The Power of the Spirit

17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. – Romans 14:17-19 ESV

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. – Romans 15:13-14 ESV

Remember what Jesus said to His disciples just prior to His ascension: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you…” (Acts 1:8 ESV). Luke records that Jesus promised that they would receive power and that power would be a result of the Holy Spirit’s coming. The Greek word for power is dynamis and, as you can see, it is where we get our word for “dynamite.” According to the Outline of Biblical Usage, it is “inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth.” It can also mean the power to perform miracles.

When we consider the kind of power the disciples were to receive, we tend to associate it with that second meaning, the miraculous power to perform miracles. Why? Because we remember what happened that day in Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples gathered in the upper room. Luke describes it for us:

…suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:2-4 ESV

And this extraordinary phenomena did not go unnoticed.

…at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished… – Acts 2:6-7 ESV

The crowds that gathered were blown away by what they saw and heard because they immediately recognized that the disciples were Galileans. This prompted them to ask, “how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” (Acts 2:8 ESV).

We read this story and can’t help but associate the power of the Spirit with the miracle of speaking in tongues. And we are right to do so. But, at the same time, we tend to miss an important part of Luke’s record of the events of that day. While it’s only natural to focus on the miraculous nature of the disciples’ Spirit-empowered tongues-speaking, Luke wants us to consider what they were saying, not just how they were saying it.

“…we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” – Acts 2:11-12 ESV

There is no doubt that a miracle had taken place. Luke makes that point perfectly clear by providing a list of all the different ethnic groups represented whose languages were spoken by this small group of Galilean disciples. There were Parthians, Medes, and Elamites. There were residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and Libya. Not only that, there were visitors from as far away as Rome, the island of Crete and the region of Arabia.

This was a bonafide, Spirit-empowered miracle. But the point behind the miracle was the declaration of the mighty works of God. All of the people who gathered heard the wonders of God proclaimed in their own native tongue. And Luke notes, “all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?”” (Acts 2:12 ESV).

This obvious miracle had a not-so-obvious intent. It had gathered a crowd and had garnered attention. Not only that, it had raised the level of curiosity among those who saw and heard “the mighty works of God.” And Peter, under the power of the Holy Spirit, took advantage of the opportunity and addressed the crowd, sharing with them the good news concerning Jesus Christ. And Luke records that when Peter was finished, they were “cut to the heart” and asked, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37 ESV).

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 ESV).

And Luke points out that the real miracle that day was not the disciples speaking in tongues, but the conversion of thousands of sinners into saints.

So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. – Acts 2:41 ESV

Jesus promised power, and that promise was fulfilled in stunning fashion. But that day was to be one day among many yet to come. The Spirit of God was far from finished. And much of His work would prove to be far less flamboyant and spectacular.

Which brings us to Paul’s message to the believers in Rome recorded in chapter 14 of Romans. He has had to address an issue taking place within the local congregation in Rome. There were some disputes taking place between believers over what we might call “grey areas.” The church was made up of people from all walks of life, social strata, income levels, and religious backgrounds. There were Jews who had converted to Christianity and Gentiles who had turned from paganism to faith in Christ. And, like any other church, it was made up of believers of varying degrees of spiritual maturity.

The church in Rome had become a social, economic, racial, and religious melting pot. And, to a certain degree, it had become a spiritual petri dish where the Christian life was lived out, and the indwelling power of the Spirit was fleshed out in tangible and somewhat pedestrian ways.

Paul is addressing certain behaviors and personal beliefs that were causing conflict within the church. There were debates taking place over which foods were acceptable for Christians to eat. This had to do with meat sacrificed to pagan idols, which was often sold in the marketplace. The more mature believers were arguing that, since there was no such thing as a false god, because alone is God, the meat was perfectly fine for consumption. But the less-mature believers, many of whom had a pagan religious background, found the eating of this meat to be offensive – a kind of tacit approval of the false god to whom it was sacrificed. There were other conflicts brewing in the church as well, including arguments over which days were to be considered sacred and set apart as holy. These debates were dividing the church, and this led Paul to ask, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?” (Romans 14:10 ESV).

For Paul, the real issue was selfishness and self-centeredness. Each group was judging the other based on their own particular viewpoint. So, Paul gave them a sternly worded command: “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:13 ESV).

These people were worrying about and arguing over which food was proper to eat and which day was right for worship. But, in doing so, they were failing to love one another. Each had made the issue about themselves. Their personal viewpoint had become sacred, and the unity of the body of Christ has become secondary. Which is what led Paul to say, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

Don’t miss that last part of Paul’s statement. “Righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is not to be viewed as some kind of disembodied force that provides power for performing crowd-gathering miracles. He is the Spirit of God who dwells within the people of God so that they might express the righteousness, peace, and joy that come from God. And the forum for living this out is within the family of God.

In the very next chapter of his letter, Paul expands on his call for corporate unity through the power of the indwelling Spirit.

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself…  – Romans 15:1-3 ESV

He uses Jesus Himself as an example of what it looks like to please your neighbor for his good and to build him up. Even Jesus explained His ministry in terms of selfless service, not self-centeredness.

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:28 ESV

It was Paul’s heartfelt desire that the believers in Rome live in Spirit-empowered unity.  He knew there was no other way they could pull it off. The true miracle of the church is that it exists at all. It is a work of God. Which is why Paul asked God to unify the Roman believers and provide them the resources they needed to glorify Him together.

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. – Romans 15:5-6 ESV

And how does God do this? Through His indwelling Spirit. Paul makes that point clear when he prays yet again: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

The power of the Spirit is intended to transform our lives. The third person of the Trinity exists to radically alter the lives of those who have placed their faith in Christ and whom God has placed within the body of Christ. Our unity will not be the result of human effort, but the power of the Spirit.

It’s interesting to note how Luke records the gathering of the disciples in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. He writes, “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1 ESV). On closer inspection, we find that the term “all together” carries far more significance than we might think. Luke used the Greek word, homothymadon, which means “with one mind, with one accord, with one passion.” The disciples were of like mind. They had unity of purpose. They had been told by Jesus to return to Jerusalem, where they were to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. And it was in that state of unity, accord, and like-minded passion, that the power of God came upon them. 

