The Place of Promise: Going on and Going in

Sermon by David Strain on January 9

Joshua 1:1-18

Well this morning we are beginning a new series on the message of the book of Joshua. I’ve called the series, “The Place of Promise.” The title is a purposeful double entendre because at one level the story of Joshua is obviously about the conquest of Canaan. The people of Israel have concluded their wilderness journey; they are about to enter the land of promise at last, so Canaan is quite literally the place of promise. But at another level, the book of Joshua is about much more than geography. It’s about the role that the covenant promise of God to give His people rest plays in Joshua’s life, in the life of the people of Israel, and in our lives as well, so that again and again as we read the book of Joshua we will be confronted with the question as the people fight to make a home in the land, “What place does God’s promise hold in shaping my own life and the life of God’s people here in this place?” Will we trust Him and walk in His ways? Or will fear and unbelief and worldliness divert our steps?

In this first message, you will notice in your bulletins, is called, “Going on and Going in,” “Going on and Going in,” because that’s what the people were being called to do. They were to leave their wilderness wanderings behind them and go on, go on under new leadership and go on into a new phase of their national life together. They were to go on. And they were to go in. That is, they were to go into the land – that will mean for them some very costly obedience – and take possession of the promised blessing that God said He would give to them.

Now it’s my experience that some of our most basic questions about how to live the Christian life faithfully come precisely here. How do I go on and go in? How do I forget what is behind and press on to what is ahead? How do you face the next phase of your earthly pilgrimage as 2022 gets underway while the scars of 2020 and 2021 are still so very fresh and sore? How do you take possession of the blessings that God has promised when doing so could cost you a very great deal? How do you go on and go in?

Well as we turn our attention to Joshua chapter 1, I want you to notice with me three helps for “going on and going in” in 2022. First of all, there is a call here to faith in the promise of God. Faith in the promises of God in verses 1 through 6. Then, there is a call to obedience to the precepts of God. Obedience to the precepts of God in verses 7 through 9. And finally, there is a call to unity among the people of God in verses 10 through 18. Unity among the people of God.

Okay, so faith in the promises, obedience to the precepts, and unity among the people of God. Before we begin to explore those themes, let’s pause and pray together and then we’ll read the passage. Let us pray.

O Lord, we pray now for help, for Your Spirit to open our ears, to till up the hard ground of our hearts, to plant the seed of the Word deeply within us and cause it to sprout and grow and bear much fruit. Would You come and do that now please in all of us with Joshua chapter 1. For Your honor and glory, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Joshua chapter 1, beginning at verse 1. This is the Word of God:

“After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’

And Joshua commanded the officers of the people, ‘Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, ‘Prepare your provisions, for within three days you are to pass over this Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess.’’

And to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh Joshua said, ‘Remember the word that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, ‘The Lord your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land.’ Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land that Moses gave you beyond the Jordan, but all the men of valor among you shall pass over armed before your brothers and shall help them, until the Lord gives rest to your brothers as he has to you, and they also take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving them. Then you shall return to the land of your possession and shall possess it, the land that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise.’

And they answered Joshua, ‘All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the Lord your God be with you, as he was with Moses! Whoever rebels against your commandment and disobeys your words, whatever you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.’”

Amen.

Faith in the Promise of God

Well for the last week or so I have been passing a sign, maybe you have seen it, a big digital sign on I-55 that says in huge, neon letters – “2022 – Not just a new year, a new you.” And when I saw it, I kind of rolled my eyes. “Yeah, right,” I thought. “I’m all out of optimism.” Let’s face it, this is now our third attempt at 2020! And as 2022 barrels towards us, I find instinctively that I am not running towards it with open arms; I am rather braced for impact. And maybe you can relate to that. Maybe after the year you have had, you are nervous about the year that is coming. But just so we are clear, that actually, that would be a deadly attitude when it comes to the Christian life. It might be fair enough, as we wonder whether 2022 is going to be a repeat, you know, “Season 3 of 2020.” Those are not entirely unreasonable concerns, to be sure, but let’s remember as we face all of that, that the Christian life at least is never stuck in an endless cycle of wash-rinse-repeat. You are not doomed to repeat the same old mistakes, trapped on a hamster wheel, never making any progress in your walk with God or in your likeness to Christ. Frankly, to think that way is to start out by conceding defeat when Christ has promised victory.

