Be Strong and Courageous
August 15, 2021 Rev. Drew Stockstill
After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' assistant, saying, My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the Israelites. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory. No one shall be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous; for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, Pass through the camp, and command the people: 'Prepare your provisions; for in three days you are to cross over the Jordan, to go in to take possession of the land that the Lord your God gives you to possess.'
I’m curious, how many of you are fans of the Olympics? We are a family of Olympic fans. Ellen Stockstill is a super fan. She even buys everyone t-shirts. It’s a whole thing. The Olympics I remember most clearly are the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. I was 10 years old and those Olympic games were memorable for many reasons. We lived in GA, for one. We didn’t get to see any events but we visited Centennial Park while the games were going on. There was the Centennial Park bombing, the debut of beach volleyball, Michael Johnson won gold in the 200m and 400m and set the world record for the 200m. Kerri Strug did that vault with a broken ankle and won gold. Andre Agassi dominated the tennis courts. But the image that I will never forget from those Olympics is from the opening ceremony— the Olympic torch relay. I had been following its course all summer as the torch passed from one person to another. It came through my home town and then I was watched on TV that night the torched enter the stadium. Evander Holyfield passed the torch to swimmer Janet Evans who jogged it around the track and up this long ramp to pass it off to the final torchbearer whose identity was still secret. Janet turned to face the crowd and held the torch high, and then behind her appeared slowly, out of the shadows, Muhammad Ali.
He held an unlit torch in one hand and his other hand shook with the tremors of Parkinson’s disease. He received the flame and held it high. Then he lit the huge torch that signified the start of the games, and the passing of the torch to a new generation of athletes from around the world. Shannon Miller was a US gymnast watching that day. She said to see Ali light that torch, there wasn’t a dry eye because of what he represented to the Olympic movement, to athletics. She said, “to be able to witness that moment was as magical as competing because it is those that go before us, those that create that path that allow us to do what we do.”
We’ve all inherited some of the greatness of those who have gone before us. We are part of a legacy: our families, our church, our city, our nation, even our faith, are what they are in some part because of the influence of those who have gone before us.
God told Moses, “When the Lord your God brings you into the land that we swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you – with great and good cities that you did not build, 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, then take care to remember the Lord.” When the torch is passed to us, we remember on whose shoulders we stand, and we derive from that confidence and courage to carry the light forward.
Where have you felt that responsibility in your life? When has the torch been passed to you and what did that torch represent? What helped you take up that light and carrying it on?
Joshua was called to take up the torch from Moses, to carry on his mantel of leadership of the people of Israel. For the next few weeks we are going to spend some time getting to know Joshua and how he responded to God’s call to leadership in a crucial time in Israel’s history. Joshua is a model of faith and leadership for all of us in our own time. We have inherited his faith, and we stand on his shoulders as we carry on the torch, the light of God’s mission as God’s people.
Joshua was called by God to lead the Israelites after Moses died. For forty years Moses led the people out of slavery and through the Wilderness. But Moses did not actually lead the people into the Promised Land. He died having only seen it from on top of a mountain. It was Joshua who would actually lead the people from the Wilderness into that land promised to their ancestors. Joshua was chosen by God to take the torch of leadership from Moses. That’s a pretty tough act to follow.
What do we know about Joshua, just off the top of your head?
He was the guy who followed Moses.
And what do we know about Moses?
God saved him as a baby.
He was raised in Pharaoh’s court.
God spoke to him out of a burning bush.
He led people out of slavery.
He parted the Red Sea.
He received the Ten Commandments
He led the Israelites for 40 years in the wilderness.
He was Israel’s greatest prophet.
So we remember a lot more about Moses than we do Joshua. I can’t tell you anyone who lit an Olympic torch after Mohammed Ali, but I’m sure there we some truly great athletes who carried that light forward.
Joshua deserves more credit than he gets. He has a book with his name on it. Moses doesn’t have that. Joshua is an important figure in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. He was Moses’ right-hand man. Joshua was with Moses on Mount Sinai when he received the Ten Commandments. He also parted a body of water – the Jordan River. He commanded an army; won battles. He actually led the Israelites into the promised land – Moses just got them to the edge. So how did Joshua find the strength to take the torch from Moses, the greatest prophet in the history of Israel? And where do we get what we need to do what God has called us to do?
Moses and Joshua Bearing the Law; illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible
For Joshua is starts with his trust in God’s promises and particularly how he learned to trust God through his time watching Moses. When God first called to Moses out of the burning bush, and commanded him to lead the people out of slavery in Egypt, do you know what Moses said to God? Well, he didn’t spring into action. Moses went back and forth with God trying to get out of it, before finally telling God, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” The greatest, most famous prophet in the Bible told God to leave him alone and pick someone else.
When God came to Joshua and told him Moses was dead, God said , “Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them.” Do you know what Joshua said to God? NOTHING. He called his officers and told them, “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’” He trusted God immediately and did exactly what God commanded. Moses learned over time to trust and obey God, but he didn’t start that way. Joshua learned from Moses, so when it was his time to lead, he didn’t flinch. God told him to get ready and Joshua was ready.
Where did Joshua find the strength to step into the role of Moses? What gave him the confidence to lead through so much uncertainty facing so much conflict?
Joshua trusted God’s promises. God had proven to be faithful through the years of wandering, even when the people were not faithful to God. When God called Joshua to take up the responsibility of leadership, Joshua did so not because he wasn’t afraid, but because no matter what he felt, he trusted God’s word. Over and over again in the Hebrew Bible, God tells Joshua to be strong and courageous. God’s encouragement empowers Joshua to be the kind of leader Israel needed to live into God’s plan for them.
As we face our own unique calls to trust God and lead together in a time of transition, and as you each take up God’s call to follow Jesus in your own life, through your own unique challenges, hear God’s word to Joshua as a word of encouragement to you:
"Beloved, as I was with Moses so I will be with you: I will never leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, being careful to follow the law that Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you God. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. I hereby command you: be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Friends, be strong and courageous, not because there isn’t anything to worry about, but because God will never leave you, and God is always faithful.