The angel of the LORD gave this charge to Joshua: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: “If you will walk in my ways and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.” ‘Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day. In that day each of you will invite his neighbour to sit under his vine and fig-tree,’ declares the LORD Almighty.
Zechariah has shown us the comprehensive and free salvation of Joshua the high priest, and, of course, our salvation too. We’ve seen here three sovereign acts of God. The Lord is the one who (i) rebukes our enemy, (ii) he removes our iniquity, and (iii) he restores our lost righteousness. And it is then, after this that we read in the text before us, that he recommissions Joshua. He tells the forgiven and newly dressed high priest, “walk in my ways and keep my requirements.” Now when I have asked our students why thousands of students at the University are not interested at all in coming to the Christian meetings or to this church then they’ve told me, “This is largely the reason; they believe that we’re going to give them a list of morals – don’t drink, don’t take drugs, don’t have sex – and moralism doesn’t grab them – ‘walk in God’s ways and keep his requirements.’ They want fun. They think we’ve set ourselves up as guardians of student morality and even that observation turns them off.”
Well, there is a morality which has a place in our testimony and it is wise and good and non-negotiable, which Christians break at their own hurt and the hurt of those who love them. An alcoholic, a violent man, a promiscuous person, a gambler or a spendthrift in any family is bad news. But primarily we are not preachers of the law but we declare the grace of God in a Saviour Jesus Christ. That is our priority. We want you to know how wonderful God is. That is the Christian message. We have all been hurt by hypocritical moralists.
1. JUSTIFICATION IS THE CATALYST OF TRUE CHRISTIANITY.
Do you see the order in which the works and words of God feature in this passage? It is not that one day the messenger of the Lord confronted Joshua in his dirty clothes and then and there said to him, “Walk in my ways and keep my requirements.” Then, when Joshua turned over a new leaf and became more religious, trying really hard to walk in God’s ways and keep his requirements, after a brief period of probation, that then God took his sin from him and clothed him in righteousness. It was not like that at all was it? God rebuked Satan. God took away his filthy robes. God clothed him with righteous garments, and then, after all of that was done, he told Joshua, “Now walk in my ways and keep my requirements.” The grace of God came first, perforating Joshua’s life. Obedience is always the fruit of grace. A fruit tree produces fruit because it is a fruit tree. A Christian produces holy fruit because he’s become a Spirit-indwelt Christian and the fruit of the Spirit is love and joy and peace.
So it is these new born Christians, who first have been washed and cleansed and justified and pardoned, who have been made the beneficiaries of the wonderful love of God, who are then told to walk in God’s ways and to keep God’s requirements. Also see that the messenger of the Lord doesn’t tell Joshua, “I have washed you and clothed you and now I am going to walk instead of you, and I will keep God’s requirements instead of you, and I will also do all the fighting, and striving, and sowing, and reaping, and mortifying instead of you.” Not at all! Christ on the cross is our substitute; the Holy Spirit is not our substitute. It is we disciples, who have been given new forgiveness, and new natures, and new hearts and new resources and new strength, we are the ones exhorted to walk in God’s ways and keep his requirements. We are the ones who strive to enter into the kingdom of God, but the Spirit of God assists us. We are told to endure to the end, but the Spirit of God helps us. We are to lift up the heavy cross and put it on our shoulders, and it is not sandpapered, and the splinters and the edges dig into our shoulders, but we are the ones who have to carry it step by step all the way home. Yet we can do it through Christ who strengthens us.
