Strong: Courage Over Fear
Strong: Courage Over Fear (1) - Keep Walking
This morning we’re beginning a brand-new message series entitled “Strong” and the text before us in Joshua chapter 5 is the realization of God’s promise given to Abraham. And so, what we are about to encounter in the Scriptures is another great milepost in the lives of the people of God. As they had crossed the Red Sea, now they had crossed the Jordan River, and now they are standing in the Promised Land. Everything they had dreamed about and wished for had now become a reality.
Now, Joshua and the Israelites are walking in the Promised Land, but now they have a whole new set of challenges before them, because the land once inhabited by their father Abraham was now possessed by other people. And so, like a neglected or abandoned garden, the Promised Land had become overgrown with weeds, occupied by unbelievers who had established their own kingdoms. The Israelites have now been delivered from Egypt, from a life of slavery, and brought into the Promised Land, but now they’re faced with open hostility and resistance. Now they’re face-to-face with the Canaanites who are occupying the land and it’s an illustration of life in the kingdom of God, because there is this struggle, this conflict between two opposing kingdoms.
It’s like the Scripture tells us in first John chapter three, verses one and two:
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known” (1 John 3:1-2).
And so, the kingdom is here, the kingdom is coming, but the kingdom is not yet. You have heard the Word of God, you have heard the promises of God, you are excited, you are pumped up, you are ready to take back what the enemy has stolen, you are ready to conquer the land and receive the promised inheritance; and yet now that you’re standing there, like Joshua and the Israelites, you realize that there’s so much that is unknown, so much that you were unprepared for.
There are some of you here today, some of you listening, who feel like you’re experiencing a denial, an inconvenience, a disruption in your plan, but the Holy Spirit would say to you today, “Keep walking, because it’s just a delay.” You see, God knows there are some battles that you are just not ready to fight, but he’s going to make good on his promise. God knows how to get you in the right place at the right time, but you have got to trust him. That is why he reminds us in first John,
“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Now, that is definitely good news, but I am so thankful for every time God has delayed something or closed a door, because he knew that I wasn’t ready to go into what he had prepared for me.
You see, here is what I have discovered, I can be ready for revelation, but not ready for the weight of that responsibility. I can be ready for the promotion, but not ready for the pressure that comes with it. And so, God waits until I am ready, he waits until I am mature enough, and I am talking about the spiritual maturity to handle the responsibility.
Sometimes God waits before he promotes you, elevates you, or puts you in a higher place, because of the challenges that you are not prepared for, the dilemmas you’re not quite developed for. You see, those battles you are not equipped for can set you back spiritually, they can set you back physically, emotionally, and financially. And so, God doesn’t want to put you in a place where his blessing feels more like a curse because you aren’t ready to handle it. He holds us up because he knows that there are some battles that we’re not ready to fight. And so, he’s not holding us up because he’s not going to give it to us, he’s holding us up because when he gives it to us, he wants us to be mature enough so that we can handle it and so that we can keep it.
The Israelites were ready, this was their moment, this was the appointed time, and so the book of Joshua opens up with God commanding Joshua and the people of God,
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9).
In other words, now is the time, you are ready, you have waited long enough, you are ready to take possession of the Promised Land, but you can’t hesitate, you’ve got to walk by faith, and you’ve got to keep walking by faith. And so, he says, “Don’t be terrified, don’t be discouraged, but be strong and courageous.”
They would need that encouragement, because as the nation of Israel crossed over the Jordan River, their crossing was a great miracle, but they were not the only ones who experienced it. There were other spectators who witnessed this miracle, and the Bible says in our text today, in Joshua chapter five, verse one:
“When all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until we had crossed over, their hearts melted and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites” (Joshua 5:1).
And so, the people who were living in the land were watching and they were terrified as they saw this great horde of people coming across the Jordan River on dry ground. They fled from them and ran to the nearby towns telling the people of how God had dried up the Jordan River so the Israelites could cross over. The people were paralyzed by fear and you would think that this would be a really good time to advance, to drive the people out, because they didn’t have the courage to face the Israelites, but God held them up because he was still teaching them a few things.
