Sunday, January 06, 2013

Joshua 3-4 - Heading into an Uncertain Year

Israel crosses the Jordan River
Happy New Year! I think. We are already seeing a new year that might not be so happy. On January 1, regardless of the outcome of fiscal cliff negotiations, Americans were hit with twenty new or higher taxes, five of them for the first time on January 1. According to the Congressional Budget Office, they amount to a $1 trillion healthcare tax hike (2013-2022). The five major healthcare taxes taking effect on January 1 are as follows:
The Medical Device Tax: A new 2.3% excise tax on gross sales of companies producing medical devices – even if the company does not earn a profit in a given year. Medical device manufacturers employ 409,000 people in 12,000 plants across the country. In addition to killing small business jobs and impacting research and development budgets, this will increase the cost of your health care – making everything from pacemakers to artificial hips more expensive.
The Flex Account Tax: The 30-35 million Americans who use a pre-tax Flexible Spending Account (FSA) to pay for their family’s basic medical needs will face a new government cap of $2500. All money a person puts into their FSA over $2500 will be taxable, giving the government $13 billion of tax money from Americans over the next ten years. One group of several million FSA families will find this new cap particularly cruel and onerous: parents of special needs children.  These families use FSAs to pay for special needs education, and tuition rates can easily exceed $14,000 per year. This tax provision will limit the options available to these families.
The Surtax on Investment Income: There is a new 3.8% surtax on investment income for household earning $200K ($250K if married).  There is also a scheduled hike in the capital gains rate from 15 to 20 percent, and the scheduled hike in dividends rate from 15 to 39.6 percent.
Raised Threshold for Medical Itemized Deductions: Americans facing high medical expenses are allowed a deduction to the extent that those expenses exceed a percentage of their adjusted gross income. That threshold has been raised from 7.5% to 10%, increasing taxable income for the sickest Americans and most harming near retirees and those with modest incomes but high medical bills.
A Medicare Payroll Tax Hike:  The Medicare payroll tax is being raised for those earning $200K ($250K if married) from 2.9% to 3.8%. This is a direct marginal income tax hike on small business owners, who are liable for self-employment tax in most cases.[1]

Not only that, but just a few days ago, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor  denied Hobby Lobby’s application for an emergency injunction protecting them from Obamacare’s HHS Mandate on abortion and birth control. Hobby Lobby has decided to defy the federal government to remain true to their religious beliefs, at enormous risk and financial cost -- $1.3 million in fines each day they are in non-compliance. Happy New Year to Hobby Lobby.

We look into an uncertain year. What do we do? The book of Joshua has some answers, specifically in chapters 3 and 4 where the children of Israel cross over the Jordan River to the Promised Land. Let’s look at this passage today.

Key Truth: Joshua wrote Joshua 3-4 to teach Israel that God prepares us to cross into a new day, and He gives us power and perspective to cross over as well.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about crossing into new changes.
Key Verses: Joshua 3:4; 4:24
Pray and Read:  Joshua 3-4

Contextual Notes: 
The narrative arrangement of Joshua 3 and 4 is remarkable. Some scholars suggest later editing and combining of two accounts, but a simple view of the text shows the writer’s genius and negates any attempt to say this text is somehow a patchwork of motley hero stories.
The passage has four sections: the preparation (Joshua 3:1-6), the passage (Joshua 3:7-17), the memorial stones in the river bed (Joshua 4:1-14), and the return of the river flow and the memorial stones at Gilgal (Joshua 4:15-24). Each section closes with a summary statement, a common Hebrew OT historical mannerism.
In each of the last three sections, there is a triple division: God’s command, Joshua’s command, and the execution of the command. For example, God’s command (Joshua 3:7-8), Joshua’s repetition of the command (Joshua 3:9-13), and the execution of the command (Joshua 3:14-17) Verse 17 gives the customary summary.
Chapter 4 is divided into two sections. Verses 1-14 are about the bringing of twelve memorial stones from the Jordan. Verses 15-24 conclude the whole event. The same pattern is here of God’s command, Joshua’s repetition of command, and the action of the command.
