A lot’s happened in my tiny little life over the past months, not the least of which is that I’ve become interim pastor at the Baptist church here in town. Long story, and I do plan to get to that here in this space, but I thought it best for now to share my sermon from last Sunday with a few minor edits. Because really, we could all use a little perspective today? Yeah?
Everyone ready for today?
Everyone dreading today?
Everyone just praying today will hurry up and be over with?
Yeah, me too.
I like to keep up with what’s happening in our nation and in our world. I think that’s part of being a good citizen. But it’s so much, isn’t it? There’s just so much information coming at us from so many directions. And because of that, two things can happen.
One is that with so much information coming from so many sources, it can get hard to know what’s really true and what’s really not.
The other is that we can get sucked right into middle of this river of information and start confusing what’s important in the Christian life with what isn’t. If you listen to the news, if you turn on your TV or your radio or take that phone out of your pocket, what you’re going to hear is that it all comes down to Tuesday. Tuesday is the most important day in our history. Tuesday defines the future. Tuesday decides everything.
There’s a great risk involved any time a preacher starts talking about politics. The problem with preaching about politics from the same pulpit that you preach God’s truth is that it gets awfully easy to cheapen the Bible by bringing it down to the same level as politics, or it gets awfully easy to make an idol of politics by elevating it to the same level as the Bible. So it’s best to just not talk about politics at all, and call it off limits.
The problem I found with keeping silent about what’s on everyone’s mind today is just that — it’s on everyone’s mind today. And let me tell you, I tried finding something else to preach about. Something nice like one of Jesus’s miracles, or a Psalm. But it just didn’t feel right. Not this time. Any preacher worth his salt should address what’s happening in the world. Honestly, what good is a preacher who doesn’t apply the Bible to what’s going on in life?
I’ve voted in every election since George Bush, Sr., and I’ll vote in every election for the rest of my life. Voting’s important. Voting is a privilege. But none of you will ever know who I vote for. Ever. That’s none of your business.
And unless you flat-out tell me who you vote for, I won’t ever know that. Because that’s none of my business, and because it doesn’t matter anyway. Who you vote for would never change how much I love you as person and as a brother or sister in Christ. Period.
The Bible is God’s word to us and for us so that we can know Him and have a blue print for the way we live our lives. But many times, the Bible gives us principles instead of answers. The Bible is a guide, and all of its wisdom from Genesis to Revelation should help form our decisions personally, socially, and politically. But the Bible never says vote for this person or that person. It just doesn’t.
God says, “Here’s my book. This book is the truth. You read it. You take everything that’s there and apply it to your life with the help of My Holy Spirit. You let this book shape your view of the world, and you pray to Me when you step outside your door, into your work, or into the voting booth, and you’ll always know what to do.”
So I’m not going to talk about today because that doesn’t matter.
I don’t care who you vote for. I only care that you vote. November 3 doesn’t concern me at all.
November 4 does.
Because someone is going to win this election, right?
We might not know who that person is tonight, but chances are we’ll have a pretty good idea. And if that’s your person, you’re going to feel great. You’re going to feel like a huge burden has just been lifted off your shoulders. You’re going to think that now, finally, we can start putting this horrible year behind us.
But what if that doesn’t happen? What if the guy you thought was the right choice, the one who had the wisdom to guide our country forward, the one you knew beyond any doubt that God wanted to lead our nation, what if that guy loses?
What if on November 4 you wake up to the reality that you prayed and prayed wouldn’t happen?
I looked all through the Bible to find an answer to that question, and there it was in Joshua. We talked about Joshua a while back, and how God wants us all to cross our own Jordan Rivers. This time we’re going to focus on a moment in his life after that crossing.
Let’s read now today’s scripture, Joshua chapter 5, verses 13-15:
When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”
And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the LORD’S army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
And this is God’s holy word.