Your friends may think that this is all rather boring, the Christian life, that it is no fun, always obeying God 24/7. You have no idea. Think of the situation in the Philippines today in the aftermath of that incredibly violent storm that killed so many and left a hundred thousand people homeless without food or water or power. You’d like to help? Of course you would. We are there already. We Christians, evangelical, Calvinistic believers. A team of my friends has been there for a week working away. I got this letter from them yesterday. Incidentally they have called themselves “The Thirsty Ground Team.” This is what they wrote:
“We have had a wonderful reception from Brian Ellis. He and his church have been very hospitable and even taken much time out to include us in their internal planning for relief efforts that the members of their church have been organising. They have given us invaluable insights to the current state of things in Eastern Samar and Leyte island, the places hardest hit by the storm. They have also brought us under as guests of their organisation, and even issued us ID cards and a mission order to ensure we have no issues with the government in entering the affected areas to perform the aid mission and outreach. I have been very encouraged to see the already robust response their compassion ministry here is having toward those affected the most by the typhoon. They were very interested in the water purification idea too, and want us to train some of them and leave any extra filters behind so they can utilise it for future typhoon responses in the region. We were also able to acquire some Tagalog Bibles from them, which should be helpful in sharing on the islands. We have been busy the last couple of days planning and coordinating things with them, as well as acquiring supplies and a vehicle. Getting a large transport van and a driver on such short notice was an answer to prayer, but we have a vehicle dedicated for the 17 days we will be going into the typhoon area. Right now it is looking like we will be spending the first week in some cities near Tacloban and Guuian which were leveled by the storm, then meet up with a relief drop truck in the central part of the island and go set up water points in a few other villages before going to Cebu. We hope to resupply and possibly get 100 more filters air freighted from Australia to Cebu, and take a day to go to Danbantayan on the north part of Cebu, which was also hit hard by the storm. Regan, a woman from the Kirksville church, has a friend in this area that we are in contact with who has requested help to bring aid to that area. After that, we will go back to Leyte island for a few days, then travel back north to arrive in Manila in time for our flights home.” What do you think of that? Isn’t that manly work, and a manly letter? You dare not call that ‘moralistic’ would you? You have no idea about us Christians.
This is demanding work, and it is holy. When those men bowed before Jesus and were clothed in his righteousness they never imagined that within the next ten years they would be in the Philippines working in the name of Christ to help dying, homeless, injured, starving people. That is how it is. I had another letter yesterday from Malcolm Firth and Ruth Firth in Riga, Latvia writing in response to the horrible catastrophe of a shopping mall roof collapsing and killing 60 people with many trapped. He wrote to say that they were all right and then added that the Salvation Army is there helping people as much as they are able. We are there! We moralists! In protecting Jews from Nazis in Holland in the 1940s those Christians were doing something dangerous, and holy. In fighting against slavery Wilberforce was doing something quite unpopular, and holy. Living the Christian life in North Korea today is doing something very risky, and holy. In struggling to obey his Father in everything, wondering if there could be another cup apart from the cup his Father has given him, the Lord Jesus was doing something painfully difficult, but holy. God has clothed Joshua and removed all the guilt of his sin and for the rest of his life he is going to work out the implications of this in the Babylonian Empire where it was dangerous, and holy. So you see the order in this chapter. First there was the rebuking of Satan who just makes us feel guilty, and then our sinful garments were taken away, and then the new clothes of righteousness covered us. That came first, and then our response. The order is always the three ‘G’s, Guilt, Grace and then the life of Gratitude.
Remember how the Lord Jesus told a parable that showed the ugliness and horror of a man who had been fully forgiven carrying on living as selfishly as ever. There was a man who went to his boss and told him of this opportunity he had – a once in a lifetime experience – of investing in a deal that was guaranteed to make him a multi millionaire. He was so certain and persuasive, and his boss was a generous man so that he loaned him a million pounds to invest in this company. But it all ended in tears; it turned out to be a scam and he lost every penny he invested and now his plight was far worse than before. He was as poor as he’d been before, but now he was in debt and had no means whatsoever of clearing it. The date came for the money he’d borrowed to be repaid and the boss learned that he couldn’t repay him a penny. All he had was himself and his family, and the boss said, “Slavery. That will pay back some of this debt. You, your wife and your children, must be sold into slavery. You were gullible; you took this risk to make a lot of money for yourself but now you owe me a million and all you have to pay me back is yourself and your family.’ When the man heard this what did he do? Jesus said, “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged. ‘and I will pay back everything.’” (Matt. 18:26). What words! What a request! What a hollow promise – he would pay back a million?
What happened? You will hardly believe it. We are told that his boss took pity on him, canceled the debt – think of it! – and let him go. What grace! What mercy! Shown to an undeserving fool! Can you imagine what you would do after all the sleepless nights and the mountain of worry, your wife tossing and turning and afraid with you, and your children picking up the tension in the home and morose; Dad snapping at them. Then this wonderful news! What would you do? You would run home and burst in on your wife and say to her, “He’s cleared the debt! He has wiped the slate clean! We are free!” and you would weep together and the children would wonder what was happening but sensed that it was good news. Wonderful grace! But this is not what happened with this stupid rogue! You will hardly believe what happened. I will read you the words of Jesus; “when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow-servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow-servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow-servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matt. 18:28-35). Do you see the intense seriousness of these words? A new morality, not moralism. How crucial is a change of life if you have received grace.
