The Untrodden Path
and the Gracious Guide!
By Jack MacArthur
“And he said, My presence shall go with you, and I will give thee rest.” – Exodus 33:14
“. . . for ye have not passed this way heretofore. And Joshua said unto the people. Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” – Joshua 3:4-5
What does the future of the year hold for you and for me? Health or sickness, happiness or tragedy – we don’t know. We don’t know how the next twelve months will affect our families, our personal lives, our country, our world.
Certainly there is no more apt description of our earthly existence than the words of James that tell us, “For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appeareth for a little time, and then is gone” (James 4:14). Some who, last January, greeted the New Year with carefree laughter and high hopes have since been flung to their knees in grief. Some have known disappointment, piercing sorrows, crushed hopes, broken health and severed friendships. However, for others there has been gain and blessing. We agree universally that in our complicated lives nothing is secure, nothing is certain. Every year we hear message after message of a new year, rosy with outpourings of optimism, but lately its pessimism is almost universal.
Some years back U.S. News & World Report took a poll of over 1,000 Americans that was very pessimistic about the coming year and a new one today would probably indicate the same. However, the poll never asked any questions about the moral and spiritual condition of the nation, but many of us see the tide of godless humanism, immorality, sensualism and materialism rising like the Anti-Deluvian flood.
On demand abortion continues with its ghastly slaughter of the unborn innocent and the purveyors of smut continue their nefarious business on the basis of a constitutional right. The anything-but-gay community continues to advocate what has become a death-dealing lifestyle and the media continues to destroy the sanctity of commitment in marriage, the structure of the home, and, in fact, all of the basic principles of virtue and morality taught in the Word of God.
No wonder, as Carl Henry said, we are like a meteor sinking in the night, a generation that has lost its reason. Perhaps we are sowing seeds from which we may reap a more awesome and awful harvest than we have ever known. It is not necessary to be a prophet to discern the flares of powerful trends and impending dangers.
How evident it is that we live in a constantly changing world, one that is changing, it would seem, not always for the better but more frequently for the worse. But we can gloriously declare that in Jesus Christ there is soul security in this insecure world, and spiritual certainty for an uncertain hour. How reassuring to know that the end of history is not some plan of the godless humanists, not some nightmarish dream of the Kremlin, but the end of history is the invasion of our world a second time by the matchless, peerless, regal Son of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Thank God, even as another year has tapered into history, we can rise above our changing world, with all of its pessimism and believe with unswerving conviction that even though everything else may change, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
But let me take you to my text. After forty years of wandering in the barren waste of the Sinai Desert, the people of Israel, after a whole generation had died, were now on the border of a new land – which they had left Egypt to possess – with only the Jordan River separating them. By this time, Moses had gone home to be with God. Joshua had become their leader, and though their yesterdays had been an endless and at most morbid experience of wandering, chastening and defeat because of their disobedience, at last, through the parting of the waters of the river Jordan, they were to enter the fair land of Canaan, the land of hope and expected fulfillment, “the land flowing with milk and honey.”
“Tomorrow,” the unknown tomorrow, they would tread a new and untried path and the promise was that God would do wonders among them. And so Joshua called upon them to sanctify themselves – sanctify means to set apart for His glory – for the next experience that awaited them.
The best assurances for God’s wondrous tomorrow is today’s consecration to His cause. It matters not what tomorrow holds; God’s people are prepared for it, if they are living in a close, vital relationship with Him. This miraculous event in the history of Israel is fitting for our meditation as we enter upon the untrodden path of the New Year, as we contemplate the unknown tomorrow in the life of each of us. And it is irrevocably true that “no man knoweth what shall be on the morrow.” There will be new problems to solve, new tragedies to endure, new trials to be met, new temptations to overcome, new opportunities to grasp, new tasks to perform, and new blessings to enjoy.
It Will Be a Way of Testing
James tells us that the testing of our faith is more precious than gold that perisheth.
