What’s do you think would be the first thing you did if you were an Israelite entering the Promised Land after a 40+ year desert journey?
Take a nap?
Eat some of the famous Milk and Honey?
Take a selfie by the WELCOME TO CANAAN sign?
The Israelites choose to do none of these. In fact, before they can leave the Jordan River they have some very important business to take care of. Before we dive in to God’s Word and learn what that is, pray with me: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Original Memorial
1When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.” (4:1-3)
Take note – God’s next command for Joshua comes right after the nation has successfully navigated to the dry riverbed. That means every last one of them is safe. Every last one of them is on dry ground. Every last one of them is in the Promised Land.
God has kept his promise.
What God tells them to do next isn’t a requirement to enter the Promised land; it’s a response to entering. They choose 12 men -- a man from every tribe in Israel. And head to the middle of the river where the Priests are still standing – still holding up the ark – which is still holding up the water-- and the men remove 12 stones. Not rocks or pebbles. Joshua tells them to put them up on their shoulder (v.4) – meaning they were big enough that they needed to be carried like a sack of flour – and take them back and set them on the river’s edge.
This not an easy task. It sounds like a bit like a Crossfit workout. Had these guys been snacking on so much manna that they really needed a workout?
Not exactly. In fact, the one who wanted the stones was God. Not an overzealous exercise guru.
Was God really that vain?
Did God have a big stone collection?
Was God a fan of fine art?
Not so much.
God might have commissioned the project.
But it wasn’t for Him.
It was for His people.
Particularly four different groups:
1. For the Kids
In verse 4, Joshua said, “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord.” This memorial was going to be used just like any other memorial – to teach kids history that they themselves had not seen. But the history was not about how awesome Joshua was, or how incredible Moses was or how believing dad was in walking across the water.
It was about God.
About his grace.
About his power.
About how He keeps his promises.
2. For their Grandkids – and beyond!
Joshua continued, “These stones are to be a memorial for the people of Israel forever.” This wasn’t just for their kids. It was for their grandkids. It was for their great-grandkids. It was for their great-great-great-great-great-great-grandnephews -- twice removed. It would be a way for the Israelites who had just witnessed God’s grace and mercy to share God’s grace and mercy with generations beyond them.
3. For Non-Israelites
Jump to verse 23 after the memorial is set up. Joshua identifies another group blessed by this memorial 23 “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 24 God did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful.”
This wasn’t just for the people of Israel. It was for the Canaanites --- the Girgashites, Perizzites, the Shechemites, and all the other “ites” that existed.
People who didn’t care for God.
People who refused to acknowledge God.
People who were far off from God.
People whom God loved.
People whom God hoped would turn to him.
People to whom God would use this memorial to speak to their hearts and lead them to saving faith in Him.
Finally, God wanted this memorial constructed for the sake of one more, very important group: Themselves. Check out the end of verse 23 “God did this…so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”
Because God wasn’t going to do these miracles every day.
It wasn’t going to be so obvious that He was on their side.
It wasn’t even going to be so obvious that He was there.
But this memorial reminded them that he was.
It reminded them to follow Him.
It reminded them to keep their faith in the Lord.
So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them.
They got the stones.
Set them up.
And a memorial was built.
II. A Replica in Your Life?
So…The obvious question that keeps flooding my mind as I read this:
What memorial are you leaving behind?
For your kids…
For your neighbors…
For generations to come…
What will they remember about you?
What did you stand for?
What did you do?
In my room growing up, there was a shelf that was literally dedicated to trophies. The goal was to put all of my achievements and accomplishments up there. And after a few years – it was crowded. With really impressive stuff:
A dozen relay participation ribbons.
A third place 6th grade boys high jump finish.
A consolation basketball tournament plaque.
About 5 certificates of 1* trombone achievements
And 1 bowling trophy – that my dad won – and I pretended was mine.
Here’s the thing – I thought it was so impressive. And I loved to have it up there (pathetic as it was) because I wanted to broadcast me.
I wanted to memorialize myself.
I wanted to people to remember – me!
I know I’m not alone. The honest truth is that people are more interested in memorializing themselves than they are in memorializing God.
Look at my beautiful diploma I’ve got displayed.
Check out my Facebook page and all of my accomplishments.
Listen to me tell you about me and how awesome I am.
This is a heart problem.
A heart problem in America.
A heart problem with Christians in America.
Because you are nothing without God.
He gave you life.
He gave you new life.
He gave you eternal life.
Why do you want to steal the credit from him?
Still – here’s the awesome truth about God. In spite of us, God has still found a way to leave memorials on this earth. And I’m not talking about rocks. I’m not talking about crosses. I’m not even talking about memorial plaques “dedicated to God.”
I’m talking about you.
Have you been to Pullen Park before? It’s the world’s 16th oldest, continuously operating park. But being around that long has caused some rust, some dirt, some falling apart. From 2009 to 2011, they dealt with those issues.