Here is the story of a man who took all that his Lord had done for him, fully and comprehensively being pardoned for the vast debt he owed him, but he remained in his own heart as foolish and selfish as ever. The mercy of his Lord was taken for granted, as if it were something he deserved, and on he went living to please himself. That is the danger facing every pardoned sinner here. How extraordinary the grace some of us have received, the Lord saving us from Satan, removing all our filthy garments from us, and clothing us with the righteousness of Christ, but we have developed a barren familiarity with the gospel. We know it and we are getting bored with it. It is failing to impact us especially as far as money is concerned. We are really far more interested in the business and in the stock market and in the bank balance than in the wonder of forgiveness and the grace of God taking us to our eternal home.
For every true believer there has to be a change in lifestyle commensurate with his understanding of the grace he’s received, and that new life shows itself in love for others, in thoughtfulness and patience and self-denial. I observed a sad sight many years ago in this church. There was a member who’d been divorced and he was rather a lonely man. He became friendly with a couple in the church and would call and see them, but in their judgment he was outstaying his welcome and taking advantage of them. So there were times when he would ring the doorbell and they wouldn’t answer. They would look at one another and say, “Oh, it’s him,” and they would be quiet and wouldn’t go to the door and smile and invite him in. They would pretend they were out. In other words, they would deceive him. The wife told me this, giggling, that they had done this. I was very sad and concerned for them. The man has long moved away from Aberystwyth, and they have long left the church.
The issue confronting them and us at bottom is this, how do you use the grace of justification that God freely gives you? How does a Christian whose hope is divine mercy and imputed righteousness behave? Don’t you then have a heaven-given impetus to live like Christ, and think, and act like Christ? Can you imagine our Lord not answering the door and refusing to see anyone, pretending he was not in? We are pardoned and strengthened by grace and given exceeding great and precious promises, and so we learn to treat our fellow members as valuable persons made in the image of God. Grace teaches us how to give our time to shy or boring people. We become readier to die rather than go against what we know is God’s will. The righteousness of Christ imputed to us gets injected into our bloodstream so that it circulates every part of our lives. In other words the righteousness of Christ actually starts to belong to us.
Now Joshua, having been comprehensively saved by the free grace of God, how is this fact going to affect him? Will he simply start to think that forgiving is what God does, that he enjoys pardoning men and women at no cost to himself, and that he guarantees their futures? Then can Joshua go on to other things that are more important to him than God? The messenger of the Lord who has spoken to him and done wonderful things for him is not yet silent. He says, “This is what the LORD Almighty say . . . ‘ walk in my ways and keep my requirements’.” Walk in my ways! Keep my requirements! That is what the Lord of hosts says to him. This is what the Lord is saying to us. “I have pardoned you for the Everest of sins you have piled up against me, and yet what is this? You cannot forgive someone for the molehill of the sins in which he has sinned against you? Shame on you.”
2. JUSTIFICATION IS THE MOTIVATION OF TRUE CHRISTIANITY.
I was at a conference this week and the chairman made the announcement at the commencement that the son of an elderly couple at the conference, old friends of mine, had disappeared the previous day, leaving a letter to his wife and children apologising for his selfishness. The police were looking for him; sniffer dogs had lost his track; he had not taken with him his car or his credit cards; there was no trace of him. There seemed no history of depression. The pastor who made the announcement and asked us to pray for him then told us that he had baptised this man on the same occasion that he had baptisedone of his sons. The great question that confronting his father and mother as I talked to them was what could be his motive in doing this. What drove him to act like this? What moved him to plan and then achieve a total disappearance? A thief is motivated by greed. An adulterer is motivated by lust. A murderer is motivated by hatred. People do not usually act at random. There is something behind what they do or say. Why has this 50 year old man, with a responsible job, said good-bye to his wife and children? Why this awful tragedy? Bad motives will produce bad deeds. Good motives will produce good deeds. God-glorifying motives alone will produce God-glorifying deeds. So here are the deeds that God expects of us; “Walk in my ways and keep my requirements.” How can we do this consistently? How can we make this our lifetime choice?
i] By a growing desire for God. Every Christian has a hunger for righteousness and a hunger for God. You see nature films of herds of animals in Africa perishing in a drought. Poor beasts! They thirst for water, and each Christian thirsts for God even when we don’t know it. Thirst for water moves us to go and find some place where we can quench our thirst. We must find a congregation where others feel the same. We must find a pulpit from which our longing for God will be satisfied. Hunger for God drives us to live in a way that doesn’t grieve the Spirit of God or quench his influence in our lives. We want to act in a way that pleases God because then we’ll draw closer to him. There were two small brothers in London who happened to be my grandsons and then the oldest started school and the next brother missed him, and around 4 p.m. he would sit in the passage by the front door waiting for his brother to come home from school so that they could play together immediately. He looked forward to the first opportunity he’d have to be close to his brother again, to share his life. So it is with us and God. We have a desire for God, to see him more clearly, and to love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly. Where can we meet with him? That is the first motivation we have to please God.
