Joshua: relationship

Preached on: Sunday 16th May 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-05-16 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Joshua 7:1-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer before we think about His word.

Come Holy Spirit, soften our hearts to the Word of God.

Come Holy Spirit, lead us in the way of holiness.

Come amongst us Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.

Beginning this Saturday, the Church of Scotland will meet in General Assembly to debate and decide upon our collective life. There’s much that’s going to be on the agenda for the five days of debate including issues like presbytery planning, how many ministers we can afford, how the calculations are made of what each congregation pays into the central funds, and much more besides, and there’s one particular issue that they’ll be debating that I’ll come back to later today.

However, this is our final week in the early chapters of Joshua and at first we might think ‘Well these are just the same themes and issues as last week Scott, why bother with us?” but kind of like the two sides of a coin, we might say that if last week in the story of Jericho we saw the eternal impact of sin, that we all fall short of the glory of God and so we all need a Savior, then the other side of the coin is in today’s account of Achan that focuses more on immediate issues and impact of sin and what we might do about it.

In our kids message this morning we were thinking about that core Biblical truth that God calls us into relationship with Himself. That is what the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. That’s why God created the world enough in the first place, and it’s why He sent His son to die for us, that our relationship with God might be restored.

Jesus Himself said “Now this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” It’s all about relationship. It’s not about buildings, it’s not about an organization or a denomination, it’s not even about morals and old stories. At its heart Biblical faith is about relationship with God, but when we come to Joshua chapter 7 I suspect it jars with us again. Yet at its heart, this story is about relationship.
Sadly the breaking of relationship, the breaking of trust with God, and we see that in relation to what Achan does in verses 1 and 15 where we read “but the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things. Achan took some of them. The Lord said to Joshua, whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the Lord and has done an outrageous thing in Israel.”

There are two parts here that I’ve highlighted in blue that speak of that broken relationship, that broken trust.

The first is ‘unfaithful’, the second ‘outrageous thing’, and in the original Hebrew, in both cases, it speaks of disloyalty, infidelity even, and so we can describe sin as more than doing something wrong.

Key to understanding what is so troubling about sin is that it is breaking trust with God, it is being disloyal to Him, breaking the most holy of relationships such that God sees it as akin to infidelity.

Achan broke that trust when he kept for himself some of the silver and gold that was to be given to the Lord from the conquest of Jericho. That was a commandment that God had given in chapter 6 before Israel even set out against Jericho, and yet Achan chose to disregard that command, he chose to break trust with God.

Now Achan was not the only one, in chapter seven, to have done that. We see a measure both in Joshua and the spies. Actually, in the book of Numbers, we read the instructions that God gave to Joshua of how the conquest of Canaan was to be undertaken. God said, Joshua is to stand before the priest who will obtain decisions for Him by inquiring of the Lord and yet, in what we read, there’s no mention of Joshua doing it, he acts of his own initiative, he fails to follow the command of God and that too is a breaking of trust, and maybe he did it because of overconfidence. Likewise, the spies came back from scouting out the next location and they encouraged Joshua not to send the whole army because only a few thousand are needed Joshua so, so, why send the whole army, and again we might say that this is an overconfidence of self-sufficiency and, as one commentator said, that too is a lack of faith, a lack of trust, to say ‘Well I can deal with it on my own God. No need to seek You. No need to have Your presence with us symbolized in the Ark.’

Now, Achan does face the greatest of consequences and we might wonder if that was fair, yet the consequences were spelled out beforehand for him, and we know that some sins, certain choices, carry greater consequences even in our day as well. In all three ways there is the breaking of trust, a breaking of relationship that leads to consequences.

In this account, we see that the failure to trust God and ultimately it is a failure to trust His goodness. Achan doesn’t trust God to provide for him and meet his needs, and so he covets this wealth, he steals, he lies and it just spirals, and likewise with the spies in Joshua, it’s their self-confidence, of this idea that is so often in humanity, that ‘I’m not going to trust God’s goodness, I’m not going to trust that he knows what is best, I’m just going to go alone, to sins, to break trust with God. And begin in the garden of Eden, right through history, we just break that trust again and again, because we don’t trust that God knows best, and we think we know what’s best, and so we disregard what God has said, And I wonder, friends here and at home, is there an area of your life, an area of our church life, locally, nationally, where we are breaking trust with God? Is there a choice we’ve made and keep making or do nothing to set it right, and we know it’s against God’s way and His commands, and maybe we do that because, as I say, at some level, we each think we know what’s best and we don’t trust that God is good enough.

Maybe it’s in your relationships at home, maybe it’s in how we spend our money or our time, it could be simply the things we choose to look over, because we don’t deem them important enough.

Friends, is there an area of your life and our life together, where we are breaking trust with God, if there is, there are consequences, because there’s always consequences to sin.

