Together | The Identity of the Church P2


This morning we continue our series on Jesus as the thread that binds us. This is a series on ecclesiology, the nature, function and mission of the church. Today many believe that the church has become irrelevant for the modern world and has lost its influence; that there is no practical benefit to belonging to a church. There is a dramatic increase in those leaving the church and the churchless population. This is even seen in the attendance rates of those who go to church: the average faithful church goer attends church twice a month. If we were to count all the churchless people in America, we’d have the eighth largest country in the world. Two decades ago the churchless population in the U.S. was about 30%; today it’s about 45% (Barna Group, January 2015).

Why are people leaving the church? Why do so many attend only when there is nothing else competing for their time? We’re not seeing the practicality or relevance of the church in our lives and so there’s a significant growth in those not attending the church. When we talk about the church, we’re talking specifically about the Western church – us, Remedy, the churches of Lodi. The Barna Group, a research firm, says there is no statistical difference between those who attend the church and those who do not. Generally those claiming to be Christians show no marked difference in their lives, striving after the same things, hoping in the same things, valuing the same things. The cares of this world have choked out the presence, the power, and the promises of God. Jesus is not ineffective and His design for the church is not flawed or broken. The church is made up of broken but redeemed people; imperfect people.

Despite world events, we are in a great time for the church and even a small flame can bring light to a dark world. We need to regain our faith and trust in Jesus, who designed the church for His glory and a specific purpose. A proper relationship to and understanding of the church is not an issue of salvation but an issue of obedience and sanctification. Until His return or He calls us home, we keep our eyes fixed on Him, understanding that the church is still God’s primary means of reaching this world and still carries the hope of mankind in Jesus.

Our hope and prayer as we continue this series is that we equip, inspire and embolden believers to walk in a manner worthy of our calling in relation to Jesus and to one another. We have defined the church as: “The church is the body of people called by God’s grace through faith in Christ to glorify Him together by serving Him in His world” (Mark Dever). The church is not a place, a building or just a gathering but a people who are bound together by Jesus Himself, marked by the Holy Spirit, which is manifested in our confessions and our conduct. Jesus is the designer of the church, the one who establishes the church, the builder of the church, the Cornerstone of the church, the foundation of the church, the Chief Shepherd of the church and the senior Pastor of the church.

The church is a chosen people (new paradigm – we look at ourselves differently through the eyes of grace), a royal priesthood (new position), a holy nation (new government) and a people owned by God (new ownership). Last week we focused on our identity as a chosen people. We were chosen not for our works but because of God’s great love and grace. This truth moves us to be humble and grateful before God and gracious with generosity to one another. Because we were chosen without merit, we cannot say that others are unworthy or do not belong; all that arrogance is laid at the foot of the cross.

We are also a royal priesthood:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9

The royal priesthood of believers gives us access to God and calls us to action. This priesthood is based on the clear teaching of Scripture. The Old Testament anticipated this when God spoke to His people at Sinai and said, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). The prophet Isaiah said a time would come when “You shall be called the priests of the Lord, they shall speak to you as the ministers of our God” (Isaiah 61:6).

This is the truth of the priesthood of all believers: when God chooses us we are made royal, sons and daughters of a King, royals among royals and we all have access to the king. We are priests:

You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood…, 1 Peter 2:5, 9

This important biblical truth has great implications for our personal relationship with God and how we live it out in the Church and in the world: the idea that every believer is a priest, regardless of his or her full-time occupation is life changing. Not only has God called us to be ambassadors, ministers of reconciliation, and to go and make disciples but He has also given us the authority and access to carry that out.

Old Testament priests were chosen by God for a purpose: to serve God with their lives by offering up sacrifices. The Old Testament priesthood served as a picture of the coming ministry of Jesus Christ – a picture that became clear once Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was complete. When the temple veil that covered the Holy of Holies was torn in two by God at the time of Christ’s death (Matthew 27:51), God was indicating that the Old Testament priesthood was no longer necessary. God gave the people direct access to Him through the great High Priest, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16). There are now no earthly mediators between God and man as existed in the Old Testament priesthood (1 Timothy 2:5).

 Christ our High Priest has made one sacrifice for sin for all time (Hebrews 10:12), and there is no more sacrifice for sin that can be made (Hebrews 10:26). But as priests once offered other kinds of sacrifices in the temple, so it is clear that God has chosen us, followers of Jesus, “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5, 9).

All believers now have direct access to the throne of God through Jesus Christ our great High Priest. We have the privilege to access the very throne of God directly, not through any earthly priest.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, Romans 8:15-16

We are children of God with access to our Heavenly Father. God gives us our identity, security, and sense of belonging. There are at least five implications of the royal priesthood of all believers for our lives. The first one is our standing before God and one another; the second two are spiritual privileges; and the last two are responsibilities for our work in the Church and the world.

1. We are royal – We were chosen by God, adopted as His children and made royal. We did not gain access to His courts by earning it as David’s mighty men earned their place in his court. We were not born into royalty through blood, deserving as Solomon. We were born children of wrath, at war with our creator who bought us with the precious blood of Jesus. He caused us to be born again into a royal family.

What does that mean for us today? We have a new identity in Christ as children of God, a royal priesthood. Our identity is not what we do, where we live, or what we wear. God defines us and He uses the weak and the foolish to overcome the strong and the wise (1 Corinthians 1). Where is our identity today? What would destroy us if we lost it? A home, a job, finances, looks, physical abilities, kids, spouse? Is there a statistical difference in where we find our identity and where the world finds theirs? Is there a difference at all? If not, what would attract the world to Jesus if there is no difference? If we don’t find our identity in Jesus, then we find it in the same place that the world does.

None of us earned our way in to this new identity. We were all brought in the same way, through the blood of Jesus – no one is here on merit. No one is more important or more needed than someone else. We all need each other. Jesus loves us so that we are free to love one another. Love takes risks and reaches out to others.

2. Direct access to God – In the Old Testament, only the high priest could enter into the Holy of Holies. Today, we have direct access to God through Christ. We can come boldly to the throne of grace because of Christ: “we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.” (Ephesians 3:12).
 Hebrews tells us to have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 10:19, 22), yet we seem to take prayer and its power for granted. J.C. Ryle, a 19th Century reformer and writer, said about prayer:

Nothing seems to be too great, too hard, or too difficult for prayer to do. It has obtained things that seemed impossible and out of reach. It has won victories over fire, air, earth, and water. Prayer opened the Red Sea. Prayer brought water from the rock and bread from heaven. Prayer made the sun stand still. Prayer brought fire from the sky on Elijah’s sacrifice. Prayer turned the counsel of Ahitophel into foolishness. Prayer overthrew the army of Sennacherib. Well might Mary, Queen of Scots say, “I fear John Knox’s prayer more than an army of ten thousand men.” Prayer has healed the sick. Prayer has raised the dead. Prayer has procured the conversion of souls.

Do you pray? Do you find yourself compelled to pray as you hear the news of a struggling brother or sister, the near death of an unsaved soul, or for the provision of the poor? We have access to the throne room of God. Do you pray that those around you would know His unsearchable love, for boldness in speech to preach the Gospel? Do you pray and ask for wisdom? Do pray to love the unlovely, for a generous heart to give freely? This is the true church that will draw men and women, young and old into the presence of Jesus. We have access to God; do we use that access to attempt to increase our own comfort or for His kingdom? God grants us access for kingdom business, not comfort and earthly gain. We fall in private long before we fall in public. Prayer is for the advancement of the kingdom of Christ.

