Following God into an Uncertain Future

Topical Scripture: Joshua 1:1–9

The coronavirus pandemic presents us with challenges unprecedented in a century. Not since the 1918 flu pandemic have we faced a disease with such a global impact on every dimension of our lives.

As we move into these uncharted days, it is vital that we follow the One who knows where we need to go. He sees the future better than we can see the present. If we will follow him, we will discover that his will never leads where his grace cannot sustain.

To help us, I’d like us to spend the next several weeks with the book of Joshua. Here the Lord met his people on the edge of the Promised Land and led them where they needed to go. These principles are in God’s word because they will do the same for us.

We’ll begin today with two steps that will enable us to hear our Lord’s voice and follow his will. As we study them, let me ask you to identify your greatest concern about the future.

Faith does not mean that we do not face fears. It means that we know where to face with our fears.

Let’s learn how to face our Father together.

Listen for the call of God (vv. 1–5)

Alexander the Great led his armies by the strength of his single focus and indomitable will. After his death, his generals met to plan their future. To their dismay, they discovered that they had marched off their maps. They were in an unknown location, facing an unknown future. They were not the first, or the last.

Listen in the hard places

So it was for Israel as the book of Joshua opened. Moses had died. This was easily the most traumatic event in the young life of the nation of Israel. He had been the “servant of the Lord” (v. 1), an exalted title given only to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Caleb to this point in Jewish history (Joshua would be added to the list at the end of his life and work; cf. 24:29). Now their mentor, guide, and hero was gone and the future was uncertain at best.

The book of Joshua connects its narrative directly to this crisis. Its first word, translated “after” in the ESV, is “and” in the Hebrew. The narrative continues directly from the end of Deuteronomy and the death of Moses. Perhaps the thirty days of mourning for Moses after his death had now ended (Deuteronomy 34:8). But the crisis facing the nation had not.

It has been calculated that the typical adult faces six crises in their life. Not just the routine problems of daily living, but major issues such as death, divorce, and serious disease. If a person graduates from adolescence without trusting personally in Christ, they are typically open to the gospel only during such times of crises. It is then that Christians who have built relationship with the person can show God’s love in theirs.

It is also in such periods of crisis that we can hear the Lord most clearly. He speaks far more than we are willing to stop and listen. But when we know that we need his word and help, that we have come to the end of our own wisdom, we will listen for his voice with desperation and faith. And we will always hear him speak.

So, whatever your circumstances may be, ask God to use them to bring his word to your heart. And he will.

Expect God to speak to you

In the immediate context of Moses’ death, “the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant . . .” (v. 1b). Joyce Huggett wrote a marvelous book titled The Joy of Listening to God. She’s right—whenever we are still enough to hear God’s Spirit speak to us, the result is joy. Whenever we are yielded to the truth of Scripture, to the words of a sermon or Bible study, to the truth contained in a worship song, to the truth of God revealed through human agents and means, there is joy.

So it was for Joshua, even in the crisis of the moment. So it will be for you. But you must expect God to speak to you, if only you will listen. You must tune the frequency of your spirit to his voice.

Seek his will for the now

God does not reveal himself in five-year strategies. You and I have inherited the Western worldview, with its linear philosophy of history. We like to think of history as a line on a page, progressing logically toward some conclusion. But God knows that this day is the only day which exists. His will is first and foremost for the here and now. He speaks to us in the present, about the present.

Joshua needed to know the next step to take. He didn’t need a long-range plan, but a present-tense guide. Not a map, but a flashlight. God gave him exactly what he needed to know, for the moment he needed to know it.

God gave him the who: “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people” (v. 2a). Not just the leaders of the tribes. Not just the army. Not just the priests. Not just some part of the population. The entire nation intended by God to live west of the Jordan River was now involved in the call and purpose of God.

