Summary: Faith that God will bring down the walls inhibiting the promise
There are strongholds in the Promised Land. All of us, in our lives, have impossible situations. Every hope that we have that has any value at all has obstacles to it. Every promised land has strongholds that must be dealt with to truly claim the land as our own.
The Israelites have been wandering in the desert for forty years. One of the reasons they are out there is that when they sent spies in so many years ago, the spies came back with word of giants in walled cities. Well, that is too much to even think about dealing with. So those people made a decision that they wouldn’t. They just wouldn’t. They’d rather go back to slavery in Egypt or wander around the desert until they die. And they did it.
All of us, to claim the promised land, must face impossible situations. Each of us has our own. All of us have some in common, too. Let me just mention a couple of examples. This church faces a hard reality, a walled fortress, that we fish from a pool of diminished resources. People in this neighborhood simply have very little to maintain an old edifice as well as the rising costs of ministry and complexities of a different world. It is an impossible situation. This city faces an impossible situation. The infrastructure has been mismanaged and is aging, costs are going up, resources, tax base, businesses, and morale have been declining. Some of us face circumstances that are impossible. There is one person that I hope doesn’t mind me mentioning her situation in the context of this sermon. I know many of you have been praying hard for her, for she is in an impossible situation. Ruth Westenfelder has been struggling with her health. She has been living with severe pain in her back, and nothing has alleviated it. She’s lived alone since her family has all passed away. Even her tenants who live downstairs and help keep an eye on her are going to be moving soon. Ruth has looked for a retirement home to move to, but it is a struggle to have lived in one house all her many years and conceive of ever having anyplace else meet her needs, especially her needs of being a part of this family.
When I preach, I say all sorts of spiritual things that may sound really nice and lift our hearts a little. But I am very aware of the realities in our lives – in Ruth’s life – that our faith is challenged with. The most impossible situation that we face is our own propensity to sin – to be self-centered and not God-centered. Our habits, our attitudes, our addictions, our pride, our fear, all these different faces of our sin, they all are like walled fortresses in our hearts that are called to be pure for God.
They’ve been walking in the wilderness forty years before they crossed the Jordan in miraculous fashion to enter their Promised Land. It has been a long haul, and this is what they’ve been waiting for. They’ve finally made it. But all they get when they finally get there is to have to deal with those things that kept their parents out.
The picture I have in my head is of the youth going to a great event like Niagara. They have an incredible time, they hear the gospel for the first time in a way that makes sense to them, and they accept Christ. They walk across that Jordan River into the Promised Land of the Kingdom of God. And for a day, a couple of days, it is ecstasy. There is so much joy.
But then we drive them back up to the front doors of their houses. They walk in those doors. And at that point, it becomes clear that if they are going to live in the Promised Land of the Kingdom of God, they are going to have to go up against some strongholds that they have avoided all their lives. They are going to have to face their broken relationships, their sinful habits, their inappropriate means of getting through the day. They have impossible situations, walled fortresses standing right in the way of their inhabiting the Promise.
This is the last sermon before we start over again with the life of Christ. It is fitting that we pause in going through the Old Testament right as we get into the Promised Land and find out that the first order of business is to fight impossible battles. That is exactly what our life in Christ is all about – about fighting impossible battles, impossible battles just like this one at Jericho.
But here are a couple of things we find out from this instance at Jericho. We’ll find out we will win. We will win. We’ll win not because we are better, but because the battle belongs to the Lord.