Today we are FINISHING up our summer sermon series, as we are FINISHING up summer and the Apostle Paul is FINISHING up his third missionary journey. The last time Paul had been on the continent of Asia, things had ended abruptly. He had been in Ephesus and there had been a riot. People thirsty for his blood had chanted against him for over two hours. For his own safety, Paul left early the next morning. He left the congregation that he had served for over two years very abruptly without any kind of final, farewell sermon.
Knowing what it’s like to be a pastor.
And how easy it is to love a congregation.
I’ll bet Paul wished he had that chance.
Similarly, I imagine the Ephesians also wanted one more sermon. Because without Paul, ministry questions came to them.
Should they keep preaching in Bob’s home downtown or should they move to Bill’s home in the suburbs?
Should they serve the community of widows or focus on the community of the homeless?
Would their new fellowship hall look better with Neutral Gray or Eggshell White trim?
How should we do ministry?
That’s a good question.
Even for us at Gethsemane Church.
Today we’re going to look at Paul’s encore sermon to the Ephesians and we’ll consider his encore sermon to us this summer. Our goal is to learn from Paul some key principles for Gospel ministry in Raleigh, NC in 2019. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Lessons about Ministry
The lesson starts with a bit of geography. Check out verse 17: From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.
Paul had been up in Troas. He wanted to get back to Jerusalem. An easy route would have taken him right past the Ephesians that he wanted to encourage. But Ephesus was still filled with people who weren’t very welcoming. So, rather than risk a riot, Paul took a trip down around Ephesus to Miletus. It was a city about 30 miles to the Southwest of Ephesus. From there, he sent words for the leadership of the Ephesian church to meetup with him.
When they arrived, they hugged.
They high fived.
They swapped stories about things that have happened without him.
Then, Paul got to teaching:
You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility… (v.18-19)
This is strange. Because by the time Paul had gotten to Ephesus, he had already started over ten different churches. He had preached to thousands of people. He had even begun writing a few books of the Bible.
You would imagine that Paul would come to town full of pride.
Talking about how impressive he was…
…and how the people needed to listen to him for community revitalization,
…as he handed out T-Shirts with his smiling face on them.
Paul was humble.
Paul reminded people how he was the chief of sinners,
How it was Jesus who saved him.
And Jesus who worked through him to do anything worthy of praise.
Here’s the lesson:
(1) Gospel Ministry is HUMBLE.
Gospel ministry points people to Jesus.
It lowers the importance of self.
It gives all glory to God.
Because if it doesn’t…
I’ve got this long-distance social media friend who recently underwent a bit of a transformation. He had been an alcoholic, now he’s been clean for a couple of months. He was a smoker; now he doesn’t own a pack. He had been drinking three coffees a day and now he drinks one lightly caffeinated tea.
He’s been sharing the story and, to be fair, when he first started doing this, he gave a lot of credit to Jesus. Jesus was the one who influenced him. The one who became the purpose behind his life. The one who empowered him to give up his addictions.
But it recently changed. His most recent post sounded something like this:
“Man, I’m feeling the change. I’m transforming myself. I reached down. I dug deep. I can give up all my vices. It feels good. It feels empowering. I love what I’ve become. If you need help, talk to me. I’ll get you the transformation that you need.”
Did you hear it?
All about him.
If Gospel ministry is about YOU, it’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you tell your family that you’ve been on leadership for years and that’s why Gospel ministry is good at Gethsemane, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you tell your friends that YOU have been teaching your kids some awesome values and YOUR devotion is the reason their life will be good, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
If you post on social media that YOUR life has changed since YOU accepted Christ and YOU chose to change your life, that’s NOT Gospel ministry.
In those scenarios, there isn’t Gospel ministry going on, because none of those scenarios involve teaching the Gospel.
And, (this is a shocker), Gospel ministry involves teaching the Gospel.
It points people to Jesus.
It points people to their Savior.
It points people to the one who lived for them, died for them, and rose for them.
You didn’t do that for you, Jesus did.
And you didn’t do that for your friends, Jesus did.
You can’t save you, Jesus does.
You can’t save your friends, Jesus will.
Share the Gospel by humbly pointing to Jesus.
(2) Gospel Ministry is BOLD.
But don’t think of Gospel ministry as this meek, milquetoast thing. (Like the guy at Food Lion who is being forced for donations because his boss told him to. “Do you want to roundup and donate to the local hospital? It’s ok. I totally understand if you don’t. My boss makes me ask.”)
Nope. Gospel ministry is humble, but it’s also BOLD. Check out what Paul says next:
You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. (v.20-21)
Think back to some of the ways that Paul was bold on his missionary journeys:
In Athens, he preached that Greeks gods weren’t gods at all, to a group of people who had devoted themselves to worship of these gods.
In Thessalonica, he taught that people are saved by Jesus and not Jewish customs, to a group of people who were firmly entrenched in the fact that their Jewish customs saved them.
In Corinth, he told people that sexual immorality was sinful, in a culture that sexual immorality was what all the cool kids were doing.
In Ephesus, he taught that money wasn’t everything, Jesus was; to a group of rioters who were upset that he was costing them money.
Gospel ministry is BOLD.
In fact, if you look closely at what Paul says, he mentions two different ways that Gospel ministry is bold.
First, Gospel ministry BOLDLY preaches ALL of God’s Word.
It isn’t like a timeshare salesman. (Ever listened to one of those?) The venue is marvelous. The site is incredible. You’ll have a wonderful vacation and it’ll be so great for your and your family. This week-long vacation at a five-star resort will be yours for only one yearly payment of $500!
…Plus, monthly maintenance fees.
…and monthly checking fees.
…and you’ll probably never be able to book a room when you want.
…and you’ll have this timeshare forever.
…and we own your soul.
Paul wasn’t a timeshare salesman. He didn’t hide anything.
If you want to participate in Gospel ministry, you don’t either.
And don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean that the starting point becomes… “Friends, let me tell you what hell is like.”
Nope. But it does mean that we don’t shy away from truth in Scripture, even when it’s difficult to hear.
We BOLDLY preach ALL of God’s Word.
Second, Gospel ministry BOLDLY preaches to ALL.
Again, think of Paul. Some of the people he had to preach to might have been kind of nerve-wracking to talk to.
There were the Athenians, whose entire city was so foreign to him. Instead of the familiarity of churches, there were statues of other gods, another religion, everywhere.
Paul was bold. Paul preached to them.
There were the Jews. People who looked like him and talked like him, but when Paul told them they needed Jesus, they repeatedly persecuted him.
Paul was still bold. Paul preached to them.
The same is still true today. God is calling us at Gethsemane to share the Gospel with people who look like us, sure.
Those who look differently than us.
Those who dress differently than us.
Those who speak differently than us.
Those who cover their heads.
Those with tattoos all over their arms.
Those with three children from three different fathers.
Those who like the sports team that we can’t stand.
Those who came from a different state.
Those who moved from a different country.
Those who have a legal visa and those who don’t.
God simply calls us to BOLDLY share Jesus with ALL.
(3) Gospel Ministry is DANGEROUS
Look at what Paul says next, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (v.22-24)
Because when Paul preached, sometimes people didn’t like it.
In Philippi, he was thrown into jail.
In Thessalonica, his friends were fined.
In Ephesus, a riot filled the streets.
The truth is that Gospel ministry is DANGEROUS to the sharer. In fact, when we are doing it right by boldly preaching ALL God’s Word to ALL people, there’s going to be an element of danger. Whether that danger is…
…Danger of losing a job. “You don’t bring up Jesus at work.”
…Danger of losing a friend. “We’re done. Keep your stupid mumbo jumbo to yourself.”
…Danger of losing a relationship. “I like you, but if you’re all about Jesus? We’re through.”
Gospel ministry is dangerous to the sharer.
But before you call it quits and say: “It’s too dangerous! I can’t handle that.” Consider this:
It’s even more dangerous if you don’t share the Gospel.
That loved one? Is in danger of never knowing God’s love.
That friend? Is in danger of a lifetime of guilt and shame.
That family member? Is in danger…of hell.
Share the Gospel.
It might be momentarily dangerous to you.
But…it will be eternally dangerous to the devil.
When the Gospel is preached, the devil’s stronghold on a person’s heart weakens.
When the Gospel is preached, Satan’s hold on a person’s conscience is lifted.
When the Gospel is preached, death is defeated.
That’s why Paul preached. In fact, look at what he says next:
“Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.
Paul didn’t know what might happen next.
But Paul didn’t hesitate either.
Because God had his back.
God also has yours.
Don’t hesitate either.
II. What Now?
These lessons from Paul lead up to a shift in his sermon. First, the sharing lessons from his own ministry and now give straight up imperatives on what to do next. It’s kind of like his own WHAT NOW? section. Secondly, he shifts from talking about outreach to talking about inreach. Look at Paul’s own WHAT NOW’s:
(1) Be a Shepherd
Paul says, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God. which he bought with his own blood.” (v.28)
Paul isn’t that interested in the Agrarian lifestyle. He doesn’t love wool so much that he wants whatever shepherds are in the congregation to “keep on sheering those sheep!”
This is an illustration of life in a church.
Because shepherds care for sheep. They feed the sheep. They give the sheep water. They protect the sheep. They go looking for the sheep when one of them is lost. They comfort the sheep when they are scared.
It’s the same way in a church.
A pastor (which is the Greek word for “shepherd”) cares for his people. He feeds them God’s word. He gives them the water of life. He protects them from doubts. He goes after them when they are straying from Jesus. He comforts them with God’s promises when they are scared.
Here Paul is sharing this with the Ephesian leadership.
But it’s also written down.
Which means it applies to you.
First, shepherd those assigned to you. If you’re an elder in the church, check in with those sheep. If you’re a spiritual mother to someone at this church, care for them. If you have been assigned children in your family, make sure they’re being fed God’s Word. If you are a Garden Kids’ teacher, guide your little ones to the Savior. If you’re a Precious Lambs teacher, keep your Precious Lambs safe.
Second, shepherd each other. We’ve got a great opportunity to do that. Back to Church Sunday is coming up next week. You might know someone who had been attending this church who hasn’t in a while.
Go after them.
Ask them how life is.
Tell them you miss them at worship.
Remind them the importance of being fed the Gospel.
If next week is Back to Church Sunday, consider this: Be a Shepherd Sunday…
…and…you get the point.
(2) Guard against Wolves
Paul says: I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! (v.29-31)
Spiritual wolves are those who distort the truth.
They are those who change the Gospel.
Those who feed their pride by leading others away from Jesus and to following them.
We need to be on our guard.
First, that we aren’t those wolves.
Second, that those wolves don’t get us.
Third, that those wolves don’t get others.
That can be hard. Because sometimes the wolf is in disguise. Sometimes he looks like a lamb. Sometimes the wolf looks nice.
But you’ll be able to tell who they are. Based on if they are someone leading you closer to Jesus or away from him.
Guard against wolves.
A wolf could be a coworker, a friend, a neighbor, even a boyfriend.
If they are leading you away from Jesus, be on your guard.
(3) Commit to the Word
Paul says it this way: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (v.32)
Because if we are going to be shepherds of each other, we need a tool. Just like the shepherd has his staff, you have God’s Word. And…just like a shepherd commits himself to learning how to use that staff to protect his flock, we commit ourselves to learning how to use God’s Word to protect each other.
That means more than just being able to conk a spiritual wolf on the head.
We learn to graze its pages for spiritual food.
We learn to drink deeply from its well of life.
We learn to wield its truth like a sword driving away sin and doubt.
We learn to dwell within its pages, protect from death itself.
Look at how Paul ends: I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” (v.33-35)
Because the main reason that Paul was so involved in ministry wasn’t to get rich.
It’s the same for you and me.
We don’t participate in ministry so that God blesses us financially.
We don’t participate in church so other might bless us financially.
We don’t become part of this ministry in order to get something.
Because we’ve already got all we need in Jesus.
Instead, we GIVE.
We give gifts to help others.
We give time to help others.
We give talents to help others.
Ministry is all about giving because the one our ministry is about is all about giving!
It’s about God who gave his life.
God who gives forgiveness…
God who will gives eternal life…
After Paul says all of this. He left.
But he left with confidence.
Because that church was in God’s hands.
Friends, we leave with confidence.
We are in God’s hands. Amen.
Last week we investigated the very first church meeting in the history of the church. The main outcome of that meeting was that grace means grace. Jewish believers couldn’t make a theological case for requiring non-Jewish believers to follow Jewish customs. Similarly, we shouldn’t make grace difficult for ourselves or others.
Grace means grace.
When the decision was finalized by all of the leadership, the next step was to make that decision known. Since this is the 1st century A.D., they couldn’t just tweet out their decision.
They needed to hand deliver the decision to the churches.
Paul and Barnabas volunteer to deliver the message. They figure while they’re doing that, they can also visit new places and do some more mission work (Acts 15:35)
So… they head home.
They pack up extra pairs of sandals.
They put on their fanny packs.
And meetup at the church to see if there’s any leftover outreach material that they can take with them.
Unfortunately, that’s where things go wrong.
Barnabas wants to bring along a young man named Mark. Mark had joined them in their first missionary journey, but halfway through, he deserted them.
As a result, Paul doesn’t trust Mark. He doesn’t want any wishy-washy folk on his mission trip. He figures that Mark will just do the same thing and won’t be a valuable partner.
Barnabas is more forgiving.
They part ways.
Which - it isn’t necessarily wrong to disagree.
It’s wrong to be jerks about disagreements.
And I’m sure that’s what the devil wanted to happen so that the message of the Savior never made it out of Antioch again!
