I want to talk to you today about a people:
Þ Who had just made a significant move in for which they had been praying for years
Þ Who had made a march around the city carrying a sign of the Lord’s presence with them, and seen great spiritual victory
Þ Who had moved into a new place as a temporary dwelling and were making preparations into moving onward to where God would settle them permanently.
Þ Who although outwardly looked as though they were receiving God’s blessings, Outwardly they looked like they had everything together, God’s anger burned against them and when they tried to move on together as a community they suffered such defeat that they wished they had never set out in the first place.
The story of this people should sober us this morning. Look, I want to celebrate this morning, I really do. But I cannot be a minister of the Gospel and not bring a warning against us and admonish us to celebrate in the fear of the Lord.
In Joshua chapter 6, the people of Israel had, finally, after years of waiting, begun their march into the land God had promised to their fathers. The first city of the conquest was the walled city of Jericho. You know the story of how they took that city without one casualty as God miraculously caused the walls to fall down after they had marched around it seven days carrying the Ark of God. God gave them that city – what a spiritual victory! And so we see in Joshua 7, the children of Israel settling into Jericho as their temporary base of operations until the Lord gave them a more permanent dwelling.
Yet for all this spiritual blessing, we read in Joshua 7:1 “the anger of the LORD burned against the people of Israel.” Therefore, when they tried to move on to the next place, the city of Ai, disaster struck as we read in Joshua 7:4-5:
So about 3,000 men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai, and the men of Ai killed about thirty-six of their men and chased them before the gate as far as Shebarim and struck them at the descent. And the hearts of the people melted and became as water.
This defeat caused the leadership great sorrow – so much so that they questioned why the Lord would have even told them to move. We read in Joshua 7:6-7:
Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the LORD until the evening, he and the elders of Israel. And they put dust on their heads. And Joshua said, "Alas, O Lord GOD, why have you brought this people over the Jordan at all, to give us into the hands of the Amorites, to destroy us? Would that we had been content to dwell beyond the Jordan!
“I wish we never moved,” Joshua prayed. “Why did you lead us here God?”
“Get up!” God says in verse 10. Have you ever had God tell you to stop praying? “Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings.” Israel has sinned. That’s why Joshua. Get up and deal with the sin in your camp. You’re not going anywhere until you do.
Church, I want to ask you if you’re feeling uncomfortable right now. This sermon, this day is supposed to be a day of celebration. What is all this talk about sin in the camp? Imagine if the Lord told me to do what he told Joshua. Imagine if I brought you all forward, congregation by congregation, and then separated you small group by small group, and then family by family until one person or a group of people alone were left to confess their hidden sin to the entire church. Some of you would get up and leave and never come back. Some of you would call for my head. But unless sin is dealt with our church is going to destroy itself.
In Joshua 7:1 we are introduced to the man who brought this sin into the camp. His name was Achan. I want you to notice a few things about this sin.
The community was held responsible for one man’s sin: Notice verse 1 begins, “But the people of Israel broke faith in regard to the devoted things”. While God ultimately held the individual in judgment after the sin was revealed, until the community dealt with the sin in their midst the community was regarded to have broken faith. The word is “acted underhandedly” this was sin that undermines the community. Christianity is a set of two relationships: the vertical and the horizontal. “Love the Lord your God” and “Love your neighbor as yourself”. When you sin, you begin hiding things from God and from each other. You break faith with God and you break faith with each other. In 1 Cor 5 Paul demonstrates that this principle can be applied to the church: there was sin in that camp too, and in verse 2: “And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.”
The sin that most damages the community is the one in which an individual attempts to gain an advantage over others: Achan stole some of Jericho’s riches. No one was allowed to touch anything and he sought to gain an economic advantage over his countrymen. He had taken some silver and other things and had hidden them right under his tent. Obviously he was going to hide it until later after years had past and Jericho was a distant memory and then he’d try to use it for his gain. Ananias and Sapphira in the New Testament church also had their sin found out. Their sin was to gain not riches, but a reputation in the church. They wanted power. They craved it so much that they lied to the church leaders.
Hidden sin led to a false sense of security: Because the sin was hidden, the leaders of Israel though everything was fine in their community when in reality there was a cancer spreading under the surface. Because they thought God was with them when in fact he was angry with them, they only sent a small force of men up to the next city and they got routed. I don’t believe they simply got complacent or proud, but that they were blind to the spiritual reality of sin in their midst. This is why I am preaching this message today. We have been blessed by God to have moved into this building, but we must not be complacent or naïve or think that simply because God is moving us, he is happy with all of us. There is sin in our camp and we must as a community deal with it or we will be destroyed. Obviously destruction for us is not going to come in the form of an army, but it will come in the form of division, and anger, and hurt people, and moral failure, and yes, I do believe that there is sin that leads to sickness and death.
Like the Israelites, we must deal with sin in our camp. This is a consecration service. In the Old Testament, when they would dedicate a new building to the Lord, they would sprinkle blood over every part of it. We won’t do that this morning, but we will eat of the Lord’s supper together, remembering the blood of Jesus that was been poured over us, healing us and cleansing us of our sins. When we take communion, we remember that we are part of a Christ’s body, a community of Christians of which we are members and to divide that body is to seek to destroy Christ. The Lord’s supper is offered to any who have received Christ as Lord and savior and we ask that you have publicly started the path of discipleship through baptism. But the Lord’s supper is not something to be taken lightly. If there is sin that you are hiding from the camp, you must deal with it now. Confess it to the Lord and ask his forgiveness and trust in his cleansing. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:29-30 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” This is not a game – God takes sin and he takes his bride the church seriously.
This is the first communion service in this new place and so I am going to give extra time of reflection so that we can prepare our hearts for it. I am going to ask you to reflect on a couple of sins that I believe are present in our camp, and I want you to pray through these and ask yourself if these sins are under your tent. If they are, you need to confess them brother and sister. True repentance requires acknowledgement of sin and forsaking sin. Its not enough to simply confess them today, you must make a choice of your will to forsake these sins as well.
Prayerlessness: While you want to put on a good spiritual face at church, you rarely if ever speak to the Lord. Bother or sister, you may not even be a Christian.
Secret Sin: You live a secret life of pornography, abuse, adultery, or gambling that no one knows about at church because you’ve learned to cover it so well.
Bitterness and Unforgiveness: You are holding onto grudges against others in this church which happened months, years, or decades ago.
Rebellion: instead of working with and respecting leaders you seek to tear them down publicly and privately.
Those are just a few that I know we have in our midst. Confess them now. I am going to give a short time of silent prayer, and then we will continue with our communion service.