They were transformed and, as a result, the world was forever changed. The power of the Spirit isn’t about external miracles but about the transformation of lives and the miraculous, mysterious formation of the body of Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Advertisements

A City Not Forsaken

1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
    and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
    and her salvation as a burning torch.
The nations shall see your righteousness,
    and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
    that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
    and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
    and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
    and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
    and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
    so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
    so shall your God rejoice over you.

On your walls, O Jerusalem,
    I have set watchmen;
all the day and all the night
    they shall never be silent.
You who put the Lord in remembrance,
    take no rest,
and give him no rest
    until he establishes Jerusalem
    and makes it a praise in the earth.
The Lord has sworn by his right hand
    and by his mighty arm:
“I will not again give your grain
    to be food for your enemies,
and foreigners shall not drink your wine
    for which you have labored;
but those who garner it shall eat it
    and praise the Lord,
and those who gather it shall drink it
    in the courts of my sanctuary.”

10 Go through, go through the gates;
    prepare the way for the people;
build up, build up the highway;
    clear it of stones;
    lift up a signal over the peoples.
11 Behold, the Lord has proclaimed
    to the end of the earth:
Say to the daughter of Zion,
    “Behold, your salvation comes;
behold, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.”
12 And they shall be called The Holy People,
    The Redeemed of the Lord;
and you shall be called Sought Out,
    A City Not Forsaken. Isaiah 62:1-12 ESV

From forsaken to becoming God’s delight. From desolate to becoming God’s bride. That is how this passage describes the remarkable transformation that awaits God’s people in “that day” – the eschatological day when He redeems the nation of Israel from their seemingly endless period of spiritual exile. What is outlined in these verses is nothing short of a total transformation of the corporate character of God’s people. What we see promised here is not just a physical return to the land of Judah, but a spiritual reformation of the hearts of those who had grown callous and cold toward God. The prophet Ezekiel spoke of this God-ordained and orchestrated metamorphosis of God’s people, and he provided God’s explanation for making it happen.

“I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations.” – Ezekiel 36:22 NLT

But again, this is not just about the return of the people to the land. Yes, God clearly promises to restore His scattered people to the land of Judah.

“I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land.” – Ezekiel 36:24 NLT

But there is more. In the very next line, God tells what else He is going to do.

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” – Ezekiel 36:25-27 NLT

Their physical return to the land will be accompanied by the spiritual restoration of their hearts. God will transform His unfaithful and unrepentant people into obedient children who long to do His will. And their transformation will be so complete and so readily apparent that God promises, “The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory” (Isaiah 62:2 ESV).

Back in the book of Ezekiel, we have recorded God’s stinging words of indictment against His people, charging them with bringing shame to His name among the nations because of their unrighteousness and unfaithfulness. But God also reveals that He is going to rectify that situation by showcasing His holiness through His miraculous transformation of their character.

I will show how holy my great name is – the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord.” –Ezekiel 36:23 NLT

God’s restoration of Israel will be for His own glory, not theirs. When He gathers His dispersed and disobedient children from the four corners of the earth, and returns them to the land of Canaan, it will be nothing short of a miracle. But when He completely and radically transforms their inner natures, that will be something at which all the world will notice and marvel. Even the pagan nations of the earth will recognize the divine nature of Israel’s conversion.

And, according to verse 2, their change in character will be accompanied by a change in name. Actually, they will receive two new names: Hephzibah and Beulah. The first means, “My delight is in her” and the second means, “Married.” These two names would have carried a great deal of significance to the people of Judah because of all was about to happen to them in the years ahead. God had already told them that He was going to bring about their destruction.

“I will gather together all the armies of the north under King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, whom I have appointed as my deputy. I will bring them all against this land and its people and against the surrounding nations. I will completely destroy you and make you an object of horror and contempt and a ruin forever.” – Jeremiah 25:9 NLT

That last sentence is repeated throughout the book of Jeremiah, as a stark reminder to the people of Judah that their status as God’s chosen people was about to radically change. And, later on in the book of Jeremiah, God would convey a message to all those who eventually ended up as exiles in the land of Babylon.

“In every nation where I send them, I will make them an object of damnation, horror, contempt, and mockery. For they refuse to listen to me, though I have spoken to them repeatedly through the prophets I sent.” – Jeremiah 29:18-19 NLT

The once proud nation of Judah would become a laughing stock to the nations. They would be ridiculed and their God would be declared impotent and irrelevant. But God is going to change all that. He will one day restore His people and reestablish the integrity of His own reputation among the nations. It will be a joyous occasion, like a groom gathering his bride for their wedding.

And with this promise of future restoration in mind, God encourages His people to stay faithful and eagerly expectant, regardless of what may happen in the days ahead.

Take no rest, all you who pray to the Lord.
Give the Lord no rest until he completes his work,
    until he makes Jerusalem the pride of the earth. – Isaiah 62:6-7 NLT

God had established watchmen on the walls, a remnant of men and women who remained faithful to God and who anxiously waiting to see His deliverance. And they were basing their hopes on the promise of God.

“I will never again hand you over to your enemies.
Never again will foreign warriors come
    and take away your grain and new wine. – Isaiah 62:8 NLT

And God tells them to prepare for the inevitable. They were to get ready for the eventual fulfillment of His promises. It was going to happen and they were to live as if it could happen any day.

Go out through the gates!
    Prepare the highway for my people to return!
Smooth out the road; pull out the boulders;
    raise a flag for all the nations to see. – Isaiah 62:10 NLT

This is a call for the people of God to live with their eyes focused on the future. While their immediate circumstances may leave them feeling as if God has abandoned them, they were to place their hope in the character of God and the trustworthiness of His word. Which is why God charges them to: “Tell the people of Israel, ‘Look, your Savior is coming. See, he brings his reward with him as he comes’” (Isaiah 62:11 NLT). And, just to drive home the incredible nature of the transformation awaiting them, God reveals the new names that will accompany their future state: The Holy People. The Redeemed of the Lord. Sought Out. A City Not Forsaken.

As bad as things appeared, their future was secure. While their immediate fate was going to be characterized by judgment and the loving discipline of God, their future would be characterized by God’s gracious and miraculous restoration and transformation.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Feed My Sheep.

