Date: 1 October 2023
Speaker: Eld Elgin Chan
Sermon Text: Joshua 5:1-12; Hebrews 12:1-2
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Letting go is never easy for most of us, whether it's a person or things we love or hate, or even bad habits that were formed since young. Letting go is easier said than done. This is true at every stage of our lives, whether as a student, a young adult or a retiree.
Illustration of desperate Taylor Swift fans and Disney Animated Movie “Frozen” and its theme song “Let It Go!”
3 key learning points for our learning and encouragement:
Letting go of things that hinder us from obeying God and His plan for us (Joshua 5:1; Hebrews 12:1-2)
Consecrating ourselves for God’s Service through spiritual renewal (Joshua 5:2, 6-7)
Place of Letting Go: God’s presence (Joshua 5:8-9)
1. Letting Go of Things That Hinder Us from Obeying God and His Plan for Us
“As soon as all the kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites who 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 hearts melted and there was no longer any spirit in them because of the people of Israel.” (Joshua 5:1)
Expect Hindrances & Opposition - as we seek to follow Christ, we must expect hindrances and opposition at every turn. We see this in Joshua 5 where the dominant tribes of Ammonites and Canaanites fiercely opposed the Israelites during their wilderness journey under the leadership of Moses.
“beyond the Jordan to the west” (v1) – this phrase is mentioned to distinguish them from the other Amorites, eastwards from Jordan, whom Moses had subdued earlier in their wilderness encounter. In other words, there are still Amorites to the west of the Jordan River, along with the Canaanites, who will continue to oppose Israel in their march to the promised land.
Amorites: aka kings of the highlanders, as they are the dominant tribe occupying the hill country of Judea (Gen 10:6-16 – Amorites were descendants of Canaan, one of 4 sons of Ham, who was himself a son of Noah).
Canaanites: aka kings of the lowlanders, as they are the dominant tribe occupying the coastal strips of lands facing the Mediterranean sea.
Together, they represent the major hindrances and opposition to Israel. Likewise, as God’s people, we should expect hindrances and opposition in our daily walk and witness for the Lord.
Letting Go of Our Sinful Past:
Letting go of our sinful past is one of the hardest things to let go off.
Example of Israelites under Moses - constantly complaining about the hardship of their wilderness journey and pining to go back to their past lifestyle in Egypt. They even rejected Moses’ leadership and threatened him with harm.
Result of their disobedience and rebellion against God - disqualified by God to enter the promised land and all perished in the wilderness as God’s punishment for their sin of rebellion.
In Joshua 4:18 – we see God deliberately closed back the mighty flood waters of Jordan after Joshua and the Israelites had crossed over.
Significance of God’s move: no turning back for Israel and no possibility of going back to Egypt (which represent their sinful past under bondage to Pharoah).
The author of the book of Hebrews exhorts us in a similar manner:
“1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before Him, He endured the Cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV1984)
“let us throwoff everything that hinders” - conveys sense of urgency and resolve. Story of Jonah - how the ship crew were frantically throwing overboard all heavy cargoes to lighten their ship and prevent it from going under the stormy waves.
“and the sin that so easily entangles” - refers to sins we struggle constantly with and have a weakness/tendency to commit. Same meaning as “Besetting Sins” in KJV.
God’s Word tells us that our emotional baggage is one major aspect of our sinful past that we have to let go off, in order for the fruit of the Spirit to be manifested in our lives (several examples of emotional baggage as seen in slide).
Other examples of Besetting Sins that we struggle with: addiction to social media (at the expense of our walk with God), pride & prejudice, judgmental spirit, resentment, envy, greed, lust, fear, doubt, reluctance to let go of an unhealthy/toxic relationship.
“Carrying the weight of resentment corrodes the heart, hindering forgiveness and healing.” (A Christian writer)
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows; it empties today of its strength.” (Corrie ten Boom)
Honest Assessment: all of us have fallen short of God’s standard of holiness for us. Even apostle Paul recognizes the fleshly struggle within him. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7:19,20)
Good News: God’s promise of forgiveness. As a child of God, we need not live in bondage to our sinful past, but we can appropriate God’s promise in 1 John 1:9 when He says: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In Christ, we can always start afresh, for He has promised not only His forgiveness, but also His enabling grace to help us to move forward in our daily walk with Him.