He gave Joshua the where: “into the land that I am giving” (v. 2b). The Jordan is typically only eighty to one hundred feet wide, and not deep. I have baptized several groups there over the years and had no difficulty wading out into the middle of the slow-moving current. But when the spring rains come, the river can flood its larger bed. Where Joshua and his people would be crossing, the river would be more than a mile wide and a raging torrent.

They didn’t know what the Lord already knew—that they would face an insurmountable obstacle which he would lead them across miraculously. We are called to follow God today and leave tomorrow in his hands. He already knows every step he intends us to take.

Next the Lord gave Joshua the what: they would go “into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel” (v. 2c). God had earlier promised this land to Abraham for his descendants (Genesis 15:18–19) and had renewed his promise to and through Moses (Deuteronomy 11:24–25). Now he would bring it to fulfillment.

Our text continues: “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory” (vv. 3–4). The Hebrew tense indicates that the land was already theirs, though it remained to be taken. It already belonged to God, and thus to his heirs. They just had to go and claim it.

God did not give Joshua the long-term plan, but only the immediate next step to take. This is always how we will hear his call. We must be close enough to hear his voice when he calls to us. We are to be faithful to the last word we heard from the Lord. Only then can we hear the next.

Trust his provision for his purpose

God promised them: “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you” (v. 5). To “forsake” meant to abandon, to turn loose of. Imagine a mountain climbing guide, holding the lifeline for a climber who has lost his grip on the mountain. This is precisely our condition spiritually. But our Father will never turn loose of our rope. He will always hold us up until we have climbed to his full purpose and will.

Have you heard the call of God for your life and work? Expect God to speak to you, if only you will listen for his voice. Seek his will for the now, the next step you are to take into his purpose. Trust him to provide for every step of that pilgrimage. Sign a blank check to him. Give him your unconditional commitment to his purpose, whatever it might be.

And you will know what you are to do next in the plan of God for your life.

Choose courageous obedience (vv. 6–9)

The next words Joshua heard from God were a direct command: “Be strong and courageous” (v. 6a). “Be strong” translates a Hebrew word which means to be bound strongly together, to be put together well. To be “courageous” meant to be firm-footed, to take a strong stand, the opposite of shaking or quaking knees.

Why would Joshua need such courage? Because “you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them” (v. 6b). Even Moses did not fulfill this purpose. Their greatest leaders had not brought them to this place of victory. Now Joshua would lead a nation numbering in the millions into hostile territory inhabited by some of the most wicked cultures known to human history. Indeed, he would attempt something so great it was doomed to fail unless God was in it.

What is the secret to such courage? Faithful obedience: “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (v. 7).

Obedience was and is the prerequisite for divine power and protection. Such obedience would position them to receive the power and provision God intended to give.

So what is the secret to such obedience? Constant communion: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it” (v. 8a).

“Meditate” in the Hebrew describes a low murmuring sound made by a person contemplating something. We will not simply read the words and leave them on the page, but we will bring them into our hearts and lives.

When you read the word of God, first read its words aloud. Then use all your senses. Imagine yourself in this setting—how it feels to your skin and how it smells, tastes, sounds, and looks. Experience these words fully and sensually. Then ask the Lord for one thing you should do differently because you have spent this time with him in his word. Write down that idea or fact; read it over through the day; ask the Lord to apply it to your unconscious thoughts as well as your intentional decisions.

When you “meditate” on the word of God “day and night,” the result will be “so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (v. 8b). As we commune with God in his truth, we find his help in practicing the faithful obedience which creates courageous strength.

Last, what is the secret to such constant communion? Trusting the presence of God: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (v. 9).

He is “the Lord your God.” Martin Luther believed that the most important single word in the 23rd Psalm is found in its first clause: “The Lord is my shepherd.” Not just the shepherd or even our shepherd, but my shepherd.

Likewise, the Lord is your God. You can go no place that is exempt from his providence and presence. If you will trust him to be present in your life in this and every moment, you can then practice his presence through communion in his word. When you commune with him in his word, you have his guidance to practice faithful obedience. And as you are obedient to his word and will, you will have his strong courage to fulfill that purpose.

