Preached: April 6, 2014

Find Your Courage in Jesus
Joshua 1:9

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Holy Spirit enlightens our hearts with his word in Joshua 1.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 NIV84).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior, and especially you, Emma:

“Be strong and courageous.” People use those words in many different ways. In another month or two commencement addresses will urge graduates to be strong as they head out into the world and to courageously go forward. Reach for the stars. Take the bull by the horns. Carpe diem; seize the day. Make the most of every opportunity. Pursue your dreams. Don’t sell yourself short. And you’ve heard many other such encouragements.

Although they all aim to inspire a feeling of boldness, do you notice a marked difference between them and the confirmation verse ? To help us realize this, let’s keep Biblical image in our hearts. Sheep. And you know a thing or two about sheep, don’t you, Emma? We usually picture sheep as weak and timid, the opposite of strong and courageous. But in Jesus this contrast resolves into a beautiful picture. And that’s the key here: “In Jesus.” Find your courage in Jesus. That’s the theme. Find your courage in Jesus, standing with him and serving for him.

A. Standing with him

No doubt, you’ve already noticed at least one major difference between the courage urged in commencement addresses and the courage urged in this passage. Those leave Jesus out of the picture. Their courage comes from the resolve of the individual or the potential of humanity.

But how does a sheep find courage? By staying close to its shepherd. That’s why the passage promises, “The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 NIV84). We need our Shepherd.

Joshua needed him. He was taking over for Moses. The Lord God had certainly been with Moses. Remember the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, water from a rock, manna in the wilderness, fire and smoke on Mt. Sinai, and his face glowing from speaking with the Lord. How could Joshua follow that? He did not have the strength within himself. But the Lord was with him. Joshua was standing with the Lord, finding courage in his coming Savior. You, too, find courage in Jesus.

Now, I think, we all know that we can’t leave Jesus out of the picture when we talk about courage. Secular graduations might, but we don’t. Yet talking about Jesus does not guarantee godly courage instead of a self-centered courage. Consider this incident from a little later in Joshua’s life.

As he was scouting around Jericho, he saw someone standing in front of him with a drawn sword. Joshua asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” (Joshua 5:13 NIV84). The stranger replied, “Neither … but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come” (Joshua 5:14 NIV84). You see, dear friends, the question is not: “Whose side is God on?” Rather, the question is, “Am I on God’s side?” Even Joshua whom the Lord had directly told to be strong and courageous, even Joshua needed to remember to stand with the Lord. He was not to imagine that he could go his own, self-chosen ways and then expect the Lord stand with him. Sheep follow the shepherd; they don’t expect the shepherd to follow them.

How much pain and sorrow our self-chosen ways have brought on us! We follow our wants and pursue what we imagine will make us happy. We feel confident about our abilities. Successes buoy up our self-esteem. Does Jesus get left behind in all that shuffle? Do we look around and wonder why he hasn’t followed us? Do we complain, “You promised to be with me! Where are you now?” He’s not the one to blame, is he?

But what did the shepherd do for his lost sheep? He went out and looked for it. He found it and brought it back on his shoulders. He rejoiced and celebrated that the lost was found. So we too pray, confessing with the hymn writer, “Thou hast not left me oft as I left thee. On to the close, O Lord, abide with me” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 588:4 “Abide with Me”)

What has the Shepherd done for you, Emma? He left his Father’s side and was born a baby just like you. But unlike you and me he had no sin. In Baptism he covered you with his perfect obedience. Do you see how that gives you courage? Through faith in Jesus you stand before the holy God clothed in Jesus. You stand without terror, for you stand with Jesus. Find courage in him.

What has the Shepherd done for you? He laid down his life for his sheep and took it up again. What courage that gives us! His blood has washed your record clean. Not even Satan can accuse you. He has crushed Satan and conquered death. No one can snatch you out of his hand. What courage as we stand with Jesus!

Now courage doesn’t stand still, does it? Courage takes action, so also courage in Jesus takes action. It serves.

B. Serving for him

This is another way the courage in this passage differs from the courage urged in so many commencement addresses. They too want courage to take action but to take action for yourself, for your family and community, and/or for the good of humanity. But courage in Jesus leads us to serve for him.

Serving for Jesus begins with faith. It grows out from faith just as fruit grows out from a tree. And where does faith come from? From hearing God’s message in the word of Christ. Think of what else the Lord said to Joshua when he tells him to be strong and courageous. In the surrounding verse the Lord tells him to stay close to God’s word, to mediate on it day and night, and to carefully put it into practice. For the courage to serve our Lord grows out of faith.

So stay close to God’s Word, Emma. Keep on learning it. Keep on thinking about it. Keeping on living it. He wants you to hold on to his promises with all your heart, soul, and mind. How fervent his love for you is! The Father did not spare his own Son but gave him up for you. How sincere his desire to save you! How earnestly he calls to you in his word. Just as sheep listen to their shepherd’s voice, keep listening to your Shepherd, Jesus Christ, as he speaks to you through the Scriptures.

Now just as a good tree produces fruit, so also faith in Jesus serves. Joshua served by leading the people of Israel into Canaan. That’s what the Lord had called him to do. How do we serve?

All too often we think that service for Jesus is some sort of special project. Service projects, mission projects, church projects, and the like can certainly be service for Jesus, but the Scriptures point us to something even more fundamental. The Lord does not directly command us from heaven to serve in this or that way as he did for Joshua. But he does direct us through his word. Look at where the Lord has placed you life. Look at the responsibilities his word has he given you in your family, in your community, in your church, in your school, in your work. How can you carry them out so that others praise your Father in heaven? How can you let his love, kindness, and forgiveness shine through you to others?

Emma, he has placed you as a child living with your parents. Serve Jesus by obeying your parents, showing them love and respect. He has placed you as a student in school. Serve Jesus by doing your work to the best of your ability and by show respect to you teachers and kindness to your classmates. He has placed you as a member of this community. Serve Jesus by obey the laws and acting as a neighbor to others, helping as you are able, displaying God’s love. He has placed you as a member of this congregation. Encourage your fellow members by coming often to hear his word. Explore how you can use your god-given talents and abilities to build up the body of Christ.

Much of this may seem routine and we wonder is this really service. But again remember Joshua. He served by walking around the city of Jericho once each day for six days and seven times on the seventh day. It looked mundane. But the Lord worked his will and the walls came tumbling down.

Whatever you do out of faith in Jesus to the glory of God is service for Jesus. And that takes courage. It takes courage to faithfully carry out the responsibilities God gives in whatever roles he has placed you, serving for his glory, not your own. We’re tempted to run after grander looking things or follow peer pressure, but courage follows Jesus, trusting him. Doing what our Lord wants will bring criticism and ridicule, but courage keeps following Jesus, trusting him alone. For sheep find joy in following their shepherd wherever he leads.

Find courage in Jesus. Stand with him. Serve for him. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313