But…you can see God’s hand in the midst of the disagreement because now there’s no longer one mission trip, but two.
Barnabas and Mark head to the island of Cyprus.
Paul and a believer named Silas head to the northern countries of Galatia.
The devil loses.
The kingdom is multiplied.
The Gospel is above all else.
The book of Acts focuses in on Paul’s journey. As it does, it introduces us to a young man named Timothy. He is the focus of our sermon today. Before we dive into his story, let us pray: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Timothy’s Story
Acts 16 says this, “Paul came to…Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek.” (Acts 16:1)
Lystra was one of the cities that Paul visited on his first missionary journey. (Acts 14) If you remember, that’s the place where God worked a miracle through Paul and Barnabas in order to heal a man who had been lame from birth. As a result, many of the people started to worship…Paul and Barnabas. When Paul told them to stop, they tried to murder them by tossing stones at their heads.
Timothy was probably not a part of that.
He was one of the few that believed what Paul said about Jesus being the promised Savior.
In fact, Timothy had a mother who was a believer. He had been raised by his mother to know the promise of the Messiah.
His mother took him to their version of Sunday School.
His mother read him stories about Creation, Noah’s Ark, and the parting of the Red Sea.
He probably did some finger paint art of David defeating the giant goliath.
As he got older, he got involved: ushering, saying hi, making the coffee!
And when Paul came to town teaching that Jesus was the Messiah…
He examined the Old Testament prophecies.
He examined Paul’s teaching about Jesus’ life.
He listened to Paul’s eyewitness account of the Resurrection.
And he changed his faith in the coming Messiah into faith in the Messiah who had just come.
And quickly he became a well-liked leader in the church, even as a young person…
The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. (16:2)
Notice those aren’t just the people in Lystra, but the people in the neighboring church of Iconium as well.
Maybe he attended worship in Iconium when he was on vacation.
Maybe he helped the people of Iconium run a Vacation Bible School.
Maybe he ran a young person’s small group somewhere between the two cities.
Maybe he played church softball where he crushed a few home runs but was Christ-filled and polite while he did so.
Timothy’s faith was evident in all that he did.
Such that Paul wanted to take him along on his journey…(16:3) But the issue was that Timothy wasn’t circumcised.
Now, you might be thinking: Why is this a big deal? Wasn’t the whole point of the Jerusalem meeting that we talked about last week – that Jewish traditions were not a requirement for grace?
Remember – the meeting in Jerusalem had a lot of discussion.
It had a lot of disagreement.
It was challenging for the leaders of the church to accept that their longstanding Jewish traditions weren’t needed.
If the leadership had a hard time with it, what about the average laymen?
It might be similar to you having a bunch of tattoos up and down your arms. One with a big old heart that says “Mom.” You believe in Jesus, but you know that if you head to the local retirement home people might not want to listen to anything you have to say if they see tattoos on your arms.
Rather than have them miss the Gospel of Jesus…you wear a turtleneck.
That’s the same thing Paul is thinking. Rather than have groups of dissenters following and jeering them as “uncircumcised heathen,” Paul said: “Maybe…it’d be wise if…you were circumcised.”
And you know what? Timothy didn’t hesitate.
Even though he didn’t have to, Timothy was willing to be circumcised in order to remove any obstacles to sharing the Gospel.
That’s amazing faith!
That’s a mature faith.
That’s putting the Gospel above all else.
Paul takes Timothy along. As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reach by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. (16:4-5) Timothy proves himself so mature that he works with Paul throughout the 2nd and 3rd missionary journeys. Paul even trusts him enough to go to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:2), to go Macedonia (Acts 19:22), and to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17). Ultimately, it culminates in Timothy being the pastor assigned to the church in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3)
Talk about impressive.
Timothy is the kind of guy living a faith that any Christian parent would want for their children.
That any believer would want for themselves.
II. Lessons from Timothy
How did Timothy do it?
How did he get to such a strong faith?
Maybe you’re wondering:
What does Timothy have that I don’t have?
There’s no Heirloom Greater than Jesus
Take a look at what Paul wrote to Timothy, many years later when he was that pastor in Ephesus:
I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. (2 Tim. 1:5)
Have you ever seen Antiques Roadshow? It’s probably the best show to come out of PBS since Mister Rogers. It’s a reality show in which people bring their antiques, heirlooms, and collectables to a panel of experts who examine their piece and give them an estimated value of what their item would bring in an auction. Sometimes it’s more than they expect. Sometimes…a lot less.
There was a woman on their recently named Rose. She brought along a painting that had been in her grandmother’s toy room for years. She had always played by it. She had conversed right under it. She had seen that painting in her grandmother’s room for her decades.
When her grandmother died, the family was rummaging through some of her things and came across the painting. Rose said that she would take it because it gave her fond memories of grandma.
She put it up in her attic. She didn’t even hang it up.
But one day as she was cleaning in the attic, she noticed a mosquito on the painting. She swatted at it and as her hand hit the painting she noticed that she could feel the texture of the paint. It wasn’t a copy, but an original. She took it to Antiques roadshow to get it appraised.
How much? Close to $300,000.
Friends: There is no greater heirloom than Jesus.
That’s the heirloom that was passed down in Timothy’s family
From his Grandma Lois
To his mother Eunice.
Friends, you have been given the same heirloom.
Maybe it isn’t from a Grandma Lois or a mother Eunice…
Maybe it’s from an aunt, an uncle, a friend, or a coworker.
Regardless, understand this:
(1) There is no greater heirloom than Jesus.
Because no other heirloom brings peace with God.
No other heirloom brings forgiveness of sins.
No other heirloom wipes out guilt.
No other heirloom defeats evil.
No other heirloom conquers death.
No other heirloom gives eternal life.
Only Jesus can and does.
(2) Fan into Flame
This is a priceless heirloom.
One that needs to be cared for.
That’s the whole point of the next verse: Fan into flame the gift given to you by the laying on of hands. (2 Timothy 1:6)
Do you understand that reference? Air is necessary for a flame to grow. It’s why when you’ve got a pile of charcoal and it appears to be going out, you open up the lid of the grill, blow on the embers and they come back to life. In the past, they even had this big accordion-like thing that would blow air on the fire when you pushed it together. It was a safer option than get your face right next to the glowing hot rocks.
Paul reminds Timothy to keep fanning into flame the gift he’s been given.
And what gift was that? Two scholarly options and both are theologically sound.
First of all, the gift of faith. That’s the gift that we share with Timothy. When you come to faith in Jesus, it’s as if a single flame has been lit in the fireplace of your heart.
But if you don’t feed that flame, if you don’t tend to it.…eventually it goes out.
And, dear brother and sisters, if you don’t fan your faith into flame with the truth of God’s Word, it will fade away.
If you stay away from worship…faith grows dimmer.
If you stop reading your Bible…the flame starts to flicker.
If you drop out of your group study…the flame becomes a lone ember.
If you remove yourself from Jesus…the flame may go out.
When the gentle message of God’s Word comes to your heart again…
When you study God’s Word…
When you get into a Bible group…
When you hear God’s promises of his love.
When you meditate on the truth of his sacrifice.
When you worship and contemplate the words of praise.
That single flame?
Becomes a roaring fire.
A Timothy-like fire.
Stoked and ready to serve in His kingdom.
Want to be like Timothy? Fan that faith flame with God’s Word.
But the gift may also be a reference to the gift of talent. In fact, Paul reference the “Laying on of hands,” which literally means, “laying on hands.” It’s something that the early Apostles did as a way to confer special gifts on members of the church.
Timothy had special gifts! He was a pastor. He was outgoing. He was smart. He was patient. He was gifted with the skills to be a pastor.
You might not have pastor gifts.
But you have some kind of gifts.
Kid care skills.
Flower planting skills.
Whatever skill you have been given…
Recognize it’s a gift from God;
Put it to work in God’s kingdom.
And fan it into flame.
There’s a woman at the retirement home that I serve who loves coloring. Every day I make it there for Bible study; she’s working on coloring pictures. I asked her if she enjoyed doing it and she said that she did. She said that she colors because it’s a way that she can give thanks to God – even if it’s more difficult for her to do much else. And then…she said that she was practicing because she wanted to get better at color choices and shading so that she might give glory to God through her artwork.
Friends, that’s fanning the flame…
For God’s glory.
(3) Be Bold
Because it could be easy to be intimidated by all of this Jesus stuff.
It would easy for Timothy to feel unqualified or inadequate.
To feel uneducated.
To feel nervous, anxious and frightened.
He might be tempted to be timid.
And you might be, too.
But look at what Paul reminds Timothy that is also a reminder to you:
“The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power…” (2 Timothy 1:7)
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He made flames appear on the heads of his disciples.
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He roared like a tornado without an actual tornado.
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He gave the disciples the ability to speak in languages they have never learned.
The Spirit of God is not timid.
He worked through fishermen, accountants, political activists…and even a young boy like Timothy to spread the message of the Gospel.
And that same Spirit will work through you.
Will be with you.
Will guide you as you serve in his kingdom.
(4) Be Loving
Because if the Spirit were only powerful…well…
Suddenly evangelism isn’t about winning souls.
Suddenly evangelism is about winning…
Maybe you’ve seen this in action.
Christians head to online forums, find a blog, and spending all day trying to give them spiritual complexes with God’s Word in order to prove that I am godlier than they are!
It’s as if we view God’s Word like a chair that we’re slamming onto someone’s head in order to stand over them in superiority.
But God didn’t just give us a spirit of power. He gave us a spirit of love. (2 Timothy 1:7)
He didn’t crush us with God’s law, but crushed sin with the Gospel.
He didn’t dominate sinners, but saved sinners from domination.
He didn’t destroy us for our sins, he destroyed our sins for us.
We do the same.
Empowered by God.
Loved by God.
We speak boldly.
But we speak lovingly.
We remember the goal isn’t “to win,” but “to save souls from eternal hellfire.”
(5) Be Disciplined
That was Paul’s whole point to Timothy. It was his main reason for writing to him.
Even though he was no longer a rookie…
Even though he was now a long-time pastor…
Even though he was a veteran of faith…
Paul’s main directive to Timothy was to be disciplined.
Because God didn’t give us a spirit of timidity…but a spirit…of self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)
Part of preparation for youth confirmation is memory work.
Memorizing truths about God’s Word.
It may not have always been easy.
It may not have always been fun.
It may not have always been something you looked forward to.
But that’s being disciplined.
That’s taking the truth that God loves you.
And taking it from the page.
Planting it into your brain.
Guiding it into your heart.
When you kids bully you and you feel unloved, you remember: “God so loved the world (me) that he gave his one and only Son (for me) that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
When you feel confused about what path to take in the future, you remember: “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
When you are tempted by friends to do things that you’ll regret for the rest of your life, you remember: “You are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the Light.” (Ephesians 5:8)
When you are in college, alone, as if no one will be there for you: Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus…(2 Timothy 1:8-10)
Do you remember at the beginning we talked about the heirloom of eternity that has been given to you.
We said it goes back to your parents.
Even to your grandparents.
But here…we’re reminded it goes farther.
It goes back to the beginning.
It goes back to before the beginning.
The heirloom of eternity comes from before eternity.
Brothers and sisters…
Cherish that heirloom.
Fan your faith into flame.
Until God confirms your faith eternally and takes you home to heaven. Amen.
We are in the middle of our Eyewitness sermon series and so far, we have heard Eyewitness reports from Mary Magdalene and from the Emmaus Disciples (Named? Cleopas and the other guy). In addition, we heard there’s a group of at least three other women (Mary the mother of James, Joanna and others—Lk. 24:10) who saw Jesus alive as well. That means by evening on Easter Sunday there are 5 people who have witnessed Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
The unlikely story is building credibility.
DNA testing was introduced into our court system in the early 90s. Did you know that hundreds of people who were previously convicted by eyewitness reports have been found not-guilty thanks to the DNA Testing? In 70% of those cases, the reason for conviction was the eyewitness testimony of one or two people.
John Wixted, a psychologist for the University of California, San Diego – wanted to see how useful eyewitness testimony was. He conducted an experiment with police that focused on 348 robberies in 2013 that involved an eyewitness and a single suspect. He showed the eyewitness a group of 5 photos in which one was the convicted robber. The eyewitnesses got the correct suspect 1/3 of the time.
But…in addition to quizzing eyewitnesses on the correct suspect, he also asked them about their certainty – whether they were unsure, certain, or very certain.
Of the people who were very certain? They correctly identified the suspect 75% of the time.
And when there was even one other supporting eyewitness, the rate of correct identification shot up to 90%.
By evening on the very first Easter, Jesus was identified as risen by at least 5 eyewitnesses.
And their confidence? It was through the roof! They didn’t see Jesus running away or from a distance, but up close and personal.
But…they aren’t even the beginning of the eyewitness accounts.
Today we’ll look an eyewitness account that probably quadruples the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. The goal? Gain your confidence that Jesus is alive. Before we begin, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Eyewitness Account
The eyewitness account is recorded in both the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Luke. We’re going be in both, starting with John. It says, “On the evening of that first day of the week...the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…” (Jn. 20:19)
The section starts by describing a group of disciples together. The Gospel of Luke helps us better define who the group was gathered together.
A few notes:
It doesn’t involve Judas – he betrayed Judas and took his life because of the guilt.
It doesn’t involve Thomas – take note – we’ll talk more about that next week.
It does involve the Emmaus disciples – Cleopas and what’s-his-name show up to tell them all about their eyewitness experience.
It involves the women – Mary Magdalene, other Mary and Joanna, the other woman – who had seen Jesus rise from the dead.
And…maybe even a few others.
In short, the group is somewhere around 15-20 people.
