After the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua, the son of Nun, “Moses my servant is dead; now, therefore, arise and go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them.” – Joshua 1:1-2
One of the most memorable and moving times for any Christian is when God chooses to take their spiritual leader home, ending their service to Him on the earth. It might be the person who led them to faith in Christ, or that discipled them in the faith, or their main pastor or elder. It might even be that your main spiritual leader is your own father, mother, or another relative. When this happens, what those who remain behind then experience is a profound thing. Time seems to stop for a period and reflection, memories, emotions, joy, sadness, appreciation, love, and an eternal perspective takes over. Smaller things, non-essential things and secondary things, suddenly don’t matter at all, whether that is your view of baptism, the end times, or whether you like hymns or choruses in church. It’s all trivial–none of it matters, in light of God removing a true servant of Christ from this earth into eternity. Their passing changes us in ways we realize and in ways we don’t yet see.
How are we to view it when God removes a man of God from our midst? Joshua 1, which records the death of Moses, shows us truths that were real for Joshua and the people of Israel, and which are also true for all believers today when the Lord takes one of His servants to heaven. What biblical principles should shape our understanding at such times?
1. All human ministry is temporary — “Moses my servant is dead.” (1:1)
2. Grief and sorrow is right and necessary — “And the children of Israel wept for thirty days.” (Deut. 34:80)
3. God appoints a new leader — “After the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people . . . ” (1:2)
4. Courage is commanded — “Be strong and courageous . . . ” (1:6, 1:7, 1:9, 1:18)
5. Future grace is promised — “For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (1:9)
6. There is still land to be possessed — “Arise, go over this Jordan . . . . into the land that I am giving to you.” (1:2, 13)
God’s men come and go, and a new one is given by God for His current purposes in leading His people. When a servant of Christ departs the scene, his ministry is not needed any more. What we need is the next leader that God gives. The ministry of every man, all earthly ministries, regardless of how important they seem or how powerful they have been, are only temporary. This is the purpose and providence of God. They come to an end, and when they do, God’s people will sorrow and grieve. This, too, is God’s purpose for us, to have sorrow in the midst of our loss.
In the midst of loss, God then raises up a new leader He has appointed, in order to take His people on. You can’t remain in the past, weeping over Moses. You must embrace, with faith and courage, God’s new leader as the one appointed by God to lead now–onward, upward is the call, because though God uses men, it is not men we ultimately follow, but Christ Himself.
It takes spiritual courage to rise up and press on; thus God gives the gracious command to not fear and to not be dismayed, but rather to be strong and courageous. The ultimate reason all believers must press on in obedience, with courage and faith, is because God has not brought us yet to where we need to be. There is a land still to be possessed–a land of faith, obedience, growth–and land of possessing our spiritual inheritance and the riches that are ours in Christ. Press on we must, for that is the only path to follow the Lamb whithersoever He goes.
What a thankfulness ought to be in our hearts for men of God who have been used in our lives who are now with the Lord. And what faith, courage, and diligence show mark our lives as we follow not men, but press on, looking to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.
God has promised His presence to continually go with us and to be with us. What more could we ask for than that?
If you have never lost a spiritual leader in death, that day will come. It is a deep and profound experience, especially if you deeply love and respect them. All you feel and experience then is right and good. But be sure you take your eyes off of them and put them upon Christ alone. He is your ultimate and permanent leader, who will never die.
“Moses my servant is dead–now therefore, arise and go in to possess the land that I am giving you. Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
— Mack Tomlinson