Joshua chapter 3 again, and as I was thinking about the message this morning, and realising that we have taken a short break over Christmas time from our studies in the book of Philippians, I was seeking the Lord's guidance as to what to bring to you today - whether to bring a message on the new year, or whether to just launch back into our letter of Philippians. I felt the Lord very forcibly giving me a text to bring to you all today as the Lord's people, but I want you to apply it personally to your individual lives and experiences. It's found right in the context of everything that we've read - and do not forget about that, and we'll be applying it in that context. Joshua gives the message of the Lord to the people of God at the end of verse 4: "For ye have not passed this way heretofore" - for ye have not passed this way heretofore.
The theme of my message this morning is 'Courage for the Unknown Road'. As I have outlined at the beginning of our reading for you the history of the people of God thus far in their journey toward the promised land, you will also remember that the evil report was given by the ten spies unto the people of God regarding this promised land that had been given to them by God. The report was not favourable of the ten spies - remember, ten were bad and two were good. Because of that there was somewhat of a revolt among the people of God. They rebelled against Moses, they rebelled against God, and because of that God said to them that every person under 20, they would know this - in the words of the Scriptures: 'Your children shall wander in the wilderness 40 years'. Everybody under the age of 20 years would know this for 40 years in the desert, wandering around in circles because of their unbelief and rebellion towards God.
During that time of going around in circles we read between the lines of the first five books of the Bible that God's people became familiar with the surroundings of the wilderness, even though it wasn't really God's perfect purpose that they should be there, they got used to it. They knew the features off by heart, if you like, for they frequently crossed these old tracks, and re-trod over old paths. They became familiar with this little plot of land that they were wandering through even though they were going towards the promised land. Yes, they had come out of the land of slavery, the land of Egypt; and yes, they were going up and down in the wilderness, but as they come right to the edge of the shore of the Jordan river they had never been at this spot before. They had never crossed the Jordan before. Forty years of familiarity with the wilderness, and wandering around in paths that they knew too well, sights that they had seen before from their childhood, many of them - but as they stand beside the river Jordan they're on new territory, they're on new ground, there are new difficulties that they are anticipating facing in the days that lie ahead of them, and a new series of events lie before them.
It's not too hard, is it, to make the application from the word of God to us today as we stand at the brink of a new year. We will face strange paths, we will go through new experiences, we will be asked to travel by God along new territories that we have never ever seen before. Throughout the desert experience, 40 years, of these children, many a time they fretted, they worried, they became anxious, they stepped back from the brink of crossing over into God's land of promise, and they ran away from it - that's why they were 40 years, a journey that should have taken a matter weeks or even, at the very longest, months. But as they stand before the Jordan God says to them: 'Ye have not passed this way heretofore'. As we stand in a place that we have never been before, and are about to embark upon an untrodden way that we have never been, there is a danger that we can too become anxious and fretful, and the fear of the unknown can grip our hearts and our lives.
Before I say anything else this morning I want to lay down this foundation very firmly: the importance of faith and trusting God, that is having a sound trust in God in our pilgrimage down here on earth. There's nothing more awful than a distrustful, fretful Christian; an anxious and a worrying child of God. I'll tell you why: because that more than anything robs God of His glory, the glory that He is the great Jehovah who can guide us through the pilgrim land; the glory of His word that tells us that God is trustworthy; that He is a God who provides, Jehovah-Jireh; and that He will bring us through whatever difficulties there are. It was the Israelites' distrust, 40 years in the wilderness, that dishonoured God. Really by inference, it was claiming that God was less than His word in following through and coming through for them.
Now you don't have to read too much of the word of God to find out that the Spirit of God energetically encourages us to trust in God. In fact that, if anything, is what the whole book is about, apart from declaring who God is as a revelation of His person, it is to encourage men who are but dust and fallen in depravity to reach out and to trust God. You only need to look at Isaiah chapter 40, that great passage of comfort, to see that the will of God is that His children should be comforted: 'Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem'. God wants us, and we can conclude that God desires His saints to be comforted as they go through this earthly pilgrimage - and to lose that comfort is a serious matter. Spurgeon said: 'He glorifies God most whose faith staggers least'. George Mueller, that great pioneer of faith who trusted God in a way that many of us perhaps - I hesitate to say this, I hope that you do trust God in the same way, but many of us will never do so - he said: 'The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith', isn't that right? 'The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith', and he goes on, 'and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety'.
