Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Advent: The Long Road to Bethlehem (4)

Scripture Readings

  • Hebrews 2:10-18;
  • Judges 16:1-7, 23-31

Introduction

Han van Meegeren painted a work in the style of the great Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer and titled it “The Supper at Emmaus”, fooling the critics who thought it was a lost masterpiece of Johannes Vermeer. The painting was sold for millions of dollars, and displayed in the Boijmans Gallery in Rotterdam.

Van Meegeren painted more, raking in millions more dollars.  After WWII, a receipt led two investigators from the Allied Art Commission to the studio of Van Meegeren, who wanted to know from whom he had bought the artwork. Unwilling to divulge the truth, Van Meegeren was arrested on charges of treason and faced the death penalty. Van Meegeren then confessed, but no-one believed him. Even experts testified that his work was without question was originals of Vermeer, which it was not. The only way to prove his innocence was to produce another fake!

Van Meegeren later wrote that he was sure about one thing: if he died in jail, people would forget the details of his fraudulent paintings. Because “I produced them not for money but for art’s sake.”

What about Samson, was he a fake deliverer, or just a con artist?  Must we remember him for his sins, for his achievements, or for his failures? More importantly, was Samson the leading actor in the drama of Judges 13-16? Why is his life recorded in the Scriptures?

Wrecking victory 

What stands out like a sore finger in the ministry of Samson is that his work was a one-man-show.  His methods and strategies did not appeal to his fellow-countrymen.  Did they regard him as a fraudulent, self-appointed freak?  Not many people want to be associated with a seemingly out-of-the-box person who claims to be the liberator of the people. So, Samson went solo.  All along, he subdued the enemy, even if they only observed from a distance.

Did those who divided the Bible into chapters and verses do a good job in dividing chapter 15 and 16?  Maybe not.  A careful reading of chapter 16:1-3 would instead add these verses to the end of chapter 15.  Why?  Chapter 15 tells of Samson’s victories, explicitly stating in verse 20, “Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines.

Chapter 16:1-3 takes us to another significant victory.  Reading some commentaries, and drawing from superficial observations, this episode in Samson’s life is lumped together with his bad choices of women.  Verses 4-21 is without a doubt about his arrogant fall into sin with Delilah.  More about that later.

Judges 16:1-3 happened in Gaza, miles away from his meeting with Delilah?  So, what was Samson’s business in Gaza?

All of this is significant with the light of another episode in the Bible.  When Israel took possession of the Promised Land under Joshua, they destroyed the Anakites who lived in the hill country to the Mediterranean Sea (Joshua 11:21).  This is roughly where Samson and his parents settled in the towns of Zora and Eshtaol. 

Who were the Anakites?  This takes us back to the report of those whom Moses had sent to check out the land.  They also visited the Sorek Valley with all the vineyards (where Samson killed the lion? [Judges 14:4]), and even took a cluster of grapes back, so big that they carried it on a pole between them (Numbers 13:23). Some came back with this report: 

“There we saw the giants (the descendants of Anak came from the giants); and we were like grasshoppers in our own sight, and so we were in their sight.” (Numbers 13:33, NKJV)

After the forty years of wandering in the desert because of their unbelief (Numbers 14:11, 21-23), Joshua led the people into the Promised Land.  The occupation of years later under Joshua was not complete.  We read, 

None of the Anakim was left in the land of the children of Israel; they remained only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod. (Joshua 11:22, NKJV)

And now we find Samson in Gaza!  

With the fearlessness of someone who understood something of delivering his people from Philistine oppression, Samson went to their own fortified capital. Gaza was the most powerful border-city of the Philistines.

Too quickly may we jump to conclusions about Samson spending the night with a prostitute.  Why was he in that house?  It was custom that the houses of prostitutes stood open to all, including strangers who had no friends in the city to take them in.  Do you remember the spies who visited Jericho and stayed the night with Rahab, the prostitute? (Joshua 2)  

Samson did not go to Gaza to visit a brothel.  Because he wished to remain there some time, there was no option for him but to check in with the prostitute. Who else would have taken him in?

Keep in mind, this was supposed to be the territory given to Judah (Judges 1:18), but they were nowhere near now?  They were hiding in the clefts, caves and strongholds (Judges 6:2) out of fear.  But Samson marched into the lion’s mouth.  The enemy had one desire:  kill him!

When they were keeping guard through the night around the city to prevent him from escaping, they fell asleep.  At midnight Samson “took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two gateposts, pulled them up, bar and all, put them on his shoulders, and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.” (Judges 16:3, NKJV).  To take possession of an enemy’s gate is to have a complete victory over them.  When Samson pulled out the gate of Gaza, he inflicted national humiliation of the Philistines before Israel, as if Israel, in the person of its representative, took their capital by storm.  

What did he do with the gates?  He planted them on the hill the faced Hebron.  Is it of importance?  Sure!  Hebron was the city Joshua gave to Caleb (Joshua 15:13).  Hebron had been occupied by the giants, the Anakites, but Caleb was one of the spies who reported back to Moses in Numbers 14 with these words:  

Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them. (Numbers 14:8–9, [24], NKJV)

And, of course, Hebron was the country of David, the king who would later totally destroyed the Philistines.  And not far from Hebron, in Bethlehem (the city of David) the Christ would be born, who single-handedly destroyed the enemy of enemies and enlarged the territory of God’s people into all the world.  To Him was given all power in heaven and on earth.  In His Name, we are marching on into final victory when He will crush all resistance and treads all enemy under his feet  (Psalm 2 and 110).

Samson was a man of faith, just as the Bible teaches in Hebrews 11.  Single-handedly, he made a spectacle of the oppressors.  He connected the Promised Land back to the former days, but his ministry also linked to future deliverance.  

He became a wrecking victory. 

Victorious wreck

The next and final episode in Samson’s life is a picture of failure.  In more than one sense Samson’s life became a symbol of the experience of his adulterous people, who traded her privilege as God’s treasured possession to become a spectacle of shame.

Samson toyed with his victories, took his eyes off his mission and, in arrogance and pride, squandered his God-given abilities.  

