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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

ICON series: Jesus, the true and better Joshua

From my sermon Sunday, February 25th @ COLLIDE

There is something to this word and idea of Icon, and it’s implications by extension, that I have been processing through and really seeking to understand over the last several years. It’s an exciting topic to me- one that has magnified the glory of God and superiority of Christ in my life in how it unifies so many ideas and categories of our existence and understanding that we tend to compartmentalize, if we even explore them at all. I’m just starting to be able to understand this myself, but I hope that maybe the perspective I have developed will in some way help you to increase your love and worship of God in spirit and in truth.

I’m going to start in what is perhaps an odd and unfamiliar place for many of you and that is from the 17th Century Westminster Confession of Faith, specifically Chapter Five, which defines God’s Providence. The word providence refers primarily to God’s work of governing and sustaining all of his creation. It says that:

“God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.”

Now that is a lot of really heavy theological stuff, but what I want you to come away with is that God is in perfect control of all things, and nothing has transpired in history or is set to transpire in the future that is of an accidental or coincidental nature. More so, it has been purposefully and carefully directed by God in such a way that his name receives the fullest realization of praise and glory. I think, because of this truth we can see God as an infinitely brilliant artist, a writer perhaps, or poet, or painter, and having declared the end from the beginning, he has crafted a story that is infused with deep and joyous meaning. From the very least to the very greatest of objects, circumstances and people, his story flourishes not on the pages of a book, or the moving frames of a film, but in and through the lives of real people, real places, and real events that shape the course of all existence. When we can step back and began to get a picture of what this means, the Bible and it’s interaction with all of life should stagger us with the complexity and sheer beauty with which God has created us and the lives we live out every day. Understanding the extent of God’s providential governance pulls back the veneer of mundane life, it exposes life’s trials as momentary and purposeful, it reveals life’s pleasures to be but shadows compared to the intended future joys, and we see that something magical, something supernatural, is transpiring right in our midst. It is the unfolding of God’s story of redemption.

Which brings us back to this subject of Icon; we get this term Icon from Colossians 1:15 were Paul writes that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God.” He is the icon of God himself. Our English word Icon comes from the Greek eikōn and means simply "image" which is how it is used here and in 21 other places in the New Testament.

An icon is an image, picture, or representation; it is a sign or likeness that stands for an object by signifying or representing it, or by analogy. By extension, icon is also used, particularly in modern popular culture, in the general sense of symbol, such as a name, a face, a picture, a statue or even a person readily recognized as having some well-known significance or embodying certain qualities. It is when one thing, image or depiction, represents something else of greater significance through literal or figurative meaning.

So tonight we are going to be discussing Joshua as an icon, as an iconic figure or archetype. We will see how the man Joshua is an image and a depiction that represents something else of greater significance both literally and figuratively. Joshua and the things he did point us to Jesus Christ and who he was and what he has done for us. Therefore, my main thesis is this, that Jesus is the true and better Joshua.

The Hero’s Journey
First thing we are going to look at is the universal cycle of a hero so we can see how Joshua both fits into that cycle and represents something of greater significance than just the circumstances of his own existence.

In 1949, anthropologist Joseph Campbell published the book The Hero of a Thousand Faces in which he detailed the phenomena of the monomyth, or the hero cycle, with which most, if not all, heroic stories, or narratives, share their structure. The similarities of mythical structures and the common characteristics of religious stories are explained by the term “collective universal subconscious”, teaching that humanity produces, in its subconscious mind, a universal origin common to the human experience that is shared among all religions as demonstrated by the similarities of their heroes, gods, shaman, prophets and priests.

Campbell said that the cycle of the hero, or the hero’s journey, is fairly simple, falling into minimally three stages:

First is the separation, where the hero departs from one’s roots, from the normal life and into the call of adventure. Often the hero has been born under supernatural or special circumstances.

Second is the initiation, where the hero undergoes a dark period, often entering into a supernatural or unfamiliar setting, and must complete various tasks, and may endure trials or temptations.

