“CROSSING THE JORDAN”

JOSHUA 3

AUGUST 2, 2009

 

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Rivers of the world have always been important to humankind.  We sing about them.  “Old man river, that old man river.”  “Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ down the river.”  We give them nicknames like “The Mighty Mo”  and “The Big Muddy.”  And children learn about them.  At least, I remember studying them as a child, rivers like the Mississippi, the Columbia, the Rhine, the Danube, the Nile, the Amazon.  And in the bible the great river is the Jordan River.  Other rivers are mentioned in the bible, but the Jordan River is the river.

            The snow runoff from Mount Hermon feeds the Jordan.  From Mount Hermon the river flows seventeen miles to the Sea of Galilee, and then an additional sixty-five miles to the Dead Sea.  Between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea the Jordan flows through a valley three miles wide at the north and twelve miles wide at the city of Jericho.

            Many important events took place in the Jordan River, including the baptism of our Lord.  This morning we come to one of the those important events, Israel crossing the Jordan and entering the Promised Land.  And as we study this even today, I want us to note four things about God.  First, note the holiness of God.  Verse one.

 

            Early in the morning Joshua rose and set out from Shittum with all the Israelites, and they came to the Jordan.  They camped there before crossing over.  At the end of three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place.  Follow it, so that you may know the way you should go, for you have not passed this way before.  Yet there shall be a space between you and it, a distance of about two thousand cubits; do not come any nearer to it.”

 

            Any of you see the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark?  Well, in that instance, Hollywood got it right.  The real Ark looked like it did in the movie.  The Hebrew word for “ark” literally means “chest” or “container” and that is what it was.  It was a large wooden box overlaid with gold.  It had golden rings on each corner into which gold-covered poles were inserted for carrying the Ark.  It contained the stone copy of the Ten Commandments.  It also contained a portion of the manna from the desert and Aaron’s priestly rod.

            But it was much more than a container of sacred and holy things.  It was also seen as the portable throne of the invisible God.  It was the outward symbol of God’s presence with the people and the Ark of the Covenant does not make many appearances in the pages of Scriptures, but when it does, it is an extraordinarily potent presence.  It is a strange box with strange powers.  For example, in King David’s time someone accidently touched the Ark and died.  At another time the Ark was captured by the Philistines and taken into their camp.  That proved to be a big mistake.  Powers emanating from the Ark started toppling the Philistine gods from their pedestals.  The Philistines said they did not want it near them.  Eventually the Ark was deposited in the Temple in Jerusalem and then it was lost when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem in 586 B.C.  And no one has been able to find it.  Maybe you will be the one who discovers it. 

            And because it was such a potent force, Joshua specifies that a good half mile should separate the Ark from the priests and the rest of the people.  It was to be handled with great care, great awe, great respect.  At times we have forgotten that about God.  I’m going to say something that may bother you.  Maybe it won’t but I think it will.  Here’s what I want to say: if we haven’t stood before God and been afraid from time to time, not all the time but from time to time, then we really have not stood before God.

            The saints of old always had a healthy respect for God.  Moses “hid his face” because he was afraid to look at God.  Having been in the presence of a holy God, Isaiah became overwhelmed with a sense of uncleanliness.  When God finally revealed himself to Job, Job’s reaction was to “despise” himself and to “repent in sackcloth and ashes.”  When the Apostle Peter realized he was in the presence of God, he said to Jesus, “Get away from me for I am a sinful man.”  And when John in the Revelation saw the ascended Christ in all his magnificence, he “fell at his feet as though dead.”

            If we have never stood before God and experienced a healthy fear, then we have not stood before the God of Moses or Isaiah, or Job, or Daniel, or Peter or John.  Granted we need to know that God is love and that God’s yoke is easy and his burden is light, and we need to remember that Jesus longs to call us friends, but we also need to be reminded of God’s holiness, a holiness that abhors sin, will not tolerate sin, and takes action against sin.  If we do not fully appreciate the holiness of God we will not fully appreciate the love of God.

            Second, I also want us to note the desire of God.   Verse 5.

 

            Then Joshua said to the people, “Sanctify yourselves; for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”  To the priests Joshua said, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on in front of the people.”  So they took up the ark of the covenant and went in front of the people.

 

            Some of you who use computers may have a thesaurus as part of your word processor.  I do, and I clicked on the word “sanctify” because it’s not a word we use much in the 21st century, and I came up with a number of synonyms for it.  I came up with the words “consecrate,” “dedicate,” “cleanse,” and “purify.”  I, also, came up with some antonyms - words with an opposite meaning - “desecrate” and “defile.”  In other words, God’s desire is that we cleanse ourselves, consecrate ourselves, dedicate ourselves to God’s purposes.

            Some of you may be canning things this time of the year.  I have never canned anything in my life.  I have never preserved peaches or canned tomatoes, but I’m told that one of the tricks of preserving things, of canning things, is to sterilize the jars.  Why do you have to sterilize the jars?  You sterilize the jars so the contents in the jars will be preserved from spoiling.

            Now imagine a husband comes home and finds his wife boiling jars in the kitchen and he asks the obvious question.  He asks, “What are you doing?”