Now I don't know what trials you're going through today as we meet in this place, but one thing I know, a common trial that we will all face in the days that lie ahead is the unknown. We will all know change, in some small or large way we will step onto new territory, be found in novel circumstances and experiences, and within all of us I would say there is an inbuilt tendency against change. We build our little nest around us, and we want to live in our nest and die in our nest - and even if the present circumstances that we're living in at the moment are unsatisfactory and are very difficult, it's better the devil we know than the devil we don't, isn't it? We don't want to be launched into an even deeper problem, or even a different problem - perhaps we've even become used and comfortable with the problems that we're in at present.
I wonder am I speaking to folk today who are fearing what the new year holds for them. Maybe you're fearing new truths that God will reveal to you, and that you will have to be obedient to. Many people fear spiritual attainments: 'What if God should come into my home, or into my church in real revival blessing, and I would be shoved out of my comfort zone and my spiritual lukewarmness?'. People fear that, God taking a real dealing with them - maybe you're unsaved here this morning, and you fear that this year God should convict you with the guilt of your sin and God should save you! I pray to God that we'll all know that moving of the Spirit of God in our lives. Maybe you fear that God will lead you out in a new work that He's never asked you to do before - full-time service for the Lord in some shape or form, missionary service, going out as an evangelist, working among young people or children, I don't know what it is. Maybe it's a disease, so many of us here in this fellowship have suffered disease and sickness in the year that has gone by, but perhaps your concern and anxiety is that the disease would get worse, or that the pain would increase, or maybe even at the end of it all there is death in this year!
Some fear poverty, some fear old-age, some are dismayed at the prospect of separation from a friend or a loved one with whom your heart is wrapped. I don't know what it is, but I'll tell you this much: all of these fears, no matter what they may be, exercise an awful influence on the child of God - for we are not given a spirit of fear. It's easy saying these things, but change too often can hold upon us a paralysis that prevents us going on for God, and going into the service and into the depths and the fullness that God would want us to. Old W.P. Nicholson said: 'If Satan can't stop us getting converted, he will do all in his power to get us diverted'. One of the greatest ways the evil one can get us diverted is to give us these fears of unknown uncertainties that are ahead of us in days or years or decades that lie ahead.
Now my aim this morning in bringing the word of God to you is to help some of you, to help some of you who are entering into the unknown year in fear - perhaps even paralysed, being terrified by what is ahead that you don't know, but you fear the worst. I want you to see that with the people of God, as this fresh emergency came in vogue and arose among them, they had new orders from God. When there was a new trial and a new path, God came in by His Spirit and gave them new orders and gave them divine directions. I want you to see today that we will always have the leading and guidance and direction of the Spirit of God if we will but wait for it, and if we will cry to the Lord like the Psalmist: 'Teach me Thy way, O Lord'.
Now there are three things that I want us to see today, and if we take them to heart I believe that God will deliver us, deliver us, from the fear of the unknown, and will bolster us with courage for whatever the year holds. The first thing is this: you need to seek the word of God, you need to seek the word of God. If you look at verse 1 for a moment, it says: 'And Joshua rose early in the morning' - now I'll stop there. Joshua rose early in the morning, now you don't have to read too far in this book - up to chapter 8 - to find that Joshua was an early riser. You find it in this chapter, chapter 6, chapter 7, and chapter 8 it says: 'And Joshua rose early in the morning'. Now why did he rise early in the morning? Did he just like the morning? Did he like to see the frost on the ground like this morning? Did he feed some cattle? No, nothing like that, but if you turn back to chapter 1 of Joshua and verse 8, he is obeying God's word to his heart. God told him: 'This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success'. God had commanded him in the mornings to be around the book of God, devoting time in prayer to God, meditating upon the word of God.
I have heard men say that you can't be dogmatic on this, but I'm going to be dogmatic anyway. Because I believe that the ordained, sovereign time that God has set to meet with Him is the morning - the primary time to meet with God is the morning. Now I'm not saying that's the only time: 'Evening, and morning, and afternoon will I pray and cry aloud and seek God's face', David said. Morning is not the only time, but I believe that God has ordained in the practice of these men of God, and some day I'll take time and preach on it the whole morning, God has ordained the morning that we should rise, and God's face should be the first that we look into, and God's voice should be the first that we listen to, and His ear should be the first that hears our voice.