And the doors were locked. It’s almost a horror film like setting. The disciples have the doors locked, latched, barred, with a couple pieces of furniture stacked against the door – all because they are afraid of the Jewish leaders.
The Jewish leaders just killed Jesus.
They crucified him.
They acted like a mob, wrongfully arrested him, falsely accused him, illegally convicted him, and forced Pilate’s hand to have him crucified.
What if the leaders did the same to them?
What if they had 12 more crosses just waiting to be filled with 12 more disciples?
What if any encounter with a Jewish leader would end the same way that Jesus’ encounter did…death?
And so, they hid.
And…all day long people had been entering the room with really weird accounts.
“We went to the grave and we thought he’d be dead, but the stone was moved!”
“An angel. A brilliantly bright angel. He saw us and spoke to us and said Jesus was alive.”
“It’s true. We listened to Mary. We ran to look. There wasn’t a body in the tomb.”
“I came back later and saw Jesus himself! I know it…because I heard his voice. A voice that healed me from demons.”
“We walked on the road with him. We talked with him. Would we have come all the way back here from Emmaus – a 7-mile sprint? – if we hadn’t really seen something?”
And to be fair – the reports brought excitement.
They brought mystery.
They brought questions.
But mostly…they brought fear.
Lots and lots of fear.
Because this fear of the Jews – had obviously caused their friends – delusions….
…their mind was playing tricks on them!
…a slow descent into madness.
How long until it hit them?
In the midst of the fear, confusion and hushed conversations…
Another guest appeared into the room.
Everyone was so distracted that they did not hear him enter.
Granted --- he didn’t knock.
He just appeared.
While they were…talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (Luke 24:36-37)
And the disciples…have anything but peace!
It’s the ghost!
He’s seeking vengeance.
He’s back to haunt us.
Jesus lifted up his hands.
The disciples braced themselves for the inevitable plasma-ball to come out and consume them.
Jesus said this, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” (v.38)
One by one…the disciples looked at each other.
“Touch him? Touch the ghost?”
“You do it.”
“No, you do it.”
“I’m not touching the ghost!”
Finally, Peter pushes his brother Andrew forward.
He lifts up his hand.
He places it on Jesus’ hand…and…
“Whoa…Guys. It’s real.”
The other disciples quickly come over.
They feel the bumps on his skin.
They feel the hairs on his arms.
They touched the holes near his hands.
He has flesh and bone – just like any other living human has.
Jesus asks, “Do you have anything here to eat?” (v.42)
One of them hands over the fish sandwich.
They pass it to Jesus.
It’ll probably fall to the floor – he’s a spirit.
Jesus ate it in their presence. (v.43)
It went into his mouth.
Chewed by his teeth.
Tasted by his tongue.
Into his throat
Into his belly.
Just like it does with any living human being.
Then, Jesus gave them something else.
He said to them, “This is what I said would happen. Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Old Testament.” (v.44)
I had to die.
And I had to rise.
Just as it was written:
“God, you will not abandon my soul to the grave, nor let your Holy One see decay.” (Psalm 16:10)
“After he has suffered, the Messiah will see the light of life…” (Isaiah 53:11)
“Just as Jonah was three days and night in the belly of a fish, so the Son of man will be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth.” (Mt. 12:40)
Friends I am alive.
Jesus’ words echoed…
And the disciples came to a realization.
This wasn’t a hallucination.
This wasn’t a vision.
This wasn’t even a ghost.
This was something much worse.
This was real.
And it couldn’t be more terrifying!
Because the last time most of them saw Jesus?
It was in a garden, late at night, running away as he got arrested.
They had abandoned him.
They had denied him.
They had watched…without doing anything…as he died a slow, painful death on the cross.
They sinned against him…
Now he was back.
Proof that He was who He said He was.
Proof that He was God Almighty who controlled hurricanes, volcanoes and flash floods.
Proof that He was real --- and He was back – and He was back for one reason only:
One by one by the disciples looked towards the grounds.
They knew they were sinners and they were awaiting their sin-hating God to utterly destroy them.
Instead he repeated:
“Peace be with you.”
I am God.
I am alive.
I have the power of life and death.
But I am not angry. (Isaiah 27:4)
I am not here to get you.
I am not here for revenge.
I am here because we won.
Because your sins are forgiven.
Because we are at peace.
II. Resurrection Truth
There it is. The biggest, most populated eyewitness account that we’ve encountered to date.
It’s filled with reasons for confidence.
It’s filled with truth.
What is that truth? Three things:
(1) Jesus Rose from the Dead
Yep. Third time that it’s come up as a truth to learn from the eyewitness account.
Think about it. Jesus goes out of his way to prove that His physical, tangible body is in working order again.
His digestive system works.
His joints work.
His skin works.
He even invites the disciples – all 20-some of them – to do a full, thorough investigation.
Don’t you think they did everything possible to determine if it really was real or not?
Some tapped him.
Someone pinched him.
I gotta imagine someone might have even tried to pluck his arm hair out.
And Jesus allows it! Because it’s real.
And, it’s not just any old tangible working body, but his own working body.
He’s had the nail marks in his hands to prove it.
He’s had holes in his feet to prove it.
He had a big, old slit in his side to prove it.
If this was all one big ruse, then Jesus would have had to convince someone, “Hey, do you mind posing as me after I die on the cross? Really? Cool. Now…I know it sounds crazy, but would you be willing to shove nails into your hands, a stake through your feet and a spear into your side? We’re gonna need those wounds to heal up in order to convince people that it’s really me.”
It didn’t happen.
What did happen?
Jesus really, absolutely, complete rose from the dead.
And that’s important.
Because that means…
(2) We Have Peace
It’s a phrase that Jesus repeats a few times.
“Peace be with you.”
“Peace be with you.”
Because as hard as it might be to believe that Jesus rose from the dead, it might be harder to believe that we have peace with God.
Because we have guilt.
We have sinned.
We have shame.
Truth is – you might be believing that God is so angry with you.
Because of past sins.
Because of BIG past sins.
Because of repeated sins.
Because of unbelief.
Because of not following Jesus.
Because you haven’t been whom God called you to be!
And so…you don’t believe.
And the biggest reason you don’t believe in the resurrection is not be a lack of evidence.
But your biggest reason for not believing in the resurrection is the ramifications.
I am a sinner and lo, God hates me!
But…if Jesus rose.
Then, sin has been defeated.
And…if Jesus rose,
Your sin has been paid for.
And…if your sin has been paid for. Completely. 100% perfectly.
Then, God’s wrath has subsided.
And if God’s wrath has subsided.
Then, you have no reason to be afraid.
Hear Jesus’ words to you:
“Peace be with you.”
Understand. It isn’t because your sin isn’t a big deal – it’s a huge deal.
It isn’t because God doesn’t hate sin and evil – He absolutely does.
It isn’t because you’ve done enough to make up for it – you can’t, and you won’t.
It’s because of Jesus.
Unbelievable as it is – it’s true.
About as unbelievable as a resurrection – also true.
The visible nature of the resurrection provides tangible proof of the invisible truth of reconciliation with God. (Romans 4:25)
The resurrection is the visible proof of the invisible truth:
You have peace with God.
Which leads to our final truth:
(3) You have been Sent
To end his encounter with the disciples, Jesus says, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Do you get it?
God sent Jesus to bring us back to peace with Him.
And He sent risen Jesus to His disciples to confirm that peace with Him.
And He is sending us to share that peace with others.
He is sending YOU to share that peace with others.
Because there are people out there who are far apart from God.
Who are entangled in sin.
Who are covered in guilt.
Who are like those disciples huddled in that room afraid to face the world because they have no peace.
You give them that peace.
You tell them about Jesus.
And there aren’t any qualifications!
He doesn’t say, “If you have Seminary Certification then you have been sent.” Nope.
Qualifications for sharing Jesus include:
(1) Believing in Jesus.
(2) Hearing his call to “Go” and “Be sent.”
Which you just heard…
SO…this means you!
If you’ve known about Jesus since you were a child? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you’ve known about Jesus since this last Easter. Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a 40 plus year member of this church? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you aren’t even a member yet? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to a retirement community? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are going home to hang out in your playroom? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a master’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a bachelor’s degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you have a high school degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you don’t have any degree? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who look and act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you live near people who don’t look and don’t act like you? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Republican? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a Democrat? Sent. Go tell about Jesus.
If you are a political agnostic? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Raleigh? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Durham? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Wake Forest? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
IF you live in Chapel Hill? Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you live in Cary, Zebulon, Fuquay Varina, Rolesville, Louisburg…or any other villle or burg that I’m forgetting to mention here:
Sent. Go, tell about Jesus.
If you are a someone or an anyone who knows about Jesus…
(And friends – Jesus is talking to you)
You have been sent. Go and tell about Jesus.
And the Holy Spirit will be with you. Amen.
Last week we started our Fighting Temptation series by looking at Jesus’ one-on-one battle against the devil. We watched him effortlessly defeat Satan’s attempt at trying to make him sin. Jesus is the Undisputed, Undefeated, Unblemished Champion against Temptation.
But maybe you also noticed that the battle had some cost for Jesus.
It cost him time with his friends.
It cost him a stress-free month.
It cost him a delicious meal for about 40 days.
Truth is that temptation costs…
Is it worth it?
A couple of years back one of the dads at Precious Lambs taught karate. With some encouragement, I tried it out. And I enjoyed it! I liked learning the proper way to punch. I enjoyed learning a few combos. I think I looked pretty good in the ghee.
But after about a month of training, the Sensei invited me to a sparring match against another gym. I wouldn’t do any sparring, but I could watch more experienced classmates in action. He said, “In the future, this could be you.”
So, I watched.
It looked pretty fun.
I thought, “I sure would like to do that.”
Until about 30 minutes in. One gentleman began a reverse turn while lifting up his back leg (almost parallel to his head). As he completed his revolution, he brought his heel down in a striking manner towards his opponent’s head. Now – his opponent was ready and put his arm up to block the heel kick.
He did everything right.
And I thought: “I think I’ve had enough karate…”
It cost too much.
Today we’ll examine fighting temptation when it costs. Our goal this morning is to identify those costs, compare them to the costs of NOT fighting temptation and get some motivation to keep fighting even when it costs. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Costs of Fighting Temptation
The lesson for this morning comes from Philippians 3:17-21. A brief bit of background. This is from a letter written by a pastor named Paul to his former congregation in a city called Philippi. One of the key parts of the letter is to encourage the believers in Philippi to fight against temptation.
In 1:10 he says, “Be pure” and fight sexual temptation.
In 2:1-3 he says, “In humility consider others better than yourself” and fight selfish temptation.
In 2:14 he says, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing” and fight temptation to discord.
In 3:2 he says, “Watch out mutilators of the flesh” guys who taught you needed to be circumcised to be saved and fight the temptation of trusting your own works more than God.
All of this fighting temptation talk leads up to verse 17. Paul writes, “Join together in my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”
Fight temptation like I, Paul, have fought temptation.
That sounds nice.
Paul was an apostle.
He fought temptation well.
It’d be good to fight like him.
Do you know what happened to Paul for fighting temptation?
I don’t know exactly how this letter got to the Philippians. But if it is anything like today, there’d be a return address up on in the corner of the envelope containing the letter. And…based on where Paul was when he wrote this, the return address would have said something like this:
Roman Inmate #1764
Roman Federal Prison
Rome, Italy 2761 Jailbird
And I bet the church thought:
Did we break some kind of legal code?
Is someone asking our church for money?
Did one of our youths from youth group get in a bunch of trouble?
It’s just your former pastor…
And yet Paul tells them! I’m in Chains for Christ!
“I’m in jail not because I fell to sin. But because I didn’t fall to sin.
Because I kept preaching the Word of God.
Because I kept telling others about Jesus.
Because I kept sharing the Gospel even when the temptation (and the temptation was great) even when the temptation was to stop sharing the Gospel.”
And now Paul tells the to join in his example, to fight temptation just like him.
But if I’m one of the Philippians reading this message, I’m not so sure!
Because if fighting temptation means going to prison, then…
Fighting temptation has a cost.
It costs you time with your family.
It costs you your job.
It costs you your freedom.
It costs you 6 am fresh coffee from Sola Coffee Café!
It’s like one of those commercials for a new drug. The voiceover tells you that this new, simple pill will allow you to grow back your hair in only 3 months. Everyone in the commercial looks happy. They all have a full head of hair. And you think: “Sure I’m interested. I’d love to get rid of my balding look.” Then, at the end of the commercial, there’s that part where they run through a few of the side effects in 10-point font:
Side effects include: nausea, headache, joint pain, dizziness, loss of sleep, too much sleep, loss of taste, loss of vision, loss of hearing and loss of hair.
Fighting temptation has side effects.
Fighting temptation has costs.
Here are a few common costs to fighting temptation
1) Earthly Relationships
I remember one time that I found a pretty good devotional. It was talking about a hot topic social issue. I posted this pretty good devotional on a hot topic social issue despite the temptation to maybe…move on. The result? I had a friend message me that if I ever did that again – he would block me. We wouldn’t be friends on Facebook.
Fighting temptation can cost you relationships.
“No, I won’t meet together for coffee and complaining anymore.” And they reply, “I guess you’re not our friend.”
“No, I won’t support your addiction and tell you that you don’t have a problem.” And they respond, “Okay. I’m done with you.”
“Significant other…I love you, but NO I won’t be sexually intimate with you until the promises of marriage.” And they say, “Well, then. You don’t love me. And we’re done here.”
