Last week in Joshua chapter 22 we witnessed Joshua sending the two and a half tribes back over to the west side of the river with a command to love, obey, cling to and serve God wholeheartedly. As these tribes settled in at home they built an altar of remembrance out of their zealous desire to obey this command and ensure that future generations knew about their commitment to the Lord.
This inevitably ignited a near holy war between the two and a half western and the nine and a half eastern tribes under the leadership of Phinehas because the eastern tribes believed that the western tribes were committing an atrocious sin of rebellion. But then in a tense conflict-filled conversation, Phinehas and his war council realized that the western tribes only set the altar up as a witness and a reminder rather than an actual working altar. They realized that things were not as they seemed so the conflict was resolved and the war was avoided.
My aim in applying that passage last week to our context, as Americans was to stir us up and to help us feel something of the intensity of the conflict in the text and then lead us to the cross, the empty tomb and the promised return of Jesus. I chose to use what I believed to be a very polarizing issue in our context as Americans; namely the sharp divide in our tumultuous political system.
This seemed very appropriate to me given the fact that we are in a presidential election year and the aim of every political party and news program that is attached to said parties is to stir up their voting base. This is not a bad thing at all. Voting according to your conscience as the Spirit leads you is a very good thing.
I do want us to think about any compromising of Biblical values that may happen as we go to the voting booth (the lesser of two evils argument). And I in no way desired to bash any political leader but I do want to draw our attention to the brokenness/sinfulness in humans on both sides of the aisle (a clear theological doctrine on the sinfulness of man must compel us to do this) and my grief over our tendency to white wash these things; I believe we have a responsibility to speak prophetically to these things in our culture.
The reality that I wanted to point us to in this season is to understand that our hearts can be shaped through the values and the talking points of either side of the aisle. And either side will at times hold up the Bible or at least some religious freedom to support their values. This can and often does create untold amounts of conflict in our culture.
At the end of the day my hope was to challenge us faithfully and courageously not to sell out our hope in the gospel of the kingdom of God for any kingdom on this earth. This is why I broadened the theme of kingdom at the end of the message to include the kingdoms of family, vocation, friendship, nation, marriage, etc. I believe we all feel the tension and conflict of those kingdoms daily and I also believe it can be really easy to loose sight of the gospel in the midst of the chaos and the conflict of the kingdoms of this world.
Finally, my last challenge to us was to think about the difference between a biblical worldview that can be salt and peppered with political talking points and a gospel-centered worldview that is saturated in the work of Christ at the cross and the empty tomb in light of the hope we have for Heaven in Christ Jesus, our true Joshua.
I believe that anything less than a gospel-centered worldview (this is more than a gospel-founded worldview; I’m arguing for a gospel-centered/saturated worldview) will inevitably lead us to alienate the marginalized, the hurting and the broken people who live on the other side of the river from us (whether that dividing river is a sexual ethic [Lk. 7:36 – 50] or a religious belief [Matt. 22:23 – 33; Mark 12:12 – 27]).
At the end of the day my concern is that anything less than the gospel would become central to our moral and ethical interactions in an increasingly polarized world.
This is the reason that I shared (off the cuff and unscripted) about the young man I met last Saturday who is bi-sexual. His name is Timmy and he is a human who has been made in the image of God. And what I didn’t say very well last week (as I shared in tears in front of you) is that I struggled with meeting him. I was nervous as my daughter brought him to meet me.
I prejudged him before I met him. When he sang the lines to a worship song for me I broke and I remembered that “as a leader goes so goes those who follow him.” My concern for us as a church is that if I wrestle with sinfulness in this regard then maybe you do to. And maybe you don’t. Maybe that story was not for you; the Spirit did not convict you of something. That’s between you and the Lord. But for me, my concern for myself and for us stands and I believe the concern I have is Spirit led.
Now the cool thing coming out of that is that the Spirit still uses preaching even in its poorest delivery; last week’s sermon seemed to do exactly what I believed the Spirit impressed on me and it appears that He protected by-and-large from any lasting hurt that my delivery could have caused. In other words, I sense confirmation in my spirit that the Spirit was and is leading and that we are hearing him.
I spoke with numerous people last week who shared ho they were wrestling with being in relationship with people in the LGBTQ camp and how they really desired to love their friends while speaking the truth of the gospel in winsome ways that don’t ostracize people with different values and beliefs. I am proud to be one of your pastors.