As Israel crossed the Jordan, it was an unfamiliar way, and it was not an easy way, nor will it be for you and for me. Our God has not promised His people an easy way, although there are those who hold out this promise; nor has He ever promised His people an easy time in this world. As a matter of fact our Lord said, “. . . in the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33), but He gave us a glorious promise when He said, “. . . but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
From every standpoint Israel was to face difficulties. They were to be up against the swelling tides, the huge walls of Jericho, the great giants in the land. There were cities to be conquered, but faith in the unfailing promises and presence of God was to overcome all those difficulties. It had always done so before, and it would do it again – and it did!
In recalling the incident, you remember that as soon as the priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant, which symbolized God’s presence with Israel, touched the waters, they parted. The lesson for us is that “today” must often see “tomorrows” waiting duties without seeing how they are to be accomplished, but the followers of the Ark of God need have no fear that the God to whom it belongs will not take care of it, and of them who follow. Certainly for us there are to be difficulties in the New Year, but none that He who goes before us is not familiar with and equal to.
As you know, it is customary before a jet liner, or for that matter any airplane, takes off into the blue empyrean, to carefully check each item in connection with the ship’s performance in the interest of maximum safety. One indispensable check is that of the navigational instruments. They must be in working order to insure the right direction of the ship. Direction for life, as for an airliner, is the thing that counts on the journey. My dear friend, Paul Myers, “First Mate Bob” of the “Haven of Rest” radio program, often quoted the little poem:
One ship goes east,
another goes west,
While the self same
It’s the set of the sail,
and not the gale,
That determines the
way we go.
Direction, plus time, equals destiny. That is why the Psalmist says, the steps of a good man [righteous man] are ordered by the Lord. How dimmed our vision, how uncharted our lives, how faltering our feet, how futile our efforts, how impotent our strength, how purposeless our journey without the guiding hand of God. Without our Lord Jesus Christ at the helm of our lives, we are mere victims of the whims of fate.
We are taught by the Word of God that we need the testing of our faith for the greater experiences to be enjoyed, and the greater work to be done, for nothing is proven until it has been tested. For each of us it is going to be a way of battle and hardship, and it is imperative that we be armed and properly equipped. The Holy Book gives us, in comprehensive and minute detail, the kind of armament we need.
Listen to these wonderful words: In conclusion be strong – not in yourselves, but in the Lord, in the power of His boundless resources. Put on God’s armor so that you can successfully resist all the devil’s methods of attack. For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organizations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil. Therefore you must wear the whole armor of God that ye may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground. Take your stand then with truth as your belt, righteousness as your breastplate, the gospel of peace firmly on your feet, salvation as your helmet, and in your hand the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Above all be sure you take faith as your shield, for it can quench every burning missile the enemy hurls at you. Pray at all times, with every kind of spiritual prayer; keeping alert and persistent as you pray for all Christ’s men and women (Ephesians 6:10-17, Phillips Paraphrase).
We will not be able to withstand this evil day, the burning missiles of the wicked, the floodtides of immorality, the vaunted indecencies, the armored forces of corruption, unless we are thus armed. Nor will we be able to serve effectively and achieve without such equipment. The Israelites knew there were battles to be fought, Jerichos to fall, enemies to conquer and victories to win, but they knew the Lord was their captain, their power, their strength, and His presence their inspiration. His word was their guide, and this assured them of victory. It is interesting that the only time they ever suffered defeat was when they failed to follow the Word of God. “God was their help in ages past,” and He would be their strength now. No wonder Joshua cried in a dark hour, “Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou moon in the valley of Ajalon, and the sun stood still” (Joshua 10:12,13).
Glorious truth: there is a sovereign, just, faithful, loving God who will fight our battles for us. And we can exult in the triumph of the Apostle Paul, I can do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth me (Philippians 4:13).
It Will Be a Way of Provision
As the swelling tides of the Jordan challenged the progress of the Israelites, the divine provision of their crossing was immediately present and God is saying to us today, as He said to the people of ancient times, And thine ears shall hear a word behind them saying this is the way, walk ye in it. Where God says, Go, and what God says, Do, there is always provision for those who have the faith to obey. I have found such comfort all through my ministry in the words of our Lord in John 10:4, when He said, “. . . when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them. . .”