2) Career Path
If you’re looking at Paul’s career strictly from an economic perspective, he made a big mistake by using his oratory skills to preach Jesus. Before he did that, he followed the Pharisees. He was an up and comer. Rich people liked him. He was a made man – a future leader in the city of Jerusalem. Thankfully Jesus intervened and taught Paul the truth – about what to believe and what to preach.
But then he taught about Jesus.
That landed him in jail.
Fighting Temptation can cost you your career path.
“No, I won’t fudge the numbers of my sales calls…and I’ll probably lose the promotion to the guy who does.”
“No, I won’t bad-mouth my coworkers…and I’ll probably lose the bonus to the guys who do.”
“No, I won’t hide my faith at work…and I’ll probably have to get a talking to from HR.”
3) Bodily Pleasure
Easy example. Think of the temptation to overeat. The temptation to have the third eclair is great! To say, “No!” comes with the cost of not having the pleasure of enjoying it.
Fighting temptation can cost you bodily pleasure.
“If I say NO to porn, it will cost me an excited feeling.”
“If I say NO to getting drunk, it’ll cost me a wonderful relaxation.”
“If I say NO to letting all of my rage out on that loser over there, then It’ll cost me the opportunity to get my stress out.”
4) Human Glory
For Paul, he lost all kinds of glory! He could have been something big. He could have been a guy that people walked by and said, “Now that guy’s impressive. He’s really good at following God’s laws. He’s so religious. He’s so holy.”
Instead? “That Paul guy is a loser.”
Fighting temptation can cost you human glory.
“If I say NO to racism and stop bad-mouthing people of another culture, it’ll make me feel inadequate because I won’t be able to distract people from my own flaws.”
“If I say NO to berating my wife, she might feel valuable and worthwhile to this family at the expense of me feeling like the sole provider!”
“If I say NO to pride, it’ll cost me all those people over there knowing how awesome I am!”
“If I say NO to making that funny dirty joke, all my grade school friends won’t think I’m cool anymore”
“If I say NO to drugs, all my high school friends will think I’m a loser.”
“If I say NO to supporting that sinful thing society says is “OK,” all my adult friends will think I’m a bigot.”
There is no doubt that Fighting Temptation comes with costs.
There is no doubt that Fighting Temptation will be painful.
There is no doubt that the temptation to not Fight Temptation is enticing.
II. The Cost of NOT Fighting
Before we give up on fighting temptation and give in to whatever sin is tempting us, we need to look at this from the other side.
We need to compare the cost of Fighting temptation with the cost of NOT fighting Temptation.
That’s exactly Paul’s next point. Look at what “not” fighting temptation costs:
For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. (v.18-20)
Did you catch it? Let’s break it apart to find some of the costs of not fighting temptation:
1) A Relationship with God
Specifically, Paul writes, “Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” (V.18) Before we said, a cost of fighting temptation is that you might lose some relationships: friends, family members, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc.
But if you stop fighting temptation and live in sin? You’ll forfeit your friendship with God.
And it isn’t that you’ll be an acquaintance or some guy on the bus that you have a neutral feeling with.
But you’ll be an enemy of God!
Why do that?
Why would you want to be an enemy of the One who gave his life for you to save you from sin and death?
Why would you want to be an enemy of the One who is all powerful? Who conquered death itself and will have no problem conquering YOU?
Understand: Giving up on Fighting Temptation means that you will be giving up on your relationship with God.
2) Eternal Path
Paul writes, “(Those people who don’t fight temptation) their destiny is destruction.” (v.19a) Contrast this with the loss of our career path.
Because “Yes,” fighting temptation may mean you lose out on the career prestige of this world, but NOT fighting temptation leads to a change in your eternal destiny.
Instead of the promise of eternal life forever in heaven?
It’s like a soda can. When you are done with a Pepsi, you might throw it on the ground and crush it. Destruction.
Do you really want your destiny to be the same as that of an aluminum 7-Up can?
That’s the cost of not fighting temptation.
3) Heavenly Pleasure
Paul writes, “Their god is their stomach.” (v.19b) Think about that. If your stomach is your ‘god,’ that means that it is the most important thing to you. Everything that you do in life is for your stomach and to serve your stomach.
But…what can your stomach give you?
A full feeling…for about 2 hours.
How about constipation?
If your stomach…better yet…if your physical body is your God, then your pleasure will be momentary.
But if Jesus is your God?
You have the pleasure of forgiveness.
You have the pleasure of a peace with God.
You have the pleasure of knowing your salvation is certain.
Not fighting temptation costs you that heavenly pleasure.
4) God’s Glory
Paul writes, “Their glory is their shame.” (v.19c) It’s an interesting verse. Because we said earlier that if you fight temptation, you might lose some of your own glory! Pride helps you feel good about yourself. Pride makes the world pay attention. Pride makes everyone in church pay attention to how awesome you are! It gives you a human version of glory.
But at the same time that it earns your momentary, human glory, it forfeits eternal heavenly glory.
And heavenly glory lasts!
Heavenly glory lasts forever.
Heavenly glory comes from the mouth of God himself as he says,
“You are forgiven.”
“You are mine.”
“Come, dwell with me…forever.”
Giving up on saying “No” to temptation forfeits that glory.
It forfeits heaven.
III. Other Reasons to Fight
Do you know the process for becoming a citizen in the United States?
You must have a valid Green Card for at least 5 years. There are costs involved in that.
You must apply and do paperwork and do some more paperwork. There are costs involved in that.
You must attend classes, take tests, and await results. There are costs involved in that.
Finally, you must be approved and take an oath of citizenships. Again – there are costs involved in that.
It costs a lot of money.
It takes a lot of work.
It involves a lot of time.
But that’s nothing compared to becoming a citizen of heaven!
God says we need to be holy.
God says that we need to be perfect.
God says that we need to love him with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind…all of the time!
We could never earn his citizenship. We fall to temptation too often.
The fact remains…
Dear believing friends…
Our citizenship is in heaven. (v.20)
Jesus paid for all of it.
Jesus did all of the paperwork.
Jesus has made you a citizen of his kingdom.
God the Father has approved you because of Jesus’ work.
You are a citizen of God’s kingdom.
And as a result, you have an incredible reason to fight temptation:
1) You are a Citizen of God’s Kingdom
A citizen of the United States may join the military and fight for our country.
Athletic citizens of the United States may join the Olympic team and win a gold medal for the U. S. flag.
Ambassador citizens of the U.S. may go to another country to watch out for and keep safe the U.S. Citizens in that foreign country.
If you are United States citizen, you do things on its behalf.
If you are a citizen of God’s kingdom? You do things on its behalf.
You fight temptation.
You are part of the one and only eternal kingdom of God Himself.
He fought for you and gave up his life to get you there.
Live like a citizen of His kingdom.
2) Fight on the Winning Side
Paul writes, “And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (v.21b)
Savior implies that he does saving.
Which implies that he is successful at saving.
Which implies that he wins every battle against anyone that tries to stop him from saving.
Which implies that he is a winner.
Which implies that whoever is on his side…is also a winner!
In Christ, you are a winner, too.
Remember – Jesus destroyed the devil in that one-on-one temptation battle last week.
Then he went on to crush Satan’s head with his work on the cross.
And as an encore, he destroyed death by emerging victoriously from the grave.
And in him – you are victorious.
In Jesus, you are a winner.
In Jesus, you will receive all of the victory spoils.
3) The Promise of a Glorious Body
Paul writes: “Jesus, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (v.21c)
Our bodies are lowly.
I can sleep for 8 hours and I’m still tired.
I can do about 30 pushups and then I just lay on my stomach.
I can resist putting a second Dorito into my mouth – for about 5 seconds.
Our bodies are lowly.
They are tired, weak and dying.
God promises that our bodies will be transformed.
After our bodies die.
After our souls are in heaven.
On the Last Day, when God does an incredible miracle and brings our bodies back to life.
They will still be our bodies, but…
They will be glorious!
Just like what happened to Jesus.
When rose from the dead, he made his way to see his disciples on that first Easter evening.
Think about all he went through.
Surely, his body would be weak.
But when Jesus walked in…
He was different.
He had nail marks in his hands, but they weren’t bleeding, bruised, or scabbed. His body was without pain.
He had a smile on his face and no sweat on his forehead. His body was without weakness.
The sin that he had taken on his body – our sins – was gone! His body was without shame.
That same kind of body is promised to you.
In eternal life, there will be no pain.
In eternal life, there will be no weakness to temptation.
In eternal life, there will be no remembrance of sinful failures.
There will be no guilt.
There will be no shame.
Friends, the benefits to following Jesus and fighting temptation far outweigh the benefits to not fight temptation.
May Jesus empower us to keep fighting temptation even when it costs.
For Humbling Us
Of all the things that get in our own way, pride is our own biggest obstacle. Why? Because it’s entirely unjustified. We are not good. We have nothing good in ourselves. We can produce nothing objectively good. Only God can do that. Only God can make us good. Only God can help us. Only God and his blessings are worth being proud of. When we start to have pride in ourselves, we need to be humbled.
Like Joseph. Joseph had gotten a bit of a big head. Dad liked him best of all his brothers. He had dreams that his family would bow down to him someday, and he was a little too happy to talk about that. And so, God humbled him. God took Joseph from his cushy place as Dad’s darling and sold him into slavery to remind him that he had no power of his own, that everything worth anything comes from God alone.
And so when we get too proud of ourselves, too confident in ourselves, we thank God that he takes the effort to humble us again, to take our power away, to show us how little we have on our own, so that we can return to the source of our real strength, God alone.
19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” 21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing—24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it. 25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.
26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.
28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
For His Own Timing
In an age of microwaves, the internet, smartphones, and other marvels, life has not gotten easier because of the conveniences, it has gotten more hectic. We expect everything immediately. I sent you a message an hour ago! I can’t believe it’ll take a full day before this is ready! These expectations only make life harder on us, we only contribute to it when we expect the same of others. And even moreso when we expect it of our God.
But God has his own timetable. With a perspective of time that we can’t match and wisdom beyond our understanding, God knows exactly when the right time to act is. And despite our best efforts to advise God, the time is not always what we think it should be, which would usually be “now”. God says be patient, I have better in mind for you.
Joseph had to understand this. He probably had hopes that he could be released from prison after helping one of Pharaoh’s own. But the time was not right. We’ll see shortly, he needed to stay where he was for now so that he could be in the right place to deliver a message from God to Pharaoh and in doing so save entire nations starvation.
For Daily Bread
The land of Egypt and surrounding nations were about to be in trouble. There would be seven very good years of harvest, but they would be followed by seven years of drought and famine. Imagine being lulled into the security of seven years of abundance, growing wasteful, and suddenly it’s all taken away from you. Maybe you don’t have to imagine. Maybe you’ve had that moment in your life where it felt like all was lost. But the God of grace and mercy promises to provide. Even to people who did not know him or worship him as God. So God put Joseph in the right place at the right time to warn Pharaoh of what was coming.
We thank God for providing. We are utterly dependent on our God in all ways, but sometimes we forget just how much we depend on him daily, even hourly. We need food and drink. Shelter and clothes. And our God provides daily. We don’t earn it. We don’t deserve it, but our God gives it to us all the same. It doesn’t always come in the way we expect, but our God never lets us down. And for that we give thanks. And we show our thanks by offering part of his gifts back to him.
For Joseph, things seemed to turn out alright. Yes, he had difficulty, but now he was second in command of Egypt. Not bad for starting as a slave. Joseph could have let the power and authority go to his head, but instead he recognized that he was only where he was by God’s hand and that God had only given him this honor in order to serve a greater good, the saving of lives.
It was this attitude that allowed him to face another challenge with a godly attitude; the reunion with his brothers. He had it within his authority to have them jailed the moment he saw them, even executed if he saw fit. But he didn’t. He recognized that he was as much a sinner as they each were. He recognized that through their sinful actions God had worked a greater good as he always does. Such understanding allowed him to face his brothers without anger and instead with forgiveness.
We give thanks to God that he allows the same in us. That by his spirit he creates hearts within us that are able to forgive just as he forgave us. We give great thanks that we are pardoned by the blood of Jesus, but we also give thanks that by his power we are able to release old hurts and grudges and live at peace with those who have wronged us. What a great gift to not need to be burdened and burned up from within by anger and rage but rather to be at peace, knowing that our God worked good for us even through the hurts, and knowing that the blood of Jesus paid for the crimes against us even as it paid for the crimes we ourselves committed. We give thanks that we are able to forgive.
For Our True Home
Despite all the good that happened with Joseph’s life, there was still a problem at the end of it. He wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Egypt was fine, and his family was provided for, but this wasn’t the place that God promised his great-grandfather. As fine as the living was, Joseph knew they wouldn’t stay. And he didn’t want them to stay, it wasn’t what God had in mind for them. Sure enough, down the road that would become very clear when the time came for Moses to lead the people out.
Despite everything that we have to be thankful for here and now, all the blessings God gives us, it is not perfect. It is far from it. Every day has its own pains and heartaches and troubles. Sometimes they pile on so deep and so quickly it could lead a person to despair. And so, we give thanks to our God that we are not staying here. This is not our true home, that is still to come.
There is much to be thankful for here and reasons to be happy while here. But we give thanks that God keeps our eyes down the path, in good times and bad, looking ahead to our true home that he has promised us. It is our greatest encouragement in all parts of life, that by the blood of Jesus we have an eternity with God to look forward to.
For the Savior
You might be surprised to hear that for as much attention as Joseph gets in the Bible, he’s not actually part of the line of the savior. That was his brother, Judah. Still, his life did serve one very important purpose. His actions and intervention during the Egyptian famine ensured that his family did not starve. His brothers lived, and their families lived. And through Judah, down through the line, was eventually born David the King and through David’s line was the ancestry of both Joseph and Mary, and from them, Jesus.
