I don’t hold particularly strong views on the monarchy, but I have to say that I do feel a bit sorry for Prince Charles. For my whole life, he has been hanging around waiting to do the job he was born into. He’s 73 and he hasn’t started work yet. And then there’s the fact that Charles, doesn’t seem to be a patch on his mum. The Queen has integrity, a strong moral sense and immense dignity. And then there’s her son. I’m not sure that I have ever heard anyone say “Oh it will be much better when Charles is King.’You do have to feel a little sorry for him. And I think you have to feel a little bit sorry for Joshua too.
Here’s how the book of Deuteronomy ends: 10 And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11 none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12 and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. He had led God’s people out of the grip of the most powerful nation in the world. He had been in charge of Israel for over forty years. He had actually spoken with God one to one. He was largely responsible for the first five books of the Bible. And then he dies. Joshua, over to you! … . And no pressure.
To make matters even worse, Joshua’s role, unlike King Charles, actually involved doing stuff – in this case, leading a highly unreliable small group of people on a military campaign against at least 7 nations which were bigger, scarier and better equipped than God’s people. Oh, and there’s also the fact that Moses had just made it very clear that while Yahweh their God could be relied on completely, the people? Not so much. Ultimately, all they could be relied on to do was to muck it up. It’s a key moment for Joshua, and God’s people. Which is why I think it’s a great moment for us at MPC to look at this Joshua 1.
Now please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not saying Phil Campbell was Moses and Hamish is Joshua. (although it is true that Hamish and Jo have finally made it over the border in to the promised land). But we are in a time of transition. We’re not through the pandemic yet, but it does seem things are going to look a bit different on the other side. In God’s kindness, we have two new full-time staff and a new student minister starting this week. Things are going to look a bit different. We’re reconfiguring how we do church across Sundays, and what we do with our youth ministry. Things are going to look a bit different. And that’s why we’re looking at Joshua today, for this chapter is all about what it looks like to live with and for our rescuing, reliable, extravagant God.
The nation is poised to walk down the slopes of Mt Nebo into the Jordan Valley as Joshua leads them forward. But before they step out, God reminds them of 5 key things they’ll need to hold onto in Canaan and beyond. You can see the first in the verses 1-2. It’s the simple principle that:
1, WE NEED TO KEEP MOVING FORWARD (1:1-2)
Josh 1:1 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them-to the Israelites.
Two things are clearly emphasised in these verses. First, Moses is DEAD. Did you get that? He’s DEAD. It’s pretty blunt. The second thing is equally unsubtle. Moses was my servant. He was the servant of Yahweh. No less is expected of you. Joshua, you need to pick up the baton, which for you will mean leading the people down from the plains of Moab, across the Jordan and into the land to complete the journey which God had initiated over forty years earlier on Mt. Horeb. Which is precisely what he starts to do: in verses 10-11, we read 10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the LORD your God is giving you for your own.'”
It doesn’t sound very exciting, but there is something very important going on here. Moses, the greatest leader that Israel ever had, has just died. So what has to happen? God’s people need to keep moving forward. Joshua and the rest of them need to pick up the baton and run hard with it. There’s no point in moping around, or anxiously debating whether or not Joshua has the wherewithal to lead like Moses, or spend hours discussing who was the better leader. They just need to get on with it, and to focus on the task ahead, which, according to verses 10-11, is exactly what happens. And sooner or later, that’s exactly what we always have to do.
You see the problem with leaders is that sooner or later, no matter how good or gifted or godly. they all let us down eventually. They all either leave or die. Every leader is fallible. Moses, after all, despite his prodigious gifts, had stuffed up royally in the wilderness by starting to think that he and God were on a par, as he brought water from a rock. Every leader is ultimately unreliable. No human being can ever properly carry the full weight of our hopes and aspirations. And all leaders are ultimately expendable. Leaders are important but they come and go, and the work of the church of the Lord Jesus goes on. Phil was here for 22 years, and then left. I’ve had the privilege of helping out for 15 months, but after Hamish’s induction next week, along with Fiona and Bek, I’ll be happily sitting in the back seat. Leaders are expendable – it might be good to take that on board right up front before Hamish comes, so that we’re not too cranky years from now when he leaves or dies.
