My husband and I teach Sunday school to the 3rd-5th graders at our church. When it is our turn to teach, we bring the class down to the front of the congregation and sing worship songs in “big church.” The kids get a front row look at a stained glass depiction of Jesus with pencil thin eyebrows. A couple times a year I make a point to have them look at the picture and tell them, “That’s not what He looked like. I’m pretty sure Jesus did not wax His eyebrows.”
In a similar way, many of us have heard the more famous stories about Jesus repeatedly and allow these few impressions to shape how we view His demeanor and character. All we know about Jesus is what we’ve read in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If that is the case, we only have part of the story.
A few weeks ago I posted a blog about “Finding Jesus in the Old Testament.” I briefly mentioned an encounter Joshua had with Jesus just outside of Jericho. This week, I spent some time meditating on this story and I love what it has done in my heart. Read it here with me:
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”
The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. ~Joshua 5:13-15, NIV
This man is Jesus.
Through the New Testament we watch servant Jesus in action–washing feet, feeding the hungry, being beaten. In this passage, we see warrior Jesus. His sword is drawn. He speaks with great authority and is taking His rightful place as commander of the Lord’s army. If my previous image of Jesus involved a slender frame, waxed brows and sparkling white robes, this glimpse of Jesus morphs Him to be a broad shouldered general, dressed in battle gear, ready to take command.
Joshua attempted to figure out who this man was on the basis of Joshua’s own reality. He asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” Joshua saw the world with two sides: friend or foe. Jesus stopped that kind of thinking with a word and reminded Joshua the Lord is much bigger than his current battle. Jesus would not be cornered by Joshua’s simplistic perspective.
This exchange humbles me. It is a clear reminder that Jesus is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. There is no guarantee that He sees everything the same way I do. He is not defined by my reality. He is above it. He is not the trump card in my personal agenda. He is the commander of the Lord’s Army. I serve Him, not the other way around.
Joshua believed the man was the commander of the Lord’s army but I’m pretty sure he didn’t realize the full implication of that truth. Jesus brought the point home by commanding him to remove his sandals. The phrase He used mimicked exactly what God told Moses from the burning bush. Moses was Joshua’s personal mentor, so it is likely Joshua had heard the story and immediately connected all of the dots. This man was not only the commander of the Lord’s army, He was God Himself, the great I AM.
This was an electric moment. Joshua realized he was in the presence of a heavenly being. He fell to the ground in reverence and asked for his marching orders. In my mind, I expected Jesus, the general, to immediately give battle instructions. Instead, Jesus makes certain Joshua understands who he is following.
Recognizing the holiness and sovereignty of God is the best preparation we have for the battles we face. This is how we fight our battles. He is holy. He is in charge. He is worthy of following–even if it means marching around a city wall for seven days straight.
My hope is that this brief glimpse of Jesus, which happened around 1500 years before He was born to Mary, will inspire you to go on an adventure in the Old Testament searching for other encounters with the King of Kings. May your impression of Jesus grow beyond the image we see in the front of our church each week. And please, when you are teaching children and see a picture of a pristine and prissy Jesus, look them in the eyes and tell them, “That’s not what Jesus looks like.” Then perhaps you can open the Bible with them to Joshua chapter five and see how the story impacts how they see Jesus in their minds.