Jos 1:1-3 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, (2) “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and this entire people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. (3) Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. In the opening verses of this historical narrative, God is commissioning Joshua to lead His people, and He starts off the conversation in an interesting way, “Moses my servant is dead.” I’m sure that was a bit shocking to everyone. It was a reality check. “Moses, the only leader you have ever known, is dead.” That was a significant loss. But there was something of even greater significance than the death of one man and the new leadership position of another, playing out here. There was more to Moses’ death than what we get at first glance.
We see throughout the biblical account, the name of Moses being used synonymously with God’s Law; especially in the New Testament Gospels (Mark 7:10, Luk 16:29, 31, Luk 24:27, 44, John 1:17 and John 7:19, 23), and especially by Jesus. That shouldn’t be a surprise. Moses is the one who received the Law from God and gave it to God’s people. Therefore he gets the credit for it – or blame, depending on how you look at it. So through Moses, at Mt. Sinai, the Law came from God to the people. How did that work out for them? They couldn’t handle it. They couldn’t live up to it. Psa 78 recounts Israel’s failures after they received the Law in the desert. Verses 10 and 17 are a small sample, (10) They did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law. (17) …They sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert. They refused, they rebelled, they sinned. God’s Holy Law didn’t seem to be much help to them. It simply showed them that God was holy and they weren’t. So what good is that? Is there something wrong with the Law?
The Apostle Paul asked and answered that very question in Roman’s 7 vs. 12 and 13, So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin … The Law has really gotten a bad name in Christianity; but the Law is good. The problem is not God’s Law, it’s me. I’m a sinner. You’re a sinner. We’re law-breakers by nature, but sometimes we don’t realize it until we encounter the perfect Law of God. That’s the first problem we have with the Law. But it’s not the only one. After the Law has convicted us and we realized that we need a Savior, we trusted Jesus for salvation. That is when we run into our second Law problem; hope in the Law. We like our odds of keeping it ourselves. We think to ourselves, “This is it? Jesus covered all my past sins, so now I just follow these rules to please God? I’ve got this.”
For many of us, this has been our Christian experience. This is how we roll as a Christian. Jesus cleaned me up, and now I live a sober, respectable, moral, middle-class, conservative Republican, life. I read my Bible, get my marching orders and just do it. And to quote the great modern-day theologian Dr. Phil – “how’s that working for you?” If you’re anything like I was for much of the last 20 years, you might say,” it’s working quite well – thank you!” That’s what I used to think. And I was an arrogant fool for thinking it. Sure, I was doing well if I measured myself against a sinful world, or if I looked around the church and down my nose at my brothers and sisters who were struggling. If I stood, all puffed up in my pride and self-righteousness, and used them as my standard, I felt pretty good about my Pharisaical self. After all, I read my Bible and I serve as much or more than anyone. Compared to them, I’m awesome. Surely God will bless me for it. Isn’t that disgusting?
Now let me say this, none of those thoughts were conscious. I would not have been considered an egomaniac. Actually, by all accounts I was a fruitful and humble believer who loved Jesus and the fellowship of the saints. The lies and bondage that gripped my heart and robbed me of the joy of resting in Christ’s finished work were subtle and undetectable until I began to truly understand my perpetual need for grace, because of my perpetually sinful state. It was the understanding that I needed to continually cast myself of the mercy of God that set me free. I needed to preach the gospel to myself daily. The undetected deception that lingered in my heart, was the result of a flawed standard and resulted in a flawed estimation of self.
It reminds me of coaching football. We’d go out and we would practice hard. We’d put together a playbook that we thought would work well. We’d teach the kids their positions and the plays. And we’d run through each play until they got it right. It all looked great. That’s called practicing on air (with no defense in place). Then maybe we’d run against our scout defense – that’s just a bunch of kids we’d pull together to simulate the opponent. Unfortunately, the scout team is usually not as good as the opponent’s defense. So when the game rolled around, everything that was working so well in practice didn’t work at all. The effectiveness of the team, and the game preparation was based on how well everything worked with no opponent or a substandard opponent. Everything appeared to be great and wasn’t, because we had the wrong standard.
The same thing happens to us when we measure our holiness or righteousness against other sinners. We can always find someone who makes us feel holier than we really are. But if we are really honest with ourselves, even our most pious acts, are filled with mixed motives. After all, they’re filled with me, and I’m still a sinner. A higher opinion of my own righteousness or holiness is always a result of a wrong view of God’s perfection, or a wrong view of my sin. The longer we walk with God in truth, though our outward sins diminish, our awareness of our overall sinfulness should increase. Our overall understanding of God’s holiness should increase, making the gulf between us and God bigger not smaller. And that is wonderful news. It’s wonderful news because that means that the Cross of Christ must become bigger and bigger in my life to bridge the gap.
All too often, once were saved we try to bridge the gap with our own righteousness, rather than continuing to look to the cross. We have to realize, that on our best day, and on our worst day, our only basis for standing before a Holy God is the righteousness of Jesus. Martin Luther said it well – the English translation of the Latin is this, “simultaneously justified and sinner.” If you remember nothing else from this post remember this, my acceptance by my Holy Father is based on His love for me, not mine for Him; and because of that, I love him all the more. Did you catch that? My acceptance by my Holy Father is based on His love for me, not mine for Him; and because of that, I love Him all the more. The reformers had it right when they cried, “sola gratia” – by grace alone.
What we have in the opening chapters of Joshua is a picture of God’s grace, alive and in living color. Israel had received the Law from Moses, and it proved to be death to them. They couldn’t do anything with it on their own. They were dead in their trespasses and sin. But now Moses died. And look who took His place? Joshua. Jah-Shua. His name literally means savior. Guess who else had that name? Jesus. Jesus is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name Joshua. The picture continues. Joshua was a type or a foreshadow of Christ. As Pastor Tim Keller would say, Jesus was the better Joshua that would lead God’s people into His promises. So as we look at this picture of Jesus and the Gospel of grace, right here in the historical section of the Old Testament, we see Joshua beginning where Jesus one day would also.
Remember where Jesus baptized at the beginning of His ministry – the Jordan. Joshua would lead God’s people across the Jordan into all that God had promised, just as Jesus eventually would. Now let me say this, just because we are focusing on grace, and the pitfalls of trying earn God’s favor by keeping the Law ourselves, that doesn’t mean that God’s Law isn’t important; that we can just ignore it. The Law of God was given to be kept. The only question is; who’s going to keep it? Joshua chapter 1 verses 6 through 9 answer that for us. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. (7) Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. (8) This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
Who is God telling to keep the Law, and who’s obedience to the Law was going to mean good success for God’s people; the children of Israel? No not theirs – Joshua’s. Isn’t this a perfect picture of our salvation in Jesus? Just like Israel’s blessing and success are based on Joshua’s obedience to the Law, because they proved they couldn’t do it themselves; so now, all of God’s love, acceptance and blessings that are directed toward us, are a result of Jesus’s perfect obedience in our place, because I couldn’t do it for myself. That’s good news. And just like Israel was free to follow Joshua when Moses died – we are now free from the Law and our religious efforts to please God; and we are free follow Jesus. Our obedience is corrupt, imperfect, and weak, but it’s my willing act of love to my Savior, not my duty to a taskmaster. Here is the gospel, in the opening verses of Joshua. The volume of the book is written of Jesus. It’s all about Jesus, and it’s 100% grace, and isn’t it amazing?