3. Spiritual Sacrifices – As priests we are still to offer sacrifices. These sacrifices are no longer offerings of bulls and goats but sacrifices such as prayer, praise, thanksgiving, repentance, justice, kindness, and love. We are a holy priesthood in order to “offer up spiritual sacrifices wholly acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). We are to offer our lives as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1), “a sacrificial offering of faith” (Philippians 2:17), and the “services of love as a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18). The spiritual sacrifice is praise and thanksgiving: “Through him let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15). Above all, as believers we can be confident that God will accept our sacrifice.

4. Proclamation – One of our responsibilities as a royal priesthood is to “declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” The New Testament describes prophetic proclamation as: to announce, explain, say, testify, persuade, confess, charge, rebuke, admonish and exhort. Everyone can and should bear witness to Christ according to their gifts. We are to be ready to give an account of the hope that is within.

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 1 Peter 3:15

As we love the unlovely, forgive others, give generously to those around us, and walk in love, peace and hope, those around us ask, “How do you do that? Where does it come from?” We give a reason for our hope when we share a testimony. This is not an apologetic defense of scripture but sharing the transformative power of God. We should be living in such a way that people ask what’s different about us, but if there is no statistical difference between us and our neighbors, they will never ask because we don’t have anything they want.

5. Ministers of Reconciliation – We must bring Christ’s love into a dark and troubled world. Just as priests are agents of reconciliation to God and others, so are we to be such mediators. 1 Timothy 2:1 says that believers should offer prayers, supplications, and intercessions for all men, particularly for rulers. We should pray, in other words, not only for the Church, but for those around us. He has sent us out to go make disciples to all peoples. He has given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Jesus made the way and we are given the privilege to proclaim that work to a dying world. We now have a “ministry of reconciliation”, we are entrusted with the “message of reconciliation”, and we are “ambassadors for Christ” with the message, “be reconciled to God.”

It is one thing to say that we are a chosen race, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, and an ambassador of Christ. It is another thing to have our identities shaped by these truths so that we live accordingly. If we live out the priesthood of all believers we will pray more boldly, offer up spiritual sacrifices regularly (praise, prayer, service and sacrifice), we will love each other and those around us. If we live out our identity in Jesus the true and visible church will grow as a lighthouse to shipwrecked lives and those who are lost in the fog of this world.

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Last week we began our new series on the church. We looked at how the church has everything to do with our lives (marriage, family, jobs, addiction, struggles) because the church is completely relevant to all areas of our lives. The church is not primarily a place but a people. It’s not primarily a building but a body. God most tangibly meets us with His body, with His church.

Jesus is to be the foundation and the cornerstone of our church. The gospel is to be preached both verbally through the scriptures and visibly as we practice the sacraments, baptism and communion. This week we’ll look at the identity of the church and who we are as a church. Our mission flows from our identity. Before we know how to behave and act, we need to know who we are. We define the church as this: “The church is the body of people called by God’s grace through faith in Christ to glorify Him together by serving Him in His world” (Mark Dever).

Who are we? What is our identity?

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10, HCSB

This passage is a beautiful picture of the church. Peter gives us our identity in verse 9, then gives us our mission: to proclaim the excellencies of the One who has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.

1 Peter was written by the apostle Peter, who walked on water and denied Jesus three times before becoming one of the prominent leaders in the church. He was writing this letter both to Jewish and Gentile Christians in Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey. In chapter 2, Peter is reminding these believers that they are the true people of God, the church. Because he was writing to believers, all the traits he uses to describe the church are Old Testament allusions, used to describe Israel. We know from Ephesians that the dividing wall of hostility has been brought down; in Christ we are one, both Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:14). We are one in Christ, the new family and new people of God.

Peter writes, “But you are a chosen race..” We are a chosen people. God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in His sight (Ephesians 1:4). What do you think of when you think of being chosen by God? Do you think of being chosen for a team during school? Some are chosen first, some middle of the pack, and some are left to find a team. Being chosen last creates a feeling of worthlessness, of being unwanted. We’ve all experienced this in some way – the first chosen are always the best, the most skilled, the most talented. When we’re not chosen in that situation, we can feel pretty worthless.

When Peter says we’ve been chosen by God, we have to ask why. Why did God choose us? Why did He pursue us and chase after us? Peter is drawing this phrase from an Old Testament passage that gives us the context of the church as a chosen race:

The Lord was devoted to you and chose you, not because you were more numerous that all peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. Deuteronomy 7:7, HCSB

God chose Israel, but not because there was anything worth choosing. Israel was the smallest and the weakest people and had nothing to offer Him. So why did God choose Israel?

The Lord was devoted to you and chose you, not because you were more numerous that all peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But because the Lord loved you and kept the oath He swore to your fathers, He brought you out with a strong hand and redeemed you from the place of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Deuteronomy 7:7-8, HCSB

We have been chosen by God not because we are more lovely than others. We have been chosen by God not because we have done more to please Him than others or because we deserve it or because we’ve accomplished a lot of good and now He’s indebted to us. God was devoted to us and chose us and saved us because He loved us, even when we were undeserving of His love. That is good news!

Before Christ we were wicked and dead in our sins, walking in the ways of the world, children under wrath, but God saved us (Ephesians 2:1-3). God made us alive in Christ because of His great love; we are saved by grace. God did not choose us because we are the smartest, brightest, or had the most to offer. God set His love on us in spite of us.

This is hard for us to grasp and so we spend our lives toiling and working, trying to earn God’s love. In the movie Saving Private Ryan, eight soldiers are sent out on a special mission to find Private James Ryan and bring him home safely. The men suffer much; most of them die. At the end of the movie, they reach James Ryan and have one last battle against the Germans to bring him home. All but two of the men die saving his life; the captain is on his last breath and says, “James – earn this. Earn it.” So many of us think we hear the same from God. In the last scene of the movie, it flashes forward to James Ryan at the burial site of Captain John Miller and he says, “Tell me I’ve lived a good life. Tell me I’m a good man.”

This is so many of us. We’re not convinced that God loves us and He chose us, so we spend our lives trying to earn His love and favor by doing good things. That is the definition of religion, not the Gospel. Jesus looks up from the cross and says, “It is finished.” That is the Gospel – the work of salvation has been accomplished through Jesus Christ. He gives us His perfect righteous record through His substitutionary death. He died for us. The Christian life is not striving to earn God’s love and favor; it’s resting in the fact that we have His love and favor because of Jesus. Now we live in obedience and holiness not to gain His love but because we have His love.

Peter says we’ve been called out of darkness into this marvelous light. Peter calls the salvation we’ve been brought into “marvelous.” Something that is marvelous leaves us in awe; we should be awe-struck over this light. Are we marveling over our salvation? Welsh preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that if you ask someone if they are a Christian and they respond, “Of course I am,” that’s a very bad sign. Christians should be astounded that they are saved. We should marvel at our salvation. If we don’t, we might not understand the depth of our sin. We should be surprised and shocked that God would love us. Every single one of is a miracle.

We can only grasp the Gospel’s sweetness if we first grapple with its offense – that we cannot save ourselves. We’ve been chosen by grace and this has massive implications for us as a church. Jesus said, “Those who are forgiven much, love much” (Luke 7:47). When one experiences the incredible grace of God, they become dispensers of grace. There should be much room for grace in this place because we are saved but we are messy; the church is an imperfect place and will always be that way until we enter into glory.

The Christian army is the only army in the world that slays it’s wounded. One of the signs of a maturing, Gospel-centered church is not to point fingers at others but to say, “We’ve sinned.” There’s a tendency for Christians to become self-righteous but we were all dead in our sins and we’ve been saved by God’s grace. We deserve the fiery flames of hell; no one has arrived in the Christian world. We are all broken, messy people saved by God’s grace, sealed with His Spirit, and working toward holiness. We’re all at varying maturity levels but the cross outs all of us and it cleanses all of us. Charles Spurgeon said:

Give yourself to the Church.You that are members of the Church have not found it perfect and I hope that you feel almost glad that you have not. If I had never joined a Church till I had found one that was perfect, I would never have joined one at all! And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect Church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us…All who have first given themselves to the Lord, should, as speedily as possible, also give themselves to the Lord’s people.