And so our question is an important one. How do we find hope for the victory of Christ in His conquest of our hearts in this coming year? How do we find hope for the victory of Christ in His conquest of rebel sinners in our city who nevertheless resist and reject His call to trust in Him? How do we go on and go in, in 2022? Step one, according to Joshua chapter 1, has to do with faith in the promises of God. Faith in the promises of God. Look at verses 1 through 6. Moses, we are told, is now dead. It’s not really the most auspicious of beginnings for a new book of Scripture, is it? The wonderfully helpful and hopeful book of Joshua begins with a reminder of Moses’ abject failure. This book could be written by a Scotsman! “How can I encourage the people? Let me see…Let’s start off with failure and death and go from there!” Well, Moses, like Israel as a whole, you remember, had disobeyed the Lord. And in consequence, God told him that he, along with that entire generation, would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land. And so the death of Moses now here really signals the high water mark of the judgment of God on that generation.

Moses had led them all through the wilderness and when they reached the borders of Canaan, do you remember, he sent Joshua and Caleb and the other spies across the Jordan to spy out the land. And Joshua and Caleb came back eager and excited. “This is a land like a new Eden,” they said, “flowing with milk and honey. Go. The Lord has promised to give it to us. Let’s go!” But the other spies, when they came back, you remember what they said. “There are giants in the land. There is no way, no way. We’d be better off living like slaves back in Egypt. Let’s go back.” That’s what they said. And the people believed them rather than Joshua and Caleb and so in God’s judgment upon them, that whole generation, Joshua and Caleb excepting, were prohibited from entering the land. And so here they are now. The river Jordan is fast flowing at their feet. Standing on the banks they can see the Promised Land on the far shore and a whole generation, the generation that left Egypt, is dead. Only Joshua and Caleb are left. And now Moses is gone too. The judgment of God has reached its peak.

It’s a sobering picture to start a book with, isn’t it, but we mustn’t miss the warning that it offers. These opening verses show us that unbelief is a serious business, and they remind us never to presume upon the mercy of God. At Moses’ request, when the people failed to cross the Jordan and God was going to destroy them, Moses interceded on their behalf, you remember, and God forgave the people. But His forgiveness did not mean there were no consequences, and they were not allowed to enter the land. There may be forgiveness for your sin, but that does not mean there are no consequences. “The Lord disciplines those He loves.” Refusing to go where God points you, to do what God commands you in His Word, is never a viable option left open to a child of God. You don’t get to shrug and say, “God will forgive me. That’s His job. No big deal.” No, God disciplines those He loves, and that’s part of the reminder here in this opening verse.

So Moses has died, but it’s interesting to notice, as one of the commentators point out, Joshua, for his part, he only learns of Moses’ death when, in verse 2, God comes and tells him, “Moses, my servant, is dead.” And Joshua is offered no time to mourn. As soon as he hears of his mentor’s passing, Joshua is commissioned to be his replacement. “Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.” So Joshua has to take up where Moses left off and he is to lead the people into their new home. Now that’s easier said than done. There are already people living in the land of Canaan and Joshua knows very, very well now how recalcitrant and rebellious the people that he is leading can be.

And so it’s wonderful to see, as God commissions Joshua, that he immediately follows the commission with a string of promises. Do you see them in verses 3 through 5? There are essentially three promises here. First, there is the promise of prosperity. God is going to bless Joshua’s leadership and give him success; make his ministry, his leadership prosper as he prosecutes the conquest of Canaan just as He promised Moses that He would. Verse 3, “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.” Verse 5, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life.” Verse 6, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.” The promise of prosperity. He is going to prosper Joshua’s work.

Secondly, there is a promise of place. Verse 4, “From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory.” Prosperity and place and thirdly and climactically, there is the promise of presence. Verse 5, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” Or again in verse 9, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” So as Joshua goes in obedience to God’s call, God promises him his mission is going to prosper, the land, this great symbol of God’s commitment to giving His people rest in an inheritance of their own, this place will be theirs at last, and the crowning promise is the presence of God Himself. That’s what will make his mission prosper and that’s what will make this land a place of rest; not Joshua’s obedience, per se, but the presence of God going with him.

Now friends, as we seek to go on in obedience to God, as we seek to be faithful in this coming year, as we seek to be faithful tomorrow, as we seek to be faithful today, we too need to cling to the promises of God. Don’t we? We need to cling to the promises. He has commissioned us too, after all, but let’s not forget that He promises that the mission entrusted to the Church will not fail. It won’t fail. “We will be His witnesses in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, to the ends of the earth.” One day, there will be a people from every tribe and language and nation, gathered around the throne, too vast to count, singing praises to God and to the Lamb. Have you lost sight of the promise, I wonder, as this new year gets under way, that the Gospel will prosper in the earth, that Jesus will build His Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it? Have you perhaps concluded that nothing can be done, retreat is inevitable? But that’s not what God says and it’s not what we should believe.

