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“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.  If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it.”

If you were there that day hearing Jesus say this, you would have thought that He was asking you to die for Him and with Him in that one sentence, and if you thought that, you would not have been wrong.  No more than you would have been wrong as you sat by the river Jordan at Gibeath Haaraloth waiting for your circumcision wound to heal, thinking that you would be killed in the coming battles against the Canaanites, especially at Jericho, or the 30 cities you would have to conquer after that.  You would not be incorrect to think of death at the prospect of facing the days of distress that lay ahead.  And indeed, if you are to conquer Death as the last enemy, you should think about death, of Death and be acquainted with his tactics, and even keep him close to you.  As close as you would keep the cross you would carry to follow Jesus, for the cross is the instrument that Jesus died upon.  The cross Jesus asked us to carry daily is that we be reminded we are to face death for His sake… and facing death daily is to face our enemy daily, as the Israelites faced Jericho for six days.  If anything, those six days would have helped you appreciate how tall, how thick and how strong those walls were, and any frontal assault without siege weapons would be suicide.  If they rushed those walls, they would only be able to scale them because of the bodies of their dead friends piled high against that wall.

The thoughts of that second generation at the Jordan were on death, not on glory or victory.  They had been lucky on the crusade, but now on the west side facing Jericho, it was a different matter.  Those six days walking around Jericho, not a word spoken, what were they thinking?  What would you be thinking if you were there… that everything you thought about at Gibeath Haaraloth was coming to pass?  You will die at the walls of Jericho unless there is a miracle!  There was no choice; those six days of walking around Jericho were used by the Lord to condition that whole army to the truth that they needed a miracle or else most of them would die, thus forming a human ramp for the warriors to climb up on to fight.  Yet not one of them ran away, not one of them broke ranks; all stayed to see the miracle or to die at the walls of Jericho!

Likewise, the time for you to carry your cross daily in earnest has come.  That cross is to make you face death everyday. 

When Paul continued his discourse of what would not separate us from the love of God that is in Christ, he paused to say, quoting Psalm 44.22:  For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.  Surely that would have been the reply of the soldiers to their families as they came back from Jericho day after day.  However, Paul then wrote:  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death… will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  The first thing he mentioned was ‘death’.  The first thing we are to overcome is… Death.  The first thing we are to think about daily is death, which is why Jesus said, “…he must deny himself and take up his cross daily…”  The cross is not just about suffering, it is about death.  Its ultimate purpose is not suffering, but death to kill you and I, to kill Jesus.

The fathers of the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth ran away from Canaan for fear of death, they said, “Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?  Our wives and children will be taken as plunder.  Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?  We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”  And they all died in the desert.  The second generation, not one ran away from certain death for six days as they marched around Jericho, and not one of them died.  Those who face death daily and not run will live, and those who run from death will die, even if you manage to wander in the desert for 40 years.  Only 36 Israelites were mentioned to have died in the entire 30 campaigns of Joshua.  They died at Ai because Joshua departed from God’s original plan at Jericho, not because of Achan’s sin.  Even if a 1000 Achans sinned in Jericho, had Joshua just marched the entire army around Ai for six days as he did at Jericho, they would still have taken Ai without a casualty.  For had Joshua marched his 500,000 men around Ai, a town of 10,000, for six days, they would have made the Aians face death everyday for six days, and on the seventh, they would have probably committed mass suicide rather than face the slaughter.  When you read Joshua 7, you are led to focus on Achan’s sin as the cause of the loss of the 36 men, rather than Joshua’s departure from God’s tactic at Jericho. 