We are imperfect people saved by God’s grace. All of us have probably been hurt by someone in the church, and it’s going to happen again. Here’s how we can tell if the Gospel is taking root in our heart – how do we respond to others, both inwardly and outwardly, when we are wronged? How do we respond with our thoughts and actions when we are sinned against? The heart of the Gospel is that when we were Christ’s enemy, He bled for us. Christ was slaughtered for us (Revelation 5:9). Our chosenness has massive implications for us as a church and should lead us to graciousness in our conduct. As we lavish grace on others just as Christ lavished grace on us, our witness will hold much more weight. We will be known by our love (John 13:35).

God’s grace is so great that it is for all. He doesn’t just save an undeserving people group; He saves undeserving people groups. The church is a new race, a new people, a new nation. The kingdom of God is not created by geography, skin color, or language but created and formed through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We are a new race, made up of people from all races. Diversity in God’s kingdom has always been His ancient desire, beginning in the Old Testament:

Let the peoples praise You, God; let all the peoples praise You. Let the nations rejoice and shout for joy, for You judge the peoples with fairness and led the nations on earth. Psalm 67:3-5, HCSB

You must not oppress a foreign resident; you yourselves know how it feels to be a foreigner because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. Exodus 23:9, HCSB

When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you must not glean what is left. What remains will be for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt… Deuteronomy 24:21-22, HCSB

Jesus tells us to go into all the world and preach the Gospel:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations… Matthew 28:19, HCSB

“…you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8, HCSB

God’s ancient desire is to redeem a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. It’s a miracle that we can meet Christians from other countries even here in Lodi and rejoice over God’s goodness together.

Why would God choose a diverse people? In his book Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian, John Piper addresses the issue of a diverse people. God chooses diversity over sameness because it leads to more glory for Him. God is after His glory and He gets more glory in diversity than in sameness.

Why Diversity in the Church?
1. Diverse unity is more glorious that the unity of sameness – Think of a choir. More depth of beauty is found from a choir that sings in parts than a choir that sings in unity.
2. A diversity of followers points to a greater leader – The strength and wisdom of a leader are magnified in accordance to the diversity of people he can inspire to follow him. God receives more glory in diversity and diversity shows Him to be the perfect leader of our church.
3. Praise from diverse peoples points to deeper beauty – Think of a work of art. If only a small group regards it as great, the art is probably not truly great. If a work of art continues to win more and more admirers across cultures and centuries then its greatness is irresistibly manifested. There is something about God that is so praiseworthy and deeply satisfying that God will find passionate admirers in every diverse people group in the world. This is what takes place in heaven, in our future in glory for eternity:

And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth. Revelation 5:9-10, HCSB

In heaven we will be so aware that God saved us by grace and that He came to save a diverse people. The grace of God is far-reaching to come and rescue us from the pit of sin and the grace of God is far-reaching to go to the ends of earth to rescue a diverse people.

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Who was Elisha? Elisha was a disciple or follower of Elijah. He was Elijah’s successor to be the next prophet of God. He was rich and owned 12 teams of oxen – in this day, oxen were like cars. Most families only owned one, but Elisha had 24 (1 Kings 19:19). He was also a man of sacrifice and service, who gave up everything to follow God’s call (1 Kings 19:20). He served under Elijah for possibly 18 years before taking over for Elijah.

Elisha took his role as a prophet of God very seriously. We read that he calls down fire from heaven twice to consume 50 men who were worshipping false gods (2 Kings 1:9-14). He also curses a group of small boys for making fun of his baldness and two female bears come out of the woods and devour 42 of the boys (2 Kings 2:23-25).

Elisha performed many miracles that point us to Christ. He multiplies a widow’s oil (2 Kings 4:1-7), heals a woman’s son (2 Kings 4:11-13), and helps cure Naaman the Syrian of his leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-27). He also fed the hungry, like Jesus did:

A man from Baal-shalishah came to the man of God with his sack full of 20 loaves of barley bread from the first bread of the harvest. Elisha said, “Give it to the people to eat.” But Elisha’s attendant asked, “What? Am I to set 20 loaves before 100 men?” “Give it to the people to eat,” Elisha said, “for this is what the Lord says: ‘They will eat, and they will have some left over.’” So he gave it to them, and as the Lord had promised, they ate and had some left over. 2 Kings 4:42-44, HCSB

After this, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias). And a huge crowd was following Him because they saw the signs that He was performing by healing the sick. So Jesus went up a mountain and sat down there with His disciples. Now the Passover, a Jewish festival, was near. Therefore, when Jesus looked up and noticed a huge crowd coming toward Him, He asked Philip, “Where will we buy bread so these people can eat?” He asked this to test him, for He Himself knew what He was going to do. Philip answered, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread wouldn’t be enough for each of them to have a little.” One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There’s a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish—but what are they for so many?” Then Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, so they sat down. The men numbered about 5,000. Then Jesus took the loaves, and after giving thanks He distributed them to those who were seated—so also with the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were full, He told His disciples, “Collect the leftovers so that nothing is wasted.” So they collected them and filled 12 baskets with the pieces from the five barley loaves that were left over by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign He had done, they said, “This really is the Prophet who was to come into the world!” Therefore, when Jesus knew that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He withdrew again to the mountain by Himself. John 6:1-15, HCSB

Similarities Between Elisha’s and Jesus’ Miracle

Elisha and Jesus both multiply bread, and both provide for a crowd (Elisha for 100, Jesus for 5,000). Both utilize the skills of another – Elisha tells his attendant to distribute the bread, and Jesus asked His disciples to organize the crowds and have them sit down (2 Kings 4:42; John 6:10). In both instances, the helpers question the plan. Elisha’s attendant says, “What? Really? You really think 20 loaves is going to feed all 100 men?” In John 6, it’s Philip who says, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread wouldn’t be enough for each of them to have a little.” In both miracles, there was food left over (2 Kings 4:44; John 6:12-13).

Differences Between Elisha’s and Jesus’ Miracle

Jesus provides more bread and provides more food for more people. He not only multiplies bread, but also fish. Jesus isn’t finished; the feeding of the 5,000 doesn’t end because the next day, He makes a stunning, shocking claim. His claim is so shocking that some of His disciples couldn’t handle it. What is the claim? Jesus takes this physical miracle of providing bread and makes it a spiritual lesson. In His first of seven “I am” statements, Jesus proclaims that He is the bread of life.

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again.” John 6:35

Jesus is the greater Elisha who not only gives what satisfies, but is Himself the one who satisfies. Jesus came not mainly to give us bread, but to be our bread. What is Jesus saying? What does it mean for Jesus to be the bread of life? Jesus is saying that just as your stomach has an appetite, and the desire and need to be filled with food, so your soul has an appetite and needs to feed on food. And Jesus says, “I am the food your soul needs. Feast on Me and your soul will never be hungry or thirsty again.” Jesus is saying that the deepest chambers of our soul, our greatest desires and longings, can only be met by Him. Jesus’ claim is all over the gospels and the Bible.

In the Gospels:

“Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again – ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.” John 4:13-14, HCSB

“If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink!” John 7:37, HCBS

“I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” John 10:10, HCSB

“As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love. I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” John 15:9,11 HCSB

Jesus is saying that the only way to find complete joy and satisfaction is to abide in His love.

“But I will see you again. Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will rob you of your joy.” John 16:23, HCSB

Jesus says that when you see me in glory, your joy will be full and nothing will be able to take it away.