His power did not lie in his hair; his hair was merely a symbol of God’s presence with him.  In the lap of the adulterous women, now not deep in Philistine territory, but actually not far from home—and maybe because he felt safe in these environments—probably knowing that his hair had nothing to do with his strength, thought nothing of it to disregard God’s claim on him as a Nazirite.  He had Delilah snip off his hair. It was precisely because this careless attitude which dug the hole of his defeat. 

But God did not leave him at once.  Samson stretched the grace of God.  It was after the fifth time that he was not the deliverer of Israel anymore; what was left was just mortal Samson of Eshtaol. He became powerless and ended up blind, helpless, humiliated, labouring like an animal as a slave of the very people he was to destroy.

This was the story of Israel.  This was the story of the other judges.  A human deliverer would always fail.  God’s people would always fail.  They needed a Perfect Deliverer, a sinless one, a Saviour who could finally satisfy God’s wrath on sin, a Saviour who would finally destroy the enemy to set his people free.  

This Saviour was the One born in Bethlehem and who went on to destroy death and sin and hell and Satan on Calvary’s Hill.

Who knows what went through Samson’s mind as he, with eyes cut out, in the darkness of the mill floor reflected on his life.  What went through his mind when they came to get him to entertain them as they were gathered in the temple of Dagon, jeering: 

“Our god has delivered into our hands Samson our enemy!” (Judges 16:23, NKJV)

Dagon’s temple was most probably in Ashdod north of Gaza  (1Samuel 5:1).  

Wesley penned down this poem:  

Into their hands by sin betrayed,
(The sin I cherished in my breast)
Low in the deepest dungeon laid, 
Fettered in brass, by guilt oppressed;
A slave to Satan I remain,
And bite, but cannot burst my chain.

Now to their idol’s temple brought, 
A sport I am to fiends and men, 
They set my helplessness at nought,
They triumph in my toil and pain: 
Th’ uncircumcised lift up their voice, 
And Dagon’s worshippers rejoice.

He shuffled in, chains around his ankles.  He was stripped of all dignity and pride.  Around him, there was just darkness.  

All the rulers of the Philistine were there, and the galleries were packed with 3,000 Philistines.  Guided by another servant he asked to put between the pillars supporting the roof.  

Wesley’s poem continues: 

Remember me, O Lord, my God, 
If ever I could call thee mine;
Though now I perish in my blood,
And all my hopes of heaven resign,
Yet listen to my latest call, 
Nor suffer me alone to fall.

O cast not out my dying prayer, 
Strengthen me with thy Spirit’s might
This only once: I pray thee, hear, 
Avenge me for my loss of sight,
Avenge it on mine enemies,
For they have put out both mine eyes.

Was his prayer sincere?  Calvin helps us to understand:  

“…even though there was some righteous zeal mixed in, still a burning and hence vicious longing for vengeance was in control. God granted the petition. From this, it seems, we may infer that, although prayers are not framed to the rule of the Word, they obtain their effect.”

God gave him the strength to push the supporting pillars over, killing the rulers and the people—and most importantly, making a spectacle of the god of the Philistines. Yet, it was the end of Samson, killing “at his death were more than he had killed in his life.” (Judges 16:30)

Another deliverer failed.  Samson died a victorious wreck.

Conclusion

The scene shifted to Bethlehem where Christ was born.  Our reading from Hebrews states: 

Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14–15)

If your Christmas only takes you the stable, and not to the cross, you miss the message of Scripture.  If you do not worship Christ as the One who destroyed death and Satan, you will find yourself with Samson in the lap of sin, and with him, you will die with the enemy.  

I plead with you, fall down and worship Him as Lord and Saviour.

Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 16 December 2018

 

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Caleb – He trusted God all the way

Lessons from Joshua

Scripture Readings

  • Numbers 13:26-14:9
  • Joshua 14:6-15

Introduction

Dear brother and sister in the Lord Jesus Christ,

As most of you know by now, I served for some time as padre in the Presbyterian Inland Mission.  When working in the area of Wedderburn and Charlton in Victoria, someone asked me if I had been to the birthplace of John Flynn.  It was not far away, west of Bendigo in Moliagul. I jumped into my car and made my way there.  To stand next to the monument of a mostly forgotten man who changed the face of outback Australia, was just something.  Up the road were the remains of a timber cottage, which most probably was his birthplace.  Then, over the bridge were the ruins of the school where his father was the teacher, and across the road what remained of the church were they worshipped.

Me, a migrant to Australia stood on almost holy ground:  it was the closest I would ever get to the human being I admire for this dedication to the Gospel, his love for the Lord and his love for the people of the outback.

Caleb, the foreigner

A very interesting fact about Caleb is that he comes from a line of people who were not originally Israelites. Caleb is known as the son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite.  Some time up the family tree of Caleb a son was born to Esau whose name was Kenaz, whose descendants became know as Kenizzites. During the course of history they occupied some parts of the south land, maybe in the southern districts of what eventually become known as the portion of Judah.  Some of Caleb’s family identified with the Jews and worshipped the God of Israel.  When exactly they ended up in Egypt during their 430 years sojourn there, we do not know, but the Bible tells about this young man, Caleb, who was amongst those who were now on their way back to the Promised Land.  About very time his name is mentioned in the Bible, it refers to the way in which he followed the Lord:  “with his whole heart”

He had heard of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  It was somewhere there back in land of his forefathers that this Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried.  The place was Hebron.  Abraham has bought a piece of land there as a family burial plot in the cave of Machpelah.  There Abraham buried Sarah.  Later, his son Joseph, then governor of Egypt, brought the remains of Abraham to the same place to be buried.  It was the place where Isaac, Rebekah and Joseph were buried.  Still, with them the Israelites had the bones of Joseph whose wish it was to be buried there.

