Sermon: I Will Exalt You (Joshua 3)
Order of Service: Divine Service 2
#487, “Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain”
#405, “To Jordan’s River Came Our Lord”
#918, “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer”
Location: Triune God, Brooklyn Center, MN
The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. (Joshua 3:7)
On the banks of the Jordan River, a people stood on the precipice of being exalted by God. Of receiving the promise of a lifetime. In fact, the promise of several lifetimes. The promise had been handed down for generations. The promise given originally to Abram, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, … for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever.”1Genesis 13:14-15 It had been about seven centuries since God made the promise. Now, it was beginning to be fulfilled.
What does it mean to be exalted by God? To “exalt” is to “make great.” Most of the time in the Bible, man is exalting God as his Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.2Exodus 15:2; Psalm 34:3; 99:5, 9; Isaiah 25:1 At other times, like with Joshua, God promises to exalt people. Taking the lowly and humble and making them great in the eyes of their neighbors.3Ezekiel 21:26; James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6
God has the great habit of exalting the humble and lowly. St. Paul reminds the Corinthians:
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.41 Corinthians 1:27-29
God took the lowly Corinthians and exalted them into a congregation. This is not the first time God has done this. Not more than a month before our text, Moses gives his farewell address in the plains of Moab. He reminds the children of Israel of their exaltation by God:
It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore to your fathers.5Deuteronomy 7:6-7
Israel was the fewest of all people when they were exalted. How few were they? Two. When Israel was exalted, it was only Abram and Sarai.6Genesis 12:1-3 Beginning with these two, and these two “as good as dead,” God exalted the people of Israel to be a great nation and a blessing for all the families of the earth. From two, He made them “as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” 7Hebrews 11:12
This exaltation began as Israel multiplied in Egypt. Growing from seventy when Jacob and his sons moved to Goshen8Genesis 46:27 until they reached approximately two million when they crossed the Red Sea. Through the parting of the Red Sea, God exalted the Israelites in the eyes of the Egyptians.9Exodus 14 Throughout their wandering in the Wilderness, God exalted them in the eyes of all the surrounding nations, who were filled with dread at their approach.10Joshua 2:8-13; cf. Numbers 22:1-3
Through Israel’s exaltation, God exalted Moses to lead them out of Egypt.11Exodus 3:7-10 Moses was a great man.12Deuteronomy 34:10-12 He was well respected by the Israelites, even when they were bickering and murmuring against him. They knew God was with him and made him great. But God made Moses great through the plagues in Egypt. Moses performed great signs and wonders in the Wilderness. What was Joshua’s exaltation going to look like?
Joshua had been Moses’ right-hand man from their very first battle against Amalek.13Exodus 17:9 He was with Moses on Mount Sinai when he received the covenant.14Exodus 24:13; 32:17 He was one of the spies sent into the Promised Land. One of only two who gave a faithful report of God’s ability to fulfill His promise and conquer the larger nations.15Numbers 13-14 He was “full of the spirit of wisdom.”16Deuteronomy 34:9
But even with this important position, God still says, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel.”17Joshua 3:7 That day Israel would cross the Jordan River to begin the process of conquering the land of Canaan. And God was going before them, as He had promised.18Deuteronomy 7:20-22 He was doing this through the Ark of the Covenant going into the Jordan first.19Joshua 3:13 The mercy seat upon which God ruled His people in their midst showed that He was with them. The waters coming from the north stood in a heap. They crossed on dry ground. Just as their parents had done at the Red Sea.20Exodus 14:22 “God has brought His Israel into joy from sadness.”21LSB #487.1
But Joshua’s exaltation in Israel’s eyes would be in everyday ways, not supernatural ones. He would follow Moses’ example as a faithful prophet and leader for the people. He would be seen as the general, the commander-in-chief, of Israel’s armies. His ability to organize the battle lines and administer his governmental responsibilities would not be done through signs and wonders. They would be done through the ordinary, everyday gifts with which God had blessed him.
Ok. This is all well and good for a history lesson. But we’re celebrating the Baptism of Our Lord. What does this exaltation have to do with Jesus? Other than happening at the Jordan River? Well, lots. Especially for you.
Fourteen hundred years after Israel crossed the Jordan River, God stood on the banks of the Jordan River, on the precipice of exalting His people. Just as the Ark preceded the Israelites into the Jordan River, Jesus preceded us into the waters of Baptism. The Baptism rite in our hymnal shows this clearly: “Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.”22LSB p. 269 Through this “blessed flood” and “lavish washing” you have been exalted. Like Joshua, this exaltation is expressed in everyday, ordinary ways. Your Baptism is just the beginning of the ordinary becoming extraordinary.
Jesus shows this to John as He steps into the Jordan to receive John’s Baptism of repentance. Jesus had no sins to repent of. John points this out in his objection, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?”23Matthew 3:14 Jesus replies, “Thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”24Matthew 3:15 Through His footsteps into the Jordan, Jesus changes the course of human history. He fulfills all righteousness through His Baptism. A Baptism of repentance.25Matthew 3:11 Not His repentance. Your repentance.
The major difference between the Ark of the Covenant and Jesus entering the Jordan is that Jesus doesn’t cause the water to stop flowing. He causes it to overflow so that He might exalt you and I. To make us great by giving us the forgiveness of sins. By opening the gates of Heaven. By having the Father’s words transferred to you: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”26Matthew 3:17 In the waters of the font, God spoke the same words over you. He exalted you from His enemy to His beloved child! What greater joy can there be! Through Baptism, God has brought you into joy from sadness! The extraordinary gift of forgiveness given through such ordinary means.
But God’s joy and favor doesn’t always last. Israel’s exaltation ended when He sent them away into exile. The sadness of the Wilderness was replaced by the joy of the Promised Land, but the joy of the Promised Land was turned to the sadness of exile through their continued disobedience. God sent prophet after prophet to remind them of the exaltation they took for granted, but they would not listen. Their exaltation ended. Their Promised Land was invaded and destroyed. Everything they held dear was cleared away with a swipe of God’s hand.
But we have a greater promise from God. Our exaltation never ends! Like Abraham, Sarah, Enoch and the rest of the saints, we have acknowledged that we are “strangers and exiles on the earth.”27Hebrews 11:13 Like Israel, we have the promise of an inheritance. But this inheritance is greater than any earthly kingdom. It is “a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called [our] God, for He has prepared for [us] a city.”28Hebrews 11:16 “Our citizenship [through Baptism] is in Heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body.”29Philippians 3:20-21
In that heavenly city, we will stand before Jesus and God the Father exalted from our mortal flesh, being transformed “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”301 Corinthians 15:51-52 Just as quick as the change from enemy to beloved child at our Baptism. We will stand there because Jesus has led the way. As the Ark of the Covenant led Israel into the Promised Land, Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension lead us into Heaven. There we will sit at table with all the saints at “the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.”31LSB p. 183 Since His kingdom has no end, since His marriage feast has no end, our exaltation will have no end! This is why we come together as Church. This is why we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord and our own Baptism. This is why we can be confident in our Lord’s blessing. This is not the promise of a lifetime or several lifetimes. This is the promise of everlasting life. Amen.