“Be Strong” (Deuteronomy 34:1-5; Joshua 1:6-9)

SERMON BY EGAN YIP:  “Be Strong” (Deuteronomy 34:1-5; Joshua 1:6-9)

Sunday, October 22, 2017


What are the some of the biggest life changes that people usually go through? There are plenty of big moments in life. People go through changes all the time, and some of them can be quite drastic. So what would you consider some of the biggest that you have gone through?

As I watch my nieces and nephews grow up, I always find it interesting to see how they react to, or rather… how they experience, one of the biggest changes in life that every person of this country typically has to face. You know, the introduction of school. Everyone starts out, obviously, not going to school. They’re just born somewhere, some place, then for the first four or so years of a little youngin’s life, they don’t have to deal with school. All of you are far beyond that, so it might be hard to remember back to a time when you were little and had no responsibilities at all. Some of these little kids might just be home most of the time with a parent, eating snacks whenever they want, watching tv, or playing on their fancy smart devices. Some of them might be in daycare while their parent(s) are working. Some might even go to pre-school, which is pretty much like a daycare, with a bit more emphasis on learning simple things.

For years life is pretty simple, nothing much to worry about… and then they go through that massive change.

In the beginning, before they go to school, in that early stage of life and development, the world revolved around them. When a toddler or a baby cries from a fall, it’s almost like the world stops. You might notice that some people are going to rush over, looking concerned. Maybe they will make funny faces, or offer a little treat or toy to the crying child. If a child cries for a need to be met, a diaper to be changed, a thirst to be quenched, etc., the parent will do all they can, in their power, to solve the issue. And usually, when these kids are home, they have no other competition. It’s just them, and so the parents can shower them with love, praise and attention.

But then… they go to school. It’s a whole new environment. And it’s full of all these new experiences that can be very intimidating. For example, they now have to deal with other kids on their own, and they are going to find out that some kids are not very nice and others may be quite bossy and controlling.

I may have talked about this before, but I went with my nephews to the zoo a few months ago. I think it was in the summer time, so they were off on vacation. At the end of the day, after we had gone through the park, we stopped by the playground.  And then… a huge group of kids, probably from some summer camp, came rushing into the playground. It was pandemonium. They were screaming and shouting and running. One of my nephews was just sitting on a see-saw alone, among a row of see-saws, as a swarm of these little kids were rushing onto the grounds, and as I blinked, suddenly all the empty spots on all the see-saws were totally filled.

But what really caught my eye was truck nearby. It was a playground truck. I don’t know what the exact term for it would be, but it’s a fake truck for kids to play in. And there were a few kids on it. These two boys in the front were arguing over who would be the driver. The kid who got there first hogged the seat, while the other one wanted a turn but was denied. They spent more time fighting over who was going to drive than having fun. And in my head I was just thinking to myself: some things never change.

So, that must be quite a change for kids to go through, as they transition into school life. Their parents aren’t around to keep things in check anymore, to ensure a safe, comfy, peaceful environment for them. They aren’t going to always get what they want, and if they want something, they’ll have to fight for it. And the schedule of school has to be hard for kids to get used to, as well. Before, they could wake up whenever they wanted to. But once school hits, they have to wake up for school, and it usually starts earlier than one would like.

Anyway, the point is, we’ve all been through some serious changes. And I just wanted you to start thinking about that. Draw up some old memories, or maybe even recent ones of the big changes that you have faced in your life. How did it feel? What was it like? Has it changed you in any way, like on your outlook of life or in your personality?

We’re going to be looking at the Bible soon. And in the story that we’ve been following, we’re about to witness some big changes.

Just to review the story so far…

Last week in particular we had reached a rough part of the story for the Israelites. They were almost at the Promised Land, that wonderful place that we had been talking about for so long. It was within reach. But it all went wrong. They disobeyed God and were punished heavily for it. They were commanded to go traveling for 40 years in the wilderness, until every adult died, except for Joshua and Caleb because they were faithful. As it turns out, those 40 years weren’t that bad, and it was ultimately a very good thing for the Israelites. They learned discipline. They learned how to have faith and trust in God.

