A Call to Courage

Tom Groelsema, Speaker

Joshua 1:1-9 | January 7 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
January 7
A Call to Courage | Joshua 1:1-9
Tom Groelsema, Speaker

Please turn with me in your Bibles to Joshua, chapter 1. We’ll be reading and studying today verses 1 through 9. Joshua chapter 1, verses 1 through 9.

Kevin will be returning to Revelation in a couple of weeks. While he is gone, we have a few sermons from various passages over the next couple of Sundays. Looking again today at Joshua 1, verses 1 to 9. Let’s pray before we read God’s Word together and ask for His help as we study.

Our Father in heaven, we do praise You for Your living, Your active, Your powerful, sufficient, inerrant, infallible Word. We praise You, God, that Your Word is life. We are reminded again this morning that we do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of our God. So we pray that You’ll bring us face-to-face with Christ this morning. Again, of our need of Your grace. We pray that You will strengthen and encourage us. That is our prayer this morning, that this word will help us as we live from day to day, to have confidence in You, our God. We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Back before I had my heart accident, so back in my running days, I participated in a race that was called the Bridge Run. Now I have to tell you I wasn’t really racing, like, I’m not going to win anything so I was just running, but anyway. Part of this race is in downtown Grand Rapids and called the Bridge Run because the race course took us over seven different bridges that cross the Grand River. So it started in downtown Grand Rapids, ran out of downtown, ran out a little bit into the suburbs, ran back, but as we were running out and back we keep criss-crossing the river. So back and forth, one side of the river to the other, seven times, seven bridges.

In thinking about bridges, there’s a lot of famous bridges in the world. If you go to San Francisco, you want to lay eyes, of course, on the Golden Gate Bridge. If you’re in New York, it might be the Brooklyn Bridge. If you’re in London, it’s the London Bridge. Of course, even as boys as girls, we learned the song that goes along with that bridge. If you’re from Michigan, it’s the Mackinac Bridge, five miles long, 550 feet high, the fifth largest suspension bridge in the world. It connects the Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula.

This past week when Sheri and I were coming back from Michigan, driving through Ohio and coming up to West Virginia, we crossed the Ohio River on a major bridge at Ravenswood, West Virginia. Some of you have no doubt crossed that bridge before.

Bridges, of course, create a shortcut. So bridges are wonderfully helpful because if a bridge wasn’t in the place where it was, you’d have to go drive down river to a place, find a place where you can cross, but you have a bridge, you can go through the shortcut.

Bridges fill a gap. With bridges, there is a before and then an after. So you’re over here, you cross the bridge, and then you’re here. This and then that. A crossing. Here and then there. You leave something behind, you cross the bridge, and you go on to something new.

In thinking about that, we just crossed a bridge, didn’t we? Just a few days ago. We’re now into 2024. Six days ago we moved from one year to the next. I know that we’re already a few days into the new year, maybe the New Year’s Day seems like real distant memory to us, but here we are the very first time together in 2024. As we’ve crossed into something new, there’s a lot that we don’t know. Like what does this year hold for us?

As we turn to Joshua this morning, Joshua is a bridge book. That’s what Francis Schaeffer called it. It’s something like the book of Acts. The book of Acts, a bridge between the Gospels and the epistles, between the life of Christ and the history of the early Church. The book of Joshua is like that. It is a bridge from the Pentateuch, first five books of the Bible, into the historical books.

Even more, it is a bridge between the wilderness for Israel and the Promised Land for Israel. Here at the very beginning of Joshua, God’s people are about ready to cross a bridge, as it were, into a new land, and that was a daunting experience for them.

What we find here in these first verses of Joshua is this – God says to Joshua, God says to Israel, as you face this new thing, here’s how I want you to face it. I want you to face it with strength and I want you to face it with courage. Be strong, be courageous. Trust in Me, trust in My promises, trust in My presence with you, trust in My Word.

