Friday, December 16, 2016

Fight the Good Fight of the Faith: Recounting the History of God's Grace

Well, we have made it through the book of Joshua. This Sunday, the sermon posted will look at the final chapter and see how God and Joshua end this wonderful book that teaches us how to fight the good fight of the faith.

In the previous sermon, we saw Joshua's final words to the leaders of Israel that teach them about living by faith. In this final chapter of the book, Joshua leads the people in renewing the covenant with God, which is an act of rededicating themselves to His service before Joshua passes into glory and they are on their own. The way the covenant renewal ceremony is laid out in this passage is very similar to the covenants of the other peoples of the ancient near east surrounding Israel. God chose to make His covenants with them in a way that would be familiar to them (in and of itself and act of grace!).

The ceremonies generally opened with a preamble where the parties making the covenant introduce themselves, and then they go on to a "historical prologue" where the history of the relationship between the parties is recounted (i.e. everything that is leading up to the covenant ceremony). The covenant renewal ceremony in Jos. 24 follows that pattern, and it is the historical prologue that I want to focus on for this devotional. We will talk about it a little Sunday, but we will not be able to go into detail there. So, here are a few theological highlights from the recounting of the history of God and His people to this point (reading Jos. 24:1-13 first would be helpful):
  • Unconditional Election: Joshua starts out by reminding them that God took Abraham from Ur while Abraham was still a pagan. And, Abraham was chosen; not his brother Nahor, yet Abraham deserved it no more than Nahor. Abraham was no saint when God found him. He was plunged into pagan worship probably just as much as the Canaanites. Abraham did not become a believer because he was somehow inherently better than his father or brother. Abraham did not deserve it any more than anyone else. No, it was because God "took" him and "led" him. God loved Abraham when he deserved only wrath. The fact that Israel exists at all is simply an act of God's free grace and unconditional election. And, this is consistent with the rest of Scripture. The Bible constantly reminds us of who we were, but it is not to bring us to despair but to show us the incredible grace of God. Francis Schaeffer once wrote:
Whether studying the Old Testament or the New, we are reminded that we are not where we are because of a long, wise, and godly heritage. We come from rebellion. Individually, we are children of wrath. After we are Christians, we must look at others who are still under God's wrath and always say, "I am essentially what you are. If I am in a different place, it is not because I am intrinsically better than you, but simply because God has done something in my life." There is no place for pride.
  • Slow growth: Joshua tells us that God multiplied Abraham's seed, but it was really, really slow. He only gave him Isaac. Isaac only had two sons, one of which would not produce people of God (i.e. Esau). Finally, with Jacob's twelve sons, things start to speed up. So, we see from this that God does what He promises, but sometimes it is so gradual that we do not notice until it has been going on for a long time. We need to keep this in mind and walk by faith; not by sight. As one commentator says, "We easily lose sight of what Yahweh has done by demanding too much too soon."
  • Rough spots: Joshua also points out that Esau and his people (not God's people) get their inheritance right away but Jacob and his sons (God's people!) go to Egypt and become slaves. What? Why do the covenant people get slavery while the others get their land? Sometimes history seems to conflict with God's design, which is, again, why we have to walk by faith and not by sight. God always accomplishes His design, but sometimes it is not at all when we would expect it (cf. e.g. He. 11:32-38). The Scriptures are realistic about this and do not hide the "rough spots" from us, and that shows God is honest, realistic, and always faithful. God showing us the "rough spots" and confusing parts of history is not to make us relish the difficult aspects of the life to which He has called His people but to show us that He is faithful to hold us in and bring us through the "rough spots."
  • God's power: In vv. 5-12, Joshua recounts God's incredible power to deliver His people from Egypt (the greatest power in the world at the time), conquer the kings east of the Jordan, and conquer the Promised Land. Joshua sums it up with telling the people that it was not by their sword or bow that all this was accomplished but by God's mighty power. Time and time again God's people are outnumbered, outgunned, or even completely helpless, and God fights for them by His mighty power. This shows us what Jonah learned in Jon. 2:9: Salvation is of the LORD. Paul also tells us this in 2 Co. 4:7. This is not to say that we just "let go and let God," for God uses our struggles, as we fight by faith, but it does show us that our struggles would be nothing, useless, futile without God's mighty power. (We will talk more about this in the upcoming sermon.)
  • God's provision: If we look at vv. 7, 13, Joshua shows us God's provision in necessity and abundance, but also note that His provision is the basic stuff: manna, grain, towns, houses. It, with the exception of the manna, is ordinary stuff that we take for granted every day, but it is all of God's grace. God always provides for His people, but we need to remember too that God isn't some kind of genie that just grants our wishes. He gives us our needs; not necessarily our desires. And, most often He does it through the normal, ordinary means of a job, a family, etc.
You see, Joshua does not recount their history just to show them their past but to show them the great God whom they serve. That is the basis for the rest of the covenant renewal ceremony, which we will talk more about on Sunday. Until then, think about your own history, and I bet if you think long and hard enough, you could find some very similar displays of God's grace, faithfulness, power, and provision even during the rought spots, and if you do that, it will refresh your soul.

By His Grace,

No comments: