Hervey Bay Presbyterian Church

Advent: The Long Road to Bethlehem (1)

Bible Readings

  • Luke 1:26-38
  • Judges 13:1-24

Introduction

In Stay of Execution, Stewart Alsop, an apathetic Christian, discussed what it was like to live with incurable leukaemia. 

There was a period in which the disease was temporarily arrested. During this time, he discussed some variables with his physician. Finally, Alsop said, “There is one variable you keep leaving out.” “What’s that?” “God,” he said.

The doctor and the patient smiled. Alsop continued, “I don’t really believe in God, or at least I don’t think I do, and I doubt if my doctor does; but I think we both had in the back of our minds the irrational notion that God might have something to do with what happened all the same.”

Maybe this illustration describes the time in Israel before Samson was born.  God became an irrational notion in the back of their minds.

And maybe it also describes the general notion among Christians:  they attend churches, they expect to get married in churches, and to be buried with a church service, they attend the signing of Christmas carols, and might attend the odd Easter Service—all because God became an irrational notion in the back of their minds.

Spiritual life for many people only means to have their names on some membership roll.  Worship services are a good tradition, keeping one out of mischief on a Sunday because who knows, one can never completely discount the notion of God.  For some unbelievers praying to God in times of distress and discomfort becomes the last straw they hang on to—one never knows, maybe there is a god!

Does this describe your spiritual life? A “maybe” or “a just-in-case” relationship with God with no meaningful or effectual content to what you believe? No vitality, no living hope, no real substance, just a breathless, run-of-the-mill and bleached-out going through the motions, just in case God might be there, who knows?

It’s worse if this becomes the picture of a denomination, or even more deplorable if it describes the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.

These might be the symptoms; but what is the underlying disease?

The church became an undesired social institution

Israel of the Old Testament is the church of God under the pre-Christ dispensation, and certain truths stare us straight in the eye.  

God redeemed Israel to be his treasured possession.  Once redeemed from the Egyptian bondage, God promised to make true to them his covenant promises.  This is the story recorded in the Scriptures.  Moses reminded the people:  

The land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. (Deuteronomy 11:11–12, NIV)

The Lord gave them this assurance:

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. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. (Exodus 23:25–30, NIV)

Israel had to conquer the Land of Promise. It was the place where they had to make known the great Name of God by living as priests to the Lord, a nation of witness to the greatness of God’s Name.  This is God’s promise to them:  

… the Lord will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations larger and stronger than you. Every place where you set your foot will be yours… No one will be able to stand against you. The Lord your God, as He promised you, will put the terror and fear of you on the whole land, wherever you go. (Deuteronomy 11:22–25, NIV)

Listen to this undertaking of the Lord:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:5–6, NIV)

There were stipulations attached: they had to follow the Lord’s command: 

When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. (Numbers 33:51–53, NIV)

Why?

“ … if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them. ” (Numbers 33:55–56, NIV)

Well, God’s people of old were extraordinarily blessed.  They received a land with large, flourishing cities they did not build,  houses filled with all kinds of good things they did not provide, wells they did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves they did not plant (Deuteronomy 6:10–12, NIV).

But what happened?  How successful were they in taking possession of the land?  

When Israel became strong, they pressed the Canaanites into forced labour but never drove them out completely. … the Canaanites continued to live there among them. … Zebulun subjected the Canaanites into to forced labour… The Asherites lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land because they did not drive them out. Neither did Naphtali drive out … the Naphtalites too lived among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land, and those … became forced labourers for them. 

Judges 2 helps us to complete the picture:

They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshipped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist. (Judges 2:12–14, TNIV)

Another perspective from the Bible:

Yet you have disobeyed me. I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you. (Judges 2:1–3, TNIV)

How did it play out in history?  This takes us to Judges 13.

The Amorites confined the Danites [the parents of Samson were of the tribe of Dan] to the hill country, not allowing them to come down into the plain. (Judges 1:28–34, TNIV)

But before we continue, let’s make some application to the church of today.  Is it true that the Christian church in Australia is losing ground?  That’s undoubtedly what the statistics show!  But how does it stack up against the promise and command of the risen Christ who said, 

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, NIV)

There are obvious parallels with the church of today and the church of the Old Testament, isn’t it?  The death-nail is to make compromises with the world. It happens when the church walks away from the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, watering it down, in an attempt to become more popular.  The war-cry is to become seeker-sensitive.  And the more we reach into the world, the more the world reach into the church.  Instead of being counter-cultural, we have become a cultural assimilating cultural body.  Our witness is watered down, our message has become stale and meaningless, the Bible is neglected in some worship services, church language and demeanour,  even worship music, is hardly any different from what the world has on offer.  We do these things to not be an offence, while it is exactly our calling is not to please the world, but to worship God.

