Covenant Renewal

Covenant Renewal

Joshua 24:1-33

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: We find peace only in the gracious covenant of our Lord.

Goal: Respond to God’s grace with obedience.

Years ago, an artistic competition was announced on the theme of “peace.” Beautiful paintings were entered—a pastoral landscape, with sheep grazing contentedly; a warm fire blazing in a rich wooden study; a tranquil sunset over a calm ocean.

But the award-winning submission was different from all the others. The artist pictured Niagara Falls in all its roaring, cacophonous power. The viewer could nearly feel the mist in his face, the wind in his hair, as the water rushed over the rocks in a thunderous torrent. At the edge of the painting, the artist rendered a slender tree branch, and on that branch a tiny bird nest. A bird sat in that nest, perched over the falls, gazing into the sky with contentment. The picture’s caption was simple: “peace.”

The bumper sticker has it right: Know God, know peace; no God, no peace.

In all the recorded years of humanity, historians can find only four years where there was no conflict raging somewhere on the globe. We cannot produce peace. But we can receive it at the hands of the Prince of Peace.

Respond to the graceful initiative of God (vs. 1-13)

One last time, Joshua assembled the elders and leaders of the nation into a kind of national congress (v. 1). His purpose was a covenant renewal ceremony, his last gift to this nation he had led so capably across so many years.

Such ancient ceremonies typically began with a recitation of the history of the people. And so Joshua recounted their experience from Abraham to the present. But with a theological theme: every provision they had experienced had come from the hand of their gracious God, by his initiative and mercy.

So it was with Abraham, himself part of a pagan family. By his grace God took Abraham from that place of idolatry and gave this childless, elderly man “many descendants” (v. 3). Abraham did nothing to earn such favor from the hand of his God.

Next the Lord sent Moses and Aaron to lead his people from Egyptian slavery to their freedom. The plagues which freed them and the miracle of the Red Sea which preserved them were again his gifts, in no sense the result of their work or merit.

When the nation came to the Amorites east of the Jordan, God conquered them. He refused the curse of Balaam, and blessed his people instead. He led them across the flooded Jordan River, gave them the conquered city of Jericho, and brought them into military victory they did not earn.

In summary, “I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant” (v. 13). Nothing they could see was theirs except from the hand of their gracious Lord.

Were Joshua to stand before our congregation this weekend, he could make exactly the same speech. Every breath we draw comes from our Creator; every birth is his gift; every salvation is by his grace. Our church was birthed in his heart before it was dreamed in ours. Our buildings and ministries are led by his Spirit and prospered by his mercy. He receives our worship only because he is a God of love. He guides our Bible study and obedience by his grace.

The peace we seek can come only from God’s hand and his heart. We can do nothing to earn his favor.

Let us resolve to refuse the subtle temptation to believe we have earned the peace and prosperity we know today. R. A. Torrey once told of receiving a note from a Presbyterian elder. The man complained that God was not answering his prayers, even though he had been a faithful elder for many years, a Sunday school superintendent, and a recognized church leader. Torrey came to the heart of the problem: the man was praying in his merit. He thought that his religious works had earned an audience with God. He was wrong.

Is the same subtle temptation present in your life and ministry? Is it possible that some of us teach or preach so that God will bless us in return? That we expect him to answer our prayers and meet our needs because we do this work in his Kingdom? The covenant to which God calls us in renewal this day is one based on his grace, not our goodness. And on no other foundation.

Everything you do should be motivated by the grace of God, as we will discover next.

Choose the obedience which comes from gratitude (vs. 14-18)

Now Joshua called his people to “fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness” (v. 14). No partial obedience, this. “All” faithfulness requires that we give God Monday as well as Sunday, our private thoughts as well as our public actions. If he is our King, and we are in covenant with him, then every moment of every day is his. Every dollar belongs to him. Every relationship is to be governed by his word and will.

For the Israelis, such a commitment meant that they must abandon every false idol (v. 14). This was to be a conscious, intentional decision, made carefully and definitively (v. 15a). Joshua offered them his model: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (v. 15b), perhaps the most famous statement in the book bearing his name. Would to God that you and I provide such an example for those whose spiritual lives we influence.

When I first met Janet’s parents in Houston, I was immediately impressed by a plaque hanging on their dining room door. It contained the words of Joshua 24:15. I soon discovered that her parents lived by these truths. They were not just a motto for their house, but a commitment for their lives. Can others say the same of us?