Sermon Points:
1.   The Lord Prepares Us to Cross Over (Joshua 3:1-8)
2.   The Lord Empowers Us To Cross Over (Joshua 3:9-17)
3.   The Lord Provides Perspective To Cross Over (Joshua 4:1-24)

a.   We must listen to the Lord’s guidance - “move out from your positions and follow [the ark]”(Joshua 3:1-3)
b.   We must trust the Lord’s guidance - “You have never been this way before” (Joshua 3:4)
c.   APPLICATION - Who would have expected September 11th or even December 7th? Our lives are filled with sudden surprises, sudden temptations, sudden earthquakes, sudden calamities, sudden joys. Who might you meet this year who will change your life? What might happen at work that throws all your plans off? Maybe a promotion or maybe a layoff? What might the doctor say to you this year that will scare you or make you very happy?
d.   We must respect the Lord’s guidance - “keep a distance . . . between you and the ark” (Joshua 3:4). 2000 cubits = 1400 yards = ¾ mile
e.   What was the Ark of the Covenant? It was the symbol of the Presence of God, built by Bezalel in the wilderness, with the tablets of the Ten Commandments on the inside. It was a new thing for the ark to lead. For forty years, since leaving Egypt, a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night guided Israel. The ark was in the center of the column. Now the ark takes the lead.
f.    ILLUSTRATION - J.E.B. Stuart was the most famous cavalry general of the War Between the States. Years earlier, as he was preparing to graduate from West Point, he wrote his father about his plans, I have not as yet any fixed course determined upon after graduation; still I can't help but regard it as the important crisis of my life. Two courses will be left for my adoption, the profession of arms and that of law; the one securing an ample support, with a life of hardship and uncertainty,--laurels, if any, dearly bought, and leaving an empty title as a bequeathment; the other an overcrowded thoroughfare, which may or may not yield a support, -- may possibly secure honors, but of doubtful worth. Each has its labors and its rewards. In making the selection I will rely upon the guidance of Him whose judgment cannot err, for "it is not with man that walk-eth to direct his steps.” (Jeremiah 10:23).
g.   APPLICATION - If you are not sure what God wants you to do, wait on Him. Better by far to spend hours or days or years waiting in silence, although people who don’t understand will call it indolent – waiting for God’s clear will, than to hurry down a path and after going too far, find yourself not in God’s will at all, and it being too far to turn back. Following Him means the suppression of our will. We must keep our own will in subordination to His. We must keep near Him, in order to hear His lightest whisper. Do you want to know God’s will for you? “Keep near Him, and you will not lack direction.”[2]
h.   We must be made holy under the Lord’s guidance - “’Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you’” (3:5).
i.    ILLUSTRATION – That great Scottish Baptist expositor of the Word of the 1800s, Alexander Maclaren, wrote: “The best security for tomorrow’s wonders is today’s sanctifying.”[3]
j.    APPLICATION - Not just externally making everything look good. A lot of us are good at making things look good to others. We think we are, but there are those who can see right through us no matter how hard we try. We are talking about internally asking forgiveness of our sins, clearing any blockages to fellowship with the Lord like unforgiveness of others, etc., turning to the Lord in intimacy. Do you want the power of God in your life? Do you want healing of your spirit, mind, or body? Do you want to see God move with power in answer to your prayers? Then consecrate yourself so that the Lord may do amazing things in your life.
a.   JOSHUA 3:9 - God’s Word is powerful - “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord” (Joshua 3:9).
b.   APPLICATION - Getting into the Scripture afresh and getting close to the Lord again are the best ways to prepare for a good new year.
c.   JOSHUA 3:10 - God’s Presence is powerful - “this is how you will know that the living God is among you” (3:10). Things have changed for Israel, but it took 40 years. At Kadesh Barnea, where the children of Israel had 40 years earlier rebelled against the Lord’s will for them as God’s people, the naming of only five of the tribes in Canaan by the spies scared the congregation into rebellion. Here in Joshua 3, the naming of the whole seven tribal names instead gives confidence to Israel. They realized the truth of what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:37-39 KJV:  Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
d.   APPLICATION - We are living in a crucial time of preparation for some extremely difficult days to come, both financially and in the world of nature. The election season is over and now we head into a new year of many new uncertainties. We have a limited period of time in which to get ready. Had Romney been elected, this season of preparation for the financial aspects of the coming collapse could have been extended, although the inevitable remains the inevitable. With Obama in office, we will not have as much time as we might have had under Romney. The level of urgency has therefore risen. We must now devote ourselves to kingdom concerns and to raising up and strengthening churches and ministries to shine in a darkening world and to provide islands of mercy and healing for the human suffering to come. In light of this, we must prepare to receive an unprecedented outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the midst of gathering darkness and set our hearts to function as the church did in Acts 2 relationally, spiritually and materially.
