At the Doorstep of the Promised Land

The Bible teaches us that Israel was unable to enter the promised land because of a lack of faith.  In Hebrews chapter 3, the author summarizes how the children of Israel “tried” God with their “evil unbelieving hearts” when they turned against God in the wilderness.  He concludes the chapter with these haunting words, “And so we see that they [Israel] were not able to enter [the Promised Land] because of unbelief” (Heb 3:19).

The author of Hebrews goes on in chapter 4 to explain that similarly, there is a “rest” for New Testament believers; a life of restful walking in the Spirit’s power by faith.  And just like the children of Israel, the danger for us is to miss that rest due to a lack of faith.  But before we look at that application for us, let’s go back to the test of faith that Israel faced the first time they approached the promised land.

Accompanying the children of Israel on their escape from Egypt was the promise that God would bring them safely into Canaan, the Promised Land, at the end of their journey.  They first arrived on the doorstep of Canaan in Numbers chapter 13 when “The Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘Send out for yourself men so that they may spy out the land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel” (Num 13:1-2).

Notice that God restates His promise, “… land of Canaan, which I am going to give to the sons of Israel.”  The mission of the spies was not to evaluate whether or not they should take the land.  It was not to make a decision whether to go in or not.  God had already promised to take them in and vanquish every foe in their way.  The point of the spies was to plan their approach to entering the land.

If you are familiar with the story, you know that the spies did see a land flowing with milk and honey.  The spies came back with pomegranates, figs, and giant clusters of grapes.  But they also came back with fear of the “inhabitants of the land who were strong with large and fortified cities” (Num 13:28).  And they turned their spy mission into a go or no-go decision about entering the land.

When Caleb reminded the children of Israel of God’s promise to take them in, the other spies (with the exception of Joshua), replied, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.  The land through which we have gone, in spying it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size.  And we became like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight” (Num 13:31-33).

The children of Israel turned their back on the Lord’s promise because of unbelief.  They refused to enter the land because of a lack of faith in God’s promise.  We see it in this passage, and we see it emphasized again in the New Testament.  A lack of faith kept the children of Israel from entering into everything God had promised them.

Let’s fast forward to us today.  We stand at the doorstep of living life with Christ at the center.  Living life believing that God’s promises about His presence in us are true.  Living life with a restful walking in the Spirit’s power.  What lack of faith is holding you back?

Israel’s story was written as an example for us.  And we will investigate next time more of the book of Hebrews to understand how Israel’s lack-of-faith decision at the doorstep to Canaan is a warning for us today.

Canaan and the Enjoyment of Christ’s Indwelling

We learned last time that our old nature died with Christ.  So what is to take its place as the controlling principle of my life?  Remember, when you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you became a son or daughter of God.  And an incredible outcome of that is this, “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ ” (Gal 4:6).

The controlling principle of your life, if you will, is God’s Spirit – the Spirit of His Son – living inside you.  In the New Testament, the Spirit living in you and Christ living in you are interchangeable.  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the live which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20).

The old you is gone.  Christ is living His life through you.  I don’t think you can get a much more powerful “controlling principle” than Christ Himself living His life through you.  This is the promised land.  This is Canaan.  This is what Israel in the land of Canaan in the Old Testament represents; us experiencing the indwelling Christ by faith.

I first came across this idea of three types of people represented in the exodus story in a book by Major Ian Thomas, The Saving Life of Christ.  Let me quote his description of Canaan:

“It is this enjoyment of Christ’s indwelling which is represented by the land of Canaan – the land of promise and of plentiful provision.  Canaan in the Bible is not heaven.  It is Christ Himself, and right now, living His victorious life through me.  Indeed, it is only the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who is capable of living the Christian life.”

“As Romans 5:10 declares, He not only reconciles you to God by His death, but He saves you moment by moment by His life; that is to say, He died not only for what you have done, but He rose again to live in you, to take the place of what you are.  His strength for your weakness! His wisdom for your folly! His drive for your drift! His grace for your greed! His love for your lust! His peace for your problems! His joy for your sorrow! His plenty for your poverty! This is Canaan!”

