October 18, 2020

Forward in Faith

Passage: Joshua 3:1-17

The Australian coat of arms pictures two animals – the emu, a flightless bird, and the kangaroo.  The animals were chosen because they share a characteristic that appealed to the Australian people.  Both the emu and kangaroo can only move forward.  The emu’s three-toed foot causes it to fall if it tries to go backwards, and the kangaroo is prevented from moving in reverse by its large tail.  When we consider the walk of faith it’s apparent that God’s road sign points only forward.  There’s a one way; you can’t go back.  Yes, it’s true what we read in Hebrews 12 about thinking of our predecessors.  But we only look back to consider their example of how they moved forward in faith!  Can you recall what we read in Genesis 19 about Lot’s wife?  She turned into a pillar of salt because of her desire for what was behind her – she wasn’t ready to leave Sodom and Gomorra behind.  When Jesus called men to become His disciples, there was no turning back – only forward with the Lord!  They literally had to leave their boats and nets behind.  There is a message God has for Langley Presbyterian Church with the change the retirement of Rev. Dennis Howard brought; with a new chapter He is going to write through you people; at the beginning of a new era – “Go forward with faith and trust in me!  You are at the next stage of your lives; live your dreams!”  The same was true for Joshua and the house of Israel.  A new era awaited them in the Promised Land.  But as they stood on the bank of the Jordan River, there were different emotions that went through their minds.  There was relief – finally the years of walking around and around in the wilderness were over.  The sooner they could forget about their sins and failures of the past, the better.  God didn’t just deliver them from Egypt, the land of slavery; He delivered them also from the wilderness.  The house of Israel had excitement they couldn’t keep to themselves – soon the land overflowing of milk and honey was going to be theirs.  God kept His promise after so many years.  But then there was the emotion of fear – what was their tomorrow going to be like?  What if they couldn’t live up to the challenges before them?   O my friends, we all had our moments at the bank of the Jordan River.  For some it was with a new family; for others it was a new career or a new challenge.  Those were the times we faced the unknown and we asked, “What will the next phase be like for us?  What do we see before us?  Most of us will say, “I only see the dark tunnel of the unknown.  I fear where it will take me.”  How precious that we can think of the closing refrain we hear in some churches – “Never be afraid.  God will go with you each hour of every day.  Go now in faith, steadfast, strong and true.”

There are some words of advice Joshua brings us today as we go “Forward in Faith”:

First he says, KEEP YOUR EYES ON GOD.
We read in verse 3, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it.”  “The ark” is mentioned seven times in this chapter.  There must be some importance to it.  The Ark of the Covenant was a center-piece of Israelite worship.  It was into this golden box, adorned with cherubims, that Moses placed the Ten Commandments.  By the end of Moses’ life this same sacred chest also contained the “Book of the law.”  A plate of manna and Aaron’s rod were to be placed before it as a memorial of God’s provision and the Israelites’ rebellion.  And most important of all, it was over the Ark of the Covenant on the mercy seat that the very presence of God existed.  Joshua brought a very strong point across to the Israelites – Only when you keep your eyes on God, will you get to the place you want to go.  How true that was for the people of God.  They had their eyes fixed on Him and they took possession of the Promised Land.  They were prosperous, but then came the times when their eyes wandered off.  They looked at idols instead of God.  And as a result they were captured and spent years in exile.  But when they saw God again in the midst of hardship, in His love He restored them.  My friends, we have to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our Faith.  Only He can guide us into the future; only He can bring us peace and contentment as we go forward.  The CEO of a company Boston told his staff – “From now on we will begin our meetings with prayer.  I want us to see Jesus before us.  For a long time I only existed from day to day, but when Jesus came into my life, I started to live.”

 Secondly Joshua says CLEANSE YOURSELVES.

We read in verse 5, “And Joshua said to the people, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”  The Hebrew word for sanctify is “qadash.”  It means to set yourself apart for the Lord.  In your friendships, in your decisions you have to ask, “Is what I decided in line with what Jesus wants for me?” 

To set yourself apart means that you will be different from those who do not follow Jesus.  And you have to realize that you will lose friends because of it.  And as you the people of Langley Presbyterian Church go forward in faith you have to ask yourselves, “Have we set ourselves apart for God in everything?”  In Leviticus 11: 44 God gives the standard He wants us to live by, “Be holy, because I am holy.”  What do you think when you hear those words?  It’s not in accordance with our world.  “Why do you need principles?  Be free to do what you wish!” are just two of the phrases we hear.  No, my friends, God wants to guide us; God wants to bless us and before He does it, we have to cleanse ourselves.  For Joshua and the Israelites that was God’s condition before entering the Promised Land – “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.”

Joshua concludes – LISTEN TO GOD’S INSTRUCTIONS

We read about it in verses 8, 12 and 13.  The priests carrying the ark were to step in the water and only then would the water part for the people to cross over from the one side to the other.  This instruction didn’t seem too difficult to follow when you read it now.  But then we have to understand that the danger of following it was immense.  Scholars tell us that the river was very deep where the Israelites crossed.  The priests were in danger of drowning.  But they had to follow God’s instruction.  They had to take the step of faith.  If they didn’t, the Israelites never would have crossed.  O my friends, it God’s way or no way!  Why do we see so much failure in this world?  Why do we see failure in the church of Christ?  Because quite often we put aside the instructions God placed in our hands and it’s our ways we want to follow.  Can we only be sensitive for what the Lord wants from us?  He knows the future.  We have to follow God’s instructions.  He knows where to take us.  The same word He spoke to His servant David He brings to us.  Psalm 32: 8, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.”

 Friends of Langley Presbyterian Church – you have the unknown before you – it might bring fear in your hearts, but it can also be exciting.  In everything let God go before you in all you do and He will bless you.  Go forward in faith and be in anticipation for what God will do through you.

 

Amen.

 

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Rev. Willem H. van de Wall