They would in fact possess the land, but for now they were to remain in the camp. Strategically it doesn’t really make sense and I wonder if there are any of you that can look back and recognize that you didn’t understand certain things while you were in the middle of it. But later, when you got to the other side of it and looked back, you realize that God was doing something greater than you ever could have imagined. And so, he was teaching you something and if you hadn’t obeyed him and learned what you needed to learn back then, you never would have been able to handle where you are right now.
In this passage today, God was taking the Israelites back to school again, and he had taught them in the wilderness, he had tested them before, but they had failed the test. And so, it was in the desert, 40 years in the wilderness, that God was teaching them, and for Israel the wilderness became a place of preparation. Wherever there is preparation there is pruning and Jesus tells us that God the Father is a gardener. In John chapter 15 he said,
“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit the Father takes away; and every branch that bears fruit he prunes, so that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2, NKJV).
In other words, there is a cutting away of some things that would hold us back. A cutting away of things that would keep us from being fruitful and effective in the kingdom of God. And as we consider the experience of Israel in the wilderness, there was a whole lot of pruning going on, certain issues and things that had to be cut away, things that had to be chopped off before they could go on to their inheritance. And so, there were still some things that they were learning and they were going to be tested before they would take possession of the Promised Land. That’s what we see in chapter 5, verse two. The Bible says,
“At that time the Lord said to Joshua, "Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again." So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites…” (Joshua 5:2-3).
God had taken them to school again, they were in class and he was testing them to see if they would obey; because it’s one thing to believe, but it is quite another thing to obey, especially when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable.
And so, the Israelites had just experienced this great miracle crossing the Jordan River, they are rejoicing in their victory, preparing to take back their land, when suddenly the Teacher tells them to sit down. And all the people paused, camping there at Gilgal as the men submitted to this surgery, this cutting away of the flesh. And the Bible says, this is why God had them do this in verse four,
“All those who came out of Egypt — all the men of military age — died in the desert on the way… So God raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised… because they had not been circumcised on the way” (Joshua 5:4-7).
And so, it was important that this new generation renew their Covenant relationship with the Lord as they are walking in their inheritance, because they were a Covenant people. And it was through this ritual of circumcision, this sign of the Covenant, that they were reminded that they belonged to the Lord, they were special people, a separated people, a holy nation, and that they were to maintain purity in their marriages, their society, and in their worship of God. And so, that is why the very first thing that God did in the Promised Land was give them an opportunity to deal with some things that could not go with them where they were going.
Verse eight says, “After the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed” (Joshua 5:8).
And so, it was through their faith and obedience to the law, having this sign in the flesh, that in their weakness, they were made strong, becoming a marked people, a covenant people of God. In other words, God was humbling them so that they could see themselves the way that he sees them, the way that he’s been telling them in Scripture, that they were his treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
God was teaching them to keep walking in a way that is consistent with who they were created to be. After having successfully passed this test, after fulfilling their obligation to obey the Law, the Lord said to Joshua in verse nine,
“Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you…” (Joshua 5:9).
And so, no longer would they be subject to the ridicule of their enemies. No one could claim that God couldn’t finish what he started, that he had to destroy them in the wilderness, because now all of that was in the past. The old things were gone and the new has come. In fact, the apostle Paul said it this way,
“From now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16, NKJV).
No more, no longer do we regard anyone from a worldly point of view. And so, God says, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt…”
And here’s what he said in Isaiah chapter 43,
"I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25).
“For my own sake”, he says, in order for me to be holy, in order for me to remain pure, “For my own sake, I will not remember your sins anymore.” And so, he wants to block that out, he doesn’t want to look upon that sin, he doesn’t want to dwell on our transgressions. In fact, he may even have to distance himself from you to give you the opportunity to remove the obstacles, to get those things out of the way, because this is what the high and lofty One says,
“He who lives forever, whose name is holy: "I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit…” (Isaiah 57:14).
And so, God is wanting you to humble yourself before him. He is believing the best about you, trusting that if you don’t have your act together today, you might have an encounter with his son Jesus Christ, being sorrowful, apologetic, and repentant so that you would have it together tomorrow. Those are the things that he wants to dwell on, he said, those are the thoughts that I think toward you,
“Thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, NKJV).