In that wonderful 11th chapter of Hebrews, we have eloquent testimony that where God leads there is provision for them who have the faith to follow Him. We see the victory of faith in the lives of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Joshua. Then the writer, in sheer ecstasy of faith’s great victories, goes on to say, And what other examples shall I give? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon and Barak and Samson, and Jephthah, and David, and Samuel and all the prophets. These people all trusted God, and as a result won battles, overthrew kingdoms, ruled their people well, and received what God had promised them. They were kept from harm in a den of lions, and in a fiery furnace. Some, through their faith, escaped death by the sword. Some were made strong again after they had been weak or sick. Others were given great power in battle. They made whole armies turn and run away and some women, through faith, received their loved ones back again from death. But others trusted God and were beaten to death, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free – trusting that they would rise to a better life afterward. Some were laughed at and their backs cut open with whips, and others were chained in dungeons. Some died by stoning and some by being sawed in two. Others were promised freedom if they would renounce their faith, then were killed with the sword. Some went about in skins of sheep and goats, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in dens and caves. They were hungry and sick and ill treated, too good for this world, and these men of faith, though they trusted God and won His approval, none of them received all that God had promised them, for God wanted them to wait and share even better rewards that were prepared for us (Paraphrased, Hebrews 11:32-40).
If disappointments are a just ground for despair; the whole world would be saddled with its gloomy death. We are to face difficulties with faith in God. Things looked discouraging in the humanness of our Lord Jesus Christ, but nevertheless He set His face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem.
All our days will not be victorious. We may lose some battles, but thank God there will be victories, and ultimately we will win if we follow our Lord. And defeats are no less valuable for us than victories. There are triumphant entries into Jerusalem and black nights in Gethsemane. There are days when joys are sung with rapturous acclaim. Life has its bitter and it also has its sweets.
It is imperative that we trust and follow God in the imperious hours of black despair, believing with all our hearts the promise, As thy days so shall thy strength be (Deuteronomy 33:25), and that, … all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8:29).
With our trust in God, Jordan’s billowing waves will not prove a hindrance to stop us, but a highway to aid us. A man of faith can say with Dr. Alexander Blackburn, “It is better to walk in the dark with God, than to run in the light alone.”
It Will Be a Way of Certainty
We are constantly surrounded by uncertainties. We are called upon to “fight the good fight of faith” We battle against the prince of the power of the air and “against the hosts of spiritual wickedness in high places.” But the outcome of the warfare is already decided. Menacing floods may dispute our way, but the waters shall be divided tomorrow. And to those of us who faithfully follow the captain of our salvation, who will run with clear vision and act with full conviction of duty, the old story of our text will repeat itself in our lives at every single crossing. Our great high priest has stood in the midst of the slime and the mire of sin, that we may plant our feet upon the immovable rock of His salvation. And whatever barrier may challenge our progress, like Israel on that memorable day, we shall on dry ground pass “clean over.” Not only is there surety for tomorrow, but there is surety for all the tomorrows that are to come into the lives of every one of us.
To those who have experienced the new birth, who have tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the world to come, God’s tomorrows are glorious. Yes, we who love the Lord Jesus Christ can face the New Year and all the years that God allots to us with calm confidence. When Moses set about upon that great journey to lead the children of Israel across the trackless waste of the deserts and into the Land of Promise, he wanted to make absolutely sure that he had a safe, capable guide, for more than anything he needed guidance, and so there was wisdom as well as caution in the request of Moses that someone should be sent to guide them through the wastes of the wilderness. It was in reply to that request that God said, “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest” (Exodus 33:14). To this Moses answered, “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence” (Vs.15). And that is His promise, “Lo, I am with you always…” “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee!’ As God went with the children of Israel, so God will go with His people today.