The status quo is the new normal 

Judges 13 sketches the church of God at a low watermark.  Something like a refrain runs through the book of Judges every time a new judge is announced: “The Israelites did what was wrong in the eyes of the Lord…” But this phrase is missing when the angel of the Lord appeared to Samson’s mother.  

With other judges, the people cried to the Lord for help, but not at the time when Samson’s birth was announced.   For forty years those whom Israel was supposed to dispossess, became the oppressors.  And it seems Israel got used to the situation.  They took the role is servants in the land which God gave them to possess and to reign for God’s glory.  

It got so low, that our chapter in Judges paints a picture of God’s own people not even knowing what His real name was.  The writer of the book used God covenant name JHWH, but Samson’s mother uses a generic term for God, “a man of God” or ”a godlike man”.  Her husband used another name, ‘Adonaj.  Maybe for longer than they had been married, there was no messenger of God.  It is only much later that they understood that it was indeed God who appeared to them.

The status quo of not knowing God became the new normal.  Not knowing Him also meant not knowing his will for them.  Even worse, not knowing Him, indicated that they have lost hope on salvation and freedom from oppression. Being dispossessed and living in bondage became normal.

This is a very sad state of affairs for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ:  if we don’t know and serve Him as Lord and Saviour, we will accept the lowest denominator as the standard.  The life of the church becomes stale, colourless, with no vitality, no living hope, no real substance, just a breathless, run-of-the-mill and bleached-out.  Churchgoers are going through the motions, just in case God might be there, who knows? And while the world laughs and scoffs, we take it as normal.

And just don’t rock the boat to upset the world!  When Samson began to terrorise the Philistines in an attempt to set his people free, of his own people rebuked him:  

Three thousand men from Judah said to Samson, “Don’t you realise that the Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?” He answered, “I merely did to them what they did to me.” (Judges 15:11, NIV)

It might be that the true man or woman of God who takes Christ on his word is considered to be the enemy of the very people who are supposed to be God’s conquering army under the banner of Christ.  

Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, our Canaan is the lost world to be conquered with the Gospel of Jesus Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  The church of God needs to be like a marching, invading army.  

Our series for advent goes under the heading, “The long road to Bethlehem”.  Samson was not the ultimate deliverer; he just “began” to deliver (Judges 13:5).  The final Deliverer was born in Bethlehem many years after that.  His deliverance was comprehensive and definitive.  In His Name, we should march forward, uncompromised.  The minute we become worldly, we lose, and God only becomes an irrational notion in the back of their minds.  But, He then becomes our enemy.  

Let’s fall at the feet of Christ and witness Him to the fallen world around us with undivided loyalty.

Amen.

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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

 

 

 

 

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

 

Living by faith (5)

Unshakeable faith expresses itself in the fear and serving of God only

Scripture readings:

  • Exodus 2:1-12
  • Hebrews 11:23-28

Hymns/Songs:

  • “Consider Christ
  • “The power of the cross
  • “May the mind of Christ my Saviour”
  • “Standing on the promises of Christ my King”

Introduction

My dear brother and sister,

Christians live in the world as people with no fixed address.  Our home is in heaven.  Paul writes to the Colossians:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (Colossians 3:1, NIV)

John writes:

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. (1 John 2:15, NIV)

Jesus prayed for his church and said:

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. (John 17:15–16, NIV)

Paul writes to the Romans:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2, NIV)

In this world we are sojourners, or foreigners.  Our deeds, our minds and our actions are not, or should not, be shaped by the thoughts of this world.  Christians are God’s people and therefore their minds are shaped by the Word of God once they are reborn by the Spirit of God.  What we say, how we say it, and how it influence the way we display our new nature in the world are dictated by God, our Father.  The world should not be allowed to have any input in the way we live.  This is the challenge of the church.

