I. The Story
Joshua 3:1 says this, “The Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over.”
And they must be feeling pretty good. Joshua received the report from the spies that the people of Jericho were frightened of them. I’ll bet Joshua shared that. The Israelites were excited. Enough of the desert. Enough of the hot. Enough of being nomads and finally they were about to get to their homes.
So, picture this:
A large group of people – millions. Walking, skipping, bouncing towards Jericho. They’re whistling and singing and filled with all types of exuberance.
Until, they get over the final hill.
“The Jordan is at flood stage all during the harvest.” (v.15)
And it is harvest.
This is not a gentle wave pool.
It’s not a puddle.
It’s not a backyard stream.
It’s a full-fledged, rushing, level 5 rapids!
So…the options are limited.
They could ford it. Run forward as fast as they can --- and hope it doesn’t get too deep.
They could swim it – hoping that all those years in the desert led to Olympic level swimmers.
They could spend days—months – years – constructing rafts for the millions of people.
(It kind of makes me think of Oregon Trail. “You forded the river and almost everyone drowned. Plus, your horse died of dysentery.”)
Or maybe there was another option…
“When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go…” (v.3-4)
The ark of the covenant. You may have heard about it from the Indiana Jones’ movie of the same name. But it’s not a mythical idea. The ark of the covenant was very real. It was constructed during Moses’ leadership in the desert. It was a chest made of acacia wood with a golden overlay. It had 2 cherubim made of gold fashioned and placed on its cover – their wings covering the opening as if to protect it
As cool as the outside of the ark looked, the inside was even more impressive. There was…
…a jar of manna. Bread that God had poured down in the wilderness for the people to eat. This particular jar never molded and the manna wasn’t even pickled.
…Aaron’s staff. Aaron was Moses’ brother. His staff had been pretty normal – a dead, dry piece of wood. But in a show of power God had made that dead staff of wood blossom – such that vines and flower blossoms adorned it.
…2 tablets of stone. Not just any tablets, but the very tablets that God had written the Ten Commandments upon with…His. Own. Finger.
This is some holy stuff.
…It was only a box.
What good would taking a box – even a religious looking box – and setting it by the river’s edge really do?
Essentially, it’d be similar to someone telling us to take down that giant cross. Designate 6 people to carry it and then start walking…all the way to the Neuse River in order to see what God is going to do.
Seem a bit strange?
A bit unorthodox?
A bit like it’s not going to work?
But Joshua believes God.
Joshua tells the people to believe God.
Joshua tells the people to “consecrate themselves,” that is, to wash their clothes and abstain from sexual activity. The goal is to focus their hearts and minds on what God is about to do.
And the people do that.
And then they wait.
…for three days.
Hey Avram, what do you think is gonna happen? I don’t see a bridge.
Yeah…I’ve been looking for rocks but I don’t see that either.
You don’t suppose there’s an ocean liner on the way or something?
Nope. I suppose that it’s a farce. That Joshua doesn’t have a plan. That we’ll wait here for a week or two and then, he’ll make up some kind of sin “We’ve got to go back to the wilderness in order to hide the fact that he doesn’t have a plan!”
Early the next morning – as people exit their tents, they hear the quiet marching of priests’ sandals against the hard-soft dirt of the fertile soil. They look up to see men – robed in white with ornamental jewelry across their waists – carrying the beautiful ark up to the edge of the river.
One by one – family by family – tribe by tribe – the entire nation fills in – a crowd around the water’s edge.
The priests nod.
They step forward.
And up at the front, a size twelve sandal, -- old, rugged, dusty from years in the wilderness, touches the surface of the water. But only the sole. Because as the sole hit the water’s surface, the water diminished.
It looked kinda like someone was stomping down on an old Coca-Cola can.
Only it wasn’t a 6-inch aluminum can.
It was an entire river.
And with his step, the river dried up. The water flowed south until it was out of site. The water to the north held up – like a dam had been installed a couple of miles away – preventing the river from flowing. (v.15-16)
The priests stopped.
The people stopped.
There was no noise in the camp.
They were stunned.
Then, Joshua smiled.
And the priests up front smiled.
He fist pumped with his free hand.
Then, kept walking.
II. What Now?
Scriptures says that, “The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.” (v.17) It’s a pretty cool story with a pretty dynamic entrance into the holy land.
But how does it affect you? There’s no physical river before us. In fact, the only water we’ve got in the sanctuary is the little stream that flows from that water fountain in back.
Our rivers aren’t so physical.
Our waters are more spiritual.
