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Trust. Obey. Change.


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Joshua "carries out a systematic campaign against the civilians of canaan – men, women and children – that amounts to genocide." In doing this he is carrying out 'herem' as commanded in Deuteronomy 20:17.

Joshua chapters 6 to 11 describe what is basically a bloodbath. Theologians are squeamish about calling it genocide, because the motivation was ostensibly punishing evil. However babies, toddlers, fully aware 7 year olds were slaughtered too of course. Unfortunately, you cannot get away from it.

Joshua is obeying the command in Deuteronomy 20:17 which states:

"You shall not leave alive anything that breathes."

The book of Joshua records that he wasn't quite successful, but he had a very good try!!

Certainly Moses, and Joshua, and the men that comprised the army of Israel believed that this slaughter was commanded by God. Many Christians today would say that they believe that too, but possibly they can only maintain that belief by never thinking about it. Maybe by describing the people as a scourge, and dehumanising them in their minds, they can retain a kind of belief that the God fully revealed in Christ would command such a thing.

Because scripture records in those six chapters of Joshua, that city after city was rased to the ground, and the entire human and animal population of each was completely wiped out.

The list of cities is provided for us in Joshua chapter 12 - Jericho, Ai, Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmush, Lachish, Eglon, Gezer, Debir, Geder Hormar, Arad, Libnah, Adullam, Makkedah, Bethel, Tappuah, Hepher, Aphek, Lasheron, Madon, Hazor, Shimron-meron, Achshaph, Taanach, Megiddo, Kedesh, Jokneam, Dor, Goiim, Tirzah.

The justification for this disturbing violence was that only by removing the previous inhabitants could an Israelite nation of holiness and purity be established. But subsequent historical books in scripture shows that the Israelite nation was far from holy or pure.

And the implication is that God didn't foresee the futility of trying to eliminate the infection of sin by means of wholesale slaughter.

Which of course is nonsense.

Recall that when Jesus came, he directly contradicted the violent law of enemy-hatred found in Deuteronomy, and laid on his followers the challenge of enemy-love.

And yet, too often, we have been taught to read all of scripture just as if Jesus didn't refute such slaughter. Our understanding has been veiled by our culture, our expectations, our previously taught beliefs. In effect we are saying, "No Jesus, despite what you say about enemy-love, we are going to hang on to our belief that violent destructive vengeance can in some circumstances be right."

Which begs the question - how can an all powerful loving God achieve his purposes in a world of selfish violent people, without simply forcing them into slavish obedience?

The answer proposed very clearly is a total reliance on love, and a firm grasp on the truth that ultimately 'love never fails'.

The success of God's love, scripture tells us, will be seen when every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord - when every individual who ever lived is raised to life, and seeing Jesus in glory bearing the scars of the cross, standing as a lamb who was slain, kneels before him and says, 'Yes, he is Lord. He the one who reigns over me. I swear allegiance to him". (If you want scripture for that you'll find it in Isaiah 45:23, quoted by Paul in Romans 14:11 and Philippians 2:11.)

The problem is that before we get to that final situation, there is all around us the warfare of a violent unstable unjust world, with weeping and wailing. And if we are trying to follow Jesus closely, we can feel within us something akin to warfare of, on the one side, our willingness to hurt or ignore others in order to prioritise our comfort and security versus on the other side the knowledge of God's love ultimately evidenced by the slain lamb.

It takes time for people to see, then experience, then accept the love of God, especially when we who say we are following Jesus Christ, so often do not live like him.

To live even for one day like Jesus, we need Jesus to be living in us - and us having that personal relationship which he promises in his final pre-crucifixion prayer.

And the principal reason why I think we need to grasp the radical reality of a non-vengeful God, born into the world in Christ, is that it is very difficult to have a meaningful intimate relationship with a God who you believe instructed his people to try to establish righteousness by violent slaughter.

