Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the historic one-year lectionary.
In Joshua chapter three God intends to raise Joshua's profile and standing in Israel. He's going to be the next leader, taking the place of Moses. Joshua has known this for some time, but God exalts him publicly.
As this is the Old Testament reading for the Baptism of Christ, I want to make a few observations that tie the two together.
First, and most obviously, Jesus' name is a variant of Joshua's name. In essence, they bear the same name. Both are being raised up by God to complete the work of Moses. Though some aspects of their work will obviously differ, I'm going to ask my friends who are not as enthusiastic about the continuity between Old and New Testament to bear with me for a while. I know Jesus isn't the new Moses, lawgiver, and that Jesus brings Gospel life, rather than death by Law. Yet in a very real way, it is a continuance. Jesus and Joshua alike are engaged in the work of delivering God's people from their place of bondage into the place of promise and life.
Where does this happen? It happens at the Jordan River. We are more accustomed to think of the crossing of the Red Sea on dry land when we think of God's people being brought through the water of death safely, but this was just as much a miraculous crossing. The Jordan was at flood stage. It could certainly have hindered the people. In such a mass crossing, some would be swept away and drowned, others would lose many or all of their possessions. God rescues his people, bringing them through water, and out of the desert, a place of death, into the land of promise.
The significance of the water and the baptism of Jesus should not be missed. As the water of baptism buries us, washes us, and lets us rise to newness of life, Jesus, having been baptised by John in the Jordan leads us in that new life. It's a life according to the promise of God, just as the life Israel has in the promised land.
Is our life in God's promise completely safe? Not in an earthly view. As partakers of God's promise, the people of Israel will still face warfare, conquest, attack by enemies, trials by illness and famine, and all the other trials which are common to humanity. Likewise, those who have been rescued from death into life through baptism into Christ will face trials. Yet in all of this we know that God's power is present to bring us into our true and lasting home.
The presence of God in the ark of the covenant goes before the people of Israel. In this figure, God stands in the midst of his people as they cross into the land of promise. He still leads his people into the promise, through the exalted Jesus, the one who delivers his people from sin and death.
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