Likewise, the main focus of many Christians is sin and its consequences, rather than God’s plan and its consequences.  Rather than listening to Jesus, they would rather listen to those who go to great lengths to define sin in all its hierarchy.  Jesus just said, “Repent,” and “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven…”  Never, never did He detail which sins were carnal or venial, or major or minor, which sin would make a man unsuitable for ministry or discipleship… except of course the one unforgivable sin.  Indeed, He said, “…every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men…”  The truth is when you are busy practising the words of Jesus as you listen to Him, you will become too busy to sin.  It would not have mattered if every soldier had hidden some Jerichoan gold under their robes as they marched around Ai.  500,000 men marching around Ai would have caused Ai to surrender… and if those soldiers were carrying hidden stolen gold… six days of marching would have caused them to drop it.  That is, a focussed concentration on the plan of God would have effected the desired victory regardless of the sin in the camp, and would have exposed the sin in the camp anyway, leading to repentance.  Certainly, 36 obedient solders would not have been martyred at Ai because of one man’s sin.

Likewise, had they focussed on Jesus’ commands at Acts 15 in Jerusalem, we would not have lost so many saints to one man’s judgment… for a church that remained focussed on the command to listen to Jesus and concentrated on preaching only His word would have succeeded enough to raise up those martyred after their assailants were gone, just like Paul was able to raise himself up after he was stoned.  As he wrote:  I have… been exposed to death again and again.

The book of Joshua mentions no other casualties other than the 36 at Ai.  Why?  It is written in the book of Joshua the number of years Caleb spent at war, that it took only five years to conquer 31 kings on the western side… that is an average of one kingdom every two months – a feat in the history of warfare unmatched by any nation.  One army every two months without further casualties after Ai – how?  Because Joshua had learned the lesson of Ai.  It is written:  So Joshua marched up from Gilgal with his entire army… and So Joshua and his whole army came against them…  Each time Joshua stayed to God’s original plan… the entire army marched out.  There was no listening to recommendations of other men.  Joshua learnt at Ai the value of absolute obedience to the command of the Lord.

Likewise now, the focus must not be on sin in the camp.  It is there and it will always be there.  Even Paul admitted to the presence of sin in the members of his body, but he did not focus on it.  Rather, the focus was on Jesus and His finished work.  Likewise, the focus is not on sin for us, but on repentance, for Jesus said, “Repent,” and our repentance is continuous because as long as we live in this unglorified flesh, the law of sin is still there to wage war against the law of our mind.  However, it is when we obey the law of the Spirit of Life and turn our attention on a greater, more pressing battle… against the law of sin and death.  Just like the Israelites at Ai, the question was not if someone in the camp had a sin, but that everyone march like they did at Jericho, and overcome the Aians first… then we will deal with the sin.

You see… from the Aians’ perspective, they only saw 500,000 soldiers around them.  Even if the Israelites were busy repenting and casting aside their stolen gold from underneath their tunics… to the Aians, the sight of 500,000 soldiers marching around, dropping gold and jewellery on the ground meant that they were getting ready for some serious fighting, and that gold and jewellery did not interest them.  That meant they were unbribable; there was no treaty that they could offer.  They were doomed!

So, the focus is not on sin, but on obedience, and obedience is repentance and all the rest of Jesus’ commands.  

Now see what Paul wrote for us that is the secret of overcoming Death, even if we have to face death all day long:  You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.  And how do we know if the Spirit of God lives in us?  For you should know if Jesus baptised Him into you, like you should know whom you are sharing your house with.  And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.  Technically then, since the Holy Spirit is poured on all flesh, all have the Holy Spirit, and therefore all belong to Christ whether they like it or not, and that is why every knee shall bow, every tongue will confess that He is the Lord, and even those who are to be cast into the Lake of Sulphur will go there because they do belong to Him, and He has purposed that is where they are to be by His will, not theirs.  He is the Alpha and the Omega.  He has the first word and the last word on us! 