Finally is the return, marked by the completion of a task or tasks, where the hero may be brought back to normal life, but is now able to bestow gifts on his or her people, sometimes in the form of a physical object, or an abstract gift like wisdom or freedom.

For example, we see the hero’s journey narrated in the life of Moses. It begins with the separation where Moses was born under the special circumstance of the Egyptians killing all the first born Hebrew males. His mother puts him into a river and he is taken to live in the house of the Pharoah’s daughter. The initiation transpires when Moses kills an Egyptian and flees to Midian where he encounters God in the wilderness at the burning bush. There God calls Moses to return to Egypt to deliver his people and reveals his secret name “I AM”. Moses’ return is marked by the plagues on Egypt and the delivery of the people from their oppressor. It completes all aspects of the cycle. And if we look we see the same hero’s journey repeated again and again through every single religion and pagan mythology in the history of the world, from the most primitive Native American myths to the most complex of polytheistic Hinduism; and clearly and obviously in the characters of the Old Testament and ultimately in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Now what of it? Campbell and those who have absorbed his teaching would say that the fact that this hero’s journey is present shows that there is a collective universal subconscious. They would extend this idea to the degree that the commonality of the hero’s journey proves that Christianity is just like every other religion- it is merely the retelling of the hero journey for a specific people at a specific time. They would say that each generation must create its own hero’s journey and that to believe in the hero as literally important or even existing is to miss the point. The fact that the lives of Moses, or Joshua, or King David demonstrate deep similarities to the events and subsequent meaning of Jesus Christ, to them, proves that the teachings of the New Testament are a fraud, the way Jesus story fit’s into the hero cycle is so perfect, it must be made up.

I think it is quite the opposite. I think it demonstrates remarkably that there isn’t a universal collective subconscious, but rather a uniform singular conscious, specifically the mind of Creator, who has imprinted on our nature, and in our imagination, a yearning for this hero cycle. Which one of us doesn’t long to be a part of this quest? What woman doesn’t want to be rescued by her knight on a white horse? What man doesn’t want to engage life with such reckless abandon that he is swept up into a story much greater then himself? This is what is imprinted on our hearts and our souls thirst for it, long for it. It is played out in every character of every book and movie- it is the thread running through every myth, legend and tale. It is imprinted on our nature, beckoning us in our deepest longings, and we play it out in our imagination over and over. It is what makes us human and what makes us a living soul.

The human imagination is the receptor for the shadows and echoes of what God left for us to desire. We readily recognize in human stories the qualities of beauty and truth that we long for. The archetype of the hero originates in God and carries His truth, even though it may be distorted in the stories of pagan gods and heroes. In the human longing for fulfillment the mind creates an image that reflects the reality we were created for. Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, rather then being the enemy of the mythical heroes of pagan religions is actually the historically true fulfillment of what those myths were about.

And superior that, God is the author of the hero’s journey in the lives of real people and has foreshadowed his story time and time again through real men and women. Not only do false myths show God’s work, but factually true stories, show the providence of God working in history as a poet, constantly showing us and leading us to understand his story of the heroic redemption of his people. Joshua, the man, the warrior and prophet, points towards God’s fulfillment of that cycle in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Wanderers No More
Joshua, son of Nun, comes of age in the time of Israel’s wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt. He first appears in Exodus 17 and goes by the name Hosea, when he leads a successful counter-attack against the Amalekites, even though he is very young. After this he subsequently becomes Moses’ personal assistant and protégé. It is likely at this time that Moses gives him the name Joshua. His original name Hosea means “saves;” and the change to Joshua changes the meaning of his name to “The LORD is salvation”. Illuminating but not coincidental is the fact that Joshua is Jesus’ actual name. The Hebrew name for Joshua is Yeshua which was translated into the Greek as Iesous; which was then transliterated into the Latin Iesus, which is where we get the English pronunciation, Jesus. Jesus and Joshua share the same name, which should tell us about the significance of this man in God’s unfolding story of redemption.