The Psalmist said: 'Oh God, Thou art my God, early will I seek Thee. My soul thirsteth for Thee, my flesh longeth for Thee in a dry and thirsty land where no water is'. If there is a good example for you to follow as you enter into the unknown year, it is the example of Joshua - and our Joshua, the Saviour, Jesus, Yeshua. It says in Mark 1:35 and in other places in the Gospels: 'And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed'.
Now I hope you don't think I'm too simplistic in saying this, and I'm not saying it in ignorance of other factors and circumstances - but I have found in my short experience, if any experience there is, that at times those who buckle under life's trials are those who are not standing firmly on the word of God. That's what I've found. More and more in counselling situations, and even recently in the mission in Cookstown I was talking to a person, and they were lamenting to me how they'd lost the joy of their salvation, how they had been backslidden in various sins and found that they were always going with the crowd and never had the strength of victory in their life. One of the very first questions I asked him was this: do you read your Bible? Do you read your Bible? Is that too simple? I'll tell you: it's not to simple, for time after time after time again they say: 'No, no'.
It may be simplistic to you, but I believe the man that says: 'When you see a Bible that's falling apart, it belongs to a man or a woman whose life is not falling apart'. If you want to have a blessed new year, not without trials, but knowing the presence and power and guidance of God in the midst of your trials - I urge you at the beginning of the year: get into the word of God, morning by morning. Get a reading scheme - we were selling them the other evening, we'll be selling them tomorrow evening - but buy one and follow through the word of God! Not just one verse a day with a bit of a devotion, get into the word of God and He will guide you through it! We need it, surely you know we need it? For we don't know what's ahead of us in an unknown future.
This place, you've never been to before, He said to these Israelites, you've not passed this way heretofore. So it's inevitable, it makes sense that if we've never been here before we're going to need the Lord's guidance and presence as we step out each day. When we read the word of God, and pray to the Lord, and meditate upon it, and have communion with the Lord - do you know what happens? We actually put God into our situations, and God paves the way before us, He goes before to direct; and we must follow because God knows the way, God leads the way, and God opens the way.
There's the first piece of advice from the word of God, this verse 11 says He is the Lord of all the earth; and therefore if He is guiding us through His word we ought to have nothing to fear. The second thing I want you to see is that we need to look to the Ark of God. You need to seek the word of God, but you need to look to the Ark of God. Now if you look at the second half of verse 3, it says: 'When ye see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it'. Now the significance of that is that when the Ark of God was at rest in the camp of Israel, it was always in the midst of the camp, it was right in the middle - and you've seen those pictures of the Tabernacle, of course the Ark of the Covenant was in the Tabernacle, and all the tribes of Israel camped around the Tabernacle, around the Ark theoretically, in the wilderness. So when the Ark was at rest it was in the middle of the people. When the people were in procession and marching the Ark of God would be in the centre of that procession, right in the middle as the people were in caravan to their next destination.
But this is a unique position for the Ark of God, right up at the front of the people who are about the cross over the Jordan river. The significance of this is that it marks a very special occasion and event in the life of God's people. It's special, it's extraordinary, it's a solemn occasion. The specific Levites that used to carry the Ark were not the ones that are carrying it here, there's a different group of priests and Levites - another sign to signify that this is a special event. Now what's special about it? Well, not only was it to be before them but it says that it was to be before them, verse 4: 'Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure' - that's about a mile, almost a mile ahead of the people as they were marching. The reason was that if they were too crowded together and the Ark was at the very front of them, people at the back and people at the middle wouldn't be able to see it - the view of the Ark would be intercepted. So there was a space of about a mile put between the people and the Ark, why? So that the Ark would be visible for all in the camp to see, so that the Ark would be recognisable as their guide along the untrodden way that they had never gone heretofore.
Do you see it? Well, it's the time to cross the Jordan, and they stand at the brink, the shore of that great river - and it's now in the flood stage because the snows of Lebanon mountains in harvest time melt, and all the great waters come down, and now the Jordan is very deep and extremely wide. But they're told: 'You keep your distance from the Ark, because everybody in the camp has to be able to see it'. I don't have time to go into Old Testament typology, but I'm just going to say this: the Ark of God signifies the Christ of God. Where the blessing of God is, the presence of God on earth was there, in the Holiest place of all, signifying that mercy seat of the Christ who died for us, and His blood that was shed on our behalf to bring us into the very presence of God. Now what's God saying to us today? If you're to go into the unknown new year, you need to seek the word of God, but you need to always keep your eyes upon the Ark of God, the Christ of God.
