Stones of Remembrance
Text: Joshua 4
Proposition: God uses memorial to remind us of the devastation of war and the sin that causes it as He points us to the only lasting peace of Jesus Christ.
Introduction: In the capital city of Ottawa are the Parliament buildings and atop the center building is the Peace Tower. On the third floor of the Tower is a room about 24 feet by 24 feet called the Memorial Chamber. Every day at 11 am, even this morning at 11 am, a uniformed guard will enter that room. In front of him is the Altar of Remembrance, carved from a single piece of stone from Britain, called Hoptonwood stone. The First World War Book of Remembrance rests atop the altar and pays homage to those veterans by listing the names of over 66,600 Canadians who gave their lives in service to their country. The inscription along the circumference of the upper section of the altar is from John Bunyan's 'The Pilgrim's Progress' whose character Mr. Valiant-for-Truth states: "My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles, who now will be my Rewarder; so he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side."
In the Peace Tower the guard marches from book to book, seven books remembering the lives of those given for this country. He salutes the names of the Canadians who have given the sacrifice of life and then turns the page. The last book is called, "In the Service of Canada," a Seventh Book of Remembrance that is ongoing, and will honor Canadian Forces members who give their lives for their country for generations to come. Above the guard on the east wall is a stained glass window depicting The Call to Arms, on the south wall is The Assembly of Remembrance window depicting the people of Canada and on the west is the window called The Dawn of Peace. The West Window witnesses the passing of one day to another and symbolizes the achievement of Canada's men and women in uniform. The upper figures represent the aspirations of Victory, Prosperity, Progress and Plenty. The lower figures are of the men, women and children to whom the torch of freedom has been passed. (http://www.parl.gc.ca/About/House/Memorial/video/index-e.htm)
Stone has been used in many cultures to point us in the direction of remembrance, from tombs to trophies to Peace Towers. They direct the mind of the curious to a place of discovery, to a place of perspective which is meant to lead us to humility. Let me remind you of a time when stone was used to create this kind of Remembrance. Turn with me to Joshua 4.
I. God Calls Us To Remember and Then To Be Thankful.
Israel had just experienced a miracle that over rode the laws of nature, flowing water ceased to take the path of least resistance and with no visible constraint it piled itself up like a cairn. The dry riverbed became a bridge of life to a nation. Over a million people see the miracle, they experience a release from being wanderers, people without a place to being people finally at home. What does your home mean to you, what does it mean to you to finally feel at home, to be where you belong, to be where God specifically has placed you? Remembrance has a call to be vigilant but even greater is the call to be thankful. It begins with being thankful for this home we have, thankful to those who have given so much for it but then it moves to being thankful to God. In the account in Joshua God calls Israel to be thankful. It is He who instructs Joshua to send the twelve men back to the midst of riverbed. What is surprising is the choice He makes of what this memorial is to be built of. I would think that the greater the event the greater the memorial. There are gold statues and massive pyramids, mountains cut into the shapes of leaders faces that are but remembrances of much lesser events. God chose river stones, and only that which one man could carry, to be His memorial. It would seem that God chooses signs which are most proper to Him, the foolish things of the earth to shame the wise. Jesus Christ most exemplifies this truth, the sign of the forgiveness of sin for man, the greatest miracle ever. He is the Stone that the builders of so many nations have rejected, He is our One rock, the Rock of our salvation. He is the wisdom of God for how salvation is to be, and it seems foolish to men. Yet God has set Jesus Christ before us, a plain ‘river rock’ kind of man, and yet also being the fullness of deity, the Son of God, the Rock of ages. He is ever to be remembered for what He did in having the sin of all imputed to Himself that by His stripes and death and resurrection we are healed. The Creator of the cross of Christ intends it to be an eternal memorial of hope and life in Christ. He intends that our response should be that we are thankful for all the freedom of this home and all the promise of the home to come.
II. God Uses Stone to Symbolize the Lasting Honor Due His Name.
When rock is conspicuous, especially when the rock is out of place, or not naturally where it should be, it calls attention to itself. Piles of rock don’t just naturally occur in the middle of a flat plain, much less in the midst of a flowing river. Stones piled high in such a way as this ‘cry out’. What was it that this cairn of stones by the city of Gilgal or the cairn in the midst of a flowing Jordan River, were going to cry out? If you were to paraphrase the words of verse 7, this is what it would mean: “The passion of God for the sake of His name is unstoppable.” Think of it like this, when God gave His word in a covenant to the people, His Word was an expression of Who He is. God’s passion for the holiness of Who He is, is something He will not allow to be compromised. In that sense He is a jealous God, He will not allow the truth of Who He is to be mixed with anything else. The passion of God for His name is unstoppable. When He promised to lead the people to Canaan, His name was on the line; when the Jordan River, in full flood before a nation of over a million men, women and children, sought to block that nation from entering in, His name was on the line; when people see the works and words of God and respond to Him in faith; His name is on the line; when people live in a faith of being resurrected from the dead, His name is on the line; when people live in a hope of an eternal existence, a hope that has the righteousness of Jesus Christ as my only plea for forgiveness of sin and being justified from that sin, His name is on the line... and the passion of God for His name is unstoppable! This is what the truth of a stone that is out of place proclaims. The stone that had closed the grave of Christ was out of place. That stone had been rolled away, it was not where it should have been. Like the others it cries out.. “What He said He would do, He has done. The passion of God for His Holy Name is unstoppable!” Praise God that it is so.
III. Greater Than War, Greater Than the Command Not To Forget is… Fear God.
Is it simply ‘not to forget’ that this memorial cairn of Joshua commanded? I think that is just the beginning of it. In verse 24 the command of the cairn is that all peoples of the earth may know the hand of the Lord is mighty. Have you here seen the rocks in Gilgal or the marker in the midst of the Jordan? It’s likely you’ve never even seen an artists depiction of them. Do the stones still exist, oh yes, even though the entire city of Gilgal is gone. As mighty as the Peace Tower in Ottawa is, as universal and powerful as Remembrance Day is, greater than these, much greater than these is the command to remember Who the Lord God is. Today we are called to fear the Lord your God forever, to not simply just remember that He is, but to be struck with a sense of reverential awe as the Lord God Almighty catches your eye and looks full into your face. The memorials of war are tributes to the men and women who stood up to defend their countries. It is their selflessness that is honored but Remembrance Day is weak on recognizing the foolish nature of man’s sin to exploit others, to be motivated by power, greed and hatred that are the grist of every war. Don’t stop at Flanders Fields on Remembrance Day, move through it, let your finger tips feel the poppies row upon row, and recognize the repeating failure of man to govern himself apart from God. Let wisdom begin again with the Fear of the Lord.
Today God would build a new Remembrance Stone, the description of that is in 1 Peter 2:4,5 … “And coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men, but choice and precious in the sight of God, you also as living stones are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” This is what the fear of the Lord is all about, it is a refining fire that is meant to bring perspective to all people as it points past history to eternity. It calls us not to fear man who can only kill the body but to fear the Lord God Almighty who has our body, soul and spirit in His care.
You here today are Stones of Remembrance, to proclaim and worship the One who has caused you to stand conspicuously His.