- Adam Schell
Making the Impossible Possible
Over the last few weeks here at Melbourne Heights, we have been working our way through a series of sermons called “The Promised Land.” But what exactly is the Promised Land? Well, in the bible the term Promised Land refers to the land that God promised to Abraham and his descendants…the place where Abraham and his descendants would become a blessing to all the nations and all the people of the earth.
And that’s a nice definition of what the Promised Land is, but there’s a description of what the Promised Land was like that piqued my interest when I first started working on this sermon series about six weeks ago. And this description of the Promised Land is used at least twenty times in the Bible – so, as best I can tell, it’s the most popular way of describing what the Promised Land was like.
So what is that description? Well, the Promised Land is often described as a land flowing with milk and honey. Now, if you’ve spent much time in church over the years, you’ve probably heard that description before. But when I started working on this sermon series, I decided that I wanted to learn a little bit more about this description…I wanted to learn more about milk and honey.
And as I was researching milk and honey, I stumbled on this interesting article – in Scientific America – about bees. And this article talked about an experiment that was conducted back in 2017 to figure out what kind of learning ability a bee has. Now unless you’re an entomologist you probably don’t know this, but bees have a brain that’s about the size of a sesame seed. And with a brain that small, you wouldn’t expect that bees would be able to learn very much at all.
But this experiment wanted to know for sure. So the lead researcher on this experiment, a guy named Olli Loukola – who is a behavioral ecologist at Queen Mary University of London – came up with an incredible experiment…and I mean that literally. The word "incredible" literally means so extraordinary as to seem impossible.
And that’s the kind of experiment Olli Loukola came up with, something so extraordinary it seemed impossible. Because Olli Loukola decided that he was going to try to teach bees how to play soccer. You heard me right. This experiment was designed to teach bees how to play soccer.
And as soon as I started reading this article, I just couldn’t fathom how this guy got funding to do this research. You see, I’ve coached a couple of soccer teams at the YMCA over the years. And I found out it was almost impossible to teach five-year-olds how to play soccer. So the idea that this researcher was going to teach bees to play soccer sounded absolutely absurd.
So I tried to imagine Dr. Loukola walking into the office of the chairman of his department at Queen Mary University to make his pitch. There he is in his nice white lab coat with his presentation board in hand. On one side there’s a picture of your average bumblebee and, on the other side, there’s a picture of Pele – the greatest soccer player in history.
And I can just imagine the look on the department chair’s face when Dr. Loukola got to the point. When he said that he wanted to study bees learning ability by teaching them to play soccer and that he needed funding from the university to do it, I think that the chair of his department probably looked like he just ate too much ice cream and gave himself brain freeze. And then I like to think that the department chair said, “Olli didn’t we just turn down your funding request to teach crickets how to play cricket?”
Because, seriously, have you ever heard such a crazy idea? Teaching bees how to play soccer…that’s impossible.
But then I started reading the scripture passage we’re going to be looking at today, and the whole idea of bees playing soccer didn’t seem quite so impossible to me. So let me show you what I mean. If you’ve got a Bible close by go ahead and grab it and turn to Joshua 6.
And, as you’re finding it, let me give you a little background on the book of Joshua. Joshua’s story takes place after God has released the Israelites from 400 years of slavery in Egypt, and after they’ve spent 40 years in the wilderness waiting to enter the Promised Land.
So, in the book of Joshua, the people of Israel finally enter the Promised Land. But it doesn’t take long before they run into a pretty big problem. The people of Israel come across a city called Jericho – a city that is so fortified that people can literally live in the walls that protect Jericho from outside invaders.
And this is the first city that Joshua and the people of Israel encounter as they enter the Promised Land. This is the first city they have to conquer to start reclaiming the land God has given them. But there’s a giant wall in front of them. Archaeological evidence tells us that the walls of Jericho were over 17 feet tall and 6 feet thick. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, they were also surrounded by a moat that was 27 feet wide and 9 feet deep.
