Message: Heaven on Earth | Scripture: Joshua 4:10b-24 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
The result of God’s work to bring Israel out of its wandering and waiting results in a transformed people. Because of God’s faithfulness to them, they become captivated by the wonder of God’s providence and enter into the gift of his redemption with haste and with an eagerness to see what comes next. Further, as a result of all that God has done, they are in awe of the means by which he’s accomplished such things, and in particular, they are astounded with the messenger that he’s given to them in Joshua. Such awe and eagerness brings glory to God–a glory that is to be observed not only by those who are a part of Israel but by the whole world.
- How has the grace of God grown in your life and in the way that you’ve lived over the past year?
- What are some of the ways that you hope that you might be challenged in the growth of your faith in the coming year?
- When someone speaks of the “fear of the Lord,” how would you normally define what this is? What is the relationship between the “fear of the Lord” and a “love for the Lord”? Would you be able to connect these two ideas scripturally?
- How, in our lives, do we typically reflect a lack of desire or urgency when it comes to “getting to God”?
- Do we long for the day when we will be united with our God face-to-face? Why/why not? Do we consider our relationships in light of Christ’s promise that he will return, and that he will return soon? Why/why not?
- Why is being in awe of Joshua (v. 14) reflective of Israel’s having a proper fear in God (v. 24)?
- Why is it significant that God exalts Joshua now in our text? What is his connection to Adam? What standard of character is he (the author) trying to show us about those whom God exalts? What is God’s solution for those who fail this standard? Why is this solution better than the “salvation” or “rest” that Joshua provides? Why is it significant that God’s exaltation of Joshua is a means of God exalting himself? Do we see this pattern of God exalting himself happen again anywhere in Scripture?
- Answer honestly: does this solution captivate us and motivate us in a similar way that Joshua did for Israel as they entered hastily into the Promised Land? If not, why has it lost its sweetness to you? What do you need more (or less) of in your life in order to revive the sweetness/goodness of God’s solution in your daily life?
- How might we, as a church, strive to better encourage one another and bring glory to God in our evangelism and discipleship as those captivated with the gospel of his mediator?
- How might we be praying for each other in our specific relationships with non-believers and in our intentionality/courage to shine the light of the gospel upon them?
- Take some time to pray for one another before you leave.
In four days’ time, I’ll have been the English pastor here at TCCBC for a full year, and I want to ask how your life has changed in that time? Have you grown in your appreciation for your church, your brothers and sisters, the place where God has set you to minister? Has the gospel been impressed upon you with increasing measure so that the depth of your sin is increasingly exposed and the heights of Christ’s grace overwhelmingly treasured? And, if you answer yes to these last two questions, have you grown in your faithfulness to him not just here in church but with your neighbours, your friends, your unbelieving family? Have you become more desperate to see God glorified and the gospel made known in your life?
I know I’m throwing a lot of questions at you, but I hope you see how they progress in difficulty. If God is sanctifying you, then we have to evaluate how he’s been doing that. We have to get to a point as a church—as covenant members of one another—where we’re not comfortable simply with a mental assent of the gospel. We need to actively probe one another’s hearts and consider not only those things we do well but expose those things that we don’t do so well. In other words, we, as a church, need to be asking ourselves whether or not the God of the gospel has captivated our whole lives, and if not, why not? Where do we continue to allow our blind spots to keep us in the dark? Where have we languished in surrendering certain things that we love about ourselves to God?
And I’m asking you these questions not to be mean, but because I think it’s time that we start pushing ourselves forward and outward. We’ve done a lot of inward focusing this past year—getting our minds right—getting used to each other, but it’s time for us to start making inroads with those we’re less used to. And the way that we get to doing those things is by evaluating the areas of our lives where we fall short in our captivity to and in our God. What are those things in the world that we’re afraid of? What stops us from being that active, outgoing church now? Our passage this morning speaks a lot to diagnosing these issues and setting us upon a path not only that is rightly oriented but properly rooted. It asks the question of where we’ve placed our greatest attention and how that correlates to what we pursue in this life. So, let’s go ahead and start answering those questions in our text now. Would you follow along with me as I read to you from Joshua 4:10b-24. TWoL.