What does the distance mean? Well, I venture to say that the distance means that we have to keep a respectful and reverential distance between us and Christ, with regards to delving into the mysteries of His person and His character. Sometimes there is a shameful familiarity with regards to looking at certain aspects and practices in the life of Christ when it is a mystery - God manifest in flesh - so we're to keep a reverential awe and distance of worship, but yet with that distance there we're to keep our eyes on Him! Oh, you'll not go too wrong this year if you keep your eyes on the Lord - and I'll tell you, that above all things will assure you a victory.
Remember Peter? We're so hard on him, I wish I had half of his courage. He steps out of the boat, remember that now! He steps out of the boat, and he walks on the water - he walked on the water when he kept his eyes on the Master, and then when he heard the winds and the waves; the Bible says he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried: 'Lord, save me!'. Do you see what happened? When he got his eyes off the Ark of God he became afraid, and then he sank; and these priests were being asked to get their feet wet. Both these things tell us that it takes great faith to walk on water, and it takes great faith to do the greater and walk through the water.
I'm asking all of us today in this place: are you still lingering in the boat for fear, are you still lingering on the banks of the Jordan because you fear the untrodden and unknown way? Well, let me tell you that if you seek the word of God, and if you, my friend, look to the Ark of God the future will become your friend, and when you follow the Lord and trust His promises you will have victory even in the depths of the darkest experiences that this year can throw up against you. I love that hymn: 'O pilgrim bound for the heavenly land, never lose sight of Jesus' - that's the secret.
In the quiet place this morning I was meditating upon a hymn - I don't think we ever sing it in the Believer's Hymnbook, but every time I say that somebody corrects me that we sing it all the time but I've forgotten! Number 182, listen to this:
'Oh, eyes that are weary,
And hearts that are sore,
Look off unto Jesus,
And sorrow no more!
The light of His countenance
Shineth so bright,
That on earth, as in heaven,
There need be no night.
Looking off unto Jesus
My eyes cannot see
The troubles and dangers
That throng around me.
They cannot be blinded
With sorrowful tears.
They cannot be shadowed
Looking off unto Jesus.
My spirit is blest,--
In the world I have turmoil,
In Him I have rest.
The sea of my life
All about me may roar--
When I look unto Jesus
I hear it no more.
Looking off unto Jesus,
I go not astray;
My eyes are on Him.
And He shows me the way.
The path may seem dark
As He leads me along,
But following Jesus
I cannot go wrong.
Looking off unto Jesus,
My heart cannot fear:
its trembling is still
When I see Jesus near:
I know that His power
My safeguard will be.
For, "Why are ye troubled?"
He saith unto me.
Soon, soon shall I know
The full beauty and grace
Of Jesus, my Lord,
When I stand face to face:
I shall know how His love
Went before me each day,
And wonder that ever
My eyes turned away'.
Seek the word of God, look to the Ark of God, and finally trust yourself to the providence of God. This was a place they had never been before. Now listen: Joshua had been there before, Caleb had been there before - not the Jordan, but you remember that they were among the throng that passed through the Red Sea. But there was, in the majority of the rest of them, a fresh generation born in the wilderness who had no recollection of the Red Sea and had no faith prepared by the great miracle that they had seen in the Red Sea. Some men put a lot by experience, and they're right to do so, but experience isn't everything because I'll tell you this: experience never helps you through an experience that you've never experienced before - the ground that you have never passed this way heretofore.
As they stand at the brink of the Jordan, they see the river full to the brim, and they ask the question: 'How are we going to cross it?'. They had no apparatus to cross it, they had no canoes in their tents - and as they stand at the shore, maybe they think: 'Well, suppose we do cross it. We'll go into this great walled city of Jericho and ferocious enemies, men like beasts behind it, and they'll devour us. Suppose we do defeat the people, and the men of Jericho - there are hundreds more cities just as ferocious and wicked as Jericho, and we've to wipe all them out too!'. I'll tell you, their circumstance was one that might naturally excite a thousand fears, but what I want you to see is this: that faith and trust in the providence of God drove all their fears away! God sent His consoling word, and in their time of need they were given faith to be tried and God sustained them by His power - and there's no sign here of them drawing back and running away as they did 40 years before in the wilderness!