And so, Israel’s reproach was gone, and each man bore in his body the mark that reminded him that he belonged to God. This was a sign that they were sons of the Covenant, the land was theirs to conqueror and possess. They had arrived, they were ready to take back what had been stolen, but there was one more thing. Having entered into Covenant with the Lord, the Bible tells us that,
“On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover” (Joshua 5:10).
This was important, because as God’s covenant people they were never to forget that they had been redeemed, that they had been set free by the blood of the Lamb. And so, they were supposed to celebrate the Passover every year, but because of their rebellion at Kadesh Barnea they hadn’t celebrated the Passover since they were at Mount Sinai.
Now they’re back in Covenant with the Lord, they’re in the Promised Land, and God reminds them of their legacy. You see, celebrating the Passover was their heritage, it’s supposed to be an important part of their lives, it’s supposed to be passed down from generation to generation. And so, God has them pause to reflect, considering the cycles of life, the phases of becoming consistent in their walk, and continuously producing or giving birth to stuff that legacy is made of.
Jesus said it this way in John chapter 15, he said,
“I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last…” (John 15:16).
This is a place of consistently walking with God because there are generations on the inside of us, and so we need to be looking out for the next generation, thinking about what we are passing on to them, because it’s all about legacy and you’ve got to keep walking. There’s still more for you to see, but if you don’t keep walking with God, he can’t show you.
God told Abraham in Genesis chapter 12:
"Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1).
He said, I will bless you, I’ll make you into a great nation, but you’ve got to keep walking, you’ve got to go to the land I will show you. Get out of your father’s house and keep walking!
And Abraham did, he kept walking, and now the children of Abraham are in the Promised Land, they’re back in Covenant with the Lord, the inhabitants of the land had fled to Jericho for safety. Grain was plentiful in the land because it was time for the barley harvest and the Bible says,
“The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain” (Joshua 5:11).
Israel enjoyed the fruit of the land, for the Lord had prepared a table for his people in the presence of their enemies. And the very next day, verse twelve says,
“The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan” (Joshua 5:12).
The manna stopped because it was a temporary supply, God was making temporary provision, it was a forty-year miracle intended to hold them over until he gets them to where he was taking them. And I love this verse, of course I love the whole Bible, but this verse is such a testimony to the faithfulness of God. Forty years, day in and day out, bread had fallen from heaven each morning. All they had to do is take a basket out of their tents every morning and fill it up.
The manna is a testimony to the faithfulness of God. That he is consistently consistent, he’s reliably reliable, he’s unchanging and he is…
“the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
And so, he is our Waymaker, he makes a way where there is no way, and just as he was, he is, and he will always be.
Today the only reason that many of us are able to hold it together is because God has been so incredibly consistent. This year has been full of surprises, the coronavirus is unpredictable, the economy is uncertain, and yet our God has been predictably consistent. And so, the proper response to God’s faithfulness, his consistency, and his provision is to keep walking with him. We have gone through a lot this year, we have lost a lot this year, and his Word to Joshua is just as applicable to us today as it was then.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9).
If you are here or you are hearing this message, I wonder what made you stop walking? You see, God is not finished with you, he is still working, he is shifting some things, he’s moving some things, and he’s getting ready to open the heavens. I believe new things are coming, things are getting in alignment, because God’s vision for your life is that you would be aligned with him in such a way that all you do prospers.
The Bible tells us in Psalm chapter 1 that the man, the son or daughter of God, they are…
“like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” (Psalm 1:3).
There are some of you who have been planted, but you’ve been discouraged because you haven’t seen anything on the outside. You’re wanting to bear fruit, but you’re disappointed because everything is happening on the inside where no one can see. And so, I want to encourage you to keep walking with God, to be that tree that is planted, and to know that you are very much alive, it’s going to happen, it just isn’t the season for that fruit yet. In fact, that dream or vision that God planted in your heart is very much alive, it’s right on time, it’s right on schedule, and at just the right time that tree is going to yield its fruit, but you’ve got to keep walking in this season.
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Ministry Pass, PC Study Bible, Preaching Library, and Sermon Central. Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.