Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 January 15, 2023
“At the Threshold of Something Big”
We have, as of today, accomplished about 4% of 2023, for we near the middle of day fifteen of this year of three hundred sixty five days. Admittedly, it remains early in the year; we still remain at its threshold. Yet we may well be, individually and collectively as Cornerstone EPC, at the threshold of something big, in God’s good providence. Joshua, and God’s Old Covenant people, were at the threshold of something big—more than three thousand years ago. Let’s learn more about what happened then, and let’s see how the Lord will apply this text by His Spirit to our souls. Give ye ear, once again, to the Word of God read and proclaimed in this place.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
The book of Joshua opens at a critical time in the life of God’s Old Testament Church. Moses is dead—and I think it safe to infer that he has not been dead long. A leadership transition must occur. The man who led Israel out of Egypt, and through forty years of wilderness wandering, has departed—and this massive covenant people, of over six hundred thousand families, needs a leader. Happily, God appointed a successor: Joshua (Numbers 27:15 ff., Deuteronomy 31:1-8, esp. 7-8), long Moses’ aide-de-camp, who now assumes command. The rest of today’s text narrates God’s charge to Joshua. Let us now examine that charge in further detail.
The charge begines with a twofold task. First, Joshua must lead the people to cross the Jordan River—where there seems to be no way across. The river is about eighty to one hundred feet across during most seasons of the year, but it can approach a mile wide during flood season in the spring.1 The people of Israel carried neither bridge works nor pontoons. Yet they had to get across—and they did, for God parted the waters of the Jordan (3:15-17) as He parted the waters of the Red Sea four decades earlier. Second, Joshua must lead the people to possess the land, and dispossess those in it—and to do this, once again, where there seems to be no way to do it. The ensuing record will show that God indeed blessed Joshua, and Israel, to subdue much of the southern and central portions of the Promised Land before Joshua’s death some decades later. Here is the task. Let’s note some more things from this text.
The Lord gives Joshua a threefold promise that will encourage him in these tasks. First, no man will be able to stand against him all the days of his life. No rebel within the camp will arise to topple him, and no warriors outside the camp will take his life or prevail against Him. Second, the Lord promises Joshua that He will never leave him nor forsake him. This promise is so important that God emphasizes it again at the end of today’s passage, and it is so important to us that God restates it in the New Testament. The author of Hebrews quotes it directly to encourage keeping our lives free from the love of money (Hebrews 13:5), and Jesus’ last words in Matthew’s Gospel are these: “And surely I am with you, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). Third, Joshua will have good success—insofar as he conforms to His commands. That threefold command occurs in verses six through nine, and we do well today to investigate them further.
First, God tells Joshua and us, “Be strong and courageous.” This command occurs thrice in our text; the middle occurrence reads, “Be strong and very courageous.” If we count the negative command in verse nine, “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed,…” then we have four commands to strength and courage. The promise of God’s presence and power fuels our strength. Second, God tells us to do everything commanded in His Word. Moreover, we are to do this diligently: being careful to turn neither to the right nor to the left. We are not to be cavalier concerning God’s commands, but serious—and this serious pursuit of obedience in Christ gladdens the Lord’s heart and increases our likelihood of success in His endeavors. Third, God tells us to meditate upon His Word. We, like Joshua, are to think at length and in depth upon the Word of God both day and night. As we do this, God will change our thinking and our doing to resemble those of Christ Jesus—and we shall enjoy good success in His endeavors to boot.
God’s Church, and His people therein, have tasks to perform. He calls us to worship Him in spirit and in truth, to bear witness to the reality of our Savior, Jesus Christ, God incarnate, to make disciples of all nations—even our own, to pray without ceasing, and to do many other things as well. We have opposition to our performance of these tasks; be neither surprised nor dismayed at them. The great hater of our souls, the father of lies, opposes us. Our own sinful nature, though slain and on borrowed time, wrestles within us, producing fear, sloth, and the like—which would keep us from our divinely-ordained tasks. The world system, and people ensnared by it, both estranged from God and hostile to Him, opposes us in our Godly work. There will be opposition, but that opposition, because of Christ’s victory, cannot prevail.
Here, then is our charge. First, be strong and courageous—and that by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit. Second, obey the Word of God, the Bible. This is not possibly perfectly, but let us pursue consistent obedience—and may we be obedient increasingly over time. Be encouraged: Jesus Christ’s perfect obedience is imputed to us who are in Christ, and we receive it by faith alone—itself a gift from God2. Third, meditate upon the Word of God: again, at length and in depth—over a long course of days. This is our threefold charge in the works to which God calls us—each and all, generally and specially.
Here is God’s promise to us. First, none shall stand against us, for none shall stand against Him. Even though we be opposed in our good work, none shall prevail. Second, we shall have good success, as God defines success, insofar as we conform to the Word of God. Indeed, may the Holy Spirit so work in us that we conform increasigly to the Word of God, and, thus, realize this good success in our experience. Third, and finally, God will never leave us nor forsake us. Not one promise the Lord ever made to us fails (Joshua 21:45), but every promise declared is “Yea” and “Amen” in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Let us, then, step across the threshold of something big by His leading, and let us enjoy Him in the outworking of His purpose—in all things, and in us who are in Christ.
1The NIV Study Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 292.
2Cf. Westminster Shorter Catechism, question and answer 33, plus Ephesians 2:8-10.