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children. – Matthew 14:13-21 ESV

Even in the face of mounting opposition and rejection by His own people, Jesus did not lose heart or abandon His mission. He remained faithful to the task given to Him by His heavenly Father. And He continued to restore the sick and teach all those who would listen, displaying the compassion He felt for the masses who flocked to Him for healing and hope. In Mark’s account of this same story, he records Jesus describing the crowd as “sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34 ESV). They were lost, confused, and hungry for the truth. And Luke records that Jesus “spoke to them of the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:11 ESV). Whether they realized it or not, here was the Great Shepherd of Israel, standing right in front of them. They were in the presence of the Messiah, the one for whom they had long waited and hoped for. But they would fail to recognize Him and so, they would refuse to accept His offer of the kingdom. Jesus had told the disciples that the stubborn refusal of the people was in direct fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy found in Isaiah 6:9-10.

When you hear what I say,
    you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
    you will not comprehend.
For the hearts of these people are hardened,
    and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
    so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
    and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
    and let me heal them.  – Matthew 13:14-15 NLT

But Jesus continued to perform miracles and proclaim the message of the kingdom of heaven. Why? Because He was preparing His twelve disciples. In fact, the events in this passage, recorded by all four of the Gospel authors, were done for the benefit of those whom Jesus had called.

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. – John 6:5-6 ESV

This whole scene was intended as an object lesson for the disciples. Jesus would use it to test their faith and to expose their inadequacy. The disciples saw the crowd as an obstacle to be avoided, while Jesus viewed the situation as an opportunity to teach a valuable lesson on God’s provision.

The disciples, weary from a day full of ministering to the needs of the people, begged Jesus to send the crowds to one of the nearby towns to eat dinner.

“This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” – Matthew 14:15 NLT

But Jesus had something else in mind, demanding that the disciples feed the people. This command was met with incredulity by the disciples. Philip responded, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” (John 6:7 NLT). Andrew, assessing the situation and the available resources at hand, told Jesus, “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?” (John 6:8 NLT).

From the perspective of the disciples, the crowd was too large and the resources were too small. There was no way they could fulfill the demand Jesus had made of them. It was impossible.

These men, who had seen Jesus restore sight to the blind, cast out demons, and even raise the dead back to life, were unable to envision a solution to the problem facing them. In their humanity, they were left looking for earthly solutions and found themselves to be lacking the resources necessary to meet the need. Andrew’s discovery of the young boy’s meager meal of five loaves and two fish was totally inadequate, or so he thought. There were more than 5,000 men present in the crowd, and that doesn’t take into account the women and children who were there.

But Jesus was nonplused by the size of the crowd, the lack of financial resources or the inadequacy of the food on hand. He simply instructed the people to sit down and then took the five loaves and two fishes, blessed them, then had the disciples distribute them among the people. Don’t fail to notice that it was the disciples who were tasked with the distribution of the loaves and fishes. They took what Jesus gave them and shared it with the people. And Matthew records, “they all ate and were satisfied” (Matthew 14:20 ESV). The needs of the people were met – in full. No one was left hungry. No one did without. Not only that, when the disciples picked up what remained uneaten, there were exactly 12 baskets full of leftovers. Each disciple held a tangible proof of God’s power and provision. While they had doubted, Jesus had trusted, turning to His heavenly Father to provide – food for the people and faith for the disciples.

Jesus was preparing His disciples for their future ministry, the one that would begin after His death, resurrection and ascension. In fact, John records that on one the occasions when Jesus appeared to His disciples in His resurrected body, He ate breakfast with them by the Sea of Galilee. And the meal Jesus prepared for them was a familiar one.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. – John 21:9 ESV

The disciples had been fishing all night, but had caught nothing. But Jesus, appearing to them on the seashore, had instructed them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. Failing to recognize that the individual speaking to them was Jesus, the disciples did what they were told and John records, “So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish” (John 21:6 ESV).

This time, Jesus served the disciples.

Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. – John 21:13 ESV

After eating, Jesus asked Peter a series of three questions, each time repeating, “Do you love me?” And the third time Peter responded,“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And Jesus simply stated, “Feed my sheep.”

After Jesus returned to heaven, the food the disciples would end up distributing to the sheep would be spiritual in nature. They would take what Jesus had given them, eternal life, and share it with all those who would believe. They were to feed the sheep who lacked a shepherd. They were to take the bread of life, broken for them, and distribute it among the spiritually hungry, making available to the people the gracious provision God had made available through His power.

47 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. 48 Yes, I am the bread of life! 49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. 50 Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.” – John 6:47-51 NLT

The miracle the disciples witnessed that day by the Sea of Galilee was a foreshadowing of what was to come. The people walked away with full stomachs. But the day was coming when those who accepted the message of the disciples would receive permanent relief from their spiritual hunger and thirst.

Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. – John 6:35 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

For the Sake of His Name.

1 As soon as Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua had captured Ai and had devoted it to destruction, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, he feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were warriors. So Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhia king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, “Come up to me and help me, and let us strike Gibeon. For it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel.” Then the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, and the king of Eglon, gathered their forces and went up with all their armies and encamped against Gibeon and made war against it.

And the men of Gibeon sent to Joshua at the camp in Gilgal, saying, “Do not relax your hand from your servants. Come up to us quickly and save us and help us, for all the kings of the Amorites who dwell in the hill country are gathered against us.” So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor. And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you.” So Joshua came upon them suddenly, having marched up all night from Gilgal. 10 And the Lord threw them into a panic before Israel, who struck them with a great blow at Gibeon and chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-horon and struck them as far as Azekah and Makkedah. 11 And as they fled before Israel, while they were going down the ascent of Beth-horon, the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.

12 At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,

“Sun, stand still at Gibeon,
    and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”
13 And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
    until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.

Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day. 14 There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel.

