The Last Laugh
By Pastor Jim May
Tonight I want to begin this message by pointing you to a familiar story in the Book of Joshua. This is a story of one of Israel’s defeats at the hand of their enemy.
It wasn’t long after Israel crossed the River Jordan before they ran into their first major obstacle in taking the Promised Land. There, sitting squarely in the path that led to their inheritance was a great city named Jericho.
I find that this is always the case when someone is born again. The resurrection power of the blood of Jesus brings them through the Jordan River, a symbol of dying to the old man and being born again into a new creation in Christ. But no sooner are they free from sin when the Devil sends something, or someone, along to discourage them in the way.
There’s always a huge obstacle to face for the new convert. Jericho, with its huge walls represents everything that Satan can throw in your path to keep you from serving the Lord. There’s walls of doubt, walls of fear, walls of weakness, walls of nay-sayers who will try to find a way to stop you from serving the Lord.
But how did Israel overcome? They won out through obedience to the Word of God that said to keep moving. For 7 days and 7 times on the 7th day they walked in silent reverence to God’s command. They stayed silent before the Lord, listening to the voice of God and to the voice of His servant Joshua, as they walked in obedience.
Sometimes I think that the best thing we can do is just keep silent before God. It’s hard to hear Him speaking to us when we are too busy doing our thing or drowning out his voice with our own. The Children of Israel marched around Jericho until they reached the fullness of God’s plan. Each step had to be taken. There were no short cuts, the city had to be compassed completely. And those obstacles that block the path of the new convert must be overcome as well. They are overcome by spiritual growth and obedience.
Eventually the walls came down and Israel walked up the heap of bricks and over the wall into the city with hardly a struggle.
When the walls fell, the fallen bricks created easy paths for the Israelites to climb into the city and defeat it. What once stood as an obstacle now became a bridge. (There is only one place in the old wall that still stands and most scholars believe that’s where Rahab lived and it was spared by God because of her aid to Israel)
We can either fight our own battles and face the possibility of losing or becoming a casualty, or we can obey God and let him fight the battle and we can win without much effort. How hard do you struggle with your obstacles?
The sad thing is that sometimes when we overcome the devil, we get just a little bit too sure if ourselves and we allow the sin of pride to enter in.
That’s what happened at Jericho. God gave them a great deliverance miracle of victory, but one man became a little greedy and disobeyed God.
Joshua 7:1-5, "But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against the children of Israel. And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Bethaven, on the east side of Bethel, and spake unto them, saying, Go up and view the country. And the men went up and viewed Ai. And they returned to Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labour thither; for they are but few. So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men: and they fled before the men of Ai. And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water."
What is that “accursed thing”? In Achan’s case it was just a little bit of the wealth of Jericho that he hid in his tent. But that a very nice Babylonian robe, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, " cost him dearly. Sadly, 36 of his fellowmen died in the attack of AI, and Achan, along with his entire family, lost out with God and died for their sins. We can’t afford to take chances with our salvation.
Hebrews 2:3, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;"
After Jericho, AI was nothing. It should have been a battle easily won, but it was lost. Why, because Israel was out of the will of God. If God doesn’t fight your battle, you haven’t got a chance. None of us are a match for the devil, not even in the smallest sin. Without God’s power all is lost.
We go from a great victory to a miserable defeat, and on the cycle goes. Some Christians never seem to go past that Jericho to Ai circle in their lives. It’s a constant struggle to come back to Christ and start walking the straight and narrow, then they fall at Ai giving in to their temptations of the flesh, and then back to Jericho they go, only to fall at the feet of Jesus again hoping that the wall of separation will fall down once more.
How many times does God have to knock down Jericho for us? Can’t we learn to obey him the first time and then go on into a deeper walk with him? We don’t have to face defeat at Ai, if we just live in obedience.
Israel licked its wounds and finally went on to fight again, but this time they stopped to ask God’s direction. Joshua and the leaders had quickly learned to let God direct them and not to step out trusting in the arm of the flesh.
This time though, Ai wasn’t as easy a target as before. They had reinforced their army and were ready for battle. But that didn’t upset God. Satan doesn’t have enough power to stop God’s plan, no matter how much he may roar. He’s nothing but a toothless lion, or a dog that is all bark and no bite.