And that promise, remember, is grounded of course on the most precious promise of them all. He will be with us. “I will be with you.” Think about the great commission – “Go into all the world and make disciples. I will be with you always, to the end of the age.” Why did Jesus add that promise at the end of the great commission? Had He simply commanded us to go, it would have been our very great privilege to serve Him. Had He said, “Go into all the world, make disciples and I will send the Holy Spirit and He will always be with you,” that would be, of course, true and wonderfully precious and sufficient for all our needs in this world and sufficient to fuel endless praises in the world yet to come. Why does He say, “I, I Myself will be with you always”? I think it’s because as we get going in our own course of obedience, Jesus, unlike Joshua here at the start of this book, Jesus has already finished the conquest. He’s already won the victory. He has already suffered death and bears the scars of the fight He has waged for us that we might enter God’s rest. And as He sends us on to extend His victory in the world and bring the good news to the ends of the earth, He Himself goes with us. Isn’t that wonderful? He goes with us. He who bears the imprint on His hands and feet and side and brow of the cost of His great obedience on our behalf, He goes with us and never will He desert us, forsake us, abandon us.

We hear a lot about Jesus, our Immanuel, at Christmas time, don’t we? But as January gets underway, let’s remember Jesus is always Immanuel. He is always Immanuel. He is always “God with us.” Whatever comes, whatever is next, trust in the promises. There is really no other way to go on or go in. You must trust in the faithful God whose promises do not fail. Faith in the promises of God.

Obedience to the Precepts of God

Then the second step for going on and going in in 2022, look at verses 7 through 9. First there’s faith in the promises of God. Secondly, obedience to the precepts of God. Obedience to the precepts of God. “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.” Notice a few things here about Joshua’s obedience or commanded obedience. First of all, the obedience required of Joshua rests on the promises given to Joshua and not the other way around. Obedience rests on the promises and not the other way around. The promises come first. “Resting on my promises, Joshua, trusting in My presence, in My blessing, Joshua, not resting on your own strength, I want you, therefore, to obey all My commandments.” That’s what God is saying to him. We’ve got to get it right for ourselves. Grace precedes and empowers obedience. Obedience without faith in the Jesus who is with us always is a soul-crushing self-righteousness. It’s not obedience at all. It is a counterfeit of authentic Christianity. And listen, it will destroy you, all the while allowing you to congratulate yourself, like the rich young ruler, when confronted with the commandments of God, looked Jesus Christ in the eye and said, in an astonishing moment, “All these I have kept since my youth. I’ve got this obedience thing down.” “If anyone thinks he stands firm, let him beware lest he fall.” You don’t got it. You must rest on the promises of God. “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus.”

Then secondly notice regarding Joshua’s obedience he is to render exacting and precise obedience. Do you see that? Verse 7, God wants him to be “careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left.” No deviation permitted. No detours allowed. No better ideas. Exacting, careful, complete, entire obedience. “What a legalist God is!” Right? Isn’t that what we think when we hear people talk like this? “Exact obedience? This guy is a legalist! The Christian life doesn’t require exact obedience!” Yes it does. Yes it does. That’s not legalism; that’s holiness. First Peter 3:15, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” One reason for our failure to grow as Christians is our willingness to grade ourselves on a curve, isn’t it, when it comes to holiness. “I’m not that bad, you know, compared to other people.” But when you do that, you are signing a truce with your sin. You are cutting yourself slack for sin. Remember, Israel was to destroy or drive out the nations that previously occupied the land. As Joshua shows us, whenever they signed a truce with those people, things started to go horribly wrong. It spells disaster. You cannot sign a truce with sin in your heart. You must kill it and drive it out.

Thirdly, did you notice the exhortation to be strong and courageous? It comes in verse 6, verse 7, verse 9, and on the lips of the people again in verse 18. “Be strong and courageous.” What we mustn’t miss is that the call to courage here is not mainly connected to the military challenges of conquest that lay ahead of them. He’s not saying, “Be strong and courageous because the people in Canaan are really scary!” It’s not mainly connected to the political challenges of leadership. He’s not saying, “Be strong and courageous because these Israelites are trouble!” It’s mainly connected to the spiritual challenge of obedience to the law of God. “Be strong and courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses, my servant, commanded you.” It takes courage to obey the Word. It is faux-courage to speak in outraged terms on Twitter about the latest cause-celebre of the day. It takes real courage, however, to say “No” to sin and temptation, to refuse to gossip, to turn down that drink, to walk out of that party, to say “No” to that promotion because the spiritual welfare of your family is more important to you than your career. That’s gutsy, and people are going to react. It’s what obedience demands. And so be strong and courageous.

