A Leader of His Generation
Joshua is a well known person in the Bible. But he’s not as well known as Moses.
Moses is the towering figure in biblical history. He was a giant. Moses led his people out of slavery in Egypt. He freed them from a mighty empire against all odds.
These are the leaders who are revered and remembered.
When such a towering figure leaves, they often leave a void. It is hard for others to follow those giant footsteps.
Not anyone can do this. It takes someone very strong and capable. Joshua was that person.
He filled the void left behind by Moses. Moses could not get to go into the Promised Land. He died in the wilderness.
Joshua finished what Moses began. Joshua was the last surviving person of his generation. He was 110 years old when he gave the speech in today’s passage.
He lived through everything the Israelites had experienced, from bondage in Egypt to freedom, and from the wilderness to the Promised Land.
Throughout his life, he saw all that God had done. All the wonderful and mighty things God did for them.
And now, as he was getting ready to depart the earth, he wondered whether the next generation would experience God the way he had.
Now that they were settled, would they continue to look to God as he had?
Faith in God
For Joshua and his generation, they had nowhere to turn to. God heard them cry out in Egypt. God sent Moses to rescue them.
God parted the Red Sea when they were trapped between the sea and pursuing Egyptians. God provided manna when they had no food in the desert.
Everytime they were in need, God provided for them.
Human nature is such that we only turn to God when we have nowhere else to go.
When we are in control of things, then we don’t need God.
Joshua was concerned whether this would be the case with the next generation, now that they were settled and living in the Promised Land.
But even when things are hard or not going well, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have faith.
All throughout their journey in the wilderness, most of the Israelites grumbled and complained. Even after all that God had done for them, they did not trust God.
They still complained and grumbled. They still had so much fear.
While they were in the wilderness, Moses sent 12 spies into Canaan to scout the land and its people. When they came back, 10 of them had very negative reports.
The land was indeed good, but the people were scary and unbeatable. They were like giants, and the Israelites looked like grasshoppers in comparison.
Everyone believed them and fell into despair. They even began to mobilize to go back to Egypt! Back into slavery where at least they would have work and food.
Only Joshua and Caleb had faith. They saw the exact same thing as the other 10, but they interpreted it very differently.
This was Joshua’s response:
Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the Israelites, “The land that we went through as spies is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only, do not rebel against the Lord, and do not fear the people of the land, for they are no more than bread for us; their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” (Numbers 14:6-9)
Joshua had faith. If God was with them, they would succeed. He trusted God wholeheartedly when everyone else was struck with fear.
How did he have this faith when no one else did?
The Gift of Faith
That is a great mystery. Faith is a mystery. Faith is a gift. Somehow, Joshua was blessed with the gift of faith.
He had unshakeable trust in God no matter what the circumstances. He did not waver or succumb to fear. That’s what made him a great and courageous leader.
Because of his faith, he was able to see and experience the power of the living God. That is what faith does.
It’s not that God is not working. It’s that without faith, you cannot see God at work.
Faith gives you eyes to see God at work. Faith gives you trust that God is working even when you cannot see it.
Faith gives you hope in times where the situation is dark, unclear and uncertain. And faith opens up your heart to experience the wonderful peace and presence of God.
That is the testimony of people who have faith. It is a powerful and wonderful gift.
Because of his faith, Joshua experienced so many wonderful works of God. His wish was for future generations to experience God the way he did.
He knew their challenges would be different from his. But he still wanted them to experience the power and presence of God in a real way. He worried that they would forget about God and look to other gods.
An Original Experience with God
It was not tradition that Joshua wanted to pass down. Tradition is a set of beliefs and practices that is passed down from one generation to the next.
But we live in a time where tradition has broken down. It doesn’t mean anything to people anymore.
What used to work in the past doesn’t work for us anymore. What used to be true for your parents is not necessarily true for you anymore.
Life has changed so much and it keeps on changing. Tradition seems outdated.
Behind tradition is an original experience that begins that tradition.
Joshua had this powerful original experience of God throughout his life. He did not want to pass on a tradition. He wanted each generation to have their own original experience of God just like he had.
The key to that original experience of God is faith.
What we need is not tradition. It’s not the beliefs of our parents or grandparents.
What we need is our own original experience of God. The reason we study the Bible is to get at the original experience of God that people had.
Tradition makes it easy not to think. You simply live out what’s given to you. But with the breakdown of tradition, we don’t know what to think. We have no guiding frameworks.
Direct Your Heart
Our hearts and minds are easily drawn to whatever seems most attractive and useful at that moment. This is the greatest challenge to faith today.
Our hearts and minds are scattered. They’re drawn in so many different directions. Everyone has an opinion. We don’t know what to follow, what to believe. So we just follow the loudest voices and live from moment to moment without much thought.
You cannot experience God when your heart is so scattered. You cannot experience peace and rest in God.
This is the key point in Joshua’s final speech:
Now, therefore, revere the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness… put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline (direct) your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel. (Joshua 24:19, 23)
Direct your hearts to God and nothing else. When your heart is fearful or uncertain, don’t turn elsewhere.
Don’t be shaken by the noise around you. Don’t put your trust in false opinions. Direct your hearts to God. You will experience the fullness of God’s presence.
God’s Promise for You
At the end of his life, this was Joshua’s confession:
And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one thing has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you; all have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed. (Joshua 23:14)
Faith leads you to see that God’s promises are true. All the difficulties you’ve experienced are just part of God fulfilling his promises for you.
Faith gives you assurance that they will continue to be true. That faith is your power for life. I think it’s the greatest blessing to have in life.
Yesterday the Session had a wonderful retreat. It was a spiritual time together. We left feeling hopeful.
The Spirit of God is alive in our church. Your elders care so much about you and this church.
For those who are rooted in this church and are now thinking of life beyond your career: Direct your hearts to God, and like Joshua, see how all of God’s promises have come true in your life. God is not done yet. He will reveal a calling that is beyond your scheduled life.
I also pray that our younger generations may experience the living reality and power of God in their lives. This was the prayer and hope of all of our elders and ministers.
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not turn your hearts to other things. Ask for the gift of faith. Direct your hearts to God.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
That is how Joshua lived, and that is what he experienced. This was Joshua’s wish for his people. That is God’s wish for you.