e.   In the near term--the next few years--expect unemployment in the neighborhood of 8% to persist. The nation will become accustomed to this and what we once considered unacceptable will become the new and accepted norm. Despite any claims to the contrary, the national debt will continue to soar as incomes fall and increasing numbers of Americans become more and more dependent on the government for support.
f.    This mounting debt will contribute to the ongoing devaluation of the dollar, which will fuel inflation and dramatically diminish the real income and buying power of the average citizen. Nevertheless, relative to what is coming, these current years are years of peace. Collapse of the international monetary system is inevitable and we must use the time we have to the best advantage. We in the church must be ready to meet escalating spiritual and emotional needs. We must grow up and live as true disciples.
g.   Readiness necessitates a renewed focus on the very reason for which we have been saved. God didn't save us to make us rich. Jesus didn't die so that we could own the best car and the nicest home. Economics and material wellbeing are irrelevant to the ultimate purpose of God, which is that we might be "conformed to the image of the Son" (Rom. 8:29). God will turn all things to good for us (Rom. 8:28), but, in the context of the verse, the good He produces is defined by being "conformed to the image of the Son." Harder times will come, but we can prepare for them by determining to allow God to cause all things both good and bad to shape our character to conform to His.
h.   Readiness necessitates that we choose faithful oneness with other believers who worship together, serve together and live out covenant love together. Jesus prayed, "that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me" (John 17:21), and He meant it. We will need one another desperately when it all comes unraveled. I don’t expect some catastrophic event where the United States is completely lost and no longer exists. I expect an economic crisis akin to that of the United Kingdom in the 1920s which our nation moves from a first tier nation in a unipolar world where we have called the shots to a second tier nation in the earth where we no longer consider ourselves in charge in a multipolar world and can no longer finance the world economy or police the world’s trouble spots.
i.     Pay close attention to covenant relationships in the days to come and guard them zealously. In Acts 2, the saints enjoyed supernatural unity and sold their possessions and property to share with others as any had need. You will see this same thing in the days to come. Get connected relationally and then give sacrificially for the sake of love.
j.    Finally, those who choose a kingdom path through these difficult days will realize that we no longer live in a Christian nation and will adjust their approach, attitude and language in relation to the surrounding culture to correspond to that of the Christians under Rome, or Daniel under Nebuchadnezzar, serving rather than sniping, gaining favor through love, even in a hostile and godless culture. Those caught up in the religious spirit will continue in an old and failed strategy, but we are called to live graciously toward people who have no knowledge or understanding of Christianity or the Bible at all.
k.   Joshua 3:11 - God’s Guidance is powerful - “the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go . . . ahead of you” (Joshua 3:11). He controls everything. He is Lord of all the earth, not just a territory. This name “ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth” tells them that wherever it leads, they need not fear to go.
l.    ILLUSTRATION - A pastor visited an old man suffering from painful rheumatism and found him with his Bible open in front of him. The minister noticed that the word "proved" was written repeatedly in the margin. He turned over a few pages and found, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." "Proved." And so it went on through the Book. Next to John 1:12 (KJV: “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name;”) he had written "Proved." He had received Christ by believing and had indeed become a child of God. He had proved that promise of God's Word. Millions of other born-again believers could write "proved" next to this verse. There isn't a single one who has put this promise of God to the test and been disappointed.[4]
m.  APPLICATION - Trusting Jesus’ heart for you this year is the best way to handle things when the tough times come. He is faithful, and he does not change on you.
n.   Joshua 3:15-16 - With God nothing is ever impossible - Despite flood stage, “the water from upstream stopped flowing” (Joshua 3:15-16). Notice that the water piled up at Adam (symbol of man) (Joshua 3:16) See same word “heaped up” at Exodus 15:8. Verses 14-16 are one long sentence, like a long flow of water which was stopped or a great long shout of triumph, rolling, rushing, like the flow of two million people across the river bed of the Jordan. Verse 17 gives the customary summary. Remember what the Angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary in Luke 1:37 KJV: “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” And what Paul wrote to 6+the Philippians, in Philippians 4:13 KJV:I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.
