Sunday, September 4, 2016

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith: Be Strong and Courageous

This past Friday, I began posting my sermon and devotional series on Joshua from the summer. I began with the first devotional, which argued for the historical veracity of the book of Joshua. Now, here is my sermon on the book of Joshua from Jos. 1:1-9, 16-18: "Be Strong and Courageous."

Since this sermon is the first in a series, I began with an extended introduction to the book of Joshua. It was longer than most normal introductions (about 10 minutes), but that is because before we dive into this important book, we need to understand why it is important and how it is applicable to our lives. In short, the book of Joshua teaches about the Christian life--how to fight the good fight of the faith--and if we view this book rightly, it will fortify us for the Christian life. There more detail below and in the sermon.

The book of Joshua tells us the story of God’s people after they had been redeemed from Egypt under Moses and wandered in the wilderness for forty years because of their sinful rejection of God’s promises. It tells us the story of how God’s people entered into the land of Canaan that God had promised to them and began to conquer it. But, more than that, the book of Joshua is a story about a great period of transition for God’s people.

Hundreds of years earlier, God had promised Abraham two things: God would make him a great nation, and He would give him the land of Canaan as an inheritance in which that nation would dwell. The following centuries had seen God’s people vastly grow in number, but they had yet to possess the land of Canaan. In fact, while the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, it may have seemed like God’s promises would never come true. But, under Moses, God redeemed them from slavery, and under Moses, God formed them into a nation through the giving of the Law. But, there was still that very important piece left: the land. God promised Abraham in Ge. 17:8, “I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession.” And, Deuteronomy promises God’s people that this land will be a place where they can find rest. But, they still needed to possess it. And, this book tells us the story of that great transition: God taking the wandering nation and giving them the physical land that He had promised to Abraham.

So, there’s a lot of history in this book, and it’s a very important time in the history of Israel. That’s why modern Bibles categorize Joshua under the “history” books. But, would it surprise you to know that the Jews didn’t categorize Joshua that way? They didn’t. From the time of King David onward, Joshua was placed in the section of books in the OT called the “former prophets”—they viewed Joshua as prophecy. Now, that sounds a little odd to us because we tend to think of prophecy as foretelling the future, and certainly some prophecy has that component to it. But, by and large, the prophecies of the OT were not so much about foretelling the future but forthtelling about the present, i.e. they took God’s Word written and His mighty works performed and applied them to the lives of the people in the present. Prophecy in Scripture is taking the Word and works of God and saying, “This is how this word from God or these events apply to your life. There is a message God has for you in them, and here it is.” In particular, Joshua is a record of how the Word of God written in the first five books of the Bible—the Pentateuch—began to work in the lives of God’s people as they moved through this great transition, and, in fact, God has a message for all His people in this book.

Now, it’s important for us to grasp that difference because mere history is just a record of facts, from which we might learn something but aren’t necessarily compelled to. But, history that’s also prophecy means this book is meant to convict, not simply inform; it’s meant to compel a response, not merely enlighten with information; it’s meant to encourage, not merely report. It’s a message from God to us as much as it is about God’s work in history.

Now, you might read this book and think, “Well, this book is a whole lot of battles, and that does not really have anything for me. I’m a professor, student, teacher, homemaker, business professional, or something else like that.” We may be tempted to think about the book of Joshua, but nothing could be further from the truth. You see, the taking of the land in this book isn’t primarily about property, but it symbolizes for all the Bible and us the spreading of the Kingdom of God itself, which is far bigger than a small piece of land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. The battles and events of this book are seen by the whole Bible as opportunities to learn what faith really is and how we live a life of faith in God. Even for the OT believers who fought these literal battles, it was all about learning to live and fight by faith in their Savior. And, in fact, ultimately it points us to the work of Christ as our King who fought for us and secured the true Promised Land of the new heavens and new earth that all believers—His Kingdom people—will one day possess.

In fact, we are in a great transition just like the Israelites. We stand on the shores of Jordan, you could say, having been redeemed but also having to fight spiritual battles until we’re given our heavenly Promised Land by our King. And, even as Israel stood on the shores of the Jordan as a nation, their battles were still dependent on faith. In every battle in Joshua (and later on in Judges), it didn’t matter if they had inferior numbers, weapons, or strategies, and in fact, on several occasions God commands them to fight that way. We can’t replicate the strategies for Jericho, Hazor, or most of the other battles because they were battles that had to be fought God’s way in faith that God would provide the victory. They still had to fight, yes, but they had to use His strategies in faith that He would make them successful, even when they looked as ridiculous as simply marching around a city and screaming.

In fact, the NT shows us that even the nation and the land for which they fought was merely a temporary fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham anyway. Canaan could never be the eternal land of rest God promised Abraham. The book of Hebrews shows us that Abraham and the true believers of the OT were never really looking forward to an earthly land but in faith to a heavenly one that Jesus Himself would secure for them through His life, death, and resurrection—the new heavens and new earth that Re. 21-22 describe for us, and that will be eternal rest for us. And, our Savior and His true, eternal Promised Land can also only be possessed by faith.

This is why Joshua has so much to teach us about the Christian life. It‘s a story of God’s redeemed people having to fight by faith in the King who truly fights the battles for them, using God’s ways to possess rest in the Promised Land, which is exactly a mirror of our lives today, although spiritually; not physically. The life of a Christian isn’t something that’s comfortable and easy, and I know you all know that. This life is a relentless, spiritual war that we must fight by faith in our King who truly fights for us, which precedes our eternal rest in the true Promised Land that Jesus secured for us. Church family, from a spiritual perspective, we’re in all-out war—spiritual battles are constant—and Christians have the terrible privilege of being the target of satan—that roaring lion who seeks to devour us, as Peter says in 1 Pt. 5. We do not “wrestle against flesh and blood but against… the spiritual forces of evil,” as Paul says in Eph. 6. Our enemies are no longer literal people that we’re called to drive out like the Israelites, but the Canaanites still exist in here [our hearts] and still need to be driven out. For us, the Canaanites are in our sinful hearts, the temptations of the world, and the attacks of the devil. This is why we need “to fight the good fight of the faith,” as we heard earlier in 1 Ti. 6, looking to our Savior and King who truly fights for us. And, if we see this book rightly as prophecy and history, God can use it to fortify us for the battle of the Christian life. That’s why this book is so relevant for God’s people even today.

If you want to hear more, you can listen to the sermon here or read the transcript here.

 I pray that God will use it to magnify His glory in your heart and fortify you for the battles of this Christian life.

By His Grace,

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Wow! I really love that sermon. You brought out so much of the meat of that passage, which is one of my favorites! The part about the presence of God as how we can be courageous in the battle with sin and the forces of evil is how I have gotten through every challenge of my life and I couldn't agree more! We are studying Sharon Better's book "Treasures of Encouragement" about the body of Christ encouraging one another and the section about God's people is one I hadn't thought about before in this passage. But it is something we need to hear more and maybe some get some help in doing as well! I can't wait to read the rest of the sermons as!