Oct. 7th and 8th, 2017 The Battle Begins
Scripture: Joshua 1: 1-11, 16-18
Today we continue our journey through “The Story,” and it’s been quite a journey so far. We’ve been to the mountaintop and we’ve been to the valley. We’ve encountered God’s goodness and lamented our brokenness and experienced God’s relentless desire to make things right again. We’ve journeyed to the bowels of Egypt where God heard the cries of his people and set out to rescue them through a man named Moses. We’ve listened as God promised a new land for his people, and a new life, and we’ve found ourselves wandering in the wilderness, waiting for God’s promises to unfold. And that time has arrived.
Much has changed since God first rescued his people out of Egypt. A couple generations have died, including the leader of the whole thing- Moses. Moses had the opportunity to see God’s promises from afar, but he never stepped foot in the land God promised. He made some pretty grave mistakes, and those mistakes prevented him from fully living into God’s promise. But yet, the promised remained. God had said that he would lead his people into a new land, and he remained true to his word. So he raised up a new leader named Joshua. Joshua was one of the few who could see what God was doing, and no matter the obstacle (and there were many), he remained hopeful. Listen to what God tells Joshua: “Get ready to cross into the land I’m about to give you. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses.” And it happened. Little by little, Joshua began to claim the life God wanted to give.
This is essentially what the Book of Joshua is about. Even though it’s a book full of military prowess and conquest, (and we could talk about the hundreds of battles) it’s really about claiming the life and promises God wants to give you. Author and pastor Max Lucado once said in a sermon that the most important word in this book is inheritance. An inheritance is not something you take for yourself, but rather something you receive. In fact, God never once tells Joshua to go and take the land of promise; he simply tells him to receive it, because it is God who will do the taking, and it is God who will do the giving.
You may or may not realize this, but God has an inheritance for you. It’s not land, however. It’s something much greater than that. When you place your faith in Jesus and allow God to take up residence in your life, you are promised an inheritance. Listen to these words from Ephesians 1: 13-14: And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.”
Did you catch that? You are marked in Christ and given the seal of the Holy Spirit, (sort of a stamp or a tattoo marking who you are!) who is a deposit for your inheritance to come. And what is that inheritance? It’s simply this: Whatever is promised to Christ, the Son of God, is shared with you! Whatever Jesus receives, he willingly shares it with you! Paul writes in Romans that we are children of God, and if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. That’s pretty amazing stuff. I want you to hear this, because this is your identity, and it can be hard to wrap the mind around it: YOU ARE A CHILD OF GOD AND A CO-HEIR OF JESUS. Let me say that again. Whatever is promised Jesus both now and in eternity, he’s going to share it with you. So let me ask you? Are you actively receiving your inheritance? Are you actively living into who God already says you are?
My guess is that many of you experience a big gap between who God says you are and what you believe about yourself. Am I right? Scripture tells us that Jesus’ life is one filled with peace despite all sorts of reasons to worry. It tells us that Jesus experiences joy in the face of adversity. It tells us that Jesus never wavers in his commitment to the Father’s will, even if it involves suffering. That’s who we are and who we’re meant to be. That’s just a glimpse of the life God wants to give us, the life God longs us to receive. And I bet every single person in this room longs for that type of life. Then why the gap? Why do we struggle so much to receive that inheritance? Why do we struggle so much to live out who we are? Well, I have a few thoughts on that.
