The Fifteenth Sunday After Pentecost August 24, 2008
Colossians 2:6-15; Psalm 138; Luke 11:1-13
23, 398, 393, 532
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now Jericho was securely shut up because of the children of Israel; none went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua: “See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go all around the city once. This you shall do six days. And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. It shall come to pass, when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, that all the people shall shout with a great shout; then the wall of the city will fall down flat. And the people shall go up every man straight before him.”
Dear fellow followers of Christ:
“It’s my way or the highway!” Have you ever heard someone say that? Or maybe you’ve said it or thought it. A person who thinks this way ignores everyone else’s ideas and plunges right ahead, often into trouble. People who insist on doing things their way even when it’s clearly not the best will have a tough life.
It’s even worse when people tell God that “It’s my way or the highway!” When we think that we know a better way than God to get something done; when we think that we have a better idea than He does for the way something should go; when we think that doing things God’s way won’t work; then we’re headed for serious problems. GOD’S WAY IS THE BEST WAY, no matter what. Sometimes God’s ways don’t always look like the best to us, but we can trust that in the end He does know what He is talking about!
After the Children of Israel crossed the Jordan River and entered the Land of Canaan, the first city they encountered was Jericho. From the outside Jericho looked more like a fortress than a city. It had high walls. No one was going in or out. The place was shut tight and yet God told Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor.” [v.2] Jericho would fall just as God said it would. The Israelites would take possession just as God promised, but it didn’t happen the way you might expect. God had a way all planned out and His way was the best way.
The Lord told Joshua to gather the warriors together, then “march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go all around the city once. This you shall do six days.” [v.3] What?! This doesn’t sound like any way to conquer a city! Swords and shields and whatever other weapons the people had were supposed to be prepared and ready, but then the army wasn’t to use them anyway. Instead, God said, “Just march the army around Jericho and then go back to camp.” Not just one day this was supposed to happen, but for six days. As part of the procession, the ark of the covenant would be carried along and seven priests with ram horn trumpets would go in front of it. It must have been a pretty unusual sight all around.
I wonder what the people of Jericho thought as they peered through and over their walls watching Israel trudge around and around. “Just what are they doing?” they may well have asked.
On the seventh day, the activities looked even stranger. God said, “But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. It shall come to pass, when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, that all the people shall shout with a great shout;” [vv.4b-5a] For sure it was one of the oddest assaults on a city ever witnessed. Marches, trumpets, and shouting—that was all God told them to do—and the walls of Jericho would come crashing down.
You might think that by the sixth day of marching even some in Israel would have been wondering what God was doing. But in this case, it appears as though they indeed listened and followed His direction. For it says in the book of Hebrews, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell, down after they were encircled for seven days” (Hebrews 11:30). They trusted that as strange as this strategy might seem for taking a city, God’s way was best—and His way worked in the end, for as you know, the walls did come tumbling down.
Today, many people think that God’s ways are “old-fashioned” or just don’t work in the times during which we live. Take God’s plan for marriage, for example. People think that no harm is done by living together and engaging in sexual relations without being married, but the Lord says differently. He says that the marriage bed should be “kept pure” (cf. Hebrews 13:5). Relations outside of marriage erode trust. Those in such relationships give the impression, “I want to be happy myself, but I’m not sure that I want to be with you.” That’s not love for one another. God doesn’t want people to simply “try out” marriage without actually being married—it is too precious for that. God wants a man and a woman to commit to marriage whole-heartedly. And God’s way is the best way, as one can see from the exceptionally high divorce rate among those who have not followed His blueprint for marriage.
God’s way is the best way when it comes to other issues of daily living too. Jesus once said, “Love your enemies…do good to those who hate you (Luke 6:27). That doesn’t sound right to our lawyer-like ears, does it? The temptation is to say, “If someone else does something to me, they’re going to get it right back!” But that’s not God’s way. God’s way is not that you take revenge, or stop being nice to someone who has hurt you, or wish evil on them. “Love your enemies…pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matthew 5:44). It is not an option for you! This is your Lord Jesus talking to you as a disciple and saying, “I want you to treat others well whether they return your love or not.”