Those things right there – that’s what we find in these early verses. So let’s read them together. Joshua 1, 1 to 9. Here’s God’s Word.

“After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, “Moses, my servant, is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. 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. 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. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do all that 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. 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. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 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.””

Well, people of God, the book of Joshua opens with a series of transitions. We see these at the very first part of our text this morning. It was first of all the transition from Moses to Joshua. A leadership transition. One leader was passing away, another leader was taking his place, was on the scene. You see this in the very first verse. Joshua opens, “After the death of Moses, the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua, the son of Nun, “Moses’ assistant, Moses, My servant, is dead.””

Deuteronomy ended that way. It ends with Moses’ death. Joshua begins with Moses’ death. People of God, this was a huge transition for God’s people. Think about it. For 40 years Moses had been leading the people of God. He had led them out of Egypt. He had led them through the Red Sea, through the wilderness, now to the doorstep of the Promised Land. Deuteronomy 34 reminds us of the kind of leader that Moses had been. The Lord says about Moses, “there was not another prophet like Moses whom the Lord knew face to face.” Moses, in other words, was a one of a kind leader. Now he was gone and it was time for Joshua to lead.

Joshua knew this was coming, had been told about it. The Lord had already spoken to him through Moses – “Joshua, you are the one who is going to lead My people.” To Moses, the Lord had said this – “Take Joshua, the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit and lay your hand on him. He shall go out before them, come in before them. He shall lead them out, bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep without a shepherd.”

Joshua, as we know, was a wonderful military commander. Joshua was a brave spy as he and Caleb and the others went to spy out the land. But he is also a shepherd. God’s people needed a shepherd. One shepherd is gone, they needed another shepherd to take his place, and Joshua had been told, “You are going to be the one.”

I wonder if we can imagine this morning what it must have been like for Joshua. You have to follow Moses. It’s often hard, isn’t it? To follow a great leader. In fact, when there’s been a very prominent leader on the scene, it’s often the case that the next leader doesn’t do so well. Often fails. Because he’s got these incredible shoes to fill. So that next leader often fails, it’s often the leader that follows him that is able to lead well. I wonder if Joshua thought to himself, “How am I going to take Moses’ place? How is this going to go? Will I be able to lead God’s people like Moses did?”

Or imagine with me, being Israel and you’re wondering what kind of leader is Joshua going to be? Leadership transitions are not only hard on leaders, but they’re hard on the people who have to follow the leader.

So in your own like you might get a new boss, you might get a new coach, you might get a new teacher and you’re wondering all the while, how is this going to go? What are they going to be like? I wonder if Israel was thinking that at all as [sic] began to lead them.

You have this transition from Moses to Joshua. We also have a transition from the wilderness to the Promised Land. Not only at the very beginning are we told that Moses died and Joshua is to lead, but the very first command that comes to Joshua, verse 2, God says to him, “Arise, therefore, go over this Jordan, you and all the people into the land that I am giving you. Joshua, you can’t stay here with God’s people. You need to go there. You need to enter the land.”

For 40 years the wilderness had been their home, now God’s people are about to cross over. You recall what the spies said about the land? The spies come back after scouting out the land and only Joshua and Caleb say, “We can take this land.” The rest of the spies say, “There are giants in the land. We’re like grasshoppers.”

I wonder if God’s people stood at the edge of the Jordan ready to cross it, ready to go into the land that they could see on the other side, I wonder if they were thinking to themselves, “What about those giants? Are they going to gobble us up? Are we going to be destroyed?”

Jericho is just across this river, just across the Jordan, a city with imposing walls. Rahab, as the Israelites come into Jericho, Rahab says, “We’ve heard about you people before and we’ve heard about the greatness of your God.” The reputation of Israel had gone before them. I wonder if the Israelites had heard anything about Jericho before they got there. These massive walls that stood high. How are we ever going to be able to defeat a city like that?