The people passed over in haste. And when all the people had finished passing over, the ark of the Lord and the priests passed over before the people. The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh passed over armed before the people of Israel, as Moses had told them. About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the Lord for battle, to the plains of Jericho. On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life. And the Lord said to Joshua, “Command the priests bearing the ark of the testimony to come up out of the Jordan.” So, Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.” And when the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord came up from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up on dry ground, the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks, as before. The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
Our proposition this morning from this passage is this: Fearing the Lord rightly is the beginning of seeing the wisdom of his plans joyfully fulfilled. Said another way, doing God’s will cannot be separated from an intimate knowledge of his character. And this is what Israel is realizing as they enter into the Promised Land. For the first time in 500 years, their focus and affections are in the right place, and the author of Joshua wants to show us what it looks like when the focus and affections of God’s people are in the right place—when their desires for God’s work in their lives align with God’s desires for them. And it is by looking at the text this way—where a fear of God is what motivates our work for him—that I hope we’re better equipped to evaluate whether we have rightly aligned ourselves with his desires and intentions for us. Let’s consider the fear of God in our first point:
1) The People of God Captivated
Before we really dive into the text, let’s do a brief review of where we are. Joshua 1 is about establishing Joshua as the leader of Israel. He is the second Moses, and while in most ways he does not exceed the greatness of his predecessor, he is shown to be relatively superior in one way: he, the second leader of Israel, brings them into their rest in the Promised Land. And in preparation for his campaign to possess the land in Joshua 2, he sends two spies into Jericho of Canaan to scope out its terrain, yet they see nothing but the inside of a whores house where they’re saved from their own witlessness by the owner of that house—a Gentile, prostitute woman. And as a result, the spies return full of faith and courage that God will do all that he’s said he’ll do.
Then, in this section of Joshua 3-4, what we’ve seen is an eisodus event. Remember eisodus means a way into the land, whereas the word exodus means a way out of the land. The eisodus is meant, nearly in every way, to mimic the exodus. As God led his people out of Egypt by being with Moses, so too does God lead his people into Canaan by being with Joshua. As God parted the Red Sea to stave off their defeat, so too does God part the Jordan to begin their victorious conquest. As we’ll read later in chapter 5, as God begins their journey by instituting the Passover, so too does God end their journey out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land with Passover. As the people were obedient to do all God commanded through Moses so that they could leave Egypt, the people, now, are obedient to do all that God commands through Joshua so that they might possess their inheritance.
If I might say very briefly, the point of everything we’ve gone through so far is to highlight the centrality of God’s control over history. These few chapters show us what happens when God gets his way, and I think we can all agree that when God gets his way, the outcome is far more glorious than anything we could have ever imagined.
Where we land now, in Josh 4:10b-24 is the result of God getting his way and his people following him in obedience. Joshua 1-4 are some of the happiest chapters of the entire Old Testament. Why? Because like a child who’s dreamt of something his whole life, these chapters show us the man who now gets to receive it, and the result of his waiting wasn’t in vain because his reception of that thing is far better than anything that he could have imagined. So much desire and anticipation is built into this very moment that the author doesn’t mince his words when he starts this section of the text by saying, “The people crossed over in haste.” They were running to get into the land. Don’t mistake their hastiness for fear or worry. No, imagine the people’s faces as they crossed. Think of all those happy movies, books, and pictures you’ve ever seen or read of children running home—what is their disposition as they see the longing of their hearts across the street?
For me, I think of those last few pages of the Chronicles of Narnia, in The Last Battle, as they’re running into the New Narnia with Aslan by their side, and “it was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed, and then he cried: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Come! Further up! Come! Further in!”
There on the other side of the Jordan River sat this distant land that had been so out of reach for so long—a land of longing and belonging—a land that was to be their real country. And what made it so welcoming was not just its physical presence, but what awaits them in it. There sits not only the land, but God himself—the fulfillment of his glorious promise! God awaits them there. Like a father waiting for his son or daughter across the way to run into his arms and embrace him or her with every ounce of love that he might communicate by his embrace, so too is this what Israel sees as they run across the river.