So, where are we? Joshua has led the Israelites into their future home — a home that would be delivered to them by the very hand of God. All the men of Israel have been circumcised. It’s the first time that Joshua’s generation has been so dedicated and so united to God’s purposes. They’ve celebrated Passover for the first time in the Promised Land. And now they’re ready to face their first challenge — taking the city of Jericho. There’s going to be a fight here. It’ll be a fight unlike any the world has seen, but it’s still going to be a fight. A battle.
But before this battle takes place, we get these few verses here where Joshua learns the very same perspective that some of us are going to need in the coming week. Because Joshua kind of makes a mistake here, and it’s one we all make. But then he’s reminded of the truth, and he reacts to that truth in a way that both honors God and cements Joshua’s place as Israel’s leader.
Let this passage be your guide if come November 4 you think everything’s lost and this country is damaged beyond repair. Because if your vote isn’t for the winner, we see in these three verses how we should react, what we should remember, and what we should do.
First, how we should react.
The Israelites are on the plains of Jericho, and they can see those thick, tall city walls rising into the sky. Those walls were built about 10,000 years ago. Jericho was built on a mound and surrounded by a huge dirt embankment. At the bottom of that embankment was a retaining wall about 15 feet high. On top of that was another wall of bricks and mud that were six feet thick and 26 feet high. And at the top of the embankment was another brick wall with a base that was 46 feet above the ground. It is the earliest technology that scientists have found for something built purely for military purposes. Those walls were there for a reason — to keep invaders out. This was the city that Joshua had to take. And right now, he doesn’t know how he’s going to do it. So he does what a lot of us do when we’re trying to figure out the impossible — he goes for a walk to think about it. That’s what Joshua is doing. He’s walking and thinking. And we know this because at the beginning of verse 13, we learn that Joshua lifts up his eyes and looks, and there’s a man standing before him. But not just any man. Verse 13 doesn’t come right out and say it, but it has to be pretty obvious to Joshua that the person standing before him was more than a man. Because for one, Joshua has grown up in the desert. He’s not a city boy. He’s a warrior. He’s a leader. It’s awfully hard to sneak up on someone like that, but that’s what this man has done.
And more, this man has a weapon. He has a sword. Notice the position of his sword. The blade’s not in the scabbard. It’s drawn. And in those days, a drawn sword had only one purpose. The only time you drew your sword was when you were going to fight.
We get a glimpse into Joshua’s character here. What does he not do? He doesn’t run, doesn’t back down. He stands there like he’s saying, “Okay, if you want to fight, I’ll fight.”
We don’t get a description of the man standing before him. We’ve seen this person before though, and we’ll get to that in a minute, but there has to be something about him that throws Joshua off. He’s a man in appearance, but something more. Something powerful. Something dangerous. So Joshua stands ready. Maybe he puts his hand on his sword, ready to draw if he has to.
And he asks a question that’s as old as humanity itself and as relevant to the year 2020 as any question in the Bible —
“Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”
Now on the face of it, this is a great question for Joshua to ask. Because the question of whether or not he’s going to fight is about to be solved by whatever the man answers. But it’s also the wrong question, because even though the man hasn’t told Joshua exactly who he is yet, Joshua has to know this is someone different, someone completely unlike anyone he’s ever met. Someone even not of this world. This is someone to whom the normal ways that humans think don’t apply.
Here’s basically what Joshua’s asking — “Whose side are you on?” Wrong question.
But isn’t that the same question that’s hiding under the surface of nearly every choice Americans make these days?
Everything from the friendships we make to the people we choose to associate with to the news channels we watch and the websites we visit, it all comes down to that question, doesn’t it?
We no longer separate people by whether they’re good and decent or whether they’re just trouble waiting to happen. It’s no longer about what kind of person they are, it’s about what kinds of opinions they have. And when we hear it like that, we think, “Well, okay, that sounds like a pretty un-Christian thing to do.”
