenant of promise (i.e., the covenant of grace), which God made with Abraham. Notice: it was added to the covenant of promise, not given to replace the covenant of grace with a covenant of works. So Paul says, “Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Gal. 3:21-22).

As you can see, the law was added in order to expose Israel’s (and the fallen man’s) total inability to meet the divine demand for holiness and righteousness. But simply to chide and condemn Israel for its failure was not the ultimate goal. It was actually to drive the people of Israel to what the covenant of promise actually promised: our salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, the promised Offspring of Abraham. The law was a diagnostic tool to expose Israel’s true spiritual condition so that it would turn to the divine Physician for healing and life.

But the law served another important function: it put forth the standard which the Messiah must fulfill in order to earn our redemption. You see, the grace of a righteous God could not be an arbitrary act. It had to satisfy His demand for justice and therefore had to be a righteous grace. Such a righteous grace of God required a deposit of righteousness, which our Savior made on our behalf with His life of perfect righteousness.

So then, under the overarching theme of grace, there was within the old covenant an administration of law and works principle. It was with regard to this aspect that the old covenant was said to be broken. And if the people of Israel felt the need to renew the covenant again and again, it was because the covenant was indeed broken–many times–as we saw. So then, is there any need for covenant renewal under the new covenant, which is the covenant of grace fulfilled?

Michael Horton claims that our Lord’s Day worship is actually a covenant renewal ceremony. Interestingly, a Bible study resource available at Calvin College website points to a parallel between the covenant renewal in our passage and our Christian worship. Here are some points of parallel:

1. The people were called by Joshua to assemble before God: “Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem…. And they presented themselves before God” (v. 1). This is also what happens at the beginning of our worship when the Call to Worship is issued.

2. Joshua spoke for God and retold the story of God’s great and mighty deeds for His people (vv. 2-15). This is what happens in our worship through the reading and preaching of God’s Word as well as in our songs.

3. The people responded to God, specifically by renewing their commitment to serve God alone and obey His commandments (vv. 16-24). This is what we do in our worship when we sing our hymns of adoration and response, when we give our offerings.

4. This covenant renewal was solemnized by a written record and a stone of witness (v. 26). We do not keep a written record of our weekly worship (but we do keep track of all the baptisms performed and all the Lord’s Supper celebrated in our session minutes). Of course, the Bible is our covenant record. And in the place of a stone of witness, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a covenant meal as a sign and seal of the new covenant in Jesus Christ.

5. Joshua dismissed the people to return to their own homes (v. 28). So, we too are dismissed from worship with a divine benediction at the end of our worship.

(http://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/worship-as-covenant-renewal-bible-study-/)

You can see how our worship can be considered our weekly covenant renewal. But while there is a close resemblance in structure, there is a big difference in emphasis and mood. What was the emphasis in Israel’s covenant renewal? It was Israel’s certain failure to keep their covenant obligation and the threat of God’s covenant curses for their idolatry and disobedience. Although Israel’s renewed commitment was very much commendable, a dark cloud of failure tragedy hung over their future.

What about our new covenant worship? The reality of our sinfulness and shortcoming is certainly there as we confess our sins before God. But our confession is immediately followed by the divine assurance of forgiveness. Not because our confession is as sincere and heartfelt as it should be. How does our confession measure up to the resolve and sincerity with which Israel made their commitment to the Lord? But God extends His forgiveness freely and willingly on account of Jesus’ sacrifice for us!

Is there any need for us to renew our commitment to the Lord in our new covenant worship? We said that the covenant of grace is a unilateral covenant, in which God promises to do even what is required of us. We saw how it was God who renewed the covenant again and again to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to David and Solomon. Even so, a covenant is a covenant. In its narrow sense, a covenant may just refer to the contract (as in a legal document). But in its broad and full sense, it refers to the actual relationship between the parties involved. The new covenant is certainly initiated by God and fulfilled by Christ (without our help). But why did God do what He did in Jesus Christ? “[O]ne has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15).

As you can see, even the new covenant requires our response–a response of faith and gratitude and worship and service. Abraham responded with faith when God renewed His covenant to him (Gen. 15:6). And we are called to believe and trust in the Lord–not only for the forgiveness of our sins but also for a holy living. We are called to renew our commitment to love Him with all our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are called to renew our commitment to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, as our spiritual worship to Him, because of the great mercies He has shown to us in Christ (Rom. 12:1).