As we will see across these weeks, Joshua experienced precisely such strength and courage. He would lead the people to the great military conquest which would create their nation. He would establish them in their Promised Land and make of their roving tribes a permanent and mighty people.

His God will do no less with us.


When this pivotal chapter opened, we found Joshua and the people still mourning the death of their beloved hero and leader. Their future was uncertain in the extreme. Their leadership was unclear, their direction undetermined.

When the chapter ends, the people are one. Joshua is their strong and courageous leader. The people are unified and resolved to follow him into their future. And they will find that future to be as bright as the promises of God.

In these uncertain times, your culture needs Joshua-type Christians today. As we face medical fears and financial challenges, the people you know want to know if you will follow the Lord with your personal obedience and faithful commitment.

They cannot be expected to go further with God than we are willing to lead them. If the people you influence were as close to the Father as you are this moment, would this be a good thing?

Perhaps this text could be as pivotal to your soul as it was for Joshua. The choice is yours.

The Formula for Eternal Significance

Topical Scripture: Luke 19:1–10

It’s been a confusing week in the news.

Prince Harry and Meghan have been negotiating with the Queen of England to resolve their status as members of the royal family but not. They will give up their royal titles and duties and repay the funds used to refurbish their UK home, but they can maintain their private patronages and associations.

President Trump signed an historic trade agreement with China on Wednesday, then the Senate ratified his revised North American trade agreement on Thursday; in between the two events, the House delivered formal impeachment articles against him.

The manager and general manager of the Houston Astros have been penalized for their role in the sign-stealing scandal, but the team retained its World Series title. The manager of the Boston Red Sox was fired for his role in the same scandal, but his team retained its World Series title. Now the Los Angeles City Council will vote on a resolution urging baseball to award both championships to the Dodgers, who lost to the two teams.

We live in a confusing, performance-driven culture based on grades. Jesus offers us a simplified, purpose-driven life based on grace.

This season, as we walk from Christmas to Easter, we’re focusing on the uniqueness of Jesus. Last week we discussed the uniqueness of his power. If he could heal a leper with just a touch and a centurion’s servant with just a word, his power is greater than our needs, whatever they might be.

Today we’ll focus on the uniqueness of his grace. Despite what the world thinks of us, despite what we have won and what we have lost, Jesus focuses not on what we have done or what we have but on what he can do with us. No matter your past burdens or your present problems, God has a future in mind for you that is greater than your greatest dream.

We’ll meet a man whose story proves that fact, then we’ll decide whether to make his story our own.

“He was a chief tax collector”

Our text begins: “[Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus” (Luke 19:1–2a). His name means “pure one,” which was tragically ironic until Jesus made it true.

What did our Lord see in this man?

It was certainly not what he had done: “He was a chief tax collector” (v. 2b). In Jesus’ day, tax collectors were the most hated people in any town, for two reasons.

First, they were traitors. They were Jews collecting money for the hated Romans. If you’re a Jew living in Poland when the Nazis capture your town and the next week your neighbor comes knocking, collecting taxes for the new government, you’d be no more outraged than the people of Jericho were with Zacchaeus.

Second, they were corrupt. Rome charged a certain amount per person in taxes, then allowed the tax collectors to take anything above that they wanted for themselves. Zacchaeus could stop you on the road and charge you tax for the road. He could tax you for your cart and each wheel on it, for the animal drawing the cart, and for the bags it carried. And Roman soldiers stood guard to protect him and enforce his greed.

As a result, people like Zacchaeus were the social lepers of their day. They were grouped with murderers and robbers in the mind of the public. They were barred from the Jewish synagogue. A Roman writer says with amazement that he once saw a monument to an honest tax collector.

Yet, Jesus chose him.