In Israel’s day the impact of sin is just manifold. We read in verse 1 that the first consequence is that the Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and that’s not something we like to think about or talk about very much, but let’s remember that to sin is to break trust, it’s to commit infidelity in God’s eyes, and so in the New Testament we read of God being grieved such that, when we disobey God, our Heavenly Father feels sorrow, He is even displeased.

For Israel, a knock-on effect was that they were defeated and they were derailed from God’s purposes. We read in verse 12 that “the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies for I the Lord will not be with you anymore unless and until God’s people restore their ways” and the defeat they experience leads on to another consequence, that the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water, and we gloss over that, but it’s noteworthy, because earlier in Joshua, in chapter 2, it’s the same phrase that is used of the Canaanites, and so, we see that another consequence of sin is that God’s people become indistinguishable from the surrounding nations.

Sin has consequences friends, it grieves God, it derails us from his purposes, and it makes us indistinguishable from others.

Now, there are differences between how God relates to us and the Old Testament, His people in the Old Testament, how He relates to us today, because ancient Israel came under the Old Covenant but we are reconciled to God through the New Covenant in Jesus, and so in the Old Testament God related to His people as a single nation, it was a single nation under God, but that is not how He relates to His church today.

In the Book of Acts, which we’ve been reading as part of our New Testament reading Plan, we probably came to the story of Ananias and Sapphiri and went ‘Wow God, what did you do there?’ and it’s actually a really similar story to what we read about with Achan, but in that story only Sapphira and Ananias suffer consequences, there’s no mention of anybody else, there’s no mention of God withdrawing from the church, but nevertheless, at the very least, individual Christians are affected by sin, and when a couple or a family or a group of Christians choose a path contrary to God’s ways then, individually, and most often together, we face consequences, and Jesus warns us about this he says “I am the vine you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands you will remain in my love.”

Notice how it links together; to remain in Jesus is to remain in His love, and we remain in His love by keeping His commands,

and when we don’t, when we go our own way, it doesn’t break that relationship, because nothing can now, but it creates distance, and it reduces our fruitfulness, and the New Testament fruitfulness is both growing in the character of Jesus and it’s seeing our labors flourish for His glory, Sin has consequences it grieves God, it makes us indistinguishable from others and it derails God’s purposes for our lives.

Friends, if we are choosing a way contrary to God’s ways, maybe today is the day when God just wants to get your attention and to spell out the consequences, uncomfortable as that is, simply to call you closer to Him because He loves you. He wants life for you. Jesus said “I come that you may have life and have it to the full” and I realized that this passage, we’d rather not have this message, but he wants the best for you and that means walking close to Him and when we choose ways that are other than His it creates distance and He wants you back close to Him again because He loves you enough to die for you.

At the start I mentioned that the Church of Scotland is meeting in General Assembly next weekend and one of the issues up for debate is that of same-sex marriage. Now, I know that under your last Minister this raised a whole load of issues and consequences and today is not the time or place to go into old arguments, but as you’re beginning to know I prefer my cards on the table, so you may as well know that I am not supportive of the church conducting same-sex marriage, because I don’t see a Biblical basis for it and if the General Assembly never run the future votes in favor of allowing same-sex marriage to be conducted within the church then I’m of the opinion that that’s a choice which breaks trust with God. I believe it would grieve God. It would make us indistinguishable from our culture and it would derail us from His purposes and the fruitfulness He’d wish to bring in our day and some of us, should the Church of Scotland allow same-sex marriage to be conducted by ministers, then there will be questions whether they can remain a part of this congregation or any congregation within the denomination, and a passage like today which speaks of association and impacts beyond ourselves, it will raise questions for some of our people about whether they can remain part of us and the wider body within the Church of Scotland because they wonder if that breaking of trust means it’s allowable or honoring to stay.

Which is why I felt it was important to raise it today because, let me say, in this past week I’ve been wrestling with that, I’ve been, I’ve felt that pain, I’ve faced those questions again, and as I’ve delved into the Scriptures, and I’ve become familiar with the struggle of some of our church fathers, I have found the courage and encouragement that would say that God would have us stay and seek the reformation of the Church of Scotland even if issues I’ve named today become reality.

