Moving onward and upward
Meaning: Toward a better condition or higher level.
After wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, the people of Israel came finally to the plains of Moab on the east side of the Jordan River opposite Jericho. As we come to the Book of Joshua, a new generation stands on the banks of the Jordan wondering if they have the faith to crossover to the promise. The mantle of leadership passed to Joshua, son of Nun, leader of Israel’s military forces and Moses’ personal assistant. The grief of Moses’s death passes, and the excitement starts to build: the Lord is about to fulfill his centuries-old promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a homeland in which to serve God without fear.
This is a decisive moment in the history of Israel. Previously, they missed the promise after coming close. But they’re on the verge of victory with only the Jordan River standing between them and the land “flowing with milk and honey.”
They’re also frightened about the future. Can you relate? Maybe you had a tough past year, you know you didn’t make the progress you wanted to. Maybe you’ve just been wandering in the wilderness, experiencing more failure than faithfulness. On the other side, you know there are opportunities. Loved ones; it’s time to move onward and upward.
Some of you here are with mixed feelings. For some of you 2017 had been great, but some of you went through some challenging times. Life could have be tough in 2017 but God is promising a onward and upward progress in 2018. God is telling, “My people are going to move onward and upward.”
Here in the book of Joshua, we find that before God gave them victory over Jordan and other cities beyond Jordan, they had to do some changes in their commitment to God. This is exactly what God is speaking to us.
You need fresh courage in the Lord to move onward and upward. Joshua is about 80-years-old and is called to lead the people across the Jordan and he is no doubt scared and insecure. Moses has always been “the man” and now he is dead. God wants Joshua to know that Moses wasn’t the key, God was. Three different times God speaks these same words to Joshua in Joshua 1 “Be strong and courageous.” When God sees our fears, He wants to fill us with courage. This is similar to the words spoken to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power…
Isaiah 43:1-2 1“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
God commands Joshua to be courageous because those he is leading need him to have courage. Joshua 1:16-18 Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do…..Only be strong and courageous!” Whatever you are worried about right now, God wants you to have courage to confront the issue. Your friends and family need you to have courage. Cultivate courage.
Don’t make obedience optional.
Another foundational principle before moving onward and upward is to take your obedience to God to the next level. Disobedience in a small thing is never a small matter.
Do you remember why Moses was not allowed to cross the Jordan and enter the land of promise? As a result of his angry outburst when he smacked the rock twice instead of speaking to it, he was barred from the promised land. God is just and He wants hearts of obedience from His people. Joshua 1:7-8 7Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
Do you find yourself making excuses for your sins? Determine in this New Year to obey God and his word. Psalm 119:60 I will hasted and do not delay to obey your commands. If you’re disobeying, stop right now and confess it.
Soak up Scripture.
Up until this point God spoke directly to His servants but now that things have been written down, they were called to read and heed His book. Joshua 1:8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
The key to success is to digest Scripture. Our onward and upward progress comes from the word of God. It must be in our minds, in our hearts and in our mouths. The way God’s Word gets inside us is through meditation.
Psalm 119:97 Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.
Psalm 1:1-2 1Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.
Joshua 3:5 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” Sanctification must come before service. Israelites were directed to get their hearts ready and clean.
The command, “Consecrate,” meant they were to observe special dietary restrictions, to abstain from drinking wine, to put off any celebrations. Such a command had been given before at the foot of Mt. Sinai in preparation for the giving of the Law.
The Bible asks us to be holy. 1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. It is clear that our holiness is not earned. It is the work of God in us, yet are always called to make the choice to be God’s own, to live in awareness of His Presence, and to avoid unworthy actions that would diminish His reputation or offend Him.
From our text, I am prepared to assert that in times of transition we need to become even more conscious of God’s Presence. Even holy people can renew their consecration.
One way is the discipline of fasting! Fasting is not to force God to act. Fasting is a time to focus, to listen intently. Another way to consecrate ourselves is to create space in our lives for extended times of worship/prayer. Transition times should be marked by pauses in daily routines when we retreat to meditation, to quiet times of listening from God. Another way to consecrate is to give importance to church and fellowship with fellow believers.
God moves among holy people. Romans 12:1-2 1Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. The acts of renewing our commitment, of making a new consecration, prepares us to follow Him through the transitions into new places. Consecrating is a way of making a new declaration of dependence on our Lord and the power of His Holy Spirit.
Be ready for Transition.
Now, courage in the Lord, obeying God, meditating the scripture, and holiness will automatically bring us to God’s plan and direction. Once the foundations are done, God starts leading us to moving onward and upward. See what God says. Joshua 1:11 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.
Joshua 3:2-4 2After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.”
Joshua 3:7 This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.
The Lord declared, “Now is the time for occupation of Caanan!” But, first there was a TRANSITION to be made! They were confronted with a definite moment of choice that would change Israel from a wandering nation to a settled nation, from a people living in hope of a promise to a people living in possession of the promise! The ’crossing over’ was much more than moving the camp from one side of a river to the other. It was a time of commitment, a time of ending one era and entering another.
If we would realize the Promises of God in our lives, the very first thing that you and I must be ready to do is to move ahead obediently into transitions – even with all the uncertainty that comes with change. Transitions are often traumatic and always require great faith in order to realize their full promise!
How well do you do change? What are some of those transitions from 2017 to 2018? Some of these transitions are driven by time, others by experience. Teen to Career. Youth to Marriage; lots of questions, lots of uncertainty, lots of optimism. From couple to family. Preparing for old age, accepting our mortality! Some are going from working for someone to start your own business. Some of you are going to transition from being a part-time minister to a full-time minister. An unexpected job offer etc. Be ready for a transition.
