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Jul 9, 2017

“Truth Heals” 7-9-17

Joshua 1:1-9
July 9, 2017

This morning we begin a short sermon series on the book of Joshua. As we move forward through these scenes from this book, we will find two carefully interwoven themes. First, Joshua is a book about God’s people in transition. When the book begins, Joshua and the Israelites are standing east of the Jordan River, poised to enter into the land that God had promised to their ancestor Abraham. It is because of this historical situation that God’s people throughout history have found particular comfort and encouragement in Joshua to face their own times of transition and change. Maybe this describes you at this moment, transitioning into a new job, new relationships, or a new way of life. Maybe it also describes the situation of our church, grateful for the past but also eager to see what the Lord holds for our future. If you identify with these circumstances, then certainly there is much profit to be found in Joshua.

There is a second theme. It is easy to forget, but Joshua is, first and foremost, a book about God. Joshua teaches us how God reveals his character and action at a particular time in the life of Israel. As we look to the nature and actions of God in Joshua, our hearts are drawn ultimately to the Lord Jesus Christ, who perfectly manifested to our human eyes the glory and majesty of God. These themes are tightly connected. If Joshua is a book that guides us in times of transition, it does so precisely because the Holy Spirit uses the words to draw our eyes towards Jesus, the one who will never fail us or forsake us, even during the toughest times of transition.

And so we begin this series with the very beginning of the book of Joshua. I suggest that we ask two crucial questions. First, what is there in the experience of the people of Israel which bears resemblance to our own experience of life? Second, how does God reveal himself to Joshua?

Let us begin by clearly understanding the situation. The first words of Joshua tell us concisely about the historical circumstances. What takes place in the coming verses occurs after the death of Moses. The careful reader immediately goes back to the end of Deuteronomy. Moses dies after the Lord shows him the Promised Land from the heights of Mount Pisgah. The people mourn for Moses for thirty days. Moses was their prophet and their judge, their sage and their preacher. If we could make comparison to American experience, the mourning must have been something like the mourning at the deaths of Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King. Moses is identified in the early verses as “the servant of the LORD”, while Joshua is only identified as the minister of Moses. There is something unique among human experience of Moses’s relationship with God. Deut. 34:7 makes clear to us that though he was 120 years-old the vigor of Moses had never lessened and the eyes of Moses had never dimmed. In the Bible physical vision is symbolic of spiritual vision. Moses died a man of tremendous physical and spiritual vitality. The mourning in Israel, and the personal mourning of Joshua, must have been tremendous.

This reality is driven home in our passage by two literary clues. When the Lord first speaks to Joshua, his first words are direct – “Moses, my servant, is dead.” So the reality of this national grief is driven home to the reader by the presence of direct divine dialogue and through the use of repetition. Make no mistake about it, Moses is dead. It strikes me as somewhat jarring that this is where God begins with Joshua. He does not come announcing “Comfort, o comfort my people” but instead announcing the most glaring and most painful detail of their historical situation. What is God up to? Why does God start here instead of somewhere else?

I will table these questions momentarily, so that we can take a moment and meditate on this situation and the light it sheds on our own life. The book of Joshua begins with an emphasis on what has been lost. The book begins with a somber note. Whatever else may happen as the story progresses, we begin with telling the truth. This is the painful reality that must be embraced and not denied.

I suggested earlier that Joshua has much to say to those of us in transition. May we use a little biblical imagination for a moment? Imagine God coming to you in this season and announcing to you the truth in all of its unedited, rough-edged glory. Do you have the courage to hear this word? Are you willing to deal honestly with sinful patterns of behavior or the loss of a precious relationship or declining health? Too often when confronted with the truth we try to sew together our fig leaves like our earliest ancestors. But healing can never come without confrontation with the truth.

In the broader culture, people talk about having a “come to Jesus” moment. They mean it in jest, but we should recognize this has a basic part of congregational and personal discipleship. What is the truth that we need to face? What grief do we need to acknowledge or bad habit do we need to confess? Brothers and sisters, I am not a pessimist. I am only a limping disciple. My youth minister taught me that “If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got.” But shouldn’t we be willing to hear God’s call to us to acknowledge the truth that we might move forward with him? “Moses is dead,” says God to Joshua. Are we willing to hear the truth as well?

Now we are ready to ask the second question – how does God’s revelation of himself in this passage move us toward the person and work of Jesus? I think it is edifying to think of God as Joshua’s counselor. What is God’s counseling method? As we have seen, God begins his address on a somber note, but what follows is a call to faithfulness based on the fullness of God’s promise and presence. The discourse begins with the encounter with a hard truth, but then God refocuses Joshua’s attention on himself. Moses, the great national and spiritual leader is gone. Something significant has changed, but in a profound sense, nothing has truly changed, for God’s promise and God’s presence endures. The Lord explicitly mentions his promise in v. 3 – “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses.” Again we hear the promise reiterated in v. 6 when God speaks of the oath he swore to the Patriarchs that this land would belong to the Israelites.

Yet God does not simply offer some impersonal word, like a warranty that we purchase at a check-out line. He promises to be with his people. Look at v. 5. God says to Joshua: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.” Take note also of v. 9: “…do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” God begins with the hard truth that Moses is dead, but he redirects the attention of Joshua and the people to his faithfulness and power. God had provided in the past. God would provide in the future. The death of Moses could not change anything. God confronts Joshua with the truth that he might invite Joshua to experience abounding grace for the future.

First the hard truth, then the divine mercy – the painful reality paving the way for the reception of God’s grace. This pattern of God’s action winds its way through the Bible and culminates in the ministry of Jesus. Think of the passage that Everett read from John 5. Jesus encounters a man that had been immobile for thirty-eight years, waiting for his moment to be healed. Jesus comes to him and asks, “Do you want to be made well?” For the man on the mat, answering in the affirmative requires a full recognition of his painful reality and a willingness to put his future into the hands of Jesus. As he does so, Jesus heals the man.

Or think of again of the same pattern in a different context. Jesus says to the Pharisees in Mark 2:17: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” In saying this Jesus was not actually calling the Pharisees righteous. He was pointing out that it was the burn-outs and moral losers who had faced the truth who were truly ready to receive his forgiveness. The Pharisees were too often like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son. There is a party inside for the people returning from the pigpens, but the self-righteous are out in the cold. It is the way of Jesus to reveal his power and presence to us once we have embraced the truth of our circumstances and our character.

“Moses is dead” is the first word in our passage, but it is not the last. Joshua faces the truth that he might experience God’s power. The early disciples heard the hard words of Jesus and then received power to carry the gospel message to the limits of the known world. We embrace the truth of our own lives that we might receive God’s abundant grace for the future.

This morning we have a very special way to enact this pattern. The elements of the Lord’s Supper have been placed on the table before us. This bread and this wine are signs and seals of God’s promises to us and his presence with us. We have not earned the right to come to this table. We are not entitled to this sacred meal because of education or professional title or socioeconomic status or moral goodness. In reality, we come to this table because we have realized the truth that we are spiritually poor and hungry and that our only satisfaction comes through the grace of the Lord Jesus. And so we come and we eat and drink. Not because we have it all together but because we do not. And the good news is that Jesus gives his promise and his presence to us in this time. Let us pray together.

 

Associate Pastor Scott Cress
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906