FAITHFULNESS – YESTERDAY, TODAY AND FOREVER
FAITHFULNESS – YESTERDAY, TODAY AND FOREVER
We have come to the conclusion of a year-long study of the Heidelberg Catechism in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We come to this conclusion during the week of Christmas, the birth of Jesus, and the beginning of a new year, the time we reflect on the past and develop anxiety about what might be in the future. What, it is worth asking, do the Reformation, Christmas and the beginning of a New Year have in common? They have in common the uncompromising faithfulness of God.
Faithfulness has been described as sticking with what you are stuck with. Faithfulness is making a promise and then keeping it. A husband remains faithful to his wife rather than embrace the advances of another woman. A student fulfills the obligation to pay back her student loans rather than simply default. It may be painful to stay in the marriage and easier to default on the loan, but faithfulness keeps the promises it made.
Joshua 1:1-18 tells the story of God’s faithfulness: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you” (v.5b). In fact, no one sticks with what their stuck with better and more joyfully than the Lord. The text of Joshua 1 takes us back to Exodus 3:1-15. There Moses encounters God in the burning bush. Moses asks and God gives His name: “I am who I am.” Theologians describe God’s name as describing his self-sufficiency or His self-defining character or some other relatively boring philosophical idea. They miss the essential point. God’s name can also be rendered this way: “I am He who is with you always.” In fact, the meaning of God’s name is symbolized in the burning bush. Israel is the bush that remained unconsumed in the fire of Egypt’s affliction. Just as God was with Israel, so God will be with Moses. Just as God was with Moses, so He will be Joshua. God is He who is with us always. He delights to stick with what He is stuck with – Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Israel and us!
Joshua 1:1-18 also tells the story of this faithfulness in the most fascinating way. God says to Joshua: “My servant Moses is dead” (v.2). These words teach us three things about faithfulness.
First, the words reveal the faithfulness of God. Moses is dead, but God is alive. Martin Luther and John Calvin are dead. So are Zacharius Ursinus and Casper Olevianus, co-authors of the Heidelberg Catechism. But God is alive. The death of a great leader often represents the end of an era, and can easily stir fear and uncertainty. Our comfort and joy in life and in death is not rooted in or sustained by people or circumstances. It is sustained only by our faithful promise-making and promise-keeping God. God is alive and He is faithful: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” We, too, are safe in the fire of sin’s afflictions.
Second, the words reveal God’s call to faithfulness. Moses is dead, but Joshua and Israel must continue to live! He calls them to replace fear with faith and uncertainty with certainty. Rather than lament past “glory days,” they must prepare to enter the promised land: “Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan river into the land I am about to give to them” (v.2). He told Abraham to “go” (Genesis 12:1). He commanded Moses to “go” (Exodus 3:10). Joshua and Israel received the same call. He also tells us to “go” (Matthew 28:18-20). And he doesn’t negotiate. He cares little about the bargaining chips of human comfort, skill sets, potential schedule conflicts or the prospect of success. Our faithfulness is to be “strong and courageous” because of His faithfulness: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” He has given His Word – His promises and His commands (vv.16-17) – and they teach His children to trust and obey.
Third, the words reveal God’s faithfulness to the end! Moses is dead, and that points us to a better comfort and joy. Moses is dead, but God is alive. In fact, Joshua – whose name means, “salvation” – points to the true and better Joshua, our Advent Lord and Savior. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, the one who is our salvation from the Egypt of sin and our deliverance into the true promised land (Matthew 1:18-23). That is why we have strength for today: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-39). That is why we have bright hope for tomorrow: “Then I saw a new heaven and new earth. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4). God is faithful to the end: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Sometimes we can be overwhelmed with circumstances. The announcement of terminal illness, the death of a child, a marriage newly fractured, the termination of employment, or an assault upon one’s dignity. These and many other circumstances may stir in us the pain of Job’s question to God: “Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you” (Job 7:20)? The answer to both questions is the same. Yes, we are His target. Yes, we are His burden. We are the target of His grace, because we are the burden of His soul. He sent His Son to bear His burden and to pour out His grace. No one sticks with what their stuck with better and more joyfully than the Father who sent His Son and poured out His Holy Spirit: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Thank you for sharing in these devotionals during the last year. I will now sign off with these words from our promise-making and promise-keeping God:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:3-9).
Pastor Calvin Hoogendoorn