This idea of our worship as a covenant renewal compels us to approach it in a radically different way, doesn’t it? It doesn’t allow us to have a consumer mentality, coming to worship service just to receive something from God, from the message, from the officers and even from other, more active members of the church. Of course, God is gracious and, when He calls us to worship, His heart is full of fatherly love to bless His dear children–so dear and precious to Him because He paid a costly price of His Son to adopt us as His children!

But when as our worship is a covenant renewal, can we just sit back and expect God and others to serve us? As we are reminded of how God first loved us, we are called to renew our love, our first love, to our loving and gracious God. As we are reminded of God’s faithfulness to us, we are called to renew our commitment to God. God’s goal in saving us is not to just keep us on heaven’s social welfare program; rather, it is to enable and empower us to be and live as thriving, productive citizens in the kingdom of heaven. The feeling of being forgiven is so profound and awesome that we wonder whether God can gift us with anything better. Yet, grace upon grace, God wants us to experience the awesome feeling of God working in us, conforming us to the glory and beauty of Christ, allowing us to feel useful and significant as we participate in His work of providence and redemption!

The former Navy Seal, Eric Greitons, says that what the veterans need more than anything is not sympathy and pity; what they really need is a new purpose for their lives, which is noble enough to replace what they lived and were willing to die for when they were in the military! As God’s children, as Christ’s disciples, we are given the noblest purpose in life–to live our life for the most glorious and wonderful God and in the process do things of eternal significance and lasting impact. Our worship, our weekly covenant renewal, reminds us what our life is about–no longer living for ourselves and our petty, selfish dreams but for Him who died and rose again from the dead for us. This gives us clarity of our vision. How important it is to be reminded that, though Christian life is hard, it is simple. And if it seems complicated and complex, it’s probably because we are trying to do the impossible–serving two masters, both God and our self. Let us renew our faith and commitment to serve Him! As we do so, may we experience our Christian life and worship becoming even more vibrant and richer! For it is not the dark cloud of certain failure, which hangs over us. Though it is undeniably present, it is being dispelled by the brilliance and power of the light of Christ!

© Copyright 2017 by Jeong Woo “James” Lee
All Rights Reserved.

Lord’s day sermon

Josh. 24:29-33
04/02/2017
“Three Burials”

The Book of Joshua ends with three burial notices: of Joshua, of Joseph, and of Eleazar. These notices are quite short. The main point of all three notices seems to be this: each of them was buried in the land of his own inheritance. Only Joshua’s burial notice has an extra element added at the end, a short historical note: “Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the LORD did for Israel” (v. 31). While this is a positive statement, there is an undeniably ominous tinge to it. It evokes the question, What about the next generation, then? Thus, it sets up for the next book, the Book of Judges, in which we see a gradual degeneration of Israel’s spiritual condition.

Why does this book end with these burial notices? And what lesson does God want to receive from them?

Joshua’s Death and Burial
The Book of Joshua ends with Joshua’s death and burial. This is a natural ending to the book, which bears his name. Such was the way the previous book, Deuteronomy, ended–with Moses’ death. Many of you know that Deuteronomy is the last of the Five Books of Moses. As it was appropriate for the Books of Moses to end with the death of Moses, so it was for the Book of Joshua.

This is not because the Book of Joshua is his autobiography: it is much more than that. In fact, we don’t get much biographical information about Joshua in this book. We only know which tribe he belonged to and whose son he was. (And the book says nothing about Nun, Joshua’s father, either.) It begins with Joshua’s succession to Moses’ position as the leader of Israel, not with his birth narrative. And while Joshua is certainly the main human character in this book, it is clear that the true protagonist is God Himself. Joshua’s death points to this. Having finished his work, Joshua dies. But the story of God does not end with Joshua’s death. It continues on. In fact, his burial is not the final story: it is followed by two more burials. And we are told that the elders who had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel outlived Joshua. They continued to serve the Lord, who cared for Israel before Joshua became the leader of Israel and who would continue to care for Israel long after Joshua passed away.