And notice who is crossing in haste. It’s not just one or two Israelites. It’s not even just one or two tribes. It’s all of Israel that has been waiting for this day. All twelve tribes are represented in this incredible gathering—all twelve are crossing together in haste. All of them in their diversity and individual aspirations—the people of God who have not always got along with each other—none of that matters now because they all are captivated by one common goal: Get to God.
Notice also with me not only their happy disposition but their willing disposition as they’ve come into the land, especially of those who had already received their inheritance (vv. 12-13). So captivated are they by what has transpired, who God is, and what he’s done for them to get them to this place, that even the ones who have no skin in the game, as they stand there with their brothers and sisters in the land that was promised to them from ages past, the author tells us—all of them are ready to do the work of God—all of them are ready for war. They’ve had a slice, but now they want the whole pie . They’re gearing to go. They’re likely thinking that God has done this much in extraordinary fashion, what’s to hold him back from accomplishing the rest, and they want to be part of it.
But why are they so confident? Why do they feel like they’re able to suddenly do everything that God’s said they’ll do? Remember who these people are. They’re Israelites. They grumble and complain at every turn. God tells them to do something, and they say, “Do we have to?” So, for them to be willing to go into the unknown and follow the commands of God without any reservations and with complete willingness is staggering. And the only explanation for it is what the author says in verse 14—they have Joshua. They have the man approved by God to accomplish the things of God.
And their standing in awe of Joshua is no small thing. Consider where we were when we started this book. Israel did not know if Joshua could be trusted. They did not know if he could bear the weight and burden that Moses bore for them all these years. What’s more—Moses just had to keep them alive, but Joshua has to see them thrive. If Moses couldn’t do it, then how can anyone expect Joshua to do it? And yet, this whole event at the Jordan—from the giving of his commands to the actual leadership of the people through the parted river, the people have seen one thing: God is with him, as he was with Moses.
They are captivated by him just as they are captivated by God, and how might both these things be true? The answer is right here in the text: to be captivated by God—to be in fear of God—is to be in awe of the one whom he’s sent to bring you to himself. The word for the people’s awe here is the same word used in verse 24 to describe the fear that Israel is to have for God. In other words, Israel stands in awe of Joshua because he is a reflection of God himself. He has done the impossible thing of restoring the fellowship between God and his people and accomplished what no other prophet or priest, including Moses, has ever accomplished. He’s united the Creator back with his creation. He brings them into rest.
So, what does it mean to possess the fear of God? It means casting out the concerns of the world and the temptations of the flesh in exchange for believing that God will, by his own power, restore us to himself. It is an all-consuming desire to get to God, knowing what we’ve received already is merely an awe-filling taste of what’s to come. I hope we are all the type of people who, having sampled a slice, cannot wait for the whole pie. And like Israel in these chapters, we’re to live our lives under the conviction that it is coming.
What our text is reminding us of here is that we are not to forget that foretaste. No, with every passing day, God is bringing us closer to glory, and he beckons us along the way to keep our eyes fixed on him. Don’t veer to the left or right. No, march on in haste towards the kingdom that awaits us on the other side. It is as the unicorn says as we approach our final rest, “Come! Further up! Come! Further in!”
2) The Mediator of God Exalted
Now, the question needs to be asked, “why does God exalt Joshua?” We’re told earlier in Josh 3:7 that he will be exalted, and now, he is being exalted. But why? Why does God promise to exalt him, and why is now the time he is being exalted? And the surface answer is very simple: because as God commands Joshua, so too does Joshua command the people.
Now, we want to be very clear here, the sequence is very important: God commands Joshua, and it’s God’s command that’s given to the people through Joshua. This is how we know that Israel’s captivation and awe of Joshua is the same as their captivation and awe of God—it is because Joshua says only that which God tells him to say. So, at a deeper level, we learn that God exalts Joshua because by doing so, he exalts himself. Israel reveres Joshua because Joshua reveres God. Israel is in awe of Joshua because Joshua fears God. In other words, God’s exaltation of Joshua tells Israel that they can follow this man because by following him, you actually follow and honour me.