o.   APPLICATION – A Great Need God Can Handle: Dr. Gregory Frizzell is a Specialist in Prayer and Spiritual Awakening with the Oklahoma Baptist General Convention (BGCO). He has written dozens of books on prayer, revival and seeking God.  He writes, ““There can be no question that America's greatest need is sweeping revival and spiritual awakening. An historic great awakening would powerfully renew Christ's Church, draw millions to true conversion and bring great glory to God. Such a movement would radically reverse today's moral collapse and brings dynamic changes to the social and political landscape. True revival often restores wisdom to government policies and brings infinite good to human beings... If believers consistently unite to pray God's heart with deep repentance, He promises to intervene in the land. (2 Chr 7:14)... Saints, we can only do that by embracing a serious commitment to continually seek and obey God. (Jer 29:13)... As America teeters on the edge of economic, social and moral collapse, we must remind ourselves that God turns societal tides of evil by one primary means - an utterly committed praying remnant. Though true believers are now a remnant in a land of fast growing darkness, God is still on the throne!”
p.   Those who see our nation's moral landscape from a biblical worldview know that politics is not the root of our national troubles. Sin is. We must seek God's Face for ourselves, pray for God-sent revival to our churches and awakening to our nation, and pray for God-fearing men and women to be chosen for positions of authority in government and every other cultural institution. Extraordinary prayer is the necessity of the day and probably will be as long as we live. The nation and our children's very lives - temporal and eternal - are at stake.
q.   ILLUSTRATION – Think revival will never happen? God has often moved most powerfully in the darkest days of nations. In the dark days of England when the Empire was quaking under the weight of its own immoral individual and corporate behaviors that God raised up John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield to preach the gospel and brought the Great Awakening to Britain. It was in the spiritual darkness of Unitarianism in New England that after prayer the Lord raised up Charles Finney to see whole villages come to know Christ as Lord and Savior in the 1820s. It was in the dark days of a Wall Street financial crash in New York, that a ill-attended prayer meeting on Fulton Street in Manhattan turned into an tidal wave called the Great Prayer Meeting Revival in 1857-1859. The revival swept through the Northern States, and 6 million people came to Christ, the equivalent today of 35 million people finding the Lord in the space of 18 months. It was in the dark and bloody days of the War Between the States when revival swept through the Confederate army camps in Virginia and Tennessee, and an estimated half million men confessed their sins and gave control of their lives to Christ. It was in the dark days after the American Revolution when a great revival swept North Carolina in 1801-1802 and brought the state from moral decadence, ignorance, and chaos to thousands of new Christians and hundreds of new evangelical churches. It was in the dark days of a Japanese invasion of China that revival swept the missionaries hunkered down in Chefoo, China, and the greatest revival Baptists have ever known saw the conversion of many of our missionaries and later thousands, then millions of Chinese swept into the Kingdom. God often moves in dark days. What if the dark days ahead are an answer to our prayers for revival?
r.    JOSHUA 3:          17 - With God nothing ever changes - “The priests . . . stood firm on dry ground . . . , while all Israel . . . completed the crossing on dry ground” (Joshua 3:17). Alexander Maclaren, in reference to this verse, encourages us to “learn the lesson to stand fixed and patient wherever God sets us, as long as He does not call us thence.”[5] And the verse speaks of the character of God in respect to the doctrine of salvation. God is not willing that any should perish. His character is to condescend to weak faith, to wait until the last loiterer makes it to the other bank. Until then, he remains providing a way. 2 Peter 3:9 KJV:The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 1 Timothy 2:4 KJV:Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
s.    The same God who produced the wonder at the Red Sea now both confirms Joshua as the new Moses and communicates his unchanging power to a new generation that only heard about the Red Sea while growing up in the desert. Only Caleb and Joshua saw the Red Sea. While their enemies trembled in fear, the children of Israel crossed over 2-3 million strong, and camped in an indefensible location at Gilgal.
t.    The miracle’s purpose was two-fold -- to stamp God’s seal of authority on Joshua and to encourage the people of God’s fighting for them. Here God “begins” to exalt Joshua (Joshua 3:7; 4:14). The miracle’s parallel with the Red Sea is obvious. Joshua was elevated to Moses’ level. But Yeshua, the writer of Hebrews says, is greater than Moses and Joshua. Hebrews 3:3, 5-6; 4:8: KJV - “For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house. And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after;  But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. (Hebrews 4:8)  For if Jesus had given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.”