Daniel and his friends knew this very well: they did not bow to the image of the king.  Joseph knew it very well and did not yield to the temptations of the wife of Potiphar. The martyrs over the centuries knew this very well: they did not compromise their faith when the world around them demand it of them – they rather chose the option of losing their lives than gaining the world.

Allow me just one example of Scottish martyrs who refused to live other than the way the Master demanded.  His name was Robert Garnock.  At the age of seventeen he came to the Lord and received salvation.  Two years later, May 1679, he was apprehended and put in jail, waiting two years without trail.  When he was eventually put to trail he was asked to renounce his allegiance to the Scottish Protestant Refomation.  He didn’t, and when he was brought to the scaffold where his head would be cut off, he spoke to his prosecutors,

O sirs! His cross has been all paved over with love to me all along, and it is sweeter now than ever.  O, will you be persuaded to fall in love with the cross of royal Jesus?  Will you be entreated to come and taste of his love?  O, sweet lot this day for me to go to the gallows for Christ and his cause.  I think the thoughts of this do delight my heart  and soul, and make me fall out in wondering!

The parents of Moses, as well as Moses himself, knew very well to fear God above all.

Parents who feared God more than the king

Jacob and his son arrived in Egypt as a group of seventy souls.  Insignificant in the eyes of the Egyptians, and they lived in Goshen, more or less out of the way of the everyday life.
Joseph and all his brothers and all of that generation died. But the bible tells us:

…but the Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them. (Exodus 1:7, NIV)

They became a national security risk for the Pharaoh who feared that they might ally with other nations and war against Egypt.  So they were put in slavery and hard labour.  Furthermore, the Pharaoh issued a decree:

When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” (Exodus 1:16, NIV)

The midwives however feared God more than the king and did not do as the he decreed. Then the king issued the next decree:

“Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.” (Exodus 1:22, NIV)

Newborn Jewish boys were fair game.

But think about the parents:  what agony if a boy was born to a family!  The question is: does the boy belong to the king or to God?  Should Amram and Jochebed, who both were from the line of the Levites, be obedient to the king or to the Lord.

Their choice is recorded in the Bible, “they were not afraid of the Kings edict.”

They lived by faith in the living God.  Their house was a godly house where God was honoured and worshipped daily.  Aaron was their eldest son, followed by Miriam, a girl. Both these children would have received a solid example in loving and trusting the Lord; they both played a major part in the further history of Israel. So, when their parents decided to protect their little brother, Moses, from the Egyptians not to be killed, but instead trusted God for his protection, it must have left a lasting impression on their minds. Their parents’ act of hiding Moses in the reeds of the Nile was an act of defiance to the Pharaoh, but an act of obedience to God.  They feared God, rather than the king.  Why? Acts 7:20 in the ESV is a better translation than the NIV, and tells us how the parents saw their child:

At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, (Acts 7:20, ESV)

Every child should be seen from God’s perspective, as a gift from Him.  Therefore, even in our time, or maybe even more so, governments of our day has no right on our children.  It has become custom for governments to lay down certain rules for the upbringing our children, when, how and if they should be disciplined, when their education should commence, and even what they should eat. It is a known fact that public education is now a world-wide tool for social engineering.

Governments and their agencies are not always family-friendly; they might seem to excel in caring for the individual, but family units are not high up on their agenda.  Governments assume certain rights over children and in some cases expect the parents to just do as told.  Certain programs at public schools are openly hostile towards traditional family units and values, while certain services provided to young people may actually help children to divorce from their parents!  So-called hate speech against gay and lesbian people now applies in public schools and no child has the right to even think that this type of behaviour is against the Word of God.  Teachers who live in unmarried relationships, or even in same-sex relationships, are protected by the state against any form of discrimination, and there is even pressure on Christian schools to not discriminate against gays and lesbians as teachers.

So-called sex education in public schools protect students from the input of parents when it comes to the choice of sexual orientation, contraceptives and even abortion.

We must ask ourselves, where do we obey God rather than the State.

It was a high price to pay for Amram and Jochebed, but they trusted God and did not fear the king.  But their family life, and the values they instilled in their children paid off.

It is remarkable to see the young sister, Miriam, come up with a plan to see her little brother live under their own roof for a while longer. He lived with his family for some years, at least until he was weaned – probably at the age of three, or even four.  In these years he was there when his parents talked about God, prayed regularly, and even maybe yearned for the day God would make his promise come true to send his people back to their promised land.