It is not impossible that Caleb, from his early years, had heard from his parents about the Anakites, a boorish and brute group of people, physically strong, almost gaintlike.  They at some stage occupied the town of Hebron and renamed it Kiriath Arba, after Arba, the greatest hero of the Anakites.  I think it was quite possible that Caleb had it in his mind, that if God would give the land to the Israelites as He had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, he wanted to reclaim it for God, and in the process he would go back to his roots:  as his father who turned away from idols to worship the true God, so Caleb would go back to the land of his forefathers in the southland of Judah to conquer it for the worship of the true God; but he would go back as member of a new family, that of the Covenant family of God, where the father of all who believe was buried.  He wanted to reclaim God’s land, he wanted to reclaim the honour of the One he serves wholeheartedly.

One of the scouts

Forty five years earlier he stood with Joshua before Moses to report on the Promised Land.  Moses had sent 12 scouts out to come back with an exploration report.  There was a minority report.  Ten reported about the land and how good it was, but they also reported about the people, specially the brutal, barbarous Anakites.

And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:32–33, NIV)

The minority report:

“The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:7–9, NIV)

What was the difference between these two reports.  Let’s hear the Lord’s own evaluation:

The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat Me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.” (Numbers 14:11–12, NIV)

Unbelief.  Contempt.  The of the Hebrew word translated here as contempt  root signifies the attitude whereby someone who provide a service is consciously treated with disdain.  There are verse in the Bible where this word is translated as blasphemy.

Some comments on the majority report and says, “Preachers can sometimes proclaim the truth, lying all the way and as such lead the church of God to unbelief.  Truth can sometimes be presented in such a way that believers begin to turn away from the truth.”  This is what happened here.

Last week we stood before the miracle of the sun stopping mid-air for about a whole day while the people of God routed the enemy and God fought for them.  Now, if for some reason I did not believe that God is omnipotent, that He does not hold the stars, the sun and moon in his hand to control it as He sees fit, and tried to present what happened there in such a way that it does not say what the Word of God explicitly says, I would have sown into your heart seeds of disbelief.  You would then very quickly down the track find yourself asking if God can indeed do what the Bible says.  And thousands of people walked away from the faith exactly because of that.

Two men who were once very close fiends got together and began Christian crusades which rocked the world.  Both of them were extremely talented people, and thousands came to hear them speak, many became Christians as a result of it.  One died 13 years ago – a complete and utter atheist.  The other, now also an old man, still stands firm in the faith.  The one who became and atheist wrote a book Farewell to God, wrote about a discussion he had with his good friend in which he said,

“… it’s simply not possible any longer to believe, for instance, the biblical account of creation. The world was not created over a period of days a few thousand years ago; it has evolved over millions of years. It’s not a matter of speculation; it’s a demonstrable fact.”

His friend replied:

“I believe the Genesis account of creation because it’s in the Bible. I’ve discovered something in my ministry: When I take the Bible literally, when I proclaim it as the word of God, my preaching has power. When I stand on the platform and say, ‘God says,’ or ‘The Bible says,’ the Holy Spirit uses me.”

His friend replied:

“You cannot do that. You don’t dare stop thinking about the most important question in life. Do it and you begin to die. It’s intellectual suicide.”

The truthful Bible preacher answered:

“I don’t know about anybody else,’ he said, ‘but I’ve decided that that’s the path for me.”

The man who became an atheist though he won the intellectual argument, but he lost his soul and died without God.  He was Charles Templeton.  His good friend is Billy Graham.

Caleb and Joshua, as one commentator puts it, saw little giants but believed in a great God and their hearts were strong in Him; the others knew a little God, saw giants, and their hearts melted in the face of the enemy.  In this they disdained God, blasphemed against Him, and displayed their unbelief.

Caleb, in the language of faith, said, “Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Numbers 14:9, NIV)

Something of the attitude and faith of Abraham lived in the heart of Caleb and Joshua.  Hear the what God said about Caleb,

Because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows Me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.

The majority of the people listened to the majority report and never saw the Promised Land.

The Lord promised

Then, forty five years later, Caleb stood before his leader and good friend, Joshua.  They had fought the good fight, even after the Israelites crossed the Jordan and by the grace of God pulled of the impossible:

Joshua took the the entire land, just as the Lord had directed Moses, and gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions.  Then the land had rest from war. (Joshua 11:23)

For more that five years Caleb fought with the other tribes to secure the land and depose their rulers.  But there was so much more to do.  But it seems that every tribe had to continue in each of the portions of land the Lord had given them to complete the task of utterly displace the enemy and instate the rule of god over the entire land.

Caleb was by now about the oldest male in Israel; the others died in the desert because of their rebellion, disbelieve and disdain with God.  He was with the men of Judah, because he was now reckoned to be one of that tribe.

He stood on the promises of God.  In his heart there was a living faith, the flame was still burning because God proved to be faithful to be with them and give them the ability to conquer the enemy.  So he stood there with this testimony:

So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly.’ (Joshua 14:9, NIV)

Because of the faithfulness of God he claimed:

Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.” (Joshua 14:12, NIV)

By God’s appointment

It is so marvellous to see how God worked behind the scenes in all of this.  Each tribe got their allotment not be choice, but by God’s choosing.  God ordained that the bigger tribes would receive bigger areas.  But God would give them their inheritance as He would make it clear by lot.

So, although there might have been a personal desire of Caleb to inherit Hebron, or Kiriath Arba, it had to be confirmed by God’s choice. As from the tribe of Judah they indeed got that potion of land, but then for Caleb, he stood on the promises of God.

Why did he seek this?  God said so.  Caleb, you’re and old man now, maybe you should just look for a place to with a giant fig tree to sit under and enjoy the last days of your life reflecting on the goodness of God.  The fight is over.

