Text: Joshua 8
Proposition: As we come to know God more He calls us to agree with Him in all areas of our lives and to glorify Him above all.
Introduction: I’d like you to imagine for a minute a great chalk board. On one corner is written the equation, 1+1= blue. In another corner appears the equation, 1+1=3, down at the bottom appears 1+1= k, then 1+1= loud, and faster and faster other equations like 1=1= dark, 1+1= touch, 1+1= *, 1+1=%, 1+1=? Then a great hand appears and with a piece of chalk writes in the very center of the board, 1+1=2.
Have you ever wondered why God was so passionate about the physical land of Israel, and still is even today? In Deuteronomy 11:21 God spoke about the people of Israel being obedient to Him in order to stay upon the land, listen to the intensity that God feels for this land… “…that your days and the days of your sons may be multiplied on the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens remain above the earth.” Why is God so passionate about the land of Israel, the place where the people of Israel are to be? Is it possible that it is here, on the center of the chalkboard, that God has written for all to see, the truth about who He is and who we all are? To Him it is a foundational, even elementary concept upon which all other truth is built, a 1+1 starting point. The land of Israel was the chalk board where God has written the clearest truth of Who He is and it is where He intends to yet write again the truth of Who Christ Jesus is. It is a truth that is to be read out loud to all and it is a truth that all are to respond out loud to. Turn with me to the book of Joshua, chapter 8, as we seek to understand the importance of conquering Ai.
I. Grace – A Gift of Memorial and Future Proportion.
Every one of us has had times of defeat in our lives, times when taking the next step was almost impossible, perhaps for fear of something, perhaps for feelings of inability. Joshua, the great courageous warrior was in such a place. This chapter begins with a voice of encouragement to a dismayed leader and what God says to Joshua is really what He says to each of us. God’s grace is always both a memorial statement and a future proclamation. “Look at what has already happened in your life, I was there with you. In fact you would not be here now if My grace had not been with you then.” The words of God’s grace call you to see what He has already done, “See, I have given into your hand…”. That’s what grace is, it’s a gift, and that which you’ve already received is directing you to arise and receive what is even greater, from the desert floor of Jericho to the lush top lands of Ai. What’s the greatest thing that God could ever give you? It’s not resource or even health is it, it’s Himself. The gift of God to you is Jesus Christ, very God Himself that by Him you would be healed beyond mortality, cleansed beyond depravity. Like the Wackamole at the carnival, our sin is relentless and we can’t seem to put an end to it ourselves. In Christ’s grace we are able to see sin more clearly and to turn from sin more deliberately and by grace through faith to forgiven of sin absolutely. Grace, it is a gift of memorial and future proportion. That’s the first element, the grace of God, the beginning upon which all else rests. It’s as elementary to God as 1+1.
II. Works – Strategy, Risk and Reward, A Faith Response To Grace.
The city of Ai was located on a plateau that was a highway to the main cities to north and the south. Though not a large fortress (12000 people) it was a key to the unlocking of the land of Israel. Look at this cross section of Israel.
If we zoom in on this we’ll see the strategy that God directed Joshua to use was an ambush. The apparent defeat of Joshua’s troops would draw out the full force of the armies of Ai. Once out of their stronghold the rear guard would sack the city and both forces would then combine to utterly defeat the enemy. But there was risk, the ambush force would have to lie in between Bethel and Ai a whole night, Joshua would have to make himself vulnerable by going into the valley to draw out the king of Ai. Strategy and risk are often the works that come from faith. The strategy of the cross was much like this wasn’t it? Christ entered the valley of death for you and I and Satan viewed this as opportunity to defeat God. It was inconceivable that the Son of God would willingly lay down His life in order to expiate, perfectly pay for, the sin of mankind. From Satan’s viewpoint if you kill the Son then the vineyard is yours for the taking, just like the parable Jesus spoke of in Luke 20:13. God uses strategy, you could even say He uses risk because He does allow free will a role in whether people will believe in Jesus as their Savior. The defeat of Satan and the conquering of death and sin all began from the grace of God as strategy and risk engaged and the reward was reaped.
You can hear the cry of 1Cr 15:55… “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our works… strategy, risk and reward, are faith responses to grace, by them we not only demonstrate obedience we gain victory, the victory of being in Christ and it’s the greatest victory known to man.
III. Renewal – The Passion of God For a Distracted People.
The city of Ai is defeated, all the land of Israel lies before them and what does Joshua do… he marches the nation of Israel about 40 kilometers to the north to the valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim It is here that Joshua builds an altar from raw stones and offers burnt offering and peace offering on it. Why? The first response is that Moses commanded they do it, as recorded in Deut. 11:29-32 and again in Deut. 27:1-8. There on top of Mount Ebal Joshua had sacrifices offered and there he had great stones plastered with lime and the commandments of Moses written on them, and there he had all Israel assemble, six tribes in front of Mount Ebal and six tribes in front of Mount Gerizim and the ark of the covenant in the valley between them. In a great responsive reading the Levitical priests in unison cried out the phrases of Deut. 27 and 28 to the people. On Gerizim they called out the Blessings of Obedience and on Ebal they recited the Curses of Rebellion. It was a time to reaffirm before God their commitment to Him and to say that they knew both the reward and the consequence. Let’s ask the obvious question here, if Israel had already pledged their faith and obedience to God why was this renewal so necessary? Why would Joshua halt the course of the whole nation to carry this out? Let me suggest that the answer begins with the phrase, “Because it was God’s passion…
1. Because it was God’s passion that the world would know Who He is, God chose the land of Israel and this people to be the chalk He would write with, for all to see.
2. Because it was God’s passion that man sees how sin separates him from God, He used sacrifice to point to the severity of that separation.
3. Because it was God’s passion that man be holy, God ordained renewal to defeat distraction.
4. Because it was God’s passion that all renewal of heart be ultimately rooted in the work of Christ Jesus, He covenanted eternal promises.
5. Because it was God’s passion to glorify His name, He has taken infinite care that the truth of Who He is clearly revealed by the life blood of Jesus Christ and our communion to Him in that blood.
In the curses and blessings of Ebal and Gerizim God called Israel to a constant renewal knowing they are a distracted people. His motivation for doing so is that He wants us to know Him, to know His patience but also to know His holy wrath against sin. To know the bounds that His love will go for us, He will even put His own hand into the fire to pull us out. To God it’s a 1+1 thing, Jesus and you forever with the Father.