When we left our church in Dublin at the end of 2011, I did wonder how they would cope. It grew in the next 12 months. When I was on study leave for College in the second half of 2020, enrolments jumped to the best they’d been for years. Leaders come and go – but we always need to be ready to keep pressing on. And that’s just how it works in the kingdom of God.
Right now, as God’s people, we need to pick up the baton and run with it together. After all the pain and uncertainty, and all the mis-steps, and all the self-examination, and all the praying, and planning and tentative new initiatives, now is the moment when as the Elders lead with Hamish, as Sam and Luke join Doug and Dana and Simone on staff, we all need to keep moving forward, as together we commit to pray and to love each other, and to follow our leaders, and to give, and to speak the gospel into each others’ lives and the lives of those who don’t yet know Christ. But as we do that, we also need to hold onto a second thing: it’s the fact that God is utterly faithful.
2. GOD IS UTTERLY FAITHFUL (1:3-4)
Hear these words from verse 3-4: I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates-all the Hittite country-to the Mediterranean Sea in the west.
These are very old words. God had previously made this geographical commitment to Abram in Genesis 15:18. Now, several hundred years later, the same words are reiterated. Abraham’s family have been in and out of asylum and captivity in Egypt, have become a nation, have migrated very slowly (and disobediently) through a wilderness to come back to the back door of the land, and what has changed? From God’s perspective, nothing at all. What he said to Abraham (and reiterated to Moses multiple times, and most recently in Deuteronomy 34:4) still stands. God is absolutely and utterly faithful.
And you should know that this is a big promise. Israel’s ‘living space’ stretches from the Mediterranean in the west to the desert bounded by the Euphrates in the middle of Iraq in the east, from Lebanon in the north to the wastelands to the south, Israel will have a safe place to settle. They won’t have to scramble for space with other nations. Nor will they have to battle to occupy this territory. All they need to do is walk into the land and each footstep will be enough to secure their possession. God has promised them the land, and God will deliver. That’s because God is utterly faithful. Now of course, with the coming of Jesus, God’s work has gone global, and his promises for us have changed key. God hasn’t promised that we will dispossess any Hittites, but as those who have been united to Christ by faith, he has made several rock-solid commitments to us. And perhaps the key challenge in living for Jesus in the long haul is aligning our expectations with what God has actually promised to do for us and in us, and then resting in his faithfulness, deeply confident in the fact that he will deliver. So what has God promised us? Here are four things we can be absolutely sure of:
He has promised to humble us, showing us more of our sin, and of his beauty
He has promised to make us more like the Lord Jesus
He has promised to enable us to keep going to the end
He has promised to build his church, bringing glory to Jesus
You can see much of this in Paul’s stunning statement at the end of 1 Thessalonians 5: 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. So is that how you’re feeling today? Is that our posture as a church at this key moment, standing together with our confidence firmly and deliberately placed on the faithfulness of God?
If we’ve got this, then we will expect to be humbled. We’ll expect to see more of our sin exposed, and we continue to surprise ourselves with our own ungodliness. We’ll expect to go through all kinds of challenges, both self-inflicted and clearly undeserved, but we’ll know that as God allows us to go through all that, he is continuing his quiet, often imperceptible work of making us more like the Lord Jesus, as his inexhaustible resources help us to keep having the next conversation, signing up on the next roster, wiping the next surface, meeting the next deadline, packing the next lunch. Read these ancient words, and remember that our God is faithful, But it gets even better than that. For the third thing we get to hold onto is this…
3. OUR GOD IS WITH US (1:5)
As Joshua looks across into the land, which is currently full of scary Canaanites, and hears God say just go in and take it, 5 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. Can you imagine what a huge relief this must have been to Joshua? For most of the past 40 years, Joshua had got to stand up close while Moses, his boss, got the most spectacular access to God in the whole Bible. Exodus 33 goes as far as saying that Yahweh ‘used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to a friend.’ What about that for a statement to make the new guy feel insecure? How on earth do you follow that? Yes, it’s good to know that God is faithful – so that means that functionally, Joshua knows he won’t be able to completely wreck everything. But personally? How can he cope with following a guy who was brilliant, performed miracles, has just preached Deuteronomy, oh, and speaks to God almost on equal terms? God gets that – and so he says just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. It’s so immensely, tenderly gracious, isn’t it? It is knowing that God is with him that will make the difference. It is the presence of God, the faithful God, that means Joshua can hold his head up, and send round the officers to say confidently ‘let’s go.’
