We Serve a Living God!
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, January 3, 1999
Copyright © 1999, P. G. Mathew
In this passage we find Joshua and the people of Israel on the border of Canaan, poised to enter the land in accordance with God's plan. There is only one problem: Moses, who had brought them out of Egypt and led them for forty years, just died. I am sure this brought some element of uncertainty and apprehension to Joshua and the people of Israel.
As we face the challenges of this new year, what do we see? Great uncertainty. In the days ahead some may die, nations will rise and fall, and the very foundations of our lives may crumble.
Can we find any comfort amidst the uncertainty of this world? Yes. Though everything around us may change, we know that God lives--the God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And this God is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is faithful to his promises which he made in his word, and not even one of them has ever failed. Man lies and man dies, but God is truth. He lives to save us and to judge all who take refuge in lies.
This passage, therefore, teaches us that the God triune is with us. He goes before us, he is behind us, and he is all around us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. Knowing this, Joshua could be strong and courageous in the face of great uncertainty, and so can we. What can man do to us? What can the devil do to us? What can the world do to us? What can death to do us? What can anything in all creation do to us?
This God has told us, "Take courage, for I have overcome the world." We serve the living God, who said, "Because I live, you shall live also." And in Isaiah 43:1-3 he tells us, "But now this is what the Lord says--he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: 'Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.'"
In Romans 8:38-39 Paul tells us that nothing in all creation is "able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." We are God's responsibility, and he will take care of us.
The God of Abraham
Let us, then, consider who this God is. First, he is the God of Abraham, who lived long before Joshua. Abraham was an idol worshiper, but the God of glory appeared to him, chose him, and changed him into a worshiper of this true and living God. Then God made certain promises to Abraham. Although Abraham had no son, God promised that he would have nations as his descendants. And although Abraham had no land, God promised to give Abraham the land of Canaan as a possession for him and his descendants, as we read in Genesis 15.
In Genesis 15:8 Abraham asked God, "O Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?" meaning the land of Canaan. In response, God made a covenant with Abraham. God himself walked through the separated animals, meaning, "If I do not fulfill my promises to you, let me be destroyed." Now, God is indestructible, so we could say he was saying, "If I do not fulfill my promises to you, I will destroy myself," but that also is impossible. So, in other words, by this action God was telling Abraham, "Abraham, you can depend on me. My promises are true and my threatenings are true. You can rely on me!" It is impossible for God to lie. What he promised, he will do.
Let me ask you, brothers and sisters: What are you reading? What are you watching? Are you looking into the Bible to find the promises of God? That is what you should be doing. In these days of uncertainty, I urge you to read the Bible. Study it, meditate upon it, speak about it and pray to God about it, saying, "O God, you have made certain promises and I know you will fulfill them. You have done so before and you will do it again."
In Genesis 15:12 we read of another promise made by God to Abraham: "As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Then the Lord said to him, 'Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure."
We must realize that when God said these things to Abraham, he didn't have any descendants. But in the mind of God, Abraham was the father of multitudes. Here God was making a promise which will be fulfilled hundreds of years after Abraham's death.
Man dies, but God lives! God was telling Abraham, "Abram, I will fulfill the promises I have made to you. Know for certain your descendants will be strangers in Egypt for four hundred years. Yes, you will die, but after four hundred years, I will deal with the Egyptians and deliver your descendants."
As God had promised, Abraham died, as we read in Genesis 25:7-8: "Altogether, Abraham lived a hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people."
The God of Isaac
God's promise didn't die with Abraham. In Genesis 25:11 we read, "After Abraham's death, God blessed his son Isaac." You see, Abraham died but God still lives, and he is the God of Isaac as well as the God of Abraham.
In Genesis 26 we find Isaac being persecuted by the Philistines. He would dig a well and they would come and bury it. Finally, he resolved the situation with the Philistines and then moved to Beersheba, where the God who lives came and spoke to the son of Abraham. In Genesis 26:24 we read, "That night the Lord appeared to him and said, 'I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham."