15 So Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal. Joshua 10:1-15 ESV

The reputation of the Israelites was rapidly spreading throughout the land of Canaan. News of their destruction of the cities of Jericho and Ai had gotten out, as well as the treaty they had made with the people of Gibeon. And Joshua was about to find out that his decision to swear allegiance to the Gibeonites brought with it an added responsibility to protect them in the event they were attacked by hostile forces. It seems that the Jebusites assumed that the Gibeonites, a powerful nation, who had allied themselves with the Israelites, were now a potential threat to their national security. So, Adoni-zedek, the king of Jerusalem sent a message to the kings of Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon, saying, “Come up to me and help me, and let us strike Gibeon. For it has made peace with Joshua and with the people of Israel” (Joshua 10:4 ESV). This five-nation alliance joined forces and surrounded Gibeon, intent on destroying them. But the people of Gibeon sent word to Joshua, demanding that he honor his treaty with them and come to their aid. Due to his ill-advised decision to accept the Gibeonites deceptive offer of an alliance, Joshua had unwittingly committed the nation of Israel to their protection. He was now obligated, by an oath to God, to come to their aid. He had sworn by the name of God and could not go back on his commitment without violating his word to God.

Back in chapter nine, we were left with the impression that Joshua’s treaty with the Gibeonites was simply a commitment to let them live.

18 But the people of Israel did not attack them, because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel. Then all the congregation murmured against the leaders. 19 But all the leaders said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel, and now we may not touch them. 20 This we will do to them: let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath that we swore to them.” – Joshua 9:18-20 ESV

But now, we discover that the Israelites had actually become the protectors of the people of Gibeon. Not only were they obligated to let them live, they were committed to keeping them alive. Their oath was going to be more costly than they had imagined.

And yet, God stood with Joshua and the people of Israel, promising to go before them and provide them with a victory over the five-nation alliance.

“Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you.” – Joshua 10:8 ESV

Joshua had sworn to the Gibeonites by the name of God and God was not about to let His name be denigrated or His honor be marred. His reputation was at stake. So, He acted and “threw them into a panic before Israel” (vs 10). Joshua and his troops chased their panic-stricken enemies as they fled for their lives. But this is when the story gets really interesting. Because Joshua had sworn an oath by God’s name, God was going to make sure that the Israelites, Gibeonites and the Amorites knew that this was His battle, not theirs. He got directly involved in the action, providing a miraculous display of His power to destroy the enemies of Israel.

…the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword. – Joshua 10:11 ESV

What makes this event even more significant is that Baal, the false god of the Canaanites, was worshiped as the god who controlled the weather. He was in charge of the rain, hail and floods. And yet, Yahweh, the God of Israel rained down hail on the worshipers of Baal, destroying them while sparing the Israelites.  And as if that was not enough, God honored a request from Joshua to make the sun stand still, so that the Israelites could have more daylight to capture and destroy the remaining forces of the Amorites. The Canaanites, a term used to refer to all the people living in the land of Canaan, were also worshipers of the sun and moon, considering them to be deities. So, when God affected the sun, He was revealing His superior power over the false gods of the Canaanites.

But that begs the question: What exactly happened here? Did the earth really “stand still” as the text suggests? There has been much speculation and even more debate regarding this issue over the centuries. There are those who argue that God caused the earth to rotate on its axis or slowed the earth’s rotation in order to lengthen the day. This would have been a world-wide phenomena. There are others who believe it was a localized event, whereby God somehow altered atmospheric conditions in that region, creating a refraction of the sun’s light as it set in the sky. And then there are those who speculate that God simply provided a separate source of light that gave the appearance of sunlight. The bottom line is that we don’t know how God accomplished this miracle, we just know that he did. The text matter-of-factly states, “The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day” (Joshua 10:13 ESV) and then, as if to clarify that this was a God-ordained miracle, reads, “There has been no day like it before or since, when the Lord heeded the voice of a man, for the Lord fought for Israel” (Joshua 10:14 ESV).

While we can easily find ourselves debating and doubting the how surrounding the events in this passage, we must not lose sight of the who behind it all. While it is easy to find this story difficult to believe, it is intended to stress the supernatural power of God. The God of the Israelites is not like Baal or Molech. He is a living, all-powerful God who fights on behalf of His people. He is not some kind of distant deity who sits up in heaven, watching helplessly as His people struggle to live their lives on this planet. He is intimately involved in their lives, interjecting Himself into their affairs in miraculous ways that defy explanation. The Amorites had good reason to fear the Israelites, but it had nothing to do with Joshua and his military forces. It was because the Israelites were the chosen people of God Almighty.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Devoted to Destruction.

15 On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. 16 And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout, for the Lord has given you the city. 17 And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. 18 But you, keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction, lest when you have devoted them you take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel a thing for destruction and bring trouble upon it. 19 But all silver and gold, and every vessel of bronze and iron, are holy to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.” 20 So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. 21 Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.

22 But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” 23 So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel. 24 And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. 25 But Rahab the prostitute and her father’s household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.

26 Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho.

“At the cost of his firstborn shall he
    lay its foundation,
and at the cost of his youngest son
    shall he set up its gates.”

27 So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land. Joshua 6:15-27 ESV

The seventh day finally arrived, and it was on this day that the people of Israel were to march around the walls of Jericho seven times. We are provided no explanation for this change in protocol, except that it was the will of God. He had commanded it. So, they marched as they had the previous six days, but on completion of their seventh circuit around the wall, the priests blew their shofars and the people broke their silence with a collective shout of victory. And when they did, the walls of Jericho crumbled and fell. There is no logical reason for this to have happened. Nothing the Israelites had done over the past seven days had contributed to the weakening of the walls of Jericho. Their marching had not weakened the foundations of the walls. The constant blowing of the shofars by the priests had not damaged the structural integrity of the walls. This was a work of God. And the seven days it took for the walls to fall had been less a battle than a religious rite. The priests, the ark of the covenant, the shofars, the ceremonial procession –  it was all a visual reminder of God’s power and presence. He was going before them. He was leading them. And their faithful following of the ark of the covenant provides a tangible expression of the peoples’ dependence upon God. The walls standing between them and the city of Jericho were too great for them to overcome. They had no means by which to breach the defenses of Jericho. But by faithfully following God, they were able to see Him do what only He can do. He brought down the walls. He removed the barrier. Like the Jordan River held back by the hand of God, so the people could cross over on dry ground; God leveled the walls of Jericho so the people could enter into the city unobstructed and unhindered. The walls of Jericho represented the hope of the people of Jericho. That stone barrier had been their protection for generations. They had placed their faith and hope in their mighty wall on many occasions and had yet to be disappointed. Until this fateful day.

