Sermon for Sunday, August 28th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Psa 77:11-20 ESV] 11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. 12 I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. 13 Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? 14 You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. 15 You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah 16 When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; indeed, the deep trembled. 17 The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side. 18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook. 19 Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen. 20 You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
New Testament reading:
[Rev 16:12-16 ESV] 12 The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, to prepare the way for the kings from the east. 13 And I saw, coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs. 14 For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty. 15 (“Behold, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake, keeping his garments on, that he may not go about naked and be seen exposed!”) 16 And they assembled them at the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.
[Mat 10:1-4 ESV] 1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. 2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Text of the sermon:
[Jos 4:1-24 ESV] 1 When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, 2 “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, 3 and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.'” 4 Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. 5 And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, 6 that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ 7 then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” 8 And the people of Israel did just as Joshua commanded and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, just as the LORD told Joshua. And they carried them over with them to the place where they lodged and laid them down there. 9 And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day. 10 For the priests bearing the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the LORD commanded Joshua to tell the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua. The people passed over in haste. 11 And when all the people had finished passing over, the ark of the LORD and the priests passed over before the people. 12 The sons of Reuben and the sons of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh passed over armed before the people of Israel, as Moses had told them. 13 About 40,000 ready for war passed over before the LORD for battle, to the plains of Jericho. 14 On that day the LORD exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel, and they stood in awe of him just as they had stood in awe of Moses, all the days of his life. 15 And the LORD said to Joshua, 16 “Command the priests bearing the ark of the testimony to come up out of the Jordan.” 17 So Joshua commanded the priests, “Come up out of the Jordan.” 18 And when the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD came up from the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up on dry ground, the waters of the Jordan returned to their place and overflowed all its banks, as before. 19 The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. 21 And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”
I want you introduce you to an athlete you’ve probably never heard of. He is the top in the world in his sport, completely unbeatable for a number of years now. His hands and his arms are four or five times as strong as the average man. He’s 6’3”, weighs 400 lbs, and does bicep curls of 225 lbs one-handed. He is Levan Saginashvili, from the country of Georgia. The world arm-wrestling champion.
Historically, and in the Bible, strength is characterized by one’s “hands.”
The might of a King is his “hand.”
The land that a King controls is said to be “in his hand.”
A battle lost is one that has “fallen into the hand of the enemy king.”
And a conquered people sold into slavery is sold “into the hand” of a foreign king.
This is of course a figurative expression, referencing the strength of the king’s administration, not his physical prowess. Although in some periods of history, kings were indeed mighty warriors, more often than not, they were living a labor-free life, commanding the show from safe behind the protective walls of their capital city.
To have a strong hand, a king would need to employ strongmen like Levan Saginashvili in their guard and in their army.
It would take an even mightier hand to overpower a King like Pharaoh.
It would take the Lord God himself.
And by his mighty hand the Israelites even crossed the Jordan on dry ground.
The God of the Israelites is a mighty God with a mighty hand.
I. The Mighty Hand of the Lord
This phrase or idea of a “mighty” or “strong” hand is frequent in the Scripture.
We find it, for example, in the Book of Exodus, in the command to remember each year the Passover feast, Moses said to the people: “And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.”
And in Deuteronomy, when this was fulfilled, Moses said, “[Deu 6:21 ESV] 21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”
The strong hand of the Lord brought them out of Egypt.
And the strong hand of the Lord brought the people into the Promised land.
Much like Moses, Joshua now says to the people of Israel:
“When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, 24 so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”
Yes, there were 40,000 soldiers ready for war,
and we see a people unified together, even the 2 ½ tribes which were allotted land on the East side of the Jordan have joined their brethren in the coming attack on Jericho.
And they had a solid leader in Joshua
Yet, their success is memorialized in a heap of stones, not to broadcast their own abilities or feats of strength, but so that “all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty.”
We should take heed of this, giving glory to God in all our successes. We should not build monuments to ourselves but broadcast the glory of God alone. Say “not what I did” but “what the Lord did through me.” Only by His Mighty hand is the war won, only by HIS mighty hand is success given.
The Israelites realize this and so build a heap of stones as a memorial not to themselves, but to God.
This heap of stones, it is said, “are there to this day.” When the book of Joshua was written, shortly after the events in it occurred, these stones remained. The people could go see them and have the reminder. And peoples traveling from any land could go see them as well, and know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, for the Lord led the Israelites across the Jordan.
At some point the heap of stones may no longer have been visible or known. So the Lord had a temple built to show his mighty hand. In 1 Kings 8:42-43 it continues the theme:
[1Ki 8:42-43 ESV] 42 (for they shall hear of your great name and your MIGHTY HAND, and of your outstretched arm), when he comes and prays toward this house, 43 hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.
Indeed, the Lord is mighty.
Psalm 89:13 says of the Lord, “You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand.”
But, of course, God doesn’t have actual hands. Nor arms. Nor even wings to physically shelter us under. These are anthropomorphisms, the giving of human characteristics to him for our understanding. God does not have a body at all, but is Spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in being, wisdom, power, holiness, goodness, and truth.
