2nd Sunday after Pentecost “Be Strong and Courageous”
June 19, 2022 (see Dan Habben,’09intern) Joshua 1:9 LwmL District Convention Theme vs. Joshua 1:9b
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ
The MN North District LwmL is having their biennium convention in Moorhead tomorrow thru Wednesday. At their opening worship service tomorrow, I’m assigned to be preacher. You may noticed, from the bulletin, that I wanted us to talk about Jesus, in Luke 8, ‘destroying the power of the Destroyer’ =who is Satan= as Jesus forcefully, lovingly, sets a man free from a legion of demons. But instead, it seems fitting that if I’m going to go somewhere else and preach, I should probably run the sermon past you first; since while I’m there, I’m also representing you & Immanuel Luth.Church. So, we will meditate on the convention theme verse from Joshua 1:9b, altho I changed some of the applications to be for us instead of for the LwmL.
Let’s begin in John chpt.20, where we hear this familiar exchange: Altho the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and reach out your hand, and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”
That was a great confession of faith in the Crucified & Risen Christ, our Savior Jesus.
Tuck that confession away for a few minutes, and let’s turn our attention to our convention theme verse from Joshua chpt.1; because OT Joshua may have been standing in the sandals of Thomas when the Lord said to Joshua: ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, and do not be discouraged.’
I came across a little story to use as a handle to hold on to that gospel message of our forgiveness, life, & salvation in Christ. It involves Julius Caesar, just before he became the powerful dictator of the Roman Empire; this is about 40 yrs before Jesus arrived in Bethlehem.
The story is this: as a military general he had a decision to make, as he was leading the army of Rome and stood on the bank of a rather small stream in north-eastern Italy; the stream was called The Rubicon. He paused there, not because he was afraid of a little water, but because =according to an ancient law= to cross that stream was a declaration of war on Rome.
*What should he do? Should he retreat, as he had been ordered to do by the Roman Senate; OR should he forge ahead, and plunge his country into civil war? Well, Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and the rest, (as they say) is history; he fought & won. And since then, the phrase ‘crossing the Rubicon’ is used to mean – ‘passing the point of no return.’ For Caesar, it meant there was no turning back; no changing his mind & apologizing; it was do-or-die. *Have you ever had moments when you’ve paused for a decision, mentally run thru again the pros & cons, before you ‘cross the line’, knowing you can’t go back?
About 1,500 years before Caesar paused there on the banks of The Rubicon, 80-yr-old Joshua stood on the banks of the Jordan River. He had dreamed of crossing this river for 40 years now, as the assistant to Moses = the great servant of the Lord.
But now, Moses was dead, and God had chosen Joshua to lead the 2 million Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. It was a pause-worthy moment. Crossing the Jordan meant declaring war on the well-armed people already living in the land; and the first challenge was the thick-walled city of Jericho. At this point, the Hebrew people were basically nomadic shepherds; what chance did they have against fortified cities & trained soldiers?
God anticipated these doubts & fears, and instructed & encouraged his chosen leader with these words: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9b).
For 3,500 years, what the Lord said to Joshua is what He has written to be said to ALL God’s people who stand on this-or-that precipice; including you and me. We should pause, often, and consider how this Faith-in-Christ we have will stand up to our anxieties. We can worry about how our congregation may change when our faithful members come & go; we can fret when our families or relationships change; we are anxious when we see our nation affected by a pandemic, or by inflation & recession = how will our attendance here or our home life be affected?
The future causes us fear or dismay. But we will recall how Jesus wielded the written Word of the OT against the temptations of Satan in Matt.4 saying, “It is written!” *What about our doubts & fears? It is written: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Can you imagine the gloom or despair hovering over the Israelites when Moses died. +He had been the only leader they had known since leaving Egypt, defeating Pharaoh. +Moses had led them into their Baptism thru the Red Sea; and when it closed behind them, there was no going back. +Moses had spoken to God on their behalf, intervening when they sinned, and God forgave them. *Could they manage without him? Yes! But only because The Lord their God had promised to be with them. They should not be discouraged; they were learning that no human leader is indispensable. What IS indispensable is God’s promise, God’s Spirit, and God’s gifts.
Likewise, WE are each warned against thinking that our congregation, our social groups, or even our family can’t function ‘without us’. Our Lord invites us into positions to serve Him & others = not to be served or puffed up. He directs us into using His gifts & abilities in us so that His work & His Will will get done.
But our old natures are warned: The One who gave those abilities & willingness to US can easily give them to someone else if we misuse them. That’s why we strive to work together -humbly- in our various positions; /in leadership, /in supporting roles, /as idea-givers, /as those with past experience who can advise others. With many & various responsibilities in serving the Lord, (in church & at home) our power is in pulling together at our Lord’s direction.
Besides a warning, it’s also a comfort to know that Moses was not indispensable; /neither was Joshua, /nor Deborah, /nor King David, /nor John the Baptist, /nor Lydia.
When we see our own abilities start to fade, our faith craves that comfort that the Church and family will continue on after us, until the Lord Himself returns.
In times of anxiety, we can think: “If only so-and-so were here. They would know what to do.” And to that, God’s Word remains clear: ‘Have I not commanded you? Do not be dismayed for the Lord is with you.’ It’s true that that person who is now gone would know what did or didn’t work in the past. But for the future, the Holy Spirit is with us to meet new challenges. The Holy Spirit is the One who guided Moses in his generation, and then guided Joshua in the next generation. The same Spirit gives us courage.