In this world, everything comes to an end–for human beings and other creatures, it’s death; for things, it’s destruction or decay. Nothing is 100% guaranteed in this life except death. Joshua lived to be 110 years old. In those years, Joshua witnessed and experienced amazing things: the anguish and humiliation of abject slavery in Egypt; the return of Moses with nothing but a shepherd’s staff and the power of God’s presence; the awesome power of God that destroyed Egypt and delivered Israel from the Egyptian bondage; God parting the Red Sea; God leading them with the pillar of cloud and fire; the awe-inspiring sight of the glory-cloud descending on Mount Sinai and the terror of God’s voice speaking directly to Israel; God’s daily provision of manna during their wilderness journey; God stopping up the Jordan River; God obliterating the wall of Jericho at their shouting; God bringing the Canaanite nations to their knees one by one and at times one alliance after another; and the people of Israel receiving their inheritance in the land and settling down in it after all those years, just as God promised! And Joshua had the privilege of being used as God’s instrument in accomplishing some of these amazing feats! And at the end of this book, Joshua is finally called “the servant of the LORD” (v. 29), just as Moses was. But now the time has come for him to depart from this world.

Here is a quiet yet solemn reminder that our days are numbered. Unless Jesus returns anytime soon, we are all going to die–from the poorest to the richest, the dumbest to the brightest, the meekest to the most powerful, from the youngest to the oldest. Death does not discriminate or play favoritism. Death is an equal opportunity Monster. Some of us may live to be over 100 like Joshua. Many of us won’t make it that long. But we will not exit the world in the order we entered it. So, we better get acquainted with the idea of death. If we ignore it and deny it, we do it to our own peril. Seneca observed how we complain about not having enough time and yet live like we have all the time in the world. We don’t have all the time in the world. There will be the last time your child will fall asleep in your arms, hold on to your hand to walk, need you to change his diaper, need you to drive her around, live in your house, etc. There will be the last time you go to work, or play your favorite sport. There will be the last time you take a walk with your loved one, speak to your children and laugh with them. There will be the last time you take a gulp of refreshing water and enjoy a delicious meal. There will be the last time you take in a breath of air. We must make the best use of whatever time God has given us (Eph. 5:16).

Joshua died at a ripe age of 110. We don’t feel sorry for his death. Why? Is it simply because he lived a long life? Not really. Rather, it was because his death was a peaceful, blessed ending to a life well lived in service of God and His people: he finished fighting the good fight and running the race set before him. And Joshua left an excellent legacy, too: “Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the LORD did for Israel” (v. 31).

But the most important point of Joshua’s death, I believe, is this: “they buried him in his own inheritance at Timnath-serah…” (v. 30). Unlike Moses, Joshua died in the Promised Land and was buried in his own inheritance. Here we have a strong testimony (with a sense of closure) that the land of Canaan has been given to the descendants of Abraham just as God promised them. God is faithful and He has kept His promise to His people and to Joshua particularly. For, along with Caleb, he was the only one in his generation, who was allowed to enter the land and take possession of it.

The Burial of Joseph’s Bones
The second burial notice is regarding Joseph. Joseph was not Joshua’s contemporary, as Eleazar the high priest was. Joseph had died a long time ago in Egypt and was buried there. But when he died, he made the people of Israel swear that they would take his bones and bury him in the Promised Land when God would deliver them from Egypt. So, at the time of Israel’s exodus from Egypt, his people brought his bones along with them (Ex. 13:19).

Obviously Joseph’s request showed his desire for the Promised Land. He knew that he was richly blessed by God. It was not easy to be sold as a slave, and by his brothers at that. It was not easy living away from his family in a faraway country without knowing anyone and having anyone to depend on. But in his loneliness, he learned to depend on God and wait on him. This was the most valuable lesson he could ever attain, worth much more than all the time he spent in slavery and imprisonment, much more than every drop of tear he shed in loneliness and sorrow, much more than all those times he desperately asked, “Why?” and felt no one heard him, not even God.

We get attached to people and things. We feel like we cannot live without them. Then, they are taken away from us. We are devastated and yet life goes on. We even feel guilty that we can go on living. But we realize that what has been taken away from us is not what has sustained us. It has been God all along. The people that have loved us and cared for us were merely the instruments whom God used to take care of us. The things we have been so attached to were merely the gracious gifts which God blessed us with. It is not the laws of nature, which hold the universe together; it is the power of God. What are the laws of nature anyway? They are the multi-faceted manifestations of the providential power of God, by which He upholds and sustains the universe! It is He whom we should trust and hold on to. His instruments are wonderful and precious gifts. But they will come and go when they have served their purpose as God’s gracious instruments. But God is faithful through them all, never leaving us nor forsaking us.