God made a promise in Eden, that someone would come to crush the serpent’s head. Jesus has done this for us. By Jesus we are saved. By Jesus are sins forgiven. By Jesus is the eternal home opened to us. Without him, this would all be meaningless. All the other things we might be thankful for are just dust in the wind, here and gone. Without Jesus the eternal gifts would not exist. Without Jesus we would have pale comforts for a short time until an eternal death.
And so more than anything this evening and every day, we give thanks for the Savior. We could lose everything, have all our earthly possessions taken from us, our family dead or gone, our health destroyed and be in pain every moment the rest of our lives and we could STILL be thankful, because it will end and Jesus will take us home. Above everything and at every moment, we give thanks for the savior Jesus.
Joshua dabbed at the perspiration on his forehead.
They’re almost all here, Mr. Joshua Sir.
Joshua nodded from his seat behind a tree and took a sip of water. It was an important day. Joshua, the general of the Israelite army, was about to make a speech to tens of thousands of Israelites. They had gathered in Shechem – a place centrally located to the entire land of what – until recently – had been called Canaan.
Now it was known as Israel.
Joshua smiled at the thought. This is exactly what God had said. Over 500 years ago, God had promised this land would be theirs. God had said that he would give it to them. God had promised that he was going to do some awesome things to get them to this point even when they were slaves in Egypt!
And God had.
When they faced a roaring flood stage river and were unable to cross, God was with them…and split the waters in half for them to cross.
When they faced a gigantic 12-foot-thick wall surrounding the city of Jericho, God was with them…and knocked the walls at the sound of a trumpet.
When they were running out of daylight to defeat their enemies, God was with them and held the earth in its place, on its axis, pausing the universe to give them the land he desired to give!
The land was theirs.
It was all thanks to God.
But…recently…people seemed to be forgetting that.
He had overhead some of the soldiers talking about “What a great thing it was that they had done. And how they had won this land for themselves.”
He had seen fliers being passed around for a new group’s weekly meetings: the W.I.A.A.S. We Israelites Are Awesome Society.
He had noticed fewer and fewer people had been attending worship services on a weekly basis.
Even as Joshua watched the people file into the makeshift amphitheater, he could see signs of it.
The “Baal, golden calf god” t-shirts were speckled throughout the arena.
A tattoo could be seen that read “Praise to Asherah! The cool NEW god”
The look of annoyance on the teenager who could clearly be seen mouthing the words, “Why do we have to listen to what the LORD has to say? He isn’t relevant anymore.”
Joshua shook his head
And his eyes got a bit teary eyed.
How could they forget? How could they forget the LORD?
He got the signal from his assistants. The people were ready.
He took a deep breath.
He may have been old. He may not be hip. He may not be cool.
But he knew…EXACTLY what needed to be said:
Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served or the gods of the Amorites in whom you are now living. But…as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (24:15)
Today we look at the final chapter in the book of Joshua. We will unpack this statement from Scripture as we learn (1) why serving two gods doesn’t work (2) which household gods to throw away (3) which God to serve and (4) how to ensure that our households serve that God. Before we do that, a prayer: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is truth. Open our eyes to see what YOU want us to see. Open our ears to hear what YOU want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what YOU would have us believe. Amen.
I. Is it Possible to Serve Two gods?
Maybe this seems a bit strange to you. Why is God so jealous? Shouldn’t he be content if people worship him sometimes? Think about it:
People have two dogs.
People have two cats.
People have two kids.
People have two Netflix series that they watch at the same time.
Why can’t people have two gods?
The answer lies within the definition of a god. A god is “whomever or whatever you love, fear, and trust the most.” Makes sense. God is who you view as most powerful. God is who you view as most protecting. God is the one to whom you are most thankful for things. God is the one to whom you turn when you are in trouble.
Notice. God is a superlative. He is MOST. If we think back to English class, do you remember what a superlative means? It means there is nothing that holds a higher content of whatever adjectival quality is attributed to it.
The spiciest chili pepper is the ghost pepper. Nothing is spicier.
The tallest mountain in North Carolina is Mt. Mitchell. No mountain is taller.
The best biscuits in Raleigh are at Rise Bakery. No biscuits are better.
When faced with a superlative, the reality is that there can only be one.
I’m a pastor. Pastors should be all things to all people. In other words, I want to enjoy the things people enjoy so that I can serve them with the message of God’s Word. That means I like coffee with the coffee drinkers and tea with the tea drinkers. It means I high five those who like high fives and shake hands with those who like to shake hands. It means I cheer for UNC with UNC fans and the Wolfpack with Wolfpack fans. I am neutral.
At least, in theory.
A couple of years ago the two teams were playing in a football showdown. I thought to myself, “I don’t know who I’m going to cheer for.” But as the game went on, I noticed something. There was definitely a team that was I was cheering for. There was definitely a team that I like better.
Now...I’m not telling which one. I don’t need to get mugged after this. But do you get the point? When pitted against one another, one team becomes more important than the other. You can’t have two superlatives.
And if that’s true for football teams, wouldn’t it be true with “god?”
Jesus said this, “You cannot serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Mt. 6:24)
Because when Jesus says, “Serve me only” and Allah says, “Serve me only.” You can’t serve one without immediately breaking the command of the other.
You can’t serve two gods.
II. Society’s Household Idols
That was the problem that ancient Israel was facing. There were a bunch of different options that were suddenly available to them in their new land. Joshua mentions the “gods of your ancestors and the gods the Amorites.” Those were the ‘false gods’ that were a part of their society. There were a few:
There was Baal – a bronze god that was ½ human and ½ cow.
There was Dagon – a stone gold that was ½ human and ½ fish.
There was Asherah – a formless fertility goddess that you worshipped by having intercourse in front of the statue.
They were new.
They were interesting.
They seemed to allow more “fun.”
The only problem? None of them were real.
Baal was a bronze statue.
Dagon was a stone statue.
Asherah a piece of wood that had etchings, paint, and a bit of glitter tossed on it.
How could any of these things be “most” powerful if they didn’t even come into existence without the artistic hands of the human being?
How could any of them be “most” loving if they couldn’t even have emotions?
How could you put their trust in any of them, if you got into a bit of trouble and, “Oh no, I left my god in my other pair of pants?”
Baal, Dagon and Asherah are not as popular today. (You might not have even heard of them until today.) But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of false gods in our society. Here are a few:
Have you heard of this god before? He’s very popular in our society. Sometimes he’s green with one dead president on it. Sometimes he’s a little piece of metal that fits in your pocket. Sometimes he’s just a bunch of numbers that appear in that frequently used banking app on your phone.
Money is not bad. We need money. But the problem is society tells us to trust money to fix our lives. And when we believe that, we start trusting money more than God.
Yes. I know God is there, but things are going well, because I have money. Thanks be to you, O money.
Things aren’t going well. It’s because I don’t have enough money.
If I want things to be good for my kids and for them to have opportunities, I’d better work more, I’d better make more money, because money will fix us.
Money doesn’t care about you.
Money didn’t create you.
Money was created in some US Government mint machine.
Money will not save you to eternity.
It will just get spent.
Don’t choose it for your household god.
Academics are a big deal in America. There’s all kinds of pressure to teach your kids lots of things and lots of stuff. The goal is so that they have a 5th grade education by the time they are five. We do it because we figure that they’ll get ahead. If they are only smart enough, then they get a job and life will be wonderful for them.
But what happens if we trust Academics as the key to a good life—more so than God?
Yes. Bible study is important, but if my girl gets a 4.0 then she’ll be set for life!
I’m sorry honey, there’s no time for devotion tonight; you need to be working on homework!
Yeah, I know…Sunday School and getting you ready for eternal life, but…this online course? It might get you to Harvard.
Academia is good, but Academia is also not god.
Don’t make it your household god.
I asked a mom what she had going on that weekend. She response that she was taking her kids to soccer in the morning, then get karate, then swim lessons, then chess club, and finally home for piano lessons. In other words – she was working for Uber.
But this is a common thing. The notion is that the only good parents are the ones that get their kids involved in at least seven extra curriculars. (And almost none of them are ever God related. Because God is the one extracurricular that society frowns on, but…I digress.) The point is that there’s this pressure to devote your life and your kids to extracurriculars. Because maybe they’ll be the next Lebron James…and then they’ll be set.
Extracurriculars aren’t bad. But when you start to devote more of your life to them than God then…there’s trouble.
School House Rock songs become more important than God songs.
Swimming lessons become more important than baptism.
Kids Cooking class becomes can’t miss while worship becomes…I suppose, if there’s time.
Extracurriculars are fine. They are also not god.
Don’t make them your household gods.
(4) Your Kids Themselves
That might be a bit strange. You might not label your kid as god, yet – we mentioned earlier a god is whoever you fear, love and trust most in your life.
Do you ever do something solely because you have a fear of not getting your daughter’s approval?
Have you ever not disciplined a kid for sin because you love their visible smile more than God’s invisible one?
Do you find yourself trusting that as long as my kid is happy (even if the happy is artificial flavoring induced) life will work out?
And suddenly we don’t feed God’s Word to our kids because – they really like it and I gotta keep them happy.
Here’s the truth: If you devote yourself to serving your kid’s desires instead of serving them the truth of God (and His Word), then you aren’t serving your kid.
Because happy people still die.
But people with faith in their Savior, live with eternal life.
And if you aren’t serving your kids a steady diet of their Lord, then…
You aren’t telling them about their Savior.
You aren’t telling them about his forgiveness.
You aren’t telling them about the peace he won for us.
You aren’t telling them about the One, the Only One who can get them into the promised Land!
III. The God who Serves You
Because he is the only option for household God – who has served you.
“I did not come to be served, but to serve and to give my life as a ransom payment for many.” (Mt. 20:28)
Think about this. Jesus said that His purpose was not to be served. He didn’t come to earth so that his disciples could kiss his feet, set him up in a hammock, and start waving palm branches at him. He did come to earth because he needed us to sing songs to Him, give money to Him, and say prayers to Him.
He came to serve.
And not just a glass of Coca Cola – or a bowl of Tostitos.
He came to serve with his whole life.
Even giving up his life as a ransom payment.
Because there is probably nothing worse than having a part of your family kidnapped. Can you imagine that? If someone was kidnapped, one of your kids, and there was nothing but one of those notes with only newspaper cutout letters that said, “Bring me $1 million dollars by Wednesday or else, you’ll never see your loved one again,” that would be awful! You’d probably do anything to get that $1 million. Take out a loan. Call al your family and friends. Sell all of your stuff on Amazon. Whatever it takes to get back your family member.
That’s what happened to us.
We followed other gods.
We fell into sin.
We were trapped – ransomed away from God’s family!
Only the ransom payment wasn’t a million dollars.
It wasn’t a bag full of gold.
It wasn’t even a getaway chopper.
It was the death of God.
So that’s what God did.
He gave up his life to save you.
And as we were being released from our sins.
As we were being released from our imprisonment to guilt.
As we were getting ready to mourn our God who gave up his life for us…
…three days later? He rose! He came back to life! He not only set us free but defeated our captors once and for all with his life and death on the cross!
Which means he still serves us.
He serves us peace in His Words.
He serves us forgiveness with His Promise.
He serves us adoption papers with baptism.
He serves us daily – with his promise of protection!
Which leads to this important truth:
God wants us to serve him because then he is truly serving you!
If you don’t serve God – if you reject him – if you want nothing to do with him, all of his gifts mean nothing! You’ve thrown them away.
But when we serve God.
IV. What Now?
(1) Throw Away your False gods
That was what Joshua told the Israelites. Take those false gods. Pick up those stone statues. Take those wooden poles and…toss ‘em. Burn ‘em. Destroy ‘em. Have nothing to do with them ever again.
Today God is calling us to do exactly that. Take those false gods…take that false god love and throw it away. Throw it at the feet of the cross. That’s confession. Jesus will take it to the cross, beat it with a hammer, nail it to a few pieces of wood, then take it down and throw it away into a tomb.
And…here’s a thought. Is there something that is taking up all of your time? Is there something that is getting in the way of you and God? Cut it out. Maybe you think you can’t do that, well, then why not cut it back? Remove the false gods so there’s time for worshipping the real God. Because when you worship the real God – he will be serving you!
(2) Make the LORD Your ONLY Household God
Don’t just do this for you; do it for all of your house. In fact, make the LORD your only household God.
Because contrary to what society tells you today, God is all you need.
When there are family struggles, God is all your need.
When there is sickness, God is all you need.
When there is sadness, God is all you need.
When there is guilt, God is all you need.
When there is death, God is all you need.
That’s what Joshua knew.
It’s what got Joshua to the Promised Land.
It’s what got Joshua to THE Promised Land.
It’s what will get you and your family there as well. Amen.
Things had finally settled down. For the very first time, you could call the Promised Land – Israel. The majority of the land had been conquered. The Israelites had moved in; they had planted their gardens; picked out the right backsplash; they had even set up a few of those little lawn gnomes on the front lawn.
The land was at rest.
What could they possibly have to worry about?
Today we are looking at the second to last chapter in Joshua. It’s essentially the first of two final sermons that Joshua preaches to his people. This one he speaks directly to the leaders of all 12 tribes. Listen as Joshua warns Israel of the danger that lay before them; a danger that we have to watch out for, too. Before we begin, a prayer: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is truth. Open our eyes to see what YOU want us to see. Open our ears to hear what YOU want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what YOU would have us believe. Amen.