Because, even in our story this morning, the breaking of trust with God does not have the last word, God was ready to lead and reshape His people for His purposes. At the beginning of chapter 7 where is God? where is he as Joshua makes that choice to send the spies, to send the thousands of troops but not the whole army? where is God? where is he? He’s still there, He’s patiently waiting, silently there waiting to be sought, waiting to be humbly submitted to. He was ready to lead His people and maybe if Joshua had sought Him first then there wouldn’t be some of the consequences we read about. God was ready and waiting to lead and so when Joshua did seek the Lord He responded, He spoke to Joshua, maybe not what he wanted or expected but what he needed, and at first when I was reading this I was like ‘Joshua, what are you doing man! – like dodgy territory, it sounds like you’re gonna do what the previous generation did where they grumbled and then God punished them because they rebelled against Him!” but there’s a difference with Joshua’s prayer and its approach and then its appeal. In its approach it’s with humility and lament over the situation and its appeal, it’s not about what suits me, it’s about honoring God and in that place of prayer with such an approach and such an appeal God responds and He leads, and He reshapes His people, for His purposes, and, I wonder whether, brothers and sisters, if we are in direct opposition to God’s ways individually in our lives. Maybe we need to come into that place of prayer and humbly call out to the Lord to lead us in His ways, and reshape us and help us know what do I do differently here, to God how do I make this right, what is Your way, I just humbly seek reconciliation in that place of prayer, and on a national scale there is an opportunity this Saturday to join in prayer for anyone who wishes on Zoom with Covenant Fellowship Scotland and that’s an organization made up of members and Ministers of the Church of Scotland who are working and praying for the reformation of the Church of Scotland according to orthodox and orthodox reading of the Bible and if you wish you can join in that time of prayer simply email or phone the Church Office for the login details.

Now, I’m conscious this will be hard this morning, because in any parish church there’s any range of perspectives, and on many things, you won’t agree with me. Does that mean you can’t be welcome in this place? Of course, No! I have deep friendships people I love who are directly opposed to where I stand and with them, we seek the common ground and we work together and we respect one another’s conclusions. Today I’ve simply shared mine.

And there may be things that you see in the church, you see in people who are of different theology to you, where you feel that they are breaking trust with God, and, if that’s the case, then speak it out, it too needs to be named and shared because none of us are perfect, none of us have all the answers, we only see and perceive in power.

As I say, today will have been hard. I’m sure raising emotions for us all no matter where we are on the theological spectrum, and if you want you can come and talk with me about anything that’s been said. You may also wish to replay the sermon, because there’s a lot here and you might have not heard it all and you might not have heard it properly and what I actually said.

I hope, I’m praying nonetheless though, that we might be a people who seek God’s leading, that He might have, He might be that that King of our lives, in every area of our life, that we would keep trust with Him and so be led by Him and to all He’d have for us and His purposes through us.

I pray it may be so, Amen,

Joshua: context, character, cross

Preached on: Sunday 9th May 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here.
Bible references: Joshua 5:13-6:20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

Come Holy Spirit, change our hearts and minds to be more like Jesus. Come Holy Spirit, soften our hearts to the Word of God. Come among us Holy Spirit, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Up to this point in Joshua things have been quite easy for us, the readers. We’ve heard God’s call through the early chapters…
to commit ourselves to His purposes, daunting though that is, but nonetheless God calls us to it because He promises to be with us. And so, as a united people we can press forward, we can dream again, for we know and remember that God can do the incredible, that He is calling us to greater things, and He showed His power and grace when He gave His life our us in Jesus upon the Cross.

But with the story of Jericho and its defeat, we enter upon uncomfortable reading, for none of the city are spared, except Rahab…
and her household. These kind of passages raise hard, disquieting questions, and reconciling what we read here with what we know of God through Jesus is a challenge to say the very least.

As such, Christians have tended to spiritualise these parts of the Scriptures, maybe seeing in the fall of Jericho a metaphor for other things in life. Or, we’ve simply ignored or rejected anything we find offensive, including the difficult portions here. To be honest, we’d probably rather tear out the pages.
So, what are we to do with this kind of material? Does it have any relevance for us today? In answer to these questions, I have three words to structure our thinking this morning: context, character and cross.

Firstly, ‘context’. As with every passage of Scripture it’s always important to remember the context and there are various parts to this context. We need to note, for example, that we read Joshua through modern lenses tinted by our culture’s abhorrence of war and violence and — in the case of Christians —
by Jesus’ ethical teachings. The world of Joshua’s day jars with us because it is so distant from our time and sounds so harsh to our ears. The reality is that the ancient and modern worlds are truly different, with a huge chasm of three thousand years and vast cultural differences between their time and ours. As one commentator said: ‘…in a sense, readers’ discomfort with Joshua is a good sign: it shows the depth with which the gospel has transformed them.’

And not just transformed Christians, but…
transformed wider society as well. Sure, we still have our issues with wider society today, but it was the Christian Scriptures that fuelled faith and dreams to treat women and children better, and to end the slave trade, and to influence the shaping of laws where love for neighbour and even your enemy was unknown before Jesus spoke those words.