God was greater than their wall. He was more powerful than some stone structure erected by the hands of men. He destroyed their great wall and exposed the unreliability of all man-made forms of salvation.

Once the wall had collapsed, the people of Israel had clear instructions from Joshua as to what they were to do. And his instructions echoed those given by Moses many years earlier.

16 But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, 18 that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 20:16-18 ESV

Joshua had told them, “And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction” (Joshua 6:17 ESV). They were to destroy anything and everything. There were to be no inhabitants spared or spoil taken. Only Rahab and her family were to be protected, in keeping with the agreement made between her and the two spies. All the gold, silver and other forms of precious metals were to be dedicated to God and placed in the treasury of the Lord. And the text records that the people obeyed the command of Joshua.

Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword. – Joshua 6:21 ESV

We find these verses hard to read and even more difficult to justify. They seem barbaric and unjust to our modern sensibilities. They appear to paint God as some kind of heartless and vengeful monster who shows no regard for the lives of men. How can a God who demands justice and mercy from His people also demand that they completely destroy another people group, including their innocent women and children. But what we fail to recognize is that this is far less a battle between two people groups than it is a war between righteousness and wickedness. The real enemy here is sin. The nations occupying the land of Canaan were known for their wickedness and moral corruption. God had chosen the people of Israel and given them His law, in order that they might display to the rest of the world what living in a right relationship with Him might look like. But God knew that the influence of sin was going to be a constant threat to their testimony. The presence of these pagan nations and their immoral practices would make it next-to-impossible for the people of God to keep themselves set apart for Him. So, He demanded the removal of the temptation. He commanded the destruction of anything and everything that might cause His people to fall away. It is a picture of the way in which believers in Christ as to purge their lives from their old ways of living. The apostle Paul provides us with similar admonitions to eliminate anything that would hinder or harm our relationship with God.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. – Ephesians 4:31 NLT

So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. –  Colossians 3:5 NLT

But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. – Colossians 3:8 NLT

…put to death the deeds of your sinful nature… – Romans 8:13 NLT

Sin is contagious. It is a dangerous and deadly disease that, if allowed to exist, will spread throughout the body of Christ infecting all with whom it comes in contact. The same was true for the people of Israel. God knew that the people of Jericho were infected by sin and the pagan practices of their false religions. To treat the residents of Jericho with kid gloves was to invite destruction. To wink at the wickedness that permeated the city of Jericho would prove to be a deadly mistake. And God knew it.

And God had Joshua put a curse on the city of Jericho, demanding that it never be rebuilt. It was to be a permanent reminder of God’s judgment against sin. The broken walls would form a perpetual memorial to God’s righteousness and the ultimate fate of all who stand opposed to Him. The rubble of Jericho would form a monument to the folly of sin and a life lived without God.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Stones of Remembrance.

1 When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

And the people of Israel did just as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, just as the Lord told Joshua. And they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down there. And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day. 10 For the priests bearing the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua to tell the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua.

The people passed over in haste. 11 And when all the people had finished passing over, the ark of the Lord and the priests passed over before the people. 12 The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh passed over armed before the people of Israel, as Moses had told them. 13 About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the Lord for battle, to the plains of Jericho. 14 On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life. Joshua 4:1-14 ESV

centered-stones-largeGod’s  people have a tendency to forget, and nobody seems to know that better than God Himself. Their collective ability to recall and rejoice in His wondrous acts was spotty, at best. So, God was constantly reminding His people to remember. He knew their particular tendency toward forgetfulness and the human proclivity to take credit for their own accomplishments.

Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. – Deuteronomy 4:23 ESV

10 “And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. – Deuteronomy 6:10-12 ESV

11 Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery… – Deuteronomy 8:11-14 ESV

Their entrance into the land of promise was a memorable experience. As soon as the feet of the priests carrying the ark of the covenant entered the Jordan River, the water ceased to flow. Somewhere up river, a wall of water formed, preventing any further water from reaching the spot where the Israelites would pass over. One minute the river was there. The next, it was gone. And the priests found themselves standing on dry ground. Joshua commanded the 12 men he had chosen earlier to each take one stone from the river bed and carry it to the other side. Those 12 stones would become a memorial, a permanent reminder for the people of Israel, recalling the miraculous provision of God. The stones were to provide a visual history lesson, prompting their children, yet born, to ask for an explanation as to the meaning behind the stones. And the answer was simple: “you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off” (Joshua 4:7 ESV). Notice that the answer doesn’t mention God. It’s almost as if the question elicits a response which is intended to create even greater curiosity on the part of the child asking the question. “How were the waters cut off?” “What made this happen?” And the answer to those questions was, “God.” The miracle had a source. The action had an agent behind it.

But remembering can be difficult work, and forgetfulness comes easy. As amazing as this particular event was, the day would come when the people would fail to remember what God had done for them. The stones would be neglected. The memory of crossing over the Jordan would be replaced by the more pressing concerns of taking over the land. The attitude of that-was-then, this-is-now would take over. The people of Israel would learn to live in the moment, rather than in the memory. But failing to look back and recall what God has done, will dramatically weaken our ability to look ahead and trust God for what He can do. Our recollection of God’s past provision is the fuel for our future faithfulness. When we fail to remember what He has done, we tend to doubt what it is He can do. He becomes out of sight, out of mind. And that is exactly what eventually happened to the people of Israel. If we fast forward to the book of Judges, it opens up with the news of the death of Joshua. It also tells us that the people were still trying to possess the land God had given them. But they had been less-than-successful because they had been far from obedient. They had failed to do things God’s way. And then, we read these sad words:

10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. – Judges 2:10-12 ESV

Not only had they forgotten what God had done for them, they forgot God. They abandoned Him. The one who had delivered them from captivity in Egypt, who had led them through the wilderness and who had miraculously made a way for them to cross the Jordan River on dry ground, had been forgotten and forsaken. How in the world do you forget God? You simply fail to remember what He has done for you. Memorials are memory pegs that provide a solid foundation for our faith. One of the reasons we take the Lord’s Table is to remind us of what God has done for us. It is to stir in us the memory of Christ’s sacrificial death and atoning work on our behalf.