No, the fight is not over, the battle lies ahead.  God’s glory and honour must be seen by the brutal, barbaric Anakites who though the were invincible.  Like a David in the face of the giant Goliath, Caleb stood for the glory of God.  No rest till that is done.  He got what he claimed in the Name of God and went head.  The Bible says:

In accordance with the Lord’s command to him, Joshua gave to Caleb son of Jephunneh a portion in Judah—Kiriath Arba, that is, Hebron. (Arba was the forefather of Anak.) From Hebron Caleb drove out the three Anakites—Sheshai, Ahiman and Talmai, the sons of Anak. From there he marched against the people living in Debir (formerly called Kiriath Sepher). (Joshua 15:13–15, NIV)

It is more than possible that under Caleb, once the Anakite giants were defeated, that the original name of Hebron was restored.  The Bible does not tell who buried the bones of Joseph, but one can only think that in some way Caleb was involved.  And I can only in my mind’s eye see Caleb at the cave of Machpelah recounting the words of Joseph, “God surely came to our aid.” (Genesis 50:25)

Conclusion

Lessons

Serve God wholeheartedly
  • trust and obey
  • with God’s help
  • no retirement
God puts a limit to the ability of our enemy
There’s a world to conquer

Conclusion

I stood at the birthplace of John Flynn and thanked God for a man who served Him wholeheartedly – he took the command of our Lord seriously and made it his business to claim the inland of Australia for his Lord.

In faith I also stand at the open grave of my Lord and Saviour who overcame hell and death.  And I can say, “God surely came to our aid.” I look up to see Him disappear into the clouds with the command to go to all nations.  And He called me into ministry to prepare his people for their task of evangelism and missions.

The question now is, do we follow Him like a Caleb, always wholeheartedly, faithfully, trusting in Him, single-mindedly, focused, never resting till we draw our last breath?  Blessed are those won the Master finds busy when He returns. Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 9 February 2014

 

 

The day the Lord listened to a man (2)

Lessons from Joshua

Scripture Readings

  • Luke 24:36-29
  • Joshua 10:1-15

Introduction

The Bible is not meant to be understood as a book with two separate major sections, the Old Testament dealing with Israel, and the New Testament dealing with the church, as if these sections have not much in common.  If read this way, what happened to Israel then remains in the past and becomes outdated.  Some people actually don’t read the Old Testament anymore for this reason.  The Bible is the book in which God reveals Himself right through history and is therefore one book with one central message.  We see Christ in the first book of the Bible, and what follows is a progressive revelation of God’s unfolding plan of redemption in Christ.  Israel is God’s church in the Old Testament; how God dealt with them has lessons for us.  The difference lies in the yet-to-be-revealed complete obedience of Christ, seen in glory when He was born, lived on earth and was taken to reign with God in heaven until He comes back again.  This is what we read about this morning:

Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, (Luke 24:45–46, NIV)

Our study of the book of Joshua helps us to understand the purpose of God for his church.  We read from Luke 24 this morning:

… and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:47–48, NIV)

God gave Israel the Promised Land from which they would then proclaim the great deeds of God and make known his great Name to all nations.  Joshua was the man God ordained to lead them in this conquest.  In the same way, but inexhaustibly more glorious and powerful, Jesus Christ led us into his Promised Land to provide for us the base for our operation as church.  He did so, because the Bible declares,

“This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, (Luke 24:46, NIV)

He also fulfilled the promise to give to his church the Holy Spirit to give affect to their ministry of the message of Jesus Christ to all nations.

The conquest of Canaan under Joshua serves as an essential, yet limited, example for the church of Christ of how God leads his church to claim this world for Christ.  It contains so many lessons the church must learn from so it will not repeat the mistakes of Israel, and will benefit from the good things Israel did, and constantly look forward to the fulfilment of all the promises in Christ.

Leading up to the great day

I just want to briefly take you back to some of the first chapters of Joshua:

A gift from God

Canaan, the Promised Land, was a gift from God.  He had promised it to Abraham hundreds of years before they crossed the Jordan.  In the same way salvation, and the benefits of it, is a gift from God through Jesus Christ to all who believe.

An act of obedient faith

The crossing of the Jordan was a miracle which only God could perform; the only act on the side of Israel was to trust God, believe that He would keep his Word powerfully and save them.  In the same way, Jesus Christ is the only door through which we can go to enter eternal life.  It is an act of obedient faith to follow Him.

The battle belongs to God

Jericho stood as a sign to them that the battle is actually God’s: the powerful hand of God to crumbled the city walls, overshadowed the seeming foolishness of marching around the city for seven days, doing nothing apart from shouting and blowing their trumpets. Never are the attempts of the church to conquer this world with the Gospel something of its own business.  It remains the business of God t through Jesus Christ.

Unlimited grace of God

God’s grace is extended to sinners, even from other nations, who bows under his Kingship to worship Him.  This is exemplified in Rahab. The commander of the army of the Lord met Joshua in chapter 5:13-15 and Joshua asked him if he came for the Israelites or for the people of Jericho, he answered, “Neither”. God is on the side of those He wants to save; Israel happened to be in covenant with God and as such God would show his mercy to them to show mercy to others He would save.

It’s about the holiness of God

God’s holiness shines in the the episode with Ai.  Achan might have thought that the robe, silver and gold under his tent would have gone unnoticed – and who would have noticed, except that God knew! They lost the battle.  Why?  It had to do with God’s glory.  Joshua in his prayer in chapter 7:9 was only thinking about the “great name” of the Lord.  When he met with Achan the next day he said:

My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honour Him. (Joshua 7:19, NIV)

What follows in chapter 8 is to further stress the holiness of God, demanding full obedience.  The phrase “the Law of God” and other phrases referring to it occurs over and over again.  Also, twice there is reference to Israel, aliens and citizens:  God clearly includes into his plan of salvation those He wants.  That is the impetus for the conquest.  It is the driving force of missionary work.

The nations hear about God and He causes them to tremble

Like a refrain through the first chapters we hear how the enemy of God heard about his greatness and trembled before Him.  Today this message is still true.  We have to quote this verse to them:

Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your  destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him. (Psalm 2:10–12, NIV)

Some errors of judgment might have immediate negative ramifications, but God can turn it into eternal blessing

The Gibeonites were saved by hook or by crook:  They got in be deception, the Israelites were deceived and they had to pay the price for it, but God used the whole episode to disclose his glory in the day of which it is written,

There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! (Joshua 10:14, NIV)

Outright offensive attack

At Jericho and Ai it seemed the leaders of the enemy were somewhat defensive:  they did not start the battle.  At Gibeon the situation is reversed.  Not always will the church find itself out there, leading the offence; no, more often than not it will be our enemy out attacking.