Nevertheless

Nevertheless

Isaiah 9:1-7

Dr. Jim Denison

A friend sent me these actual airplane in-flight announcements.

On one flight with a “senior” flight attendant crew, the pilot said: “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve reached cruising altitude and will be turning down the cabin lights. This is for your comfort and to enhance the appearance of your flight attendants.”

One attendant said, “Your seat cushions can be used for flotation; and, in the event of an emergency water landing, please paddle to shore and take them with our compliments.”

After a hard landing, the attendant said, “Ladies and gentlemen, please remain in your seats until Capt. Crash and the Crew have brought the aircraft to a screeching halt against the gate. And once the tire smoke has cleared and the warning bells are silenced, we’ll open the door and you can pick your way through the wreckage to the terminal.”

And my favorite: After a very hard landing, the pilot was standing at the door while the passengers exited the aircraft. An elderly lady with a cane made her way up the aisle, stopped, and said, “Young man, do you mind if I ask you a question?” “No, ma’am,” said the pilot, “what is it?” The lady said, “Did we land, or were we shot down?”

We’ve all wondered the same thing. Nevertheless, we fly anyway.

So much of life turns on that single word, “nevertheless.” People perish in car crashes every day in Dallas; nevertheless, I will drive home after church. Marriages often end in divorce in our culture; nevertheless, Janet and I got married. Children so often break their parents’ hearts; nevertheless, we prayed for children and rejoiced when they were born. God so often disappoints me, permitting or even causing pain and heartache in my life; nevertheless, I will trust in him.

Joy is tranquility transcending circumstances. Not the happiness which results from happenings. If someone can take your joy, it wasn’t joy. If someone can give you joy, it isn’t joy. Joy is that inner serenity and tranquility which nothing in life can give or steal.

Who of us doesn’t need such joy? Life is hectic for us all during these holidays. Some of us remember those not with us for this Christmas. Some of us are lonely and alone. Some of us are facing an uncertain new year. We all need joy. But there’s only one way to find it: in the word “nevertheless.” Let me explain.

Christ gives nevertheless joy

“Nevertheless” is a common word in the Bible.

Psalm 73:21-23: “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Nevertheless [NIV: “Yet”] I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.”

Psalm 106:43-45: “Many times he delivered them, but they were bent on rebellion and they wasted away in their sin. Nevertheless, he took note of their distress when he heard their cry; for their sake he remembered his covenant….”

Luke 22:42: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but yours be done.”

Isaiah 8 finds Israel in gloom and distress: “Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness” (vs. 21-22).

And things will only get worse for the people. In coming years their cities will be ransacked, their Temple reduced to rubble, their people enslaved by pagan Babylon.

But Isaiah can proclaim, “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress” (9.1). Instead, “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder” (v. 3).

Why? How can they have such tranquility transcending their circumstances? Because of verse 6: “to us a child is born, to us a son is given.”

Before we go to him for our joy, let’s consider the alternatives.

Thomas Aquinas said, “Man cannot live without joy; therefore when he is deprived of true spiritual joys it is necessary that he become addicted to carnal pleasures.But do they work? A century ago, the average lifespan was 41 years; now it is 77; plagues such as polio, smallpox, and measles have been defeated. Our real income, adjusted for inflation, has more than doubled in the last 50 years.

However, the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as “happy” has not budged since the 1950s, despite doubling our income.

“Unipolar” depression, a condition in which a person always feels depressed, is today ten times as prevalent as it was half a century ago.

Gregg Easterbrook’s new book is titled The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. In it he describes our society’s shift from “material want” to “meaning want,” in which our lives lack purpose no matter our prosperity. His conclusion is simple: we are more prosperous, but less happy.

How to have nevertheless joy

So let’s consider nevertheless joy. This is seeking our tranquility in Christ and not circumstances. In eternity and not events. In God and not people. How do we find it?

Trust his purpose. The Christ of Christmas is our Wonderful Counselor. “Wonderful” in the Hebrew means “so full of wonder as to be miraculous.” “Counselor” points to a person of such wisdom that he can advise kings, the wisest man in the land. The two together can be translated, “He who plans wonderful things.”

The world cannot give us such purpose, or steal it. Paul was as much an apostle to the Gentiles when he wrote letters from a Roman prison cell as he was preaching in a Roman marketplace. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was as great a theologian when in a Nazi prison as in a seminary classroom. The way your life purpose is fulfilled can change, but the purpose will not.


