Courage for the Challenge
Sermon, Pentecost 2C, The Story 7
Joshua: The Battle Begins
Psalm 138, Ephesians 6:10-20, Matthew 28:16-20
Joshua 1:1-2, 6-9 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”http://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/20160529_message.mp3
Have you ever faced an overwhelming challenge head on; one that scared the heck out of you? How did you go?
I have had a few of those challenges:
Responding to God’s call to move with my new wife of just over a year (Leanne), 2700km’s from Perth to Adelaide and take up a youth worker job in a church community the size of the whole WA District!
Responding to God’s call to enter sustained biblical study for 5 years on minimal income.
Responding to God’s call to take up Ministry across the Tasman Sea in NZ with three little kids and not much income.
Responding to God’s call to move back to Australia to the far West to with now 4 kids, to engage in the work of planting a church from scratch in WA.
Responding the Lord’s call to be here to lead this large complex community!
Remaining a faithful follower of Jesus through ups and downs of life.
Remaining a faithful loving husband and father.
These all seemed overwhelming and sometimes still fell that way. In The Story, we find Israel facing an overwhelming challenge. After 600 years from God’s promise to Abraham to make him a great nation, the God’s people are ready to advance into the land long promised by the Lord.
But there is a big problem. The place is not empty! It is occupied by lots of people. Some of them are quite large, according to the forty spies that had earlier checked out the place. The spies say that compared to some of the locals, they felt like grasshoppers! Also, the locals are into some terrible religious/spiritual practices – even child-sacrifice.
The odds are overwhelming. The message is clear. This giant calling will not be completed by ordinary human means.
Under Joshua, the successor of Moses, who has died, God tells the new generation who have been born in the desert wandering years to finally take the land.
Joshua is told 4 times by God to “be strong and courageous.” Now is the time for courage! Now is the time for trust in the Lord with all their heart. When someone keeps telling you this, you know you are in for a challenge!
God tells Joshua and the people three things they need to be successful.
ONE: To meet an impossible challenge with the Lord they need to be truly “people of the book”—the word of God.
Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. (Joshua 1:8)
This was not just theoretical. God’s people experienced the consequences of trusting or not trusting God’s word on what to do and say in the moment. What happened at the first battle of Jericho was a result of trusting the Lord’s word (Joshua 5). But in the second battle, the battle for Ai, a military leader named Achan sinned by not heeding the word of God, the people lost the battle. (Joshua 7)
What is God’s remedy for a lack of trust and thereby the inability to live up to the Lord’s call? After that loss, Joshua read the entire book of the law to the people. (Joshua 8:34)
TWO: To be a people who participate fully and freely and reap the harvest of life lived in peace and love, God called his people to pray.
God says to his hopelessly outgunned people facing their obstacles, “Talk to Me before you go to battle. I will be in front.” The battle belongs to the Lord”, it says. “He leads it. We follow him into the challenge”.
Again, this was not just a vain hope or a theoretical truth. To demonstrate God going first into this impossible calling, the Ark of the Covenant literally led the people. The message in this sign? The Lord goes before us. He fights for us and with us.
THREE: Then The Lord calls his people to remember who they are and whose they are, not only in theory but in a physical sign in their own bodies.
At Gilgal all the males of Israel were circumcised as a sign of their identity with God. (Joshua 5)
God says in effect, “Before you go into battle, I want all the soldiers to bear the promise, bear my name, bear the story so far, be confident that they are mine. I am theirs, the promise is still active and they can trust me for the battle.”
The battles begin and the land is taken. Joshua 5-7
God performs miracles by damming up the Jordan River and by delivering Jericho into Israel’s hands.
Israel defeats 5 kings and takes the cities in the south. “the southern campaign”
Israel defeats 14 kings in the north. “the northern campaign”
The entire land is now in Israel’s control. Joshua 11:33
Joshua divides the land among the tribes of Israel. Joshua 13-21
There are two reasons God commands Israel to take the Promised Land.
ONE: Because of the wickedness of the inhabitants to the land. God told this reason to Abraham 600 years earlier. Genesis 15:16
The inhabitants practiced detestable idolatry which included using prostitutes in worship and sacrificing (burning) children to the gods. (Deuteronomy 12:31 and 20:18; Exodus 34:15-16)
TWO: But even more importantly, the Lord wants to make Himself known among the nations. At least 19 times in the Scriptures God declares this as His mission.
To Abraham God said that all the nations of the world would be blessed. God wants all people to be in relationship with Him.
Can we hear the story links to us this morning?
We are facing an impossible challenge: to share the love and hope of the new “Joshua” (Jesus) with a community who seem more and more disposed to ignoring faith in the God of the Bible. Our community has its own unholy practices and disregard for the Lord’s promises of grace.
We live with the new “Joshua”, the new “The Lord saves”, Jesus. He knows how to lead you through battles. He had a few of his own while he was on this earth. Enemies attacking him with accusations (Mark 3:22). He had no home and no bed (Luke 9:58). Crowds and expectations pressing in on him (Luke 8:45). The religious establishment eventually insuring he was sentenced to a brutal death. (Mark 15:14).
Yet he took on the most barbaric giant there is, death, and lived to tell about it. He can help you do the same. You need only listen to him, trust what he says, seek his help and his presence, and live with his strength and courage in who he has made you to be in the new circumcision, not physical circumcision but of the heart; baptism.
We are called to be a people of the Book, a people of the Word/the Spirit. We do well to not let God’s word be distant from our lips and heart – but believe with our heart and speak the promises with our lips.