Here we see the covenant-keeping nature of God. Not only did he make a covenant with Abraham, but he keeps it with Abraham's son. He is the faithful God, the God on whom we can depend.
The God of Jacob
Isaac served God and then he, like his father, died. In Genesis 35:28-29 we read, "Isaac lived one hundred and eighty years. Then he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, old and full of years. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him." Isaac died, but his God lives, and God's plan will go on. The God of Abraham and Isaac was also the God of Jacob.
Jacob, the youngest son of Isaac and Rebekah, was a deceiver by nature, but God had a plan for him. In Genesis 28 he left his parents' home and began to travel to Paddan Aram to find a wife. At night he found himself alone and homeless in a place called Bethel. It was dark and so he decided to sleep in the open field. I am sure Jacob thought he was alone, but the God of Abraham and Isaac was with him.
During the night Jacob had a dream in which God spoke to him, as we read in Genesis 28:13-16, "I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
Jacob spent twenty years in Paddan Aram where God prospered him. Eventually Jacob returned from Paddan Aram with a large family and great wealth. As he neared the Jabbok River, he saw his brother Esau coming with four hundred men to meet him. Jacob was sure Esau was going to destroy him, so he prayed, "O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Lord, who said to me, 'Go back to your country and your relatives and I will make you prosper,' I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children" (Gen. 32:9-11).
Jacob sent his wives, children, and flocks across the river ahead of him and prepared to spend the night alone. Then a man appeared and began to wrestle with him. What was God telling Jacob through this struggle? "You know, Jacob, you are a deceiver and a wrestler. You are always trying to get a blessing, no matter what. You wrestled with your brother, your father, and your father-in-law. Now I am coming to wrestle with you and I want to teach you that it is not by wrestling that you receive blessing; rather, it is by leaning on my everlasting arms." When the man touched the socket of Jacob's hip, Jacob experienced great pain and began to limp. Then the wrestlers began to talk. "What is your name?" the man asked. "Jacob," which means deceiver, supplanter, one who had reached for blessing by hook or by crook.
There Jacob repented and began to trust God. God had dealt with the deceitful Jacob, making him dependent on God, and in verse 28 we read, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel."
God continued to speak to Jacob throughout his life. In Genesis 35:11-12 we read, "And God said to him, 'I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your body. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.'" What a comforting word! The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is ever-watching over his people.
God spoke again to Jacob in Genesis 46:2-4: "And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said, 'Jacob! Jacob!'" I am God. "'Here I am,' he replied. 'I am God, the God of your father,' he said. 'Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph's own hand will close your eyes.'" God was telling Jacob, yes, he would go and die in Egypt, but God was in charge and he would take care of everything. The God of Jacob was with him.
In Genesis 48:21 we read what Jacob said to Joseph just before he died. "I am about to die, but God will be with you." Fathers, when you are about to die, will you be able to tell your children, "I am about to die, but God will take care of you"? By now Jacob had grown into great faith and was trusting implicitly in God's promise--the word he had spoken to Abraham in Genesis 15 and which had been handed down to him from his father Isaac.
Now he was handing God's promise down to his own children. So he said to Joseph, "I am about to die, but God will be with you. . . ." In other words, Jacob was saying, "What more do you want, children? I am about to die, but God will be with you." Jacob was promising Joseph the presence of God.
Additionally, Jacob said this God would take them back to the land of their fathers. "Joseph, I am about to die," Jacob was saying, "but don't worry. God will be with you. He will save you and take you back to the land he promised in the covenant with my grandfather Abraham."
The God of Joseph
Jacob died, but God lives on. As we read further in the book of Genesis we see that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob became the God of Joseph also.
Do you remember the story of Joseph? Hated by his own brothers, he was thrown into a pit, sold as a slave to Potiphar in Egypt, thrown into a prison, and forgotten. But throughout all of these events, God was with Joseph and prospered him. God was with Joseph in the pit, in Potiphar's house, and in the prison, and eventually God exalted Joseph and made him the premier of Egypt.