Letting Go: Managing our Past
Letting go of our past is not about forgetting our past (not possible for us as rational human beings). Rather, it’s about managing our past hurts, disappointments and setbacks with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Apostle Paul’s prescription for managing our past is found in Philippians 3:13,14.
13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:13-14)
May we follow Paul’s example of not letting his sinful past nor his past achievement as a distinguished Hebrew scholar hinder him from pressing forward in his relationship with Christ and his single-minded goal of knowing Christ in all His fullness of grace and glory.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” (Søren Kierkegaard, a Danish theologian & philosopher).
Yes, living forwards one chapter at a time, is what Ps David Wong has recommended in his book, “Finishing Well: Closing Life’s Significant Chapters”)
“To finish life well, we have to finish each chapter of life well. Taking on the whole life may be too much. We can take it one chapter, one phase, one stage at a time.” (Ps David Wong).
And, by Christ’s enabling grace, we will reach the finish line, one chapter at a time.
2) Consecrating Ourselves for God’s Service Thru’ Spiritual Renewal
Letting go of things that ensnare us is only the first step in our faith journey.
God’s desire for us: not to remain stagnant in our Christian life, but to move forward by consecrating ourselves for His Service thru spiritual renewal, by renewing our relationship with Him. We see this in God’s command to Joshua in Joshua 5:2.
"Make flint knives and circumcise the sons of Israel a second time." (Joshua 5:2)
Significance of circumcision: an outward sign instituted by God to Abraham and his descendants that he belongs to God and is set apart for Him. This outward sign of covenant relationship takes on added spiritual significance in Moses’ parting address to the Israelites as they prepare to enter the promised land under the leadership of Joshua.
“Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.” (Deut 10:16 NIV1984).
Question: Why circumcise the male Israelites a second time, since circumcision is commanded by God to be carried out only once in the male child on his eighth day after birth? To understand further, we need to see the biblical context in Joshua 5:6,7
6 For the people of Israel walked forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the men of war who came out of Egypt, perished, because they did not obey the voice of the Lord; the Lord swore to them that He would not let them see the land that the Lord had sworn to their fathers to give to us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7 So it was their children, whom He raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised. For they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way.
From Joshua 5:6,7 - older generation of Israelites who came out of Egypt with Moses had all perished during the 40-yrs of wilderness journey because of their disobedience and rebellion against God and His servant Moses.
Circumcision was discontinued during Moses’ time with them in the wilderness. Here, the Bible is silent on why circumcision was discontinued.
One possible explanation - impractical and dangerous to administer circumcision due to harsh and hostile environment in the wilderness. But this explanation is not sufficient, as there were long periods of rest in between, during which the rite could be administered.
A better and more convincing explanation by John Calvin - suspension of circumcision is linked to God’s punishment of older generation of Israelites for their disobedience and idolatry (worship of calf idol). Although they seemingly repented in the face of God’s fierce anger and punishment, their repentance was superficial and not sincere and contrite. Hence, they were not allowed to place on their sons the sign and seal of a covenant, which in spirit and in actions, they had broken.
But it was not an abolition, only a suspension, according to John Calvin. The time would come when it would be restored at the end of their 40 years of chastisement in the wilderness. And the time has now come under Joshua’s leadership.
Hence, this explain why we see a new generation of male Israelites who were born during the wilderness journey but were yet to be circumcised.
Why the Need for Covenant Renewal?
We see 2 reasons for covenant renewal in this passage:
1) The Old must give way to the New
Older generation of Israelites - disqualified by God to enter the promised land due to their disobedience and rebellion; only the new generation of younger Israelites who was not party to the rebellion is allowed to enter and possess the promised land.
