Sermon: Joshua’s Seminary

17 Jul

          I hope you have been doing your daily Bible reading and that you were blessed in reading the first five chapters of Joshua this week. As we get Back to Basics in 2018, Bible reading, prayer and meditation should be an important part of your life as a follower of Jesus. So I hope you will read the scriptures each day, and think about what you read, and pray it back to God, along with your other requests. To be honest, reading the Bible is not very helpful without meditation. If you don’t spend some real time prayerfully thinking about what you read, most of the time Bible reading won’t strengthen you spiritually as it should. So just a word of encouragement.

          Now today’s message is going to be unusual because I am not actually going to talk this morning about the chapters you read this week. Instead, I am going to talk about the things Joshua experienced leading up to the time when he assumed leadership of Israel in Joshua 1. So I’ve called today’s message Joshua’s Seminary. We are going to look today at the training God gave this man for leadership. In so doing we will have a better grasp on the book of Joshua and, Lord willing, we will gain many insights into our lives as followers of Jesus. God’s training is not just for those who go to school formally. God wants to teach us all through the school of life to follow Him. His school unfolds over a period of years. God work in our lives isn’t time-restricted, He can work right now into your lives things that may not become apparent until many years from now. So this is a message about God’s ways and work in our lives.

          Joshua’s story starts long before the book that bears his name. He experienced the events of deliverance in the book of Exodus. He saw the plagues against Egypt, he took part in the Passover meal and saw the blood of a lamb protect him and his household. He saw the angel of death strike the firstborn of Egypt. He ventured out with the people of Israel as they left Egypt. He saw God’s deliverance at the Red Sea. He walked through on dry land. In the fearful wilderness, he saw God’s provision of manna . . . and he saw the challenges of leadership Moses faced. He saw sinful human nature on full display in the people of Israel. Joshua was there, seeing all these things. But we don’t meet Joshua formally until Exodus chapter 17. He is a military leader of Israel’s armies, going out to face the Amalekites, a people who had expressly opposed not only the nation of Israel, but the living God. A nation which God opposed because of their rebellion against Him. So our first introduction to Joshua comes in a battle that was both physical and spiritual.

And in that first battle in Exodus 17 God introduced Joshua to an important principle: the battle is the Lord’s. Yes, we are called to do things, yes, there are missions and callings God gives us, but without His empowering, it’s all in vain. You see that first battle in which Joshua was mentioned was the episode at Rephidim where the Amalekites attacked the Israelites as Moses sat on a nearby hill with the staff of God in his hand. When Moses raised the staff, Israel prevailed, but when his arms got tired and drooped, the tide of battle turned. In the end, Aaron and Hur came alongside Moses and held up his arms so that Israel won the battle. The truth of this victory was not to be lost on Joshua, and neither should it be for us. The battle is the Lord’s. We trust in His power to bring victory. This is supremely true of course in our salvation. We are helpless and hopeless without the Lord, lost in our sins, under God’s judgement, destined for hell. But God brings us victory through the sinless life and sacrificial death of His Son Jesus. Jesus died on the cross as a perfect sacrifice, bearing the penalty of our sins, bearing the wrath of God. When we turn from trusting in self and sin and trust in Jesus, God wins the battle, Satan is defeated and heaven rejoices. This lesson Joshua learned early on is an essential truth of life: Salvation is of the Lord! So we might call Joshua’s first Seminary class Principles of Spiritual Victory.

We encounter Joshua next in Exodus 24 at Mt. Sinai, after God gave the law to Moses. Here Joshua is with Moses among a group of leaders; Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 elders of Israel go partway up the mountain where they see a revelation of God’s presence and eat together in the presence of God. Then the Bible says Moses and Joshua were called up higher upon the mountain, to receive the tablets of stone, and there God’s glory was manifested. Exodus 24:17 says, “And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.” So in this episode Joshua learned of the grace and glory of God. The God of the universe would condescend to be presence at a meal and share fellowship with these men, but in the next breath Joshua saw the blazing power of this God on the mountain. Theologians talk about God’s transcendence and immanence, that He is not like us but at the same time He is near us. Joshua learned this truth about God in a very personal way long before he led Israel. In this episode Joshua also learned another important lesson. Three of the men who went with him: Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, saw the same things he saw. They ate the meal in God’s presence and saw God’s glory on the mountain. And yet, each one of them turned away from the Lord in a significant way; Aaron through his involvement in the golden calf incident and Nadab and Abihu, Aaron’s sons, through offering an offering according to their own designs in Leviticus 10, a sin for which the Lord put them to death. Joshua would see a very clear example of the fact that being in a position of leadership and even having great experiences of God’s power does not make you a godly leader. Aaron and Nadab and Abihu were priests of God, but their hearts were not right with God. It is a sobering fact that those who shared such intimate fellowship in God’s presence could rebel so deeply against Him. But is it not true that we have seen His glory? Is it not true that we are invited to fellowship with Jesus? So Joshua’s lesson should be ours: don’t presume a knowledge of God or experience of God guarantees a life-long pattern of spiritual maturity. And if you are a leader, don’t let your past real experiences of God blind you to your need to continue to walk closely and humbly with Him. Joshua’s Second Seminary class we might call: The God of Grace and Glory.