It was the five kings who heard about God, his commander, and his army marching forward, seemingly unstoppable.  They thought to draw al one in the sand.  The Gibeonites decided to break ranks and join the Israelites, which made them enemy number one of the rest of the coalition.  When in strife, they called upon Joshua for help, who marched all night up against the mountain range from the Jordan valley to attack the enemy at day break the next morning.

Victory was on Joshua’s side, but it did not come about because of Joshua.  God intervened for his people.

God causes confusion

And we now hear the word “confuse” used in reference to God’s way to secure delivery for his people and destruction for their enemy. God confused the enemy.  This is a typical word to describe God’s favour for his people and punishment on his enemy.  It is used for the Egyptian army trying to overcome the Israelites after they had left Egypt:

During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. (Exodus 14:24)

We also read in Exodus 23:27 about the promise of God as He sent his people into the Promised Land.

I will send my terror ahead of you and throw into confusion every nation you encounter. I will make all your enemies turn their backs and run.

We also come across this word in Deuteronomy 28:20.  Here the Lord promises his blessings upon the obedience of his people if they keep the covenant with their God.

But the LORD your God will deliver them over to you, throwing them into great confusion until they are destroyed. (Deuteronomy 7:23)

This is what happened further down the history of Israel.

Then Saul and all his men assembled and went to the battle. They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords. 1 Samuel 14:20 (NIV)

However, if God’s people would turn away from Him and forget their covenant with Him, listen to what would happen:  God would become their enemy.

The LORD will send on you curses, confusion and rebuke in everything you put your hand to, until you are destroyed and come to sudden ruin because of the evil you have done in forsaking him. (Deut 28)

The term “destruction” is nothing less than an action of God based on his covenant promises:  positively it meant that God would intervene for the salvation of his people; negatively, it describes God wrath on his enemies – all based on the faithfulness of God to his word and promises.

Well, it happened that day under the leadership of Joshua.  God intervened for his people in a fantastic way. God hurled stones upon the enemy and more were killed because of that than were killed by Joshua’s men. Stones?  Were they hailstones?  Some translations put it that way, but there is nothing in the Hebrew text to say it was hailstones. All the other places in the Scriptures were this word is used it does not describe hailstones, but just stones.  It is not unrealistic to think of a massive hailstorm because that is what usually falls out of the air in the form of stones.

But within the context of this chapter where God steered all the elements, including the sun on a course for his glory, would it be impossible to think that God opened the heavens and hurled down upon them meteorites or some other form of celestial debris, from heaven.  I think so.  Just further down the chapter we read about another “impossibility”:  the sun stopped for about 12 hours.  Were God’s people not witness to a fantastic and extraordinary display of God’s confusing power over his enemy while He kept his people safe from harm under his protection?  The blocking of the waters of the Dead Sea, and also the blocking off of the waters of the Jordan were similar “impossibilities” designed for the display of God’s almighty power for the salvation of his people.

Even more spectacular about this event is this:  All of this came about because Joshua dared to bow down to the living God and humbly asked for the Lord to hold back the sun and moon in their ways.

Is it possible?

Is all of this possible?  Can we believe it?  It is scientifically possible to prove it?  What does it tell us about our march upon our Promised Land, to have victory upon victory because we have another Joshua, now another Saviour, Jesus.  He who declared that all power on heaven and on earth belongs to Him!

There are as possible “solutions” for the stopping of the sun and moon as there are commentaries about this paragraph.  Some say God answered Joshua’s prayer by sending thick cloud to cover the sun from heat so that the Israelites could continue in battle.  But why is the moon included in this event if it only means covering up?  Others think that the mention of both the moon and the sun might have had an impact on the enemy who for some reason were superstitious about seeing both the moon and the sun in the same skies.  Others, and maybe there could be value in the argument, argues that the reference to the sun and moon in verse 12-13 actually comes from a poem, and therefore the reference might by poetic.  Sometimes the Bible uses these expression to personify trees and mountains:  the trees clap their hands, and the mountains walks into the seas.  It might be true, but what was the prayer of Joshua then, what did he ask for if he had some poetic phrase in mind?  Besides, the last half of verse 14 does not come from the book of Jashar in poetic form.  It just states, “The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.” What a remarkable day!

There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! (Joshua 10:14, NIV)

If you had the forces of nature in your hand, and you could do anything to answer the prayer of your people whom you love, would you not just command the sun to stop?  God did.  And I believe this with all my heart. Science does not need to be able to proof the impossibilities for me.

Jesus Christ, our Saviour

Does it need to be scientifically proven before it can be believed?

His miraculous birth

What about his conception?  A man born from a woman without another man’s intervention?  Where does faith come in?  And if we don’t believe one part of the Scriptures (like the part in Joshua) what then about the rest.  If we don’t believe this part about our salvation and Saviour, what then does the future hold for us?

His crucifixion 

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. …  And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Mat 27:45-53)

Has this ever happened before?  Can it be scientifically proven? His cry on the cross to forgive, his life which made the temple sacrifice obsolete, his death and his resurrection from the dead, are all “impossibilities” to those who do not believe; for those who believe in Him it unlocks eternity as it unlocks the padlocks which hold the chains of sin – they know what is impossible for man is possible for God.

His coming again

“Immediately after the distress of those days ”‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’  “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:29-30)

I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev 6:12-17)

Conclusion

We are soldiers in God’s army.  We have a mighty Saviour.  We can take Him on his Word.  His Word is infallible; He is omnipotent.  He saved us.  To Him belong all power and might.  He commands you to become involved in the spiritual warfare.  Trust Him, the new Joshua, to save and to help. Follow Him in the train of his victory.  Take up the full armour of Christ.

Next time we will look at the life of a man who took God on his word, faced the enemy, conquered them, and died in peace.

