As we continue with our reading through the entire Bible in a year, Jess and I have made it to the book of Joshua. The book is named after the man who succeeded Moses as the leader of the Jews. Joshua got to be the one who led the Israelites out of the desert and into the Promised Land, which is modern-day Israel. It just so happened that there were already people living in the land that God promised to the Jewish people, so they had to win over the territory through war.
Joshua and the Jewish people had quite the task ahead of them. They were not extremely well-equipped to march into cities and take them over through sheer strength. They hadn’t spent much time in military drills and training. The only thing that they had going for them was that God promised that he would give them the land and drive out the people who already lived there.
When Joshua was given the reigns of leadership, he knew what mission stood before him. It must have looked daunting for the newly appointed leader. Knowing how Joshua must have felt, God gave him a bit of a pep talk in the first chapter of the book. He told him that he needed to be strong and courageous (a few times) and that he would always be with him. In verse 9 God said to Joshua, “The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” This was the promise that all of Israel had to hold on to as they set out to accomplish the impossible.
Maybe those words seem familiar to you, even if you haven’t read Joshua. Jesus echoed those words to his disciples in Matthew 28; this passage is commonly known as the great commission. This is where Jesus commanded his followers at the time, and all of those who would come after, that they were to, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28: 19-20). He added this statement to verse 20 as an exclamation point: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I don’t believe Jesus chose these words (or any of his words) by mistake. I think that he wanted to draw us all back to Joshua. There are parallels between the two passages. Both sections of scripture consist of the same thing: God asking his people to establish his kingdom on Earth. In Joshua, it was a physical kingdom. In Matthew, it is a spiritual one.
The difference between the two is that we are not to establish God’s kingdom by the sword like in the days of Joshua. The only weapon that we are to wield is love. Instead of gaining land through death and destruction, we are to gain souls by offering new life through Christ.
Our assignment is just as large and formidable as what the Israelites faced. People will be opposed to what it is that we offer. Throughout the New Testament, we are promised hardship and persecution for sharing the Gospel. Ten of the twelve original disciples were killed for doing this very thing. As for the other two: Judas killed himself after selling Jesus out, and John was the only one to die a natural death— though attempts were made on his life. What we have been asked to do is not easy. Much like the Jews entering the Promised Land, we cannot do it on our own.
Thanks be to God that he doesn’t entrust such a task to human strength and determination. This is why Jesus promised always to be with us. He knew that we are neither qualified nor capable of establishing his kingdom on our own. He is the one in control of that. All that he has asked us to do is love God, love people, and tell others about him. Everything else is up to him.
Did you know that there is not a single place in scripture that asks us to save people? That is a job that is much, much above our paygrade. That is the domain of the Holy Spirit, which we are not. Sometimes, we get that confused. No matter how eloquently or persuasively we share the Good News, it is the Holy Spirit who does the work of regeneration. This really takes the pressure off us. It allows us to simply go about the duty of telling others about Jesus and allowing God to do the rest. As John Wesley once said, we are to “spend and be spent in that work.”
You will face backlash and opposition as you go about doing your duty, but take heart, you are not alone. Jesus is with you every step of the way. He will comfort you and guide you, encourage you and uplift you, strengthen you and empower you. Knowing that, we should feel emboldened to fulfill the commission that is in front of us and work to establish the Kingdom of God. I’ll let you in on a secret: if you are truly out there doing that, you cannot fail. God’s Kingdom will come, and his will be done. We have nothing to fret about nor anything to doubt. The God who once established his physical kingdom against all odds will succeed in establishing his spiritual one. Best of all, you’re invited to join him in that endeavor. Will you go? Will you be strong and courageous? If you will, be sure to never lose sight that your God is with you, always.