If you’ve been following our attempt to build the Precious Lambs expansion, we’ve been stuck…for a while. Literally, I looked online and found a photo of the plans that were posted on that wall about a year ago. And here we are a year later – no ground breaking. I’ve been tempted to walk out there with a spoon and dig in just to say we’ve gotten closer, but the reality is…we’ve been facing a white-water rapid of challenges. Legal things, city permits, waiting periods after waiting period. It’s kinda like we’re on the one side of the river – we can see into the place we want to get to, but…How are we ever going to cross?
That’s just our congregational river.
We’ve got our own personal rivers too.
A flood of debt.
A rapids of relationship problems.
A deluge of bad diagnoses.
A gushing gully of guilt.
A splashing stream of sin and shame that comes with it.
Things that get in the way and make us feel like we’re on the wrong side of God’s promises.
Like we’ll never get where we need to get.
Like we’re stuck.
How do you deal with those situations? Here’s a few lessons from Joshua 3.
1. Follow Your God!
You’ve got the same God as Israel did. That means your God specializes in showing his authority over the waters. He did it to the Red Sea. He did it to the Jordan. He did it when he controlled the flood at the time of Noah and the water that he walked on with his disciples watching. God has a unique ability to overpower the rushing waters.
Got a flood of debt? God’s power is bigger.
God a rapids of relationship problems? God’s power is bigger.
Got a downpour of diagnoses? God’s power is bigger.
Got a gushing gully of guilt and shame and sin? God’s power is bigger. God’s love is more merciful. God sent his Son Jesus Christ to wall up God’s wrath, dry up your guilt, and give you quiet walking path to your eternal promised land.
In fact, that’s exactly what happened at the cross. Because what stood before us was a sea of God’s wrath. Wild. Destructive. Powerful. Anyone who dared to cross would be swept away to eternal damnation.
He waded to the midst of it.
He took the brunt force of it.
There’s dry ground. He’s held back God’s wrath!
The path to the promised land is before us!
Meaning if God got us through the most impossible flood for any sinner to cross, God can get us through anything.
Financial flood? He’ll get you through.
Relationship rapids? He’ll get you through.
Deluge of diagnoses? He’ll get you through.
Sputter in shame of sins? He’ll get you and you will enter the Promised Land.
2. Remember the River
Because it would have been awesome to be able to think back to that awesome moment when the Jordan River dried up. If there would have been smartphones back then, can you imagine how many YouTube views that would have gotten? It would have been an awesome encouragement no matter what the Israelites would face in the upcoming days.
Nervous about the upcoming fights? Oh yeah. God did this.
Nervous about the long travel coming up? Oh yeah. God did this.
But we didn’t get to see that. Where can we look for personal encouragement?
Fast forward. Years later. God is working on the banks of the Jordan River again. Only this time he wouldn’t use the water to make a wall…
…but to destroy one.
Confessing their sins, the people were baptized…in the Jordan River. (Mt. 3:6)
In Baptism, God sends a flood of water – connected with his powerful hand of Jesus Christ – that smashes into the thick wall of sin separating us from God. It exactly what happened every time water flowed off John the Baptist’s fingers and trickled down the face of someone standing in the Jordan -- God washed – like flood waters washing a beach house away, washed – sins away!
He did the same at your baptism.
Sure. The water might have been gentle. It may have only wet your hair.
But spiritually? A big old Tsunami wave of God’s love connects with the wall of your sins and it crumbled.
If God did that for you, don’t you think he’ll get you through whatever you have to cross in this life?
3. Consecrate yourself
There’s a reason God told the Israelites to do this. It wasn’t because he needed their help in order to stop the waters. It wasn’t because he wanted them to earn his love.
It was because he wanted them keenly aware of the miracle he was about to do.
Friends – God wants us to do the same.
Think about this – how do you prepare for coming to worship?
Checking out Facebook?
Watching a cute YouTube video?
Recovering from your bender last night?
That’s not consecration. And --- no wonder we come to church – and totally miss all the encouragement God has in mind for us.
So…follow God’s directive. Consecrate yourself. Spend an evening confessing sin. Spend the night before in prayer. Look over the upcoming chapter in Joshua. Pray about it.
Prepare your heart to see God’s incredible wonders and God will fill it with his incredible encouragement.
I don’t know what you’re going through.
I don’t know exactly the river you have to cross.
But I want you to look at the last verse one more time. The whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.
God doesn’t forget anyone.
And God won’t forget you.
He will get you through.
Whatever you’re going through, you will pass. Amen.