One reason some don’t firmly take hold of God’s promises is what I call a grasshopper mindset. Remember what most of the spies said when they came back after scouting out the promised land? God’s promises are everything God said they’d be, but…there were giants in the land. And enemies. And fierce-looking warriors. And they felt like grasshoppers compared to them. There’s no way they could ever conquer that enemy! It’s no wonder that God tells Joshua to not be terrified or discouraged, because there’s plenty in the world that can terrify and discourage us. I mean, how do we NOT experience discouragement when we wake up to discover that 59 people were shot dead at concert, and over 500 were wounded? How do we not grow a tad fearful when we see people giving themselves over to hate? When we see these giants, these enemies, so to speak, it can even be hard to remember just how good and strong God is! Peter was a man who had a bit of grasshopper complex. He so badly wanted to follow Jesus out into the water, where Jesus was miraculously walking on water! And Peter got out of the boat and took a few victorious steps, and then he saw the wind and the waves, and they loomed so large. And Peter began to sink. The wind and the waves were certainly scary, but in reality, they were nothing compared the one who called Peter forth. When we see the enemy, the giant or the obstacle, we need to remember 1 John 4:4: “Greater is he who is in you than who is in the world.” God is bigger than the world. We need to remember that. So that’s one reason.
Another reason, and I think this is more prominent than we care to admit, is this: we aren’t convinced God’s ways really work. God’s ways are not our ways, remember, and God’s ways often require a good deal of trust in what we cannot see. You have to think that there were more than just a few eyebrows raised when God told Joshua that Jericho would fall, but all they had to do was march around the city 7 times. Now you and I both know that’s not how you defeat an enemy. Can you imagine President Roosevelt commanding his troops to march around Germany? C’mon God, really? We have these awesome weapons at our disposal and we can put them in their place if you’d just give the signal. All you want your people to do is march around the city and blow some trumpets? Really? Some of us just remained unconvinced that God’s ways will actually get the job done. I’ll admit to you that I struggled with that very notion this week. In his teachings, Jesus speaks numerous times about loving your neighbor and loving your enemy- that’s his way, the life he wants to give us- but that way is so hard to reconcile with a world that knows very little of love, whether it’s a Facebook conversation or mass shooting. There are days when love doesn’t seem to be the answer, but in the end I know it’s the only way.
Finally, some don’t firmly take hold of God’s promises because they’re focused on the wrong battle. And this is a major issue. This is not just a battle for a new land flowing with milk and honey; it’s really a battle for the heart. God didn’t rescue Israel for the sake of changing their zip code; he rescued them for the sake of changing their hearts. One of the errors of Christian thinking is that Jesus died only so that our eternal zip code would change from hell to heaven. But it’s so much more than that. Listen to these words from John 10:10: I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly. That’s our “Promised Land.” That’s our inheritance. It’s a life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and forgiveness, not just in a existence after death, but here and now. That’s the life God wants to give us, but sometimes we miss out because we’re focused on the wrong battle, and we’re focused on them.
And you know who them is. They’re the people and the problems we blame when it’s too uncomfortable to look at the battle going on inside of us. It wasn’t the Caannanties they had to worry about; it was their own struggle with God. And that’s always going to be our challenge. It’s not the them, whoever we think them might be. The real challenge isn’t the government or the muslims or the conservatives or the liberals or whoever you’d like to fill in the blank…The real challenge is us. And it always has been. Our own hearts, constantly distracting us from the goodness of God, and the gift he wants to give us. That’s what the story of Achan’s sin teaches us. They caused their own destruction, and they had no one else to blame. That’s the battle we’re in, and that’s the battle God will deliver us from, if we want it. The Book of Joshua has a fitting ending, a high crescendo, if you will. And Joshua hits that nail on the head and calls out the problem. Here it is. Even after the Hebrews have experienced great victory in military battles, and even after they have stepped foot in the promises of God, it is still clear that God is battling for their hearts. Here’s what Joshua has to say: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all your faithfulness. Throw away all other gods and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord is undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSE, WE WILL SERVE THE LORD. You see, Joshua gets it. It was never about the Canaanites; it was never about any external enemy; it was about becoming who God wanted them to be. That’s the battle we’re in.
So, I guess the question to ask is this: Who is winning the battle for your heart? Is it fear? Anger? Worry? Is it an external enemy that you are quick to blame? Or is it God? He has an inheritance for you, an identity, full of life and goodness and abundance. And all you have to do is receive. Amen.