Tuesday, February 26, 2008

“I’ve Never Been This Way Before” Joshua 3:4

S-1035 2/27/08 4SMIL/3A. Hymns: (S)#376; # 780 LSB; (C) #554

Texts: Psalm 46; Exodus 17:6 1 Corinthians 10:1-10; Matthew 26:57-7:10

Theme: “I’ve Never Been This Way Before” Joshua 3:4

Armour, SD. SOLI DEO GLORIA (4th sermon in series on “Singing the Songs of Zion)

“You have never been this way before.” (Joshua 3:4).

My son David was taken by my wife to his first day of Pre-school. As my wife introduced him to his teacher and classmates, his face changed. He had that look—a look of fear. My wife was about to leave, and David clung to her leg for dear life. Every time she attempted to walk, he grasped tighter and harder and cried louder and would not let go. Finally, my wife had to slowly remove each of his fingers and quickly close the door behind her. While she is walking away, she could hear his screams and sobbing. And she cried too. This went on for two full weeks. Each day the emotions, the tears, the holding and screaming were the same. David was frightened to be left behind. He more than likely thought that mom was not coming back and maybe even there were giants behind those closed doors. You see, David had never been this way before.

Neither had Joshua. The officers in our text remind both him and Israel, “You have never been this way before.” Joshua had traveled along with Moses from Egypt to Sinai, and all of the places God had led them. For 40 years they have traveled by the guidance and leadership of God as revealed to Moses. Joshua even entered Cannan to spy out the land. But now, he stands on the east bank of the Jordan River gazing west into the Promised Land, Joshua knew in all his travels he had “never been this way before.”

The Pre-school room for David looked as an ominous and fearful place. And so it was for the Israelites as they stood at the Jordan’s bank. They thought that giants were waiting to JUMP OUT and eat them for late-night snacks. Didn’t those who spied the land say “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size!” (Numbers 13:32)

What made this time difficult for them is that Moses is now dead. There had been no circumcision or Passover for 40 years. But now the time is different, it is spring so the Jordan River was at flood stage; Jericho was looming in the immediate future with its wall. And according to Numbers: “The Amalekites live in the Negev, the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan” (Num. 13:29) Joshua stands before a difficult, ominous, and fearful place. “HE HAD NEVER BEEN THIS WAY BEFORE.”

You know that same sinking feeling and so do I. Maybe you’re terrified at the thought of what is happening to mom. She is beginning to loose her ability to think, and you are looking for a place to place her. You have never been this way before. Maybe, you are looking at the casket of your child who died due to a bus crash. You have never been this way before. Perhaps you are bringing a new child home or watching your last child leave home. You have never been this way before. Maybe you’re faced with a company that is downsizing the work force and your stomach tied in knots. You have never been this way before. Maybe you’re facing a difficult marriage, or have lost a sibling, or bills that won’t go away. You have never been this way before. Some of us are facing a future that is known only to our God because it is so painful, so private; so problematic. Whatever the difficult, ominous, and fearful place, we mutter under our breath, I’ve never been this way before.”

These difficulties and hardships could lead to three-fold temptations: First, do nothing. Joshua could have said, “Let’s park the car. There is no reason to enter the Land. Second, turn back. Joshua might have thought, “Egypt never looked so good – give me leeks and onions by the Nile!” Third, try another way. Joshua could have commanded, “Let’s go north, around the Sea of Galilee, and make Hazor our first hit.”

Numerous times we are in the same boat as the Israelites. Sin can have us do nothing or turn back or try another way. On the brink of our Jordan River with giants waiting on the other side we doubt that our God has given us His “very great and precious promises.” We doubt that our God has “blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” We create a small, impotent god that is made in our image and in our likeness. And the voice of God is drowned by our fears and foibles.

This disobedience is compounded by our inclination to tune into radio station KF ...EAR – KFEAR. Satan, the daily host of the program says, “Take no chances. Say no to courage and yes to caution. Expect the worst. Triple-lock all doors. Protect yourself in a tight radius of won’ts, don’ts, cant’s and quits. Think about every possible peril, focus on the dangers, and worry yourself with ‘What if?’ Come weal, come woe, make your status QUO!”

But “GO”, is the chorus line in Joshua 3; the word appears nine times in the chapter. The LORD has always called His people to go. To Abram He said, “Go to the land I will show you.” To Moses, “Go, I am sending you to Pharaoh.” To Jonah, “Go to the great city of Nineveh.” To Samuel, “Go anoint David as king of Israel” To Elijah, “Go tell Ahab there will be no rain in the land”

And He calls us to Go into ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.” Yet, when the LORD says “go”, it is in His heart that we never go it alone. He knows that a difficult, ominous, and fearful place is not conquered by promising, “I’ll be with you in spirit.” A mystical, abstract, vague presence does no good. Just ask David of his real fears. When you are standing on the Jordan of difficult, ominous and fearful place, you need real presence. And real presence is exactly what the LORD delivers. In Joshua chapter 3, for the first time in Israel’s history, the Ark of the Covenant leads. This ark is mentioned 17 times in Joshua 3 and 4. Get it?

The LORD calls his people to go, but never to go it alone. And what is this ark, but the LORD Himself! “Whenever the ark set out, Moses said, ‘Rise up ... the LORD!’” Numbers10:35).. The ark does not symbolize the LORD or represent the LORD. “Rise up, O LORD!” In, with, and under the ark is the LORD Himself, really present.

And real presence means real victory. The ark leads and Joshua marches, beginning at Jericho and continuing to conquer the whole land and defeating all his enemies and placing them under his feet. “So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel” (Joshua 11:23).

In the fullness of time, the Ark of the Covenant “became flesh and dwelt among us ...and we have seen His glory!” His march began at Bethlehem and Nazareth. It continued in the face of kings – Tiberius Caesar, Herod, Philip. From East to west and North to South He traveled to accomplish the saving of the world. When God the Father said, “Go!” Jesus went. He came to the heart of the city of Jerusalem, and there He marched to face the destructive powers of hell. From the Upper Room to Gethsemane, and on to the Hill of death, He marched. Dripping with blood that was pouring out of His veins, He went to Golgotha, and there they crucified Him. In all of His travel, Jesus had never been this way before.

Yet three days later the march went on!

And this victory march continues today. Jesus leads us from victory to victory by His real presence; the Gospel proclaimed, the baptismal deliverance remembered, and the body and blood of the Eucharist celebrated, “This is the feast of victory for our God!” And with joy we await our final journey the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come!

Because of the cleansing blood, the resurrection joy and the power of Pentecost many on the east bank of their Jordan Rivers have dared to march straight ahead. Paul tells us why. 2 Corinthians 2: 14: “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ.” Whatever your difficult, ominous and fearful place is, God is telling, “lo, I am with you always to the very end of the earth.” God is calling. He says GO, but guarantees you will never, ever, ever go it alone. Joshua 3:11: “See, the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you.”

And our response?

“Christ be my Leader by night as by day; safe through the darkness for He is the way. Gladly I follow my future His care. Darkness is daylight when Jesus is there” (LSB # 861.1).

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