Good morning church! Just wanted to welcome everyone who has joined us this morning – both in the hall and also online on Zoom and Facebook Live. We are so glad that you’ve joined us & we pray that you would encounter and meet with the Lord Jesus in a very personal way through the service. If you’ve been tracking with us over the last few months at the Gathering, we’ve been studying through the book of Joshua in a series titled “Our Promise Keeping God”. Week after week we’ve been seeing the same theme being repeated again and again – that our God is One who always keeps His promises. He never fails to deliver on any of the promises that He makes to His people. And so today we arrive at Joshua chapter 22 where they have finally possessed the Promised Land, land allotments have been completed & are now experiencing a season of rest. What is God calling them to do now?
At that time Joshua summoned the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, 2 and said to them, “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you and have obeyed my voice in all that I have commanded you. 3 You have not forsaken your brothers these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God. 4 And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brothers, as he promised them. Therefore turn and go to your tents in the land where your possession lies, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. 5 Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (v1-5)
Medically it’s recommended to go in for a health check-up once every 2 years after you turn 30. The frequency of taking the health check-up should increase to once a year after you turn 60. During the health check, they perform a whole range of tests checking your blood sugar, cholesterol and other levels to assess your physical condition and suggest lifestyle changes wherever they may apply. Similarly, if you’ve been a believer for some time – it could be a few months or many years, wouldn’t it be important to assess your spiritual condition and understand where you’re at? If it’s important, then what’s the spiritual health check going to look like? What are the basic health markers? And I think today’s passage gives us at least 3 health markers and checks which are basic but so important to a believer in their relationship with the Lord:
- Obedience – Loving Obedience
5 Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (v5)
To give a small background, at this point the conquest of the Promised Land was completed & the entire nation of Israel was experiencing rest and peace from war after 7 long years. The eastern tribes (Reuben, Gad and half tribe of Manasseh) had already won their inheritance on the eastern side of the Jordan (during Moses’ time) and were preparing themselves to return back home. And Joshua summons them and gives them a parting speech before they head back. And think about all the things he could have told them – and he instead tells them to be “very careful to observe the commandment of the Lord”. In fact, the word “observe” in the original Hebrew language actually means “guard”. They were called to very carefully guard the commandments as something precious handed down to them. Imagine something extremely precious and valuable is given to you. Think about all the things that you would do to ensure that it was handled with care & protected from damage. And that’s the way in which we are called to “very carefully” observe and guard the commandments of the Lord.
But for many people the instruction stops there – they’ll say “I get it. I have to carefully obey God’s law. I have to keep the rules. I have to do things by the book”. But it’s interesting that the verse doesn’t stop at rule-keeping and rule maintenance. In fact, it takes it one step further by talking about our motivations before obedience. It tells us that “we need to love the Lord our God”, “We need to cling to Him”, and “We need to serve Him with all our heart and our soul”.
Think about what all these things mean in our walk with God. It means that God doesn’t want us to obey out of a sense of obligation or guilt or fear of consequences. God wants us to obey Him out of a deep sense of love and trust for Him. In a sense, I wonder if through this verse God is communicating that if we obey God out of joylessness or a lack of love or a lack of trust, that in no way brings honour to God. Think about 2 scenarios – what if I would go up to my wife and tell her that I’ll listen to her and do things to serve her because that’s what a good Christian is supposed to do. And in another scenario where I listen to and serve my wife because I truly love her. Which of the two do you think brings more honour to my wife? The second one right? And so it is with God. Jesus said in John 14:15 – “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. Therefore, it’s not just obedience which matters, but love which motivates obedience which matters.
And so this becomes a very important health check for us as believers? Are we just obeying God out of a sense of dry, joyless obligation or is it coming out of love and trust for God? Take a look at all the different things that we do throughout the day or week. It could be your daily time of prayer, or time with your church community in GC, DNA group or Sunday service. What do you think motivates you? Is it an obligation or guilt or fear of consequences that motivate you? Or is actually love and trust for God? If we are honest, I think all of us in some way or the other do end up viewing obedience as an obligation. And that’s why we need to recognize our need to repent not just for the wrong things that we do, but also for the right things that we do out of the wrong motivations.
But it’s not just obedience which is a health check but also
- Sensitivity – Sensitive to the seriousness of sin
21 Then the people of Reuben, the people of Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel, 22 “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows, and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith against the Lord, do not spare us today 23 for building an altar to turn away from following the Lord. Or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or peace offerings on it, may the Lord himself take vengeance. (v21-23)
After the parting words from Joshua, the people from the eastern tribes head back home. But right before they cross the Jordan to go on the other side, they build a huge altar which was a copy of the altar in the tabernacle. Now the western tribes get really concerned by this & immediately sent out a delegation involving the priest and 10 chiefs of the remaining tribes to confront & make war with the eastern tribes.