Isn't it wonderful? My friend, are you in a case like this? Are you in a place today that you've never been before? Are the demands upon your strength more heavy than at any former time? Or is your faith tested more than it has ever been? Or maybe you're fearing all of these things, as the conglomeration of tragedies that will be ahead of you this year? Well, I want you to listen very carefully in the closing moments, listen to these comforting thoughts. One: this year may be unknown to you, but this year is of God's appointing. Have you heard that? You ask the Israelites: 'Well, how did you get here?', they say 'We didn't come here, we followed this fiery cloudy pillar, and we watched by day and night and followed it wherever it went, and Jehovah brought us here!'. It's Jehovah has brought you to this new year, and whatever will come across your path, you need to see that God's providence never brings us to a wrong position, His wisdom cannot err at all, He maketh no mistakes.
It's only if you see the circumstances with the eye of fear that you'll fall, but if you see it with the eye of faith you'll see - I find this hard to accept, but this is what you've got to accept - you'll see that you're in the best possible position, for God always chooses the best for His people. Listen carefully: if it had been better that there was no devil, for the people of God now, if it were best that there had been no devil and that there be no death, there wouldn't be any devil or any death for the children of God. He would have taken us straight home, He wouldn't have let us go through any of it - do you believe that now? That all things are for the good of them that love Him! You have to believe that!
Think about this other thought: this year's untrodden way is new to you, but it's not new to God - it's not new to God. He doesn't know the word 'yesterday', He doesn't know the word 'tomorrow', He only knows the word 'today'. Where you will be tomorrow He is today - and a thousand, ten thousand, a million years ago He knew your trial and your sorrow - it's not new to Him. What is a new path to you is an old path to God, better than that: look higher to the very throne of God, look at the right hand of God to the Man of Calvary and see one there who not only knows the path that you will go through that is new to you as old, but who has gone through it Himself! What about that? He has gone through the room of your darkness, whatever it may be, before you - and as He's gone through it, He's sown it with light so that it will not be as difficult for you. Isn't it wonderful?
There's more, my friend it's not only not new to God, but it's not new to the people of God. Joshua and Caleb had trodden this path before as they'd gone through the Red Sea, and don't ever think that your woes are peculiar to you. Some people say to me: 'David, if I only knew that someone else was going through this' - they are going through it! More than that, they have come through it and done so victoriously! 'Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you' - better: this untrodden way goes in the right direction. If the Israelites knew that the way that they were going was going to lead them back into Egyptian slavery they would have a right to say to God: 'No, we're not going that way' - but they knew that it would end in a land flowing with rivers, and a land flowing with milk and honey. Is that not our case?
Best of all, listen: whatever our untrodden, unknown year holds, if we seek God's word, and look to the Ark of God, and trust in the providence of God it will bring glory to the Christ of God. What do I mean? Look at verse 7: 'The LORD said unto Joshua, This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee'. Who was with you when everybody else deserted you? Who ministered to you and nursed you when you were lying in a sick bed and your bones were poking through your flesh? The Great Physician. Who was with you when you went through that wilderness of sorrow? The Good Shepherd. And at the very brink of death, if you have to go through it - and maybe you've watched it and you've seen everything mortal melt away - you still know in the depths of your soul that He is the life, and the fullness that He gives is sufficient to fill the soul when all the other created joys disappear. I'll tell you this: it will magnify Jesus if you go on that untrodden way with faith, and if you say: 'Lord, whatever will magnify Christ, I'll go through anything, I'll give up everything to glorify Him'.
Though you have not gone this way heretofore, God's word says: go forward! And may the Joshua of our souls lead us all unto the victory.
Our Father, it was the Lord Himself that told us that this road is the hard one, it is the narrow one - but, our Father, it is the one that leads unto life eternal, it is the one that leads to Jesus. Lord, thrill us as we step into the unknown with Thy word, with Thy Christ, and with Thy providence - and though we step on ground that we have not passed through heretofore, that we will know the Lord God going before us. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly, Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "Courage For The Unknown Road" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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