I. Identify Bad Company
Chapter 23 starts by mentioning that Joshua is well advanced in years. He’s older than he was in the last sermon – and that was pretty old. And he summons all the leaders of Israel together to give them one final speech. Check out verse 7 in chapter 23. It’s a key verse in Joshua’s sermon. It says this, “Do not associate with the remaining nations; do not invoke the name of their gods or swear by them…but hold fast to the LORD your God, as you have until now.”
Maybe you get to that part and you wonder, why?
What was wrong with the Canaanite people?
Is God some kind of racist?
First of all, absolutely not.
God made all people.
God made the Canaanite people.
God loved the Canaanites.
But that was the problem. The Canaanites didn’t love God. Rather the Canaanites loved to take pieces of wood, cut them to the appropriate length, sand them down, use their carving knives to make a face, six eyes, a couple of noses -- sprinkle on some glitter and …voila! “This is my new god.” Even though…it didn’t exist until about 5 minutes ago.
And what’s interesting is that these Canaanites still held to their belief in these gods – even after all that had happened over the previous years!
Even when they heard of how the LORD held up the Jordan River.
And how the LORD knocked down the wall of Jericho with a couple of trumpet blasts.
And how the LORD caused the sun to stand in the sky and expand the daylight 24 hours.
And how the LORD had drastically changed the borders and boundaries of their land over the last couple of years.
The Canaanites still held to other gods.
The Canaanites still held to their own “pretend gods.”
And if Israel got too close, they would gladly teach Israel to do the same.
It’s easy to see how that would happen.
It starts with a trip to the local Canaanite Restaurant that everyone was raving about. The food was good and…the decorations were interesting. “Bartender…sir? What are those decorations?” “Those? Those are Asherah poles. They are devoted to the goddess Asherah. She’s pretty awesome. She lets you drink as much as you want and sleep with whomever you want.” (He nodded in the direction of one of the waitresses.) “Does your God let you do that?” “Um...no?”
Then, there was the time little Avram went for a sleep over in Little Philistine. And he came back so excited – “Mom and dad! It was so much fun. They have this god ‘Dagon.’ He’s part man and part fish. I saw his action figure. He has big muscles and karate chop action. PLUS, each package comes with a piece of gum. Can we get Dagonite action figure? Please!?!”
And then, there was the wedding. I don’t know. I like Bob. But? Should we really be entering Baal’s temple for a wedding? I’d feel weird about praying to a golden statue in order to bless them? But…then again. They are nice people. And…I heard there’s gonna be a Chocolate Fountain, so….
And I kinda like it.
And I kinda see where they are coming from.
And I kinda believe this isn’t so bad
And I kinda think that God might not be the only God.
And I kinda think I’m not a God follower anymore…
Scripture says this: “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Cor. 15:33) That was the point of what God was saying through Joshua. These Canaanites were bad company. These Canaanites could lead Israel into their own sin. These Canaanites could lead them away from faith in the true God.
One of the first steps in avoiding bad company is identifying bad company.
Because the thing about bad company is that it isn’t always so obvious. In fact, it’s usually not. For instance, you probably aren’t going to have a group of Satanists come to your door dressed in “Satan rules” t-shirts with matching tattoos and an invite card in their hand that says, “Join us for Back to Satan Worship Sunday.” It’s never that obvious. It’s usually much subtler. Here are three modern areas where bad company tends to hideout:
This isn’t just a warning for cyber sexual predators. (Although there is that and please watch out). It’s a warning against cyber spiritual predators.
And they look nice. They become friends with you. You have cheerful dialogue via social media. You comment on their cat pictures and they comment on the photo of your dog.
But then, you notice something different in their social feed. A steady stream of attacks on Jesus, followed by a constant promotion of sinful things. And at first you think – this doesn’t affect me. And at first you give them a LIKE because “They’re my friend.” And then later you give them a LIKE because “They made a good point.” And finally, you give them LIKES left and right because, “They’re right. God is awful.”
Bottom-line: If one of your friend keeps posting stuff from AtheistsAreTheBest.com…Please Be Careful. Bad company corrupts good character.
We all probably know this, but TV executives are not all that interested in helping you lead a holy life. Not even remotely. They want money and sin sells. So, they promote sin.
Please be careful. Because suddenly some of our favorite characters end up being a virtual version of bad company.
Homer Simpson may lead you to believe that drinking beer and hanging out on the couch is a great way to treat your wife.
Anything on HBO might make you think that those filthy words aren’t so big a deal.
Grey’s Anatomy could have you believe that sleeping around with anyone and everyone is just how life is.
Careful. Bad company corrupts good character.
That might sound crazy! Isn’t church supposed to be the place where we go for good company? Absolutely. It is. Yet – the devil works hard at church. And it’s easy for him to watch friendships be made, relationships be strengthened, and then…inject a bit of sin.
I’ll never forget about the time when I was at another church…and some of the older ladies invited me to join them for a Bible group. So, I went. And the Bible study opened like this:
Did you hear about so and so?
Oh I know. She’s terrible.
And did you hear about what that person did?
I know they are the worst.
And can you believe pastor did that?
I can’t and I think he’s pretty terrible.
I was there for about five minutes when I realized…
I wasn’t at a Bible group.
I was at a gossip group.
Bad company can exist even a church. Even when we don’t want it to.
If there’s a group that loves to get together and gossip, politely break it up.
Because this shouldn’t be a place for bad company…
…but sometimes…it can be.
So, we are careful and watch each other’s back because…Bad company corrupts good character (even in church).
II. The Problem with Bad Company
Yet it can be hard to leave bad company.
Oftentimes because bad company has something to offer in return:
Even “they think I’m cool.”
But the reality is that bad company has very little to offer. Listen to Joshua’s reminders:
(1) “Bad company” does not Save
The LORD has driven out before you powerful nations…the LORD your God fights for you...so be careful to love the LORD. (v.10-11)
Because their new Canaanite friends didn’t split the Jordan River.
And their “idol”- didn’t cause the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down.
To put it simply:
It was not some pile of rocks splashed with red paint and glitter that protected you from your enemies! It was the LORD.
Those false gods that the Canaanites promoted would not protect them! Neither will whatever it is that is causing you to want to remain in bad company.
Money won’t save.
Fame won’t save.
A promotion at work won’t save.
“Being cool” won’t save.
None of these things are god and none of them will save.
(2) God is the Opposition
In fact, they lead to big trouble. Joshua said, “If you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you…then you may be sure that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you.”
Because how else would you expect God to react? He brought them out of Egypt, provided for them in the desert, and conquered the Promised Land for them. In return, they hang around a pile of rocks and sing, “How Great is this Pile of Rocks.”
Here’s how God reacts. God doesn’t fight for bad company.
God fights against them.
And if you are a part of that bad company…
God fights against you.
(3) Bad company are Deathtraps
Joshua says it this way, “These nations will become snares and traps for you, whips on your back and thorns in your eyes, until you perish…” (v.13)
Have you ever used a sticky ant trap? It’s especially useful if you have lots of ants in your home. It’s a trap that you place on the ground around the area where they seem to get in. It lets off a really nice and pleasing smell to the ants (I don’t know. Sugar or something.) and the ants follow the smell. They walk onto the trap and…they get stuck. They can’t move. They are trapped. They die.
And that’s exactly what would happen to the Israelites.
These flashy new gods might seem nice.
The beautiful Canaanite fertility dancer might seem beautiful…
The handsome Asherah worshipper might seem like a gentleman…
But it was nothing more than a trap.
It would lead to false belief.
Which would lead to falling way from God.
Which would lead to falling away from salvation.
Which would lead to HELL.
TRUTH: Bad company always leads to death. Even if they aren’t promoting obvious idolatry, if they are promoting sin…sin leads to death. Thus: They are promoting death.
They are a trap.
Get out before it’s too late! Before these traps get ahold of you; get ahold of the LORD.
III. Why God?
These scary warnings drive us back to the true LORD.
They drive us back to Jesus.
And when we hold to Jesus, we need not be afraid. Here’s why:
You yourselves have seen everything the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the Lord your God who fought for you…The Lord your God himself will push the remaining nations out for your sake. He will drive them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you. (23:3-5)
1) Look at What God’s Done!
For Israel, He split the Jordan River in half in the middle of flood season. He caused the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down with a few blasts of a trumpet. He stopped the sun in the sky, gave you 24 extra hours of daylight, and led you to victory over five vicious armies. And look down at your feet! He gave you the very land that he promised to give their great, great, great, great, great, great-grandfather 500 years ago!
And since then?
He appeared on this earth. He lived perfectly, completely apart from bad company.
He died innocently, at the hands of bad company.
He rose triumphantly, defeating the bad company of sin, death, and the devil.
God saved you from sin! Nothing bad has ever come from Him.
Hold fast to the LORD.
2) Look at What God Will Do
He would knock out any nations that remained. He would give Israel the final 5% of the land. He would have no problem completing the job.
He will have no problem completing the job for you.
God is not like a credit card. His goodness doesn’t get maxed out…so that you have to put him back in your wallet and pull out a different credit card, because “I’m out of money, but those rhinestone studded slippers are really nice.”
God’s love is infinite.
God’s love is unending.
His resources are unlimited.
He will not fail you.
He will bring you home to heaven.
He will give you eternal rest.
He will give you peace.
IV. What now?
1) Identify Bad Company
That doesn’t mean just avoid people you don’t like.
It doesn’t mean that you avoid people who don’t believe like you do. The Bible says, “Be the light of the world.” In order to be that light…you have to be in the world.
But it does mean be careful. And if the situation warrants, avoid them.
If you struggle with gossip, avoid those who gossip.
If you struggle with alcohol, avoid the bar.
If you struggle with faith, avoid those who are making you question it.
Identify what your bad company is and be careful.
2) Be Good Company
Again, the Bible says, “Be the light of the world.” Be that good company that influences others back towards God!
Whether it’s at work, with friends, at school – be that light.
Even at church! Because (we said this earlier) that’s what God would have us be – an encouragement to one another to keep serving Him and keep sharing His message! We are to be the good company for one another.
3) Hold fast to the LORD
Because the LORD is all Israel ever needed. And the LORD is all you need. And the LORD is all will ever need.
Think about how you can hold fast to the LORD.
Do your own Bible reading.
Join a small group.
Make worship a weekly priority.
Whatever you’re doing – great – do more! Fill yourself with as much God as you fill yourself with social media.
And God will hold fast to you.
In fact, do you remember that earlier phrase? Bad company corrupts good character?
With God, the opposite is true. Because God-company purifies corrupted character.
May God purify us and make us good company for one another. Amen.
Do you know what I really love? Couches. Couches are awesome.
And if I’m telling the truth – there are times throughout the week when I dream of my couch.
When I’m working out, can’t wait to go to the couch.
When I’m tired of typing things, can’t wait to go to the couch.
When I’m stressed out, can’t wait to go to the couch, grab a bag of Doritos and catch up on America’s Got Talent.
Rest is good.
Rest keeps us going.
The promise of rest keeps us working.
We’ve been spending all summer in the book of Joshua. We have heard about the hard work of the Israelites in conquering the Promised Land and following God’s commands. Today we are going to hear about why it was all worth it. Our goal is to look back at the historical listings and land ownership documents in order to learn some valuable lessons about God’s promises of rest.
Before we do that, let’s pray: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is truth. Open our eyes to see what YOU want us to see. Open our ears to hear what YOU want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what YOU would have us believe. Amen.
I. Caleb’s Reward
Start our exploration of inheritance by looking at a man named Caleb. If you’ve been following along with this series from the beginning, Caleb might be a familiar name.
But just in case you need review…backtrack about 45 years.
Caleb was a middle aged warrior. He must have been a skilled fighter and a trusted infantryman, because Moses gave him a very important task. Caleb was selected as one of the 12 men who would infiltrate the region of Canaan, spy on the land, and bring back a report on the best places to attack, the weaknesses of the men, and the condition of the terrain.
In short, the group was supposed to come up with a plan to defeat Canaan.
Ummmm…it’s nice and all, but…is milk and honey really worth getting squashed like a bug?
These guys are giants! We don’t stand a chance.
Here’s our proposal for military action: (1) Pack up (2) March in the opposite direction (3) Never return.
The majority of the spies gave up before they even started.
Caleb walked forward to Moses.
Um. Mr. Moses, sir. I know I’m only one man. But I have a different idea. Yes, the people are big and yes, the men are muscular and yes, they would squash us in a one on one battle.
But…we aren’t alone. God is with us. You say these men are giants. God is a giant to these giants. With him on our side, nothing can stop us.
But unfortunately, his idea was drowned out by the misery of the other spies.
And the people listened to the other spies.
And God rebuked the people.
And God said that none of those adults would enter the Promised Land.
None…except Joshua and Caleb.
The LORD said, “No one from this evil generation shall see the good land I swore to give your ancestors, except Caleb...He will see it and I will give him and his descendants the land he set his feet on, because he followed the LORD wholeheartedly!” (Deut. 1:35-36)
Fast forward 45 years.
40 years in the wilderness.
5 years in battle.
45 years of following God.
And Caleb is ready for his inheritance.
Goodness. He’s 85 years old. It’s time for him to retire.
And there were plenty of places available that Israel already had in its possession.
You might expect him to choose a quiet farm.
A lazy valley.
A nice bungalow by the river.
“Now then give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.” (14:10-12)
Does this not seem a bit crazy?
Instead of taking the easy way.
Instead of choosing a simple plan.
Caleb wants a challenge.
Caleb wants to fight.
Caleb wants to head to the area that he had seen years ago and fight for his land…against giants…
…at 85 years old!?!
And the reason for his confidence?
It wasn’t his impeccable physical condition.
It wasn’t some secret serum of energy plucked from the honey of the land.