Wow! So if this is the path – a radical transformation from lost and dead in our sin to Christ literally living His life through us – why the wilderness?  The short answer is that the transition from lost in sin to fully experiencing Christ in us is not automatic.  In fact, as we know from both our life experience and the teaching of Scripture, it is a process.  It is a process of growing faith and trust; of growing belief in the promise of Christ to live His life through us.  And it is a process that can include some detours into the wilderness.

Baptized in the Sea

Let’s go back to the beginning of the exodus of Israel and our three categories of men and women today.  Recall that the children of Israel in Egypt represents us in our lost condition; unbelievers under the taskmaster of sin.  Just like the Israelites were slaves under the taskmasters of Egypt.

After God rescued Israel through the ten plagues, they were finally allowed to leave Egypt behind.  But the outbound journey was not without peril.  After sending the children of Israel on their way, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army to bring Israel back to their life of slavery.  The escaping nation appeared to be trapped.  They were boxed in by the Red Sea ahead of them and the advancing Egyptian army behind them.

The story of what happened next is one of the most famous in the Bible.  God parted the sea.  Israel passed through.  The Egyptian army marched into the open sea in pursuit.  God closed the sea, drowned the Egyptians, and left them buried under the sea.

The apostle Paul describes this rescue as a baptism.  “For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (I Cor 10:1-2).  The Egyptian taskmasters – who represent our slavery to our sin nature – were drowned and buried in the sea.  But the children of Israel passed through this place of death (the sea) which Paul referred to as “baptized into Moses”.  After this baptism, the children of Israel moved forward toward the promised land and a new life.

Compare this passage about Israel’s baptism in the sea to our baptism into Christ.  “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4).

Do you see the connection?  The Egyptian taskmasters were left buried in the place of death; a place from which the children of Israel were miraculously “raised” by God as it were to go claim the promised land.  Likewise, our old self, our sin nature, our controlling flesh was buried with Christ in the place of death.  And we were “raised” with Christ to walk in a new life; to walk in the “promised land”.  (Remember, one of our three categories of people is a believer walking in the Spirit represented by Israel in the promised land.)

If we are unsure about this death to our old self, Paul makes it clear in the very next verses in Romans 6.  Continuing, he writes, “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin”  (Rom 6:5-7).

To summarize, the children of Israel left their Egyptian taskmasters behind in the sea of death.  We left the taskmaster of our sin nature behind when we were baptized into Christ.  That is, when we accepted and embraced the gospel message of Christ.

All of this leads to the next question.  If my old nature was crucified with Christ and has lost its power as a controlling principle in my life, what has taken its place as my new motivation, my new energy for living?  We will explore that very question next time.

The Exodus of Israel and the Gospel

One of the most comprehensive pictures of the gospel in the Old Testament is the exodus of God’s people from Egypt, their wandering in the wilderness, and their overdue arrival in Canaan – the land promised to their forefathers.  The experience of the Israelites laid out in the Old Testament books from Exodus to Joshua is an expansive narrative, a fascinating saga, and full of gospel symbolism.

Let’s jump right to the gospel application and then work backward through some of the passages and their symbolism.  The Israelites in Egypt represent the lost person; the person without Christ.  The Israelites enslaved by their Egyptian taskmasters are a picture of the lost person enslaved by sin.  The apostle Paul wrote that before we embraced the gospel and received new life in Christ, we were slaves to sin.  We were under sin’s penalty, sin’s consequence, and sin’s power.

But just as the children of Israel were rescued by God Himself from their slavery in Egypt, so we too have been rescued by God through Jesus Christ.  Recall that the Israelites were “saved” by the blood of the Passover lamb sprinkled on their doorposts on the night the angel of death visited Egypt.  Likewise, we have been saved by the “precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Pet 1:19).  The children of Israel, enslaved in Egypt, represent the lost person without Christ.

Moving to the end of the story, the promised land (Canaan) is a picture of new life in Christ that is characterized by a restful walk in the Spirit.  (It does not represent heaven even though this is a common theme in our hymnals.)  Life in Canaan for the New Testament believer is marked by the recognition that the Christian life is lived by faith, not self-effort.  It is experiencing Christ living His resurrection life through you.  It is not trying to attain something that we already have – victory in Christ – by our own power and prowess to live the life.  It is fully resting in what Christ has done for us in delivering us from the penalty and power of sin.

