Strength for the Mission
“Moses my servant is dead.” These are the first words from the Lord’s mouth in the opening chapter of Joshua. I can imagine the quick gasp from Joshua’s mouth, the heaving sob of his heart. Indescribable pain—his eyes fill with tears, and he can barely focus, struggling to hear the rest. I get it. Even after the wounds have healed, there is a scar, a lump left under the skin where the tissue has hardened, the body’s response to injury and its involuntary attempt to protect itself. May 13th is the anniversary of the death of my cousin, Rick James, in Iraq. I remember exactly where I was when I found out he had been killed in action. A decade later, it still brings me to tears. My heart still hurts for his mother, father, and two brothers--innocent bystanders in the war on terror. You too are probably familiar with the sting of loss. Imagine how it must have felt for Joshua. Moses had been his leader and friend, spending countless hours pouring into Joshua’s life. Joshua could barely remember a day in the last forty years that they hadn’t spent together. Moses had not been dead very long; Joshua's wound was still fresh, and now the Lord ripped off the scab with His reminder. The tears flowed like blood from the reopened wound.
“Therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people”(v. 2). This next phrase sounded like an accusation from the Lord, as if Joshua should have already taken action. An impossible burden—the gravity of the situation weighed heavy on an already hurting heart. “All this people...” They were probably evaluating him already, wondering if he could shoulder the burden of leadership. Their expectations were like an enormous weight. There were the logistics of the situation as well. How would Joshua get a whole nation over the Jordan River? He puzzled briefly, trying to find a solution to the problem, but the words that came next were like a punch in the gut that left him breathless. “Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread...” – an immense assignment— the Lord describes the sweeping geographic boundaries of the conquest ahead of him. Joshua’s weary feet will have to hike the far reaches of this land. Crossing the Jordan seems easy compared to the massive supply train he must still organize to traverse this tract of land. From the Mediterranean Sea to the river Euphrates—just thinking of it made him tired, and he rubbed his eyes instinctively.
The next phrase breaks into his thoughts like the snapping of a finger, like a parent commanding a child to pay attention, pointing to the tip of his nose to refocus the toddler's wandering interest: "Listen up!" The rebuke stings, but Joshua strains to listen as the voice of the Lord becomes small and still. "I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee." The entire cosmos trembles when it hears His decree. The words echo through the universe. The Creator, the King of Kings, Yahweh, has spoken. Joshua shivers, overwhelmed by the power of the words.
The Lord wants your attention too. He wants you to be overwhelmed by the pain and overcome by the burden and the assignment. But mostly He wants you to tremble when He reminds you of His person, His power, and His promises. He wants to command your attention. He wants you to remember that no matter where you have been or who you are, He is "I AM.”
As Joshua stands pondering and intimidated, the Lord charges him: “Be strong and of a good courage" (v. 6). He repeats Himself, emphasizing His orders for the commanding general of His people: “Only be thou strong and very courageous” (v. 7). The next part confuses me. I imagine the warrior Joshua expecting the pronouncement of a grand strategy that will guide his decisions in the coming conquest. As an officer accustomed to receiving orders to ready for battle, I would have expected some rallying cry to motivate and inspire.
I keenly remember reading these words with Blake in the summer of 2008. I had received orders to deploy to Baghdad, and my almost nine year-old son understood enough about what he saw on the news to be scared. How do you protect your first-born son from fear? By the grace of God, I decided to study the book of Joshua with him. We read the verse above and the sentences following it: “be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed” (v. 9). As I prepared to deploy, I read these words spoken thousands of years ago in the very desert that beckoned me. “Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law… This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein” (vv. 8-9).
The simplicity of the command is utterly profound. Our Commander wants us in His Word. He wants to speak to us. He wants us to hear His words, reverberating through the years from Joshua to us. And having heard His command, He beckons us to take the next step. When Joshua felt he needed a grand battle plan and a complex supply train, God gives him a simple order that will take a lifetime to fulfill.
God gave Joshua His Word. God gives us His Word as well.
And He gives us more. Thousands of years later, He fulfills for us the prophecy He spoke to Joshua: “for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest” (v. 9). The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, is with us. Jesus the Word came to this earth to feel the indescribable pain, to shoulder the impossible burden, and to be overcome by the boundaries of an assignment so immense that He pleaded to have it taken away. He fulfilled His mission of going to the cross. Today, the Father reminds us of His Person, His Power, and His Promise. He points at Himself and says, “I AM.” He points to the river, to the conquest and says, “I will be.” He points at His Son and His written word, and commands us: “Arise, you and all this people.” Are you ready to cross your Jordan?
The above article was written by Mark Jones. He is a career military officer and member of NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL. To offer him your feedback, comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Pastor Johnson follows up his sermon on handling failure by teaching how to handle success.