The assumption was that this altar was being set up to offer sacrifices to one of the idols belonging to the Canaanite nations around them. Now the Canaanite nations would often set up altars in random places – mountains, hills, under the tree to their pagan gods. And so Yahweh – the God of the Israelites explicitly commanded them to only offer sacrifices in one single place – the altar near the tabernacle. That was also a distinct way in which they were to testify to the rest of the world that Yahweh was unique and hence required sacrifices to be offered in that specific place.
And so when the priest and chiefs of the remaining tribes meet with the eastern tribes, they keep citing examples in the past when the Israelites rebelled against God and brought punishment on the whole congregation of Israel. (24,000 people died at Peor / Achan and his entire family were killed – more than that the anger of the Lord remained on Israel until restitution was made). It was the awareness and sensitivity to the seriousness of sin which made them respond with such urgency and extreme action. In v21-23, we see that the eastern tribes also were in agreement with the seriousness of sin. In fact, they go on to say that if they were found to be in reality breaching & violating the faith, then they should not be spared but destroyed by the Lord Himself. So both the eastern and western tribes had this in common – they were both on the same page when it came to being sensitive to the seriousness of sin.
And this is definitely one of the health markers for a believer. A true believer in Christ cannot have a “chalta hai” attitude toward sin because the Holy Spirit has opened his / her heart to realize that we are in a relationship with God who is Holy:
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness (persistent, unrepentant sin), we lie and do not practice the truth. (1 John 1:5-6)
Although there are times when we harbour unconfessed sin in our hearts and are desensitized to the seriousness of sin, let’s be sure that if the Holy Spirit resides in you then at some point or the other, you will be convicted of the fact that God is Holy & in turn your need to repent of that unconfessed sin. A true believer won’t be stuck on an “I don’t care how my sin grieves God and others” for too long because of the Holy Spirit. And that’s why sensitivity to the seriousness of sin is a very essential health marker for a believer.
If I were to push further (you can answer this question in your mind), what are some areas in our lives where we see a “chalta hai” attitude to sin right now? Are there places where we don’t see the fear of the Lord in our hearts? Again this is one of the place which I believe all of us can identify if we are being honest. There is hope though in 1 John 1:9, tells us that 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
But not only are health checks in terms of obedience and sensitivity but also in our
- Intimacy – Longing to be with God
26 Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, 27 but to be a witness between us and you, and between our generations after us, that we do perform the service of the Lord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and peace offerings, so your children will not say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord.”’ 28 And we thought, ‘If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we should say, “Behold, the copy of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.”’ (v26-28)
These verses come to the crux of why the eastern tribes built a replica of the altar on the coast of the Jordan. It was not to forsake the Lord by worshipping another pagan god, it was not to kindle the anger of the Lord, but it was in fact because they wanted to continue accessing and experiencing intimacy with Yahweh! What they put out was a very reasonable answer – they said “it might be okay for now because our generation helped you all to conquer the land and get the inheritance but in generations to come, it shouldn’t be a case where your descendants deny us an opportunity to come and worship the Lord and offer sacrifices stating that the Jordan River is a barrier and we don’t have any portion of the Lord”. And so they build this altar as a “Witness” to help both the western and eastern tribes remember that Yahweh is their God and both can access God (imperfectly though) through the altar setup at Shiloh which was the place designated for the tabernacle. And when the western tribes realized this was the purpose and reason for the altar, it seemed good and their eyes and they in fact blessed God in response to this!
And this whole thing is taken to another level for us as believers. Think about it – OT Israelites had to travel to one single place (imperfect place) to offer sacrifices (imperfect sacrifices). But for us as NT believers, Jesus has offered Himself (perfect sacrifice once and for all on the cross) so that we don’t have an imperfect intimacy with God but a perfect one which God creates by residing within us through the Holy Spirit. How amazing it is that we have direct access into God’s heart, mind and purposes through the wonderful finished work of Jesus? And this is permanent – let’s remember and not place specific. So when we meet on Sundays or for GC – it’s not that the hall or the house is the only place where we can experience intimacy with God. No, intimacy can be experienced at all times because God lives in us. The Bible calls us the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). Why do we gather then? To help each other grow in our intimacy with the Lord as we lovingly serve each other.
I want us to just take a minute to think about the wonderful privilege that we have as believers compared to the OT Israelites or anyone else today who goes from church to church, temple to temple, religious place to religious place trying to grasp a glimpse of the presence of God. And here we have the privilege of experiencing intimacy 24/7 with the One True God through our Lord Jesus. Let these thoughts just sink in for us. And then I want us to honestly answer – how do we approach God daily? Is it using a performance mindset – God, these are all the good things that I’ve done, so I now deserve to be around You. Is that how it is? Or maybe sometimes it’s the reverse – we think about all the terrible things we do, we are so aware of our sin, and so we automatically disqualify ourselves from approaching God because we don’t have the good works to show. Both are not the gospel. You know what? Jesus Christ – God’s own Son as the perfect High Priest went into the presence of God and brings us near to God on the basis of His perfect shed blood. And that’s why we have a relationship with God. And that’s why we have intimacy with Him.