Text: Joshua 3
Proposition: In almost everything in our lives we need to recognize that not only have we never been this way before but that it is as we keep our eyes on the Lord that we will find the way through.
Introduction: We’ve been looking at the book of Joshua and we are at the point where God is about to give direction for how the people of Israel are to cross the flooding Jordan River. It’s an iconic passage that has been turned into a metaphor for overcoming formidable persecution where the other side of the Jordan represents freedom. It’s been used for a metaphor portraying the struggle of life itself as the Jordan is made analogous to death itself and eternal life is what lay on the other side. All the metaphors focus on what the result of crossing the Jordan will accomplish but what if the crossing itself is what this story is all about. In other words it’s not about the distant Promised Land, the could have been or should have been things in our lives, it’s about the very turbulent moments, the actual crossing of the Jordan was meant to accomplish. Think of it this way, there are times in the year when the Jordan is just a trickle but at 985 feet below sea level when the spring creeks begin to run and the snow cap mountains of the north begin to weep and the Sea of Galilee is full, that the Jordan becomes a catchment for every bit of water around. Why did the Lord lead Israel to the Jordan when they would be facing a torrent in the spring instead of a trickle in the fall? Part of the answer to that question is so that they would be faced with an impossibility that would require faith and risk and courage and the crossing of it would cause a galvanizing effect within the nation itself. This morning let’s not rush to get to the other side, let’s watch and see what God accomplishes in the crossing itsellf. Turn with me to Joshua 3.
I. When Crossing the Jordan, the Most Precious Thing Is Put In First.
For three days they had camped at the rivers edge, a constant reminder of what they couldn’t do was right in front of them day and night. After three days of hopelessness the officers go through the camp and tell the people that the very first to enter the impossible waters of the Jordan will be the most precious. The ark of the covenant of the Lord their God will go in first. The command was simple, when you see the ark being carried by the priests and Levites then you get up and follow after it.
Let’s talk about the ark for a moment. In Exodus 25:10 Moses was instructed by God to make it out of acacia wood over laid with gold inside and out, it was about 54 inches long, 27 inches wide and 27 inches high. It had a lid upon which were two solid gold angels, one at either end, their wing tips arching towards each other and their faces looking down. This was called the ‘mercy seat’. There were solid gold rings attached to each corner and long poles of Acacia wood went through the rings to carry the ark. Inside it were two tablets of stone into which that God had carved those famous words, the ‘10 commandments’. They were called the ‘tablets of testimony’. Hebrews 9:4 says there was also a golden jar of manna and the rod of Aaron inside the ark. In Exodus 25:22 God says this to Moses, “And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel.” The ark was the most precious thing to Israel and God had it go first into the Jordan River in full flood. The people were to keep 2000 cubits or 1000 yards away from the ark. That’s almost a kilometer away, almost out of sight. They were cautioned not to come near it so that the whole people could see it and know which way to proceed. Let’s make some obvious conclusions about this:
1. The ark was what they placed their security in, should it be washed away what would happen to them?
2. Could God be trusted, could Joshua be trusted, that this was the right way to go?
3. The ark, the meeting place for God and man, was supposed to be visible to all, even though it was almost out of their range of sight they were to follow it.
4. Before the peoples feet ever touched the Jordan, the ark would already be there.
5. For the arc to go into the Jordan someone was being called carry it there.
You know that these are the same things that we ask and the same conclusions we live with. What do I place my security in, what happens to me if that is lost? Can I trust God or anyone else for that matter? Yet before I step into the land of no guarantees I know that Jesus stepped into that place first. He’s out in front of me and wants me to keep my eyes on him and not on the waters that threaten to sweep me away. Not only that but as a Christian I believe that I’m one that has been called to lift up the name of Jesus as I put my feet into the water of uncertainty. One last comment here, the people were told one more thing, “…for you have not passed this way before.” There was no one experienced at crossing the Jordan as God held back the waters. Everyone was new at this, they’d never gone through something like this before. That’s the point! When you walk by faith though there may have been pillars of fire before, this is a new experience for us all. Every step of faith, every act of worship, every moment of trial and every work of service is like that, unique. Keep your eyes on the ark, be gracious, be patient, trust, obey… you’ve never passed this way before. None of them had.
II. The Safest Place To Be, It’s In the Middle of the River.
Joshua told the people to come near and hear the words of the Lord their God. He tells the people that the evidence that God is among them and that He can and will do what He said He would do, is that the ark will now lead them into the Jordan. Joshua tells them that the Lord is going to separate the Jordan, cutting off the water upstream. So the command is given to the four priests who carried the ark that day to walk into the Jordan River. The river is still in full flood as the priests feet go into the water but as the soles of the feet of all four men are in the water something amazing happens. The waters that were flowing down cease. Thirty miles away, upstream at a place called Adam, the waters were miraculously piling up like an invisible dam was holding them. That was thirty miles upstream. Just doing a little calculation, say the current flowed 15 miles an hour, that would take water that was at Adam two hours to flow to where the priests stood. What I’m saying is that as the priests stepped into the Jordan God must have stopped the river two hours earlier for that flow to cease just as the priests stepped into it here by crossing of Jericho. Before we even ask, before we even see it, God is already in motion. This was an impossible thing, holding back a flooding river for hours as over a million people cross over a dry river bed. What did the people who lived near Adam think about the waters piled up by some invisible power? Is God still the same today, does He move in our lives like that? Do others see it even before I do? Does God wait for my feet to go into the water before He provides the escape, can God move both before and behind me?
I came across this quote by A.B. Simpson, “When dealing with a supernatural Being and taking things from Him that are humanly impossible, it is actually easier for us to take a lot than it is to take a little. And it is easier to stand in a place of bold trust than in a place where we cautiously and timidly cling to the shore.”
Perhaps the safest place is in the middle of the river, nearest to the Arc.
Have you felt like you were in over your head this week? Were you in one of those places where you can’t go back to what was and yet the way ahead scares you half to death? Is it just possible that God led you to this place at this time, a torrent instead of a trickle, because of what He still wants to accomplish in you by taking you through the torrent? What will the torrent reveal, what will the Crossing refine? What do you think God has taught you because of this last week? Maybe it’s not all about just getting through this and on to dry land again, maybe it’s about the Crossing itself and what you do with God as you go through it.
Maybe that’s exactly what the Cross was, a Crossing like no other, a place where God did the impossible. The Cross is where Jesus went before us, taking our sin even into death. The Cross is the place where we are changed and made ready for the Promised Land. The Cross is the safest place for any sinner because it’s only there that the power of God holds back the flood of His wrath against sin. The Arc held the stone ‘tablets of testimony’, the Son is the complete and living Word of God. The arc was where God spoke mercy to man, the cross of Christ is where there is saving grace. Near the cross, it’s the safest place to be …especially in times of torrent.