You know that amazing feeling you get when you finally come inside after a long day out?
Maybe the sun was beating down or it was so cold it took your breath away. Maybe rain was falling in sheets or maybe it was just a long, hard day.
But then you step inside. You let out the breath you were holding. You relax. You’re comfortable. You’re safe. You’re home.
Joshua 20 is a very short chapter that describes an experience just like that. Although instead of escaping inclement weather or the stresses of everyday life, Israelites stepping inside one of the six cities of refuge are escaping death.
Cities of refuge were built for sinners.
More specifically, they were built for people who had killed someone – on accident. Technically, if you kill someone, the civil law God had given to the Israelites stated that it was your turn to die.
But here was a caveat. An oasis of mercy. If you hadn’t killed the victim on purpose, you could run to the closest city. Inside those walls, the relatives of the deceased couldn’t hurt you. You could present your case to the priests, and if they pronounced you not guilty, you would stay in the city of refuge. Safe. Home.
In modern times, we’ve replaced cities of refuge with involuntary manslaughter charges, which makes the God who created those merciful laws that much more amazing. He didn’t have to give those people a way out. “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” could have been the final say and most of us wouldn’t even have objected.
But that’s not the kind of God we serve.
We serve a God of mercy. He’s not out to get us, waiting eagerly to zap us at the first clear sign of wrongdoing. He doesn’t glare at us from heaven, eyebrows knitted together in a constant expression of displeasure.
He watches us with love and care and understanding. He knows what we’ve been through. He knows how hard it’s been. He’s waiting eagerly to step into our lives and help us.
The God who created the cities of refuge is our everlasting City of refuge. No matter what we’ve done or what’s in our past, we can run to Jesus. His arms are always open for us. The door of His heart is never closed.
And just like stepping into a cool house, the effects of coming to Jesus are immediate. You’re safe and comfortable and home.
“I will never turn you away.”
There’s just one thing. Cities of refuge weren’t unconditional.
If you had murdered someone intentionally, you were out of luck. If you had committed any other sin, you had to face the consequences. And even if you did meet the requirements for entry, you still had to stand trial before you were safe.
We talk about God’s loving justice and everlasting mercy, but let’s be real. Just like a city of refuge, His mercy has limits.
You would never find a first-degree murderer inside a city of refuge. And you’ll never find a casual, on the fence, self-proclaimed Christian who doesn’t want to repent inside the spiritual city of refuge either.
Because just like the Israelites had to go through a process before entering the cities of refuge, so do we. Just like they had requirements, so do we. And no, it’s not victory over sin or perfection, or any of those things you’ve heard.
The only requirement is to make a choice. To decide to give God control over everything. To surrender our will to God’s. To step down from number one authority to number two.
But we’ll only be able to make this decision if we believe. If we want to find refuge in Jesus from all the pain and danger of sin and evil and the world, then we have to believe that Jesus is who He says He is.
He says He has all power and all knowledge.
He says He knows what’s best for us.
He says He loves us.
He says He will free us from sin.
He says He will transform our lives.
He says He’s coming back someday to take us home forever with Him.
The City of Refuge stands open, inviting, and waiting. Do we believe in Him? Will we step inside?
What do you think? Have you taken refuge in Jesus?