And what is the result of God exalting Joshua? Well, Joshua is rewarded in three ways: (1) by his faithfulness to God, Joshua’s authority is held second only to God’s authority. There is no man on earth that is like Joshua in this moment. And we know that this is true because of the second result of his exaltation, (2) by his faithfulness to God, Joshua stands above the priests of God (v. 17). See, in the hierarchy of God’s kingdom on earth, no one stands above the priests except for the high priest. So, for Joshua to be able to command the priests what to do, effectively what we are being told is that Joshua, as the exalted mediator of God, acts in a greater, priestly capacity. He is, in a sense, a Greater High Priest.
(3) By his faithfulness, this mediator of God not only stands as one who is above the priests, but one who is above creation itself (v. 18). It is by his command of the priests that the waters are essentially given permission to resume their normal course. It is at Joshua’s word that the priests go in and that they come out of the water, and by virtue of his authority over the priests, he controls when the tide of the river ceases and when it flows.
Why is it important that I am telling you all of this about Joshua? It’s important because it makes it very easy for us to see the parallels between Joshua and Jesus. But before we get to Jesus, we need to understand what’s taking place here in these passages in light of all that has come before us in Scripture. Where we stand right now in history in Joshua 3-4 is under the Covenant of Israel, and it’s in this covenant, outlined in Exodus 19 and 20, that God establishes a relationship with this corporate nation for the first time and identifies the whole of its people as his son (Exod 4). It is as God’s appointed son, as one who is in special relationship with the divine, that Israel is meant to image his character in all the earth.
But Israel’s covenant relationship with God is not the first relationship where sonship and image-bearing responsibility is given. No, the pattern of sonship and the pattern of image bearing is something established back in Genesis 1 and 2 with Adam. It is Adam who is distinguished as the one made in the image of God—God’s firstborn son, and it is Adam who is called to exercise dominion over the land, subdue it, and multiply that image all over the earth—he is set as vice-regent above all other creatures and all other creation, and he’s to rule as one who possesses the fellowship of the God of the universe. The problem is that Adam fails, and because he sins and falls short in obeying the commands of God, he is cast out of the proverbial promised land of Eden.
So, what is taking place here in Joshua, I’ve said it before, is an act of recreation. Joshua as the representative of corporate Israel is the newly established Adam, and he, along with the rest of God’s people, are to exercise dominion over the land, subdue it, make it holy, and multiply the image of God throughout the earth. And all of that is supposed to start here in the new Eden—in the new earth that God has brought them into as he dwells with them.
It is utterly important that we see why Joshua is being exalted in this way—in his and Israel’s relationship to Adam, God is attempting to reverse the effects of the curse that Adam brought into the world and re-establish the rest that all of creation was meant to have. See, God is effecting a new creation. God is bringing about a new mediator, a new Adam. God is doing all of this to show us what his wise standards are in order for his eternal plans to be fulfilled. God exalts the obedient because God intends for our ultimate good through doing that which is godly. If God is the greatest good, then it follows that doing godly things is also our greatest good. Thus, in his exaltation of obedient Joshua who leads obedient Israel as God’s sons on earth, he happily exalts the whole nation and brings them into his rest—he happily fulfills his promise to them—because they are like he is. Thus, they can delight in him as he delights in him.
But like Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, and Moses before, there is no “faithfully obedient, human son who fully obeys the demands of the covenant,” or who fully satisfies the depth of sin that has festered in man’s heart. As we know, Israel, like her predecessors, will not only fall, but she’ll fall more deeply into patterns of sinfulness than any other child of God does in history. They will become the pinnacle not of God’s intended image on earth, but of his greatest regret, and it is because of all of these failures—it is because Joshua himself is an imperfect mediator—that a greater covenant in a greater mediator must come.