Under ‘context’, we also need to remember the wider story in the Scriptures, because there is a context which leads to this point in history. In Genesis, we read these words:
‘…the Lord said to [Abram]…In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.’ (Genesis 15:16)

For four hundred years, God had patiently observed the peoples of Canaan, the Amorites, and had seen their moral decline. A decline which led to child sacrifice as part of their worship of false gods. The name Jericho means ‘moon city’ and likely it was dedicated to worshipping the mood god. This is part of the context.
So, let’s move onto ‘character’ and in particular the character of God. Can God be truly loving when it is His actions that led to the fall of Jericho? Is there a disparity between the God of the Old and New Testaments? Has God got a split personality?

Well, let us first note that the New Testament shows no unease about Joshua’s actions and Jesus never disowns the Old Testament or how it portrayed God. In fact, Hebrews chapter 11, where we read of great heroes of the faith, includes the story of Jericho…
and affirms God’s people, as well as Rahab, as individuals who acted in faith. The early church was able to look back on this story differently than what we do. Why is that?

As part of the New Testament reading plan, it’s been really helpful working through the book of Acts again, and along the way certain words and ideas have been jumping out for me. Of relevance for us today, is part of a speech which Peter makes to people who want to know more about his faith, and so Peter says this about Jesus: ‘We are witnesses of everything [Jesus] did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen…He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.’ (Acts 10:39-42)

If someone asked you about your faith, what would you say? We might speak of Jesus, we might speak of the Cross, but would we dare to mention that Jesus is judge of the living…
and the dead? I’m not sure, because it makes us and others uncomfortable. Now, there could be any number of reasons for this. For example, the early church faced great persecution and Christians were executed for their faith, so I wonder if it is easier – maybe even helpful – to speak of Jesus as judge when we face great evil.

Nevertheless, the idea of God, of Jesus, being judge is a truth affirmed throughout the Scriptures and even in the teaching of Jesus. In fact, it could be argued that when…
Jesus speaks of judgment He’s even tougher than a lot of the Old Testament. And let’s also remember that God is described in the Old Testament as the One who is truly righteous, a merciful ruler of all peoples, a defender of the weak in all nations, and that ultimately it will be the coming of His kingdom which brings an end to war and true peace for all.

What is more, God is on record as stating His preference for life and blessing, for He says through the prophet Ezekiel: “As surely as I live…I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways!’ (Ezekiel 18:23)

Across the Scriptures, we see that God reveals Himself as loving, life-giving, merciful and gracious. But He is also holy, righteous and so the judge of all. Paul writing to the Corinthians, says that love ‘…does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.’ (1 Cor. 13:6) It is not incompatible to having a loving God who also judges evil, judges all sin, and that is what happens with Jericho.
As we read earlier, God waited, He knew the Amorites were on a trajectory of moral decline and eventually He would judge them for that, using the nation of ancient Israel as the agents of His judgment. That may be why the angel, who met with Joshua, said he was neither for Israel or its enemies; God was not taking sides there, and Joshua needed to remember that he was part of something bigger.

However, this role for Joshua and the people was a specific and time-limited calling, and the Old Testament rarely recalls the violent…
conquest of Canaan, it never glories in its harshness, and never promotes it as policy for the future.

But let there be no mistaking: God is judge, yet He is a judge who is kind and patient, offering grace after grace. Indeed, He shows that even to Jericho, because He didn’t have to instruct Israel to walk around the city for 6 days – God could have judged it in other ways. But that procession around the city was a final, repeated last chance – a bid, a call to surrender to God and turn from their ways,… grace still remained a possibility, as seen in the treatment of Rahab.

The balance of God as judge and as loving Creator, is brought into sharp focus with our third word: ‘Cross’. The story of the fall of Jericho reminds us that God does not overlook sin forever, and that one day we must all give an account to God. This is an uncomfortable claim, and we may try to push back, seeking to justify our actions, that we’re not on a par with the Amorites, that they deserved judgment, but not us, not me.
In the New Testament, we find the church teaching otherwise, for Paul will say to the those in Rome: ‘…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23). We all have sinned, we all have gone astray, following our way rather than God’s, we do not live up to His standard, His glory. It does not matter if our lives are outwardly better than the Amorites, we all have sinned – and so when we stand before our judge, we come before Him as imperfect, and only that which is holy, on a standard with the glory of God, will share in His future kingdom.
Friends, would you claim holiness? Is your holiness on a standard with God’s glory? When I came to faith, I was at my moral lowest, brought face to face with my sin. Now, in the nineteen years of following Jesus, I’ve grown, I’ve matured, my character is better than it was. Yet, even this past week I could name multiple times when my anger led me to sin, when hurt or apathy has led me to minimise others or treat them poorly, even in righteous anger for an injustice someone else faced I entertained thoughts that were less than loving and not reflective of God’s glory.
Friends, we all have a sin problem and nothing we do can cover over that or wipe the slate clean. Indeed, just before Paul said that all have sinned, he also wrote this: ‘… no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.’ (Rom. 3:20)