With that said, I know I scratched an itch inside of us that could quickly become a festering wound. So I’m praying that I’ve covered things well from last week here and that as we dig into the text in front of us today (Joshua 23) that the Spirit of the living God would come and continue to lead us to the foot of the bloody cross in the doorway of the empty tomb as we again remember and cling to the promised hope of Heaven.
Look at Joshua 23 with me…
1 A long time afterward, when the Lord had given rest to Israel from all their surrounding enemies, and Joshua was old and well advanced in years, 2 Joshua summoned all Israel, its elders and heads, its judges and officers, and said to them, “I am now old and well advanced in years. 3 And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake, for it is the Lord your God who has fought for you. 4 Behold, I have allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off, from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west. 5 The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you. 6 Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, 7 that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, 8 but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day. 9 For the Lord has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day. 10 One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. 11 Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God. 12 For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.
14 “And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed. 15 But just as all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the Lord your God has given you, 16 if you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given you.”
WHAT’S HAPPENING IN JOSHUA 23?
In this chapter Joshua preaches the second of three farewell sermons to Israel. The first one in Joshua 22 that we just reviewed was a sermon about clinging to the Lord that resulted in a near all-out-war. This second farewell sermon is a series of reminders, promises, conditions, commands and warnings to Israel.
#1: A REMINDER (VSS. 1 – 4)
Joshua is nearing the end of his life and he gathers all of Israel and he reminds them that they have witnessed the Lord’s power at work as he has fought on their behalf against their enemies. All of the land they now live in is theirs because the Lord has defeated their enemies right in front of their eyes. And in case there’s any question in Israel’s mind, Joshua reminds them that even the enemy nations that remain among them are destined for destruction as well. So what we have here is a reminder of God’s power.
#2: A PROMISE (VS. 5)
Joshua tells Israel that the Lord will push their enemies back and drive them out of sight and Israel will take possession of their enemy’s land as well. In other words, there are still enemies in the camp because Israel had previously failed to drive them out but God has promised to drive them out soon. But as we will see here in a moment, this promise has conditions.
#3: A CONDITIONAL COMMAND (VVS. 6 – 8)
In these verses we see the conditional command to the previous promise beginning with the word “therefore” and whenever we see that word we are to ask, “what’s the ‘therefore’ there for?” The answer is that the “therefore” is there for remembering the previous promise that God will drive out the remaining nations; this is to be the motivation for the obedience commanded in verses 6 – 8 where God commands Israel, through the preaching of Joshua, to be strong, obedient to the Lord, focused on God’s commands and separated from the idols of the world as they hold fast to their Father in Heaven. So this is the conditional command.
#4: A SECOND REMINDER (VSS. 9 – 10)
Just in case Israel begins to balk at these commands, God again, through Joshua’s preaching, reminds them of the powerful work that God has done on their behalf. He reminds them once again that the Lord has driven out very great and strong enemies; no human has been able to stand against them to this day.
With the Lord’s power, members of Israel have become superhuman to the extent that one ordinary man with the extraordinary strength of the Lord could stand against and defeat a thousand enemies. What a powerful reminder of what happens when we walk in the strength of the Lord.
#5: ANOTHER COMMAND AND A WARNING (VSS. 11 – 13)
Because God has revealed his power so extraordinarily, Joshua can command Israel to pay close attention to their careful love of the Lord. If they do not continue to love the Lord then the consequences will be severe. If Israel turns away from God and clings to the ways of the nations among them through intermarriage and close associations then the Lord will inflict severe discipline upon them.
We should not interpret this passage as applying to inter racial marriage. The church did this horrifyingly for years. God’s issue here is not interracial marriage it’s sinful synchronizing and compromising with the world’s paradigms and systems that are at stake here. If Israel does not heed this command and warning then God will no longer protect Israel from her enemies and he will no longer defeat her enemies.
Instead, God will allow Israel’s enemies to be a deadly trap, a pain in the side and a blinding thorn in their eyes until they are utterly destroyed from the land that God has given to them. The sad story of Israel’s rejection of God over the next 1,400 years or so until the time of Christ is an absolutely devastating story. So what we have here is another command and a very explicit warning.