God’s way isn’t always what we expect or anticipate. That’s because God doesn’t think like we humans who are corrupted by our sinful natures. His ways about marriage, loving one another, and many other things sound strange to the ears of some, just like the Lord’s strategy for bringing down the walls of Jericho must have sounded a little odd to the Israelite soldier who was armed to the teeth and ready to go. Nevertheless, God’s way is the best way and you will not come out the worse for sticking with Him.
How many times have you failed to consider God’s ideas or His direction because you just automatically dismiss it as though it will never work? Have you neglected to pray for something because you figure He is not going to help you anyway? Have you done things you knew to be sinful but you just figured it was the best way to handle a situation at the time—as if the end result would justify the things you did to get there? We have all had our moments where we have simply not believed that things would work out if we did them according to God’s direction. We have set aside His counsel figuring, “That will never get the job done.” It’s a good thing Joshua and the Israelites didn’t do that at Jericho or who knows what would have happened! Would God have sent them back for another 40 years in the wilderness? All we can say in light of all this is, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
God shows mercy in His own way too—thankfully! Once again, God’s way is not something that the outside world would think ever could work or ever would work. His way was to offer someone who would take the place of us sinners. So that rather than make us suffer the condemnation and torment that we deserved, that torment and condemnation was carried by another. Jesus’ slow and painful walk to the cross was God’s way of dealing with us and showing us mercy. At Calvary the Christ Himself was forsaken by His heavenly Father and there He was forsaken in our place.
But who would believe that it could work? It was a little like marching around the city of Jericho. The cross is where God told His Son Jesus to go, but would it accomplish what it was supposed to accomplish? Could Jesus actually take the place of every sinner who had ever lived; take the place beneath the gavel of God’s justice? Or was it an idea of God’s that could never work?
Well, just as the walls of Jericho came down on the seventh day according to God’s direction, proving that His way was the best way, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day proving that God’s way was the best there too. Yes! God’s unusual plan to send someone else to die for the guilt of the world worked! Christ came back from the dead, returning from His suffering with the mission accomplished.
The way of the cross is not the way that we would have solved the problem of our sins. Our solution would have been to “do more good” or to say, “I’ve done well enough after all.” No, God’s way for saving our souls and bodies for all eternity was the best way. In fact, it was the only way that could possibly have saved us.
Even the way God makes His salvation known and brings people to faith in Him is unusual. Think about Jericho again for a moment. There the walls came down with the blast of a trumpet and a shout. But those trumpets weren’t the fancy brass or silver trumpets that you buy in the music stores today. They were made out of rams’ horns—mostly worthless by our standards. Yet these were the tools the Lord used to accomplish His purposes in Jericho. In a similar way, God uses the tiny trumpet blasts and weak little shouts of His missionaries and Christian believers to send the good news of His Son’s work throughout the world. Through that Word He brings men, women, and children to trust in Jesus. The sounds we make may not come from the most spectacular instruments, yet this is how God wants His message to be spread, and His way works!
Thus the Lord has shown us that all His methods, all His plans and ideas do work. They do produce the desired results. They did in Jericho. They did at the cross. They do in our lives every day.
Sometimes the Lord asks us to march around this or that obstacle and we can’t quite see how it will do any good. He asks us to follow Him into places and situations that might be hard for us. Maybe we march with Him through valleys of shadows in sickness or serious illness. Maybe we march with Him through times of stress or anxiety—times when we could look around and think, “Lord, I don’t know what you’re trying to do here!” Then be encouraged like the people at Jericho must have been when they saw the walls fall down. Think of how they must have thought in that moment, “Yes! God can overcome any obstacle that stands in our way!” What an uplifting thing for them to witness as they entered the unfamiliar territory of Canaan.
It is encouraging for us too to read in the Bible about how God’s plans worked out. We can now rest knowing that God’s way is the best way for us today and in the future. Wherever He leads, whatever He does, it is the best even when it might seem to us that His ideas won’t work or can’t work.
Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be.
Lead me by Thine own hand;
Choose Thou the path for me.
I dare not choose my lot;
I would not if I might.
Choose Thou for me, my God;
So shall I walk aright. Amen.
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