The Baby Born To Die

The Baby Born to Die

Isaiah 49.1-7

Dr. Jim Denison

This morning I have good news for half of you, and information for the rest. The essay is titled, “Why men are just happier people.” Here are some of its disclosures: wedding plans take care of themselves; car mechanics tell us the truth; wrinkles add character; phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat; we can open all our own jars; we get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness; if someone forgets to invite us, he or she can still be our friend; three pairs of shoes are more than enough; we can “do” our nails with a pocketknife; and the number one reason: we can do Christmas shopping for 25 relatives, on December 24, in 15 minutes.

There are better reasons for happiness. This Advent week of love claims that our Creator loves us. The King of the entire Kingdom loves his subjects. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

But what does this knowledge mean to us practically? No word is harder to define than “love.”

The Bible teaches us to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18, quoted by Jesus in Matthew 22:39). So, how do we love ourselves?

At its core, our self-love can be summarized as seeking our good. We will always seek our own good. This is not a feeling or emotion. We often feel frustrated and unhappy with ourselves. Self-love is an action. I can be trusted to do whatever is to my own good. So can you. Seeking our own good is the most basic and fundamental characteristic of life. It is the instinct for self-preservation defined.

Therefore, to love my neighbor as myself is to seek his good as much as I seek it for myself. To “love” God is to seek his good with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.

These are the two goals of today’s Advent message on love: that we would seek the good for God and for each other, even before our own. Why would we do so?

Know God’s universal plan

Our text is the second of four “servant songs” in the book of Isaiah, four poems about the coming Messiah, each of which was fulfilled by the Baby of Bethlehem. This one tells us the “why” of Christmas: “Before I was born the Lord called me” (v. 1).

To what purpose?

“To bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself” (v. 5). To bring God’s chosen people back to their Creator and King.

However, “It is too small a thing for you” to limit your ministry to the Jewish people alone: “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (v. 6). God’s plan included all the nations, from the very beginning. This text is sometimes called the Great Commission of the Old Testament.

How would the Servant fulfill his calling?

He would be “the Redeemer” (v. 7a). To “redeem” someone in the Bible is to buy them back from the punishment they deserved, to free them from the slavery which was the consequence of their sinful choices.

How would he redeem us? He would be “despised and abhorred by the nation” (v. 7b). As the last Servant Song predicted, “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). He was born to die.

With this result: “Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down” (v. 7c). These kings would represent the nations of the earth. They would come to worship the One who would die for them.

Rejoice in the universal love of Christmas

How would these promises be kept? The Christ of Christmas would die for the Jewish people whose race he entered as their Messiah. He would preach in their synagogues, heal their sick, raise their dead. He would do his best to persuade their religious leaders to trust in his Father. He would weep over the lost city of Jerusalem. Despite all the ways they rejected him, he would die to prove his unconditional love for them.

And he would die for the Gentiles and pagans as well.

He would invite the shepherds to attend his birth. They were unclean spiritually, unable to keep the Jewish laws, assumed to be thieves and criminals. No self-respecting Jewish home would invite them to the birth of a child. But he did, to prove his unconditional love.

He would invite the Samaritan woman to himself, and the lepers and the prostitutes, the demoniacs and the despised. All to show his unconditional love.

He would call the kings and princes, the Magi and wise men, from Persia to himself. Even though they were pagan astrologers and magicians, despised and rejected by his people, they would find his unconditional love.

And he would send his missionaries to continue spreading his unconditional love across his creation. In Paul’s first missionary journey, he quoted this very text as sanction and support for his evangelism among the Gentiles, where he spent his life to share God’s unconditional love.

If the religious leaders had planned Christmas, there would have been no peasant parents, no shepherds, no Magi. You and I could not come. But this Baby came for us all. No qualifications or exceptions, just unconditional love.

Consider your worst sin, your gravest secret and shame. Next, think of the person who would be most hurt if he or she knew of this sin. If you were to admit this sin to that person, and were to receive only that forgiveness which forgets, cleanses, and buries the sin so that it is no more, you would know you were loved.

What king dies for his subjects? Only this one. The Son of God became man, that men might become the sons of God. C. S. Lewis, commenting on such love, says that if you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. He did far worse. He was born to die, to prove his unconditional love to you.


The Fourth King

The Fourth King

Matthew 2.2

Dr. Jim Denison

What do you give a King who has everything?

