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Death to Resurrection: The Wilderness to the Promised Land

March 21, 2018
By Pastor David French

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Death to Resurrection: The Wilderness to the Promised Land
Joshua 3:1-6 and Matthew 3:13; 4:1-2

It’s one thing to travel across the wilderness to arrive at a destination, and quite another to wander around aimlessly in the wilderness for forty years. The Israelites did both. As they left Egypt and made their way to Mount Sinai, the plan was to go from there over to the Promised Land of Canaan. And they did head out that way, but when they sent twelve men to spy out the land to see what their new homeland looked like and what it would take to occupy it, things took a dramatic turn.

When the spies returned, they spoke highly of the land, but ten of them were also terrified of the people who were living there. Yes, Canaan was a land flowing with milk and honey, but the inhabitants were giants and war-like. The ten spies spoke with fear, and their fear spread throughout the entire community of Israel. God’s people were afraid. And in their fear, they refused to go forward.

It was because of this act of disobedience, the people’s lack of trust in the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt, that the Israelites became wanderers in the wilderness for the next forty years. None who were twenty years old and older would ever live in the land of Canaan with the exceptions of Caleb and Joshua and their households, the two spies who proclaimed their trust in the Lord to give His people the land. All of the rest would die in the wilderness; only their children would enter Canaan.

Again, it’s one thing to travel across the wilderness to arrive at a destination and quite another to wander around the wilderness for forty years. The wilderness between Egypt and Canaan was a land of suffering and death, a place where they were sentenced to suffer because of their sin, a land that would claim their lives one by one until all had perished. To make this reality even worse, they had seen with their own eyes the Promised Land on the near horizon.  They could see it and yet they turned their backs on this blessing and walked away.

Sin is what exiles us from God. Sin is what separates us from life. Sin is what sends us into the wilderness of suffering and death. Sin. There is no escaping it. Lord knows we have tried. When the Israelites tried to go into Canaan without God, all of their fears were realized and they were left to wander in the wilderness to face suffering and certain death.

We’re no different, it’s a personal and internal battle to be sure, but we do also attempt to conquer sin with our own strength, and just like the Israelites we also fail and find ourselves wandering with no direction or purpose. My friends, it’s sin that keeps us from entering the land that’s flowing with milk and honey.

The Promised Land, the place where the Lord provides, is a place where the Hebrews would live in houses they did not build and eat from vineyards and orchards they did not plant. The land of Canaan is a land flowing with milk and honey where there is want for nothing. It’s a land of plenty and perfection, God’s “Promised Land.” And remember, this land is not only where the Lord provides abundantly, but it’s also a place where the Lord will dwell with His people.

And that of course is the point and the truth behind this earthly promised land. This Promised Land of the Lord’s provision and presence for Israel points us to another promised land. Canaan reminds us of another place of plenty and perfection— a place we know as heaven.

Truly, there is no want in the heavenly courts. Truly, it is the place where the Lord dwells and where His people live in His presence in heavenly mansions which have been or are being prepared right now. But until they are all prepared … there is sin. There is the wilderness. Which leaves us with the question: How does one exit the land of suffering and death and enter into the land of joy and life?

As the Word of God reveals, the journey out of the wilderness and into the promised land begins by passing through the waters. For the people of Israel, the way was through the Jordan River, but it’s not a journey they travel alone. It’s not a journey they take to once again make themselves acceptable to God. It’s not a journey they plan out, work out, or carry out. This journey is brought about by God.

And when the feet of those carrying the ark touch the waters of the Jordan, the waters part and the path stands dry and wide as about 2 million people follow the Lord into the Promised Land. The Lord prepares the way, the Lord leads the way; the presence of the Lord goes before Joshua and the people … and just like that, the exile is over; they are home.

The biblical record of the return to the promised land is a lesson of Salvation. Our Lord and God, our Savior, Jesus Christ goes before us. Jesus goes down into the waters of the Jordan to be baptized by John. The Sinless One from God needs no cleansing, but we do.  So, why is His baptism important?

By His baptism, we learn that Christ fulfilled all righteousness, that is in a way only God can work and we can never truly understand, our sins were taken up and placed upon this “Holy One of God.” And in an act of perfect obedience, Jesus takes our sins, not into the Promised Land, but back out into the wilderness. He goes through the waters out into the wilderness to meet with satan and begins undoing what Adam and Eve had done.

And because Christ carries our sins, well, just like that, we don’t! The wilderness of sin, the place of suffering and death, is no longer our dwelling place. The path has been cleared. The way to the promised land is open before us, but it still passes through the waters. Now, all waters have been sanctified and instituted by Christ as a blessed flood that when combined with the Word of God washes away sin and so grants forgiveness, life, and salvation.

God makes us His children – that is those who have been renewed and restored to His presence. We have passed through the wilderness and through the waters, into the promised land of everlasting life!

But remember our Lenten lesson. The journey from the wilderness of sin to heaven is not one we make alone, not one we plan out, not one we work out, and not one we carry out—it is the journey Christ first made to prepare the way.

He has gone through the waters to prepare them for our baptism into the kingdom, and He has now gone ahead of us to prepare a place that we have not built with our own hands and a great feast that we have not prepared. He has gone to the right hand of the Father to prepare a place for each of us, and one day He will come back to take us to be with Him that we also may be where He is.

In Jesus’s name. Amen.