Now I have to say that reading this, I’m pretty glad for Joshua. Following Moses must have been a really tough gig. But as we read on through the Bible, we discover the glorious truth that God is not simply ‘with’ key players in the unfolding drama of redemption, but because of the work of the Lord Jesus, he really is with us. All of us. We don’t have to conquer Canaan, but we do get the presence of God as we seek to live for him: Here’s what Jesus says in an astonishing statement in John 14:18: 8 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. The writer to the Hebrews expresses it like this in chapter 13 of his letter: 5 Keep your lives free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for God has said, “never I leave you never will I forsake you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid; what can mere mortals do to me?” Do you here that? God is with us. As individuals. As his church.
I’m reading a little book called “The pleasantness of a religious life: life as good as it can be“. It was written by Matthew Henry in 1714 and it is just about the most delightful, happy, encouraging book I have ever read: here’s the point in a sentence: “a holy, heavenly life spent in the service of God, and in communion with him, is without doubt the most pleasant and satisfied life anyone can live in this world”. God is personally with us, and in us – how good it that? Let’s hold onto that this week – in Jesus Christ, through the power of the Spirit, our God is personally, actually, powerfully with us. But he us, and it’s a great comfort – and a comfort that we will need not least because according to verses 6-9, life is scary and we are weak.
4. LIFE IS SCARY AND WE ARE WEAK (1:6-9)
I have to be honest and say that I struggle when people remind me of what I already know, and am already feeling anxious about. ‘Wow – that’s a really big job!’ ‘You’re going to have to work really fast to get that finished in time.’ ‘You are going to have to tackle her about that.’ My stress levels shoot through the roof when that happens. Which I suspect is what happens in verses 6-9, as God gently exposes Joshua’s weakness in just such a loving and gentle way at least three times: listen again to these words: 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. 7 “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. … 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
As he gets ready to step into Moses’ sandals to lead a deeply unreliable people into battle God says Be strong and courageous… be strong and courageous… . be strong and courageous… I can imagine Joshua saying God is with me – that’s great. But hold on, why will I need to be strong and courageous? How bad is this going to be? Does God not trust me? Doesn’t he think I’m up to the job? The answers to those questions are actually pretty clear – yes, it is going to be really bad, and no, God doesn’t think you are up to it – because you aren’t up to it. Because whether we’re Joshua leading the people of Israel, or Joanna leading Kids Church or Jimmy leading a growth group or Jamie trying be a godly dad or Jo trying to speak to her next door neighbour about Jesus, life is scary, and we are very weak.
This is what God is hammering home to Joshua in this chapter, and this is the constant drumbeat of the entire Bible. Life is scary and we are weak. We need to face that. We need to embrace it. Because this is the only way to live in humility and dependence on our faithful, strong God. We saw that over and over again this time last year as we worked through 2nd Corinthians – here’s what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12, as he struggled with his ‘thorn in the flesh’: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. As we move forward together, we need to be honest – life is scary, and we are weak. And we need to hold onto one more thing: it’s the confronting fact that…
5. GOD’S PEOPLE ARE UNRELIABLE (1:12-18)
In the closing verses of the chapter, after telling everyone to buckle up and get ready to move into the land, Joshua turns to the two and a half tribes – the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh (one of Joseph’s sons) – to give them a special pep talk. He does it because of something that had happened back in Numbers 32. After God’s people had defeated a couple of Amorite kings Sihon and Og, who ruled part of modern-day Jordan in an area called Gilead, these two and a half tribes decided that they’d come far enough, and would like to settle down there, outside the promised land.
