After the death of Moses the LORD’s servant, the LORD spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant. He said, 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them. 3 I promise you what I promised Moses: ‘Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you– 4 from the Negev wilderness in the south to the Lebanon mountains in the north, from the Euphrates River in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, including all the land of the Hittites.’ 5 No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you. 6 “Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. 8 Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. 9 This is my command– be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
Recently Pastor Travis finished a sermon series encouraging us to read our Bibles consistently because God has given the Bible to us as a “text message” directly from him. I have been a student of the Bible for about 40 years, but I have not always been faithful at doing that. A few years ago, I (once again) committed myself to going through the Bible every year. I lucked up on a website that reads the text for you and the comments on it, and prays. All I had to do was show up and stay awake. I did this for two years straight. It was awesome.
In 2011, I decided I no longer needed someone to read to me. I also started a four year project of blogging my daily devotions. At the end of the four years, I will have covered the whole Bible, and essentially written a commentary on it. You can follow my progress at marmsky.com.
I am learning some things along the way. One thing is that any passage of Scripture is going to give instruction on one or more of three purposes. In other words, God has three reasons to communicate to us. He either wants to SAVE us by his grace through Jesus Christ or to SANCTIFY us by his word through the Holy Spirit or to SEND us on a mission.
Last year – when I was reading and blogging through the New Testament, I found that each book of the new Testament highlighted one of those purposes. The Gospels helped to explain who Jesus was as our Savior, or helped us understand how to be his disciples. The epistles usually explained sanctification (in other words, “I’m saved, now what?”. The Book of Acts is the mission manual of the New Testament.
This year, reading through the Pentateuch and other historical books of the Old Testament, I am encountering the same categories. Genesis and Exodus – up until the Passover event is all about rescue, deliverance, salvation. But then Exodus changes into a law book. The reason is simply this: the first 15 chapters are about salvation by grace: getting us out of Egypt. The rest of the book of Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers is about sanctification: getting Egypt out of us. Then we come to the book of Joshua. Joshua is the mission manual of the Old Testament. It helps us understand and accomplish the missions that God gives us.
God is not calling us to fly to Israel and do battle with the Canaanites. That was the mission he gave Joshua and his generation. The missions he gives you and me are different than that. He wants us to make disciples of all nations, to love him with all our hearts, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. But I have discovered that the lessons we learn from the book of Joshua are just as valid and helpful for my missions as they were for Joshua’s.
Today’s Big Idea is this: God has called you to a mission, and no matter who you are, that mission is possible.
Some of you know that I am a fan of the old 1960s TV series Mission: Impossible. I have been watching the whole series on Netflix, usually by myself on my Kindle because nobody else in my house shares my love for the show, and we don’t own a TV. Every episode, the team leader – Jim Phelps – goes into some strange place and finds some photos and a tape recorder. The tape describes the mission, and gives Jim the choice to accept it or not. The thing I like the most about shows like that is that they involve the whole team working together to accomplish the mission.
Most of the missions God gives us are like that as well. He did not just send Joshua into Canaan to conquer the whole Holy land. It took the whole nation to accomplish the mission. Likewise, when Jesus wanted to make disciples of every nation, he did not just send one representative. He sent the whole church. He sent us all the Holy Spirit, who distributes gifts to each of us so that together as a team we accomplish the mission.
One of the lessons Joshua teaches demonstrates this. Joshua’s team had a tremendous victory at Jericho. He had given specific instructions for them not to take anything, but to destroy everything. Afterward, Joshua sent a small army to take town of Ai. But one man in the team that had captured Jericho had taken some of the spoils. As a result, Ai – which should have been a cake walk – was a defeat. It takes the whole team following instructions to accomplish the mission.
The first chapter of Joshua speaks to that big idea: God has called you to a mission, and no matter who you are, that mission is possible. It gives us the grounds for that assertion. It gives reasons that we can expect to accomplish whatever mission God gives us.
1) The Mission is Possible because the presence of the LORD is with us wherever we go.
a) “I will be with you as I was with Moses” (5).
b) “I will not fail you or abandon you. ” (5).
c) “the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (9).
The mission is never about how smart we are, or how talented we are, or how brave we are. We are going to face challenges that put all those things to the test. In fact, most of the things we encounter are going to be too much for us. That is the way the missions are planned. They are designed to break our dependence upon our own wisdom, skills and courage.
Joshua had his armies, but that was not what brought about victory in the conquest of Canaan. The victory came because God was with them. That is why the LORD wanted to reassure Joshua from the outset that he would be with them and not forsake them.
Jesus told his church the same thing. Remember his Great Commission?
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 NLT).
The presence of the LORD with us makes the mission of the LORD possible for us. The mission gives us an opportunity to display and prove the presence of the LORD.
2) The mission is possible because the grace of God is demonstrated in our lives.
a) “the land I am giving them” (2).
b) “’Wherever you set foot, you will be on land I have given you” (3).
c) “all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them” (6).
Just because we are now talking about the mission that God called on Joshua to accomplish does not mean that we have moved from grace to works. The mission is also about grace. You have to understand, there is nothing we ever can achieve for God that is not a result of the grace of God.
The Great Commission challenges us to make disciples of all nations, but not one soul ever comes to Christ apart from the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit upon his or her life. As Paul put it…
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory” (Romans 8:28-30 NLT).
There’s the whole story of salvation presented as God’s work from election to glorification. It’s God’s mission. Now, there are two possible responses to that. You can either say, OK, if God wants to do it all he can do it. Such a response is like telling Jesus “No thanks, I’ll pass on this making disciples thing.” The correct response is “Since it’s God’s mission anyway, I’m going to attempt great things.” “His presence is here to help me, and his sovereign grace is going to make it happen!”
3) The mission is possible because we have the word of God as our mission manual.
a) “Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you” (7a).
b) “Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do” (7b).
c) “Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it.” (8).
Lots of people have tried to read the Bible and have wound up confused and disappointed. I think part of the reason is that they fail to see the significance of what’s there and what is not there. Part of the problem is that we preachers have convinced them that the Bible is simpler than it is. It cannot be reduced to a few slogans or spiritual laws. It is complicated because it is meant to do a number of things for us.
1) It introduces us to our Savior and gives us a chance to respond to his gospel and be saved.
2) It explains how the Holy Spirit wants to change us from the inside out once we have become believers, sanctifying us and preparing us for a righteous eternity.
3) It instructs us on how to live under the authority of our new king, and how to accomplish his will, including and especially his will to draw others to himself.
All Joshua had was a “Book of Instruction” – a collection of the laws and words of Moses. But that was enough to instruct him on accomplishing God’s mission. We now have the whole thing – Genesis to Revelation. Paul said…
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
That sounds like a mission manual to me. I am convinced that this is a crucial era of history. We will have more opportunity to advance the kingdom of God and share the gospel of Christ than any generation in our past. It remains to see whether we will follow Joshua and take up that challenge. He challenged the rest of the Israelites to follow his example:
“choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15 NLT).
What he was saying was that his generation had three choices: old gods, new gods or the LORD God. The LORD challenges us to make his name and his kingdom our mission in life. We have all we need to make that mission a success. It is possible.
This message was preached Sunday, June 24th, 2012 at RELEVANT CHURCH, Williamsburg Virginia, USA.