At the outset of the Old Testament Reading, Moses had brought the people of Israel through forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The people were just outside the Promised Land, ready to enter. Yet Moses was not with them anymore, called to his eternal rest. Instead, Joshua was the one who would take them across the Jordan into the land Yahweh the Lord was giving them.
Moses, the servant of Yahweh, could not bring them in. Although he was the greatest prophet of the people up to that point, arguably the most significant figure in the entire Old Testament, yet Moses could not cross the Jordan. The Lord called Joshua to do that instead.
Joshua would succeed where Moses fell short. Joshua would be strong and courageous even in the face of the most powerful enemies. None would be able to stand before him all the days of his life.
Joshua was commanded to be very careful to obey all the law of Moses, not to turn aside to the right or to the left. In this, as far as we know, he succeeded. There are no clear instances of Joshua’s iniquities recorded in the book of Joshua. Surely he did commit trespasses, like all Adam’s children corrupted by original sin. Yet none are recorded for us in this book.
Already he showed himself a fine leader in this first chapter with the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. Their special arrangement with Moses specified that they had to stay with the rest of the Israelites as they conquered Canaan. They might have argued that their arrangement was with Moses, so now the deal was broken by his death. But Joshua insisted that they keep their word, and they did, following his leadership. “Only be strong and courageous,” they said, echoing the Lord Yahweh’s words to Joshua.
In the Greek language, the name Joshua is Ihsus, or as we English speakers read it, Jesus. Joshua was fittingly named as a forerunner of the greater Jesus to come.
The first Jesus conquered the land of promise for God’s people and stood up to all the enemies there. The second Jesus conquered the forces of evil, both human and demonic, as well as the grave itself, so that His people would inherit an eternal land of promise, the new heaven and the new earth.
The old Mosaic Law with its threats and promises could not bring God’s people to their eternal rest. The blood of lambs and bulls was not enough, because they only pointed to a greater Lamb to come. The plagues upon Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea, fantastic and powerful as they were, pointed to even greater realities to come: the plagues of God’s wrath against sin that struck Christ on the Cross so that He, the First-born, could die while death passed over us. In Holy Baptism we have passed through the sea of death and sin and hell and have been preserved safe.
So by the work of Christ, our greater Joshua, we enter the eternal promise. We cross the Jordan in Baptism, although we have not taken possession yet of the land that is our inheritance, which must wait for the resurrection.
Our enemies are already conquered, for Jesus our Lord has crushed the serpent’s head. Yet satan still writhes about in anguish, looking for opportunities to devour whomever he can before he faces his everlasting torment. Death is conquered, yet is still here. The death of God’s saints is not a final entry into unending darkness and pain, yet it is still a death. Only on the last day will death be permanently thrown into the lake of fire.
So our enemies are conquered, even though it does not always seem that way. The world is still full of evil to threaten us. Death terrifies us sometimes. The devil is as wily and deadly as always, even though he is mortally wounded by our Jesus.
We must be strong and courageous as we go through this world. We are vulnerable to the attacks of many enemies. They may take our lives and inflict any number of grievous wounds upon us. We can be strong and courageous because we know that Yahweh has promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age.
Yet we are not strong and courageous as if we conquer by our works. We only live out the life that our Joshua has won for us. He was the truly strong and courageous One. He unflinchingly faced down our strong foes. We share the victory He purchased with His suffering and death and resurrection.
Today we celebrate the birth of the forerunner of Jesus. John the Baptist stood at the Jordan to go before the face of the Lord Jesus. Like Moses, John was not the one to enter the promised land and conquer our foes, even though John was also a great prophet in God’s sight, more than any born of women. He went before and was not the anointed One to save the people. He led the people to the Jordan to be baptized, but Jesus was the One to cross the Jordan. That is, Jesus entered that river in order to fulfill all righteousness, that we might inherit the new heavens and new earth, the home of righteousness. Jesus was baptized under heavens split, with Voice and Dove, to show that He was leading the way for us. We pass through the Jordan in our Baptism, following the strong and courageous Leader.
Let us follow Him with courage and strength, not in ourselves, but in the strength of the Lord and the courage of knowing that we are safe, whatever enemy should threaten. Amen.
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