Tuesday, September 1, 2015

And When You Fail …

The final chapter of the book of Joshua is rather sad.  The godly leader gave a farewell address in which he recounts God’s hand in leading Israel from past history to that time.  At the end of this, Joshua admonished the people to be faithful in following the Lord to which the people agreed.  Joshua then lowers the boom:
But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lᴏʀᴅ, for he is a holy God.  He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.”  (Jos 24:19)
Notice that Joshua did not say that the people would not serve the Lord, he said they could not.  Every good intention to obey the Law was summarily decimated as Joshua makes clear that they did not have the ability to follow through.  I will be the first to admit that every time through the chapter, I assumed that Joshua was following the same speech that Moses had used before entering the Promised Land:
Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lᴏʀᴅ your God, that it may be there for a witness against you.  For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are.  Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lᴏʀᴅ.  How much more after my death!  (Deut 31:26-27)
Both Joshua and Moses had strong rebukes for the people of Israel who went into the land of Canaan.  One wonders if those who entered were any better than their parents who died in the wilderness.

The people did not suffer from a lack of desire.  Just before Joshua gave his pronouncement, they assured Joshua that they knew Who had led them and fought for them.
Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lᴏʀᴅ to serve other gods, for it is the Lᴏʀᴅ our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed.  And the Lᴏʀᴅ drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land.  Therefore we also will serve the Lᴏʀᴅ, for he is our God.  (Jos 24:16-18)
They were confident in their ability to be faithful and continue in the way of the Lord, but history tells us that Joshua was correct.  What was the problem?

First, the people were blind to their condition.  Thinking they were standing, they failed to take heed and fell.  We can attempt to write this off as nominal believers gone bad, and we would somehow do better; but most of contemporary Western Christianity also prefers bending to the prevailing culture rather than stand firm on the truth of Scripture.  In other words, we are just as susceptible to corruption as the Israelites of old.  We fail, individually and corporately, in grand scale.  Nobody is beyond the truth that “sin is crouching at the door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Gen 4:7).  Election does not insulate from transgression.

Second, the children of Israel were ignorant as to the extent of their condition. Joshua is not just identifying a weakness in their resolve, he wanted to move toward the root problem: the bad with which they needed to deal came from within.  Moses recognized this about the people as he continued his discourse (introduced above):
Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears and call heaven and earth to witness against them.  For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you.  And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lᴏʀᴅ, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.  (Deut 31:28-29)
Much later, God tells the nation through Jeremiah:
The heart is deceitful above all things,
    and desperately sick;
    who can understand it?  (Jer 17:9)
And finally, the Lord Jesus lays out the issue clearly:
What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.  (Mark 7:20-23)
We are naturally rotten.  We are our own worst enemies.  What we have from conception onward is utterly corrupt (Psa 51:5), being passed from one generation to another because of Adam’s sin.  You were born to fail.

As dismal the inevitability of perpetual failure might be, throughout the warp and woof of history is a thread of redemption and hope.  From the very beginning of sin entering this world, God had promised both a plan and one who would carry it to fruition.  He would set all things right.  A great irony in this grand plan is that the Word of God that the people of Israel, even all mankind since Adam, have spurned became the very thing that won mankind’s redemption and paid the ransom, once for all.  What was revealed to Adam, Noah, Moses, Joshua, etc. was not just a communication from God to man (as wondrous as that might be) but was the living Word of God.  The second person of the godhead, the Son, Logos of God, took on human nature and died at the hand of His creation that He might put to nothing all that Satan accomplished at the Fall and win mankind for Himself.  Not only that, He who is living and active inscripturated became incarnate, walked among us, and explained the Father to us that we might have the revelation that both qualifies us and makes us complete in Him.

What we lacked in ability to perform or tried to over-compensate for has now been accomplished in Jesus Christ our Lord, who willingly went to the cross for our sin and made peace between God and man.  What love and grace!  Now, because we still have the old man working in us, there are times when we fail—we sin, but we have access before God to confess our sin and be cleansed of its guilt.  We have an advocate before the Father who ever lives to make intercession for us as our great High Priest before the Father, and His blood on the Mercy Seat speaks better things than all the animal sacrifices could ever perform on our behalf.

We will fail, and when we do, there is a loving God and Savior who bids us come, be cleansed, and rest in the joy of deliverance and peace.

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