What could be more wonderful, than to have the glory of His presence? For many years, this was the theme song of the Voice of Calvary program:
I have seen Him, I have known Him,
And He deigns to walk with me;
And the glory of His presence will
be mine eternally.
Oh, the glory of His presence,
Oh the beauty of His face,
I am His and His forever,
He has saved me by His grace.
In pastures green? Not always;
Sometimes He who knoweth best,
In kindness leadeth me by weary ways,
Where heavy shadows be,
And by still water?
No, not always so;
Oft times with heavy tempest
’round me blow;
And o’er my soul the waves
in billow go.
But when the storm is loudest
And I cry aloud for help,
The Master standeth by and
whispers to my soul,
‘Lo, it is I.’
Above the tempest wild,
I hear Him say,
‘Beyond this darkness lies
the perfect day;
In every path of thine
I lead the way.’
So whether on the hill tops
high and fair I dwell,
Or in the sunless valleys
where the shadows lie –
What matter? He is there.
It Will Be a Way of Opportunity
God is saying to His Church, “Wake up, the world is on fire, and here you are sleeping in harvest time. Wake up, the world is lost and you have the message that will save it. Wake up, hearts are aching in the night and you have the balm that will heal them.”
We must become involved, work, hammer; forge ourselves into usefulness. We must not be contented with mediocrity. How easily we excuse ourselves from spiritual responsibility in the interest of “other opportunity.” We must throw ourselves into the stream of Christian service with reckless abandonment. Let us set new priorities in our lives and put service to the Lord Jesus Christ where it belongs, at the very top of the list. Such a spirit will change tallow candle resolutions into fires of flaming activity. The Christian life demands determination, purpose, dedication, commitment and faithfulness. We need to see our opportunity for Christ and to seize it with desperation. Time is running out and furthermore life is fading. The coming of our Lord, or death, may be nearer than any of us dream. We must work now. We must give now. “Only one life will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Israel had come to a new epoch in her life, a crucial, decisive hour. The clock of the centuries had struck. Forty years had been spent in wandering. Joshua’s voice sounded in their ears, as their eyes beheld the swollen tides of the Jordan. “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” And then he went on to say, “You shall know that the Lord is among you.” They were to move on to see the blessings of God.
If we are following Him we will go trustingly into the unknown tomorrow with the memories and strength of the undead yesterdays. “Tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” Believe it!
How wonderful is that faith that expects God to work in its behalf and He never fails. Joshua said, “For tomorrow. . .” Yes, “Tomorrow” all vacillating will be over. “Tomorrow” Jordan will be crossed. “Tomorrow” the victors will sing their song. “Tomorrow” God will kiss away our sorrows forever. “Tomorrow” blood will cease soaking battle fields, and nations will be marshaled at last under the blood stained banner of the Prince of Peace. “Tomorrow” burdens will be lifted, tears will be dried, and joy will sound its enchanting, rapturous music throughout the world. “Tomorrow” a new sunrise will splendor the earth with its golden tapestries.
The mystic veil will swing back and eternity will be in full view. Our hearts will leap. Our tongues will shout. Our joy will be full. Our quest will be realized. Beloved, as we embark upon the untrodden path of 2004 and face the unknown tomorrow, we can know that our tomorrows are all known to Him, and nothing can or will happen that is not in His plan and purpose, and for our best interests. How assuring to face the New Year in the consciousness of Christ’s eternal presence, and His unchanging promise, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age.”
Our matchless Christ is the alpha and omega, the beginning and end, the One in whom history will find its consummation, the great coming King of kings and Lord of lords. In Him and with Him we are ready for all the tomorrows!
What God has promised:
God hath not promised skies
Flower strewn pathways all
our lives through;
God hath not promised
sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow;
peace without pain;
But God hath promised
strength for the day,
Rest for the laborer;
light for the way;
Grace for the trials,
help from above;
– Annie Johnson Flint
Yes, beloved, with Him we are ready to begin a New Year!
This message published in The Biblical Evangelist. Used by permission