u.   Jesus is the fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant of God. He is not just a symbol of the divine Presence. He IS the Presence of God. He is the Torah of God. He is the Covenant with the people (Isaiah 49:8-9). And it was here at this crossing place that centuries later John the Baptizer immersed Jesus at the Jordan. He was announcing that He would stand in intercession as a priest (Joshua 3:3) and that all He would overcome all the sin that had cut off the Promised Land, heaped up all the way back to Adam (Joshua 3:16).
v.   Don’t miss the parallel in Joshua 4:19. “The tenth day of the first month” is 40 years to the day since the first Passover Lamb was slain in Egypt. Jesus is our Passover Lamb who was slain. (Joshua 5:10). The ark moved first to guide Israel into the Promised Land. It opened the path and pushed back the torrent so that Israel could pass through to the Promised Land on dry ground. It stood watch to guard Israel as they crossed the river. Jesus is our Guiding Ark, summing up all human duties in one sweet invitation, “Follow Me.”
w.  This is also how Jesus can claim to be both the Shepherd and the Gate as He did in John 10. Jesus called Himself those things in John 10:7, 9, 11, 14 KJV: 7Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. 9I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. 11I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. Alexander Maclaren writes, “The one Pattern for us, the one Example that we need to follow, the one Strength in our perplexities, the true Director of our feet, is that dear Lord, if we will only listen to Him. And that direction will be given to us in regard to the trifles, as in regard to the great things of our lives.”[6]
a.   Listening to the Word of God brings perspective - “the Lord said to Joshua” (Joshua 4:1)
b.   Listening to your leadership brings perspective - “Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed . . . and said to them” (Joshua 4:4-6a). An African (Kiswahili) saying: “’Let me add my bit’ delays the conversation.” If everyone expresses their own opinions, little progress will be made.[7] For example, think about the US Congress! The priests and the people had to listen to Joshua and follow his instructions.
c.   Teaching your children brings perspective - “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them” (Joshua 4:7); “In the future, when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them (Joshua 4:21-22).
                    i.        Teach them God’s power (Joshua 4:6-7, 21-22).
                  ii.        Teach them God’s faithfulness (Joshua 4:23).
                iii.        Teach them God’s missionary heart (Joshua 4:24). The Lord’s Supper is a memorial to remind us vividly through the humble bread and wine that Jesus gave his body and blood for us.
d.   APPLICATION - God is very much concerned that each generation be trained in righteousness. We are one generation away from the extinction of Christian families. Look around this sanctuary. In fifteen years, how many will be here? Who will keep the lights burning? Who will reach out to the masses of unchurched moving into this area? It is your responsibility before God to get your children and grandchildren involved in church. Not the preacher’s. Not the youth directors’. Not the Sunday School director’s or teacher’s. It is the parents’ responsibility to train children, not the Sunday School teacher, not the pastor, not the school teacher, not the television, not the computer.
e.   APPLICATION - Take time this year with the younger folks around you, whether children, grandchildren, or just friends. Mentor them. Share a story about how God met you in crisis, how the Lord rescued you from darkness, what your faith in Jesus and the Word of God means to you, and why it has been a strong foundation for you through the school of hard knocks.
We have looked today at the Israelites who crossed over from the desert to the Promised Land. Have you crossed over from death to life? Have you made the decision to follow the ark, to pass through the water, to be baptized?
Are you thinking about crossing over in that decision you’ve been pondering? In the new year, are you thinking about going back to school? Are you thinking about changing jobs or starting your own business? Are you trying to decide about surgery? Are you wondering if that special someone might be the one? Are you thinking of joining this church? Are you contemplating surrendering your life to vocational ministry in the Kingdom in some new way?

[2] Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture: Deuteronomy – 2 Kings 7,, 57-8.
[3]  Maclaren, 61.
[4] 2000+ Bible Illustrations, “God: Faithfulness,” e-sword.
[5] Maclaren, 65.
[6] Maclaren, 58.
[7] Tokunboh Adeyemo, gen. ed., Africa Bible Commentary, 266.