#6: JOSHUA’S SERMON SUMMARY (VSS. 14 – 16)
The reminders, promises, conditions, commands and warnings of Joshua’s sermon up until this point are both beautiful and sobering and I cannot express the gravity of the situation enough. And apparently, neither could the Lord, so through Joshua, he repeats a summary of what he’s already said; think of it like the concluding summary to any sermon.
In verse 14 Joshua reminds Israel that he’s about to die after years of hard labor in leading the nation. After next week, Joshua is gone. And before he goes he reminds Israel that way down inside of the deepest parts of their hearts and souls they know that God’s Word has been faithful and true. His promises have never failed.
But equally as faithful as the promises of prosperity are so too are the warnings of rebellion and idolatry. In verses 15 – 16 Joshua concludes with a very heavy warning that if Israel rebels against the Lord then he will bring evil things against them until they are completely destroyed from the land that he has given them. If they decide to rebel against their relationship with God and turn to serving other gods then God’s righteous anger will be kindled like a raging fire and Israel will perish. This is Joshua’s summary conclusion to his second farewell sermon.
WHY DOES THIS MATTER TO US?
How are we supposed to apply these reminders, promises, conditions, commands and warnings of Joshua’s second farewell sermon to our lives today? We are living roughly 3,400 years after the events of this sermon (give or take a few years depending on your opinion). In many ways things are very different today for us and in many ways things are very much the same for us.
Like us, Israel was a nation living in a certain geographical location of the world. Unlike us, Israel’s geographical location was the direct result of a covenant relationship with the Lord. As a nation we are a democracy or a constitutional republic (depending on who you’re talking to) of the people, by the people and for the people. Israel on the other hand was a Theocracy (under the rule of God). Israel rode camels and donkeys and we drive cars and fly in airplanes. So in some ways we are the same and in other ways we are very different.
So why does this text matter to us? How do we apply a sermon that was preached to Israel some 3,000 years ago to our lives today? Well at the end of the day I think we (just like Israel) need reminders, promises, conditions, commands and warnings.
#1: We Need Reminders: I find it really easy to forget all of the ways that God has been faithful when I come face to face with temptation and hardship. I need to be reminded of God’s faithful power. There are many ways that God’s power has been revealed in my life but nothing compares to the power of the cross and the empty tomb.
The cross reminds me of the salvation that I have in Christ and the empty tomb reminds me that death is not my final destination. How do you remind yourself of the power of the cross, the empty tomb and the hope of Heaven?
#2: We Need Promises: It’s way too easy for me to lose heart in the face of persecution and human suffering. I need to hear God’s promises if I’m going to stay the course. Again, the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus is where all of the promises of the Scriptures have their ultimate fulfillment.
Because of the cross of Christ I have been promised membership in an eternal family with an eternal Father who will never shame me, criticize me, guilt trip me, mischaracterize me or reject me. The empty tomb is my promise of everlasting acceptance and friendship with God. How has the promise of the cross, the empty tomb and the hope of Heaven encouraged and challenged you lately?
#3: We Need Conditions: I can get lazy in my relationship with the Lord and then stand there in bewilderment when God feels distant to me. I need to understand that while God’s love is unconditional, the health of my relationship with him is conditional upon my obedience. Obedience is a tricky topic because it can quickly and invisibly turn into self-justification or self-righteousness. Moralism (doing right because it’s right) and Legalism (doing right to justify myself or be accepted) are always following the topic of obedience around like vicious wolves.
The anecdote to the sickness of moralism and legalism in my obedience is the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus. Because of Christ’s obedience at the cross I can now ask him for the strength and the right motivation to come and bring honor to him with my obedience. The empty tomb gives me hope in the suffering of my obedience because in that empty tomb I see the hope of Heaven. The gospel is the condition that makes my love for the Lord genuine. How has the cross, the empty tomb and the hope of Heaven motivated your obedience recently?
#4: We Need Commands: If there were no restrictions in my life then I would live in reckless pursuit of satisfying every desire and placating every feeling I have. I need God’s commands to be the guardrails of my life. Once again, Jesus said that all of God’s commands hang on him and can be summed up in one word: “Love”.
When I see my Savior hanging on that cross I see the ultimate fulfillment of what love looks like and when I survey the empty tomb I see what the victory of obedience looks like. Where has the cross, the empty tomb and the hope of Heaven transformed your understanding of God’s commands lately?