Paul is saying that nothing we do, not our religious activity, nor our morally good actions, make us right (or righteous) before God. God’s law simply helps us see how far short we fall of the glory of God.
So, is that the end of the story? Is God simply circling around the world, waiting for the time to bring judgment upon us all? Well, no – hallelujah! Because Paul goes on to say: ‘…righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith.’ (Rom. 3:22-25)
By faith, Rahab turned to the living God and was spared. By faith, we too can be made right with God if we turn to Jesus. Because on the Cross He died as a sacrifice for us, He took upon Himself the sin of the world and faced the consequences on our behalf. Yet, to benefit from His death we must respond in faith, we must call upon Jesus for salvation. If we do, then we are ‘justified’ as Paul says. Justified can be understood as ‘just-as-if I’d-never-sinned’; the sin that separates you from God and brings you under the judgment of God, is transferred to Jesus,…
and it leaves you in perfect, unspoiled, reconciled relationship with God, and it’s upon that basis – the free gift offered in Jesus – that God, the judge, can declare us justified.

Friends, upon the cross of Jesus, the righteousness and love of God are perfectly balanced, and He waits with open arms to receive you back into relationship with Himself if you will but acknowledge your sin and receive forgiveness through Jesus. It’s a choice we all face, just like Rahab had to. Would she continue listening to her culture – to the traditions, upbringing and influences around her? Or would she turn to the living God in faith and find life?

Brothers and sisters, friends, sometimes the Scriptures bring an uncomfortable word, speaking from their context into ours such that we might see afresh a fuller picture of the character of God. He is a loving Father and loves you enough that He gave His Son for you. But He is also holy and righteous, and He will not overlook sin forever, and so He will judge when the time comes.
I hope and pray that we each have put our faith in Jesus, receiving then the forgiveness and reconciliation He secured through His death for each of us.

Before we close our service, I feel it’s important we take a moment to pray, so let us pray.

Joshua: dare to dream

Preached on: Sunday 25th April 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here21-04-25 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Joshua 3:1-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer as we approach His , let us pray

Come Holy Spirit, change our hearts and minds to be more like Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit, equip us for the purposes of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen

Someone once said “I have a dream.” a dream” that was fueled by faith, a dream that was an outworking of relationship with the living God and which sought for change to come upon the earth so that the kingdom of God would be seen in that day.

Friends, do we have a dream? Do we have a dream for how our faith might be worked out today? Do we have a dream for the future of our church family and, if you were to try and answer that, would it be about survival or would it be tied to buildings? Because, honestly, I’m not really sure God’s very interested in mere survival or even our buildings, because he is allowing buildings and congregations to close in our nation.

So, if you were to try and share a dream for how your faith might be worked out or a dream for our church family, any dream must further God’s purposes, it must further the commission given to us by Jesus when he said to His church “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Friends, do we have a dream that is more than simply about survival and about ourselves? Do we aspire, do we yearn, do we hope for others to come to know the living God? Because, brothers and sisters, in the last two years since I’ve been here, the number of people who have come forward with an idea or have articulated a yearning for the commission of Jesus to be worked out in our day, the proportion who have done this is quite small. Now, why is that?

There could be any number of reasons as to why, and in previous sermons I’ve tried to speak into some of the different possible issues, but today I want to speak into something different, something that has to be there for anyone to be able to say “I have a dream.”

In our passage today we see an incredible moment in the history of God’s people where they cross over into the promised land but I think we kind of gloss over this passage almost. So, let’s take a minute just to familiarize ourselves with the details.

Here are a great multitude of God’s people, more than can be counted, and they are to cross the Jordan in the springtime when the snows on Mount Hebron would have melted and the spring rains had come, so the river Jordan is at its fullest, highest point. In modern times this would be about 10 feet deep and at the point of crossing about a hundred foot wide. Maybe in their day it was less, maybe it was more, but either way, God, through Joshua, foretells that an amazing thing is going to happen, for Joshua says “See the ark of the covenant of the Lord will go into the Jordan ahead of you and as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord set foot into Jordan its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.” and then going on to verse 16 we see that the water from upstream stopped flowing, it piled up in a heap, a great distance away at a town called Adam. Now, we are not familiar with the geography so we make just about nothing of this, but Adam was 18 miles away from where they crossed, so God just created 18 miles of dry land for this great multitude to cross. I don’t know what your mental picture of the river crossing was, but mine wasn’t 18 miles across, a hundred foot wide river was it – was it yours? God did do the amazing thing Joshua foretold in verse 5 because God is a wonder working God, and his ancient people knew this. Likewise, when Jesus came, the disciples saw how he transformed people’s lives, how he brought freedom and salvation and hope and joy. God’s people, in the time of Joshua, might not know how they were going to cross the Jordan, and the disciples might not know how Jesus was going to fulfill His mission, and the church after Pentecost might not how it was going to take the Gospel to the nations, but in those previous times they knew God to be this wonder working God, because he’s the living God, the Lord of all the earth, such that all authority and power are His for anyone to claim, as Joshua did. That the Lord will do amazing things for anyone to claim that they have a dream inspired by faith then there needs to be expectation that God cares, that He is powerful and that He is present and works through His people. I wonder friends, do we have that same expectation and confidence?

