We are continuing our journey through the Old Testament, specifically dealing with the tough passages on death. Our series is called Killing Stuff and today’s message is on Killing Kingdoms. There are a number of places in the Old Testament where large groups of people, even entire nations are killed and we need to explore these to see what God was up to—and honestly what God is still up to.
I’m going to apologize to my note-takers out there. Your points were the points of the message as of Thursday morning, but I reorganized and those points won’t serve you well today.
Anyway, in the Bible, we see themes show up repeatedly. One of those themes is the war between good and evil. And all throughout the biblical story, we see these episodes where God calls His people into a land, but the land is full of evil. It happens over and over as you’ve probably noticed through the past few weeks dealing with Noah, and Abraham, and Sodom and Gomorrah and all that.
Well, we are going to start with the land that God told Joshua to lead God’s people into. This was the land that was promised to the descendants of Abraham. We read this in Joshua 1:
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. (Joshua 1:1–4, ESV)
When the Israelites had finished their wandering for 40 years in the dessert and they approached the Promised Land, Moses died. And God called Joshua, Moses’s assistant to take over for him. And the Lord told Joshua how much land Israel was going to get.
It was actually a lot of land for a nation in these days. In some ways, the Promised Land was where modern day Israel is located, today. But God actually promised a much larger plot of land to Israel.
You can see this on the map. At some points in time Israel had a little more than what they have today, but Israel was never able to conquer all the land God wanted to give to them.
Here’s why I think they never took hold of the land. They never took hold of the land, because they didn’t believe God.
God called Israel to join Him in the battle against the wicked nations who were in the land, and they didn’t do it. They sort of did it, but they didn’t fully do it.
Here’s what happened.
Joshua led the people into the Promised Land and the first city they came to is Jericho. Now, Israel didn’t have a human king like other nations; the Lord was their King and so the Lord himself showed up. And he told Joshua that He is the commander of the Lord’s army and Joshua realized who he was talking to and he began to worship Him. Israel had God as their King, a perfect King. And that King showed up to command his armies.
So the King led the people of Israel to utterly devastate Jericho. Look what it says,
Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword. (Joshua 6:21, ESV)
So, there are two views here. One view is that everyone was killed regardless of gender or age, even children—even their animals.
Other people say, no, this is hyperbole. They didn’t really kill everyone, but the devastation was so great it was as if they had.
We know from the book of numbers that Jericho and the other cities of the Promised Land were filled with the mighty men of renown, the giants like those of the days of Noah who brought great evil into the land so that,
…the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5, ESV)
God flooded the earth because of the great wickedness of humankind, and here he completely demolishes Jericho so that the wickedness of Jericho doesn’t infect His people, Israel.
And this is hard, because we look at this and it sounds like genocide, the killing of an entire people group. And maybe it was, but God is a just and righteous God and,
The wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23, ESV)
What we see when Israel completely wipes Jericho off the map is the enactment of very basic Christian and Jewish doctrine.
God was leading Israel in a holy war to conquer wickedness on the earth. And Jericho was a great victory in that battle.
But then the people of Israel start to backslide.
The next city to conquer was Ai which was a small city. Now, God told the Israelites not to take any treasure for themselves out of Jericho. Any wealth was supposed to go into the treasury of the Lord.
So, sin entered the camp as the greed of one man named Achan brought God’s vengeance into the camp of Israel for their disobedience. Achan took some of the treasure from Jericho for himself. And many men died as a result of his sin.
And then, they were supposed to defeat Gibeon, but the Gibeonites tricked Israel into letting them live. So, now Israel had allowed violent people who hate God and worship pagan gods to live in the land with them.
And Israel tried to do what God said, but they continued to fail because of sin. And at the end of Joshua’s life, the Israelites are in the land, but only sort of. They haven’t taken the boundaries that God promised to Abraham. And they are living among and still fighting against many of the wicked tribes that were in the land.
You know what’s going on here, right?
The Israelites were commanded by God to deal with the evil people in the land. But, they couldn’t because they had not yet dealt with the evil in their own hearts.
They were a half-hearted people, half-heartedly following their king and they only half-inherited the promise.
That’s why the prophet Amos says,
I will plant them on their land,
and they shall never again be uprooted
out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God.
(Amos 9:15, ESV)
Amos prophesied in the land of Israel a couple hundred years after Joshua brought Israel into the land. And it’s easy to see that, although they resided in the land God promised to them, they were not firmly planted. They didn’t have it all. And what they did have they held very loosely.