So, as the scripture passage we’re reading today begins, Joshua and the people of Israel are standing outside these walls and across from that moat. They know that they have to find some way to breach these walls so that they can begin to reclaim the land God has promised them. But it seems impossible.
But, in Joshua 6, God has an idea, and, ordinarily, that would change everything. I mean, if God has an idea we’d probably all feel confident that it would work. But when you hear what God actually told the people of Israel to do to breach the walls of Jericho, well, let’s just say that it sounds about as incredible as teaching bees how to play soccer. So let’s see what God’s idea is. We’ll start reading in verse 2. It says:
2 The Lord said to Joshua, “Look. I have given Jericho and its king into your power, along with its mighty warriors. 3 Circle the city with all the soldiers, going around the city one time. Do this for six days. 4 Have seven priests carry seven trumpets made from rams’ horns in front of the chest. On the seventh day, circle the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets.
5 “Have them blow a long blast on the ram’s horn. As soon as you hear that trumpet blast, have all the people shout out a loud war cry. Then the city wall will collapse, and the people will rise up, attacking straight ahead.”
Joshua 6:2-5 (Common English Bible)
Did you hear God’s idea? The people of Israel are supposed to conquer the city of Jericho and they’re going to do it by walking in circles around the city. They’re going to walk in circles around the city and then they’re going to play loud music and yell. Now that sounds completely crazy, right?
The people of Israel are going to go around in circles, play loud music, and yell. Now, I’m not a military strategist…but that doesn’t sound like a very good war strategy. Do you know what that does sound like? It sounds like a game of musical chairs at a kid’s birthday party.
But, as impossible as it sounds, that’s what God tells the people of Israel to do.
And there’s something that I’ve learned after nearly 15 years in ministry. I’ve learned that God makes the impossible possible.
God makes the impossible possible.
I mean, just stop and think about it for a minute. In the book of Genesis, God tells Abraham and Sarah that their children will become a great nation…that they will have more descendants than there are stars in the sky. But when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90, they still didn’t have any kids. So God’s promise seemed impossible.
Or, in the book of Exodus, when the people of Israel had just been freed from slavery in Egypt and were headed back to the land God had promised them, the Egyptians started chasing after them. And the people of Israel ended up being trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea. So it seemed impossible that the people of Israel could escape.
Or, in the book of 1 Samuel, a little shepherd boy named David decides that he is going to fight a giant named Goliath. Now, Goliath is an experienced warrior who has never lost a fight…and David, well, David isn’t even a soldier. He doesn’t have any armor. He doesn’t even have a sword. So David is going to fight this giant with a slingshot and a few stones. So it seemed impossible for David to win this fight.
And those are just a few examples that I can give you. But the truth is that we don’t even have to look back thousands of years to these biblical stories to see that there are times when God makes the impossible possible. We only have to look back a few years at the history of our church. Just about five years ago, our church made the decision to sell our old building…and we’re not just talking about any old building. We’re talking about the only place our church had called home for sixty years. We’re talking about a place that was on prime real estate right off Taylorsville Road. We’re talking about a place that was located in one of the most densely populated areas in the city of Louisville.
So when we made the decision to sell our old building it didn’t seem possible that we could continue to be a church. Because not only did we decide we were going to sell our old building when we made that decision we also had no idea where we were going. We didn’t have another building lined up. We didn’t have a lease agreement worked out. We thought we were going to meet in a hotel ballroom for a while…but even that fell through. So it didn’t seem possible that we’d still be here five years after that journey began.
But before we get too caught up thinking about all of these impossible situations, there’s something else I need to tell you about the bees playing soccer and the walls around the city of Jericho.
As impossible as it may have sounded when Olli Loukola decided to teach bees how to play soccer...he actually did it. He taught bees how to play soccer. Now, it’s not like the bees were running around wearing shinguards and jerseys. And they definitely weren’t playing soccer in the traditional 11-on-11 sense. But Loukola taught those bees how to put a ball in a goal. So Olli Loukola’s crazy idea worked.