Now see… But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin…  How do you know if Christ is in you?  If you have eaten His flesh and drunk His blood…  “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him.”  Because of that act of faith, your body is dead, cut off from God according to the law that defines what sin is, but …yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.  The righteousness that comes by faith is what gives your spirit life, that faith in Christ that killed your flesh according to the law, but gave you a born again spirit at the same time.  So now… you have a dead body and a living spirit together… just like the Israelites had sin in their ranks whilst they had 10,000 Aians killing themselves even as Israel repented.  Do you see the simultaneous paradox that produced the victory?  Had Joshua marched out 500,000 men and they had to deal with Achan’s sin before attacking Jericho, the sight of 500,000 men just standing there from Ai’s perspective was enough for them to self-annihilate.  It did not matter what Israel was doing.  What mattered was what their obedience got Ai to do!  Here is the key:  It does not matter how well you have obeyed, preached or are successful, it matters what your obedience and practice cause the enemy to do!

Now here is the clincher:  And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you.  Consider your body as dead.  That’s right, since you are a dead man walking because Christ is in you, and because Christ is in you and He has baptised the Spirit who raised Him from the dead into you, you cannot help but live!  Yes, you cannot help but live!  Yes, pick up your cross daily, follow Him and face Death everyday, but no matter how much you face Death, you cannot help but live.  Just like the Israelites, yes, they were in trouble with God, Achan has stolen some devoted things, gold, silver and a robe, but because they were mustered out 500,000 strong… they cannot help but win the battle because while they were busy sorting themselves out, the Aians had already annihilated themselves or surrendered.  That is the genius of God’s plans when they are followed and obeyed to the last detail! 

If your mortal body can live because the Spirit lives in you, then what happens to the mortal bodies of those who live in the Spirit?  What happens?  Find out for yourself as you enter the Holy Spirit and live in Him, just as the Israelites found out as they entered the promised land and fought the rest of the kings, conquering the other 29 in five years without any casualties.  For what kept them alive was not their fighting prowess, but their obedience to God’s battle plan, which allowed God to keep them alive!  You see, from the very beginning in the garden, it is God’s original plan that anyone who obeys God will always live and never die.  If Adam had obeyed, he would have lived and never died.  He could have stood there next to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and faced the serpent and Death… but as long as he never ate the fruit, even if he held it in his hand, even as he admired it, looked at it, touched it, smelled it and crushed it, played with it… as long as he never ate of it… he could never die!  Obey God and we live.  Or another way to say it… obey God and we can never die, even if we face Death every day, all day long.

Yes, so you should first think of death, for that is why Jesus wants you and I to pick up our cross daily and follow Him.  We pick up our cross to follow Him because it is not the instrument that will kill us, but rather, it is the enemies’ standard that Jesus has captured, and we are His triumphant troops, holding up high the trophy of the enemies’ flag that has fallen into our King’s hands… the cross we each carry as we follow Christ in triumphant procession is the standard of His vanquished enemies that He is using to remind the remnants of His enemies’ armies of all their past defeats and their soon and coming impending defeat.

After Jericho, Israel was allowed to keep the silver, gold and jewels of the land.  As the entire army marched out, the sound of all the accompanying herds and clanging of the treasures as they marched, for there was no one assigned to guard the booty, but the entire army marched, the noise of the booty reminded the enemy of the fate of those who went before them.

Our cross we bear is the standard, the flag, the trophy, to remind all who oppose us the defeats that had visited them through Jesus Christ.  “No, think well now of Death, young Israelite.  Consider how your fathers all perished in the desert because they fled from Death.  If you flee as they did, death awaits in the desert.  If Death is in the desert, then he cannot be in the promised land, thus only life awaits you in the promised land.  Now that your thoughts are fixed and certain about where you can and will face death, get up, for life awaits you at Jericho.” 

Likewise, if we do what the previous generation did, we will all die, for not one of them lived and never died, not even Paul.  So, we cannot go the way they went… we can only go where the Spirit is leading us, for wherever the church has not been yet, there is yet life to live and life abundantly.  So let them carry their cross like a burden that promises suffering and death, but let us carry our cross held high, like captured enemy standards to remind those who still oppose us what happened at the last battle between Christ and His enemies.  Amen.

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