In Genesis 50, as he was about to die, Joseph spoke to his brothers: "I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." Here we see that phrase again: "But God. . ." Who was Joseph speaking about? The living God, the eternal God, the immutable, almighty, saving God. What was Joseph saying? "Brothers, I am about to die, but this is not the end of God's plan. God lives to save you and deliver you. He will be with you and take you out of this place into the land of Canaan, just as he promised our forefather Abraham in a covenant long ago."
The God of Moses
Four hundred years passed. The Israelites remained in Egypt. After some time, I am sure they began to wonder whether or not there was a God. Maybe God died, they thought.
But God lives, and in Exodus 3:1 we read, "Now Moses. . ." You see, God had a plan, and according to his timing he brought Moses to fulfill his promise to his people. Pharaoh had wanted to kill Moses as a child, along with other Hebrew babies, but his parents were given the faith to not be afraid of Pharaoh's decrees. Through a miracle, Moses was saved, and he became God's man to lead God's people.
In Exodus 3:2 we read, "There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush." And in verses 6-8 we read God's call of Moses, "Then he said, 'I am the Lord. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob . . . . I have indeed seen the misery of my people. . . I have heard their crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.'"
In Exodus 3:14 God told Moses his name. He didn't reveal it to Jacob, but he told Moses: "I AM Who I AM." In other words, God was saying, "I am the self-sufficient, uncreated, self-existing, dependable, faithful God of the covenant who keeps his covenant with his people."
In verse 16 God told Moses, "Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, 'The Lord, the God of your fathers--the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--appeared to me and said: "I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt." You see, for four hundred years God had been taking care of his people. The Keeper of Israel does not slumber or sleep. (PGM) He is ever watching. And in verse 17 God said, "I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites." This was the fulfillment of the promise God had made to Abraham in Genesis 15.
God watched his people, saw their misery, heard their cry and was now coming to bring them out of Egypt and take them to the land he promised to Abraham. "Yes, Moses," God was saying, "I know Abraham died, Isaac died, Jacob died, and Joseph died, but I never die. I am the living God, the God of the present, and I will do what I promised." And through Moses God brought his people out of Egypt by his mighty hand and great miracles.
The God of Joshua
Forty years after leaving Egypt the people of Israel were encamped on the east side of Jordan, poised to enter the land. There was only one problem: Moses must die before they entered.
In Deuteronomy 34:5 we read, "And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab," and the Lord buried him. No doubt the Israelites were thinking to themselves something like this: "What are we going to do? We thought Moses was going to bring us in. But he disobeyed God and so he had to die. What is going to happen to us now?"
The living God always has a plan. God had a man already trained and ready to go, and in Deuteronomy 34:9 we read about him, "Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him." The living God will have a human leader also to guide his people. We can count on it.
In Joshua 1 we read, "After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aide. . . ." Moses had died, but God was still living. God ever lives to defend and protect his people. The living God watches over his people, sees them, hears them, and comes at the right moment to save them.
In Joshua 1:2 God says, "Moses my servant is dead." Did the whole plan of salvation collapse when Moses died? No. Moses was a man of great learning and wisdom, trained in all the wisdom of Egypt--a mighty prince who spoke face to face with God. But God's plan did not die with Moses.
So God instructs Joshua, "Now, then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan." Why? They were not yet in. God had promised Abraham that he would bring them out of Canaan and bring them back in to Canaan. They were still on the other side.
There was one problem with crossing the river at this time: it was harvest season, and during harvest time the snowmelt from Mount Hermon and the rains can make the quiet Jordan swell into a mighty flood nearly one mile wide. I am sure Joshua and others may have thought, "O God, why don't we wait until the waters go down?" Oh, no. This was a test for Joshua and all the people with him. God wanted to show them his great power and teach them to trust in him.
So God, in essence, told the people, "Get up, all of you! Cross over! Be strong and courageous!" The one who commanded them would help them enter the land he had promised to them as an inheritance. So in Joshua 3 and 4 we read that the river dried up and the whole nation crossed over into the land of Canaan. In subsequent chapters we read of the fall of Jericho, the destruction of kings, and the capture of cities. Finally, Canaan was conquered and Joshua divided the land among the people.