Then there was the Jordan River. A wall, this deep valley. You remember the Bible tells us in just a few chapters that as the Israelites reached the Jordan, it was at flood stage when they crossed. It’s not a little trickling stream, it was a full river. It wasn’t until they stepped into the waters that the waters divided, not until they went forward in faith did they know they could cross.

All of these things were facing the people of God in this transition from Moab in the wilderness to the Promised Land. So many things that could have kept them from moving forward, so many things that could have had them living in fear.

People of God, I’m thinking about this new year and maybe looking into a new year for us might be something like what it was for Israel to think about their next steps, moving into the land that the Lord had given them.

For some of us, it’s not really the new year that’s frightening. For some of us hear this morning, it’s tomorrow. It’s not looking into April or May or August or November or saying what’s going to happen this new year. It’s tomorrow that is a scary thing.

It’s been a hard week on the Christ Covenant family. We had a funeral here on Friday. Others in our midst have lost loved ones recently. We’ve had members who have been hospitalized, who’ve been at death’s doorstep. Gratefully, the Lord has drawn them back. We have members in our church who’ve recently been diagnosed with frightening illnesses. When these things start happening, you start wondering, don’t you, about tomorrow. You start thinking about the future. What does it hold for me?

Sheri just got done talking to a dear friend of ours who last September lost her husband. They were talking about celebrating New Year’s. She was talking about how difficult that was, to think of moving from one year into the next year without your spouse for the very first time. In a sense saying, I don’t really want to go into new year without my husband. Those are the kinds of things that we endure, don’t we? That we face.

For all that Israel was going through, for all that we may go through, this is why there is such a strong call to courage here. Three times it’s repeated. Verse 6 – Israel, be strong, be courageous. Verse 7 – only be strong and very courageous. Verse 9 – have I not commanded you be strong and courageous, do not be frightened, do not be dismayed.

Yes, they’re repetitions, but they’re not exactly repetitions. They’re not just saying the same thing. These calls to courage build on one another. They get fuller, they get stronger. They’re to bolster us up as they were to bolster Israel.

The Lord’s simple message – Courageously move ahead, go forward, don’t stop, do not be afraid. The very same message that Moses gave to Joshua. He had said this to Joshua earlier, now here it’s the Lord speaking. Be strong, very courageous.

Let me give you three things, three sources or inspirations of courage that the Lord gave to His people here. It’s our last point.

First of all, God reminds him of His promises. So verse 3, “Go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving them.” Or verse 6, “Be strong and courageous because you shall cause this people to inherit the land I swore to their fathers to give them.”

So God says to Joshua, He says to Israel, He says to us this morning, “Where do you get the strength to be strong, to be courageous, to move forward? Where do you find that?” and God says, “It is in My promises.”

It wasn’t Israel’s military strength. It was not their wisdom. It was the promises of God, and particularly for them, the promises of this land. This land will be yours.

Remember in your Bibles that this was the promise that had been made to Abraham some centuries earlier. It was a promise that was renewed to Isaac, a promise that was again given to Jacob, and now the promise is made one more time to Moses. God had said to him, every place, Moses, on which the sole of your foot treads, it shall be yours.” That’s Deuteronomy 11:23.

Now it comes to Joshua. Every place, Joshua, this is verse 3, “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon, I have given to you just as I promised Moses.”

What a great land, the Lord says, is yours. From the wilderness to the south to Lebanon in the north. The river Euphrates in Babylon to the east to the great sea, the Mediterranean, in the west.

Much of this not even fulfilled until the days of David and Solomon, but it is going to be yours. It is going to belong to My people. What a promise.

It’s the promises of God that really are key to the book of Joshua. God’s promises, one after another. The conquest simply a fulfillment of the promises of God. Even at the end of his life, Joshua goes back to the promises. Chapter 23 – I am about to go the way of all the earth, Joshua says, but you know in your hearts and souls all of you that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord has promised concerning you. I look back on my life, Israel, it’s all about God’s promises.