Likewise, Jesus states that unless we are born again, we cannot enter into the kingdom of God, our eternal promised land. But, when we believe and accept Jesus into our heart, He imparts a new nature in us, with the indwelling Holy Spirit helping us to walk in step with Him. This is affirmed by the Apostle Paul in 2 Cor 5:17.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor 5:17)
May we allow the Holy Spirit to do a deeper work of holiness in us, renewing us day by day to live a transformed life that is pleasing to Christ.
2) God’s kingdom will march forward as He has decreed, but the disobedient and rebellious will have no share in it.
God will not allow His sovereign plan and kingdom to be derailed by those who are disobedient and rebellious, as happened to the older generation of Israelites.
Instead, it is a new generation of Israelites who is sanctified by Him through covenant renewal by their act of circumcision, who is given the privilege to enter the promised land under the new leadership of Joshua.
If you have yet to confess your sins and accept Jesus as your Saviour, my appeal to you is not to delay any further. God’s Word tells us in 2 Cor 6:2, “Behold, now is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
Another day may be too late, as our life is too fragile and unpredictable.
3) Place of Letting Go: in God’s Presence
Our place of letting go is in God’s presence, as we wait upon God for spiritual renewal and healing to take place in our lives.
8 When the circumcising of the whole nation was finished, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. (Joshua 5:8)
v8 - suicidal from a military standpoint, as this means that all the fighting men were rendered weak and vulnerable and unable to fight properly for a period of several days until they are healed. No military commander or general will allow this to happen, especially when they are so near to their enemy front (the fortified city of Jericho).
Yet, because of Joshua’s personal example of holiness and faith in God, the army of Israel is made aware that God is in their midst and He will protect them from their enemies while they wait for His work of renewal and healing in them to be complete.
Question: Are people around you aware of God’s presence in your daily life? May the Holy Spirit help us to spend protected time in God’s presence, that others may see the beauty and grace of Christ in us and be drawn to trust Him as their Saviour and Lord.
Significance of Gilgal: place where God sanctifies it with His presence and promise of forgiveness to His chosen people as they wait upon Him for spiritual renewal and healing.
9 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” And so the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day. (Joshua 5:9)
“Gilgal” in Hebrew meaning and pronunciation means “to roll away”.
Historical Perspective: a place of memorial to remind Israelites and their future generations of God’s mighty power in pushing back the mighty flood waters of the Jordan river and allowing them to cross to the other side on dry land (Joshua Chpt 4 - 12 big stones erected at Gilgal at Joshua’s instruction after river crossing as a memorial).
Military Perspective: marks the beachhead for Israel to launch their military conquest of Canaan, with God’s presence going before them.
Spiritual Perspective: Gilgal represents the Cross, where Jesus took our sins upon Himself and bore our reproach and shame, that He might set us free from bondage to sin, just as God has rolled away the reproach of slavery in Egypt from the new generation of Israelites as they submit to His lordship.
This is affirmed by Paul in 2 Cor 5:21
21 God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21)
In closing, we learn that it’s God’s plan for us to let go of our past for a purpose.
First, it’s not allowing our sinful past and besetting sins to hinder us from obeying God and His plan for us. And His plan for us is to be salt and light to those around us, to draw others into His kingdom of light and truth.
Second, it’s consecrating ourselves for His Service through spiritual renewal. We see the Israelites renewing their covenant relationship with God by being circumcised at Gilgal and thereafter celebrating the first Passover in the promised land as God’s redeemed people (Joshua 5:10-12). Likewise, as believers in Christ, we are identified with Him in baptism and given the privilege to participate in the Lord’s Supper as God’s community of redeemed people. Ultimately, God’s purpose for us to consecrate ourselves before Him is for us to be set apart as clean and noble vessels that are fit for the Master’s use (2 Tim 2:21).
Lastly, God’s plan is for us to experience spiritual renewal, refreshing & healing at the Cross by having our sins forgiven and enjoying a right relationship with Him.
Only then can we find strength and courage for the spiritual battles that await us in our march to the eternal promised land, with Christ as our Commander and Lord.