            She replies, “What does it look like I’m doing?  I’m sterilizing jars.”

            He asks, “Why are you sterilizing jars?” and imagine she replies sarcastically, “Oh, I just like to clean jars.”

            If she said that the husband would be at a loss.  Having sterilized jars just for the sake of sterilizing jars doesn’t make any sense.  No, the reason to have sterilized jars is because you intend to put something in them.  And God wants some cleansed, purified containers because God intends to fill us with his power and God’s power works best in purified containers.

            It’s like that little boy who asked his father about the sermon they had just heard.  “Dad,” the boy said, “the pastor’s sermon confused me.”

            “Why is that?” the father asked.

            “Well, the pastor said that God is bigger than all of us.  And he also said that God lives inside of us.”

            “Yes, that’s true,” replied the father.

            The boy countered, “Well, if that’s really true that God is bigger than us and he lives inside us, wouldn’t God show through?”

            God would, if we have a clear vessel.  The problem with so many of us, however, is our vessels are so dirty people cannot see God in us.

            Then third, let’s note the sensitivity of God.  Verse 7.

 

            The Lord said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses.  You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’”

 

            What God says to Joshua here, puts a smile on my face.  In all honesty, I expected God to say something else.  I expected God to say, “Today, Joshua, I am going to humble you.  I’m going to take you down a notch or two,” but God does not say that.  Instead, God says to Joshua, “I’m going to exalt you.”

            Now, the last thing some of us need is to be exalted.  For example, my mother died a number of years ago, and when we were going through her things, I came across a Mother’s Day card I had given to her one year.  The card had a young boy, a toddler, sitting in a high chair smoking a cigar and drinking a beer.  The front of the card read, “Mom, I know I wasn’t an easy child to live with,” and on the inside it read, “The great ones never are.”

            The last thing some of us need is to be exalted, but some of us need that very much.  Some of us are beaten down.  Some of us have a poor understanding of our giftedness.  Some of us lack confidence to the point we don’t try things, we don’t take risks because our self-image is so fragile we could not stand to fail.  It would hurt too much.

            What about you?  Do you need to be humbled or exalted?  It’s my guess that a number of us are like Joshua.  We need to be exalted.  Of course, in Joshua’s case his exalting had as much to do with his being built up in the eyes of the people as his own eyes, but nonetheless, Joshua needed building up in his own eyes.  He was stepping into Moses’ enormous shoes and he wondered if he could fill those shoes, so God exalts him.  God knows Joshua’s need.  Note the sensitivity of God.

            Then, finally, not only note the holiness of God, and the desire of God, and the sensitivity of God, but also note the power of God.

            Picture the scene.  It’s April or May.  The river is near flood stage.  The Jordan was swollen from the melting snows of Mount Hermon.  At other times of the year one could easily walk across the river, but not this time of year.  And God is going to demonstrate God’s power, by stopping the flow of the river.

            And some of you may be thinking, “Wait a minute.  That’s a lot to swallow.  Rivers don’t stop.  They may dry up, but they do not stop.”  Well, sometimes they do.  For example, in 1927 a landslide caused the Jordan to stop flowing for twenty hours.  Something similar may have happened here.  A landslide may have occurred  right when it was time to cross the river, making this a miracle of timing.  A scientifically explainable event happened at just the right time.  But whether this is a miracle of nature or a miracle of timing, it doesn’t matter.  It’s still a miracle.  God has the power to still storms, calm seas and stop rivers.  But to access that power often requires us to do something.  Check out what God asked the people to do before God stopped the flow of the river.  Verse 9.

 

            Joshua then said to the Israelites, “Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God.”  Joshua said, “By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan.  So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe.  When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.”

 

            Can you imagine the expressions on the faces of the priests when Joshua told them the plan?  Can’t you just hear them saying, “Do what, Joshua?  Carry the ark into the water, the flood stage water, and hold the ark over our heads, and then when all twelve of us are in the water, God will stop it from flowing?  That’s the plan, Joshua?”

            “Yep, that’s the plan boys!”

            And can’t you just hear them say, “Joshua, how about suggestion?  How about we wait until the water stops and then we get in the riverbed with the ark of the covenant?  After all, the water is moving pretty fast, and we might drop the ark and you know what might happen if we drop the ark.  So, how about us waiting for the water to stop first?”

            “Nope,” says Joshua.  “Get in the water.”

            “Well, Joshua, how about if we just waited for the water to slow down a little before we get in?”

            “Nope.  God tells me you have to get in the water before he stops it.”

            There is a secular version of this same principle ... “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

            I read the results of a recent sociological study.  People over ninety-five were asked one question.  “If you could live your life over again, what would you do differently?”  It was an open ended question, not multiple choice, so the responses varied, the three specific answers constantly emerged.  They said, “If I had to do it over again, I would reflect more, I would do more things that would live on after I’m dead, I would risk more.”

            Soren Kierkegaard said, “To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose oneself.”

            The lesson is clear.  The Promised Land belongs to those who take risks, and here’s what we need to know.  Wet feet people experience more miracles than dry feet people.