Maybe we don’t dream because we don’t think God does the incredible or maybe we doubt our calling to partner with Him, to bring about the incredible, but do you remember what Jesus said in John 14 he said “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing and they will do even greater things than these because I am going to the Father.”

Too often I think, these words scare us and so we try to downplay them, we reduce them to nice human ability things like caring and love and sharing the good news. But do you know that even those things are beyond mere human ability, because who amongst you is ready to say you love like Jesus or that you have the boldness of Jesus to share the good news. I’m not so, why did we reduce this to a mere minimal thing?

Jesus says we “will do even greater things” and the context is about making Jesus and the Father known. We can make Jesus known in many ways, through praying for the miraculous, through sharing the good news, through care and love and service, but the point is that Jesus evidenced all those things and so we too should evidence all those things, that it can and should and must include every way of making Jesus known.

Maybe we don’t have a dream because we don’t expect greater things. Maybe we don’t dream because we don’t really trust Jesus as the living God. Maybe we don’t dream because our aspirations are too low.

In the book I’m going to get you to read hopefully over the summer Francis Chan says “We need to expect more. We’ve become too easily satisfied. We’re content if a person leaves, pleased God wants them out. We have settled for the natural and our choices give little evidence that we believe in the Holy Spirit. For this reason we end up with gatherings that are very explainable and at times feel mechanical and even obligatory.”

The people of God, in Joshua’s day, expected more. They walked towards that river not knowing how God would do it, but knew He had promised to do it, do amazing things, greater things. Friends, do we need to up our expectation of God and dream again? But maybe we’d say “Well you know Scott, it was really easy for the Israelites because you know they had the Ark.” The Ark was a symbol of God’s presence. Israel understood it to be a representation of God’s royal throne and his footstool, not that God’s presence was located there alone, but it pointed away from itself to remind the Israelites that, though God was invisible, he was still there and he could still do things with overwhelming power, unlike the idols of other nations, and with such a visible reminder we might say “Well it was easy for them to expect more.”

Likewise we might say it was quite easy for the early church because after all the very presence of God became human and they saw the miraculous before their eyes. “Easy for them.” we might say. But friends, this is to forget what is different about our time and theirs. They didn’t have the scriptures like we do. They didn’t have access to worldwide testimony from over thousands of years now like we do. But, most importantly of all, God’s presence was identified with an Ark and then with individuals, ultimately Jesus, because up until that point, there was no way for people at large, God’s people at large, to receive the Holy Spirit, but let’s remember what Jesus goes on to say immediately after He spoke about the greater things He said this “I will ask the Father and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever, the Spirit of Truth.”

To each person who claims faith in Jesus, to everyone who says they have called upon Jesus for salvation, they have received the Holy Spirit, the question then is “Will we believe God’s word or not?” and if we will trust it, will we allow it to shape our thinking and our identity and so our expectations and actions.

I could share stories of how in recent months God’s Spirit has been at work amongst us as a congregation, of one woman who had an electricity problem and the Spirit guided her to the problem which would have only been found out when the house burned down; I’ve never heard of that one before, but I was rejoicing!; or how God through His word has been shaping people’s lives and bringing great things about in their lives; or how someone placed a hand on someone and prayed for someone and God brought new life to be.

Friends, maybe we don’t expect much, maybe we don’t dream because we don’t realize what it is to be a Christian. The apostle Paul said “We are carefully joined together in Jesus becoming a holy temple for the Lord; through him you also are being made part of this dwelling where God lives by His Spirit now all glory to God who is able through His mighty power at work within us to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” We might not have the Ark but we have the Holy Spirit amongst us and within us. Maybe it’s time we let the scripture shape our thinking, our identity, so we might start to dream of the greater things that God might do among us for his purposes?

There’s one extra thing to draw from our passage today for our commission. Sure, the people had a great leader like Joshua, and they had the Ark amongst them, and they knew God was the living God and a wonder working God, but, nevertheless, they still had to obey, they had to step out in faith. You can almost imagine, or at least I imagine, the priests carrying the Ark, walking towards the water getting ever close to that water’s edge, and someone turning to the other guys and saying “Hey Dave, do you think this will really happen because it seems mental!” You can clearly tell they were from Whitburn! Like “Come on!” or imagine being one of the people crossing the river and you’re just waiting for this water to start rushing down and carry you away, like they still had to journey and faith across that river bed, they had to obey, but is that the point. Where they were called to, first call to faith and obedience, the point of the crossing?