*How can we be sure God is really with us? In the days of Moses, the Lord chose to speak directly to him to guide him for the sake of his people.
But something changed for Joshua. To begin with, God did speak to Joshua quite directly; but, the Lord also had something else for Joshua to know. Before our verse in chpt.1, God says, ‘Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. …(now) Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left… Do not let this Book …depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.’ …– and you will be a faithful Lutheran!
Even though that last part is not part of chpt.1, it could be! 3,500 years after Joshua, we are also walking by the Word of the Lord = the Law of Moses, the Prophets, & the Psalms. We are strong & courageous in the Word of the Lord, the Word of Christ, the foundation of the prophets and apostles. It is a daily miracle that we still have the written Word given to Moses, for us to ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’ = just as Joshua had, so that we would have the same strength & courage from the Lord for this work & this living we do.
One way to understand the Hebrew word for ‘meditate’ is that it means to ‘mumble to yourself.’ Swish it around in your mouth, the way a wine-enthusiast rolls a fine wine over every tastebud, to enjoy all that it has to offer. We can be tempted to quickly guzzle God’s Word so that we can get on to other things; such as our Netflix watch list, or posting our daily activities on social media, or whatever other things can be important to us. But *which of those other things can promise to us, and deliver to us, strength and courage like God’s Word does?
While every day in our lives is certainly not like that day when Julius Caesar decided to cross the Rubicon, or when Joshua stood on the bank of the Jordan. Yet the Spirit of God, thru the Word of God, stands ready to put away our worry & fear so that we will keep moving forward and serve the Lord well. King David would later write, in Ps.34, “Taste and see that the Lord is good..,” — ‘He delivered me from all my fears.’
Besides meditating on His Word, God said it was important for Joshua to carefully obey all of it, not turning from it ‘to the right or to the left.’ In our day, we can see Christians, families & churches turning away from God’s Word this way and that way. And so we pray, ‘Lord keep us from this dangerous straying away from your perfect, written Word.’ *How dangerous is it? Try driving your car with your steering wheel just a little out of line with the road.
*How long does it take before you end up in the ditch; or in the other lane? Not long at all. So, the Lord instructs Joshua, ‘meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful…’
Just as you constantly adjust the steering wheel to keep your car on the road, constantly adjust your words, your behaviors, & your serving according to God’s Word. ‘He leads US in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.’ When you & I veer to the left toward selfishness, OR to veer to the right into pride, God’s Word is what brings us to repentance & restoration.
*Was this veering to the right or to the left one of the fears of Joshua as he stood at the Jordan looking into the Promised Land? Probably. If the great servant Moses veered & didn’t obey everything God said, *how could he? *Did that mean he was sunk; that he shouldn’t bother to even take another step forward? No. Joshua had come to know & trust this Lord and God.
After 40 yrs in the wilderness, he learned that God had more mercy than punishment, more forgiveness than condemnation. Why? Because of The Promise; the Covenant made to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Joshua knew that there would be One coming who would be raised up from among God’s people, like Moses; but would be much more.
What Joshua didn’t know was this One would be called ‘yeshua’; a form of his own name =Joshua. He would be ‘yeshua ha mashia’, Jesus the Messiah. It was a detail he didn’t need to know to believe in the promise; he trusted in God’s covenant to bring a gracious salvation of forgiveness of sin & new life for all of God’s people. At that time, Joshua did not have the details about ‘the suffering servant’, who would see death but not corruption; those details would come later thru the prophets.
But he did know that the seed of the woman was going to crush Satan’s head, and Satan would bruise His heel. Joshua did know about the vivid illustration God gave when He commanded Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac, & then gave a substitute. Joshua & the 2 million people with him on the bank of the Jordan River knew firsthand the way God used the water of the Red Sea to drown the enemy and to save His people = like baptism. They all had now celebrated 40 times the sacrificed lamb & unleavened bread as a sign of God keeping His covenant to bring them safely into the Promised Land; a foreshadowing of the Lord’s Supper.
So, there he is standing at the Jordan, trying to fill Moses’ shoes, remembering God’s faithful past with Israel, and looking into the unknown, worrisome future. *Did he have doubts or fears? It would be ‘crossing the Rubicon’; there would be no turning back.
He did not ponder things too long before God said to him, ‘…arise, go over this Jordan, …into the land that I am giving … to the people of Israel. … I will not leave or forsake you. Be strong and courageous,…’
You and I are much farther down the timeline of salvation history = thanks be to God. By Holy Scripture, we have witnessed the very Son of God & promised Savior arrive & reveal himself to the world. We have witnessed His suffering & death for sin; we have seen the empty tomb; we seen Him ascend to reign over His Church until He comes again in glory = and He will. And we have shared with Thomas (remember Thomas?) that OT confession that Jesus is ‘my Lord and my God,’ – who spoke to Joshua, and has also said to us, ‘I am with you always to the end of the age.’
You & I may or may not be standing on a precipice of some vital decision; but we’re always standing on the threshold of a new day, a new week, or new month. Moving forward in our words & behaviors always has benefits & consequences. Even if our lives don’t change much, the world around us changes constantly. We are often pausing, considering our doubts & fears about whether to ‘cross the Rubicon.’ But we stand there with faith in Christ.
So we turn to God’s Word, so that He will speak to us in our day. And he says:
‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you where you go.’