ii] By a growing gratitude to God for what he has done for us. There is a member of the opposite sex whom you admire, and then he or she starts to single you out and to show interest in you, asks you how things are, tries to build up your strengths, encouraging you. You feel pleasure and appreciation. You are grateful for this person’s interest and you will show it with smiles and reciprocated kindnesses. Then suppose he does something enormously self-sacrificial that rescues you or a member of your family, then you will be increasingly grateful to him. Or if one day he should ask you to marry him, then how you will support and love him and care for him for the rest of your life together.
When Joshua has been pardoned and declared righteous then how can he go on living selfishly? The enemy of his soul has been rebuked and silenced. God has owned him as his chosen one. His filthy clothes have been removed and new rich robes of righteousness cover him. Is he going to carry on living, ignoring these changes? When Isaac Watts considered the salvation that the Son of God had obtained for him by personally loving him and dying for him on Golgotha then Watts cried, “Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.” Everything that the Lord has done for us makes its demands upon us, and we determine to live a changed life from now on. Anything less is unthinkable. So growing gratitude will help us to walk in God’s ways. Again we are motivated . . .
iii] By trusting in the promises of God. God has spoken and he’s said, “See, I have taken away your sin” (Zech.3:4). Where is your sin? It is gone. Where is the guilt of that sin that convicts you the most? It is gone. What of the others sins? They are gone. How many of them? Every one of your sins. Where are they? God has taken them away. He has removed the guilt and pardoned us. That is what he plainly says. Should a man believe God? However incredible it is, if God has said it then don’t you believe it? God has said it . . . God has really said this and done this, taking away my sin, and so I regard its memory in the light of what God says about it. I trust in God. It’s not wishful thinking. I need heaven-created and heaven-sustained faith to believe it is forgiven sin because I am so ashamed of hurting people the way I did. God gives me faith to believe in this.
Don Quixote fell in love with a noble lady but in fact she was anything but noble. She had worked in the sex industry. Yet Don Quixote treated her like a high-born perfect lady and his belief in her and all he did for her began to change her. She began to change and behave not like the street person she’s been but as the new person she was in Don Quixote’s estimation. So it is with us. God speaks in his word, “I have taken away your sin,” and so I am without sin in God’s sight, as much without sin as the archangel, Michael. When that reality grips me then I start to live like that archangel. I turn to God and come to him and speak with him. I even cry to him ‘Abba Father!” I tell him how wonderful it is that he has chosen me to become his child. My faith in God changes me and gives me victory over my doubts and the accusations of Satan. God has accepted me; God loves me; God is keeping me; God will take me into his presence with exceeding joy. The promises of God then move me to do God’s will . . .
iv] By trusting him when we fail to see fruit of faith. There are periods of our lives – sections of our pilgrimage – when we think we are being fruitless. We can’t see any love, any joy, any peace, any desire for God, any obedience, any fruit at all. “Alas, I am a barren professor,” we feel. It is then that we have to trust what God says, that those who believe in Jesus Christ have everlasting life. Let me illustrate it like this; Joshua and Caleb and ten others went to spy on Canaan, and they came back with fruit that they had taken from a wonderful vine-growing area called Eschol. They had cut down a vine loaded with the weight of its bunches of grapes, and they carried it on a pole resting on the shoulders of two men because it was so heavy. They took it all the way back to Moses in the wilderness. These men walked one behind the other, one man walking ahead of the cluster of grapes and one man behind it. The man at the rear walked the whole way back to Moses looking at those magnificent grapes, but the man in the front did not see them; he just carried them behind him.
What am I trying to bring out from this? Simple enough. It happens in the spiritual life. There are times when we are walking in God’s ways but we who are at the front leading the way cannot see any fruit in our own lives – we are leaders but we are under conviction of our barrenness. We think we are just going through the motions, very mechanically, and we sing from our hearts, “Lord it is my chief complaint that my love is weak and faint.” We just get a little breath of fragrance that comes from behind us and we hope that that is good sign, “What peaceful hours I once enjoyed . . .” and we remember them. Now all we can do is to cast ourselves on what God has promised, such as, “See I have taken away your sin.” But there’s another believer, like the man at the back, and he is taking the identical journey, step by step with the other, yet that man is looking at the fruit of God’s provision there before him all the time, and thanking God for what he sees and smells and can reach out and touch.