When we next meet Joshua it is in the aftermath of a national tragedy: the golden calf. Here Joshua, coming down the mountain with Moses after having received the tablets of commandments, heard the people in the valley after they had made the golden calf. As a general, Joshua’s mind turned to war. He told Moses, “I hear the sound of war in the camp.” But Moses said, “No, it is not the sound of war, it is the sound of singing.” Normally singing would be better than war, but not this time. God had told Moses what the people had done, and he knew this singing was the singing of an idolatrous people. These people had made a false god and attached the true God’s name to it. And, as always happens when we worship idols, they descended into immorality at the foot of the mountain, throwing a wild celebration of a false god, even as Moses was coming down the mountain with the stone tablets of commandments of the true God.

Joshua learned much through this event. He learned about the pull of idolatry and how we naturally turn toward worshiping false gods or trying to refashion the true God to suit our own desires. He learned about how easy it is for a leader to succumb to pressure, as Aaron was persuaded by the people to make the calf. But Joshua also saw the glory of true leadership in Moses. On the one hand, Moses threw down the stone tablets and had the calf ground to dust which he made the Israelites drink. There was in Moses the righteous anger of a good leader in response to the sins of the people. It is true that some preachers just preach with unrighteous anger, they are just letting off steam on those unfortunate enough to be hearing them. But a true leader will be grieved at sin in himself and in those he leads, and will express that grief at times in real ways. That was what I was feeling last week in the message from 1 Thessalonians 4 about sexual immorality. All last week I just felt the heaviness of the sexual sin that is all around us and how tragically it undercuts our intimacy with God. I grieve over so many lives here, including myself during some periods of my life, who could be so much more for the kingdom if they would align their sexual lives with God’s standards and turn away from worldly standards of sexual morality. So I urge you, if you haven’t read that sermon yet, to get it online and read it. But Joshua not only saw the intense desire for holiness that is evident in every good leader, he also saw Moses’ heart of love. Most people don’t associate the golden calf incident with love on Moses’ part but it is an episode of tender love, which would not have been lost on Joshua. You see, as I said a minute ago, before Moses ever got down the mountain, God told him what the Israelites had done. And God told Moses He would destroy the Israelites and begin again with Moses as a great nation. But Moses, with the love only a great leader could have, interceded for the people, begging God on the basis of His promises to Abraham to spare them. And God did spare them. Joshua saw here the tender compassion of a man who had every reason to just go along with God on this. Moses could have been the father of the nation instead of Abraham and rebellious people could have been rightly judged. Moses could have started fresh with a group of people who were not such troublemakers. But he does none of that. Instead, he lifts these very rebellious people up to the throne of God. My friends, would you pray for your pastors to be men like Moses? Would you pray that we would be committed to a life of holiness but also full of compassion for sinners? Would you pray that we would be men who do not first and foremost criticize church members, but intercede for them? Would you ask God to strengthen us to be men of prayer? What lessons Joshua was learning in these years of preparation. We might call Joshua’s third Seminary class: Spiritual Leadership.