The answer is “No!” because in verse 5 Joshua says “Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” Consecrate yourselves – we gloss over those two words. What does that mean? and yeah it would have included things they were to stop doing and certain things they were to do and probably neither of those groups are things that we could apply to our time, but to consecrate yourself, to consecrate anything, was to give yourself to God’s purposes, to give yourself over to God and so when consecration is about an individual, is about the heart, is your heart given over to God, is your heart responding in faith, is your heart responding in obedience to the Lord? That’s where it began for Israel, the day before the miracle, and it included mundane things like washing clothes, apparently, and abstaining from good things, denying themselves, because you don’t see the miracle without faith, but faith begins in the ordinary everyday rhythms of life.

So, what about us friends? Where do we need to consecrate ourselves afresh? Where do we need to give ourselves to the purposes of God today? Because, here’s another thing, thrown lots at you this morning, here’s another thing, the Israelites one of consecration, big miracle, but Jesus doesn’t say how often the greater things will happen and if you’re reading through the New Testament plan with us it’s almost like it happened every day for the new, the early church. So, every day is the potential for greater things, and so every day there’s the call of God to consecrate yourself and maybe for you, it’s giving time to the Lord in prayer and in His word. Maybe for you it’s giving your money to the purposes of the Lord. Maybe for you it’s choosing to become a member here and saying God I’m in this with these people, for this area, for your purposes. Maybe it’s coming to the Prayer Meeting. Maybe it’s getting involved and serving in some way and sharing a new idea even, the specifics are between you and the Lord but most likely every one of us is called in some way to consecrate ourselves afresh.

Friends, if we are to have a dream, if we are to begin dreaming again of what God’s purposes might be in our day, then we must begin to expect greater things, we must have faith in the living God, not a God of an old book who we think is just a wee dream or a child story, that His presence is amongst us and within us, and that He is calling us, even today, to give ourselves for His purposes.

So why don’t we respond in faith just now and let us pray:

Heavenly Father, we don’t know all that this might mean for us and it probably brings a whole load of feelings to the surface, I know it did for me Lord when just this past week I felt You’d call me to step out and lay a hand on and pray for someone,

and it was super scary,

but You’re the one there working, God, and You’re the living God and You call us to give ourselves to You and Your purposes. Lord, may we hold nothing back, may we give You our all and may we go in Your strength, Your power, Your Spirit’s power at work in us and through us. Lord give us ears to hear this day to where You’re calling, for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.

Joshua: respond

Preached on: Sunday 11th April 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-04-11 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Joshua 1:1-16
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word:

Come Holy Spirit, have your own way. Change our hearts and minds to be more like Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit, shape us as the church of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction.
for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.

As I said before our reading the opening portion of the book of Joshua finds the people of God at the beginning of a new chapter Moses has died and gone to be with the lord before his death he wrote down the law of God enabling Israel to know the ways of the lord so that the promises of God could be fulfilled with Moses departure a new chapter begins and in many ways it foreshadows what the disciples would experience with Jesus after the resurrection in Matthew chapter 28 we read this the Holy Spirit and teaching them to be everything I have commanded you and surely I am with you always to the very end of the age hopefully we remember from last week that when the angel came and spoke to the woman and then through the women to the disciples the instruction was that they were to go to galilee and there Jesus would meet them well here they are they’ve responded in faith and they meet with Jesus for sure for some there is doubt still but they all worship Jesus as the risen lord and into that doubt into this group of people Jesus speaks he begins a new chapter these two moments in the history of God’s people echo one another and in doing so they show us what to pay attention to what to draw from the opening chapter of Joshua that it might speak into our day because we as followers of Jesus as members of his church we too are given the same commission as those early disciples so what are we to pay attention to well firstly we are to respond to God’s word the lord says to Joshua now then you and all these people get ready to cross the Jordan river into the land I am about to give them I will give you every place where you set your foot now then get ready these words carry drive impetus in the original language their commands to be put into practice and similarly Jesus says go and make go and make again these words are weighty they are strong they are urgent calling us to be about this rather than put it off it’s interesting that Joshua is also told that wherever they set their feet this will become home to them but here’s the thing it will only become home if they set out if they get actively involved if they cross into the promised land

in both Joshua’s time and in Jesus commission to the church God’s people are called to respond to God’s word because if we don’t

then his calling and commission is not fulfilled as he intended and there’s no plan b friends you and I here in the sanctuary and at home we are it it is through us that God intends for others to come into his family and into his kingdom just a few weeks ago I was reminding us of the drastic fall in church membership over the last 20 years a fall which it could be asked does it show our apathy to our commission or that we have become comfortable with our ineffectiveness and so once again I effectively ask you have you had enough of decline enough so that we do something about it that we recognize that we all have a part to play and it must include some way somehow the sharing of our faith with today’s generation because the people who seem to be coming to church staying at church getting involved with church are people who choose to identify as Christian who choose to follow Jesus but people don’t reach that stage if they’re not first hearing about the Christian faith and so they must hear it some way somehow

and so I ask you here and you at home do you hear the personal call to respond and own this commission to own it to say it is mine it is mine