In this era of Joshua’s life is where see the hero’s journey begins with separation - God’s chosen prophet Moses changes his name to accord with his future and the future of all of Israel. Joshua is also specifically appointed by Moses to take his place, as just prior to Moses’ death it says Joshua was “full of the Spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him.” (Deutoronomy 34:9)

Now the initiation of Joshua, where Joshua enters the dangerous land and must complete the incredible task of conquering it’s inhabitants, begins in the book of Joshua 1:1-9

“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.”

Now what I find remarkable about the initiation of Joshua is the great transition it signifies. For a generation Moses has led the people. He led their deliverance from Egypt, from where they crossed the parted Red Sea, and were led by God in a pillar of fire by night and a rain cloud by day, and fed with manna from heaven. Moses receives the Law of God and delivers it to the people. But because of their wickedness, God tells them that the whole generation will wander for 40 years. And Moses, because of a moment of anger is kept from crossing into the promise land of Canaan. The Israelites were wanderers up until this point. They had the Law, but they were disobedient, they had been delivered from their oppressor, but they had no home.

After Moses’ death, God commands Joshua to cross the Jordan to the land he has given Israel. He marks out the boundaries of the land telling him that it extends “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.” The LORD tells Joshua that no man will be able to stand before Joshua for the rest of his life and he will cause his people to inherit the land and that “God will be with him wherever he goes.”

So what does Joshua do? He obeys the Lord. He leads the people across the Jordan River, when God again stops the flow of water and they cross on dry land. When he gets to the other side we learn that the circumcision God has commanded as a sign of his covenant has been disobeyed and unfilled; God therefore commands Joshua that all the men be circumcised. Joshua also reinstates the Passover meal at which time the manna from heaven ceases. From this point on, through military conquest, in obedience Joshua causes the land to be taken.

Now a significant event occurs when Joshua is about to invade Jericho. It says “He lifted his eyes up, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua said to him, “Are you for us or our adversaries? And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” No? What you mean no? What does this tell us? The LORD is on his own side. The commander of the Lords Army is there to win the battle. It is not a matter God being on the side of Israel, but more of Israel being on the side of God. There are two important examples that show how God determines is righteous and who is wicked. Is it by birth and by law keeping? No, it is by faith.

This concept of salvation by faith is clearly illustrated when Joshua sends spies into Jericho, and Rahab the prostitute hides them because she says “the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” Rahab is mentioned both in the lineage of Christ and in the hall of faith of Hebrews 11, where it says that “by faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” Interestingly, the way that the invading Israelites knew not to kill Rahab and her household was she was directed to hang a scarlet cord in the doorway of her home. Of course, scarlet in the Bible is a common symbol of Christ’s blood. But isn’t it amazing, God spares a foreign prosititute because of her faith.

On the other hand there is Achan of the tribe of Judah, he steals a beautiful cloak from the conquered enemy when God had commanded the Israelites to give all the captured treasure to the LORD. It says that “the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things.” The result, Achan was stoned and burnt alive. From the tribe of Judah, he was circumcised, and according to the law ceremonially clean to be sure, but “broke faith” when a cloak became the god of his idolatry and he served it’s purposes rather than the Lord’s.

The Bible teaches us that “faith is reckoned to us as righteousness”. It is not by birth right, when a foreign prostitute is honored by God for all of posterity, but a child of Israel is stoned and burned alive for stealing a cloak. Achan had the law and it condemned him, Rahab did not have the law, but she had faith and God showed her mercy.

Finally the hero’s journey concludes in the return, when Joshua divides up and bestows the conquered land of inheritance to the 12 tribes of Israel. He also leaves them with a gift of wisdom when he says in Joshua 24:14 “fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and faithfulness.”