And do you know what happened when the people of Israel followed God’s plan and marched around the walls of Jericho, playing music and shouting? Well, if you’ll grab your Bible again and look with me at Joshua 6:15, I’ll show you what happened. In Joshua 6:15 and following, we’re told:
15 On the seventh day, they got up at dawn. They circled the city in this way seven times. It was only on that day that they circled the city seven times. 16 The seventh time, the priests blew the trumpets. Then Joshua said to the people, “Shout, because the Lord has given you the city! 17 The city and everything in it is to be utterly wiped out as something reserved for the Lord. Only Rahab the prostitute is to stay alive, along with everyone with her in her house. This is because she hid the messengers we sent. 18 But you, keep away from the things set aside for God so that you don’t desire and take some of the things reserved. That would turn the camp of Israel into a thing doomed to be utterly wiped out and bring calamity on it. 19 All silver and gold, along with bronze and iron equipment, are holy to the Lord. They must go into the Lord’s treasury.” 20 Then the people shouted. They blew the trumpets. As soon as the people heard the trumpet blast, they shouted a loud war cry. Then the wall collapsed. The people went up against the city, attacking straight ahead. They captured the city.
Joshua 6:15-20 (Common English Bible)
After the people of Israel marched in circles, after they played their music, after they shouted out; the walls of Jericho came tumbling down. As impossible as it may seem the walls of Jericho came tumbling down.
So here’s what we need to realize, nothing is impossible for God.
Nothing is impossible for God.
And that’s something that God likes to remind us. God wants us to remember how great God is. So God has a habit of making the impossible possible just to show us who he is. When the walls of Jericho came tumbling down and the only thing the people of Israel had done was walk around in circles and make noise, was there any doubt why the walls fell?
No. There was no doubt that the walls fell because God knocked them down. So God asked the people of Israel to do something that seemed impossible to show the world how great God is.
It’s what happened with Abraham and Sarah. God promised to make their descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, even though it seemed impossible. When Sarah was 90 years old, she had a baby. God did the impossible. And we saw how great God is. It’s what happened when the people of Israel were trapped between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea. It seemed like there was no way out…but God parted the Red Sea so the people of Israel could escape. God did the impossible. And we saw how great God is. It’s what happened when David went out to fight a giant with just a slingshot and a few stones. It seemed impossible that David could defeat an enemy that no soldier in all of Israel was brave enough to face. But when David wound that sling up, God did the impossible. Goliath fell. And we all saw how great our God is.
And over the last few years at Melbourne Heights, God has continued to show us how great he is. When the world shut down because of COVID and almost no properties were selling, we finalized the sale of our old building…and we saw how great God is. When our plans to start worshiping in a hotel ballroom derailed and we didn’t know where we could do church, God opened up the doors that led us to UofL…and we saw how great God is. Even as our in-person attendance has struggled to return to pre-pandemic levels and we wonder if our church is still making an impact for the Kingdom of God, I’ll receive a phone call like the one I received just a few weeks ago. An older woman right here in Louisville who has never set foot inside our church called when she was going through a tough time. And she called because she remembered hearing the sermon series I preached a few months ago called Overwhelmed.
She said she was feeling overwhelmed and couldn’t think of anyone better to call to talk to than the preacher who preached that series. And although I couldn’t solve all of her problems, I was able to listen to her, to minister to her, to make a difference in her life. And God showed me how great he is.
And this is something that we need to remember as we enter into our promised land – the place where God will use our church to bless our community – at Melbourne Heights. We need to remember how great our God is. And we need to remember how great God is because we are going to face situations in our future that seem impossible. We’re going to have times when we face walls like Jericho. And when we face situations that seem impossible, we need to remember that God makes the impossible possible. We just have to follow him.