It was not for what he had, either. Luke tells us that Zacchaeus “was rich” (v. 2c). He had grown wealthy through his corruption. In fact, some scholars believe that he was likely the wealthiest man in his city of one hundred thousand people. Given its size and location, this was one of the greatest taxation centers in the entire region of the Empire.

This is how we know he was abusing the system. If he had merely collected what Rome asked, he would have been provided for, but he would not have become rich. His extreme wealth shows the level of his corruption at the sacrifice of his fellow Jews.

Later on, Zacchaeus gives half of his belongings to the poor and has enough left over to repay the people of Jericho four times what he had taken from them. He was extraordinarily rich.

But Jesus didn’t choose him for his wealth.

“I must stay at your house today”

Our Lord focused not on what Zacchaeus had done or what he had, but on what he could be.

The story continues: “And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature” (v. 3). He was so hated by the people that they would not let him through. And he was so short that he could not see over them.

So “he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way” (v. 4). This is a wide-open tree with a short trunk and low branches. It is easily climbed. It would become associated with Zacchaeus from his day to ours.

What came next must have shocked Zacchaeus as much as it did the rest of the crowd: “When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today'” (v. 5).

Note three facts.

First, Jesus “looked up.” In such a crowd, others would have been looking down and around, but Jesus “looked up.” He is the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to go out looking for the one.

Is he looking up at you today?

Second, he called Zacchaeus by name. We have no evidence that the two had ever met. But just as God called Moses by name at the burning bush, and Samuel by name as a boy, and Saul by name on the road to Damascus, he calls this notorious sinner by name.

Did you know that he knows your name?

Third, he invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home. In fact, he says, he “must” stay at his house that day. He did not wait for Zacchaeus to come to him—he came to this man. To this notorious, hated man, Public Enemy #1 in his city. Imagine the most ungodly, hated, despised person in your town, then imagine Jesus inviting himself over.

Does he want to go to your home today?

“Today salvation has come to this house”

Zacchaeus did not wait: “He hurried and came down and received him joyfully” (v. 6). Unsurprisingly, when the crowd saw this, “they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner'” (v. 7).

Now watch what happens: “Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor” (v. 8a). He calls Jesus his “Lord,” his Master. Then he proves his witness by his works, giving half of what he has to the poor in his city. This is present tense, indicating an action he is performing right now, perhaps through his servants.

Even more astoundingly, he adds, “And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (v. 8b). Jewish law required that a man caught stealing return what he stole four- or five-fold (Exodus 22:1). But, if the thief admitted his crime voluntarily, he was required only to return what he had stolen plus one-fifth (Leviticus 6:5; Numbers 5:7).

Zacchaeus gave back far more than he was required to give. But he has experienced the uniqueness of Jesus’ grace, and he must give grace to others in response.

Jesus responded: “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (vv. 9–10). Now he calls us to give the world what he has given to us.


Jesus is looking at you now and calling your name. He wants to come home with you and make your home his own.

If he could forgive Zacchaeus, he can forgive you. If he could use Zacchaeus, he can use you. What the crowd says about you doesn’t matter. What the Christ says about you is the truth.

Our problem is that we measure ourselves by what we think we can do for Jesus. And we all know our failures, our faults, our frailties. We all know how little we can actually do for the God of the universe.

The question is not, what can you do for Jesus? The question is, what can Jesus do with you?

Is Jesus in charge of every dimension of your life? Is he in charge of the money you keep as well as the money you spend and donate? Is he in charge of your time in private as well as public? Is he in charge of your marriage and family, every moment of the day? Is he in charge of your weaknesses as well as your strengths?

He can do so much more with us than we can do for him. To limit to our finite capacities the One who stilled the storm, healed the leper, and raised the dead, is the sin of self-reliance. To be used by the Son of God to change our Jericho is the result of self-surrender.

Whatever it takes, whatever he asks, whatever the cost—that’s the formula for eternal significance.

Tony Evans is right: “God will meet you where you are in order to take you where he wants you to go.”

Is Jesus calling your name today?