He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” – Luke 22:19 NLT

When we remember what He has done, we are far better prepared to trust Him for what we need Him to do. But time has a way of fogging our memories and causing us to forget God’s past acts of mercy. Immediately after crossing the Jordan, the people of Israel were enthusiastic and filled with faith. They even afforded Joshua the same respect they had shown to Moses.

On that day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life. – Joshua 4:14 ESV

But would it last? Would their excitement linger and their faith hold? The stones of remembrance would still be wet from the waters of the Jordan. The memory of crossing over on dry ground would be fresh. But in time, that memory would fade, the stones would be forgotten, and the goodness of God would become overshadowed by the next pressing issue of the day.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Living God Is Among You.

And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. 13 And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”

14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.Joshua 3:9-17 ESV

In every generation, one of the saddest realities of life is how often the people of God fail to recognize His presence among them. Those who claim to be followers of God and who express faith in His power end up wondering if He is really there. They read the Scriptures and hear stories about His faithfulness in the past, but they fail to see Him at work in and around their own lives. But, when it comes to our failure to see the handiwork of God, the problem lies with us, not God.

As the people of Israel prepared to cross over the Jordan River and enter the land of Canaan, they must have been filled with excitement and anticipation, but also a bit of fear and trepidation. They had no idea what was going to happen next. They knew that God had promised to give them the land, but this day had been a long time in coming. And they knew that the land God had promised them was not uninhabited. It was filled with nations who would likely take strong exception to Israel’s claim to have a God-given right to the land. These nations would be sure to resist any attempts by the Israelites to walk in and take over their cities, fields, and homes. But Joshua gathered the people together and told them:

“Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites.” – Joshua 3:10 ESV

He was letting them know that this entire venture was going to be God-led and God-empowered. God had promised to do wonders, and now they were about to see the first of many wonders He would perform on their behalf. And, as a result, they would know that He was among them. This is an interesting statement, because God had been among them for generations – guiding, leading, protecting and delivering them. He had regularly displayed His glory in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. His divine presence had been visible, hovering over the tabernacle and leading them as they had made their way through the wilderness and to the shores of the Jordan. But Joshua seems to be telling them that this new phase of their journey was going to be marked by a new manifestation of God’s presence and power. This was not going to be another day of walking in the wilderness. This was to be the fulfillment of the long-awaited promise of God, and it was going to require an extra measure of trust in God.

Joshua refers to God as “the Lord of all the earth” (Joshua 3:11 ESV). This is the very first time we hear this designation used, and it seems to be Joshua’s attempt to stress God’s sovereign control over the planet. The people were going to see just how truly powerful their God was. And it’s no coincidence that what God was about to do at the River Jordan was very similar to what He had done for the Israelites all the way back at the Red Sea when they had first left Egypt. That miraculous event had marked their exodus and escape from slavery and oppression. This event would mark their entrance into God’s promise of freedom, rest and blessing.

Joshua instructed each tribe to select a man as their representative. This 12 men were to accompany the priests who would carry the ark of the covenant. And Joshua tells the people that when the feet of the priests enter the waters of the Jordan, “the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap” (Joshua 3:13 ESV). Just as the waters of the Red Sea had split apart and allowed the people of Israel to cross over on dry ground, the waters of the Jordan would be held back by the hand of God, providing a path leading from the wilderness to the promised land. Like a door swinging on a hinge, the waters would literally open up, providing a way for the people to enter the land. The Hebrew word used by the author is karath, and it means “to cut off.” But it is the same word used when speaking of cutting or making a covenant. When a covenant was made between two parties, an animal was sacrificed, then cut up or divided in two. The two covenanting parties would then walk the path between the divided sacrifice, signifying their commitment to keep the covenant or face a similar fate. As God “cut off” the waters of the Jordan, He was signifying His commitment to keep the covenant He had made to Abraham. And the people were entering into that covenant, passing over the path that God had provided for them.

It is also a picture of Christ, the one whom God provided to be the doorway or gate into His promise of eternal life and rest. Jesus once said, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7 NLT) and “Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. ” (John 10:9 NLT). He also boldly claimed, “No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). That day, standing on the shores of the Jordan, the people of God were only going to be given a single, solitary path to take. It would be a God-given, divinely orchestrated path that was miraculous in nature and based solely on the grace of God. There was to be no other way. There was to be no workaround or alternative route. And the same is true when it comes to God’s path to salvation. There is no other way but Christ. There is no other door or gateway into God’s presence or a path by which men might find peace with God.

God did a miracle. He performed a wonder and displayed His power, proving to the people that He was not only with them, but for them. He was going ahead of them, leading the way into the land of promise. And just as the waters of the Jordan parted before them, the nations that occupied the land would melt away in front of them. Nothing would be too difficult for God. He would lead, but they would need to follow. He would provide a path, but they would have to walk along it in obedience and faith. And once they had crossed over, those very same waters would close behind them, signifying that there was no going back. They were in the land and the promise had been fulfilled. But now, they would have to occupy the land. They would have to take what God had given them and make it their own. The presence of enemies in no way negated the reality of the promise. The land was theirs. God had given it to them. But fully experiencing the promise of God was going to require their complete dependence upon the power of God. He was among them, but they would have to trust that He would go before them, each and every day they lived in the land.

 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Greater Expectations.

1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. Acts 3:1-10 ESV

The last chapter ended with an upbeat description of how things were going just days after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:46-47 ESV

Now, in chapter three, we are given a glimpse into what one of those typical days looked like. Because the early church was made up predominantly of believing Jews, these individuals, including the disciples, were still attending the Temple and practicing their Jewish faith as they did before. As this chapter opens, we find Peter and John going to the Temple at 3:00 p.m., to take part in the prescribed prayer time held at that hour each day.

Luke tells us that Peter and John entered the Temple compound through “the Beautiful Gate.” This was evidently meant as a description, not as the actual name of the gate. There were three primary gates into the Temple grounds: The Shushan Gate, the Corinthian Gate and the Nicanor Gate. We are not sure which of these three gates Luke is referring to, but at this particular gate Peter and John come into contact with a lame man. Perhaps Luke uses this description as a way to emphasize and contrast the man’s impoverished and physically hopeless condition. He had been born with this infirmity and, each day, he had to be carried to the Temple in order to beg for alms. Alms-giving was a common practice in those days, involving the voluntary gift of money or goods to those in need. It was not an obligation or part of the Mosaic law, but giving to the destitute was seen as a righteous act. In fact, Jesus addressed this very topic in His Sermon on the Mount.