It wasn’t himself.
It was God.
“With the LORD helping I will drive them out just as He said.” (v.12)
Here’s the truth: Confidence in God leads to confidence in action.
And this confidence comes regardless of your age.
Whether you’re young and inexperienced.
Whether you’re older and tired.
Whether you’re middle aged and dealing with midlife crises –
Confidence in God leads to confidence in action.
That’s important to us as a church. Because God has given us a big task to do -- “Go and make disciples of all nations…” – And we might look at that statement and combine it with America’s perception on religion and decide: “I’m a believer now. I’m pretty content to take it easy, put my feet up on the pews and relax. Here. Here’s a buck or two for mission work. Enjoy.”
I’m not sure that’s serving God vigorously.
That’s serving God…while limping.
Be like Caleb.
Because you can be confident in God:
He kept Caleb safe for 45 years!
He provided bread from heaven.
He helped him cross the Jordan river.
He toppled the walls of Jericho.
He caused the sun to stand still and give Caleb and his friends an extra 24 hours to defeat their enemies!
That’s the God that you have on your side. A God that has shown similar power to your life.
He has kept you safe throughout your life.
He provides nourishment in his Word.
He helps you cross the challenges you face.
He toppled the wall of sin with his death on the cross.
And has extended your life into eternity through the resurrection of his Son!
Just imagine what it would be like if we stopped intimidating ourselves into not sharing the Gospel.
Or fighting amongst ourselves to distract us from sharing the Gospel.
Imagine if we were like Caleb and vigorously; confidently; boldly share Jesus!
There’d be evangelism going on in all of our homes.
There’d be evangelism at about 100 different workplaces.
There would be conversations about Jesus at Starbucks, Sheetz and Steak & Shake!
Take on this challenge. Back 2 Church Sunday is coming up in two weeks. I’ve got invites ready for you to pass out to others. I have email invitations for you to pass on. There will be social media blasts for you to like, forward, etc.
Don’t just send me an invite. I’m already coming.
Choose a friend who doesn’t know Jesus.
Even a friend who doesn’t like Jesus.
Even a friend who has denounced Jesus.
And invite them.
Tell them about Jesus.
And serve the LORD vigorously confident that the LORD is vigorously fighting for you.
II. The Temptation to Give Up
Enough about Caleb. Because God also has promises and inheritance for many people who didn’t follow God so whole heartedly. Chapters 14-19 chronicle the allotment of the land for all twelve tribes of Israel.
Perhaps what is most interesting is the relation of these sections to a bedside prophecy about 500 years earlier.
…the place is Egypt. Jacob, also known as Israel, is on his deathbed. Before he passes from the earth, he calls his twelve sons --- Yes, twelve sons – into his room. They crowd around the bed. They have tears in their eyes as they listen to his heavy breathing.
Yet in the midst of this sadness, God does something amazing. He works through Jacob to prophecy about the very land allotment that is reference in Joshua. Jacob speaks to his sons – and 500 years later the descendants of each of his sons is allotted land in accordance with these prophecies. Take a look:
Let’s start with Jacob’s most famous son – Joseph. He is the one with the multicolored coat. He was thrown into a pit by his brothers, thought to be dead, but ended up saving the land of Egypt from starvation. Jacob grants a double blessing to Joseph. He says, Joseph is a fruitful vine…a vine near a spring who climbs up over a wall. (v.22)
Immediately I get the picture of a one of those vines that you don’t plant. A weedy vine that you can’t quite control. What happens with those types of vines? You don’t plant them; but they end up taking up more of your garden and fence than anything else.
Jacob prophesies that Joseph will be like that. His land will be great and double in portion to anyone other tribes. Which seems strange. Because if you look over all of the book of Joshua, you will not find mention of a tribe named Joseph.
That’s because Joseph’s inheritance was double.
That’s because Josephs inheritance was given to his two sons – Manasseh and Ephraim.
God gives these people twice the land…and again God keeps his promises.
Jacob says to Zebulon: Zebulon will live by the seashore and become a haven for ships... (v.13) Which is exactly what happens. Joshua allots the Zebulonians (Zebulonites? Zebulonii? the people of Zebulon) an area that’s less than ten miles from the Mediterranean sea. These guys wore a lot of flip flops and got out their surfboards, because it happened exactly as God promised.
Jacob says to Asher: Asher’s food will be rich; delicacies fit for a king. (V.20) And 500 years later, Joshua grants them land near the northern border of the Mediterranean. Archaeologists indicate that that particular portion of land was filled with some of the country’s richest soil. It was perfect for growing pomegranates. God gave the Asherites wonderful farmland -- and God kept his promise.
Jacob says to Simeon: Simeon and Levi…will be scarce and dispersed in Israel. (v.5) This was a punishment on the brothers for a violent incident that God greatly disapproved of. And as a result, Levi doesn’t receive any inheritance at all. In fact, they are simply given places in cities to live in. And Simeon is given the smallest allotment of all. An allotment so small that it eventually gets swallowed up by one more tribe.
Jacob says to Judah: Judah, your brothers will praise you…because you are a lion’s cub. The scepter will not depart from Judah. (v.9-11) And like a lion – God gives Judah the lion’s share of the land. Look at how large it is! It’s huge. It’s the largest section of any tribe.
And above all else? It contains Jerusalem.
Jerusalem which would be home to many kings.
Jerusalem which would be home to many kings of Israel.
Jerusalem which would be home to THE king of Israel.
Here’s the point of all this. These land allotments are proof that God keeps his promises. Whether he’s promising lots of land, or a beach front, or even a tiny little bit…God gives exactly what he promises.
So, what about you? What has God promised you?
A beachfront like Zebulon?
A good gardening area like Asher?
Or just enough land for one of those tiny little houses like Levi?
God has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. (Colossians 1:12)
No matter what the devil says.
No matter how much he tells you that you don’t qualify.
No matter how much he tells you that you might forget.
God has not forgotten you.
He already paid for it.
He has a place reserved for you in heaven.
No matter how long it takes.
III. Joshua’s Inheritance
Which leads us to Joshua.
Because the very last inheritance that God passes out, isn’t given to some lonely orphan.
It isn’t given to some naysaying skeptic.
It’s given to their leader.
When they had finished dividing the land into its allotted portions, the Israelites gave Joshua son of Nun an inheritance among them, as the Lord had commanded. (Joshua 19:49)
Do you see the point?
Joshua followed God and God followed through.
When others didn’t want to, he stuck to God’s promises.
When he couldn’t get past a river, he stuck to God’s promises.
When he faced giant walls, he stuck to God’s promises.
When his people sinned and failed, he stuck to God’s promises.
When he fought an army of five kings, he stuck to God’s promises.
And God stuck to Joshua.
And Joshua had a home.
And Joshua had rest.
Do the same and God will do the same. Follow God and he’ll follow through for you.
If you’ve been abandoned, cling to God’s promises.
If you’ve been sick, cling to God’s promises.
If you have financial struggle, cling to God’s promises.
If you’re facing death, cling to God’s promises.
God will keep his promises and you will receive your inheritance…in heaven. Amen.
Over the past couple of weeks, we have heard some amazing stories. About the Jordan River splitting in half, the walls of Jericho tumbling down, God’s grace in keeping the prostitute Rahab safe, his wrath against the greedy Achan and his incredible power that extended the daylight for 24 extra hours!
Today’s sermon is a bit different. Because we are getting to the part of Joshua that isn’t so jammed packed with action. The literature switches from narrative to a legal listing; from storytelling to atlas. It’s one of those parts of the Bible that might not seem like it’s got a lot to do with you.
You’d be wrong.
Today we’re going to take our first of two looks at the non-narrative parts of Joshua. This is from Joshua 13-21. Our goal is to discover a couple of different ways these listings are a blessing for 21st century Raleighians.
Before we do that, let’s pray: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is truth. Open our eyes to see what YOU want us to see. Open our ears to hear what YOU want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what YOU would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Temptation to Grow Tired
Chapter 13 starts right after Israel has finished conquering a vast majority of the land. Joshua 13:1. When Joshua had grown old and was well along in years, the LORD said to him, “You are now very old…”
Notice that there seems to be a repetitive theme. The Bible calls Joshua “old” and then, it rephrases it so that we don’t get confused, “well along in years.” Finally, the LORD himself approaches Joshua and the very first thing he says to him is, “You are…very old!”
Sheesh, God. Thanks a lot.
I doubt Joshua needed the reminder. The white hairs, the creaky knees and the wrinkles probably told him enough. In fact, if you jump forward in the book – Caleb, Joshua’s contemporary, is identified as 85 years old. Joshua, probably a bit older, might be around 90.
That means – things were not as easy as they used to be.
Each morning he would stand and straighten his back very slowly.
He would grab his pair of glasses and squint in order to read the 14-point font of Moses’ OT Writings.
Soldiers would pretend not to notice his inability to remember any of their names. Marty? Abimelech?
Joshua was no spring chicken.
So, what does God want?
Is this the talk where he tells him to slow things down?
Is this the talk where he told Joshua he probably shouldn’t drive anymore?
Is this the talk where he told Joshua about the new retirement village they had set up in the confines of Ai?
Joshua…there are still large areas of land to be taken over. (v.1b)
I still have plans for you.
I still have work for you.
You are not too old to serve me.
That’s a key truth I want to focus on for a moment. You are never too old to serve God.
I was sitting down next to a friend for coffee the other day. And in the midst of our conversation, the man began to tell me about his children. How he had fallen away from church and wasn’t a believer anymore.
And then…he sighed: But...what am I going to do? I’m old.
Is that really how it works?
Is Jesus just for young kids?
Is Jesus not for adults?
Do you get to a point where you’re so old that even God can’t use you?
Look at these Scriptures:
Matthew 28 says, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Galatians 5 says, “Serve one another in love.”
Matthew 5, “Let your light shine.”
Notice Scripture does not say, “Go and make disciples – unless you have arthritis.”
It doesn’t say, “Serve one another in love…unless you are over 73. Then, serve in grouchiness.”
It doesn’t say, “Let your light shine…unless you live in a retirement community.”
There are no qualifiers.
These commands are all inclusive.
These commands are for you – no matter how old you are.
Because you are never too old to serve God!
Joshua was 90 years old and God still called on him to lead the Israelite army throughout the rest of Canaan!
But Joshua wasn’t alone.
Moses was 80 years old when God used him to get Israel out of Egypt.
Daniel was 87 when he was thrown into the lion’s den for confessing faith in Jesus.
Sarah was 99 when she gave birth to Isaac – forefather of Jesus.
Noah was 600 when God used him to build an ark and save humanity!
How old are you?
How will God use?
Don’t listen to the devil:
You are never too old to serve God.
II. The Temptation to Give Up
That’s what God wanted Joshua to do. Listen to his command: There are still very large areas of land to be taken over…be sure to allocate this land to Israel for an inheritance, as I have instructed you. (v.1b, 6) Because up to this point Israel hasn’t conquered everything. They only possess about 2/3 of the Promised Land. They had won many battles and driven out many armies, but they still needed to win victories up in the North kingdom and they still needed to drive out armies in the southwest.
The temptation might be to call it good.
The temptation might be to say close enough.
The temptation might be to grab a PBR and relax.
God doesn’t want them to quit.
God wants them to finish it.
And with good reason.
My initial favorite sports teams were based in Minnesota. Did you know this? I was 2 when I moved there from Baton Rouge, LA and I was 4 when I watched my first baseball and football games. The Twins and the Vikings. Then, in first grade I moved to Wisconsin. And in week one of the NFL season I was one of the only kids wearing Viking purple – while everyone else wore green and gold.
And there was polite joking.
And there was polite ribbing.
And…there was the time in fourth grade when Brett Favre led the Packers deep into the playoffs – and the Vikings were not so deep in the playoffs – that I finally switched allegiances.
People influence you. In sports teams, favorite restaurants, binge worthy TV shows and religion.
This is one of the main reasons for God driving out the Canaanites. He doesn’t want the Canaanites’ idol worship to influence the Israelites God worship. He doesn’t want the Canaanite unbelievers to lead Israelite believers to unbelief…
And Joshua gets it. He sends out each tribe into its particular region of the Promised Land in order to drive out all the nations. That’s exactly what chapters 11-19 entail. Numbers, places and results of their victories. But…hidden in the midst of these victories – in the midst of this long historical commentary on how they followed through on God’s commands – are a few verses which show that…they didn’t.
13:13 The Israelites did not drive out the people of Geshur and Maacah so they continue to live among Israel to this day.
15:53 Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites.
16:10 They did not dislodge the Canaanites in Gezer.
17:11-12 They were not able to occupy Beth Shan, Ibleam, Dor, Endor, Taanach and Megiddo...for the Canaanites lived in their region.
19:47 But the Danites had difficulty taking possession of their territory…so they moved up to Leshem.
Perhaps this seems like no big deal. Perhaps this seems like “at least they tried hard.”
Perhaps you can understand them being tired and saying – “Good enough. We don’t bother you and you don’t bother us.”
And everything seems fine.
Jump forward with me:
After Joshua died…another generation grew up who neither knew the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then, the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD…they followed and worshiped various gods of the people around them. So…the hand of the LORD was against them…and he sold them into the hand of their enemies all around them. (Judges 2:8-13)
Do you see the problem?
They didn’t listen to God.
They didn’t drive out the Canaanites.
And the Canaanites led them to worshipping false gods.
Just. Like. God. Said.
God has not asked us to conquer any kind of land or people in any kind of way. But God does tell us to fight against sin and drive it out of our lives – completely!