In Joshua 23:2 we read, "[Joshua] summoned all Israel--their elders, leaders, judges and officials--and said to them: 'I am old and well advanced in years.'" And in Joshua 23:14 Joshua said, "Now I am going to go the way of all the earth." Joshua was getting ready to die, in other words. Finally, in Joshua 24:29 we read, "After these things, Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died." But who was still alive? God. We serve a living God.
God with Us
In Judges 1:1-2 we read, "After the death of Joshua, the Israelites asked the Lord, 'Who will be the first to go up and fight for us against the Canaanites?'" There is the Lord who lives, and we can ask him what to do. Verse 2: "The Lord answered, 'Judah is to go; I have given the land into their hands.'"
Joshua had died, but God lives. At this point in the history of Israel God gave his people judges to lead them; later, he gave them kings. After many years the people became apostate, and God expelled them from Canaan. The temple was destroyed and the people were sent into captivity in 586 B.C. What now?
Six hundred years passed with no Israelite king on the throne of an independent Israel. Had God failed? No. After all the generations had passed, God gave his people another king. The angel Gabriel appeared to a virgin named Mary in the town of Nazareth and greeted her. In Luke 1:29-33 we read, "Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.'"
Jesus was the long-awaited King of Israel. In time he was born, grew up, and went about ministering and proclaiming the kingdom of God. But there was one problem: after three and a half years of public ministry, Jesus was crucified and buried. Having witnessed all these things, his apostles went away depressed and miserable. Jesus had been their last hope, and now he was in the tomb.
Do you remember the phrase that was repeated after the deaths of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Joshua? "But God. . . But God. . . But God. . ." We serve a living God, and after three days, God performed an amazing thing, which Peter spoke of in Acts 2:22-24: "Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead . . ." (italics added).
God raised Jesus from the dead! The great exodus from Egypt and the return of the captives from Babylon were simply symbols of the salvation we can now have in Jesus Christ. Christ was crucified, buried and sealed in the tomb, but God raised him from the dead. He ascended and is seated on the right hand of God the Father, who put all things under his feet. He who shall never die is ruling and reigning as the King of kings and Lord of lords. We serve a living God!
He Is Our God Too
We find the final "but God" in Ephesians 2. Why did Jesus Christ come? To bring about our salvation. Man dies, but God lives, and this living God is going to make man live forever also. So Paul writes, "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions . . . . [He] raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus . . . " (Eph. 2:1-6, italics added).
This is salvation. Through Christ God dealt with death, the devil, the world, Satan, sin and its dominion. Now he saves his people that they might live forever with him. In John 10:10 Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full," meaning forevermore. This same Christ said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations. . . and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matt. 28:18-20).
But that is not the last thing. In John 5:28 Jesus said, "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are dead in their graves will hear his voice and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." Oh, not only does God live, not only is he ruling, but he is also coming again. And when he comes again, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and all of us will be raised up and given spiritual bodies that are imperishable and glorious. Then we will live with him forever, for we shall see him and be like him.
What if you don't want to believe in him? You have that right. But at the final judgment you will be raised up and will face him too, and this Christ in whom you do not want to believe will be your Judge.
We Serve a Living God!
Let us, then, rejoice. Why? Because we serve a living God, who has promised to save us, to watch over us, to hear us, to see us, to come down to help us, and be with us! We need not fear death, for he has made us alive in him, and he who believes in him shall never die. In fact, if you have not done so already, I pray that you will trust in this Jesus Christ and be saved.
Praise God for his eternal plan of redemption and his faithfulness in centuries past. We tend to think that God forgets us, but he doesn't. The Keeper of Israel, the eternal "I AM," neither slumbers nor sleeps. God is for us and we are ever before him. He said he would not leave us as orphans, and the Scriptures tell us he has granted us the Holy Spirit, who is also with us forever. He is our Comforter, and may he strengthen us, comfort us, enlighten us, and enable us to live in the strength of the Lord all the days of our lives. And when we are about to die, may we be enabled to comfort others by saying, "But God. . ." In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Copyright © 1999, P. G. Mathew
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