          The fourth and final encounter we have with Joshua in the book of Exodus is found in chapter 33. We read there in verse 8, “Whenever Moses went out to the Tent of Meeting, all the people would get up and stand in the entrances of their own tents. They would all watch Moses until he disappeared inside. As he went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and hover at its entrance while the Lord spoke with Moses. When the people saw the cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, they would stand and bow down in front of their own tents. Inside the Tent of Meeting, the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Afterward Moses would return to the camp, but the young man who assisted him, Joshua son of Nun, would remain behind in the Tent of Meeting.” Now it is not clear cut as to why Joshua remained behind. Perhaps he was there to assist others who may have come by with a need to the Tent of Meeting. But regardless of why he lingered, think for a minute about the fact that Joshua was here with Moses at the Tent of Meeting. Consider the effect Moses’ intimate relationship with God must have had on Joshua. Consider how he must have been shaped by the prayers of Moses, by the wonder of the truth that God would speak with a man as a friend with a friend. Do you have anyone you can walk beside in this life, who could serve as a spiritual mentor to you? Maybe you could ask God to show you someone like that or bring someone like that into your life. Joshua’s fourth class we might call Spiritual Formation.

          Up to this point Joshua’s actions have been mostly positive, but in Numbers 11 he learns a hard lesson in leadership . . . 24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it.

26 Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.”29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 30 And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

Joshua’s fifth class might be called . . . Leadership for the Glory of God. Joshua made the mistake of trying to defend Moses rather than honoring God. He thought that Eldad and Medad were somehow disrespecting Moses or trying to take leadership from him. But Moses was not offended. Moses was happy about any display of God-glorifying ministry. Moses did not feel like he had to do all the ministry. He had once felt this need to do it all early on, but his father-in-law Jethro told him the work was too much for him and that he needed helpers. Now Moses, in the maturity of his years, welcomes ministry from all the people. Joshua had not yet gotten to this point of surrendering the territorial instinct. He had not yet progressed spiritually to the point of seeing that while leadership is important, the contributions of all the people are equally important. I have struggled with this through the years. On the one hand, I am looked to as a leaders, and I am one of the people who gets paid, so I should bear a certain responsibility. But the life of the church must never be about me getting my way. It must never be about me turning everyone to my agenda. This is a hard thing to carry out because there really is a biblical calling to leadership but at the same time there is not a biblical calling to lordship. We are leaders, not lords, and the responsibility of God’s kingdom work rests on all the people of God. My hope for you is that this church would become a place where your gifts are expressed and your service is valued and that we would never be a pastor-centered church but would always be a Jesus-centered church.

Perhaps the most famous appearance of Joshua before the book of Joshua itself is his part in Numbers 13, where he was one of the 12 spies of Israel who checked out the Promised Land as the Israelites prepared to enter it. Of course most of you know the story. All of the 12 entering the land said it was a great and bountiful land, but only Joshua and Caleb recommended going in to take the land. The others turned away in fear because of the people who lived in the land. The people were persuaded by the ten to not go in. Joshua and Caleb responded with great faith . . . And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” I call this class in Joshua’s Seminary: Profiles in Courage. What a life of courage Joshua and Caleb lived before the people. In the aftermath of the statement they made, they didn’t see a great agreement with them. Instead, the people wanted to stone them. Even when almost everybody was against him, Joshua took his stand with God. May we follow in his steps in a world that does not value God’s Word and God’s promises.

In the end, Joshua graduated God’s Seminary. In Numbers 26 the mantle of leadership was confirmed and in Deuteronomy 31 when Moses addressed the people he spoke words of encouragement and commission to Joshua . . . And he said to them, “I am 120 years old today. I am no longer able to go out and come in. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not go over this Jordan.’ The Lord your God himself will go over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, so that you shall dispossess them, and Joshua will go over at your head, as the Lord has spoken. And the Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. And the Lord will give them over to you, and you shall do to them according to the whole commandment that I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”

If you read the first five chapters of Joshua, you will remember that the Lord’s word to Joshua was the same as Moses’ “be strong and courageous.” But notice Moses’ commission of Joshua was not based on Joshua’s goodness or ability. It was not based on Joshua’s importance. It was not based on anything in Joshua at all. Joshua was told to be strong and courageous based on two things: the presence of God (the Lord you God goes with you, He will not leave you or forsake you) and the promise of God (you shall go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them). You can face your days with courage if you are mindful of Joshua’s Seminary. You may be facing difficult circumstances. Are you facing them in your own power or are you trusting in God for victory? Are you encouraged that you serve a God of infinite power and abounding grace? Do you as a Christian desire to walk in God’s ways through a life of holiness and love? Do you desire not only to walk in God’s ways but to walk with God? Will you walk humbly with Him, being willing to worthy to learn from your failures and mistakes in service? Will you live with courage, clinging to the presence of God and the promise of God? As God leads you through your life’s seminary, may you grow closer to Him through His Son Jesus and go in service to Him all your days.

 

 

 

         

 

 

 

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