God’s people, Israel, never really got a firm hold on the land. The nations who lived in the land before they got there were never taken care of and they were always trying to push them out of the land. That’s the entire book of Judges.
And this is what makes Jesus so exciting. Because, by the time we get to Jesus, the Israelites gained and lost control of the Promised Land dozens of times. They were even taken out of the land entirely by Babylon and then allowed to return to the land, only to be conquered again by Rome.
So, when we get to Jesus, Israel is in the Promised Land—the small piece of it—but they are under Roman occupation. They still didn’t have control of the land or even their own people and there seemed to be no hope of ever gaining control of the Land.
Now, when we read about Jesus, it’s fascinating, because the Jewish officials and the spiritual leaders of the day, they didn’t like Jesus.
But, the everyday common Jew loved Jesus. They followed him around in huge crowds. They listened to his teaching and they brought their sick and lame to him for healing.
Do you know why they were so fascinated with Jesus?
It’s actually for the very same reason the Jewish officials hated him. The Jewish officials were threatened by Jesus. Look what John writes about them.
Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God. (John 12:42–43, ESV)
Many of Jewish authorities believed Jesus was the Messiah, the rightful King of the Jews, who was coming to deliver them into the land. But because they feared men more than God and because they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God, they didn’t speak up.
But, the people did. The common people spoke up! Let’s go to what we call the Triumphal Entry, the events we celebrate on this, Palm Sunday.
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”
(Matthew 21:1–11, ESV)
I want to focus on who the people thought Jesus was. Let’s look at these three statements they shouted.
First, they called him, ‘Son of David.’
This title comes from a prophesy of Samuel in the Old Testament. Samuel said this to King David,
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. (2 Samuel 7:12–14a, ESV)
The Jews always held this prophesy to have a two-fold meaning. They believed it was about Solomon, David’s literal son who became King after David. And Solomon in some ways fulfilled this prophesy by building the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. But, his Kingdom didn’t last one generation after he died. It was not established forever.
So, the Jews also believed that this prophesy spoke of a future king who would rule with the power of God over Israel, a king who would finally rid Israel of the pagan nations, a king whose kingdom would never end, but would last into eternity.
So, the crowds call Jesus the ‘Son of David’ because they believed Jesus was that King. So they worshipped him when he entered Jerusalem.
Second, they said he, ‘comes in the name of the Lord.’
This was an old world way of saying that something is so sure that it must be true. The people saw Jesus as the King that the Lord sent to rule over them.
It’s why you sign your name when you swipe your credit card at the store. Your name goes on the piece of paper as a promise that you will pay what you owe. We sign contracts of all kinds with our name as a promise that we will do what the contract delineates.
Our names have power. They come with weight.
How much more power does God’s name have?
So, when the people said, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,’ they weren’t saying, ‘Let’s see if this works out!’ They were saying, ‘This is for sure,’ ‘This is certain,’ ‘This is the King God has sent.’
Finally, they shouted, ‘Hosanna in the Highest.’
Hosanna is a Hebrew word that means, ‘God save us now!’ What’s interesting, though, is hosanna is never used in the context of praise. It’s a cry for help. The Jews were desperate and they wanted out from under of the control of Rome.
So as Jesus entered the city, they cried out to their King, ‘Save us now!’
And I want to say one other thing here. They said, ‘in the highest.’ Many of the ancient pagan nations worshiped their gods on the highest place they could find. They figured their best bet was to get as close to their god as they could.
This is beautiful imagery for Israel, because God is the highest. He’s far higher than any other god. He’s so high that you could never find a mountain high enough to get into His presence. But, the grace of this highest God is magnificent, because this God came down to meet with His people on flat land, at the tabernacle and at the temple in Jerusalem.
Our God is so great that the only way into His presence is if He makes it happen.
So the people cry, ‘Hosanna in the highest,’ because their King is not just a King sent by God. But, their King is the highest King. He’s the King of King and Lord of Lords. And that highest God was there in their presence. They believed Jesus was God very God.
So, this is Sunday when Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem. Jesus spent the week doing all sorts of stuff that we don’t have time for. But, suffice it to say, the authorities in Israel had, had it with him and they’d planned a coup to have Jesus killed. Notice what the text says, though,
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.” (Matthew 26:3–5, ESV)
They wanted to kill Jesus, but the crowds were still on His side. They still believed He was their King.