The nation of Brunei sits on the northwest coast of the island of Indonesia in Southeast Asia. It occupies just over 2,200 square miles, about the size of Delaware, or the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex. 358,098 people live there, including one of the richest men in the world, the Sultan of Brunei. He inherited $40 billion from his father, and his lifestyle shows it.

His palace boasts 1,788 rooms, the world’s largest palace still in use, with 388 more rooms than the Vatican. His royal banquet hall can seat 4,000 guests. He owns 400 cars, a sports complex and a polo field. His many horses are stabled in air-conditioned quarters, of course.

The nation is allowed into his palace on his birthday, July 15. In 1979, I happened to be a summer missionary on the island of Borneo and the country of Brunei on his birthday. And so I saw his palace. I’ve never seen anything like it. Gold-plated door knobs and hinges, diamond chandeliers made of real diamonds. He has everything his country can offer, except the affection of his people. That they must choose to give. And most do not.

How the wise men became wise

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him'” (Mt 2.1-2).

Here is what we know, and don’t know, about them.

We know that these “magi” were priests in Persia, modern-day Iraq. They specialized in magic, astrology, and the interpretation of dreams. We typically translate “magi” as “wise men.”

We don’t know their number. They usually traveled in groups of twelve. Tradition identifies them as three, but that’s only because they brought three gifts.

We don’t know their names, though by the 6th century they were given the names Balthasar, Caspar, and Melchior.

We don’t know that they were kings, though the medieval church erroneously identified them as the kings of Arabia, India, and Persia.

We don’t know where they died, though their bones were supposedly discovered in the fourth century and moved in 1162 to Cologne, Germany where they reside today.

But we know that they were wise men. They were wise enough to know that the King of Kings had been born, and they must find him and make him their King. They must give him the one thing he doesn’t yet have—their hearts. How can we be that wise?

How we become wise

Go to the Child by faith, personally.

They came personally. They didn’t send representatives or ambassadors or emissaries. They had to come to crown this King themselves.

It’s not enough that your parents have come to him—you must go yourself. No one can get married for you, or go to the doctor for you, or go to Christ for you. You alone must crown him your King. Ask his forgiveness for the mistakes of your past, and surrender your present and future to his will. Put him on the throne of your heart and life.

Worship him with your heart.

They traveled more than 500 miles across two years, risking their fortunes and their lives, so they could “come to worship him.”

Worship him each day in your heart, and each week with your faith family.

Give him your best.

They gave him gold, the gift to a king; frankincense, the gift to a priest; and myrrh, the gift to a sacrifice.

Make him your king, your priest, and your Savior by giving him your best. Not just your worship attendance on the eve of his birth, but your service and commitment each day of each year.

This is how you crown the fourth King your King. And it is how you can become wise this year.

Conclusion

Take a Christmas trip with me. Climb down a dozen steps into the cavern below. Watch your step—the stone is narrow, worn with the centuries. The walls are clammy and covered with moss. The smell is pungent and a bit rancid.

At the bottom of the steps, turn to your left. You’re in a cave now. Maybe ten feet from side to side, perhaps twenty to its back. At its center, it’s tall enough for us to stand. But it slopes quickly to the rounded walls, so watch your head. The dank, musty smell is even sharper here. The only light comes from electric bulbs strung overhead.

Imagine it by the light of a flickering fire. Smell the burning wood; feel the sting of the smoke in your eyes. Cough if you must. Hear the snorts of the animals. Sense the field hands crowded next to you; see the dirt caking their hands, the sweat running from their streaked faces onto their stained, rough burlap shirts.

Turn to what they’re watching. It’s a baby—a newborn, helpless infant. Cradled by a very young adolescent girl, her eyes dark circles, her face still marked with the pain of her delivery. Half sheltering, half protecting her is a rough peasant, more than twice her age, his gnarled hands testimony to his life’s labor.

See in their eyes something glimmering, some spark inexplicable in the gloom of their circumstances. Turn to the rough field hands attending his birth in wonder. Listen to the angels in their songs of triumphant worship. What have they given to him? The same gift which is in your hands and heart this moment.

Bulgaria was allied with Nazi Germany during World War II, but not a single Bulgarian Jew died in a concentration camp, largely because of the stand that Bulgarian Christians took against the persecution of Jews by the SS. Here is one example.

One day the Nazis rounded up hundreds of Jews and imprisoned them behind barbed-wire enclosures at the train station in Sophia. Soon the train would arrive, and they would be sardined into boxcars and shipped to Auschwitz and almost certain death.