Why did God repeat the same promises over and over again? To Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Moses, to Joshua, to Israel? Don’t you think the Lord does this because He understands that we so often forget His promises? We don’t remember them. In our time of need, they’re sometimes just gone and the Lord is so gracious to us to say, “Let Me remind you of them again. Say them over and over and over again so they get lodged in your mind and locked in your heart.” God wants us to be strengthened with those.

When you need courage for a new calling, to follow a challenging command from the Lord, to stand against the crowd, to resist urges to give up, to be faithful in your marriage, to trust God’s provision, to surrender your tomorrows, where do you go? God says, “Come back to My promises again.”

Promises on the front end before you have to step out, promises you can look back on and see that God has been faithful to you. Promises, of course, are trustworthy only as long as the one is making them is trustworthy, and Israel is reminded here that it is the Lord who has made His promises. The Lord, Yahweh, His covenant name, the God of steadfast love and mercy, the God who was always faithful to His people. God’s promises are reliable, friends, because God is reliable. You can trust Him, so you can trust His promises.

What promises of God do you need today? What is that you’re going through and what promise do you need to claim, to cling to, to hold onto, to shore you up?

Listen this morning just to a few, just a couple promises.

Philippians 4:19 – My God will meet all of your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 31:14-15 – But I trust in You, O Lord, I say You are my God and my times they are in Your hands.

Psalm 103, verse 3 – Bless the Lord, O my soul, who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases.

Psalm 34:10 – The lions may grow weak and hungry but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

Promises to live by. Not only have we God’s promises, we have His presence. That’s the other thing the Lord said to Israel – “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you, I will not leave your or forsake you,” verse 5, or verse 9, “be strong and courageous for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

What a great personal word from the Lord – I will be with you. It says I Myself will be with you. I’ll stand beside you. His personal presence, not a phantom, not an avatar, the Lord Himself, I am there with you.

And a pervasive word from the Lord, because I’ll be with you wherever you go. The ups, the downs, the highs, the lows, the pleasant, the painful, in life, in death, in the wilderness, and all the way to the Promised Land and beyond. I’ll be with you wherever you go, whatever you’re doing, wherever you find yourself. There’s not an exclusion here. Nothing you can take out and say, well, that doesn’t count. No, I’ll be with you wherever you go.

Friends, that’s really one of the great promises of the Bible, that you see all throughout the Scriptures. I’ve heard somebody call it this, it’s four words that change everything – I am with you.

So you remember that the promise was made to Jacob. He’s running away from his brother, he’s ready to return to the Promised Land, and he has this dream of a ladder and angels are going up and down on that ladder and to Jacob, the Lord says, “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go and will bring you back to the land. I’m with you.”

Same promise is made to Joseph. Joseph is sold by his brothers into Egypt, thrown into jail unjustly for two years, lingering in prison. Don’t you wonder if many, many times over those days he must have thought to himself, “God, have you forgotten me? Where are you? I’m here in this prison. Where are You, O God?” Then he eventually rises to power and helps deliver Israel. The Bible tells us the Lord was with him, and whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. He wasn’t alone. The Lord was with him.

Who can forget the promise in Psalm 23? Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will not fear for You what? Are with me.

You see that over and over and over and over and over again in the Bible. I am with you. That’s what the Lord is saying to you today. Wherever you go, whatever you do, wherever you are, I want you to remember I am with you and I will not leave your or forsake you. When you are afraid, when you feel alone, when you are threatened, keep in mind God says, “I’m here.”

Friends, how do we know that’s all true? How do we know that that promise that God is with us is really true? Well, we have to remember the greatest witness to all of God’s presence, the Lord Jesus Himself. Just before His birth, Joseph and Mary, hear one of the names that He will have, Emmanuel, which means God with us.