People around here tell me that it seems like St Petri is ready to move, to stretch its legs, to grow in faith and love, to reach further, love more, be who the Lord has called us to be – a celebrating community sharing the love and hope of Jesus. I believe them. I believe him.
We are not here to stay on the plains of Moab where it is safe and sound. We are called to truly live in faith and joy and purpose. We are being called to cross the Jordan again and trust the Lord for the unknown – except that we will be victorious because he has paved the way ahead. He has already prepared the works he has called us to do in his name and with his presence going before us. He has already been victorious over the worst of it – death.
We had better be a people of the Spirit’s book then. We had better speak with the Lord about everything. We had better remember our moment in time when our hearts were circumcised; when we were baptised into the death and resurrection of Jesus and made whole and given each other as family for the calling he gives us.
Are these words of the Lord to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous” for you today – whatever your land, your challenges, your giants? I believe so.
Are these words for us as a local church in mission here? I know so.
It is indeed time for us to make the courageous decisions and rise to the challenge centred in the heart in the Spirit’s Word that God places before us.
The battle, the mission, the church, our lives belong to the Lord and whether we live or die we belong to the Lord. He goes before us. Christ above me, before me, behind me”, prays St Patrick.
‘Be strong and courageous”, people of God. The Lord is with us and for us.
Chapter 7, The Battle Begins
Timeless Truth: Faith is the victory.
Chapter Summary (Have someone in your group read the summary section.)
Israel had spent the last 40 years on a road to nowhere. A lot can change in 40 years. All of the people who were slaves in Egypt had died, except for two, Joshua and Caleb. Moses had died too. Joshua had been his right-hand man and he was Israel’s new leader. The wilderness of disobedience and defeat was behind them now and a new generation camped at Canaan’s edge.
A lot had changed during the wilderness years, but God had not. The promise He’d made to Abraham over 600 years before was about to turn into reality. The LORD spoke to Joshua saying, “Be strong and courageous, for I am with you. Be careful to obey my law” (p. 89). Joshua listened well. He had spied out the land as a young man and trusted God to give it to them as He’d promised. Now he sent two spies into Jericho to appraise the land. They were hidden in the house of Rahab, a prostitute who protected them from the king of Jericho. She boldly confessed her faith in the LORD as the one true God who had given the land to Israel. The spies responded to her faith by agreeing to save her whole family when they attacked Jericho.
This new generation of Israelites had heard the stories about crossing the Red Sea on dry land; now, their first steps into the Promised Land were taken across another patch of dry land when God parted the Jordan River – another highway leading into God’s promise.
When they reached Jericho, the military strategy was unorthodox. The priests marched the Ark of the Covenant around Jericho’s walls each day for six days. On the seventh day, they marched around the city seven times. Their parade concluded with the sound of trumpets and shouts as they completed a seventh circle around the city. Amazingly, the walls of Jericho collapsed! Jericho was destroyed and Rahab and her family were saved.
The land of Canaan was a place of conquest and victory for Israel. When Israel obeyed, God faithfully delivered her enemies into her hands. When they failed to trust Him, they missed out on the fulfillment of those promises. Even the temporary defeat at Ai caused by disobedience was later turned to victory when the people followed God’s command. In the annihilation of entire cities, we see God’s holy intolerance of sin. In the account of Gibeon, we see God’s mercy extended to a people who were willing to follow the true God. After taking the entire region by force, Joshua divided up the land by tribe as Israel’s inheritance.
The chapter closes with Joshua’s final words as he recounts the stories of God’s faithfulness and deliverance. God will keep His promises. He will also let us choose whether or not we will participate in the blessings of His promises. These stories of God’s people are our stories too and, like Joshua, we must “choose this day whom [we] will serve.” Joshua stated he and his “household [would] serve the LORD” (p. 101). What will you choose?
Icebreaker Question: As a young person, who did you look up to as a hero, either fictional or real? What about them made them your hero?
In the original languages both “Joshua” and “Jesus” mean “Jehovah saves.” How is Joshua’s relationship to Israel similar to Jesus’ relationship to the Church?
What basis did Joshua have for being “strong and courageous” (p. 89)? Which assurances that God gives Joshua most strengthen and encourage you?
What concerns might Joshua have had as he accepted the reigns of leadership from Moses? What can we learn from the people’s response to Joshua that can apply to changes of leadership at our church?
Rahab told the two spies: “I know that the Lord has given you this land” (p.90). Upon what was her declaration of faith based? How could she be a prostitute, so easily tell lies, and not be a part of God’s chosen people, yet be attributed with great faith?
Rahab hid the spies and then lied to the authorities when they came looking for them (p. 90). When, if ever, is it okay to lie? How do you know?
Review the main points of the covenant that God made with Abraham. (See the summary for Chapter 2, also p. 13.) What examples can you find in this chapter that show God’s faithfulness to its fulfillment?
How does God’s command to annihilate entire cities fit into the Upper Story of the Bible? In what way do these battle stories fit into God’s Upper Story? (Hint: review p. 86, especially the first full paragraph.)
Some people doubt the Bible because of miracles like Joshua’s “long day” (p. 97). But some people, like Rahab, come to believe in God because of His miraculous works. Discuss how you might respond to the skeptic who discounts the miraculous as myth.
What character traits of Joshua most impress you? Which of those would you like to be known for?
Joshua is known for his statement “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (p.101). How can you lead your household to serve the Lord?
In the time remaining ask your group members to share any of their personal reflection insights from their journal entries.