New Testament Writers:

You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy. 1 Peter 1:8-9, HCSB

Peter says the joy that comes from knowing and believing in Jesus is so great that it is inexpressible and full of glory. Peter says that you simply can’t express with human words how wonderful, how glorious, how complete and full the joy is that comes from knowing Jesus.

Old Testament Writers:

“For He has satisfied the thirsty soul and filled the hungry with good things.” Psalm 107:9, HCSB

“In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11, HCSB

The Psalmist says that in His presence is fullness of joy and forever joy; full and forever. You can’t improve on full and forever.

“You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and new wine abound.” Psalm 4:7, HCSB

The is the Psalmist’s way of saying, “All of the world’s best pleasures do not compare to the joy that’s found in knowing my God.”

“…the redeemed of the Lord will return and come to Zion with singing, crowned with unending joy. Joy and gladness will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee.” Isaiah 35:10, HCSB

The Bible says that in God’s presence, there is unending joy. Joy and gladness overtake you in the presence of God. The Bible is repeatedly and emphatically clear: Jesus alone satisfies. Your life will have no ultimate meaning, satisfaction, fulfillment and lasting joy apart from Jesus. Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”

We would be hard pressed to find someone in this room this morning who hasn’t read this passage. But have we experienced it? We know it in our heads, but have we grasped it in our hearts? Are you satisfied in Jesus this morning? Or are you finding your fill from other sources? There are three different kinds of bread that we eat from, hoping to fill our hungry souls. There are three different kinds of wells that we drink from, hoping to quench our thirsty souls.

1. People (“If I could just be with him or her, then I would be happy. Then my life would be complete.”)

Disney has not helped us here, nor have many other movies. In City of Angels starring Nicolas Cage as an angel who has decided to trade in eternity for a life of earth, he comments on the love of his life that he has found: “I would rather have one breath of her hair, one kiss from her mouth, one touch of her hand, than eternity without it. One.”

What’s the message that City of Angels is telling us? That a moment with the man or woman of your dreams is better than any heaven out there! This message, along with the Disney “happily ever after” message, has played with our minds. Singles may say things like, “I can’t wait get to heaven. I can’t wait for Jesus to come back, but I sure would like to get married first.” Sometimes Christians who have lost their grandparents to old age say this: “Well, it’s hard, but now I know they are reunited with each other in heaven.”

Now, maybe you’ve heard someone say that or thought that yourself. What does a statement like that reveal about our hearts? What does a statement like that reveal about how we view heaven, and how view each other? The prize of heaven is not primarily that we will be in the presence of our earthly spouse. The prize of heaven is that we will be in the presence of our heavenly groom, Christ our Lord. In fact, Jesus said there will be no marriage in heaven. We might very well see our spouses in heaven, but we will not be fixated on each other. Our eyes will be set on the King of Glory!

There is not a person alive on planet earth who will make you complete or satisfy the deepest desires that you have. Only Jesus is able to do that. When you go into a relationship thinking that the person you are dating or married to is going to meet all of your needs, you are setting yourself up for disappointment, and putting a weight and expectation on someone that they were never designed to meet. This is why divorce rates are so high. Every divorce stems from placing an expectation on another person that he or she can never humanly achieve.

“Friends, coworkers, parents, boyfriends/girlfriends, fiancée, you name it – whenever you look to another person to fill the thirsty cracks and crevices that are gaping open in your heart, you are not moving in the direction of freedom and healing…not into the experience of being full and satisfied. Instead, you’re sailing straight into the headwinds of conflict and chaos and into cranked-up levels of personal pain.” (Recovering Redemption, Chandler & Snetzer, p. 31)

Have people replaced Jesus as your source of satisfaction and joy?

2. Possessions (“If I could just have that thing, then my life would be satisfied.”)

We spend our lives buying new and nice things hoping that the latest trinket will fill this desire in our souls. And so we upgrade our iPhones, we buy the new outdoor patio set, we buy that new kitchen appliance. Whatever it is. And our souls chew it up, try to digest it, and spit it out. And our souls whisper to us, “Not enough. This is not the bread I need.”

One pastor said, “Everything you own is the stuff of future garage sales and garbage dumps.” While the Bible is clear it is not wrong to have nice things, it is wrong when they have us; when we start to believe the lie that stuff will make our lives easier and happier. Is there something that you want or someone else has, where you think to yourself, “If you just had that, I wouldn’t need anything else.” You might be looking for satisfaction and fulfillment in possessions.

“One’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15, HCSB

3. Pleasure (“If I could just feel or experience…”)

There’s another subtle pleasure that is very dangerous in this city, and it’s the pleasure of comfort. There is a strong bent towards comfort and complacency in Lodi. We feel it and it’s easy to give into it because comfort is worshipped in this city. And so we make sure to find the safest neighborhoods with the best schools for our kids. None of these things are wrong, but when our desire for comfort and safety drives our decisions in life more than where Christ wants us to be, that is sinful. Some seek to find pleasure in other ways – whether it’s sex, pornography, drugs, alcohol.

4. All Three? In Ecclesiastes 2, Solomon set out to find meaning in life. And he acquired all three of these things.

People – Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines; he was king with authority over many people.

Possessions – Solomon took fourteen years to build his house. The temple he built took only a few months to build. He acquired 50,000 pounds of gold every year (about as much gold as the weight of two school buses). Solomon had gardens, vineyards (the vineyards in Lodi are just a small speck in his backyard), parks, lakes, and a forest.

Pleasure – Solomon had at least 1,000 women to sleep with and he threw epic parties where he would bring in the best musicians and comedians to entertain him. 1 Kings 4 tells us that Solomon had enough food to feed 18,000 at these parties – he partied hard.

Here was his conclusion: All is meaningless. Jim Carey once said, “I wish that everybody could become rich and famous so that they could see that it’s not the answer to anything.”

Why is this so important? It’s sin. Anytime we look to satisfaction in anything other than Jesus, that’s called idolatry. The result is an increasingly shallow generation. A recent study was done on the trends of the Christian youth population and found that three out of every five young Christians (59%) disconnect either permanently or for an extended period of time from church life after age 15.

The faith of the Christians in this generation is becoming increasingly shallow for many reasons:
1. Watered down gospel message in our churches
2. The world is a lot easier to access and thereby captivating them.
3. We have taught our children, this upcoming generation, not by words but by our actions that Jesus is not really the bread that satisfies.

Don’t just instruct your kids with words that Jesus is the supreme treasure of life, but impress on your kids with your lives that Jesus is the supreme treasure of life. What are you teaching your kids about Jesus? Not just when you read them Jesus stories at bedtime, but when you take a bite of delicious food? Is the food what you praise or is God what you praise?

What do you teach your kids about Jesus when you buy trinkets that you don’t need with money you don’t have? What are you teaching your kids about Jesus when you spend hours every night in front of the TV and just a few minutes in the morning with your Bibles? What message are we sending this upcoming generation and what do our actions say about what or who we truly value?

We might be good at instructing the beauty of the gospel with our words, but we need to work on impressing the beauty of the gospel with our lives. How you live will affect people more than what you say. What you say is important, but how live is just as important.

What are you teaching your kids about Jesus during their educational years? We might be unintentionally teaching our kids a dangerous message. Jesus is great – but the real way to have success and a fulfilling life is to do well in school and graduate college and make a steady income. Now, we may never say that out loud, but we act like it. Let’s not make a college education the primary goal of our children’s early years. Some of your children could be called by God after they graduate high school to go a foreign land where the gospel has yet to be preached and for the glory of Christ they will help win these nations and people groups for the Lord. Do not take that from them; maybe you will even go with them!

Is Jesus truly the bread of life in your house? If He is, you will go where He says to go. You will do what He says to do. Why? Because He is enough. He is the bread of life. Those who are satisfied in Him hold everything else with open hands.