Is it possible to believe the gospel, place our faith in Christ for salvation, and not experience this restful walk of faith?  The New Testament makes clear that yes it is possible to believe in Jesus, but have a life marked by carnality, walking in the flesh (our own power), and a lack of living faith (not to be confused with saving faith that all who are in Christ have).  This is the third type of person represented in our Old Testament story; the believer in the wilderness.

You see, the space between the lost person (Egypt) and the believer at rest in Christ (Canaan) is the wilderness.  The wandering life of Israel in the desert is a picture of the wilderness Christian; the believer who, for whatever reason, is not experiencing “Christ in you”, the Holy Spirit at work in their lives, the power of faith, and freedom from the power of sin.

The biblical basis for this wilderness Christian idea is found throughout the New Testament, and we will head to some of those passages next time.  To summarize today’s post:  the children of Israel in Egypt represent the lost person.  The wilderness represents the believer who has yet to experience what God has promised and accomplished – wholehearted life in Jesus.  And the promised land, Canaan, is the believer who has entered a life of restful walking in the Spirit by faith.

The Gospel and the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53

One of the clearest pictures of the gospel in the Old Testament is Isaiah chapter 53; a passage referred to as The Suffering Servant.  It is the fourth and final Servant Song found in the book of Isaiah.  It identifies the suffering servant as our sin-bearer.

“Who has believed what he has heard from us?  And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:1-3).

“Who has believed?”  Unbelief in the servant was natural.  He was obscure and outwardly unimpressive.  He was despised, rejected, and acquainted with sorrow and grief of various sorts throughout his whole life.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6).

Here, in the heart of the passage, we see the servant bear the sins of others.  Acting as a substitute, with no understanding from those he is rescuing, the servant took upon himself the bitter consequences of our sin.  “All we have gone astray.”  There is none righteous.  We all needed the rescue of our sin-bearer.

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.  By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?” (Isaiah 53:7-8).

The servant died in innocence.  “Like a lamb led to the slaughter” represents the servant’s innocence, his submission, and his refusal to open his mouth in his own defense.  But despite his innocence, the servant is wrongly condemned.  Oh, how this chapter is saturated with Jesus Christ, the spotless Lamb of God!

“And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth” (Isaiah 53:9).

The parallels between the description of the servant in this verse and the death of Jesus are striking.  The servant was condemned as a criminal “with the wicked”.  Jesus died with the wicked; with a thief on each side of Him at His crucifixion.  The servant was connected to a rich man in his death.  Jesus was buried in the tomb of a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea.  The servant in Isaiah 53 had “done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth.”  He was completely innocent in deed and word.  Jesus was completely innocent in deed and word.  Jesus was a person of complete and perfect moral purity, a true substitute for sinners.

“Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.  Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.  Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:10-12).

The servant was crushed, but victorious.  His “offering for guilt” – his sacrificial death in our place – was for our guilt.  His “offspring” are those who strayed (vs 6) who have now returned as his children.  “Prolong his days” highlights that death is not the servant’s end.  He will live forever.

When the servant makes “many” to be accounted righteous by “bearing their iniquities”, it shows us that his salvation is for all the world, not just Israel.  And his sacrificial death will lead to glory.  Why?  Because he “poured out his soul to death” and “bore the sins of many”.  He now “makes intercession for us, the sinners”.  His intercession secures our acceptance before God.

And we know that this intercessor is Christ Himself.  “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all” (I Tim 2:5-6).

Wow!  I have gone over my normal length and have still only scratched the surface of the richness of the gospel in Isaiah 53.  (You can find more in the ESV Study Bible notes where much of this material came from.)  Over 700 years before Christ, Isaiah was directed by the LORD to put down on paper this powerful record of the coming Christ.  The suffering servant who died in your place on Good Friday so long ago was announced many many years before.  Jesus Christ clearly fulfilled this announcement.  Jesus Christ is our suffering servant.  Jesus Christ is our rescuer.  Jesus Christ is our redeemer.  Jesus Christ is the one and only deliverer of our souls.  Amen!