AMEN.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 2 February 2014

 

 

 

 

Saved by hook or by crook

Lessons from Joshua

Scripture Readings

  • Joshua 9:1-27
  • John 16:17-24

Introduction

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

In preparing a series from the book of Joshua I am forced to preach the Word of God about the Gibeonites.  I really wanted to get to the glories of God’s triumphal victory over the kings of Canaan in chapter 10, while I had, and maybe still have, questions about the place of the Gibeonites in this story.  But point is, the triumphant battle over the kings of Canaan was ignited by the Gibeonites.  It was the Gibeonites who got into trouble with the rest of the Canaanite kings because of their treaty with the Israelites, and Joshua’s decision to protect them from destruction by these kings which led to the Bible declaring, “There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man.” (Joshua 10:14)

So before we can get to this day, and what it means for the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, let’s ponder the Word of God from Joshua 9.  I apologise for announcing different readings for today.

Let’s pray for the Spirit’s illumination of our minds.

The title for this sermon is, “Saved, by hook or by crook!

Not the norm

If anyone would deduce from this passage in the Word of God that the Gibeonites is the norm for getting saved, he would make a real mistake.  What happened here in Joshua 9 is not the description of the ordinary way of being included into the Kingdom of God.  The lesson, I think, we should take from this chapter in the Word of God is not how the Gibeonites got into the sphere of God’s saving grace, but more to learn from the mistakes from Israel.  I’ll explain.

Before the forces of Israel marched on to Jericho the spies met Rahab.  Her past was chequered, having been a Canaanite prostitute,  but the Bible records a marvellous verse.  Rahab confessed:

The Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. (Joshua 2:11, NIV)

This describes the conversion of Rahab to worship God and Him alone.  Because of this fact the men of Israel made an oath to spare her and her family when God would destroy the city.

Up to this point Israel acted in good faith with the command of the Lord:

… and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy. (Deuteronomy 7:1–2, NIV)

Visitors from “afar”

Now Israel one day received some visitors. Arriving with their clothes in tatters, their footwear worn out, and what was left of their food, mouldy and dry.  They looked like coming from afar.  This was all a facade to fool the Israelites. They were actually neighbours who have travelled less than a day.

Under false pretences they acted like helpless strangers in need of protection.  What actually happened is that they were in some sort of alliance with other kings, most probably to stick together when one of them was attacked by some foreign army.  Gibeon was part of that coalition, but they figured out that they would be the next in line for destruction by the army of Israel.  They also did their sums and came to the conclusion that the forces of the alliance combined will not withstand the army of the Lord.  They were correct.  Their plan was to seek refuge with Israel:  if you can’t beat them, join them!

They indeed heard about the wondrous deeds of salvation of God, but there is no evidence of worship of this God of Israel – not like Rahab.  They were merely looking for a way to save their skins.

The leaders of Israel raised the possibility that they were indeed actually Hivites and would therefore be neighbours – to make a treaty with them would be to disobey the commandment of the Lord. “No, we are your servants!”, was their reply.  They were saved, by hook or by crook.

The “mistake” of Israel

It seems, as I said earlier, that this episode was included into the book of Joshua not to first of all tell us about the deception of the enemy; rather, this episode is included to point out where Israel went wrong so that they would not repeat the same mistakes.  We as the New Testament Church of Jesus Christ in our task in taking the message of salvation to the nations can learn from them.  We’ll get to that later.

We read in verse 14:

The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord. (Joshua 9:14, NIV)

Collectively the leaders and Joshua believed the story of the Gibeonites and disobeyed the command of the Lord to not make a treatise with a godless nation. It was all ratified by binding oath.  But strangely enough there is not a direct indication in the Word that God condemned this action. In favour of Israel one could say that they entered the treaty not because they were looking for it, but because they were deceived.  Besides, the covenant between them and the Gibeonites was not one between two equal partners; it was an agreement where Israel could dictate the rules and conditions.  If the Gibeonites broke covenant they would be destroyed like all the other nations. They were not openly and darlingly compromising their relation with God as his covenant people.

With the luxury of hind site one can ask, “Was this really a mistake?”  Well, yes and no.  If they did not do it God would still have given them victory as He promised; there was no need for them to do it.  But fact is it was risky, exposing them to the very reason why God commanded them to not do such a thing:

“… for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices … they will lead your sons to do the same. (Exodus 34:15–16, NIV)

The result of this “mistake”

When three days later they found out that they were deceived, they sent a delegation, but they did not attack them.  Being men of God, they kept their word and did not violate the treaty.  However, they did call them to account, but it certainly compromised their position as the people of God who needed to obey Him more and above all things and everything.  There was disunity between the Israelites as to how they should handle the issue.  Some wanted them dead, and they were right – that was the command of the Lord.  But what about their arrangement with the Gibeonites – those who call themselves children of God do not come back on their word!  How do you get out of this predicament?

It calls for a man with principles to keep direction in times like these.  Joshua was such man.  The deceivers were called in and Joshua gave the verdict: grace not to kill them; faithfulness not to brake covenant with them; righteousness to apply the Word of God; commitment to subdue them to the service of the Lord.  So verse 26 states:

So Joshua saved them from the Israelites, and they did not kill them. That day he made the Gibeonites woodcutters and water carriers for the assembly, to provide for the needs of the altar of the Lord at the place the Lord would choose. (Joshua 9:26–27, NIV)

Joshua stood, as a type of Christ, between the righteousness of God and the demand of the Law.  But the existence of the Gibeonites would only be secured for as long as they served the Lord at his altar by cutting the wood for the sacrifice and carrying the water for the purification of the altar.

The outcome of this “mistake”

Chapter 10 starts with a verse which is actually the same as chapter 9.  The only difference between those verses is that the kings mentioned here understood that Gibeon walked out of the alliance to join Israel.  The purpose of their meeting now was not to join forces to fight against their actual enemy, Israel, but to punish their former ally, which was an important member of their group:  a royal city bigger than Ai has broken allegiance to join the enemy.  From our perspective, that was a good thing: their eyes were taken off the ball to prevent the advance of their adversary and they became a house divided.

