St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

Follow the Lord your God in 2013

New Year’s Eve Sermon on Joshua 3:1-6

Text: Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the ark; do not go near it.”
Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”
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.

Over the past couple of years, I have become quite dependent on my Garmin GPS unit in my car. I used to be someone who would make a copy of the map to the place I was going. I would highlight the route. I would have that map in the front seat so that I could consult it, whenever I was in doubt. Now, I just put the address into the unit and away I go. I trust that the unit will tell me exactly the way to get there, even if I have never been there before. There have been times that I have been especially grateful for my Garmin. I remember once I thought that I knew exactly which highway to take. If I had followed my instincts, I would have been hopelessly lost. However, the little voice told me to take the proper exit and I was on my way. I have come to rely on my Garmin to guide me through places I have never been before. This evening, as we stand at the beginning of a New Year, we are encouraged to FOLLOW THE LORD YOUR GOD IN 2013. First of all, we are going to look at 1.Why We Know We Can Trust Him To Lead Us. Then, we shall see 2. Why We Need To Do This. Finally, we are reminded of the fact 3. We Know Whom We Are Following.

The people of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land. They were on the shores of the Jordan River. They camped there for three days, waiting for the Lord’s go ahead. No doubt, this gave the people plenty of time to contemplate where they had been and what was lying in front of them. Spies had returned with the news: “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” Their leaders went through the camp with these instructions, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the ark; do not go near it.” When the people saw the ark of the covenant being carried by the priests, they were to follow it as they crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land.

How did the people of Israel know that they could follow the ark of the covenant and things would work out for them? The answer is that they and their forefathers had been following the ark for the past forty years. The ark was constructed according to the Lord’s directions on Mount Sinai. It symbolized the Lord’s presence among the people. They had followed the ark as the Lord led them through the Sinai peninsula. They had followed the Lord, after the generation before them had balked at the idea of going into the Promised Land, thinking that the task of conquering the land was too much. As that generation died off, according to the Lord’s words, their children followed the Lord as he led them during those forty years of wandering. The Lord had led them to places where they could find water. The Lord was with his people to protect them and fight for them when they were attacked by various nations as they traveled. The Lord had been there for them over the past forty years. It only made sense to follow him into the next stage.

The same can be said of us. Throughout the past year, the Lord has been with us to guide us. He has provided for us, even when things did not always turn out exactly the way that we hoped that they would. The Lord has kept us safe. Even if we may have had accidents in the past year, the Lord kept us safe. Who knows how many things that the Lord protected us from that we were not even aware of. In addition, the Lord has been with us to strengthen us in our faith. The Lord has not been skimpy on his Word. We have had the privilege of hearing the Lord speak to us time and again in our worship services, our Bible classes, and in our personal Bible reading. The Lord has brought little ones to faith through the washing of Baptism. The Lord has strengthened our faith through Holy Communion. The Lord has proven himself to be faithful to us throughout this year, as he has done in the years prior. Since he has taken care of us in the past, we know that we can trust in him to lead us in the future.

The leaders gave the people the reason that they needed to follow the ark of the covenant. They said, “Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.” Only the two spies that Joshua went out had even been in the land, and they had only been to Jericho, which was just across the Jordan. The people had no idea about where to go. They did not know where there would be food and water. They did not know where the cities were. They did not know how they would defeat the people that lived there. If they were going to have any success in the land that lay in front of them, they were going to have to follow the ark of the covenant. The Lord would grant them success in the land.

What a fitting picture as we stand at the beginning of a new year. None of us knows, for sure, what will happen in it. We have our plans. We have our goals. Yet, none of us can say with any certainty that they will turn out just as we planned. At face value, that is kind of a scary thought. Few people like to venture out into the unknown. How wonderful it is that we have our God leading the way! We do not need to fear the future, because God is already in the future. He has planned out every step of our way. We read in Jeremiah 29:11, “‘I know the plans I have for you,’” declares the Lord, “‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” He knows the plans he has for us. In other words, he has a plan for each and every one of us. He knows the successes and failures we will have this year. He knows the ups and the downs and the unexpected twists that lie in front of us. Yet, as he said in Jeremiah, these plans are not there to harm us. God is not out to get us. Everything, both good and bad, is there to prosper us. Because we have God’s assurance that everything, both pleasant and unpleasant, is there for our benefit, we have hope in the upcoming year. We need the Lord to lead us. Otherwise, we will be just wandering around, hopelessly lost. Our lives will have no purpose. Although we can correctly say that we have never been this way before, we still march forward confidently, because the Lord is already in the future and will lead us in the way that is best for us.

There is one other detail of this following that I would like to call to your attention. When the people followed the ark of the covenant, they were told, “Keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the ark; do not go near it.” There was a reason that they were to keep this distance from the ark. The Lord was teaching his people that their sins had separated themselves from him. No one, except the Levites, was allowed to carry the ark. When the tabernacle was set up, the ark resided behind a thick curtain. No one was allowed back into the Most Holy Place, except the high priest and then only once a year. When the people thought of the Lord, they thought of a powerful, holy God. They were not to approach God.

The same could be said of us. None of us has the right to approach God and ask for his help and guidance. As we read in Isaiah 59:2, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” Our sins separate us from God. Every time that we thought we had a better plan than God for our lives and we were angry with God for not doing it our way is a sin. Every time that we trusted in ourselves or someone else or something else more than we trusted in God, we sinned. When we look back over the year swiftly drawing to its close and make an honest assessment of our lives, we see how many times we have dared to sin against our God. Not only do we not have the right to approach God on our own, we should rightly be fleeing in terror from him.

Yet, it is here that the love of God shines forth so brightly. Where we could not approach God, he approached us. This is what we celebrated just a week ago. Jesus, the Son of God, approached mankind by coming into the world as a baby. He came to be our Savior by perfectly obeying his Father’s will. He accepted his Father’s will for his life. He did not complain about how things were turning out. Even though he was the almighty Son of God, he trusted in his Father for everything that he needed. He did these things so that he might be our Substitute. His Father’s will also led Jesus to the cross. There, to pay the price to set us free from our sins, Jesus laid down his life. He gave up his life, so that we might have life everlasting. Jesus rose from the grave to show us that he had won the victory. As a result of Jesus’ work, nothing, not even death itself, can separate us from the love of God. Yes, he is still a holy God. However, we do not need to fear him, for Jesus has paid for all of our sins. Because we have been brought to faith, we not only look at him as our almighty God, but also as our loving Father, who guides us each step of the way. We are not afraid to follow him, because we know that he loves us. Even though the path ahead of us is an unknown, we confidently follow our God.

The problem with GPS’s is that they are not always accurate. There are times that they do not realize that roads have been built, that were not there before. They try to tell you to go to places that you cannot get to. Unless they are constantly updated, they quickly become inaccurate. Sometimes, you may get even more lost, if you follow their directions. How thankful we are that we have our God to lead us into the future. He has always been with us. He has never guided us where we were not to go. He is never in need of an update. He is eternal. He knows all things. He will never be surprised by the path that lies in front of us. We also know that he is not just an impersonal machine, barking out orders. He is our loving Father, who leads us in the ways that are the best for us. Since this is the case, we confidently follow the Lord in the year that lies in front of us. Amen.