Leaving the Wilderness
Text: Joshua 1
Proposition: The wilderness of life has a purpose but it is not a place in which we are going to find rest.
Introduction: Did you know that over 70% of the earth is covered by oceans, less than thirty percent of the earth is land. Of that 30%, one third of it is mountainous terrain or vast areas covered with ice and glaciers and deserts. That would mean that approximately 80% of the earth is uninhabitable wilderness. The Pacific Ocean alone covers almost 9 million square kilometres. And yet God has made this world exactly the way it is which would tend to tip us off that He has a very particular role for the wilderness to play in the balance of this world and in the way that we live our lives. The wilderness is a place where things are stripped away, where you are forced into a survival mode, it’s often seen as a place where God refines people. We are going to begin looking at the book of Joshua, the story of a nation of people coming out of a wilderness journey that has lasted 4 decades and in which a whole previous generation of people have passed away. The grandparents and even many of the parents have died, it’s their children who are now about to come out of the wilderness. The wilderness can be a physical terrain like mountains and forest or desert but the wilderness can also be something that we experience within ourselves. It would be like living in a long period of dryness or darkness or loneliness. The spiritual and physical wilderness is something that Jesus experienced as Satan tried to tempt Him with every extreme he could offer. It was a time of testing and even preparation, for from this wilderness Jesus then stepped forward into a life that changed the world forever. So when we look at the book of Joshua we are seeing a people that were slaves in Egypt for 430 years, we are seeing a people led by Moses out of captivity and into freedom. Some call this the main redemptive event of the Old Testament, the redeeming of the people of Israel from the slavery of Egypt. They are redeemed, brought out and set free from captivity and they set course for the Promised Land. They balk at the border to the Promised Land and for the next 40 years they wander through the wilderness because they would not trust God. I think it is no different for us, we too will find ourselves wandering when we refuse to trust God. We can find ourselves in a long and twisting path of wilderness in which God continually refines us, prepares us and then invites us to leave the wilderness. So what will it take to leave the wilderness, let’s read Joshua 1 as we begin to find the answers to that question.
I. In Order to Leave the Wilderness, Stop Following and Start Leading.
Joshua had a career as Moses assistant, I mean he spent 40 years doing that, I’d call that a career. For forty years he’d taken his cues from Moses, he’d been loyal when all others weren’t, he’d learned obedience and patience and faith from Moses. He’d heard Moses speak about God, about who God is and what God sought in Moses life. My point is that Joshua was a good follower, he had not only learned from Moses but he had been prepared by Moses. In today’s language we would say that Joshua had a mentor in Moses, someone who taught, encouraged, challenged and probably many times corrected Joshua. The idea of making disciples has the process of mentoring right at its core. The Great Commission that Jesus gave the church was that as they went, doing whatever they would do, they were to make disciples. Why is that so important? It’s not just that they would be stronger in their faith and in their ability to grow as Christians, it’s also that one day they would move from following and begin leading, they would be prepared to one day disciple others even as they had been. Leaving the wilderness is often a process that begins by connecting to those people God has put around you, people whom you have a respect for or an attraction to, people you know you can learn from. In many cases that’s exactly whom you have as your parents, they mentor you. But there will be others whom God will use to build you in your faith in Christ. Seek them out, approach them, know that they are put there for your preparation that one day you would disciple another. This was a forty year process, making disciples will take time and then God will move them to lead.
II. In Order to Leave the Wilderness There Will Be Barriers to Cross.
So God speaks to Joshua and says, “Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them - the children of Israel.” There were physical barriers – the Jordan in full flood.
There were relational barriers – you and all this people, would they follow him like they had Moses, would they respect him?
There were territorial barriers – to the land which I am giving to you, which others presently occupied.
It’s a certainty that in order to leave the wilderness there will be barriers to cross, in fact to some degree it’s those barriers that have kept people in the wilderness in the first place. The thing about barriers is that they create fear because of what is unseen and fear is what serves as a fence or barrier. I remember a time when we were in the San Diego zoo and the way it was built was without fences. They had built it so that an antelope couldn’t see where it’s feet would land, so it never jumped. They built it with water barriers for those that wouldn’t cross water. The only thing restraining the animals was the unseen and unknown. So whether the barriers in your life are physical… not enough money, not enough skill; or relational… will they respect me, will they forgive me, can I lead them; or territorial… the familiar country of temptations, guilt or not good enough, a territory that belongs to the enemy of your souls even Satan, the real component of all those barriers is the unseen and unknown which uses fear to hold you back. Perhaps that was why God said to Joshua, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you.” What would enable Joshua to move past the fear of the unseen and unknown was a willingness to trust what he had already seen God do in Moses life and then to trust that God would be there to guide where his foot would land. If you will leave the wilderness it will mean that there are barriers you will have to cross but faith will overcome fear, God will not leave you or forsake you.
III. In Order to Leave the Wilderness Resolve Yourself To God.
Three times, in verses 6, 7 and 9 God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous. Don’t forget Joshua was a warrior, proven in battle, why was it so necessary to repeat this three times? Possibly it was because when Joshua risked his own life that was one thing, but now he is being entrusted with the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Possibly it was because Joshua despite being a leader still felt the fear of failure. But perhaps the greater reasons are that Joshua needed to resolve himself to following God’s person and plan despite any short comings he saw in himself, despite any opinions he might entertain along the way and despite the great times of confusion he might encounter. It was like God was putting a compass in Joshua’s hand and asking him, ‘Do see where north is?’ As Joshua would nod his head, then God would say, ‘Then never quit following this compass and the north it points you to.’ Joshua needed a resolve in order to accomplish the next step of the conquering and division of the land. Joshua needed a resolve to constantly read, know and meditate on the word of the Scriptures as they then had it. So despite the fact that God spoke directly to Joshua, the written word was crucial for setting direction out of the wilderness and Joshua needed to resolve within himself to rely on that word. The command to be strong and of good courage was essentially a command to trust God and to let God be his strength, to allow God to be the source of his confidence. In some respects to resolve yourself to God will look a lot like repentance, it will shift your resolve from yourself and your plans and turn from it in order to place your resolve in God’s plan and in God’s revealed Person, Jesus Christ. It will be coming to a place of agreement with God that this shift of resolve needs to happen if we are ever to move forward.
It was with this strength of God and good courage in God that Joshua tells the people that in three days they will break camp, in three days they are going to leave the wilderness, crossing impossible barriers, resolved to be used of an Almighty God. In three days they will enter into the rest that God has planned for them, it is not the rest that we call heaven, it is the rest that is promised to a people who will leave the wilderness and commit themselves continually into the ability of God to care for them. The chapter closes with the people now saying to Joshua the very thing that God had said three times, “Only be strong and of good courage.” In Christ we are invited to that same thing, Jesus our Joshua is our hope for His courage and strength are what we follow and what enables us to leave the wilderness.