But, something changed. After Judas betrayed Jesus, Jesus was taken to Pilate, the governor of Isreal. And Pilate couldn’t find anything to charge Jesus with that was deserving of death, but now, the crowds—maybe some of the same people who days before were crying out Hosanna in the Highest—the crowds wanted to kill Jesus.
There’s a lot of speculation on what happened here. It was passover week, so lots of people were in Jerusalem who weren’t usually there. It’s possible that this is just a different crowd of people. It’s also possible that Jesus caused enough uproar at the temple during the week that they shifted their opinion. But, here the people deny Jesus and they force Pilate to crucify him.
And you know the story. The guards beat Jesus and they took him to the cross to crucify him.
The King had come to rule and to rid the land of wickedness and His own people handed him over to Rome to be crucified. They insisted their own king be crucified.
And it’s here we get to one of my favorite questions.
Did Jesus fail to do what He came to do? Did Jesus fail to become the King of Israel?
The answer is no. This is the greatest plot twist in the story of the Bible.
You see, the plan wasn’t just the killing of the evil kingdoms. God couldn’t deal with wicked nations until He dealt with the wickedness in the heart of God’s people. Jesus’s plan wasn’t to defeat Rome. Jesus came to defeat evil once and for all and that begins in the hearts of His people.
He accomplished that on the cross. That’s why when he gave up his last breath on the cross he uttered, ‘It is finished,’ because in that final breath, Jesus accomplished everything necessary for evil to be defeated once and for all.
And not just evil in the land. Not just evil in the world. When Joshua led the people into the Promised Land, they did’t fail because of the wickedness in the land. They failed because of the wickedness in their own hearts.
Jesus lived and Jesus died and Jesus rose from the dead and Jesus rose to the right hand of the Father where,
God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11, ESV)
You see, Jesus died so to fix the evil in our hearts. And Jesus reigns over His people from his throne with the Father. He’s taken care of evil in the hearts of His people by filling us with His Spirit that we might be characterized with the righteous fruits of the Spirit:
…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… (Galatians 5:22–23, ESV)
And he reigns in our hearts so that we might be free from the deeds of the flesh:
…sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these… (Galatians 5:19–21, ESV)
But, he has still promised us a land. He has still promised his people a land.
And you’re like, wait, no God promised Israel a land, right?
Look what the author of Hebrews wrote about Israel. He said,
They [Israel] serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things…But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Hebrews 8:5–6, ESV)
The Promised Land in Israel was a shadow of a greater Land. King David was a shadow of a greater King, Jesus. And the Promises of the Old Covenant were a mere shadow of the greater covenant we have in Christ.
And that Promise is a New Earth. Jesus will come again to reign in our presence. And he will once and for all finish the battle over evil on the earth by destroying the whole earth. And then, he will make a new earth, and new heavens, a new universe. And the people of God—whether Jew or otherwise—will live righteously in the presence of our righteous King forever.
That’s why the prophet Amos said,
I will plant them on their land,
and they shall never again be uprooted
out of the land that I have given them,”
says the Lord your God.
(Amos 9:15, ESV)
The day is coming when we will be planted in a new land, never to be uprooted again. That promise is for us, if we are God’s people through Jesus Christ.
I want to close with this. The people of God have always struggled against the wickedness of the flesh and the wickedness in the world. And yet, we just don’t like the idea that people might have to die for justice to claim the earth. We don’t like the killing of Kingdoms.
And I get that. I don’t like it. I want people to thrive and live. But, I also want Christ’s righteousness to reign on the earth.
It wasn’t enough for evil people to be killed in the flood. Sin returned.
It wasn’t enough for God to fight alongside Joshua and Israel. Sin still reigned.
It wasn’t enough for the Jews of Jesus’s day to be so devoted to the law. Sin still infected their hearts.
Sin is so common to this world and to everyday life, we can’t imagine an existence without it.
People ask me all the time, ‘Anthony, do you think we can we sin in heaven?’
And that’s a really interesting question. And heaven isn’t precicely the right word. The question is, ‘Can we sin in God’s eternal Kingdom?’
I think we intuitively know the answer should be, ‘No,’ but a lot of people have a hard time connecting with that reality.
And the answer isn’t precisely, ‘No’ anyway. The answer is, ‘Who cares?’ because, ‘You won’t.’
When sin is dealt with in the hearts of men and women by the power of the Holy Spirit. And sin is conquered on the earth when Jesus returns, sin will no longer reign. Sin can never return. And sin will never again infect the hearts of God’s people.