I haven’t tested this theory scientifically, but I do think that the world is divided into two groups of people – those who drive into a car park and happily take the first space they see, and those who hold off, driving round endlessly in search of that extra wide space in the shade right next to the door of the shopping centre. Reuben, Gad and Manasseh were the guys weren’t going to drive past an empty space. The Transjordan for them. It would overstating it to say that they had God’s blessing for this, but God did allow them to do it, although on the strict conditions that Joshua reminds them of from verse 14: Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them 15 until the LORD gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the LORD your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the LORD gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”The deal is they have to come and fight with the rest to conquer Canaan, after which they could go back across the Jordan to settle down. The question is, can they be counted on to do it?
The fact that Joshua has to remind them of what they had promised so soon after is a bit concerning, but it’s what they say that’s really worrying : Verse 16 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we fully obeyed Moses, so we will obey you. That’s about as convincing as kids being left on their own for the first time shouting to their Dad as he closes the door ‘Don’t worry Dad, we’ll be good!’ At the end of Deuteronomy, Moses spends the last hours of his life convincing the people that they are deeply sinful. He’d even just taught them a song to use as a kind of national anthem in which they were supposed to sing “God is faithful, but we have dealt corruptly with him, we are blemished; we are a crooked and twisted generation.’ Now they’re singing a different song: Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Well there’s clearly NOTHING to worry about then.
Ironically, even though they will be his greatest problem, they decide to reassure Joshua: Only may the LORD your God be with you, as he was with Moses! 18 Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. The people who should be saying ‘Be afraid, be very afraid! For we’re unfaithful‘ speak better than they know as they tell Joshua “Only be strong and courageous.” Moses’ warnings about the brokenness of the people are already starting to play out. They lack self-awareness. They have a completely misguided optimism about their own ability to obey. They are deeply unreliable. Which is exactly the kind of people be we will be for the rest of our lives, despite God’s ongoing, and ultimately relentless transformation project which the Spirit has already started in us. These Israelites would have fitted in really well at MPC. Yes, we are in the process of being transformed, but in the meantime, we will let one another down. We will make bad decisions. We will crack under pressure. We will disappoint and frustrate and annoy each other. We’re unreliable. And we’d do well to hold onto that.
So that’s the flow of Joshua 1 – we really do need to keep moving forward, but the great news is that God is utterly faithful, he is present right with us, which is why we are able to cope with the fact that ministry is scary, we are weak and God’s people are unreliable. In the light of all that, what are we to do?
Let me just underline three things to do and we’re finished: first, Joshua 1 calls us to pursue humility. Remember that we are weak, and our God is strong. That’s the key,. At this moment in the life of our church, let’s gaze at the greatness of our faithful God, the God who is with us in the Lord Jesus, then look at ourselves in the light of his glory, and then seek to walk in humility.
Second, in order to pursue this humility, let’s soak ourselves in God’s word – I didn’t say much about verse 8 – but look at it with me: Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. How do we know that God is with us? How do we live in acknowledged weakness? How are we fortified with God’s own strength? All day every day, all night every night, the key is to fill our lives with God’s words and soak it in.
And one more thing: let’s run to Christ.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus is called Jesus? It’s important to remember that in Hebrew and Aramaic, Jesus is simply the name Joshua. So when Matthew 1 says the baby to be born to Mary is to be called Joshua for he will save his people from their sins, he is taking his readers right back to this book. Jesus Christ, it turns out, is basically the ultimate Joshua, who leads his people not into the security and satisfaction of a piece of prime Mediterranean real estate, but into the rest and grace and peace of reconciliation with God himself. Which is why the last thing this chapter pushes us to do is simply to run to Jesus. It is in him that we find strength and courage. It is in him we find confidence. At the start of this new phase of life at MPC, it is to him we can – and we must come in weakness to find strength; in repentance to find forgiveness and restoration; in faith to find life and joy and peace. Let’s come to him – and keep coming to him – together, let’s pray.