Rocks of Ages
Proposition: First we glorify God then we become more than conquerors.
Introduction: Last week we talked about how God held back the waters of the Jordan River, causing them to stand up like a heap 30 miles upstream at a place called Adam. Do you remember how God had the most important thing, the ark of the covenant, go into the river before them? You’ll remember how the priests stood for hours as the entire nation crossed over, keeping at least a kilometre between them and the ark, as God had instructed. We remembered the cross of Christ, a crossing point for us. We remembered Jesus as our ark or meeting place with God. The point is, we remember. In the account before us the whole emphasis is put upon just that, the call to remember. We rely on our memory to navigate the day ahead, to go out and come back, to achieve and avoid. As important as memory is to us, it’s even more important to God. In the account before us today God takes great effort and makes the people take great effort to not overlook the importance of remembering… a day, an event on that day and the reason why that event happened. God stops them in their tracks, He keeps priests standing in the middle of a dry river bed, ignores the peering eyes of enemies and the churning waters at Adam to do one thing…remember. Turn with me to Joshua 4.
I. Remember That For Each of You There Is a Stone That Has Been Moved.
I’m not sure just what things looked like here in chapter 4, perhaps the great majority of the nation stood on the dry land of the west bank of the river while over on the east bank there was this other group. Standing apart were 12 men, nearby were about 30, 000 people, the women, children and some younger men of the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. Their land was on the east side of the river, the soldiers of these three tribes have left their families and led the way across the Jordan. But it was to the 12 men, one man from each tribe of Israel, that Joshua now speaks. What these 12 did would be representative of the whole nation doing. Each man has been standing and awaiting Joshua’s command. ‘Come down now into the dry river bed and walk towards the ark, go right up to the place where the priests are presently standing.’ All the rest of the nation had to keep a considerable distance from the ark but these are to go right to place where the feet of the priests stood. They are to go into the presence of where the ark is. Here as representatives of all their people they would each pick up a stone and with it they would walk out of the river bed and carry it to where the nation would make its first place of possession in this new land. What these 12 did they did on behalf of all the others, it was an act ordained by God to declare that Israel now possessed this land. It was marked by stones that were conspicuous, stones that shouldn’t have been where they now were, stones that had been moved in order to declare what God had just done for them. It was marked by conspicuous stones that were meant to be a reminder for all generations that things had changed, there was a new life for Israel. Does this wording sound familiar, does it remind you of Another whose actions, whose God ordained actions, were done on the behalf of many? Does it cause you to remember another stone that was conspicuously out of place, a call to remember new life eternally in the resurrected Christ? For each person in the nation of Israel a stone had been moved and was made into a memorial for generations to come. It was there not only to point them to their new home, it was there to remind them constantly that God is the One who overcomes, it is He alone who is Sovereign therefore it is He alone who is to be worshipped. Remember, remember it as long as a stone endures, remember because we are but dust and are prone to be blown about. Remember the stone that has been moved for you.
II. In Both the Good Times and the Bad, Remember Our Rock.
As the 12 men now stand on the western bank Joshua orders another action. Though it doesn’t use the phrasing of God ordaining this I would expect that Joshua is following direction here just as he did with the first 12 stones being extracted from the river bed. Now Joshua has a different group of men take 12 large stones, likely larger than any one man could carry, likely stones from the dry ground they now stood upon and he has them place these stones in the river bed right at the spot where the priests still holding the ark of the covenant stood. These large stones were meant to fulfill a different purpose. They were meant to withstand the flow of the Jordan River, they were meant to be a memorial marker that for the most part would not be seen. The muddy waters of the Jordan would surge over them, swirl around them, covering them. To anyone who would come back to this site just one week later they would look out over the flooding Jordan and be able to say, “Just over there, underneath the water but as solid as a massive rock, is the marker that proclaims we are here because of the immovable hand of God.” In good times it is like that isn’t it, the flood of prosperity and well being can obscure the truth of not only how this came to be but also of how it is even in this very day. Yet unseen to our eyes is the presence of God, the hand of God who holds our very lives in place. In the good times the water will obscure the rocks but in the times of drought when the river level drops the rocks would stand out prominently. The sound of the water coming up against them and eddying around the 12 great stones, would draw the ears and eyes and in remembering, the hearts of those who would come close enough to see. It’s in those times that remembering is particularly critical. Whether times are good or bad or just okay the stones were there to provoke people and especially the children to ask, “What do these stones mean to you?” It was meant to be an opportunity for the parents to teach their children about God’s great mercy, to share testimony and to create testimony.
Some commentators feel that the stones on the dry ground at Gilgal and the stones in the river were still there in the days of John the Baptist. So when John sees the Pharisees coming to watch him baptizing the people in Matthew 3:12 he says, “…do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” Parents teach your children the truth about what God has done in your lives, what He has done in Scripture and what he is doing in their lives today.
III. Remember Always the Mighty Hand of God, Fear the Lord Thy God.
As Joshua sees that the 12 huge stones are now in the place where the priests have stood, he gives the order for them to now come up from the Jordan. It says that as their feet touch the west bank the river again begins to flow, proving that this was no natural event. In verse 19 it says that the people came up from the Jordan River on the 10th day of the first month, that’s the day of preparation for the Passover. In fact it has been almost 40 years to the day since Israel left Egypt that they now cross the Jordan. Joshua had been born a slave in Egypt, he had seen the night of the first Passover when God passed over every house that had the blood of a lamb smeared on its lintel. He’d heard of the deaths of all of the first born of Egypt. He had seen the way God delivered them from Egypt, the way God had parted the Red Sea, the way God had provided for them for forty years with pillars of fire, cloud and manna and now he saw the promise of God come true right before his very eyes. He remembered the mighty hand of God. Jericho was just a mile and half away, they could see the battle ahead but first things first. This entire nation would now stop and glorify God. It was Passover. Perhaps Joshua is standing beside this heap of river rock as he says these next words in verses 21 to 24. He tells them that the reason the stones are here is so that the children would ask about them. And when they ask, the parents are to answer that God prepared the way, all the way. Then Joshua says, “that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
So what are the memorial stones that are the markers of your life, how has God prepared the way, all the way, in your life? There’s five questions I’d like you to answer: 1.What scares you the most in your life? 2. What amazes you the most? 3. What do you doubt the most in your life? 4. What brings you the most joy every day? 5. What is the most impossible barrier in front of you right now?
As you answer each question, look and remember, see if God has prepared the way, all the way. Ask, ‘How has God met me here, how has He prepared the way for me.’ This is your testimony, these are your memorial stones that testify that God has prepared the way, all the way. By these things see the mighty hand of God, by these things fear the Lord your God forever.