To cheer you up (he said tongue-in-cheek), I thought I would tell you the original ending of the Snow White fairy tale. As you know, the new Queen, who is the wicked stepmother, is jealous of snow white’s beauty and orders a huntsman to take Snow White into the deepest woods to be killed. As proof that Snow White is dead, the Queen demands that he return with her lungs and liver. The huntsman takes Snow White into the forest. After raising his knife, he finds himself unable to kill her and leaves her behind alive, convinced that the girl would be eaten by some wild animal. He instead brings the Queen the lungs and liver of a young boar, which is prepared by the cook and eaten by the Queen. Snow White survives, is taken care of by dwarfs and ends up engaged to a prince. The newly engaged couple invite every queen and king to come to the wedding party, including Snow White’s stepmother. At the wedding, to her horror, the stepmother is forced to put on red-hot iron-shoes and dance until she drops to the floor, dead. That’s not quite the ending that Walt Disney gave us.*
This past Sunday our church came to the end of our series in the book of Joshua and the question we asked was: how does the story end? Is it a happily-ever-after ending with God’s people living in God’s land under God’s rule or not?
After Joshua and the Elders of Israel die, the book of Judges tells us that Israel turned to follow false gods and did not serve the LORD. In later years God was true to his warning and took them out of the Promised Land because of their ongoing rebellion and sin; the story did not end well. Why not?
The answer has not changed since the Garden of Eden. The story has a bad ending because of sin; we are naturally biased against God; our hearts are inclined away from God and not towards God.
What’s the solution? We need new hearts.
The Book of Common Prayer has an insightful response as part of the Morning Prayer service that speaks to this exact dilemma:
Minister: O Lord, save your people
Congregation: And bless your inheritance
Minister: Give peace in our time, O Lord.
Congregation: Because there is none other that fights for us, but only you, O God.
Minister: O God, make clean our hearts within us.
With the coming of Jesus God promises his people “new hearts” that are inclined towards God.
The entire Old Testament story is actually a great tragedy without the New Testament. The Old Testament is like the voyage of the Titanic; it ends badly. The Old Testament is really designed to bring us to despair and to ask ourselves: How can God dwell with us? How can sinful and straying hearts be dealt with? How can we ever be faithful?
Many years after the book of Joshua, another Joshua was born. In Greek his name is pronounced Jesus and he comes in the fulfilment of many Old Testament prophecies. Jesus, as the New Testament tells us, did all the things we could not do. His heart was always inclined towards God and always obeyed God’s Word. When Jesus died, he died as the just penalty for our sin, not his; he died for our straying hearts, not his.
Jesus was the true Israelite. Jesus represented all that Israel should have been. In Jesus, through faith in God’s Promise, we receive God’s righteousness. God gives us Jesus’ righteousness so that when God looks at us he sees Jesus’ sinlessness. Not only that, God gives us new hearts and new affections that want to serve him, honour him and obey him. Now, we as God’s people, look forward to our Promised Land – the new heavens and the new earth. The Bible tells us that the real story ends well for Christians. We will indeed live happily-ever-after, because of Jesus.
* Thanks to Lee Marshall and his talks on the book of Joshua at the 2007 Mid-Year Conference for alerting me to this good illustration.