It was like… a training arc, if you’ve ever heard of that reference. That reference might be lost on most of you. But the basic idea is that, in a certain story, the main character fails at something important or he knows there’s an incredibly difficult obstacle in the future, and in his current state, he’s sure he can’t overcome that obstacle. So what does he do? He goes off to train intensely and fiercely, sometimes for years, until he’s finally ready. And that’s what this is like. God put these Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years, and all the while, they’re learning incredibly important life lessons straight from the heart of God. He’s teaching them how to function as a nation, how to survive as a group, how to fight and defend themselves in battle, and how to put deep trust in God for all their needs, be it spiritual or physical.

And so the 40 years are over. It’s show time. It’s time to put their faith to the test once again and claim the Promised Land as their own. But after 40 years, a huge change is about to take place, and we’re going to read about that now. Deuteronomy 34:1-6.

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said.

Moses dies. The original plan was for Moses to lead the Israelites straight into the promised land. But Moses also did something irrational, and disobeyed God in the heat of the moment. As a consequence for that disobedience, God would not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land. God let him see it with his own eyes. But entering it was out of the question. From the escape out of Egypt in the Exodus all the way to this point in time, nearly 40 years later, Moses was the one who led them. They had only known Moses as their leader and they had seen how close he was to God. As all things go, however, it was time for change because nothing lasts forever. In Moses’s place, God chose Joshua to lead the Israelites. Let’s read God’s words to Joshua as this change takes place: Joshua 1:6-9.

Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be 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. 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. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

What’s the most notable thing in this passage? Does anything catch your attention? I would hope that you recognized these words: Be strong and courageous… because God told him to do that 3 times. God emphasized it. God told him the words he needed to hear. Be strong and courageous.

The change in leadership was a huge change for Israel. This was the first time they would ever have a new leader. But it was an even bigger deal for Joshua himself. In the past 40 years, he was Moses’ aide, his assistant, his right-hand man. In the past 40 years, he followed in the footsteps of Moses. However, Moses was with him all along. If there was any trouble, any situation that arose that he didn’t know how to handle… he could always turn to Moses, and Moses knew how to turn to God. Now Moses is dead. Moses is gone. He could no longer consult him. He could no longer ask for advice or for wisdom from Moses.

He had been given a new role, a new position, and it would have certainly been quite daunting. Not only was he supposed to lead the Israelites as a nation, but now he carried the new mission: enter into the Promised Land. It wasn’t like he had just taken the duties of Moses. He had also been given new duties that even Moses didn’t have to carry out. The Israelites were going to war. They were going to fight all the nations that occupied the land. And it was up to Joshua to take charge of this mission.

Can you imagine what Joshua must have been feeling like? For those of you still in school, imagine spending a whole year in class studying and learning the curriculum of the course, and you’ve aced every test, you worked your butt off to know the material well, you know your stuff—and then at the end of the year, you get your final. Surprise, surprise—there’s stuff in that final that you did not study for. There’s stuff that you couldn’t study for. You’re staring at a test, where you have to learn on the fly, where you have to experiment, or maybe apply formulas and knowledge in ways that you had not prepared for.

Joshua had followed Moses up until this point and learned so much from him, and now… he’s given a completely new task that not even Moses went through.

But… he could handle it. He could do it. God knew he could do it. God prepared for this moment. And God would be with him… through the whole thing.

It wasn’t that Joshua wasn’t ready. Joshua was ready. But he may not have been all that sure he was ready. He may have had some doubts. He may have had some fears, some apprehensions.

So God did not need to teach him anything new. But he wanted Joshua to understand that the most important thing at that time was for him to go for it. Be strong and courageous. Be strong and courageous. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you.

Some people say you need to face your fears if you want to overcome them. Just rush in blindly and grow thicker skin and keep at it. But the Bible teaches otherwise. Don’t face your fears blindly. Don’t puff up yourself and try to hypnotize yourself into thinking that everything is all right. Don’t just tell yourself “Be strong, be strong, be strong.” There’s no such thing as mind over matter. What is the source of your courage? When you’re up against something that feels like your out of control, something you’re afraid of—how are you supposed to drum up courage? You can’t force yourself to be strong and courageous. It comes from faith. It comes from trust. And for us… it comes from God.