I mean - why would you want to - there's nothing beautiful or radically different or new about power achieving it's goal by coercion and violence. That is the way of the world of which we all are thoroughly sick.

The first of God's primary purposes, incarnating as the man Jesus, was to correct fundamental misunderstandings about God's character. This is clear throughout the life of Jesus Christ, but explicitely stated in John 1:18

"No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the father's side, he has made him known."

The Greek text construction is difficult, but we need to remember the context is the apostle John, talking about the Word who was and is God.

All over scripture we see this. Hebrews 1 begins with the words...

"He is the radiance of the father's glory, and the express image of his person."

Colossians 2 says...

"in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily".

Let us look at God's second purpose in coming in the person of Jesus Christ. It was specifically about establishing a relationship with you. Again, clearly throughout Christ's life, but stated in 2 Corinthians 5:19 ...

"God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself."

Furthermore, that reconciliation spills out into all our interpersonal relationships. We see that in Ephesians 2:15-16 ...

"his purpose was to create in himself one new humanity ... And in one body to reconcile ... them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility."

So many men and women - people like John, Peter, Paul, Mary Magdeline, Dorcas, experienced and bore witness to this relationship. James says in his letter...

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you”

Sometimes we draw near and feel nothing at all, nothing special. We don't feel special, or loved. We don't feel like a holy child of a loving Father. Often we feel that we are too small and too wayward for God to be remotely interested. But God the Son has been a man - he knows how we feel. Hebrews says we should ...

"... with confidence draw near to the throne of grace"

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Now let us consider the disciples' question, "Why Jesus do you teach in parables?" and Jesus' strange reply, "I use parables because otherwise they would understand, and repent, and I would forgive them!"

What does that mean?! Consider this ...

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This is not where Jesus wants us - in this forever circle. Because this doesn't move us forward. Always failing, trespassing, being sorry, being forgiven, going round and round.

There is, instead, another circle which begins with trust.

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We each know something about our Lord Jesus. We have read the gospel accounts of how he dealt with people in need. And how he cut across the abusive power structures of the society. How he was never selfish, but always was the epitome of love in action.

So we can come in prayer trusting him to hear us and respond, because his ministry was all about reconciliation.

So we begin with TRUST.

Jesus himself gives us the way into the next step in this virtuous circle. We must listen carefully with open minds and hearts, to hear Jesus' comments on the way we are living our lives day to day. If we are quiet and open, He lovingly shows us what he wants us to do, how we are to live.

As Jesus said in John 14:21...

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and show myself to him.

So there it is - step 2 is OBEY. He is your friend, closer than a brother, but he is also your master.

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So step 2 is not mystical in any sense, not necessarily worshipful. Because Jesus, when guiding his followers generally gave three commands - To love God just as much as we are able. To love our neighbour just as we love ourselves. To love our brothers and sisters in Christ, just as Jesus loves them. And almost certainly, any command you hear from Jesus as you draw near to him will fit right into one of those three categories.

We began with trust. We have continued with obey.

Now step 3 is not something you have to do. It's something that naturally happens after step 2. Because as we spend time in intimate friendship with this God, who is just like Jesus - never vindictive, never judgemental, never vengeful, always loving, always true, we become like him. He creates change in us. Because he changes what we want. Changes who we are.

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We change just a little each time we go around the circle of TRUST > OBEY > BE CHANGED. We stop wanting stuff which feeds our more selfish desires, which wanting twists our personalities.

Peter experienced this intimate relationship with Jesus which completely changed his life. He says at the start of his second letter to some young Christians ...

"He has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire."

That's what step 3 change does. Enables you to share in God's divine nature. And you know of course where to find the definition of the divine nature - yes, it's right there in 1 Corinthians 13. The love that never fails.

We have some distance still to go don't we? TRUST - OBEY - BE CHANGED. But God provides that pathway for us. May God keep us trusting, and obeying, so that he can change us as increasingly we share the divine character, motivation, determination and action of Jesus Christ.

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