Summary: Living at the Border of the Promised Land
The people of God stand at the border of the promised land. It has been hundreds of years since this land was first promised to Abraham. It has been a whole generation wandering the desert on the other side of the border. But, now, finally, after so much promise, it is about to become reality. Joshua receives final instructions before going in and claiming the promise.
We have been on a long journey through the Old Testament already. But all it, from the fall, to the promise to Abraham, to the salvation from slavery, through the giving of the law and the wandering and being sustained in the desert, all of it has been leading up to this point.
We finished the Olympics just over a month ago. I’ve been privileged to go to two different Olympics. I’ve mentioned that I’ve gone to two Olympics before in previous sermons and people have come up to me after the service and asked me what I did. I’d love to tell you I competed in the swimming or gymnastics or shooting or anything. But I didn’t. I watched. And I loved every minute of it. Particularly when we were in Seoul in ’88. The tickets were cheap and we got as many as we could. We went to two or three events a day. It didn’t matter what they were. All of it was exciting. It was exciting because even if we had no idea what was going on. It was exciting because it was thick in the air that each of these athletes, whether they had a chance of medalling or not, they had been working their entire lives for this moment. They had been working their entire lives for this one moment.
The Israelites had been existing as a people for hundreds of years for this moment. They are the people of the promise. They stand at the edge of that promise now. I hope you catch the drama of this passage. Everything has led up to them crossing the Jordan River and inhabiting the land God has promised them.
We are the people of the promise. It is an even greater manifestation of that very same promise. The promise that is fulfilled in their inhabiting the land is fulfilled even more fully through the people of Israel in the birth, the life, and the death of just one man almost a thousand years after this. And that same promise is fulfilled in each and every single one of us, in our hearts and our lives when we trust God the same way these Israelites are called to trust him that day on the banks of the Jordan.
The Christian life is about inhabiting the Promised Land. I don’t mean Palestine. I mean the Kingdom of God.
I have spoken this piece of theology before, yet it is so vital to our understanding of our own lives. It is the understanding of the now and not yet aspects of the kingdom of God in this world and in our current lives. On one hand, the kingdom has not come in its fullness. We wait for the promises to be fulfilled. We know that in the last day, we will be victorious and our hearts and sin will be completely cleansed and we will be righteous and in the full presence of God. Until that time, the creation continues to groan, and we struggle to persevere and grow in our faith and righteousness. On the other hand, the kingdom of God has come in Jesus Christ. God is with us. We can know God fully even now, just as we are known by him. This is the place of a full relationship with God that we can know even now. We can see the face of God and know every moment that he is with us and have our lives transformed dramatically into his image with the glow of the glory of God reflected in our face as we keep our eyes on him.
Virtually every sermon, every message, every devotion can be looked at and seen in this tension between the now and the not yet. Some focus on the not yet: our need to grow, our need to face our existing sin, our needs at all. Other sermons focus on the now: the fact that we are justified, free, gifted, and transformed into the likeness of Christ who is with us always, fully, here and now.
This passage is a picture of that tension, of that life in between. They stand right on the edge of the promise. It is right where we are at. We, in many regards, are still in the desert. But we as so close, the Spirit is in our hearts, it is so real and so palpable that we can see our promised land right there in front of us. 1 Peter has a good picture of this tension in chapter 2, verses 11-12. “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world.” That is what we are. We are aliens and strangers in this world, because we are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. Heaven is already in us. Peter goes on to give us directions how to live on this border of the Promised Land: “abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”