Sermon for NAMBC, 28 June 2009
Outline: Remembering what God has done for us.
Text: Joshua 3:5-4:7
This coming Saturday is the fourth of July, a day set aside as a national holiday, to commemorate the founding of our nation. It is a date that presumable commemorates a specific event, but in reality serves as a physical reminder of what we have been given by those who came before us, and ultimately, by the grace and blessings of Almighty God.
The Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence in a vote on July 2nd, 1776, after a long and hard struggle to reach agreement among the delegates. John Adams wrote to his wife that night:
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. ... I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tryumph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.
We celebrate the 4th of July instead, as that was when the document was signed, possibly by only Charles Thomson and John Hancock. Most of the rest of the 56 members of Congress added their signatures on August 2. This is interesting in a historical sense, but not that significant, compared to what this document has come to mean to us as Americans. It is a common touchstone for all of us, a familiar reminder of who has come before us, and what they gave us through their sacrifices. In a very real way, it serves as a document that bridges the nation we have become to the colonies that were carved out of the wilderness by our earliest forefathers. This date, the 4th of July, although an insignificant and almost trivial date by historical measures, is the most important day on our calendar for remembering and commemorating what happened in the hot summer of 1776, that gave us the nation we cherish today.
As all but one of the Founding Fathers acknowledged, God is the One who actually provided us with this nation, with the independence and political freedoms we enjoy, and with the right and opportunity to raise His own name in praise and glory, unrestricted by the schemes and crafty maneuvers of Satan and his followers. This is one of the ways of God, to not only provide for our needs, but to show us ways to remember that providence.
One of the best examples of this is found in the book of Joshua. The death of Moses bridges this book with that of Deuteronomy, with the Israelites still encamped in the Plain of Moab, preparing to invade and take over Canaan, and relates the death of Moses, the rise of Joshua as their new leader, and the history of their entrance and partial conquest of that promised land. This book is a prime example of why the entire canon of the Old Testament was included in the Christian Bible, it is not simply a record of Jewish history, it has elements that have great relevance to us today. The Hebrew Bible, otherwise known as the Tanakh, groups it with the books of the Prophets, for it does have a profoundly prophetic message. It also serves as a promise of and reminder of divine deliverance of God’s people, who were by then facing some of the mightiest empires the world has ever seen. And lastly, but most definitely not least, it serves as a reminder of God’s requirement of loyalty to His Kingdom and commands.
In our brief time together this morning, we cannot hope to even skim the surface of the entirety of this marvelous book, but I do want to point out three important points about it. First, it underscores that God is a promise-keeping God. Secondly, it explains a bit further about the covenantal idea between God and the Israelites. And thirdly, it shows how God knows we need physical reminders of His provisions, and how He has provided for that need as well.
Many eons before the Israelites found themselves wandering in the Wilderness, God had promised Abraham that he would raise a mighty nation through him. Over the centuries God not only kept this promise, he reminded Isaac and Jacob of it, repeatedly told Moses of His divine promise, told all the Israelites of His unbreakable word even as they suffered in the Sinai deserts, and pointedly reminded Joshua of it, even as He gave over leadership of His own chosen people to him. Promise, faith and fulfillment are the very benchmarks of Jewish life then, and Christian life today.
The second point is the covenantal relationship that the Jews of old, and Christians today, enjoy with our Father. God’s Word is true and faithful, when He says it, you can believe it! Look at two short passages from the 21st chapter of Joshua:
Verse 43: “So the LORD gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it.”
Verse 45: “Not one of the good promises which the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass.
Both of these passages directly echo the commands and promise made by God in the 15th chapter of Numbers; the people were to do some very specific things, and the very specific promise of a prosperous land of their own was given. The Israelites had followed His directions precisely, and God’s promises of the land had been faithfully carried out. This was not, however, a final, permanent situation. So long as the Israelites obeyed the Word and command of God, they would remain in the promised land and greatly prosper. If, however, they allowed sin and corruption to remain unchecked among their people, they would lose everything. They would remain distant from their land, prosperity, and God Himself until the people repented of their sins. A covenantal relationship is a two way street, the people enjoy the fruits of God’s blessings, but have the responsibility to keep themselves free from sin. God provides the wealth of the land, but demands righteousness in return from His people.
Keep this in mind as we turn to the third point, God’s recognition of man’s need for physical reminders of His provisions. How many of you keep prayer diaries? How many of you have one specific Bible that you keep most of your notes in? How many of you have some Christian symbol in you home, a cross on the wall, a line of scripture on a plaque, or something similar? I’ll admit that I have all three, and why? So I can look back in my journal at a prayer I raised, and see how it was answered, be it the way I wanted at the time or not. That is a review of God’s blessings and provisions. I can look at my study Bible, and see how the Holy Spirit has led me to see deeper into certain passages, and how the meaning of God’s Word has come more alive and understandable the longer I prayerfully study it. This is a confirmation of God’s direct and personal interaction in the lives of those who seek Him. We have several scriptural passages on the wall and on plaques in our home, and every time I pass by them, I am again reminded of God’s promises and provisions that have directly impacted our family.