Moses – regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ

It must have been a very sad day for Jochebed and Amram when Moses was taken to the palace to become the son of the Pharaoh’s daughter.  The Bible says he became her son.

Yes, he was a prince, receiving the best of education, living according to their customs and traditions, eating the best food, being dressed in Egyptian clothes, and even speak the language of the oppressor.

How many nights would his parents pray to God that He would protect their son!  And how many days did the evil one think he had Moses in his clutches.  Just think, the blood-son of Levites, now in the palace of the oppressor.

But God was faithful.  He had his hand on Moses even before he was born.  He held him in his grip and never could the Pharaoh and his house make Moses one of them.  God had a plan to prepare Moses to be the one who would lead his people to the Promised Land.  He was fluent in the Egyptian language; he knew the Pharaoh and the palace family; he knew the customs; he had an excellent education.  He got it all from the enemy.  In some way he was the trojan horse in the palace of the Pharaoh, but they did not know it.

The faith of Moses made him to reject the idea that he was a son of the Pharaoh’s daughter.  Deep down he knew who he was and what God he worshipped.  The Pharaoh was not his god, nor Ra, the sun god.  His God was the living God, who created the Nile and the whole universe, who used kings like the Pharaoh for his purpose and then dispose them when it pleased Him.

It was by faith that Moses chose to mistreated along with the people of God “rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.”  Then this verse in the Scriptures:

He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (Hebrews 11:26, ESV)

What gain is it to win the world and lose your soul?  Paul says:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7–11, ESV)

It was with an eye of bright faith that Moses could see into the future glory of Christ and his Kingdom. And compared to what he knew then by faith, the palace of the Pharaoh was nothing.  The luxury of passing, earthly royalty is nothing compared to the home of the Master to which He will come to take us when He returns.

O, that we will have such a faith!  That nothing in this world will ever be more important for us, or higher in value than the kingdom of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Moses saw his reward in the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of the Pharaoh.  We who believe, have a reward waiting for us.  Listen to what Peter says about our reward:

… an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:4–7, NIV)

The Psalmist shouts it out:

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:25–26, NIV)

When Moses had to flee from the Pharaoh he did so not fearing the king’s anger.  Yes, he did make it very clear who’s side he was on.  He killed an Egyptian who mistreated his own people. I don’t know that Moses was right in doing so, but he surely stuck his colours to the mast. And he could expect the retribution of the Pharaoh.  Remember he was supposed to be killed at birth; now that he turned against Egypt he could expect the full fury of the king.  But he didn’t.  By faith he left Egypt.  God looked after him from day one, why would God not do it now?

The Bible says he saw Him who was invisible. The invisible God who protected him from his earliest days now, by faith, became reality.  And there in Median at the burning bush, the Invisible would talk to him and call him to go back and face the Pharaoh.  His main objection in going back to Egypt was not necessarily facing the Pharaoh, but his own people – his concern was that they would not believe him.

Christ and Egypt

Many, many years after Moses there was another murderer-king who decreed that all boys be murdered – this time it happened in the Promised Land.  Herod, then in the grip of the Devil, hoped to have the Messiah, who was born in Bethlehem – the promised King – killed.

Well, history, like in Egypt under the Pharaoh, did not belong to any king or person.  It is God’s domain.  Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt and escaped the murderous Herod. In God’s timing Jesus and his parents went back to the Promised Land.  He mission was to seek and save the lost, and so He lived with sinners, tax-collectors, lepers, prostitutes and all other who realised they needed salvation.  Of Him Isaiah said:

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. (Isaiah 53:1–3, NIV)

He chose to be disgraced, He chose to side with the lost to free them of sin and bring them to the Father.

… rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, (Philippians 2:7–9, NIV)

Conclusion

Of Him, Moses was a forerunner.  In Him Moses had his hope.  For Him Moses chose to be disgraced.

His own people rejected Him and ultimately they nailed Him to a cross.  But they could’t really get rid of Him, because He was the author of life.  He rose again and is victorious over death, hell and Satan.  He is coming again, and then He will take those who now live by faith in Him to their eternal Promised Land.

Are you living by faith? Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 14 October