You see, the pledge of His presence is established for us in Christ. He will never leave us or abandon us because He has come in His Son to save us. How could He let us go? How could He abandon us? He will be with us.

So the encouragement to Joshua, to Israel, to us, God’s promises, God’s presence, and then finally His Word.

This is where the text ends this morning. The Lord speaks to Joshua. He says, “Be strong and courageous,” verse 7, “being careful to do according to all the law that Moses, My servant, commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left that you may have good success wherever you go. 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 all that is written in it.”

The Word, God’s law. Joshua, this is what you are to live by. This is what is to guide you. This is what you are to hold onto. You must keep the Word front and center.

Friends, you see it’s the Word of God that, too, gives us courage. It’s what gives us strength to move forward, even into those things that are unknown.

The Lord told Joshua here what he was to do with the Word, how it was to be a foundation for him, and how it’s to be a foundation for us. We have to first of all know the Word. So the Lord says to Joshua, “Don’t let it depart from you. Don’t let your life be here and the Word here, where you’re drifting from the Word, distant from the Word, but stay close to the Word, cherish the Word, read the Word, use God’s Word. Don’t let it depart from you.”

Even more specifically we must talk about the Word. That’s what Joshua was to do. He was not to let the Word of God depart from his mouth. What happens when we testify to the Word of God? When we share the Word of God? When we read the Word of God to other people? We’re doing it in our families, maybe. Doing it with your spouse. You’re doing it in a Sunday school classroom. When we speak God’s Word, when we talk about His Word, we internalize His Word, we own it more, we get to know it better.

So it was not to depart from the mouth of Joshua. You need to keep telling Israel the Word.

So know it, talk about it, we’re to meditate on it.

Pastor Kevin gave us a wonderful sermon last week, about how to do that with the Word of God.

But contemplate its truth. Ask questions of the Word of God. What is this text saying about my life? My living? What I’m to do? What conclusions do I draw from God’s Word?

I’ve been helped over the years by just one little piece of advice from John Piper when he says, “Read the Word of God with a pen in your hand.” I just have a pen or a pencil and underline a word here or there, mark something. As he says, “Pens have eyes.” In other words, your eyes tend to get opened in a way to God’s Word when you’re ready to just a note or make a little mark or something. All a part of meditating upon God’s Word.

Finally, we have to obey it. Joshua is told be careful to do all that is written in it. Of course, this is the most important thing, isn’t it? Not just to reflect upon it and to read it, but we’re called to do it. We have to respond. We need to obey. As James reminds us, we’re not simply to be hearers but doers of the Word.

Friends, how does God’s Word help us to be courageous? Because it reminds us of a God who is sovereign, a God who is in control, a God who has all of our days ordained for us before one came to be. You know what? We may not know what 2024 holds; the Lord does. You may not know what tomorrow will bring; the Lord does. He is our sovereign God and God’s Word reminds us of that.

It also reminds us that He loves us, that we are His children and He is our Father. The One who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion. He will not let us go. He begins what He finishes. He is the God who will hold us fast.

Friends, you probably know that, of course, the Old Testament name Joshua, the equivalent of that in the New Testament is the name Jesus. It’s because of the Lord Jesus Christ that all that God says here is true for us. He calls us to be strong and courageous by leaning on His Word, His promises, and His presence. Jesus is the faithful One who has redeemed us. Jesus is the One who has run our race before us. You know what? Right into the Promised Land. Right?

The Bible reminds us we have an anchor there for our soul. An anchor, held tight in heaven for us, a guarantee that we’re going to make it. Our days, our years, may change, but Jesus is the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So be strong and be courageous. As God’s people, let’s go forth trusting Him, whatever tomorrow holds, whatever this year holds.

Let’s pray together. Father in heaven, we do pray that You would guide us, guide us, O thou great Jehovah, as we are pilgrims through this barren land. We are weak, but You are mighty. Hold us with Your powerful hand. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.