The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this:

If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there? (John Piper, God is the Gospel)

There is only one thing powerful enough to cure us of our idolatry. We cure our appetite for lesser breads by tasting of the bread of life. We believe the gospel again. If people are what you turn to for fulfillment and satisfaction: Believe the gospel which says you have a relationship with the most glorious person. You don’t need another to fill you.

“When Christ becomes all-satisfying, you will love people more and need them less.”

“As the father has loved me, so have I loved you.” John 15:9, HCSB

You are fully known by Jesus. You are fully loved by Jesus.

If possessions are what you find sustainment and satisfaction in: Believe the gospel which says you are rich, not with monetary wealth, but with spiritual wealth (2 Corinthians 8:9). You are a co-heir with Christ. You have a heavenly inheritance. You are righteous! You have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. You belong in the King of Glory’s family. You not only a son or daughter of a king, you are a child of the King of Glory, the King of the universe! You are rich! The Bible says if you seek the Lord you lack no good thing because you have the best thing.

Pray about giving away and selling your possessions. This is exactly what Jesus told the rich young ruler whose possessions were owning him. This is not a universal, blanket command for every Christian. It’s not for every Christian who has nice things, but it’s for the Christians whose nice things have them. If there is some kind of possession in your life that you are constantly thinking about, “I can’t live without this,” then you might need to get rid of it and watch Jesus fill that void. Maybe some of you need to consider giving away your home. Giving away your car. Giving your savings to gospel-centered organization.

If pleasure is your well: Believe the gospel which says you have been reconciled to God, and in God’s presence is fullness of joy, you need not look elsewhere. Full and forever. You can’t improve on full and forever!

Questions to Consider

(Pray and ask God to expose our hearts and reveal His grace)

1. What is the bread in your life that you look to for satisfaction?

2. When your soul is thirsty, when your soul is hungry, what do you feed on? Where do you turn?

3. What is your definition of the good life?

4. Who or what do you need to be able to really say, “Life is good”?

5. Is Christ sweet and satisfying to you, or have you nibbled so long at the table of the world that you have lost your appetite for Him?

It’s right and good to admit that there are things in life that we find sweeter than Jesus. Let’s confess that this morning and repent. Ask God to help you taste and see that He is good. Echo the prayer of the Psalmist in Psalm 90:14: “Satisfy us in the morning with Your faithful love.”

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again.” John 6:35, HCSB

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What do we think of when we think of Moses? When we look at his highlight reel, we remember him for many things, especially the burning bush (Exodus 3). Moses sees the bush from a distance burning with a flame, but not consumed. He sees the angel of the Lord standing in the midst of the bush and Moses said, “This is amazing. I must go see it” (Exodus 3:3, NLT). As Moses approaches the bush and gets closer God tells him, “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground” (Exodus 3:5, NLT). Moses knew that if he got any closer, he would die. God then told Moses that He had heard the cries of His people, seen their oppression, knew their suffering, and would rescue them. God said He would lead them out of Egypt and into a land flowing with milk and honey.

He then sends Moses to Pharaoh to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses protests against God and makes excuses, thinking he’s not qualified. God essentially says, “Didn’t you hear a word I said…I’m going to do the work! I’m going to rescue! I will be with you!” Even though God tells Moses that He will do all the work, Moses continues to protest. What if they don’t believe that you sent me? What if people don’t take me seriously? Who should I say sent me other than the burning bush? God replied to Moses, “I am who i am. Say this to the people of Israel: I am has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14, NLT). Moses continued with his excuses until God told him to take his brother with him.

We remember Moses standing in front of Pharaoh and his staff turning into a serpent. We remember Moses for the 10 plagues of judgment on Egypt. We remember Moses for receiving the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai. But if there is anything we remember Moses for, if there is a story in the Old Testament that invites us to read it with redemptive eyes, it’s the story of the parting of the Red Sea.

The Exodus

The story of an Israelite in Moses’ time was the story of a slave in Egypt, a dead man walking without hope, who was redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Death passed over as the Israelites were delivered and rescued from death to life.

The Exodus means “getting out” – Egypt represents a type of the world, a place where we were bound in and blinded. Pharaoh is a type of Satan who rules over those in bondage and Moses is a type of Jesus who is a deliver; he is the one who rescues God’s people.

Leading up to the Exodus, Pharaoh had many opportunities to let the children of Israel go, but did not and instead experienced God’s judgment. After numerous warnings Pharaoh finally lets God’s people go, but then changes his mind. As Moses was leading God’s people out, the enemy was coming upon them. The children of Israel began to complain and were terrified; they saw the Exodus as an impossibility and knew they couldn’t save themselves from Pharaoh.

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Exodus 14:13-14

Salvation isn’t performed by us, we don’t do a thing. Salvation is from the Lord and He does the work! In the next scene, the Red Sea parts as God drove back the sea and divided the waters. God made a way where the was no way for the children of Israel to cross over. After the children of Israel crossed over, their enemies were destroyed. They were freed and God received glory, just like He said He would. This was no minor miracle but a moment in life that you never forget. You never forget crossing the Red Sea, and this is our story – our salvation is about getting out of bondage.

Redemption means to be released or set free. We were once in bondage and the idea of rescue seemed impossible. One moment we weren’t believers, the next we were. One moment we were dead, the next we were alive. One moment we were lost, the next we were found. One moment we were strangers from the cross, the next we were citizens. One moment we were part of the kingdom of darkness, the next we were part of the kingdom of light. One moment we didn’t belong, the next moment we were adopted. Once we were blind, but then we could see! Once we were in bondage, but then we were set free!

Our bondage may have been morality, job, the pride of life, popularity, achievements, good grades…we looked at the salvation of God as an impossibility. There’s no way because we can’t save ourselves; we don’t contribute a thing to our own salvation. Jesus calls out to us in our disbelief to trust Him. In Exodus 14:15, God tells Moses to tell the people to go forward. Before we crossed over from death to life, Jesus calls us to go forward and trust Him.

Just as Moses said to the children of Israel “see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today,” Jesus the greater Redeemer says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). We cross over by grace, just as the children of Israel trusted God and crossed over by grace. We are saved not by the quality of our faith, but by the object of our faith: the Redeemer God who fights for us.

As we continue to read Exodus, we see that the Israelites complained and worshipped idols along the way. How could they forget the parting of the Red Sea, or God delivering them from slavery and wiping out the enemy? The truth is even though we have been delivered and have crossed over from death to life, we still feel enslaved. Egypt lies to us and says, “I miss you! I want you back!” You can take the people out of slavery, but you can’t take the slavery out of the people as easily. Some of us have been living in bondage for so long that we don’t know what freedom is.

Jesus wants to set us free. He goes before us like the pillar in the cloud; He walks before us and is with us, never to leave us nor forsake us. Jesus came to save us from our sins; He is greater than Moses! Did the people in Exodus save themselves? No. Could they save themselves? No. Did they contribute to their salvation? No, they were set free. This all shows us how Jesus saves:

  • Jesus is the greater Moses and the one who alone fulfills the law.
  • Jesus is the greater leader who did not kill His enemies like Moses, but instead we killed Him.
  • Jesus is the greater Passover Lamb who was slain to remove God’s wrath from us.
  • Jesus is the greater firstborn Son who died for our sin.
  • Jesus is the greater pillar and cloud who walks with us day and night.
  • Jesus is the greater victor who defeated the greatest Pharaoh ever, Satan.
  • Jesus is the great Savior who redeems not millions from one nation but billions from every nation.
  • Jesus is the greater Redeemer, taking us to a greater promised land, the eternal kingdom of God.
  • Jesus is the greater lawgiver, not only writing His law on stone but also on the new hearts that He gives us, hearts that want to obey His law.