Indeed, God did not disappoint Joseph. Against all odds and best of his hopes, God made him Egypt’s prime minister, second only to Pharaoh. As such, he lived a life of luxury and privilege. And he had the joy of saving his family from starvation. He understood why he had to suffer so much earlier on. He understood that his suffering was not in vain; it was for God’s good and redemptive purpose. But he could not have everything in this world, even as Egypt’s prime minister. He knew that the privilege to live in the Promised Land was not his. He himself was an instrument of God. And he also knew that Egypt was not his home. If he could not live in the land that God promised for His people, he wanted to be at least buried there. With his request Joseph showed that his ultimate hope lay with God and His promise to His people. And God granted Joseph’s wish.

God is faithful. And He desires to give what is good to His people. If He doesn’t give us what we ask for, it’s not because He doesn’t love us or He is not capable. It may be because we are not ready. A Tesla may be a cool car to receive as a gift but it is of no use to a kindergartener, at least not yet. And our heart being a factory of idols, we may not have the spiritual maturity to enjoy what we ask for without making it into an idol, which will take our heart away from God.

We must also remember that our relationship with God doesn’t exist in isolation. Yes, there are times when we have to go into our closet to spend time alone with God. And God is able to give each of us His full attention. He is able to detect the smallest changes in our mood and hear the slightest whimper of our soul. But He is not just my God. He is your God, too. He is the God of all peoples and nations. His plan, His eternal decree, involves not only our life and our affairs but also the lives and affairs of everyone and everything in this universe. In His infinite wisdom the timing of God’s answer to you prayer may be related to what’s going on in my life, what’s going on in the White House–in fact, to everything else that is happening in the whole universe! Everything must be aligned according to God’s perfect plan before He answers my prayer.

One of the most important factors is God’s redemptive plan. God doesn’t do things randomly and haphazardly. God does everything according to the counsel of His will. God did not give the land to Abraham when He called him. He and his descendants had to wait four hundred years because the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet complete (Gen. 15:16). You see, Israel’s possession of the land and the sins of the Amorites were intimately connected. That’s why Joseph could not live in the Promised Land no matter how much he wanted. But his desire to be at least buried in the land was granted. Some of our prayers will not be answered in our lifetime. But God is faithful and He will not forget our prayers even after we have been long gone. He is faithful and He will see it through in His perfect timing!

The Burial of Eleazar the High Priest
The third burial notice is regarding Eleazar the high priest. We haven’t heard much about Eleazar in the Book of Joshua. But he had an important role in the distribution of Israel’s inheritance. Why? If you recall, the distribution of the land was by casting lots to discern the will of God. This fell under Eleazar’s responsibility as the high priest. When Joshua was appointed as Moses’ successor, the Lord said, “And [Joshua] shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the LORD.” The Urim and the Thummim, which were sometimes simply called the Urim as here, were associated with the breastplate that the high priest wore (Lev. 8:8). This breastplate was also called “the breastplate of judgment” (Ex. 28:30) because it was used to divine God’s will.

Why is Eleazar’s death mentioned here? Joshua was the undisputed leader of Israel. But he was not the only one. There were elders. There were tribal leaders, too. But for the theocratic nation that Israel was, the role of the high priest was obviously one of the most important ones. In a theocratic nation, the church and the state are inseparably connected; in fact, the state is under the authority of its religion. The sanctuary is therefore not only the center of its religious life but also its national life as a whole. And it was the high priest who was in charge of the sanctuary and its worship. So then, the fact that Eleazar died would be notable news because of the significant role he played in the life of Israel. But it would not be anything extraordinary because everyone dies in the end. It was his turn.

But the New Testament presents this phenomenon as an evidence for the deficiency of the old covenant order of things–not the death of Eleazar particularly but the deaths of priests in general: “This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:22-25).