The third chapter of Joshua relates the story of his army crossing the Jordan River into Canaan. This seems a rather trivial affair to us today, but in the 13th century B.C. near east, there were no blacktopped roads, no bridges, no ferries, and no easy way to transport 20,000 soldiers and all their supplies across this dangerously swift river. Joshua’s solution was simple, God had commanded him to lead his army in a military campaign to seize Canaan, so obviously God would provide a way for them to do so.
Turn to Joshua chapter 3, verses 5 through 17:
Josh. 3:5 ¶ Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”
Josh. 3:6 And Joshua spoke to the priests, saying, “Take up the ark of the covenant and cross over ahead of the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went ahead of the people.
Josh. 3:7 ¶ Now the LORD said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you.
Josh. 3:8 “You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the ark of the covenant, saying, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’”
Josh. 3:9 Then Joshua said to the sons of Israel, “Come here, and hear the words of the LORD your God.”
Josh. 3:10 Joshua said, “By this you shall know that athe living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite.
Josh. 3:11 “Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over ahead of you into the Jordan.
Josh. 3:12 “Now then, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man for each tribe.
Josh. 3:13 “It shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan will be cut off, and the waters which are flowing down from above will stand in one heap.”
Josh. 3:14 ¶ So when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people,
Josh. 3:15 and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest),
Josh. 3:16 the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho.
Josh. 3:17 And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.
God’s provision to carry out His command in order to obtain His promise is clear here. But He had one more need to provide for, the need of the Israelites to have a permanent reminder of this marvelous provision. Turn to the 4th chapter of Joshua, verses 1 through 7:
Josh. 4:1 ¶ Now when all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying,
Josh. 4:2 “Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe,
Josh. 4:3 and command them, saying, ‘Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight.’”
Josh. 4:4 So Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the sons of Israel, one man from each tribe;
Josh. 4:5 and Joshua said to them, “Cross again to the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel.
Josh. 4:6 “Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’
Josh. 4:7 then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.’ So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.”
Like the date we celebrate next Saturday, the stones Joshua’s men set up as memorials are trivial and meaningless in and of themselves. However, like a plaque on a coffee table, or an underlined passage in a study Bible, or a hastily scribbled note about a prayer offered to God, they serve as a reminder to us of what God has promised us, what faith we must have in His promises, the provisions He makes for us to carry out His promises, and, ultimately, the fulfillment of those divine promises.
Friends, we live today in a land of far greater and more bountiful wealth of prosperity than the land of Canaan could ever have provided the Israelites. We have enjoyed the blessings and security of freedom and liberty for 233 years now. We as a nation have shown the entire world of the glory, power, majesty and blessings that God has showered us with, and understandably enough, we have become not only a beacon of hope for the world to see, we have become a promised land that millions upon millions have sacrificed and suffered to get to.
We have a physical reminder of this provision in the form of the Declaration of Independence, that anyone can see just by taking a trip to Washington. In that document is an acknowledgement, written by Thomas Jefferson, nonetheless, that what we have has been given by God, and we must keep up our side of the covenant in order to keep it:
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
To rely upon the protection of God means you must have an active and covenantal faith with Him, both as a nation and as individuals. Yes, we have many problems in our nation today, which I will not discuss from this holy and sacred pulpit. Yes, we may well lose the provision and protection of God because of our sins as a people, and the newspapers and airwaves are filled with examples and discussions of this that you may engage in to your own tolerance level. Yes, the nation has sinned, but a far more important consideration for each of us to consider is, have we sinned against God, through our own actions, omissions, thoughts, or intents? Have we each led a life that is pleasing to God, that follows his commands and precepts, that places Him in front of every other consideration we have?
The faithfulness of a nation begins with the faithfulness of the individual within that nation. God has blessed each one of us with uncountable treasures and provisions, each and every day of our lives. How have you responded to Him? How have I responded to Him? We honor our nation through the 4th of July holiday, and give grand speeches and parades to show how we cherish its very secular blessings. How will you respond to God’s blessing, today? Most of us consider ourselves good citizens of this nation, but do you honestly consider yourself a good subject of God’s Kingdom?
Nations rise and nations fall, but God’s Kingdom will stand throughout all of eternity. Whether you stand in God’s own holy and awesome presence or you lie broken and weeping, far distant from those beautiful gated walls, throughout all of limitless eternity, depends on how you respond to His invitation today. His word says, in Revelation 3:30:
Rev. 3:20 ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.
Our alter is open, God is with us here today, in our very presence. All you have to do is open the door of your heart, and He will enter, and give you the peace you long for. Won’t you please open to door to Him, right now, here, today?
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