I know two women, both identical in their godly lives, one of them never doubting from the day she came to know the Lord that he was hers and she was his. She was unable to sing Cowper’s hymn, “Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord?” not comprehending how any Christian can doubt the Lord’s promises. But the other woman had a trembling hope. She thanks God that her friend has such assurance; she’d have it too and the joy of salvation if God would give it to her, but it often alludes her, and yet how that woman works for the kingdom of God. She does day by day what God demands here of Joshua, to walk in God’s ways and keep his requirements, but without the sight of the godly fruit that is there. She’s often asking herself whether she is a real Christian, seeing so few evidences, but she is always conscious of the weight of the dealings of God with her, the weight of the word, the weight of prayer and the weight of keeping God’s commandments. In many ways she is actually the leader of these two women. She chooses the path that the other has to take who follows her; the one with assurance happens to be the one following in the steps of the one who struggles with assurance. So I am saying here that we keep trusting God when we don’t see any fruits.
3. JUSTIFICATION IS FOLLOWED BY TRUE CHRISTIAN WORKS.
Joshua was pardoned and declared righteous by the grace of God alone, without having done any works. So what does God expect of Joshua? The Christian life is not vague. God did not call me to go to the Philippines. He called some of my friends. He deals with us personally and individually. It is a great discovery to find that your name is not Joshua. How will Joshua in particular walk in God’s ways and keep his commandments? What promises are made to him? Four are mentioned;
i] Commission. “You will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here” (v.7). Delivered from his wretchedness by the mercy of God, his filthy clothes all gone, henceforth he will have a place of leadership and ministry among those who once saw him as sad as forlorn as he has ever been. Now restored God gives him a place among those standing in the house of God. This reminds me of John Newton delivered from virtual slavery in a horrible house in west Africa, and far more wretched work transporting slaves, to a new life of leadership in the Christian church and a high calling in the whole campaign to end the curse of slavery. That is what grace does. Joshua was recommissioned and given authority and leadership.
ii] Conviction. “‘Listen, O high priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch . . . ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day” (vv. 8&9). The Messiah was promised; he was prophesied, the offspring of David, a branch on the family tree of that king, and so he came, son of Adam, son of Abraham, son of David and son of Mary – a branch on that illustrious tree. And when he came he removed the sin of the world in a single day, by one offering of the sacrifice of himself. The ministry of the priests in making sacrifices and offerings day by day until the Branch came was the ministry of men symbolic of things to come. And the Branch we know who once came promised, “I will come again and take you unto myself that where I am there you will be also,” and he will make a new heavens and a new earth wherein is no sin and only righteousness. Joshua has Christ the Branch.
iii] Commemoration. “‘See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the LORD Almighty” (v.9). There is a stone set before Joshua; it is stone because what it stands for will last for millennia, and on it the Lord Almighty has written what he has written. Of what is this a symbol? Something set up that will endure for ever? Something not only to be looked at by us, but something that looks at us from every direction; we are scrutinized by its seven eyes. It is of course Scripture, the written word of God. It is put down here before the high priest and before Christ who said that the word of the Lord shall endure for ever. And it is here before us today, not only examined by us but scrutinizing us with its seven eyes. Joshua has the Word of the Lord.
iv] Contentment. “‘In that day each of you will invite his neighbour to sit under his vine and fig-tree,’ declares the LORD Almighty” (v.10). Joshua has hope for a blessed future. No longer strife and captivity but the fellowship of neighbours, asking one another across to sit in the simple prosperity of contentment and friendship. That comes when men’s sins are dealt with, and they walk in God’s ways and keep his requirements. Then they turn to one another and say such things as, “I am celebrating my 75th birthday and I am inviting all of you my first cousins to celebrate it with me and meet my closer family.” And they come and hear our thanks and prayers, and say what a great time it was. You say such things as, “My dear brother . . . we are celebrating fellowship lunch . . . we are celebrating the first birthday of our daughter . . . the women are celebrating Thanksgiving to God for his goodness to us through another year and we invite you, our neighbours, to sit with us in peace and warm affection.” That is the fruit of God’s salvation of Joshua. We are enabled to love our neighbours as ourselves.
24th November 2013 GEOFF THOMAS