But we still do it, don’t we? We all do, to the extent that we’re no longer one nation. We’re two sides living in one land. What’s happened to make things like that? Politics has always been a big deal in our country. If you think the past few elections have been bad, take a look at some of our earliest elections in the late 1700s and early 1800s. They were terrible. But by and large, people still got along because even if they were divided by politics, they still had the common foundation of religion. Even then our country contained many faiths, and even then there were many who had no religious faith at all. But there remained a huge majority of the nation had at least a basic belief in God and understood the basic doctrines of Christian faith.
Things began to change after WWII though, when it became clear exactly what Hitler had done in the Holocaust. Millions upon millions of Jews slaughtered. The hate involved in that. The utter disregard absence of human decency. There was only one word for it — evil.
People started wondering how a good and loving God could allow something like that to happen. That led to a steep increase in atheism that took hold in Europe and in American universities, and by the 1960s, it was pretty much everywhere.
Religion in this country began to decrease. By the 1990s, fewer people were going to church. By the 2000s, fewer people identified themselves as Christians. And it’s to the point now where religion in general and Christianity in particular no longer has a central place in American life. We’ve lost our foundation, the glue that once held our society together.
All of us once had at least that basic faith in common. We don’t any more.
But here’s the thing — even though religion is being pushed aside in our country, we’re all still religious. As human beings, we’re all built to worship. We can’t help it. It’s in our DNA. So as organized faith decreased in our country, something had to take its place. And probably since the mid-90s, people have turned to politics to fill that gap. So much so that now, politics is really our national religion.
We got rid of God, but because we’re made to worship something we still needed a god, and the only thing that came close to the law of God are the laws of man. The newscasters on CNN and Fox are our prophets. The leaders of our political parties are our messiahs. Their word is iron.
We can’t disagree with anything they say, because that would mean being disloyal.
And we can’t be that, because we all have to pick a side.
When politics becomes religion, it has to get in everywhere. That’s why everything is political today. Everything from our television shows to our music. Even sports are political now. We’ve gone so overboard in making politics our national god that we’ve made even a deadly virus political.
And it’s not just the secular folks who live this way. Many Christians and many Christian pastors make a god of politics, too. They stand in their pulpits and say, “This is how you have to vote if you’re a believer in Christ. This is the party you have to belong to, and this is the way you should feel about social issues.”
And by doing this, what are they really saying? That our real problem isn’t spiritual, it’s political, and so the real answer doesn’t lay in God, but in politics. They say that the only ones who can save us are the ones who think like us, and those are the people who have to be in power. Because they are the ones who will protect our rights. They are the ones who will keep our nation on track.
And why do we think that? Because we believe the people who need to be in power, the ones who think like we think, are the ones who think like God. And once we start giving ourselves over to that kind of thinking, that’s when Joshua’s question becomes our own — “Who are you for? Us, or them?”
Are you on our side, the side of truth? Or are you on the other side, the side of lies and deceit?
This is a completely new way of seeing the role of politics in the life of a Christian. The New Testament writers didn’t see politics this way at all. The New Testament writers knew that if you give any human being enough power, they’ll murder the Son of God. So this idea that Christianity can be improved in any way by a political party or a politician goes completely against the grain of the New Testament.
So what’s our first step here if on November 4 you wake up to find your guy has lost?
It’s to start trying to separate yourself from the kind of thinking that made Joshua ask his question. We cannot survive as a nation if we keep seeing our neighbors as enemies. We cannot bridge the divide between us if we keep seeing people in terms of their worldly opinions instead of their eternal souls. And the first step in getting away from that is to pray.
Pray for our leaders, no matter what party they belong to.
Paul writes in 2 Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all those in authority … This is good, and pleases our God and Savior.”
Get that? All people. Kings and all those in authority. Petitions, prayers, intercession, thanksgiving — Paul uses just about every kind of word there is for prayer in saying how we should pray for our leaders.
And remember, Paul wrote these words under the reign of Nero, and I promise you that as a man and a politician, Nero was a lot worse than Joe Biden or Donald Trump.