This shows us that we don’t view things in a vacuum. What we see and think about it depends on the inner filter we have, through which we process it. Many people call it one’s worldview. It is a complex set of what we think the world is like as well as what we think the world ought to be. Our mind does this because we cannot absorb everything that happens in our life. Since so much is happening all around us, we need to filter out what is not important so we can focus on what is important for our survival and sanity. Our perception of reality is only a tiny sliver of it. It is humbling to think that we are not as objective as we think we are. (And if we remember this and refrain ourselves from rash judgment of others and their motives, we may not have as many conflicts as we do now.)

Human beings are unique also in the sense that we don’t just observe how things are; we also cannot help but think about how things ought to be. This is what propels people to invent new things and engage in socio-political, moral reforms. But there’s more. Such things are merely earthly reflections of eternity God has placed in our heart (Eccl. 3:11). We have a deep longing for eternal life, a world where there is no death, no goodbyes. The fact that Eleazar died may be the most natural thing in the world. But the Bible presents a different perspective. According to this perspective, death is not just scary and tragic–scary because it is a great unknown and tragic because it robs us of everything we hold dear in this life; it is also unnatural. What is most natural in this fallen world–that which is 100% guaranteed–becomes the most unnatural and even despicable thing from the heavenly perspective.

It might have seemed only natural that the Levitical priestly system had to be dynastic in nature–that is, each generation of priests to be replaced by the next. How else can it be when everyone dies? But God’s creational intent for man was not death, all the vibrancy and vitality of life swallowed up by the nothingness and meaninglessness of death: God had a better plan for His people–an eternal life with Him. Even the best arrangement we can make in this world is but elementary and pathetic in comparison. Seen from this perspective, even the best possible arrangement in this world is elementary and pathetic in comparison. The most basic function of the Levitical priesthood was to offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of sins. But how efficacious could that system be if the priests themselves had to succumb to death, which is the wages of sin?

Conclusion
From this heavenly, eternal perspective, we can see the limitations of the Promised Land. It may seem like an earthly paradise, a land flowing with milk and honey, in which people lived a long, prosperous life and died peacefully at a ripe age. But is that the epitome of human existence or happiness? Even in the Old Testament God told Aaron and his priestly descendants, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel” (Num. 18:20). From the heavenly perspective, the land of Canaan was one big cemetery where the dead were buried. That has not changed at all: that reality continues on to this day and will continue on. Many refuse to be daunted by this reality. They face death head on and accept its reality and inevitability. Instead of subjecting themselves to despair, they use the fact of death to motivate themselves to live each day more fully. And their efforts are admirable and inspirational. But each and every one of their stories will end with a burial notice. Whatever the sentence of their lives might have been, its inevitable end will be that final punctuation mark.

This was true of all men, except Jesus Christ. (Yes, Enoch and Elijah did not taste death. But Jesus is unique in that He rose again from the dead, having conquered sin and death.) By His death and resurrection, He showed that death is not the final punctuation of our life. Death is not the worst part: “just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Heb. 9:27). This is why Jesus had to be greater than Joshua, Joseph and Eleazar.

Jesus is greater than Moses and Joshua. He did not come to take possession of an earthly paradise. He did not come all the way from heaven to restore a plot of land to the nation of Israel, which was not much more than a burial ground! As the greater Joshua, He came to bring His people to the heavenly Paradise where His people can live forever in the presence of God Himself!

Jesus is greater than Joseph whose last wish was to be buried in the land of Canaan. Jesus came to die on the hill of Calvary. And He was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. But that was not His final destination. He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven. He is there to prepare a place for us in heaven, not in Egypt as Joseph did for his family.

Jesus is greater than Eleazar. Eleazar was a faithful priest but his ministry ended when he died. Jesus “holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:24-25).

Let us not put our hope in this fallen world, which will be our burial ground in the end. Let us live our life in joyful anticipation of our imperishable, undefiled, unfading inheritance in heaven. If this world, fallen as it is, can offer so many things of beauty and delight, how much better will be the new heaven and the new earth, glorified and perfected! Death is inevitable. But for those who are in Christ Jesus, it is no longer a punishment for our sin; it is rather a launching pad for our flight into heaven. Such a wonderful arrangement Christ made for us should be all the more reason that we fight the good fight and finish the race that is set before us with all our might.

© Copyright 2017 by Jeong Woo “James” Lee
All Rights Reserved.