Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Long After the Stink is Gone

Reading: Joshua 7 – 10   
In Joshua, rocks played a different role than they do in our day. Five different times rocks were piled up in order to remind people of something.
For instance, in Joshua 4, after Israel had crossed the flooding Jordan on dry ground, the people were to take 12 stones from the middle of the river and carry them to Gilgal (means circle of stones) where they camped that night. There they piled them up so that “in the future when your descendants ask their fathers, 'What do these stones mean?'” they could teach them what the Lord had done in bringing them across the Jordan.
There is a part of this story which always fascinates me. It keeps me wondering. That is the part in which the waters stopped flowing. We read,
...the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. (Joshua 3:16)
I can't help but wonder if God was painting a picture for future generations here. As He stops the waters from flowing into the Dead Sea (the Salt Sea), He brings the water all the way back to a town called Adam. Of course, it could have stopped 100 feet away. But instead, He stops it at a town called Adam. Given the obvious potential connection between crossing through the river and baptism, in which Adam's sin is dealt with and we are no longer condemned to death, I have to wonder if there is an intended connection. But I am left to wonder.
Then, after Achan's sin of taking the devoted things for himself, all Israel stoned Achan, rather than burning his body, as they did the rest of the family, we read,
Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor [trouble] ever since. (Joshua 7:26)
Again, after hanging the King of Ai, we read,
He hung the king of Ai on a tree and left him there until evening. At sunset, Joshua ordered them to take his body from the tree and throw it down at the entrance of the city gate. And they raised a large pile of rocks over it, which remains to this day. (Joshua 8:29)
Once more, after five Amorite kings are hung on trees we read the following:
At sunset Joshua gave the order and they took them down from the trees and threw them into the cave where they had been hiding. At the mouth of the cave they placed large rocks, which are there to this day. (Joshua 10:27)
I can't help but notice the repeated phrase, “which remains to this day.” What is the point of piling rocks up over these dead bodies? These events are to be remembered long after the stink is gone! Whether it is the consequences of Achan's sin which must be remembered lest we follow in his path, or the victory over wicked masters (kings) which God graciously gives us to remind us of his power and mercy, we must remember these events in order to live in the freedom they provide. And, we must remember them long after the stink is gone.
Baptism is like a pile of rocks for us. At least that is something I take from Romans 6:1-4.
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  3Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
When we are first saved and delivered from the ruling power of sin, it wasn't so hard to remember the slavery to corruption from which we were delivered. Sin was bitter. Sin carried with it a foul odor. However, I find in myself, and in those I pastor, that many years after we have been saved we tend to forget the smell. Or, for those who are saved at a young age, often they can grow up not realizing the foul stench of wickedness. Baptism is like that pile of rocks. Baptism reminds us of the consequences of sin. Baptism is a moment in our lives we can all remember, and Paul draws the memory of the Romans back to it.
Paul's argument against the idea that grace leads to more sin is quite simple on one level. “We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” When did we die to sin? In Christ. And the visual picture of that event is baptism. Paul reminds us, “We were buried with him through baptism into death...” Every time I remember baptism, I remember being buried in a grave (going down into the waters of death)—that is the consequence of sin. Just as stones reminded Israel of the consequences of Achan's sin, so baptism reminds me that the end of my life of sin was death. Just as stones reminded Israel how God's power was sufficient to deliver from wicked masters who would rule over God's inheritance, baptism reminds me that God miraculously delivered me from Satan's power over my life.
Baptism is a gift from God to the believer; a means of grace. You may not smell the stink of sin as you go about life in the midst of God's community in the same way you did when “you were dead in my trespasses and sins...” (Ephesians 2:1), but you can look at the reminder and say,
How can I live in sin any longer? I died to sin. I understood the judgment for my life of sin as death by execution under the wrath of God. And a substitute was given me. I accepted that substitute, Jesus Christ, and through faith I was executed with Him. Then, in baptism I was symbolically buried with Him (you don't bury living men, but dead); then raised with Him and free. Why would I return to that which brought death. It didn't just bring some rough times, it brought death...stench and all. And while I can't still remember the stink, I can remember the grace God gave me to realize all this and to flee from it to Christ. I won't stop fleeing to Christ today.”
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

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