However – I wonder if sometimes we don’t do the same thing Israel does. Go about 90% of the way and call it good. I don’t commit adultery. Especially when it comes to something I like to call Peripheral Sins.
What’s a Peripheral Sin? Peripheral vision describes the vision to the right and the left of what you are focusing on. For example, if you look straight at the cross right now and I stand over here --- peripheral vision is me. Maybe you can tell that I’m there, but I’m not clear. I’m fuzzy. (Try and guess how many fingers I am holding up. Not easy)
Peripheral sins are the sins that we don’t focus on. Sins that we refuse to focus on. Sins that we can maybe kind of see in our life – but they aren’t big and clear like murder OR cheating on your wife so…we just kind of let those be.
For example – three common Peripheral Sins:
Granted, if you’ve struggled with lust, there may have been a moment when this wasn’t in the peripheral. And you fought pornography. And you stopped seeing that person who was threatening your marriage.
But at some point, the devil loves to get us to stop the fight.
I’m not looking at porn anymore; so, I’ll just look around at the gym. That should be ok.
I’m not planning on sleeping with that guy at work; I’m just flirting. My husband would be cool with it.
This right here? It’s just the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. I only read it for the articles…on sports.
Lust is not a small thing. It’s always a big thing. Drive it out.
(2) Sinful Anger.
Because for whatever the reason, anger is one of those sins that people say, “Well everyone gets angry.” (Which is true) and “Anger isn’t necessarily a sin.” (also, true) and “Anyways…it’s probably not a big deal the way I showed my anger there.” (Which is a bald-faced lie.)
Humans aren’t God.
Humans are sinful.
Human anger – even ‘righteous sounding anger’ will be tainted by sin.
And oftentimes is acted out sinfully.
Anger cannot be ignored.
It kills relationships at home.
It kills relationships at work.
It kills relationships at church.
It kills your relationship with God.
Anger is not a small thing. It’s a big thing. Drive it out.
After recent events in Virginia, this deserves to be revisited. Because I think the common sentiment is: I’m not a member of the KKK. I’m not a Neo-Nazi. I’m good. Stop telling me I’m racist.
But Jesus calls us to look deeper.
Jesus tells us sin affect us.
Jesus tells us that sinful selfishness easily affects the way that we think and act.
And when we see the problems – even small problems – drive them out.
If I befriend that guy who looks like me, but don’t even try to befriend that guy because…he doesn’t. There’s a problem. Drive the racism out.
If I make a joke here and a comment there, and say…but “it’s just a funny stereotype that’s all.” There’s a problem. Drive the racism out.
If I dismiss the struggles of my friend (who looks different) because I never had to deal with those kinds of struggles (since I look different) and it would make me uncomfortable to consider that people who do look like me might be part of the reason this friend who doesn’t look like you is struggling. There’s a problem. Drive the racism out.
In fact, drive all of these peripheral sins out. Because the reality is that they are sin. And sin destroys.
Lust destroys marriage.
Anger destroys churches.
Racism destroys society.
Drive it out before the destruction takes place!
III. God Finishes What He Started
Here’s the good news for Israel. In spite of their failure to completely drive out their enemies, God still blessed Israel. He gave them the Promised Land. He kept that in their possession. He made sure that Israelites were in that land when he finally sent the Savior from there.
God finished what he started.
In Bethlehem, Jesus was born.
In Nazareth, Jesus grew up.
In Cana, he turned water into wine.
At the Jordan, he revealed himself as Lord.
In Jericho, he healed a blind man.
Just outside Jerusalem he died…and just outside Jerusalem he rose from the dead.
God finished what he started.
And he was complete about it! Scripture says, “The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.”
Please note the all. It doesn’t say “some.” It doesn’t say “a few.” It doesn’t say, “Just the obvious big ones.”
His blood purifies you from peripheral lust.
His blood purifies you from seeping anger.
His blood purifies you from that hidden racism.
Jesus died and his blood completely purifies you from all sin.
It’s like a water purification system. If you put that on your faucet, the water goes through the first filter and the big sediment it blocked. Then, it goes through the secondary system and the little sediment it blocked. Finally, it goes through a laser purification process and even the hidden particles are destroyed.
Jesus purifies us from all sin.
And that empowers us to drive out all sin.
That’s exactly what God tells Joshua. Right after he tells Joshua about all of the nations that he still needs to drive out – God says this in verse 6: I myself will drive out the nations. He was still fighting with them. Even if they didn’t see gigantic miracles like the river splitting in half or the walls tumbling down or the sun sitting in the sky for an extra 24 hours – God was still with them and would not withdraw his support.
And God is still with you.
He’s not like some big athletic sponsorship that withdraws their sponsorship because the athlete tweets something they don’t agree with or posts a picture of something that they shouldn’t.
In spite of our sins – for the sake of Jesus – God will not withdraw his support. He is in your corner.
When you are old.
When you are young.
Whether you’re fighting lust, holding back anger or working against subtle racism, God is in your corner.
God has your back.
We are in Joshua 10 this morning – and quick review – last week we heard about how 5 kings – the Fearsome Five – decided that they were going to gang up on God. They decided to pool their resources, join their armies, and attack the ally of God’s people. They figured – their collective armies would outnumber Israel, give them a tactical advantage and result in their victory.
They were thrown into confusion.
They were routed by the Israelites.
They were pegged by deadly hailstones from the sky.
The daylight was extended an extra 24 hours just so Israel could completely annihilate them.
Today we are picking up right in the midst of the retreat. We’ll see what the five evil leaders – the 5 kings – try to do in order to keep themselves safe from annihilation. In the midst of this chapter, we will learn (1) a hard lesson about fighting against God (2) a wonderful lesson about fighting with God. Before we do, let’s say a prayer: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is truth. Open our eyes to see what YOU want us to see. Open our ears to hear what YOU want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what YOU would have us believe. Amen.
I. The People Against God
This section picks up with the Israelites in hot pursuit of these armies. But while the men of the armies are in pursuit, the 5 kings who incited this fight against God, are slipping away. Now the five kings had fled and hidden in the cave at Makkedah. (v.16)
You can almost imagine the conversation that they are having:
Did anyone see us? Did they see us run in?
I don’t know. I don’t see anyone following us.
This was a disaster AZ! (Adoni Zedek) We got annihilated. We weren’t just fighting men. We were fighting hailstones, confusion and a sun that won’t go down!
Yeah, we weren’t fighting just Israel. We were fighting God.
We almost died! We’re going to die! This is all your fault AZ! This is all your idea.
And as the men took turns blaming one another, AZ stroked his beard.
He held up his finger.
Calm down. Calm down. Listen. We’ll be ok. The Israelites are too distracted. They’ll chase our men. We’ll hide out here. When the coast is clear, we can slip out, pack our bags and travel to Rio de Janeiro. I hear it’s lovely this time of year. Anyways – don’t worry. We may have lost to God. We may not have been able to defeat him…but we should be able to hide from him. He can’t find us.
And as AZ finished speaking those confident words, the kings heard a noise coming from the front of the cave. Like a rock scraping against the ground. As it grew louder, the cave grew dimmer. Until – darkness.
What was that? AZ said with fright.
Another king approached. That? That was the LORD. I think he found us.
So, Joshua and the Israelites defeated the armies completely…And Joshua said, “Open the mouth of the cave and bring those five kings out to me.” So, they brought the five kings out of the cave…He summoned all the men of Israel and said to the army commanders…and said, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous. This is what the LORD will do to all the enemies you are going to fight.” Then, Joshua put the kings to death and exposed their bodies on five poles and they were left hanging on the poles until evening. (v.21-25)
I’ll stop and let you ponder that.
It’s kind of disturbing, isn’t it?
It’s one of those parts of the Bible that you probably wish wasn’t a part of the Bible.
It’s one of those parts of the Bible that you probably aren’t going to teach in Sunday School.
But it’s important.
Do you remember the old anti-drug commercials? They’d say, “This is your brain,” and show an egg. Then, they’d say, “This is your brain on drugs,” and show the egg frying. I was always a bit disturbed by those commercials. (Who wants to think of their brain sizzling on a skillet?) But that was the point: Don’t do drugs and this won’t happen.
Similarly, are those anti-smoking commercials. They show a regular set of lungs—health- looking and good—next to a blackened, charred set of lungs. Kind of gross. The point? Don’t smoke cigarettes and this will not happen.
Joshua 10:26 is one of those moments in the Bible. These men fought against God. These men were defeated. And Joshua parades their bodies like a public service announcement: This is what happens when you fight against God.
Don’t fight against God and this won’t happen.
It was a warning for his armies.
It was a warning for Israelites to come.
It was a warning for North Raleigh residents thousands of years later.
Sure. You might not be preparing an ambush at the church. You might not own a spear that you plan on hurling at the pastor. (Hopefully…Thankfully?) You might not be leading a formal rebellion against God.
Bur fighting against God? That’s what sin is.
And fighting against God has severe consequences.
That means sin has severe consequences.
Sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:15)
This isn’t me being mean.
It isn’t the Bible being mean.
It isn’t God being mean.
It is us being mean (sin) and God being nice (and warning us) and ultimately God doing what is really nice and annihilating the bad!
Stop fighting against God.
If you are doing something that you know is wrong, repent!
If you keep saying things that you know are wrong, stop!
If you are in a relationship that you know is sinful, get out!
If you keep bad mouthing God to your friends, watch out now!
Quit fighting against God.
You will not win.
You will only suffer.
II. Fighting with God
Which makes me think – maybe – maybe we should have similar PSA.
A painting of some kings hanging on a tree? I know it sounds antique and even barbaric – but better to be offended than dead, right?
But then...I got to thinking.
We already have a piece of art like that.
In fact, we look at it every Sunday.
A grotesque reminder of sin.
Because on the cross, someone hung on a tree.
On the cross, someone died on the tree.
On the cross, someone died in our place.
Remember that James passages? Sin, when it is full grown gives birth to death?
Jesus didn’t do any sin.
Jesus didn’t fight against the Father.
Jesus even went to the cross to die when it was a part of the Father’s plan!
Why did he hang on a tree?
Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
That “for” is a very important word.
It explains why Jesus died.
It explains his reasoning.
It explains the purpose.
It explains whose place he took on that cross:
It’s like in baseball when they make a substitute in the middle of the game. They’ll say, “Now batting for the pitcher -- # 27.” That means the pitcher is out and the new player is in. He’s a substitute. He’s taking his place.
Jesus is your substitute.
Jesus took your sins.
That you might live.
This means that God fought on our side…even when we weren’t on his side.
This means that God will fight on our side…if we stay on his side.
It means that if we fight with God, there will be an entirely different outcome.
Because if you skim through chapters 10 and 11, you’ll find a list of countries that Israel has defeated: Maakedah, Libnah, Lachish, Gezer, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, Hazor, Shimron, Acshaph, Mizpah.
Then, you’ll hear a list of lands that the Israelites receive as inheritance: the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills, the mountain slopes, Arabah, Mt. Halak, Baal Gad and the Valley of Lebanon.
In short, the Israelites dominate. God defeats their enemies. God gives them the land of Canaan.
But here’s where it gets interesting. Because at the end of chapter 11, the author explains to us what the secret was behind the Israelite success.
It wasn’t a strong military.
It wasn’t great tactics.
it wasn’t a military grade tank.
It was God.
All these nations were conquered in one campaign because the LORD, the God of Israel fought for Israel. (11:42)
That is what it is like with God on your side.
He defeats your enemies.
He defeats your worries.
He defeats your doubts.
He defeats your guilt.
He defeats your shame.
He defeats your demons.
He defeated your sin.
He defeated the devil.
He defeated death itself.
And you? You get the spoils.
Peace with God.
III. What Now?
(1) Fight with God
Because God wins! If you’re with God, you win!
What’s cool is that when you fight with God, God supplies the weapons. They aren’t Nerf guns or water balloons. They are the spiritual version of AK47s! They are perfect for assaulting the devil and our own sinful desires.
Check out Ephesians 6: Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm, then with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, the with breastplate of righteousness (That I have been declared innocent by God) in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. (Feet ready to go and share that Jesus is our Savior)
In addition, take up the shield of faith, (That I am saved in Jesus), take the helmet of salvation (that I am on the winning team) and the sword of the Spirit which is God’s Word. Hurling the truth of Scripture in the face of temptation and doubt!
(2) Watch Him Fight for You!
And it isn’t as obvious anymore. God doesn’t usually send hailstorms in our favor nor does he extend the daylight for 24 hours so that we can get everything done that we need to.
But he does fight for us.
A while back – I was visiting a friend who had visited our church. I thanked them for coming to worship and they thanked me for having them. They invited me inside and we chatted for a while at the breakfast table.
And while we were chatting, I couldn’t help but notice something on top of the refrigerator. It was a couple of clear cookie jars. Which would get anyone’s attention, but there weren’t any cookies in there. No Oreos. No Nilla Wafers. Not even homemade chocolate chip cookies.
There were simply scraps of paper.
So…I asked. “What are those?”
My friend went up grabbed a jar with a few pieces of paper in it and brought it down.
“This is my prayer jar. These are things that we are praying to God for. We pray them and then we put them in the jar – and wait for God to be God.”
Cool. I thought. And what are the other jars for?
She set the prayer jar on top of the fridge again and pulled down two more jars both full of scraps.
These aren’t prayer jars. These are blessing jars. Once God answers our prayers – we take them out of the prayer jar and place them into blessing jar. Because God has fought for us, and we get the spoils.
Cool, huh? I know it’s the same in your life too. With God on your side, you will be blessed. Peace, forgiveness, and even some temporal blessings – until you receive the eternal blessing of heaven itself.
Thank you, God, for fighting on our side. Amen.