When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. – Matthew 6:2-4 NLT

This lame man, upon seeing Peter and John entering the Temple, asked them for alms. He had chosen his spot well, because those entering the Temple were there to worship and would have been predisposed to generosity. The first thing Peter said to the man was, “Look at us!” Most likely, the man made a habit of keeping his eyes down, a sign of his humble estate and in keeping with the Jewish mindset that those suffering from infirmities were being punished by God for their sins. Poverty, disease, physical infirmities and even widowhood were seen by most Jews as signs of God’s punishment for sin. On one occasion, Jesus and His disciples encountered a blind man, and one of the men asked Jesus, “‘Rabbi,’ his disciples asked him, ‘why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?’” (John 9:2 NLT). And Jesus answered them:

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” – John 9:3-5 NLT

Then John records that Jesus performed a miracle, giving sight to one who had been blind since birth. Jesus revealed the power of God in the life of this man, doing for him what he could have never accomplished on his own. The blind man, like the lame man in Luke’s story, was relegated to begging for temporary relief from his suffering. But Jesus came to give something far more lasting and life-changing than alms. He gave sight to the blind. And when the lame man begged Peter and John to give him money, Peter responded, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” (Acts 3:6 NLT). And Luke records what happened next:

Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them. – Acts 3:7-8 NLT

Peter and John both must have recalled the words of Jesus: “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.” They had received a commission from Jesus and they had received the power of the Holy Spirit, so they knew they had work to do. Peter gave the man something of far greater value than that for which he had asked. The man had begged for the gift of spare change, but Peter gave him a changed life. Notice what Luke writes, “Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.” He was a changed man. For the first time in his life, he was able to go into the Temple to worship. In his previous condition, he would have been banned from entrance into the Temple. That’s why he was forced to sit at the gate each day, hoping for some form of financial relief to assist him in his daily struggle with his physical disability and the social ostracism it caused. But now, his disability was gone. He was running, jumping and worshiping with abandon. Not only that, once the crowd recognized him as the lame man whom they passed daily outside the Beautiful Gate, they were blown away.

When Jesus had healed the blind man, it had also caused quite a stir. The people could not believe what they were seeing. And the Jewish leaders were incensed, especially because Jesus had chosen to heal on the Sabbath, breaking their religious codes. So, they had confronted the man and then his parents, demanding to know what had happened.

24 So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”

25 “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” – John 9:24-25 NLT

A blind man could see. A lame man could walk. That was as deep as either man’s theology went. They had been radically changed by an encounter with Jesus. The blind man had been touched by Jesus. The lame man had been healed in the name of Jesus.

This unnamed man had come to the Temple that day expecting nothing more than a handout from some generous stranger. Perhaps he had regular contributors, who knew him and made a habit of giving to him each day. He probably had a vague idea of how much money he could expect to take home by day’s end. But there is no way that he came to the Beautiful Gate expecting to walk home on his own two legs. He never dreamed he would be leaping, dancing and worshiping in the Temple when he woke up that morning. His would be a day just like any other day, filled with the same old tasks of getting up, begging a lift to the gate and beginning his humiliating day of begging for coins from those who viewed him as little more than a sinner who deserved his sorry state in life. But his less-than-ambitious expectations were shattered that day. He came to the Temple, lying on a mat, but went home leaping on his own two legs. He came a beggar, but became a worshiper. He showed up a sinner, but suddenly found himself free to walk into the Temple grounds unhindered and unafraid of God’s judgment.

It’s important to note that Peter and John saw this man as more than a nuisance or a common sinner to be ignored. He was an opportunity for the power of God to be revealed and the name of Christ to be lifted up. While Jesus had been in the world, He had been the light of the world. Now it was the disciples’ turn. They had work to do. As far as Peter was concerned, this man was there for a reason: That God might be glorified and the gospel of Jesus Christ might be proclaimed. Just as the miracles of Jesus validated His claims to be the Son of God and the Messiah, the signs and wonders performed by the disciples would prove that they had been sent by God and had the authority to speak on His behalf. And they would take advantage of this opportunity to tell the good news regarding Jesus Christ to all who had gathered. The man’s miraculous restoration would become a platform to share about salvation. The same power that made a blind man see and a lame man walk, could bring the spiritually dead back to life.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Walking In Circles In Faith.

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. – Hebrews 11:30 ESV

Moses was gone. An entire generation of Israelites had died during their forty years of wandering in the wilderness, all because they had refused to believe God and enter the land He had promised them. Their disobedience had brought God’s judgment and that generation would never enter the rest that God had promised to provide for them. Now, Joshua led a new generation of Israelites into the promised land. They would not just waltz into the land and take over without a fight. The occupants of the land of Canaan were going to have a real problem with the descendants of Abraham showing up and making claims that the land belonged to them because Yahweh, their God, had given it to them. The land and all its provisions was not going to come without a fight. But God would give Joshua, the new leader, a piece of important news.

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the Lord‘s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. – Joshua 5:13-15 ESV

This occasion recalls that of Moses at the burning bush. Joshua, like Moses, had a personal and up-close encounter with God Himself in the form of a theophany. Joshua saw what he believed to be a man and this stranger announced himself as the commander of the army of the Lord. That word “commander” can be translated “prince” or “captain.” It is believed that this “man” was actually the pre-incarnate Christ. Joshua’s immediate reaction reveals his awareness that he was speaking with more than just a man. He fell on his face and worshiped. The very next chapter records the words that the Commander of the army of the Lord shared with Joshua.

Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. And when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, when you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout, and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and the people shall go up, everyone straight before him.” – Joshua 6:1-5 ESV

This would have been strange counsel to Joshua. The very first city they encountered was fortified and well-armed, and the Lord was telling Joshua that He would give the city into their hands. But the conditions for achieving this victory were a bit odd. The Lord was explicit in His details. He left nothing to chance or to Joshua’s imagination. For six days, they would make a single circuit around the walls of the city. No arrows would be fired. No spears would be thrown. Imagine the reactions they would have gotten from the people behind the walls and the soldiers looking down on this spectacle from the tops of the walls. There would have endured ridicule and countless words of derision. The men of Israel would have struggled with feelings of shame and embarrassment as they marched in a silent column around the city, listening to their enemies question their sanity and manhood. Their swords hung at their side, unused. Their strength was being used up walking instead of fighting. According to the instructions of the Commander of the army of the Lord, “The armed men were walking before the priests who were blowing the trumpets, and the rear guard was walking after the ark, while the trumpets blew continually” (Joshua 6:9 ESV). No one said a word. No one fired a shot. In keeping with the command of Joshua, no one could respond to the jeers and insults coming from behind the well-fortified walls of Jericho. But the people of Israel continued to walk – day after day for six days. But then the seventh day came.

On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout, for the Lord has given you the city. And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction.” – Joshua 6:15-17 ESV

This day was going to be different. Six days of seemingly pointless activity were going to be followed by an incredible miracle from God. Just as they had the previous six days, the people marched in silence, this time circling the city seven times. And after their final trip around the city “the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city. Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword” (Joshua 6:20-21 ESV).

For seven days they had walked and waited. For a solid week they had done as they had been told. They had been faithful and obedient to the Lord’s command. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have doubts. It doesn’t mean they didn’t question the Lord’s plan. There was most likely a fair share of grumbling and grousing around the campfires at night. The people probably wondered if Joshua had really heard from God at all. But they walked. For seven days they did as they had been told. Their walking was evidence that they were trusting God. They didn’t know exactly how the walls were going to fall. God had not explained how He would do it. But they knew the part they were called to play. They were to march. They were to obey. And they were to wait on the Lord. Their pride had to take a back seat. Their physical abilities had to be used walking and not fighting. But as the author of Hebrews tells us, “by faith the walls of Jericho fell down.” It wasn’t their faith that caused the walls to fall. It was God. But their faith was instrumental in God’s power being unleashed and put on display. Had they stopped walking, the walls would not have fallen. Had they decided to take up their swords and attack the city in their own strength, the outcome would have been radically different. Their faith was in God. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV). They hoped for victory, and they were convinced it would happen – not because they marched, but because their God had promised it. Their marching was simply an expression of their faith in God. Sometimes trusting God requires us to step out – in faith – and walking in seemingly meaningless circles. But if we truly trust God, walking and waiting is well worth it. He always comes through – in His way and according to His will.

 

 

Faith Is Not A Commodity.

By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. – Hebrews 11:11-12 ESV

The line, “even when she was past the age” is a bit of an understatement. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was way past the age of being able to conceive. She was close to her nineties and, on top of that, she was barren. We read in Genesis 18, “Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah” (Genesis 18:11 ESV). And when they were given the news from God that they were going to have a son, both Sarah and Abraham expressed doubt. When God had told Abraham that he would make the father of a great nation, Abraham’s response was, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Genesis 15:2 ESV). The only solution Abraham could see was using one of his household servants as an heir. Sarah’s solution was to give Abraham her Egyptian household servant to impregnate. “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her” (Genesis 16:2 ESV). And, of course, Abraham took her up on her offer. But God had other plans and informed Abraham once again what He intended to do. “I will bless her [Sarah], and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her” (Genesis 17:6 ESV). Abraham’s response? He laughed. And he said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Genesis 17:17 ESV). But God confirmed His promise and assured Abraham that the impossible would happen. Some time later, when God appeared to Abraham at the Oaks of Mamre, God gave him exciting news. “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son” (Genesis 18:10 ESV). And Sarah, eavesdropping at the door to the tent, “laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’” (Genesis 17:12 ESV). She had doubts, reservations, and a bit of a hard time seeing how any of this was going to happen. The circumstances surrounding her life seemed to strongly contradict what God was saying.

And yet, Hebrews says, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive.” This seems like a gross exaggeration of the facts. Both Abraham and Sarah laughed at the news of God’s plan. Both came up with alternative options, plan B’s, to help God out. And yet it says that Sarah had faith. I think the problem is that we tend to put the emphasis on Sarah’s faith, rather than the object of her faith. It says that by faith she received the power to conceive. All Sarah could do was trust the power. Her faith did not bring the power into existence or make the results of that power come about. She had to stop trying to do things on her own and simply rest in the power of God’s promise. She had to take her eyes off the circumstances, her old age and barren condition, and trust God. It was by faith that Sarah had to wait for the miracle of conception and the fulfillment of God’s promise. Remember how this chapter started out. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Genesis 11:1 ESV). Sarah had longed and hoped for a child for decades. She had desperately desired to have a baby, but had been forced to give up on that dream because of her condition. But when God promised to give she and Abraham a child, she had one recourse: to take what God said by faith. She was forced to trust God. He was going to do what He had promised to do and He was not going to accept any alternative solution, no matter how well-intentioned. Eleazar and Ishmael would not suffice. Adoption was not an option. Sarah was going to have to trust God. And so it says, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive.”

Sarah had to come to grips with the fact that God was faithful and that He was powerful. He had the character and the power to back up what He said. And it says she “considered him faithful who had promised.” After all her conniving, doubting, whining and self-sufficient planning, Sarah determined to trust God. She decided to put her faith in the one who had promised. And in God’s perfect timing, “The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him” (Genesis 21:1-2 ESV). She placed her faith in God and He came through. “And Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.’ And she said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age’” (Genesis 21:6-7 ESV). Sarah’s faith did not make any of this happen. Her faith was simply a confidence and conviction that the one who promised it would happen had the power to make it happen. She put her hopes in His hands. She put her fears and doubts on His shoulders. She quit worrying and started believing. She stopped trying to take matters into her own hands and  left them in the highly capable and powerful hands of God. Our problem is not that we don’t believe what God has promised, it is that we somehow think He needs our help in bringing it about. Faith is about giving up and resting on God’s faithfulness and sufficiency. It is about reliance upon His power, instead of our own. It involves putting our hope in God rather than allowing the circumstances surrounding us to suck the hope out of us. Faith is less a commodity than it is a state of being. It is a place to which we come when we are ready to take God at His word and rest in the reality of His power to do what He has promised. “Therefore from one man [and woman], and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”