Gibeon, now in alliance with Israel, seems to understand the implication of siding with the people of God:  when on God’s side, one becomes enemy number one of the forces of evil.

What now?  You can trust those who had all reason to kill you but kept word and let you live.  So they sent word to Joshua:

Do not abandon your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us! Help us, because all the Amorite kings from the hill country have joined forces against us. (Joshua 10:6, NIV)

After receiving assurance from God that he would have success, Joshua marched up against the kings and after an all night trek he attacked them at dawn.  This turned out to be a fantastic outcome for the Lord and Joshua, “There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! (Joshua 10:14, NIV)

We will look at that next week in more detail.  When they went to Israel to deceive them into a covenant with them, their knowledge of God was what they had heard of Him of the past, but now, here in their own city, they experienced exactly how wonderful and powerful the mighty hand of God can save.  They saw how God took over, led the army of Israel and even hurled thunder and stones from the skies to destroy His enemy – all while He did not turn his anger at them for their deception!

In other words:  they experienced first hand both the power and the grace of God. This experience would make them later discover the holiness of God as they served around the holy place of God as see the demand of God to save them from their sins.

What do we learn from this a Church of Christ?

We need to be diligent in doing God’s command

One of the lessons from Joshua here is that God’s command should and must be our priority.  It seems to have been a mistake of Joshua to take the word of the Gibeonites over the word of God.  They did not enquire of God.

How do we enquire of the Lord?  Two things:  by reading and obeying his Word, and by being diligent in prayer.  Now, when we mention these things we understand that it should be true of each of us as members of the Church of Christ, but it surely means that it should be true as a body of believers:  together we should study the Word, be under the discipline of the Word and be guided by the Word; together we should be praying for God’s direction and guidance.  We are not a bunch of individuals here, we are members of the body of our Lord.  In this we should be united, of one spirit and mind, aimed at the same targets and aims.  Paul writes:

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, (Philippians 1:27–29, NIV)

We should be diligent in keeping guard

We all know that not everyone who walks in the door of a church or who wants join the membership does so because of the purest of intensions. We cannot always see the hart of such a person, but we should always be on our guard to keep the church of our Lord pure.  Never should anyone with his own ideas be allowed to become part of our membership.  Never must the church of Christ compromise it Gospel of redemption in Christ.  Never must the church of Christ ally itself with the world.  Our survival does not lie in seeking to comply with the standards of this world, but to remain faithful to the Word of God.

Our faithfulness should be known to the world

There are many stories and examples of how the church of our Lord in the past stuck to its principles, and yet it was honoured for its faithfulness.  Once we give our word, and that word is in alignment with the Bible, we should stick to it.  There is nothing as distasteful to the world as Christians who do not keep their word, or a church that cannot be trusted.  Joshua could easily have turned his back on the Gibeonites because of their deceit, but he kept his world and helped when they were in need.

God can use our seeming mistakes to the glory of his Name

There would be some Gibeonites who for selfish and short-sighted gain entered into the treaty with Israel, but surely, there would be others who got to know the Lord, not by hearing only, but by experience.  They would never after this episode dream of worshipping another God or entering into a treaty with the enemy.  In the same way, may we pray that whoever join the worship of God, for whatever reason, will come to know Him on the basis of what He has done in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Indeed, that they would meet Him at the altar of his holiness, maybe first as slaves,  but later on as saved sinners – may it be true of all of us.

Jesus, our Joshua

Not only did Joshua save the Gibeonites from the Israelites in their pursuit of righteousness, but our Joshua, Christ, the son of God, stood in our place to save us for that all-demanding righteousness by becoming our righteousness.  Were it not for Him, all of us deserve to be woodcutters and water carriers at the altar of God, but He became the wood, the water, the sacrifice, the altar, the priest – everything so that we may go free to serve our Lord to his glory.

When in need we can also now cry out, “Come quickly and save us.  Help us, the forces of hell hell have joined forces against us.”  We have the answer of our Lord such a prayer, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:24, NIV)

 

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 29 January 2014

 

The day the Lord listened to a man

Conquering those who heard

Scripture Readings

  • John 15:1-8
  • Joshua 10:1-28

Introduction

My dear brother and sister in the Lord,

The book of Joshua tells about how Israel, under their new leader, Joshua, entered and conquered the land God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Moses died and Joshua was installed as God’s man of choice to lead his people across the Jordan River to take possession of the Promised Land.

What is described in Joshua is a type and pattern of the work of the church of Christ in its missionary work.  Under our Joshua, Jesus Christ, the church marches on to the very ends of the earth to proclaim the message of salvation in Christ.

Important markers

There are few important things we need to keep in mind as we apply this story of conquering the world and the enemy of God.

Our promised land: our basis of operation to reach the ends of the earth

First, the Promised Land was a gift to the Israelites, something for which they had not worked.  Yet, they were in the line of fire all the time as they engaged in battle to conquer it.  Their Promised Land was not a destination in itself; it was a means to the destination, which was to proclaim the great deeds of God to all nations, and glorify the greatness of his name.  In a sense then, the Promised Land was supposed to be for them the basis of their operation, and not the final resting place.

For the church, our promised land is not in the first instance heaven, but this world in which we are nothing but sojourners, living in tents.  We are not saved to be saved, but we are saved to proclaim to the nations the wonderful works of grace in Jesus Christ, so that the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as water covers the sea.  Jesus Christ is our inheritance, our Promised Land, and He will one day take us to the mansions of his Father; but in the meantime, we are engaged in a process of conquering.  We do so, because our Commander-in-Chief, saved us, conquered death, sin, hell and Satan – He is sending us out; in His Name we have victory.

Hearing is obeying

Second, it seems as if the two words שׁמר (shmr), which means to obey/to guard/listen, and another or, שׁמע (shm’) which means (and we use it in the same way in English too) to obey/hear, are important markers in the book of Joshua.

To guard/to listen/to obey, is generally directed at Israel.  God commands them to adhere to his commands, and to live by them.  This is their guarantee to successfully wipe out the enemy and take possession of the Promised Land. Disobedience led to destruction.