Now that’s all a daunting prospect, isn’t it? Exacting obedience that requires courage, to go against the flow? I want you to see how the Lord is very practical with Joshua as He offers him not just a command to obey but help to enable him to obey. He shows him how he can go about this life of obedience. Do you see that in verse 8? “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.” How does he do all that is written in the law? He meditates on the Word day and night. The Book of the Law, as you may know, is a reference to the Torah. The word for “law” is the Hebrew word, “Torah,” and it doesn’t really mean what we think of when we hear the word, “law.” We think of commandments, prohibitions, restrictions, duties and obligations. But Torah is actually a broader word. It means “instruction, teaching.” It’s really a synonym for the revealed will of God for His people in holy Scripture.

So what practical tools are there for you to grow in obedience in 2022? Meditate on the Word of God that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in the Torah. If you want to obey the Word, you must commit yourself to knowing the Word and loving the Word and digesting the Word. Interestingly, the word “to meditate” literally means something like “to mutter” or even “to grumble” or “growl.” It’s a barely audible noise. It’s used in both Psalm 1 verse 2 and Psalm 2 verse 1. In Psalm 1 verse 2, it describes “the righteous man who meditates on the law of the Lord day and night.” And his leaves are evergreen and he bears his fruit in season. In Psalm 2, the same word is used to describe the “raging nations who plot.” They mutter and mumble. They meditate together on how to overthrow the Lord and His anointed.

So here’s my conclusion from seeing those two things. You are always meditating. Always. Every single one of us, all the time. The question is, “What are you meditating on?” Are you muttering God’s truth to your wayward heart like the righteous man in Psalm 1 verse 2 so that you might learn more and more to obey Him, please Him, honor Him and bear fruit for His glory? Or are you like the raging nations in Psalm 2 verse 1, muttering the world’s lies and your own conceits to your heart, all so that you might remain safe and comfortable in your rebellion? What is the tape that is playing in your brain every day? It’s either the lies the world tells us and the lies we tell ourselves, or it is the truth of God. Which is it? Only meditating upon the truth of God will cause you to bear fruit and live for His praises. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By taking heed according to Your Word.”

Unity among the People of God

Step one for going on and going in in 2022 – faith in the promises of God. Step two – obedience to the precepts of God. And then very briefly, step three – unity among the people of God. Look down at verses 10 through 18. There are two and a half tribes of the twelve tribes of Israel who have already settled into their inheritance on the eastern shore of the river Jordan – Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. They had previously promised Moses when they received their allotment on the east of the river, that when the time came to cross the river into the land of Canaan they would all go right along with the rest of Israel until they had finished the conquest of the land and everyone had received their allotment and then they would return and settle once again in the trans-Jordan region. In verses 12 through 15, Joshua calls them to live up to their previous promises. And in 16 through 18, they agree. They renew their commitments and pledge themselves to go with Joshua, to obey him, to stand with their brothers in Israel and prosecute the conquest of Canaan.

Now what is that all about? Why was it so important before Joshua crossed the river that these two and a half tribes go with them? They’ve already received their inheritance. They have wandered forty years and they have already now begun to settle down. Surely they should just be allowed to rest! Well, you see, the people were one. They were one. And the conquest of the land was the calling of the whole people of God; not any section or segment of it, but the whole people together. And so Rueben, Gad and Manasseh served, actually, as models here of willing obedience and commitment to the unity of the people of God. Right there in plain sight and in front of the whole rest of Israel, they resolve to stand together with them. What an incredible encouragement that would have been for the whole people to hear their renewed commitments as they consider the conquest that lay ahead of them.

Hebrews 10:24 spells out the lessons these two and a half tribes teach us. You remember Hebrews 10:24? “Let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Brothers and sisters, we are one in Christ, and if we are to wage a good warfare, we are going to need each other. And as we come now to sit together around the Lord’s Table, isn’t that part of our commitment? Aren’t we doing what Rueben and Gad and Manasseh were doing, signaling to the people of God, “We are with you. We are with you. Just like the Lord is with you, we are with you.” That’s what we are saying to one another. We are remembering Jesus is with us right here. We are renewing our commitment to go in obedience. And we are saying to one another, “I am with you. I am with you whatever is coming on the other side of the river. I’m with you no matter the challenges that lie ahead. We are one.”

Faith in the promises of God. Obedience to the precepts of God. And unity among the people of God. That’s how to go on and go in, in 2022. Let’s pray together.

Father, thank You so much, thank You so much for the promise that You are with us, that the Gospel will not fail, that the conquest will be a victory and not a defeat. We know that because our greater than Joshua, the Lord Jesus Christ, has already won the triumph and secured the victory, having risen again from the dead. And now He is with us always, to the end of the age. He is with us here. He presides at the head of His table. Help us to know His presence and blessing in a new way. And help us as we renew our commitment, our covenant commitment to live for Your glory, to be obedient to Your Word. Help us, O Lord, to do that together, to stand together in Christian unity for the praise of Your name. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

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