Where is the victory?

Scripture Readings

  • Acts 5:14,
  • Joshua 7:1-10, 16-21

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

We often find ourselves at new beginnings.  We might find ourselves in a new job, or a new suburb or a new house.  The move to a new house helps us to get rid of the old stuff we thought we would never part with.  The new home is now decorated with new pieces of furniture.  It is a fresh start.  We have new hopes, new ambitions, and plenty of resolutions.  One thing we really want is to not repeat the mistakes of the past.

When Joshua took over from Moses, the people had been wandering in the desert for 40 years.  Their wanderings were because of their rebellion and unbelief.  Most of that generation had to die in the desert, and a new generation was raised up.   Moses led them to the eastern side of the Jordan from where they had visions of the Promised Land.  There was excitement with the people.

With fervour, they crossed the Jordan.  Before them was the Land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The promises of God were still fresh in their ears:  “Every place you put your foot soles will be yours.”

They made new promises as they renewed Covenant with the Lord.  The males were circumcised because they had not been circumcised before.  Then God declared, 

“This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” (Joshua 5:9, NKJV)

On the fourteenth of the month, like their forefathers did in Egypt the night God visited Egypt with the death of the firstborn, they celebrated the Passover.  All of this happened on the plains of Jericho, within the promised territory.  The manna stopped falling from heaven after they ate the food from their own land!

Victory!

Their first obstacle was the city of Jericho.  God promised them victory and they did exactly as the Lord commanded.  The city walls crumbled and He gave the city in their hands.  They tasted God’s victory based in his never-failing promises.

Perhaps a few sang “I am in the Lord’s army!”  Others might have sung, “Who is on the Lord’s side?”  

Chosen to be soldiers
In an alien land
Chosen called and faithful
For our Captain's band
In the service royal
Let us not grow cold
Let us be right loyal
Noble true and bold
Master Thou wilt keep us
By Thy grace divine
Always on the Lord's side
Saviour always Thine

Now for the next city.  Ai is nothing like Jericho!  This will be a walk in the park.  The spies came back and suggested to Joshua and send only three thousand men. 

Defeat!

Were these men not enough?  Why then did the men of Ai rout them from the city?  Why did some of the men fall in the battle?  Why the melted hearts of the people (Joshua 7:4-6)  Where is the victory?  If they were defeated by only the second town of their conquest what about the land between the Jordan in the east and the Great Sea in the west, and between Egypt in the south and the great river on the north?  What about the Anakites, the gainsays, against which the spies in the time of Moses warned them against?

Verse one gives us the answer:  

But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things. (Joshua 7:1, NKJV)

They acted unfaithfully by breaking the covenant with the Lord.  The unfaithfulness of their fathers was buried in shallow graves.  

You may ask, would God be angry and have his own people be defeated by a godless group of people just because of a few pieces of gold and silver, wrapped a colourful Babylonian robe?

Let’s look at it from God’s perspective.  Let’s join Joshua and the elders face-down before the Ark of the Lord, praying with dust on their heads,

“Alas, Lord God, why have You brought this people over the Jordan at all—to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? Oh, that we had been content, and dwelt on the other side of the Jordan! (Joshua 7:7, NKJV)

Joshua continued, 

The Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear it, and surround us, and cut off our name from the earth. Then what will You do for Your great name?” (Joshua 7:9, NKJV)

Lord, what have You done?  But God replied, and if we sum it up it comes down to sinful unfaithfulness.

  • Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed God’s covenant
  • They have even taken some of the accursed things, and therefore they have become doomed to destruction
  • They stole and lied; 
  • They took what belonged to God and put it among their own stuff

There result:

  • Therefore the children of Israel could not stand before their enemies
  • God will not be with them anymore

The cure?

  • Destroy the accursed from among you
  • Prepare to meet God

Lying to God

Let’s just for one moment leave the Israelites here and go to the new church in Jerusalem.  It’s that new and vibrant church, freshly filled with the Holy Spirit.  It grew day by day.  The people loved one another, they devoted themselves to the teachings of the apostles, they shared meals, they practically lived in the temple corridors and witnessed to all with whom they came in contact with.  Let’s hear there report about the Jerusalem congregation:  

Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:32–37, NKJV)

Man, what a model church!  If only we could live up to their example of care love and devotion to the things of the Lord.

Not only did Barnabas give the money of his land to the world of the Lord; others did too.  Like Ananias and Sapphira.  The difference between Barnabas and this couple was not that they sold a piece of their property to give the money apostles, but that they lied about the amount of the sale.  What they publicly pretended was impressive; what they secretly hid was sinful!  In short, they were not obliged to sell their land to give money for the work of God, but between selling the land and giving the money to the apostles they were overtaken by greed to keep what they initially promised for God’s work to themselves, and they lied about the rest.  

What was the result?  They were found out. God knew about it all along.  They lied, not to the apostles, but to God.  This act was unfaithfulness to God, and it brought the church in disrepute.   God dealt with this sin without delay—they both died the same day.  Then we read, 

So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things. (Acts 5:11, NKJV)

Will anyone join a church where people drop dead for telling a lie?  In the eyes of men, surely not!  In the plan of God, surely.  God dwells by his Holy Spirit in a church who honours Him.  

… but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, … Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed. (Acts 5:13–16, NKJV)

The same principle which applied in Jerusalem applied in Ai.  Achan and his family were destroyed, and Israel was once again on the march to victory.

Where is the victory today?

There have been many Achan’s and Ananias’s and Sapphira’s in the church.  And let’s be honest, we count amongst that number.  We too are overtaken by greed, unfaithfulness, disobedience, theft of the things which belong to God, as well as lies.  In our tents are the things buried God very expressly forbids.  We think we can hide it as if God will not see.  We might even think that God will not punish us for small sins, only the expressly gross and publicly big ones. And we wonder why the church is not going forward in power as it proclaims the Word of Jesus Christ.  We ask, “Where is the victory?”  The worst about it is that we blame God for the state the church finds itself in.

What we need to get a good understanding of is not how powerful or mighty the church can be, but how holy God is. He gave us his Holy Spirit to dwell in us, but we are more often than not grieving the Spirit; we resist Him; worldliness became part of our activities and thoughts.

Achan and Jesus Christ

Do we have a chance to survive?  Can we still march forward in victory?  What about that promise of Christ, 

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:19–20, NKJV)

In the valley of Achor sin was dealt with when Achan died.  But we have a High Priest who took our place, who took our sins on Him, who gave us his righteousness and took our iniquities.  This is the Gospel, 

For God made Jesus who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21, NKJV)

To Him we must give our lives away; for Him, we must live; in His Name and by his power, we must march forward.  But in his Name we must put everything on the altar; we must take up our cross and follow Him; we must count the price of full obedience and trust.  We must repent, turn our backs on the world and fools Him, leaving things we hold dear behind for the sake of the glory of his Name.  Only then will there be victory again.

Do you want to be on the Lord’s side?  Do you once again see lost sinners come to Christ in repentance?  Do you want to see the church once again grow?  It will cost you your life, but you will win eternal life.

May God help us.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev. D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 16 May 2019

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