In Joshua 1:7 we read:

“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. (Joshua 1:7, NIV)

When the people prepared themselves to conquer Jericho this warning came to them:

But keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. (Joshua 6:18, NIV)

We know the story of Achan who took some of the spoil and put it in his tent, which led to them being defeated by the people of Ai. He did not obey to the words of the Lord.

At the end of Joshua’s life he once again calls to people to obedience:

“Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. (Joshua 23:6, NIV)

All the disobedience of Israel was fulfilled in Christ’s perfect obedience to be our perfect righteousness before God.

Hearing is to fear

The other word, when used in connection of the enemy has another meaning. It is music to the ears of those who are part of the conquering battle.  Joshua sent out two spies into Jericho.  When they got there they met Rahab.  She came to faith in the God of Israel because of this:

We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. (Joshua 2:10–11, NIV)

They heard about the great deeds of God and they understood that God is God in heaven.  Another one:

Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites. (Joshua 5:1, NIV)

When the people marched around Jericho, on the seventh day, they were to shout aloud on the sound of the trumpets of the priests:

When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city. (Joshua 6:20, NIV)

Even the walls of Jericho could not remain standing when they heard about the great God of Israel!

The story continues.  Turn with me to Joshua 9:1-2:

Now when all the kings west of the Jordan heard about these things they came together to wage war against Joshua and Israel. (Joshua 9:1–2, NIV)

Directly following these verses, another group, the Gibeonites, also heard what God had done through Joshua, and they submitted themselves as slaves to Israel. (Joshua 9:2)

Why did they do it?

“For we have heard reports of Him [God]: all that He did in Egypt, and all that He did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan (Joshua 9:9–10, NIV)

Then in Chapter 10:1:

Now Adoni-Zedek king of Jerusalem heard that Joshua had taken Ai and totally destroyed it, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and that the people of Gibeon had made a treaty of peace with Israel and had become their allies. (Joshua 10:1, NIV)

Important lessons

What does all of this mean to us as the church of the Lord Jesus Christ?

We are engaged in a battle

I think it helps us to understand that we are, or are supposed to be, in a battle.  In an effort to conquer the nations with the message of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must make known his deeds of salvation.  We must think big of God and his kingdom.

James Montgomery-Boice tells this story:

About twelve years after Donald Grey Barnhouse had graduated from Princeton, he was invited back to preach in the chapel, and when he arrived, he noticed that [Robert Dick] Wilson (his former professor in Hebrew) had taken a place near the front to hear him. When the service was over, his old Hebrew professor came up to Barnhouse and said, “If you come back again, I will not come to hear you preach. I only come once. I am glad that you are a big-godder. When my boys come back, I come to see if they are big-godders or little-godders, and then I know what their ministry will be.”

Barnhouse asked Wilson to explain. He said, “Well, some men have a little god, and they are always in trouble with him. He can’t do any miracles. He can’t take care of the inspiration of the Scriptures and their preservation and transmission to us. They have a little god, and I call them little-godders. Then there are those who have a great God. He speaks, and it is done. He commands, and it stands fast. He knows how to show himself strong on behalf of those who fear him. You have a great God, and he will bless your ministry.”

Donald Barnhouse did have a great God, and he did bless his ministry. But that God is our God too, just as he was the God of Joshua and the victorious Israelites. Nothing is too great for him.

The power of the Word

It is when people hear this message that something happens:  God works in their hearts to see Him in his greatness.  Paul says:

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17)

The message might be foolishness to some, but to those whom God elected from all eternity, it is the power of God unto salvation.  A few Sundays ago we met John the Baptist.  His only strategy and task was to preach the Word of God.  It worked!  One of the catch cries of the Reformers was sola Scriptura, the Bible only.  Everything was put into place to get the Word out:  it was translated, printed and distributed.  Missionaries who conquered dark places like India, China and Africa took only one thing with them:  the Bible and the message of Christ.

The Lord says:

“Is not my word like fire,” declares the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:29, NIV)

The Battle belongs to the Lord

We face opposition, but we are never alone.  As God promised Joshua, so He still promises us:

No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Joshua 1:5, NIV)

Only, we do not have a Joshua who led the people into a certain geographical area somewhere in the Middle East, we have Jesus Christ, our Joshua, who not only conquered death and hell and sin and satan, who said:

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20, NIV)

Remember the battle does not belong to us.  When the forces of the enemy descended upon Joshua and the battle became heavy, we read this verse:

Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel. (Joshua 10:14, NIV)

The work of the church is never its own work; it is the work of the Lord.  He bought us, set us free, gave us his Holy Spirit, and He marches out ahead of us as our Commander in Chief.  Let’s listen to this verse again:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords. (Revelation 19:11–16, NIV)

We need to obey the Word ourselves

We need to be faithful to the Word of God.  The enemy of the cross will not hear and shudder, if we we do not proclaim the Word without compromise.  We can try to water down the Scriptures to make it more acceptable to the unbelieving world up to the point that there is nothing for them to believe in anymore.

Add to this personal obedience and holiness.  How may times do we get tripped up in our own unholiness while satan sits with a smile knowing that our testimony is weak and untrustworthy.  J.C. Ryle once said, “People may refuse to see the truth of our arguments, but they cannot evade the evidence of a holy life.

The power of prayer

Another thing, and we will look at this more in detail next week, never underestimate the power of prayer.  Joshua prayed to the Lord “in the presence of Israel”, which means that he prayed in their behalf, and he asked for the impossible to happen:

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” (Joshua 10:12, NIV)

The result?

So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! (Joshua 10:13–14, NIV)

Conclusion

There is one text where the meaning of the word “to keep” did not imply human activity of obeying, but points to God’s act of mercy by protecting his people.

He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. (Joshua 24:17, NIV)

Now in Joshua 10:14 we learn that God listened to a man.  It does not mean that God obeyed man’s command, but it means that God delighted in helping his people who cry out in battle for the glory of his Name.

Jesus Christ, our Joshua – yes, indeed far more than Joshua of Israel, gave us this promise:

You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:14–17, NIV)

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 19 January 2014