Friday, September 23, 2016

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith: A Down Payment of What is to Come

This Sunday, we will take a look at most of Jos. 5, where right after they enter the Promised Land, God commands Israel to celebrate the two sacraments that they had in the Old Testament: circumcision and the Passover. A sacrament is a visible sign that God gives His people to represent and seal to them an invisible grace. In the Old Testament (OT), they had circumcision and the Passover. In the New Testament (NT), Jesus has given us baptism and the Lord's Supper, both of which are visible signs and seals of invisible grace that God gives us in Christ when we look to Him in faith.

We will talk some about that on Sunday as we talk about how God reassures the Israelites' and our faith. But, one thing I probably will not get to is talking about how the eating the produce of the Promised Land for the first time was a kind of down payment to the Israelites of what was to come.

At the end of the passage that we will read--in vv. 11-12--the text tells us three times that God's people ate, for the first time, the produce of the land, i.e. instead of eating manna from heaven, they ate the crops of the Promised Land. Constantly in the Pentateuch, the Promised Land is described as a "land flowing with milk and honey" (cf. e.g. Dt. 26:9), i.e. it is a land so rich with food that they will hardly have to work for it. This was a wonderful promise to a people who had been slaves in Egypt and had wandered in the desert for forty years. One day, God would give them a land that will flow with provision so abundant that they will see it as "flowing with milk and honey." And, at the end of the passage that we will study on Sunday, the people finally "ate of the produce of the land." It must have been a joyous occasion, but it was much more than that. It was a down payment, of sorts--God saying to them, "This is just the beginning. You will possess this land and have abundant provision from me." What they ate after that first Passover wasn't remarkable ("unleavened cakes and parched grain"), but it was a sign that God has so much more to come in the Promised Land.

Friends, one way that we can see Christ in this text is here. Remember, in the last sermon, we talked about a question we can ask of any OT text to help us see Christ in it is: How does this passage show us the redeeming nature of God? Here we can see God's redeeming nature in how He gives us a foretaste of what He promises us.

The Promised Land of Canaan was never the true Promised Land that God has ultimately for His people. It was simply an earthly, temporary fulfillment that pointed to something greater: the new heavens and new earth (cf. He. 4; 11). Jesus has secured the new heavens and new earth for all His people (OT and NT believers) and will one day bring us all into that true Promised Land, which will be a land so great, so wonderful, so glorious that describing it as "flowing with milk and honey" cannot do it justice (cf. Re. 21-22). Yet, God gives us a foretaste of that glorious blessing even now.

When we rest on the Lord's Day (the Christian Sabbath), we are given a taste of the eternal rest and provision that God will give us in the new heavens and new earth. In fact, one of the Reformed catechisms, the Heidelberg Catechism, reminds us in question 103 that keeping the fourth commandment (i.e. remembering the sabbath to keep it holy) shows us this:
Q. What is God’s will for you in the fourth commandment?
A. First, that the gospel ministry and education for it be maintained, and that, especially on the festive day of rest, I regularly attend the assembly of God’s people to learn what God’s Word teaches, to participate in the sacraments, to pray to God publicly, and to bring Christian offerings for the poor. Second, that every day of my life I rest from my evil ways, let the Lord work in me through his Spirit, and so begin already in this life the eternal Sabbath.
God gives us a foretaste of that wonderful rest that is to come as a kind of "down payment" in the Lord's Day, and we get to start our weeks being reminded of that. We get to start our weeks being reminded that even the best Sunday is nothing compared to what eternity will be like in the new heavens and new earth--it is just a down payment.

Another way we can get a foretaste of what is to come is the way God graciously provides for our needs even now. We will talk a little more about this on Sunday, but God provided for the Israelites needs in the wilderness through the miraculous manna. Yet, once they entered the land, God ceased the manna and instead provided for their needs through the regular produce of the land. As we will discuss Sunday, that might have seemed quite ordinary (crops, cattle, etc.) but is actually extraordinary--they never had to worry because God's provision was regular and predictable. Today, God also generally supplies our needs not by miracles but by the regular, "mundane" things such as jobs, food on the table, health, etc. It is easy for us to take that for granted, but I think this passage is showing us that's God's regular provision for us is a down payment of how we will be eternally, perfectly, abundantly blessed by Him in the new heavens and new earth. If God cares for our needs now (while we are still sinners, still wanders), how much more will He provide when we are in perfect fellowship with Him for all eternity in the true Promised Land? What we have right now is a kind of down payment, in which God says to us, "This is just the beginning. You will possess the true Promised Land and have abundant, super-abundant provision from me."

The last lines of C. S. Lewis' Narnia book, The Last Battle, reminds me of this. At the end of that book, Aslan returns to Narnia to defeat his enemies and take his people into the New Narnia, and he does so with a mighty roar that brings an end to the old Narnia and takes them into the new. Meanwhile, in the human world Lucy and her siblings are on a train in England, and then all of a sudden, they find themselves in a field, clothed in Narnian garb, but it is unlike any Narnian garb they had ever seen--it is without flaw or blemish and almost glows. Then, they see some of their friends from Narnia and Aslan himself. They explain to Lucy and her brothers that the old Narnia has passed away and they are in the New Narnia, and then Aslan looks at them with laughter in his eyes and darts off like an arrow, yelling behind him “Come further in! Come further up!” As they follow as best they can, they find this New Narnia resembles the old that they knew and loved, but this one is bigger, brighter, and more magnificent than anything they had known or ever imagined. At one point Lucy says, “Isn’t it wonderful? Have you noticed one can’t be afraid, even if one wants to? Try it.” Yet, as they go further in and further up after Aslan, Aslan looks at Lucy and says, “You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.” She replies, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.” She doesn’t want to leave the glories that she’s experienced because they’re everything she ever wanted and so much more. Aslan looks at her with eyes that comfort all sorrow and explains to her that she died in a railway accident, and that is why she’s now in the New Narnia. “The term is over,” he says, “the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” And, Lewis ends the book by narrating, “And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story… which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

That last statement is a wonderful description of the glory that awaits us in the true Promised Land--each chapter will be better than the one before. And, right now, all that God graciously provides for His people is a "down payment" of sorts through His provision and through His Sabbath, reminding us that the best is yet to come.

By His Grace,

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