Jesus is greater than our bondage. We’ve been set free to live freely; to leave sin, death, idols, and rebellion behind and walk with Jesus. His desire is that we would be free. Jesus desires us to be free to mirror His glory. We are created in His image, but sin and bondage distort that image. The Bible says we have been rescued from the penalty of sin – this means we are justified before God and Jesus has provided the great escape for us. Our sin has been removed.

We are also being rescued from the power of sin. This means that every day is a process for us and every day is a fight. We fight against temptation, the call of Egypt and Satan (also known as Pharaoh). There is a daily battle going on for our true identity and sin distorts our identity, giving us the illusion that we are not the children of God, but slaves. If our identity is in Christ alone, then we are image bearers of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Exodus 15 is a picture of victory and worship! God desires that we would be a free people for the worship of God. When bondage weighs us down, it’s hard to lift our hands in worship. Freedom is a daily process of remembering what Jesus has rescued us from and freedom is celebrating grace:

  • Celebrating Salvation!
  • Celebrating Victory!
  • Celebrating God’s wrath removed!
  • Celebrating peace with God!
  • Celebrating adoption!
  • Celebrating His presence with us!
  • Celebrating His love for us!
  • Celebrating His mercy!
  • Celebrating redemption!
  • Celebrating forgiveness!
  • Celebrating a new identity!
  • Celebrating that there is now therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus!
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When you think of Joshua, what do you think of? Do you think of Jericho and the walls falling down? Or the parting of the Jordan River? Either way, you would be right. The book of Joshua is a story of faith in action and the faithfulness of God to lead and provide for His people. But if we stopped there, it would be like looking at a single tree in a great forest – there is so much more. The Old Testament, filled with poetry, narratives, prophecy and historical accounts, not only reveals to us God’s work in and through the nation of Israel but also points to the coming Messiah, our savior Jesus Christ. It is a living illustration or picture. This series, Jesus the Greater, is about seeing Jesus, God’s redemptive story, in the Old Testament through the prophets, Israel, and God’s leading.

Genesis is the book of beginnings. For us it starts there with the beginning of our world and the creation of man. Man rebels against God in the fall and we see the beginning of the redemptive process. A seed of redemption is planted (Genesis 3:15). In Noah we see a new start and in Abram we see the covenant established (Genesis 12:1-3). That promise was passed down through Isaac to Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel. Jacob had twelve sons including Joseph, who was sold off to the Midianites and taken to Egypt (Genesis 37). Eventually Jacob’s entire family moves to Egypt where by God’s grace Joseph had been elevated to the highest position in the land besides Pharaoh himself. Egypt became God’s incubator for a nation to be formed and over the next 400 years, that clan of about 100 grew to well over a million, but through harsh, slave-like conditions.

Exodus is the book of redemption where the people cried out to God. He heard their cries and saw their afflictions and sent them a deliverer, Moses. God has heard our cries and seen our affliction and the destruction of sin in our lives and so He sent a deliverer to us, Jesus. Jesus delivers us from the bondage of sin.

Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Exodus 3:7-8

God always fulfills His promises. He takes us out of bondage and brings us into the Promised Land, just like He did with the Israelites after 400 years in Egypt. God redeems His people from captivity and the rest of redemptive history points back to the Exodus as the exodus points to the future of Jesus delivering us from the bondage of sin. Leviticus is a book of reconciliation; it is a book of the levitical sacrificial system for a people redeemed from Egypt and in a covenant relationship with their God. The sacrificial system was in response to what God had done, not an attempt to appease. Whenever impurity or sin entered the camp and disrupted fellowship with God, sacrifices were made to renew fellowship. Leviticus lays out the rightful response to a holy and just God and reminds us that we need God and can’t do this life on our own.

Numbers is a book of the wilderness, the wandering after the failure of the people to enter the rest of the Promised Land. Deuteronomy is a reminder of God’s covenant to His people after the former generation’s failure. A new charge is given as the second generation looks forward to the Promised Land and entering the rest promised by God. Joshua is the culmination of what has come before and is the high point of the covenant people of God, Israel. It is the fulfillment of promises God made hundreds of years before to Abraham. God set aside the land for His people as a vehicle for the Messiah, our Savior Jesus. It was a vehicle for other nations and other lands to see the great power and grace of our creator God. It is a great picture of our own salvation and the Christian life. Just as God gave His people the land and they entered it, there were battles. The victory was assured as long as they walked in obedience with Him. They did not fight battles but God fought for them, just as He fights for us. God told Joshua to be courageous four times, but He gave Joshua the courage just as He gives us our faith to walk with Him and to follow Him. Canaan, the Promised Land, is not only a picture of the rest that we have in Christ in this physical world but also what we will have in His presence.

Who is Joshua? Joshua was the servant to Moses, one of the twelve spies sent in to spy on the Promised Land. Ten spies came back and reported that there were giants and two men, though Caleb and Joshua tried to convince the people to go and possess the land, but they could not. Joshua’s name was originally Hoshea (meaning salvation) but Moses changed his name to Joshua, meaning “The Lord Saves” (Numbers 13:16). The name Joshua and Jesus are the same; one is Greek and one is Hebrew. Moses received word from God that he would not bring the congregation into the land of promise and that the responsibility would fall upon Joshua (Numbers 20:12). It is clear that Moses (whose name is synonymous with The Law) could never bring Israel into Canaan, anymore than the law can bring us to heaven (John 1:17); this is the work of Joshua (Jesus), our Savior. Joshua was a picture and a foreshadow of Jesus.

Joshua was a servant of Moses; He obeyed Moses and did the will of Moses as a good servant. This is like Christ, our Lord, who for a time was made of a woman, made under the law (Gal. 4:4). He took upon Himself the form of a servant and became obedient in all things as our representative (Phil. 2:6-8; Rom. 5:19). Christ was subject to the law (both moral and ceremonial) in order that He might impute unto His people a perfect standing before the law (Heb. 2:16-18; Heb. 4:14-15).

Joshua was the commander of Israel and given power and authority from God. He led Israel to victory and took possession of the land under the chief captain, Jesus (Joshua 5:13). Our Lord Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He has all authority in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18) and He has all power over all flesh (John 17:2; Colossians 1; Ephesians 6:10-18).

Joshua led Israel into the Promised Land as Christ effectually redeems all His people and will take them to glory (John 6:37-39; John 10:14-16, 27-30). What the law could not do, being weak through the flesh, Christ, our Joshua, has done (Rom. 8:3). Our inheritance is secured by and in Christ (Ephesians 1:11; I Peter 1:3-5).

Joshua was a mighty conqueror. He overcame and destroyed many kings and mighty men so that Israel could take peaceable possession of the land of Canaan. Our mighty conqueror, the Lord Jesus, overcame and totally destroyed the mighty rulers and enemies of our souls (Eph. 6:12). He defeated Satan, He conquered sin and He conquered death. (I Cor. 3:21-23; 15:56-57).

Joshua, a picture of Jesus, was called by God to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land, Canaan. They were to vanquish the land and take it over; God gave them the promise of victory:

After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. 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. 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. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:1-9

Joshua commanded the officers to take possession of the land:

And Joshua commanded the officers of the people, “Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, ‘Prepare your provisions, for within three days you are to pass over this Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess.’” Joshua 1:10-11

In Joshua 2, Joshua sends spies into Jericho, and in Joshua 3, Israel crosses the Jordan with the ark, which represents the presence and promises of God:

and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. Joshua 3:15-16

After they crossed the Jordan, Joshua called one man from each tribe to go back into the dry river and take up a large stone to build a memorial to God (Joshua 4:6-7). When God moves, He disrupts the law of nature. He knew the people would forget, just as we forget when He answers prayer or calms the storm in our lives. We forget the crucifixion and resurrection when we live like it doesn’t matter and try to take credit for the things God has done.