Brothers and sisters, this is how we get to Jesus. By exalting Joshua here in our text, God is setting up the stage for the greater exaltation of Jesus that is to come. Where Joshua is second in authority to God’s command, Jesus is the exemplar of authority as God himself and the embodiment of the Father’s every command. Where Joshua stands as a form of a greater priesthood, Jesus is the Great High Priest in whom we find both our perfect intercession and atonement. Where Joshua stands above creation through his faithful obedience to God, Jesus stands as the Creator of all creation as well as its Redeemer through his death upon a cross. Where Joshua’s name means, “he saves,” Jesus is the name by which all who believe in him are saved.
So, let us not miss the point of this text. As Israel was captivated by God in their awe of Joshua—captivated to the point of gathering together and obeying every command that God gave them through his mediator, so too are we to be captivated by God in an even greater way—in a heart-transforming, sin-destroying, Spirit-empowering way—as we take in the awe and splendour of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Fearing the Lord rightly as the only one who is able to bring us into his promised rest is the basis by which we actively participate in the fulfillment of his plans—a fulfillment that he initiates in the life, death, and resurrection of his own Son, and a fulfillment that he shall complete when Christ comes again.
This is why we can, in this life, be a city on a hill. This is why our church, TCCBC, can and should be a force for the gospel in our community—because, just like Israel as they looked upon Joshua, our fear isn’t in the power of the devil or in the schemes of the world. No, we are those enraptured by the one who stands above all creation and who is sovereignly working to bring it to its final rest—one who has the power to make the devil and the world his footstool. Our fear is in the living God of heaven and earth, and he must become our highest treasure in this life, in our conversations, and in our witness to the world. So, I implore you—I implore all of us—let him captivate us in this way. Let him root out our love for the world, for money, and for anything else that distracts us from exalting him as he deserves to be exalted. Let us give up our pride. Give up our desire for notoriety and worldly propriety. Give up the standards of our traditions and personal aspirations. Cling to the only thing that matters—cling to Christ and orient your lives towards the God whom we’ve received fellowship and rest with forever.
3) The Glory of God Displayed
What is the result of a people who are harmoniously captivated by their God through the exaltation of his mediator? The result is that God is glorified in all the world. Here, in our text, the author takes the time to actually describe what Joshua does with the stones referred to earlier in verses 6 and 7. In those verses, we’re told that the stones are to be set up as a memorial forever so that the people of Israel and their children might remember the great work that God accomplished in this place. But, now, in Josh 4:19:24, the exalted leader actually sets up the stones, and, as he does so, we’re given an expanded speech where we’re told that these stones aren’t only a reminder for Israel of God’s redemptive work, but they’re also to serve as notice to the world that all are to fear him.
Church, these verses are the result of a people who have experienced the transforming work of God in their lives. They are captivated by God through his mediator who, by his extraordinary deliverance, displays to the world his incomparable majesty, might, and mercy. What we must realize now is that while the stones are no longer there in Gilgal, the memorial—the reminder to Israel, to the Gentiles, to our community, family, and friends—stands forever. It stood on that fateful day upon Calvary where our Saviour, nailed to it, shed his blood as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of you and me. And now, we have become the living stones through whom all might hear of the miracle of his redemption.
As we wade into this next year, my prayer for us, as a church, is that we might grow with greater exactitude and depth in the fear and love of our God, and that such a fear and such a love might propel us towards greater displays of conviction and courage for the gospel. I want us to be more intentional about our evangelism and discipleship with those whom God has placed in our direct vicinity, but I don’t want us evangelizing and discipling for the sake of raising our numbers or to grow ourselves in notoriety. No, I want us to realize that true, lasting evangelism and discipleship—the kind that is infectious—are natural outgrowths of an affected heart. I want us to be those, like Israel, so transfixed on the exaltation of our Mediator that when we wage war on the devil by opening our mouths and offering our hands to help our neighbours, our first inclination isn’t, “I wonder what this person will think of me,” but rather, “may God be glorified regardless of what this person thinks of me.” And may this glorified God help us do this. May he, through the gospel of his perfect mediator, affect us so that we might, in turn, affect a lasting change in this world. To him be all praise, honour, glory, and majesty forever and ever.