This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak from the Joshua series “New Beginnings”
The Ark of the Lord
The events in this chapter began when Moses led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. God parted the waters of the Red Sea so they could leave Egypt on dry land. Then, God closed in the waters and drowned the Egyptian army that pursued them. The Jews then wandered in the wilderness for forty years. They did not wander that long because they got lost. The Jews who came out of Egypt were so tied to that land and perhaps even to their slavery that they were constantly grumbling against Moses and God. However, in these early chapters of Joshua, God tells Joshua what to do and Joshua tells the people. This was a new group of Jews who began the conquest of the Promised Land. When they hear what they are to do, they don’t grumble but set out doing it. God solved the grumbling problem by just waiting forty years until the all grumblers had died off. That may have been a drastic measure. If the Jews who wandered had begun to have faith, they could have gone into the Promised Land, but they never did. The old had to die so new leadership who would trust God would come.
Although the Jews were slaves in Egypt, they had gotten comfortable in their slavery. They knew that at least they would be protected and cared for. The wilderness was uncertain and the Promised Land needed to be conquered. Slavery was at least known to them. They had a hard time trusting that God’s new ways would eventually give them greater joy. It works the same way when we become Christians. We are slaves to our desires and the ways of this world, but have become comfortable in that slavery. The New Testament teaches that God has set Christians free from the slavery of sin so we can live a new life. We also have a hard time trusting God that His way is actually better. We think the old ways of sin will actually give us the good life. As a result, we keep trying to hold onto the old ways of sin and set the desires of our life by those ways. We keep thinking that God will bless us according to the old ways of sin. We can’t let go of the old patterns of life. Evidently, the Jews who came out of Egypt couldn’t let go of their slavery ways either. God had to let them die off and the same thing has to happen to Christians. We need to die.
When someone receives Christ as his savior, he has old patterns of a life in slavery to sin that have been ingrained since childhood. Those patterns still guide his life. The New Testament calls for Christians to die. The work of the Holy Spirit is to set us free from sin and His first work is to help us die. We need to die to old ways that we might begin to live in new ways. We need to live in the Promised Land of a continuing relationship to Christ where our whole pattern of life revolves around Him.
One of the most popular forms of slavery in today’s world is materialism. That is so strong that when we think of God’s blessing us, we first think of all the material things we have. That materialistic orientation needs to die so that we can experience the blessings of the new life God is giving us to conquer. Materialism is a form of slavery. It causes us to give up more and more of our lives to gather more things. Many times when we get those things, we don’t even enjoy them. They turn out to be just another burden to care for and causes us to give up even more of our lives.
I have gone on many mission trips with Son Servants. For trips in this country, we go to the poverty areas in cities and rural areas. The locations are quite different, but they have many things in common. One on my favorite ministries is Widows Harvest, which helps take care of poor widows in Chattanooga. They take seriously the biblical instruction to take care of widows. Many widows have a hard time doing just the basic maintenance on their homes, even things as simple as mowing their lawns. The young people who go on these mission trips are able to do those jobs and I have led several crews. One of the hardest parts, particularly when doing inside maintenance, is to move all the stuff the people have so that we can get to the work we need to do. One house was especially hard. We had to do some work on the ceiling and there were only pathways through the rooms because junk was piled up everywhere. Moving the stuff so we could do the repairs was harder than the repair work. It is the same in rural areas or in cities. When we are slaves to materialism, we think the things we have will give us security. That is a form of slavery for both the rich and the poor. It might seem strange, but even poor people in our country would live a much better life if they got rid of a lot of their stuff. However, materialism is so deeply ingrained in all of our lifestyles that we think the things we have will give us pleasure, even when those things are getting in the way of our lives.
Materialism is a form of slavery and that is one of the slaveries God is calling us out of so we can live the life He has promised us. God is not calling us to be aesthetics who put no value on material things. A couple of weeks ago in our Tuesday night Bible study, we were looking at Luke 12 where Jesus told a parable of a man who had been so blessed that all his barns were full. The man didn’t know what to do. Instead of being generous and sharing with those who didn’t have full barns, he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. God called him a fool and said the man’s soul was required of him that night. I’m not sure whether God meant that he would die or by giving in to the lust for more and more, he would lose his soul. Either way, God called him a fool.
God wanted the man to enjoy the full barns and then experience the joy of sharing with others. God was calling him to a new way of life. The mentality of a man who would just build bigger and bigger barns is the mentality of slavery. It is also the basic way of life that is taught in our country. God is calling us to die to that slavery and move to a lifestyle in which we trust He will be continually with us and provide for us while we conquer the new lands He has given us. We are not called to give up everything we have but are called to be satisfied with what we have and enjoy it as enough.
When we become Christians, we are called to die. We are to die to old ways and begin to live in the new world God has given us. It might seem strange that death will bring us real joy, but that sort of death will. When we die to our chief end being to glorify and enjoy ourselves and live as our chief end being to glorify and enjoy God, we will also find our greatest joy. Our greatest joy does not come when we seek to fulfill ourselves. We don’t come to Jesus Christ to fulfill ourselves. We come to Him to die. It is like coming into a marriage. We don’t come into a marriage for what we will get out of it. We come into a marriage to die to ourselves and become one with another person. As we die to ourselves in a marriage commitment, God makes us one, a new creation in Him. That new creation is what brings joy to a marriage.
For the nation of Israel to become new, a whole generation had to die off. They were too tied to the ways of death to experience real life in God. Fortunately, with the coming of Christ, we have both death and resurrection by the work of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Holy Spirit had the power to raise Christ from the dead, He also brings death and new life to us. Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gala¬tians 2:20)
When we begin to die to the old ways, we begin to live with the presence of God. We live the incredible life of conquering a new life that God has given us. Our life becomes an exciting place of seeing God doing one amazing thing after another in our lives. All Christians have a Promised Land of their own in which to live, but first we need to die to the old ways of slavery and trust God to provide a new life to be conquered in Him. The Jews in the Book of Joshua had a newness to their lives. I love reading in Joshua how willing the Jews were to follow what God had said.
Before the death of Christ, the presence of God was in the Ark of the Covenant. When Jesus died for our sins, the veil around the Ark of the Covenant was torn in two and God’s Spirit then was loosed on the world. As the Jews entered the Promised Land, the Ark of the Covenant, the presence of God, was there in front of them. As they got to the Jordan River, the Levitical priests who were carrying the Ark got their feet wet and then the power of God caused the river to back up on their right and the whole nation walked across the river on dry ground. The priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant remained in the middle of the river as each Jew filed passed the Ark. That must have been a powerful reminder of the presence of God in their midst. That presence would remain with them as they conquered this new land. It was a new day for the nation of Israel. The old people with their old ways had passed away and now everything was new.
It is also a new day for us. As the old self with its slavery to our sinful ways is killed, we are then set free to live a new life in the continual presence of God. When that happens, we can experience the wonder of a new life lived with the presence of God in the midst of all we do.