The train was repainted.
The plants were replanted.
The animals on the carousel were cleaned, painted, and polished to perfection.
Now – it’s as good as new.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says this, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
In other words -- Jesus did the same with us that Raleigh did with Pullen Park.
Jesus refurbished us.
He scrubbed off the sin.
He removed the gummy guilt “yuck.”
He fixed our brokenness and brought us into working condition.
He polished, shined and displayed us in righteousness.
He made you like new!
He placed you on the trophy case complete with the crown of life – such that when the angels pass by in the heavenly halls he says – “Look at what I won! Look at what I paid for with my death and resurrection. Look at my dear brother – Check out my sister. Aren’t they awesome?”
III. What Now?
Well…maybe you’re itching to set up a memorial to God. He’s awesome. He’s wonderful. He’s done great things. So…Pastor…Do you know of a place that sells any river stones close by?
Here’s the thing. I love the enthusiasm – but I don’t know that we need river stones to make a memorial.
In fact, the memorial that God’s looking for is already in this church.
1. Be a Memorial
I love this passage from 1 Peter 2:5 and I think it fits in well with this lesson on Memorial Stones. Peter wrote, “You (are) living stones...” Literal…memorial stones. Showcases of God’s glory!
Think about it:
We were lost. We were sinners. We were deserving of God’s wrath. We were selfish people on the road to hell.
But Jesus saved us. He lived for us. He died for us. He rose for us. He placed you on the path to heaven and uses you to display his glory to the world.
Be that memorial. Live for God each Sunday. Let your kids see how important Jesus is. Let your husband see how important Jesus is. Let your friends see how important Jesus is as you head off to worship your Lord and God.
Be that memorial. Live for God during the week. Live for God at home. Live for God at work. Live for God at the gym. Live for God in the grocery aisle. Live for God at the library, the coffee shop, and the comic book store. Wherever you are – live for God.
Be a memorial to his love and grace. Be so obviously full of love -- people stop. People ask. What makes you tick? And you tell him – that it’s because of my Lord and Savior. He rescued me from sin and death.
2. Be a part of This Memorial
Back to that passage from Peter. It says, “You are living stones…being built into a spiritual house.” That’s us. Together.
Because the reality is that if the monument looks like that (picture of rock by itself), it’s not all that noticeable. A few people might see it; not a lot. Especially not a lot from far away.
But when you build the rocks together – It’s visible from miles away!
That’s the goal of God’s church.
That’s the goal of this church.
That’s our goal fellow memorial stones.
Which got me to thinking:
If tomorrow Gethsemane ceased to exist, would anybody notice?
Particularly – anybody outside this church?
Granted. We’ve got Precious Lambs. It reaches the community. A lot of parents would be missing the childcare that they receive.
But outside of that? I wonder.
Here’s an encouragement for us. We need to keep reaching.
We need to keep outreaching.
We need to keep getting into the community and letting the memorial stones be seen.
Not to our own glory.
Not to the glory of our church.
But to the glory of God!
Yesterday at the Food Bank was a great example of that. We need to keep thinking about more ways to do that together as a church – If you have some ideas let me know. And if you see opportunities like that – Let’s take them.
Again the goal – making these memorials to God clear for all to see.
3. Stop Criticizing Other Memorials
Because while we all have the same Savior, the reality is that as different people we have different memorials.
Just like artists are different.
One uses pointillism.
One uses realism.
One uses abstract shapes.
It doesn’t do a lot of good for one person to say, “I don’t like that you are giving your money to that church fund.”
“I don’t think you serve in that way...”
“I think you should serve in this church and do this job in this particular way that I always do it…or else maybe you shouldn’t have the job.”
This is criticism.
This is ungodly criticism.
Case and point – The woman from Bethany. She comes into the room where Jesus is staying and stoops down near his feet. She opens up a bottle of perfume – hundreds of dollars of perfume – Eau de Expensive Perfume And she pours… it onto Jesus’ head.
The disciples are indignant!
This was a waste of money.
This memorial could have been used better.
This memorial is not the memorial that I would have given.
And Jesus? He says this, “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me…Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached through the world, what she has done will also be told.”
Instead of criticizing each other; encourage.
Practically speaking it means --
If someone makes the cookies differently than you would, thank them for making the cookies.
If someone trims the flowers differently than you would, thank them for trimming the flowers.
If someone plays the music differently than you would, thank them for playing the music.
If the thing they are doing isn’t sinful, encourage them.
It’s just another stone to add to our memorial for the community of North Raleigh to see –
That they might see Jesus.
In fact, that’s kind of what happened in our Joshua story. Because did you see what happened in verse 12?
And (at the time of the Book of Joshua’s original writing) the stones are there to this day.
The memorial did its job.
The testimony to God was there for generations.
How long will your testimony be there?
How long will our testimony?
By God’s strength – may we make our testimony tall and our memorial enduring. Amen.