Far as the curse is found
In his chapter in The Glory of Kings, “Holy War Fulfilled and Transformed,” Rich Lusk deals with the unique way in which God led Israel to prosecute war in the conquest of Canaan. Lusk contrasts Israel’s conquest of Canaan against the much more restrictive demands God placed on their ordinary warfare. He goes on to establish how the conquest is typological for Jesus’s conquest of the world through the cross and the church. The church engages in battle and wrestling through our worship, prayer, sacrifice, evangelism, discipleship and ministries of mercy.
There is a kind of double meaning in the idea of something being devoted to God: it may entail either punishment or acceptance, judgment or justification. While cities were sent up in smoke as a mark of God’s judgment, the system of offerings shows a positive meaning of ascension in smoke. The penalty and judgment for sin came into play when the animal was put to death. After its death, the animal’s ascension in smoke was a positive figure of its entering into God’s presence on behalf of the worshipper. The underlying Hebrew for “whole burnt offering,” in fact, literally means “ascension offering.” Likewise, Jesus, our offering for sin, in his ascension brings us to the Father in union with him as our representative. So, today, the church wields the sword of the Spirit, the word (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12), waging a campaign of devoting the world to God by spreading the fire of the Holy Spirit, life born out of repentance. Since Pentecost, we are living sacrifices.
What struck me in thinking about this was Israel’s refusal to enter into Canaan, and how this may serve as a caution for the church. Consider Numbers 13:25-14:38. Clearly God promised to give them the land, and they saw firsthand his power to fight for them. And yet they still did not believe. Ultimately, God forgave their sin, but they had to endure the consequence of their unbelief through forty years of wandering and death. In a way, they were given only as much as they believed God for: they did not believe God could or would fight for them, so they do not enjoy the victory that God had promised.
What does this mean for the church? Jesus is the high priest whose death brings about an atoning transition from judgment to grace (Numbers 20, 35), and immediately opens the way to the gospel’s conquest of the world (Numbers 20:29-21:3). Jesus’s ascension is his coronation; the Father has now put everything in subjection under his feet (Ps. 8, Heb. 2). Here are a few ways we can work at walking in faith in Jesus’s lordship:
- Jesus is lord of nations, kings and magistrates, so our responsibility as citizens does not stop at voting and prayer: we call them to account to Jesus and seek to disciple them
- Our children belong to Jesus and his Spirit is at work in them, so our parenting owes as much to the pattern of discipleship as to evangelism
- Jesus is lord of our work, so we can work in any lawful vocation “as for the Lord,” knowing that he is beginning a new work of subduing the earth regardless of the seeming futility we see on our own time horizons
- Jesus is lord of all, so we can confidently appeal to unbelievers on the basis that they live under his rule in his realm, that everything they enjoy is a blessing from him, and that true joy and blessing is to be found in welcoming him and his lordship rather than despising him.
And belt out some Christmas songs this holiday season. Joy to the world!