Once they crossed over the river, the hearts of the kings melted (Joshua 5:1). They heard of the Jordan drying up and the enemies of Israel were in fear. Strategically, this would be the time to attack when the enemy was caught off guard and afraid. But God’s timing is not ours and His strategy is not ours; He was more concerned with the relationship between Himself and His people, so He called the men to be circumcised. Circumcision was a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham (Genesis 17:10-14). God wanted to remind Israel of the covenant relationship, that they were God’s people, set apart for His purposes and He had brought them into the land. Once they entered the land, they kept the Passover (Joshua 5:10) before their first battle. Passover was another reminder of God’s redeeming providence in the nation and their redemption from Egypt. God took them, a people who had basically known nothing but slavery, and delivered them and made them a people. When Joshua went to survey Jericho, he encountered the Commander of the Lord’s army, which is Jesus (Joshua 5:13-15). God values relationship before ritual. In Mark 3, Jesus calls the apostles up to the mountain to be with Him before sending them out.

God went before the people for victory and He gave Jericho into Joshua’s hand:

Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. Joshua 6:1-2

God wanted to display His power because it was He who did the conquering! We look at our circumstances and think, “There is no way, how will this ever work?” We look at conventional means but God had a vastly different plan and called Joshua and his men to march around the city. On the seventh day in the seventh march around the city, the people shouted and the walls fell. Only Rahab the prostitute and those in her house were spared; she hid Joshua’s messengers because of her faith in God:

and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Joshua 2:9-11

The men agreed to show her kindness:

Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household. Then if anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless. But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head. Joshua 2:18-19

Rahab lived in the wall (Joshua 2:15). She hid her family for seven days, and she knew that they had to remain in the house while it crumbled around them. This is why we read about Rahab in Hebrews:

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. Hebrews 11:31

It took faith for the people to march around and believe God and it took faith for Rahab to stand in the wall when her world was falling apart. Where are you in that equation? Do you feel like you have been marching, trusting, waiting? In your life does it feel like the walls will never fall? The walls will fall, at the right time, in the right way, so that He gets the glory. Maybe you are in the wall and your world is being rocked right now; the walls are shaking. If you are standing on the promises of God, in Christ, stand firm. Where are we putting our trust in when our world is shaking? If it’s in Jesus, He will keep us. Adrenaline makes us want to flee – Rahab probably wanted to run, but God gave her the ability to stand.

After Jericho, Joshua sent a scouting party up to a much smaller city called Ai. A much smaller contingent was sent up for battle, and Israel was defeated at Ai because of two sins: the taking of things devoted to destruction and self-reliance. God had given them a great victory at Jericho but the people thought they had something to do with the victory and were filled with pride. Joshua did not seek counsel from the Lord; had he sought counsel, God would have revealed to him there was sin in the camp.

We are just like the Israelites. We cross the Jordan through salvation and we enter in to the land full of the promise of victory and rest. Faith and dependency on God is a constant battle within our own hearts. As soon as we begin to think we can make changes without God, we’ve reached our Ai. There was sin in the camp because Achan coveted and took things devoted for destruction. Do we wonder why we live a defeated life? Because we have the sin of Achan in our hearts. We are coveting, we are holding on to those things devoted to destruction. We are holding on to the things of this world. We covet the things that bring us comfort or pleasure and we don’t want to give them up. We are defeated at our Ai because our sin hardens our hearts and makes us less sensitive to the Spirit. It is hard for us to remember that all victory is of God and will continue to be; apart from God we would choose corruption. God does not bless disobedience. Can He use disobedient people? Yes, he does it all the time but that is not the question. The question is about personal victory, about experiencing the fruit of the land, and about our relationship with Jesus. Disobedience leads to defeat.

However, disobedience is not the end – that is the beauty of confession and experiencing God’s faithful grace through repentance. Once the sin was removed from the camp (Joshua 8), God sent Israel out to victory as Joshua lead them to the Promised Land. In the process of taking that land, there were battles and tests to build faith and demonstrate the character and power of God, just as there are in our lives. He brings us in and goes before us but we are called to walk in faith. What are you struggling with this morning? Your best approach to victory is to live like Rahab – see the incredible power of God, cry out to Him, and trust in the beauty of His grace to bring us in and keep us.

Jesus, the Greater Joshua, has taken us into the Promised Land. Not one of the Lord’s promises to Israel failed; if God has promised, it will come to pass:

Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass. Joshua 21:45

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When you think of Jonah, what do you think of? Most of us think of a whale or a big fish. When we look at the prophet Jonah from the book of Jonah, we find that the book is not about a fish at all, but about Jesus, about love, and about God’s grace in our lives. It’s a book that foreshadows Jesus Christ and all that He would come and do.

Who is Jonah? Jonah was a prophet of God. A prophet was an individual who was anointed by God to speak on His behalf to the people. The prophet’s words to the people were God’s word. Jonah was a chosen man of God to speak to the nation of Israel. Jonah prophesied that the nation of Israel, the Northern Kingdom, would expand its borders (2 Kings 14:25) and it came to pass – this verified his hearing from God. Even so, the hearts of the people were far from God. They were caught up in their victories, and we know this through Jonah’s contemporaries, Hosea and Amos. Hosea called Israel an “adulterous nation” and an unfaithful partner to their God. Even though God had prophesied through Jonah and expanded the Northern Kingdom, their hearts were drifting and they were still far from God.

Jonah was seen by his contemporaries as a man of God and a credible prophet, who had brought good news to the Northern Kingdom. We can surmise that Jonah probably had some level of notoriety and was somewhat of the “go-to” guy at the temple. He was honored as a man of God and he had found his place in history among the people of Israel.

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” Jonah 1:1-2

God speaks to Jonah and tells him to go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out to them to repent. How great was Nineveh? Historians estimate the population of the city was 600,000; others estimate close to 1 million. Nineveh offered anything and everything that a city could offer: arts, politics, finance, commerce, and trade. Located on the Tigris River, it was an Assyrian City, the capital, and was known for its violence and brutality. Enemies were often impaled and left in the desert or buried up to their necks and left to die in the scorching sun. Nineveh was also an enemy of Israel, and it was a well protected city. The walls around the inner city were said to be 50 feet deep, wide enough for chariot races, and 100 feet tall. Outside the walls was a lush and beautiful garden. The gates were fortified and huge; the city was an imposing place. God didn’t command Jonah to go and visit but to go and proclaim repentance, to “call out against it.” Jonah’s response is not surprising:

But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. Jonah 1:3

God was calling Jonah to a dangerous task out of his comfort zone. His first move to flee made sense – Jonah was afraid. He went to Tarshish, in the opposite direction of Nineveh. He went down to docks and there was a boat headed to Tarshish, modern-day Spain. Whenever we want to run from God or pursue an idol, there will always be a way or a person willing to help us. An open door is not always a justification – whatever it is that we harbor in our hearts, there will always be a ship waiting to take us away from God. Idols are not always bad things. If we place good things in our life ahead of God, those good things become idols. An open door doesn’t mean God wants us to walk through it. When we are busy doing good things to feel important or to give us identity, God loses His place in our life. We get our identity from being the one who is always on time or has the best behaved kids. When we put our hope and identity in the things around us, those things become idols. God is not a priority in our life; He is the priority and everything filters through Him. When God is everything, family, friendships, hobbies, and work all become Christ-centered and that’s what He calls us to. He is what we pursue, and it is about Jesus.