Jesus Christ is the True and Better Joshua
Now obviously the story of Joshua is about a righteous man who feared the Lord, obeyed the Lord, was strong and courageous, and had faith, and therefore conquered his enemies, fulfilling what God had commanded him to do. But if we come away from this incredible story thinking of it only as a moral lesson that we need to be righteous like Joshua, we will have missed the reason for Joshua entirely. Joshua is an Icon pointing to the hope of the Gospel- it’s not about “Me and what I should do” but about “Christ and what he has done!”

It says in Romans 8:3,4
"For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.”

Moses represented the law. But the people, even though they had Moses, they could not enter the promise land until Moses was dead. The deeper meaning is that having the law will not gain us entry into the promise land, into the Lord’s rest. Joshua is the Icon that reveals to us that we are not our own salvation, able to deliver ourselves by our ability to follow the law, but rather “the LORD is our salvation”. Our salvation is not found in following the Law, because we can’t, but in entering into the Kingdom that God has conquered for us. The transition from Moses to Joshua points us to see the transition from a covenant of works, wherein we must follow the law, to the covenant of grace, where Christ has fulfilled the law on our behalf. Just as Joshua succeeds Moses in leading the people, the Gospel succeeds the law in leading us to God.

And as Joshua brings the people into the possession of the Promised Land, Jesus brings his people into his heavenly kingdom and eternal rest. Jesus Christ is the true and better Joshua, the commander of the Lord’s army, who conquered the land of sin and death fulfilling the law on our behalf, so that we are no longer doomed wanderers, but have been led to rest in the covenant land of grace through faith. The boundaries are defined by God’s perfect righteousness, it is a spiritual kingdom, and we are his people, his church, secured by Jesus Christ’s obedience through faith. The sign of circumcision performed after the crossing of the Jordan; has been replaced by baptism, the sign and seal of our new life in Christ and symbol of rebirth, which is also a sign of something greater to come. The Passover meal, commemorating when the angel of death passed over the first born sons of Israel during the 10th Plague, because the blood of the lamb was painted on the doorpost, has been replaced by the Lord’s Supper, the meal which we consume to signify our participation in the death of God’s first born son whom he did not pass over, but rather was the lamb that was slain, whose shed blood causes us to be passed over. And like Rahab the prostitute who in faith hung a red cord in the doorway, we are saved by our faith when we are marked with the blood of Jesus Christ. The symbolism, the imagery, it is amazing. And the Bible is so rich in it.

See the hero’s journey of Joshua is not about what you must do and how you must do it. It is about the ultimate fact that Jesus did it for you. Jesus is the true and better Joshua who leads us into rest, who has conquered the land for us, and who gives us our portion.

The book of Hebrews begins:
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son, who he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.”

Long ago God spoke to his people through Icons, through the heroes of the Bible, but at last be has spoken to us by His son. Jesus Christ is God’s final word to us; he is the very Icon of God. The wisdom that leads us to life, it isn’t some abstract concept, some system of beliefs- it is a person- Jesus- or Joshua “the LORD is Salvation.” He is our hero, who has saved us.

The Gospel is the fulfillment of the hero’s journey: Jesus Christ, God’s only son and the exact representation of his nature, left his estate in heaven, was born of the Virgin Mary, became flesh and dwelt among us. He knew what it was to feel pain and sorrow, joy and pleasure; he was tempted to sin and did not, he performed incredible miracles, healing the sick, raising the dead, walking on water; and he was delivered by his friend to his death. Jesus Christ the righteous one was crucified and died for our sins, and he rose again eternally triumphant over all of his enemies so that there is now no condemnation for those who believe, but only everlasting joy. That is the Gospel.

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  • Methinks Martin Luther would agree! Given God's foreknowledge and foresight leave out nothing, and given that they are eternal (the movie projector image will not do!), it must (the Reformer would say "immutably"...) follow that God if he is truly God, and He is) governs, controls, and ordains all that happens. So we Christians can be comforted that our "sitz in Leben" is in the good will of God, whose election and predestination assures us of everlasting life. this is strong comfort for weak sinners.

    By Blogger CB in Ca, at 10:31 AM  

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