Joshua, though, made an even bigger mistake with this question, because he didn’t ask, “Are you for us, or against us?” to simply a person. He asked it to God. In verse 14, the man standing before Joshua offers his name. He’s the commander of the army of the Lord. There’s another name for that — the angel of the Lord. We’ve seen this person before, haven’t we? Remember Jacob all alone in that valley, wrestling with God? Wrestling with the angel of the Lord? What did we say about the angel of the Lord? He’s Christ, right? He’s Jesus before coming into this world as a man.
Joshua is standing before Christ. More than that, Christ is standing between Joshua — who represents God’s chosen people set apart for the Lord’s own purposes — and Jericho, a pagan city filled with unbelievers.
Joshua asks Christ, “Whose side are you on? The good guys, or the bad guys? The ones who know you, or the ones who don’t?” And look at how Christ answers him — “No.”
There’s a better translation for that word from the Hebrew — “Neither.” Whose side are you on, God? Neither.
Take a minute and let that sink in. Not even Israel, God’s chosen nation, could claim God was completely on their side when they were approaching Jericho. Why?
Because God doesn’t take sides.
The most horrible period of our nation’s history was the Civil War. If you think things are bad in this country now, think of 750,000 Americans dead just because they went to war against each other. And even though half of our nation would have strongly disagreed at the time, there is no doubt that the man who served as President during that war was placed there by God himself.
There’s a story that often told in books about Abraham Lincoln. A man approached him during the height of the war and said, “Mr. President, we trust during this time of trial in which the nation is engaged, God is on our side, and will give us victory.”
Lincoln, wise as he was, answered,
“Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side. My greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”
Lincoln refused to think of the North as entirely virtuous and the South entirely evil. In his second Inaugural Address in 1865, he said, “Both North and South read the same Bible and pray to the same God … ” He knew the outcome of that war, whatever it would be, was in God’s hands. He knew God’s perspective is not always out perspective because God sees everything, and we don’t.
But we don’t get that in this country anymore. Our natural tendency is always to ask, “Whose side is God on?” when the question we should be asking is, “Who’s on God’s side?”
How many of us want to be on God’s side? Rationally, probably all of us. But if we’re honest emotionally, most of us want God to be on our side. We want God to back us up. We want God to think like we do. We want God’s will to line up with our own when we should be praying for our will to line up with His.
So how should you react if on November 4, your candidate loses?
Start praying for our president, whoever that may be, and stop asking Joshua’s question.
Stop asking that question about others, and never, ever ask that question about God.
Now, what should you remember? Look at the second half of verse 14:
“And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshipped and said to him, ‘What does my lord say to his servant.’”
There’s our answer. What should you remember if the wrong person wins on Tuesday? That God still sits upon his throne. That you only have one Lord, and our president — whoever it is — is not him. Your allegiance is to heaven and heaven alone. That means you should be in this world but not of it.
Remember what Jesus says here — I’m not on your side and I’m not on their side, I’m always on my side.
What’s that also mean? Don’t dirty me with your politics.
God’s not a Democrat. God’s not a Republican either. God’s not a libertarian or a socialist or a capitalist because God doesn’t side with us. He expects us to side with him.
No one is always right. No political party, no ideology. We’re all partly right and partly wrong, because God will not fit into any box we try to put him in, and so neither should His people.
The New Testament doesn’t lay out a detailed blueprint for a Christian society, whether a conservative one or a liberal one. We only think it does because we only use those parts of the Bible that we agree with instead of using it as a whole. It does say all life is precious, and we should protect the innocent. Does that mean abortion is murder and a terrible sin? Absolutely.
So God says we should all be Republicans.
But now hold on, it also says we are to care for the poor and seek justice for the oppressed. And there are many places in Acts where the early church adopted some thing very close to a voluntary form of socialism.
So God says should all be Democrats?
Conservative Christians say, “Love God”.
