Good morning and welcome to worship! And thank you to Steve Cosby, Jon Miller, Patrick Sullivan and everyone who worked so hard on the landscaping out front. What a beautiful gift God has given us in this church campus. Would you agree?
But a church is not a building. A church is people rescued from sin and called together through the cross of Jesus. Our building is simply a tool in which to meet and do ministry.
Our job as the church is to “love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves”. We call this the Great Commandment. It means to love God, trust him, respect him, and obey him above all else. Anything that comes before him is an idol.
The Lord has blessed to be a blessing to the world. But he can’t bless us unless we obey him! Unless we are in the process of being continually transformed by God’s Word and his Spirit, we will be conformed to the world and this beautiful building will become empty and spiritually dead. Lord, may that never be so!
Our story this morning is a sobering example of what can happen when the spirit of the world takes root in the family of faith. The year is 1400 BC. Israel’s 40 year Exodus from their slavery in Egypt is complete and the stand on the border of the Promised Land.
The LORD tells Joshua “Be strong and courageous because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left … then you will be prosperous and successful.” Josh 1:6-9
Their first test was to wipe out mighty fortressed city of Jericho, one of the oldest cities on earth. Now the city of Jericho was not only strong but fabulously wealthy. The Israelites had just come from 40 years in the wilderness surviving on manna. It must have been incredibly tempting to get their hands on the riches of pagan Jericho.
But the LORD warns Joshua. “Keep away from the devoted things, so that you will not bring about your own destruction by taking any of them. Otherwise you will make the camp of Israel liable to destruction and bring trouble on it. All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into his treasury.” Josh 6:18-19
In a normal battle, the spoil belonged to the conquering soldiers. They took whatever they wanted. But the Lord said to Joshua and Joshua told the people. “Everything in Jericho must be destroyed except the silver, gold, bronze and iron. – that goes to the Lord’s treasury.” The Lord was reminding his people that he, not the wealth of Jericho, was the source of their life.
The sacking of Jericho was miraculous. The Lord collapsed the walls of one of the mightiest fortresses in the ancient world. It was a sign to the people that the God was with them. Nearby was a little farm town named Ai. It was so insignificant that only a portion of the army was sent to destroy it. But something went horribly wrong. The Israelite army was routed. Thirty-six men were killed, many shot in the back as they fled in terror. It seemed that the Spirit of God had abandoned them.
Joshua and the elders of Israel spent the next day face down in prayer before the LORD trying to figure out what went wrong. Joshua even complains that the LORD let them down! And the LORD replied. “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions…. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.”
There was sin in the camp! I counted up which of the Ten Commandments were broken here. Guess how many all came up with? All ten!
But what happened here is not the everyday kind of sin. We all sin every day and the Holy Spirit convicts us, we ask forgiveness, but the desire of our heart is to serve the Lord.
This sin involved a deep conspiracy against the sovereignty of God. It was treason against Joshua and the whole community of Israel and the whole nation suffered the consequences. Secret sin is never secret! There is always a corporate cost to our personal sin.
The LORD could have pointed out the thief and traitor immediately, but he didn’t. Maybe to give time for him to confess, repent, and deliver the stolen goods. But that didn’t happen.
Instead, tribe by tribe, family by family the urum and thummim were cast and the noose was tightened. Still the traitor was silent. Until finally, the LORD revealed it was Achan.
When Joshua confronted him, Achan confessed he had taken what he knew belonged to the LORD and buried in under the carpet in his tent. Why? Was this a one-time mistake, or was it the end of the trail in a long succession of compromises and disobedience by Achan?
Great sins rarely happen out of the blue. In most cases, one little compromise at a time we are led astray until sin is fully developed. James writes “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:13-15
I think Achan allowed greed and lust to grow in his heart for years. It became an idol for him. He dreamed about the wealth of Jericho and how at the right time he was going to get some of it for his own. Even while the dragnet was closing in, he refused to let it go of his idol.
So what was the cost of Achan’s supposedly private sin? Let’s add it up. Achan’s own family paid the price. If we don’t confess our sin and idolatry and get right with the Lord, our children, our grandchildren to the 3rd and 4th generation will suffer the consequences.
There were the 36 men who lost their lives in the futile attack on Ai. Aiken’s sin left their wives, children, grandchildren without husbands and fathers. As a result of the failed attack on Ai, Israel’s enemies were encouraged. The name of the LORD was dishonored among Israel’s enemies. Sin has repercussions that reach far beyond the one who committed the crime. There is no such thing as private or personal sin. Every sin affects us all.
The writer of Psalm 66 says, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!” Psalm 66:18-20
Prov 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Prov 9:10 Fear here doesn’t mean a cringing fear before a brutal tyrant. It means love, awe and respect. There was no fear of the Lord in Achan’s heart or he would not have done what he did. The Bible warns us, “It’s a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Heb 10:31
Here’s the problem. The more we play footsie with sin, the harder our hearts become. Instead of reverencing God, we begin to ignore him, disobey him and finally despise him. We become so numb to the prompting of the HS that we can no longer repent.
But when we seek the Lord, sinful though we are, the more precious he becomes. The more aware we are of his grace, beauty, and holiness and how much we need him, the more the Holy Spirit gains control in our life, the more sin loses its’ glamour and becomes repulsive.
The Apostle John puts it this way. “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” 1 John 1:5-7
Achan was a liar, pretender, idolater, and it caught up to him. It always does. Coming into the light takes tremendous courage because it exposes our sin. But that’s our only hope. Above all else, the church is a fellowship of forgiven sinners.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:8-10
God gets no pleasure out of the death of a sinner. He grieved Achen’s death. But unless the virus of Achan’s treachery was destroyed, many more would die. God’s purpose is that we repent and be restored. But not everyone will. The choice is ours.
Following the conquest of the land, Joshua, stood before the people and said, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Josh 24:15
There is an ancient story about an eagle who stole a piece of meat from a burnt offering at the temple. Unknown to the eagle, a live coal was still attached to the meat. The coal set fire to her nest and destroyed her family. Achan thought his disobedience was the road to success, it ended up burning down everything including his own family.
Do you have something buried under the floor in the tent of your heart? Has it become an idol to you? As long as we live in this world this will be a continuing struggle for us. Are you willing to dig them up and bring them to the Lord before they burn your house down? Will you pray with me:
“Heavenly Father, search my heart. Reveal those secret buried things in my heart that have become idols to me. Give me the grace and courage to dig them out and bring them to you. Forgive my idolatry and cleanse my heart of these unclean things so that I might rejoice in you alone and find my life in you. In Jesus name, Amen.”