Joshua was called to respond and to ensure that he would know how to put God’s word into practice the lord says to him be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you do not turn to it from the right or to the left keep it always on your lips similarly Jesus says that part of raising up disciples is teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you not only are we called to respond to God’s word we are called to know it to chew over and to do so in community

we are called to this because Jesus is not after people who know some nice stories or can recite some of his nice morals Jesus says that a disciple is someone who knows his lord’s teaching and knows it well enough that they put it into practice

so I wonder friends what’s the way that you are engaging with God’s word maybe you’re using the new testament reading plan or an app like Lectio365 or Pray as You Go maybe you use printed daily reading notes no matter your preference though if we are to be a people who confidently share our faith such that we raise up new disciples we need to know our faith and the scriptures that underpin it

Joshua was a man of God a person who knew God’s word and put it into practice and so his next step is to speak to the leaders and to the people so that what the lord had commanded would be put into practice but what I find really striking here is what he says to the Reubenites Gaditzen halftribe of Manasseh he says your wives or children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan but all your fighting men ready for battle must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites you’re to help them until the lord gives them rest as he has done for you and I find that remarkable because these tribes these fighting men are called to leave their security their safety leave what is precious to them and rest their lives in fact they’ve to go ahead of their fellow Israelites never mind tag along at the back where do you think you would prefer to be at the back not the front and I think for me this shows that God calls us to a way of life where we stand alongside one another a way of life where we cannot be indifferent to the welfare of one another now Jesus does not mention this explicitly at the time of the great commission but let’s remember only ten days before he had taught them this command love one another as I have loved you so you must love one another by this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another

care for others to the point of sacrifice is meant to distinguish us we cannot claim to be following the teaching of Jesus and remain indifferent to one another so what could this look like what could this look like well this summer there’s an opportunity for us all it’s my intention that from June to august there will be no Tuesday evening events and that’s to give us time to connect and reconnect with one another however i’m conscious that because of covet and because we’re a medium-sized church it’s easy for people to be overlooked or maybe even forgotten because we haven’t seen them in over a year and so we need a vehicle to care for as many as possible and a vehicle which also allows as many as are willing to get involved and so this week you will be sent a letter via email or post and in that letter you will be asked whether you are willing for your name address and phone number to be shared with the other members of your pastoral grouping this would then allow each of us to get in contact or do a card and visit or send a card do something and over the summer hopefully reconnect as a church family and if you’re not in a pastor or grouping then get in touch if you want to get involved because please note this only those who opt in will have their details shared and only those who opt in will receive details of others who have also opted in so if you don’t opt in your details will not be shared so let’s not worry but neither will you receive details and we’re sharing this just now because hopefully as many of us will get involved as possible and it then just takes time to put that into place additionally I would like to encourage you to read a book that I’ve been reading it’s Francis Chan’s Letters to the Church and i’d like you to try and read it over June to august because that’s less than one chapter a week i’ve been found in it both stimulating and easy to read much easier than the book I gave to the elders okay but it gets us into God’s word chewing it over and understanding some of what it means to be the church you can of course order a copy for yourself but if you would find it helpful for us to order your copy then give it out simply on the reply slip with the letter let us know there’s space to make that known to us okay friends if we respond I’m excited about what the summer could hold for us I reconnected church family who are chewing upon God’s word and responding to it such that we are better enabled to fulfill the commission given to us but before the end there’s one final thing one final thing ultimately it’s not our unity or our obedience or our knowledge which will enable us to fulfill our commission it’s that the lord is with us for he says to Joshua as I was with Moses so I will be with you I will never leave you nor forsake you be strong and courageous to not be afraid for the lord your God will be with you wherever you go and similarly Jesus promises surely I am with you always to the very end of the age friends our calling is momentous sometimes risky surely self-sacrificing and humanly impossible but the lord promises to be with us in the times of Joshua in the times of the early church and even still today as I said last week Jesus is leading us onward and so it is his presence his faithfulness that gives us true courage as well as the love and power to respond to his commission

and to be a people united and living out his command

I pray it may be so, Amen