Secular liberals say, “Love people.”
God says to both, “You’re right.”
Neither party represents the entire worldview by which we as Christians should live. No political party only votes God’s way.
Do you see? Jesus was too big to fit in either of those little boxes. He was always moral, he was always loving, he always revered human life, and so he was always in trouble with both the left and the right.
Who were the conservative Republicans of Jesus’s time? The Pharisees.
Who were the liberal Democrats? The Sadducees.
Those two groups could never agree on any thing. Except hating Christ.
Maybe that’s how politicians on both sides of this country should see us, too. Ours is not a Christian nation, though we should work toward being a nation whose Christians are admired as good and true and kind citizens. America is not a shining city on a hill, but we should let our freedom be an example for the entire world.
The United States is not the greatest blessing God gave mankind, but it is a nation worthy of our support and faithfulness.
What should we remember on November 4? That we are citizens of the City of God first and the City of Man second, and we should never confuse that order.
Finally, what should we do on November 4? It’s right there in the last verse. We should take off our sandals.
Look at verse 15.
“And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, ‘Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.”
As soon as Joshua realizes who this person before him is and that he wasn’t for either side, what’s he do?
He bows. Joshua takes a knee. That’s a symbol for submission. And what does Christ reply? Take off your sandals. That’s another symbol. Joshua stood on holy ground because that was the ground where Christ stood.
This was Joshua’s burning bush moment, and to take off his sandals was an outward way of showing what was going on inside his heart — Joshua was removing all of his worldly thoughts, and every bit of pollution in his soul.
Joshua bowed down before Christ, because Christ is the only person he should bow down to.
And Jesus is the only person we should conform ourselves to, not some political platform that says some things that, as Christians, we should agree with, and other things that — according to the Bible — we shouldn’t agree with but do anyway.
Because that’s how it is, isn’t it? You have to believe it all to be a Republican. You have to believe it all to be a Democrat.
Jesus says, “You sure about that? Because I gave you two rules — love the Lord with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.
That means you have to be committed to racial justice and the poor. That means truth is something that stands above what is true for just you. But one of those is a liberal stance, and the other is conservative.”
Listen to me. No matter who wins on November 3, our job as Christians won’t change because our hope doesn’t change.
Our hope doesn’t lie in which party has control of our country on Wednesday, because no matter what party that is, we’re still going to have bad government, unwise government, and inept government.
That’s why God cares about who you vote for, but God cares a lot more about how you treat those who vote differently than you do.
COVID-19. Debt. Abortion. Racism. Gay rights. Climate change. Foreign policy. Government corruption. These are the issues that define this year’s election. But these are issues that will still be with us on November 4. They’re issues that never go away, because they have their roots in the human heart. The main issue we have in America right now is the main issue that’s plagued humanity since the beginning of time. It’s sin.
There’s only one person who has an answer for that, and that person will not be our president on Wednesday.
The world doesn’t need political solutions, it needs Gospel solutions. We don’t need the right candidate, we need the right Christ. And that’s where we come in. That’s what we need to be doing as Christians.
In the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, the people had the huge task of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. They’d been in ruins for over 70 years. And at first the people be came discouraged because the job was just so big. It seemed impossible, but God showed them what to do.
He told each person to rebuild the area just in front of their house. Just concentrate on what they were supposed to be doing.
That’s what we should start doing now, no matter who wins. Start doing what we should have been doing all along. Start with what’s right in front of you. Quit putting your faith in a person and put it in God. Start praying that whoever wins this election will figure out how to do things right. Stop being so worried about what everyone else is doing, and start concentrating on what God wants you to do.
Because no matter what you hear on the news, no matter what your Facebook feed says, no matter what plays over your radio, whoever wins on Tuesday will not be the savior of this nation. And he won’t be the death of it either.
And because when you stand before God, his question to you won’t be who you voted for or what party you belonged to, but what you did for Him and for those He made.