The question is – will you cower in fear of what lies on the other side of the crossing or move forward in confidence to enter a new place of promise?
Joshua 3:3-4 3Joshua said: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.”
When you are ready for the transition, the time will come where God will start with moving onward and upward.
Move onward and upward with God.
Joshua focused the attention of the Israelites on the Ark of the Covenant. Do you know what the Ark was? This was the visible symbol of the presence of God among the people of Israel. “Focus on the presence of the Lord,” he told the people, “for he is the One who will lead us into Caanan.”
Joshua 1:5 No one will 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 never leave you nor forsake you.
Exodus 33:14 My presence will be with you.
Hebrews 13:5 Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.
No longer do we look to a visible symbol of God’s presence among us, we have the Spirit in our hearts! God has a plan, a way for you to make it through that difficulty, but will you humbly let Him lead?
Follow God as he moves onward and upward. God knows the way ahead. God will lead you. Move when God moves. Grab the opportunities when God gives you.
He knows the way to reach that nonbelieving husband. Teen- He knows how uncertain you feel about the future and wants to lead you to the right college, the right marriage partner, the right career! He knows the way for you to cope with that sickness. God has a plan for your finances. He has a plan for your marriage. Will you take it to him, focusing in on his presence and ready to be obedient as He leads you today?
Joshua 3:6 Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them.
Joshua 3:14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them.
Listen, just as God brought the people out of the land of bondage by dividing the Red Sea, so he brings them into the land of promise by dividing the Jordan River.
There were no armies chasing Israel this time as in Egypt. They could have built rafts or boats and taken their time, but God had other purposes to accomplish in dividing the Jordan River.
First, to put his confirmation on Joshua as Moses’ authorized successor. He says in Joshua 3:7 This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.
Second, God aimed to strengthen the people’s faith that he is with them and will give them victory in the battles ahead. Joshua 3:10 Hereby you shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites
Third, purpose for bringing his people through the Jordan on dry ground was to melt the hearts of the enemies. Joshua 5:1 When all the kings of the Canaanites that were by the sea heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the people of Israel until they had crossed over, their heart melted, and there was no longer any spirit in them.
God wanted them to cross Jordan to reach their promise. Before we jump in, it’s important to understand some things about the Jordan River. This river starts on Mount Hermon at an elevation of 7,000 feet and ends at the Dead Sea, which is about 1,200 feet below sea level. The distance between the beginning and the end about 200 miles. When the snow melts in the springtime, the water in the Jordan River flows very rapidly, cascading over 25 knots.
Some say that the name “Jordan” in Hebrew means “river that descends rapidly.” Normally it is pretty easy to cross but during flood season it is treacherous. In some sections the distance across would swell to over 3-1/2 KM. It’s important to note that God calls his people to cross the Jordan when it is precisely at its most dangerous and when it seems the most impossible. The Jordan also served as a boundary between what the Israelites presently had and what God had promised them on the other side.
What’s your Jordan River today? What barriers are you facing? Where is God asking you to take a step of faith? What am I afraid of? Symbolically in Scripture, the Jordan represents decision. Remember that your greatest struggle is God’s grand opportunity.
Let’s proclaim our total dependence on the Heavenly Father and our readiness to do what he directs. Let’s take sight of the promises and complete the crossing.
Isaiah 43:2-3 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead.
The day for stepping out arrives. Israel strikes her tents. The Levitical workers took down the Tabernacle. The priests step forward and shoulder the Ark. The sacred shofar sounds, announcing – Move out!
An awesome procession begins. I can hear the shuffle of a million feet, the bleating of sheep and goats. I can almost taste the dust as it rises. Down the center avenue of the camp towards the water’s edge the priests march. The river was overflowing its banks. It was an impossible barrier for a 1/2 million people.
What would happen? Try to imagine what it must have been like to have been the priests at the front of the group carrying the ark. You are walking towards a river with no bridge, no way across. When the priest’s foot touched the water’s edge, Jordan stopped.
For a final word, let’s look at one more text today – read Joshua 4: 6 Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them.
It’s very striking to me that God does not stop the rushing water until the priests’ feet hit the river. Joshua 3:15-16 “Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing…”Jordan is at flood stage. I wonder if the guy in the front turned to his buddies and said, “Hey I went first last time. One of you can take your turn now.” They all knew that gold does not float.
Here’s the deal. If you focus on the flood, you’ll fail to step foot into the fray. As they were ten feet away, the river raged. One foot away and the water sprayed into their faces. One inch away and the mighty current showed no signs of letting up. But as soon as their feet touched the first wave the water receded. It was dry ground and the people cross Jordan, moving onward and upward to the promise.
From then, there was no looking back. The book of Joshua is a story of conquest. Jericho falls in chapter 6. Ai is captured in Joshua 7. Then with Gilgal as the base, Joshua subdues all the southern part of Canaan in Joshua 9–10, and all the northern part in Joshua 11. In chapters 13–21, the land is parceled out to the tribes of Israel.
The climax comes Joshua 21:43 Thus the Lord gave to Israel all the Land which he swore to give to their fathers; and having taken possession of it they settled there. And the Lord gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their fathers; not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one of all the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.
Let’s prepare ourselves for the promise this year. Israel was entering the Promised Land under God’s guidance. You are entering another new year under God’s guidance. We have all the promises as they have. Will you prepare yourself: Cultivate courage, don’t make obedience optional, soak up Scripture, consecrate yourselves, be ready for Transition, and move forward and upward with God.
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