The Only Path To Peace

The Only Path to Peace

Isaiah 11:1-9

Dr. Jim Denison

Have you seen the television program Extreme Makeover? If not, that makes two of us. And apparently, only two of us. Makeover shows are multiplying faster than interest on your Christmas credit card purchases. I heard on the news this week that 40 such shows are in the planning stages now. Everything from people being kidnapped and “made over” to houses being “made over” without the owner’s knowledge or consent. If there’s a Purgatory, television viewers don’t have to go there.

Hollywood is an effective barometer for our culture. They only make shows which will sell advertising. And they can only sell advertising if we watch. So the popularity of “makeover” shows tells us something about our dissatisfaction with our lives. Surveys indicate that two out of three Americans are not happy with their appearance, their finances, or their lives. And Hollywood knows it.

What would you like made over in your life? I’ll bet your answer relates to peace, a solution to turmoil or conflict somewhere in your life. And I’ll bet that you have struggled to find that peace. You may be looking in the wrong place. The way to peace is simpler, and more surprising, than you may know.

Define peace properly

Let’s ask first, What is “peace?” Most of us think of peace as the absence of war or conflict, the presence of harmony in our lives. We have physical peace when there is no pain in our bodies. We have relational peace when there is no conflict with others. We have emotional peace where there is no turmoil in our minds or hearts. We have political and military peace when there is no war with other nations or within our nation.

But true and lasting peace is far more than harmony or the absence of conflict. It also requires the presence of justice. Martin Luther asserted: “Peace, if possible, truth at all costs.” Dwight Eisenhower believed, “Peace and justice are two sides of the same coin.” And Benjamin Franklin warned, “Even peace may be purchased at too high a price.”

We can achieve peace with nearly anyone at any time, if we are willing to forego justice. We could have had peace with Hitler without World War II if we were willing for Nazism to control Europe; there could have been peace with Japan, if we were willing for the Emperor to control Southeast Asia. We could have peace with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda now if we are willing for Israel to be annihilated and fundamentalist Islam to control the Middle East. There could be peace in the Middle East if Israel were willing for the Palestinians to control Jerusalem and the region, or if the Palestinians were willing for Israel to control Jerusalem and the region.

True peace requires justice and righteousness, in all three dimensions of life: with ourselves, with others, and with God. Not just the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice. Where do we find such peace?

Admit your need for peace

How do we find peace with ourselves?

We ask ourselves, is my life fulfilling its purpose? Am I all I should be? Most of us would answer in the negative. For most of us, the burdens of our failures, guilt, and shame are heavier than the joys of our successes. Philip Yancey wrote a bestseller, Disappointment With God. Most of us could write the sequel, Disappointment with Us. Do I have hope? Direction? Purpose? Do I even believe in hope, direction, and purpose?

No society in human history has witnessed the proliferation of self-help books, magazines, and television shows we have seen. None has ever had so many counselors or drug therapies available to it. None has ever been wealthier. But by every measure, none has ever been unhappier.

Detailed research has proven that Americans need about $50 thousand to be happy. Once we reach that level, our happiness does not increase with our income. Those who make four times that much are no happier than those who make that amount.

Have we found peace with ourselves? Have you?

Have we found peace with others?

We seek peace with others. We face conflicts at work, school and home; and terrorism abroad and at home. We now take for granted a Department of Homeland Security. “9-11” will forever be this generation’s Pearl Harbor. And conflicts are nowhere near an end.

The “Road Map to Peace” in the Middle East now appears to be potholed beyond repair, its asphalt buckled in the hot sun of terrorism and violence.

Things are better in Iraq without Saddam in power, but the conflict continues and terrorism still threatens us. Fifty years after the United Nations was created to “make the world safe for democracy,” is the world safe for democracy?

Ambrose Bierce calls peace in international affairs, “a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.” And Lloyd Cory adds cynically, “Peace is the brief glorious moment in history when everybody stands around reloading.” Have we found peace with each other? Have you?

Have we found peace with God?

If you knew somehow that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords were returning to this planet in the next ten minutes, how would such knowledge make you feel? If you could choose whether he returns this morning or not, what would you decide? Are you ready to stand before your God? Are you at peace with him? How can we be?

Seek righteousness to find peace

One of the most famous passages in the book of Isaiah predicts that God’s Messiah will one day come to his people. He will “come from the stump of Jesse,” the father of King David, thus from David’s royal line. And he will “bear fruit” (v. 1).