Joshua 8:1-2, "And the LORD said unto Joshua, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed: take all the people of war with thee, and arise, go up to Ai: see, I have given into thy hand the king of Ai, and his people, and his city, and his land: And thou shalt do to Ai and her king as thou didst unto Jericho and her king: only the spoil thereof, and the cattle thereof, shall ye take for a prey unto yourselves: lay thee an ambush for the city behind it."
Notice that this time they can keep all the spoils of war. Why did God allow it now and not at Jericho? If only Achan had waited for one more victory, he could have had all the fine clothes, silver and gold that he could carry, but he overstepped his boundaries just a little too early.
I believe that God didn’t want Israel to get caught up in the business of defeating their enemies just for the spoils. God had a greater purpose than riches, wealth and power. He wanted Israel to worship Him, not what He could give to them.
Once we have learned that worshipping God, and serving him, is more important than the earthly blessings, then God can open the windows of Heaven and pour out his blessings. Now the things of the world won’t so easily draw us from our first purpose. God must be first above all else.
Now the great General of Israel sets the battle plan, just as he still does today for you and I. My general has never lost a battle. He knows the wiles of the devil. Satan is already beaten and just won’t admit it. He’s like a punch drunk boxer in the ring who thinks he can still whip the World Champ just by standing there. He hasn’t got a chance, but he just believes his own lies and keeps on coming back for more, only to be knocked down every time.
God’s battle plan called for an ambush of the army of Ai. A small force in front and a larger force in the rear. As the men of Ai came out to attack the force in front, they would run away as though they were defeated. Ai would continue to chase them, thinking that they had the battle won. Meanwhile, back at the city, the force from the rear would invade the unprotected city and burn it to the ground. God’s plan was perfect and it worked perfectly. Aren’t you glad that God is on our side?
Isaiah 54:17, "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD, and their righteousness is of me, saith the LORD."
So what if Satan roars! So what if congress passes laws to suppress the preaching of the gospel! So what if the ACLU wants to take away our religious freedom! So what if persecution arises in the community! So what if a bunch of misfit judges in the Supreme Court say that we have to get rid of the 10 Commandments! So what if they try to legislate our trust in God off of our money, or take God out of our pledge of allegiance. God is still with us and God is still our commanding General and we have nothing to fear! Those are nothing more than nuisances because God’s trap has already been laid for the powers of hell.
Satan was defeated in the beginning when he was cast out of Heaven. He was defeated again at the crucifixion of Christ. He seems to be on the offence now, attacking the church, attacking Christianity on all fronts, trying to claim victory over the church and God’s people.
But he has forgotten something very important. He’s forgotten about the Rock, our foundation.
Matthew 16:18, "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
He can’t win, but he won’t quit trying.
But God’s ambush is yet to be sprung. While Satan is attacking God’s people, God already has his plan in motion to trap the devil and destroy his power forever.
The men of Ai were all killed. Their king was hung from a tree until Joshua said to cast him down. Every idol worshipping soul in Ai was slain to rid the city of the blight of idolatry and sin. Then the spoils of war became the property of God’s chosen people.
I want to serve notice on the devil, and I want to remind each of us that there is one more ambush to be let loose upon the devil in these last days. Just when he thinks that he has finally destroyed God’s people, that’s when the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords shall come back and destroy Satan and his power with the Word of his mouth.
In that day, we shall have the last laugh on the devil. Satan’s forces will be utterly destroyed. He will be cast down. God’s people will rule with him in perfect peace for a thousand years.
Then the final ambush will come and Satan will be forever sealed in the pits of hell along with all the fallen angels, demons, evil spirits, powers of darkness and every soul that followed him through the ages and we will see them no more.
Then the everlasting kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ shall begin and we will reign with him forever. My general already has the battle won and the rewards are waiting.
Don’t let the desires of the flesh at Jericho steal your victory. And don’t allow the roar of the devil at Ai to slow you down. The things of this world are not worth losing your place in the Promised Land.
Israel had already crossed over Jordan. They had entered into the Promised Land by faith. God had given them the victory over Jericho, but the fleshly desires of one man cost them the victory at Ai.
That tells me that we can be saved, born again and be victorious through Christ, but if we get our eyes off of our real purpose, we could just lose it all.
Keep your focus right. Listen for the voice of the Lord. Just follow the leading of your King and you will be the winner. The spoils of the war are just waiting for you on the other side.