#5: We Need Warnings: Even in my pursuit of living a life that honors God, I still need warning signs to keep me between the guardrails. If I ignore the warning signs then I may soon drive my life straight off a cliff. I need God’s gentle and caring warnings to keep me safe.
The warnings of the cross and the empty tomb are vast. God gave his only Son to die in my place. My salvation came at a higher cost than I can possibly fathom. If I reject the cross of Christ then I’m headed for certain destruction and then I forfeit the eternal victory of the empty tomb. Have you stopped and thought about the horror of the cross of Christ as a warning to you lately? How has the truth of the empty tomb and the hope of Heaven warned you away from continuing in sin lately?
In conclusion, I would say that while Israel was looking forward through this lens of reminders, promises, conditions, commands and warnings to the coming Messiah, we have a unique privilege that we ought not to take for granted. We have the blessing of looking back on the history of Israel and her failure to listen to Joshua’s farewell sermons. But we can also look back and see the redemptive storyline of the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus as our reminder, our promise, our condition, our command and our warning.
Think about all of the places in your life that feel the most important to you right now. The things that cause you the most anxiety, that make you happy, that have caused you the deepest grief, the deepest shame or the deepest guilt. This could be your marriage, a friendship, a national crisis, a global concern, a financial burden, a vocational dream, an addiction, an old festering wound, or physical limitation. I’m not sure what it is that screams for your attention daily; not sure what it is that promises you the freedom and the satisfaction your heart longs for. I’ll trust the Spirit to reveal that to you.
But I do know that wherever anxiety, happiness, grief, shame, guilt and untold amounts of other emotions exist, there are sure to be latent idolatrous desires underneath. We often think as idolatry as something that unbelievers are trapped in because they don’t know the Lord but the reality is that there are warnings all over the Scriptures in regards to idolatry in God’s people. You don’t stop struggling with idolatry just because you became a Christian. Idolatry is simply good desires gone bad and we are typically pretty blind to them and we need the Spirit of the living God to come and speak into our places of brokenness, shame, guilt and longing.
I don’t know what that looks like for you but I would like to make one suggestion to you. Practice a weekly Sabbath. This is a very appropriate application from the text since Joshua challenges Israel to obey God’s Law (vs. 6). The simple truth is that it’s a sin not to practice a weekly Sabbath but it’s the sin that we Christians love to wink at and gloss over and compromise on while we attack the sins of others around us; as though the sin of breaking the Sabbath is any less rebellious than the sins we love to rant and rave over in our culture.
If there’s one idolatrous tendency (worldly god that we bow down to that Joshua warned Israel against) I would tend to think that rejecting the weekly Sabbath is near the top of the list. A weekly Sabbath is so very freeing because in a weekly Sabbath you can invite unhindered examination in the presence of the Lord. So as a friend of mine said to me this week: “Ask The Well to turn off their newsfeeds and social media for twenty-four hours every week and devote themselves to being in the presence of the Lord and see what kind of fruit grows out of that.”
There are probably untold other ways that you may ignore God’s reminders, promises, conditions, commands and warnings. Your Sabbath may be in great shape and it may not be. I’ll leave that conversation for you and the Spirit of God to hash out and I’ll close with what I heard the Spirit say to me this week as I prepared this sermon.
“You have witnessed my power in the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus. I will continue to fight on your behalf against your enemies. You need to be strong, obedient, focused on my Word and separated from the ways of the world, not compromising while holding fast to your Father who will never leave you, forsake you, accuse you, shame you, guilt you or hurt you. I have fought for you and I have given my Spirit to you so that you may be strengthened in your moments of greatest warfare. Continue loving me as I have steadfastly loved you from before the foundations of the earth. Don’t turn from me and grab hold of any worldly systems that promise you satisfaction and justification; the consequences for this will be very painful. My Word and my promises are faithful and true; outside of the gospel you will find no hope. But in the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus there is much joy and hope in the promise of Heaven.”
Again, I’m not sure what the Spirit may be speaking to you right now from the text we’ve just studied but I pray that you will give him the freedom to examine your heart through Joshua’s second farewell sermon.
And I pray that he would speak to you through these reminders, promises, conditions, commands and warnings and that through them he would lead you to the foot of a bloody cross in the doorway of an empty tomb and help you to hold fast to the hope of Heaven; your true Promised Land.