What kind of fruit? The Spirit of the Lord will enable him to give:

“Wisdom,” the comprehension of truth in our lives, and “understanding,” the ability to apply this knowledge to our daily problems. In other words, he will guide us to peace with ourselves.


To the Future

To the Future

Joshua 23:1-16

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: We must walk with God today to step into the future he intends for us.

Goal: Examine your present obedience to the Lord and his word.

The Chinese have a saying: “To predict is difficult, especially with regard to the future.” I have often wished I didn’t have to be right more often than a weatherman. Or a futurist.

Consider these confident prophecies: “The phonograph is not of any commercial value” (Thomas Edison, 1880); “Flight by machines heavier than air is unpractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible” (astronomer Simon Newcomb, 1902); “Sensible and responsible women do not want to vote” (Grover Cleveland, 1905); “Ruth made a big mistake when he gave up pitching” (Tris Speaker, 1921); “I think there is a world market for about five computes” (IMB chairman Thomas J. Watson, 1943); “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home” (Digital Equipment Corporation president Ken Olsen, 1977).

How do we face the future with confidence? By obeying the God of the future in the present. You and I can only step into tomorrow with God if we walk with him today.

In this study, Joshua will teach us how to consecrate our lives to God in the present by remembering his purposes from the past. Then we can trust the God of tomorrow with triumphant faith.

Let’s learn how to embrace and share the grace of a God whose love transcends our every circumstance and need.

Look back at his provision (vs. 1-5)

Many years ago, my home church pastor preached a sermon on Psalm 23 which has stayed with me ever since. He showed us “God in three tenses.” He walks before us, leading us in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. He walks with us, protecting us through the valley of the shadow of death. And he walks behind us, as his goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives. He is the ever-present, timely and timeless God.

Joshua here calls his people to follow God in all three tenses. First comes the past, narrated by one who lived it.

A long time has elapsed since the events of chapter 22, and “the Lord had given Israel rest from all their enemies around them” (v. 1a). Now Joshua was “by then old and well advanced in years” (v. 1b), most likely near his death at the age of 110 (24:29). At least 25 years have passed since the end of the Conquest.

Their leader from the Jordan crossing to the Canaan conquest now “summoned all Israel” by gathering their representatives from every dimension of leadership: elders, leaders, judges and officials” (v. 2a). Once assembled, he reminded them of his age and experience (v. 2b). And he took them on a pilgrimage across their past:

•They have seen all that God has done to the surrounding nations

•They must remember that “it was the Lord your God who fought for you” (v. 3).

•Joshua then recalled their tribal inheritance and distribution (v. 4).

•And he promised that the God who had given them these lands would help them continue to conquer and control them (v. 5).

An elderly saint once said with a smile, “All I have seen teaches me to trust God for all I have not seen.” Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), all he has done in the past he is still able to do in the present and the future. When we need to be encouraged about uncertainty ahead, it is always good to look back at the sure and certain presence and power of our God.

What about tomorrow most concerns you today? Let’s look to the past to find his love in the present. Are you worried about a health issue? The One who “healed many who had various diseases” (Mark 1:34) is still a Great Physician. Is your material security in doubt? The One who fed the widow of Zarephath and her son so that “the jar of flour was not used up and jug of oil did not run dry” (1 Kings 17:16) is still rich.

Are you struggling with loneliness or discouragement? The One whose angel touched the discouraged Elijah (1 Kings 19:5) still comforts. Is your marriage in pain? The One who blessed Hannah and Elkanah in their childless suffering (1 Samuel 1:19-20) still cares.

Are your children making disappointing choices? The One who redeemed a lost son (Luke 15:24) still forgives. Your God loves you without condition and beyond description. Remember the last time he proved his love to you—your last sin he forgave, your last prayer he answered, your last need he met. And know that he didn’t bring you this far to leave you.

Look around for his purpose (vs. 6-11)

In light of all God has done for Joshua’s people, he deserves their obedience and trust today. His requirements for the present are four.

First, “Be very strong” (v. 6a). Here is a consistent them of Joshua and the word of God: strong courage is required of the people of God. Three times in Joshua 1 we find the injunction, “Be strong and courageous” (vs. 6, 9, 18). In verse 7 the command is made even more urgent: “Be strong and very courageous.”

Paul exhorted young Timothy, his son in the faith, in the same way: “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God (2 Timothy 1:7-8).

God’s purpose will always succeed in his power, but never in our own. We can do “all things” only “through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). If your present service to your Lord does not require courage and strength on your part, your ministry is not bold enough.