His might is not limited by the strength of any hand or arm, but extends above and beyond all things. For indeed, he ordains whatsoever comes to pass.
No wonder Rahab feared the Lord. No wonder each and every believer fears the Lord. He is Mighty. That should terrify you. Knowing our own hearts as sinful, and knowing that we deserve the wrath of God, his might is terrifying.
And the mighty hand of the Lord is against His enemies.
[Jer 15:6 ESV] 6 You have rejected me, declares the LORD; you keep going backward, so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you– I am weary of relenting.
[Isa 5:25 ESV] 25 Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them, and the mountains quaked; and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.
But, also, with His mighty hand, the Lord is mighty to save.
And so the mighty hand of the Lord is also a comforting hand, and protecting hand. [REPEAT: the mighty hand of the Lord is also a comforting hand, and protecting hand]
II. The Comforting Hand of the Lord
It is His very strength that brings us comfort, for He, loving us, will not let us out of his comforting and protecting hand.
He is comforting BECAUSE He is mighty.
He is protecting BECAUSE He is mighty.
Jesus said, [Jhn 10:29 ESV] 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
Because God is mightier than all, no one can thwart his plans. No one can take us away from him.
Though Satan and the world do assail us, fear not, for the Lord is with you. And no one can take you out of His hand.
This is the doctrine called the Perseverance of the Saints.
What God starts, He completes.
And many don’t like this doctrine, because they envision people coming in and out of the love of God based on their own actions. What a horrible concept, with no comfort.
We find rather in the Scriptures, that God never forsakes his people.
In Acts 11:21 we red that the “And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.”
Belief comes by the hand of the Lord. Belief is not an accomplishment of man, but a grace of God.
God does not come and go in the Exodus account or in the account of Joshua. God is always there, His promise never alters or diminishes. HE is with His people. The mighty Lord is OUR!!! mighty Lord.
So it is that we are called to pray to Him, for He is powerful to answer prayer.
We ought to remember the might of the Lord, and thank God that “the hand of the Lord is with us.” The powerful, mighty, comforting, and protecting hand of the Lord.
The steady hand of the Lord, forever protecting us, safe and secure from all alarms, held in his everlasting arms.
III. Memorials to God
Now, our text is one of 3 Biblical examples of a memorial of stones.
Jacob set up a pillar of stone as a memorial at Bethel where God had spoken to him. (Gen 35:14)
There is our text where Joshua sets up a memorial of stones at Gilgal.
And Samuel set up an Ebenezer (a stone of help) when the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines. (1 Samuel 7). It was a reminder of the Lord’s help in battle.
Memorials are not only of stone. The passover is also called a memorial. (Exodus 12:14) It is a memorial day with a memorial feast.
You are not likely to identify the heap of stones in the Jordan.
And there is not much, if anything left, of the first temple.
A memorial that we have is the Sabbath Day. We rest one day in seven to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” This day becomes a memorial to the Lord, a time of remembrance where we realize his mighty hand in the creation of the world in 6 days and his rest on the seventh. And we remember the rest that we have in Jesus Christ who has forgiven our sins. That true rest, the true peace we have in the Lord.
And we have the memorial of the communion meal. And indeed it is more than a memorial. It is a means of grace through which commune with Lord through the present Holy Spirit. But is it also a memorial. “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Memorials always remind us of something. They are not empty rituals, but point to greater truths which we must learn from the Word of God, the written word, heard or read.
When you take the Lord’s supper you remember his death until he comes.
We remember Jesus Christ in the memorial, because He is mighty to save.
And His strength is shown in meekness. His hands were not used in fighting against others, but were pierced for our salvation.
While we look at the bread and wine of communion, we are reminded of the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. As passover was a memorial, so does its fulfillment in Christ become a memorial in holy communion.
And we find that the mighty Lord is more powerful than our sins, for Christ conquered death and brought about our forgiveness.
Mighty is the Lord. Mighty is His Hand. Mighty to Save.
Memorials are for the purpose of a reminder.
And we are constantly to remember Jesus Christ on the cross. When you’re feeling low or without meaning or purpose you are to remember that Christ died for you and that He love you. Rather than being insignificant you are of the greatest worth to God and brought into His church.
How might we remember Christ more frequently?
I’m not recommending heaps of stones, although if that helps, you’re welcome to heap them as high as you’d like.
Much of our remembering is with habits. The habit of coming to church on Sunday. The habit of reading the Bible. The habit of prayer and of singing songs of praise to the Lord. In each of these you remember the Lord.
In the Scriptures it says we are to “remember His covenant.” And remembering His covenant, remembering His words, is remembering Him.
So we do well to remember the Lord in memorizing Scripture, having it committed to our memory and mind so that its breathes out of us like a song “stuck in our head.” This helps us to remember the Lord.
2 Timothy 2:8 – “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from he dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel.”
Remember Jesus Christ. And what about him in particular? That He is risen from the dead. He is offspring of David, who fulfilled the prophecies about Him. And so rose from the dead. He is risen indeed. Alleluia. The risen mighty king.