What was Jonah harboring in his heart? Was it fear of the Ninevites? Was he afraid of being arrested, tortured, taken out in the desert, and buried alive? Was it a lack of trust in God, or was he just comfortable being the “go-to” guy? We find the answer in Jonah’s prayer:

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Jonah 3:10-4:2

Jonah was not afraid of being arrested or tortured or buried alive in the desert. It was not that he did not believe in the power of God to love and to save – he absolutely did believe in the power of God to save! That’s what Jonah was afraid of; he was a prophet afraid that God would save the people. He knew God would save the people and he did not want that to happen. Jonah was a self-righteous racist. He looked at the Ninevites and saw violent people with strange customs. They were gentiles and pagans who worshiped other gods; he wanted them to suffer and be destroyed. The Ninevites were enemies of Israel and he wanted them to be destroyed for the sake of Israel. He was a religious man who had deceived himself into believing that he and the nation of Israel were deserving of God’s favor and blessing; that they had somehow contributed to their position before God. Jonah deceived himself and believed he was chosen by God for his abilities. In reality, God chose Jonah because He is gracious; the choice had nothing to do with Jonah. God made the nation of Israel out of nothing, but Jonah lost sight of that and wanted the destruction of his enemies. Jonah was more concerned with the welfare of his own city and comfort than the salvation of others.

Jonah flees from God not out of fear, but he flees holding onto his idols: national pride and self-righteousness. It is hard to hold two gods in your heart at the same time, the true God and the idol. No one can serve two masters; he will love one and hate the other (Matthew 6:24). We can’t love the world and the things of the world and God at the same time. We become a double-minded man, unstable in all of our ways. We can’t hold onto the false god and the real God at the same time.

Why would God send a self-righteous racist to preach the Word of repentance to a pagan city? God picked Jonah because He not only cared about the Ninevites, He cared about Jonah’s heart as well. He cared about Jonah. There was a place in Jonah’s heart that God did not hold, or there had been a drift in his heart. God wanted all of Jonah, just as He wants all of our hearts. God put Jonah in a place where He could expose Jonah’s heart. We look at this passage not as God’s wrath, but as His grace:

But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had lain down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, “What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god! Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.”

And they said to one another, “Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.” So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them.

Then they said to him, “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?” For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. He said to them, “Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.” Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they called out to the LORD, “O LORD, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.” So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows. And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1:4-17

Jonah is a story of God’s grace; He loves us too much to let us run from Him:

For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. Hebrews 12:6

When God sends a fish after us, we know He loves us. He cares too much to let us drift away. God wanted to expose Jonah’s heart, as He does ours, so He sends circumstances into our lives to take us to the depths, if needed; to show us the darkness of our own hearts and to bring us to the point of repentance. God gives us a new heart when we come into relationship with Him, but that heart still dwells in a body of flesh so it is not a perfect heart. Our flesh cries out as we walk in the process of sanctification. At one moment, Jonah is a spokesman for God but in the next, he is running from the presence of God. But God loves him too much to let him go – it is a great picture of God’s grace. Jonah runs and God chases him. What other God so loves that He chases His rebellious children? God will disrupt our lives if need be so that we fix our eyes on Him. Jonah finds himself deep under water, inside a great fish, and he cries out to God:

Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying,

“I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
For you cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O LORD my God.
When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land. Jonah 2:1-10

In the depth of the great fish at the bottom of the sea, facing death, Jonah saw the depths of his sin. He saw that it was not only the pagan Ninevites that were undeserving of God’s salvation, but it was him. He needed a savior as well. Salvation belongs to the Lord; understanding all there is to God’s grace and love takes more than a lifetime. Paul tells the Ephesians that in the coming age, God would show them the immeasurable grace of God towards them and prays that they may know the love of God, which surpasses knowledge. God is infinite, and so is His love and grace toward us. At each turn we see a different side of the beauty we call grace. In the belly of the fish, Jonah sees a new side of God’s grace and love. His hard, self-righteous heart turns in thanksgiving as God gives Him new life after three days inside the fish.

His new life is a foreshadow of Christ’s burial and resurrection (Matthew 12:38-42). It is also a picture of our new life in Christ. Jonah repents in the belly of the fish and dies to himself. When he cries out to God in the depths of despair, he realizes there is no other way. We are dead in our sins and trespasses, we cry out, and Jesus makes a way when there is no other way.

Once again God speaks to Jonah:

Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah 3:1-3

Jonah responds positively and goes to the great city of Nineveh:

And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. Jonah 3:5

God can mightily use a heart that is wholly submitted to Him. Jonah repents and now that his heart is submitted to God, God uses him to impact a city. The king himself repented. When we truly understand how desperate we are for a savior, the depravity of our own heart, and the extravagant love of God, it moves us to share His mercy and grace with others. The gospel results in mission.

Many of us know the gospel in our heads – we can recite it and share verses, but we don’t know it in our hearts. Beau Hughes from The Village Church calls it the gospel coin – he likens it to putting a coin in a vending machine. When the coin is stuck, nothing works. We shake it, kick it, or move it until it drops and then it produces. Many of us are like Jonah – we have the gospel in our heads but it has not hit our hearts. This is not an issue of salvation but an issue of understanding salvation and understanding grace. We are wired completely different from grace in our sin nature. We’re prideful people and we want something to do with our own salvation. It’s only when we come to the end of ourselves and realize there is absolutely nothing we can do that the coin drops and things happen. Our lives and priorities change, fruit is produced, and our perspective changes. When the gospel coin drops, it gets ahold of our hearts and changes us.

There is nothing good in us; any kind act is God within us. Grace means we have nothing apart from Him but because of the cross, we are a new creation. He paid the price and we need to receive it. When we find joy in serving, it’s because of Jesus in us. When we take our eyes off of Jesus, we are a mess just like Jonah. When we produce fruit, God is producing the fruit through us.

God was willing to spare Nineveh but that meant He could not spare His own Son. Somebody had to die for the sins of Nineveh, or the people would die in their sins because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Jesus used the ministry of Jonah to show the Jews their guilt:

But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. Matthew 12:39-41

In the account of Jonah, he got on the boat, went below and fell asleep as a great storm arose. The experienced sailors started to throw cargo overboard and fear for their lives. The captain found Jonah asleep and asked him, “What are you doing? Don’t you care? Cry out to your God!” Jonah was determined to be the cause of the storm and thrown overboard. In Mark 4, Jesus and His disciples were crossing the sea of Galilee and Jesus was asleep as a great storm arose. The fishermen became afraid and went to Jesus and asked Him, “Don’t you care that we are all going to die?”

These accounts are very similar. Jonah and Jesus were both asleep in the boat. In both cases, there was a miraculous intervention to a huge and sudden storm and in both cases, the sailors were more afraid after the calming of the storm than before because they saw the mighty hand of God at work. The one difference is that Jonah was thrown overboard to calm the storm. Jesus said, “Something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41) and He was speaking of Himself. Jesus was saying that He would be cast over to the cross; sacrificed to calm the storm as the greater Jonah. Unlike Jonah who was reluctant to preach to the pagan city of Nineveh, Jesus willingly came and gave His life as a ransom for many. He willingly gave His life for us. Jesus came and while we were His enemies, He died for us. Unlike Jonah, He rejoices over the salvation of our City. Unlike Jonah’s lack of understanding of God’s grace and love, Jesus has perfect understanding because He is the gospel. He is the good news. He is love and grace. Unlike Jonah who was running from the presence of God, Jesus left glory in perfect obedience and was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Salvation is from the Lord and Him alone, not from other things, people, or position. If we find ourselves in a great fish or just frustrated by circumstances, God may be trying to get our attention. What are we trusting in today? Or perhaps we are like the Ninevites and this is the first time we are hearing about God or the first time it makes sense as we hear God saying, “Repent and come to Jesus.” Or maybe the coin has dropped and we have received new life and are on mission. There is never an end to grace. There is always new understanding of our own hearts in light of grace. Whether it is time to repent or rejoice, now is the time.

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