Have you ever waited for something a long, long, long time? Sure, we all have! This morning it’s important for us to try and remember the emotions that surround those “waiting times,” so let me give you a few word pictures to help you re-create that feeling in your mind.
How about this one: Do you remember when you were a little child and you waited and waited and waited for Christmas day to come? If you’re like me time seemed to slow to almost a standstill between Thanksgiving and Christmas!
Here’s another example. Parents, do you remember those nine months of waiting for your child to be born? And, again, if you’re like me it seemed as if that last month would never pass! I remember wanting to say to the doc, “I don’t mean to be impatient but is there anything we can do to get things moving here? I don’t think I can wait any longer!”
Here’s one more: have you ever been separated from a loved one? Perhaps you had a fiancé away at college, or a spouse somewhere in the world on active duty for months at a time. I know several of you have been through this kind of waiting. Well, do you remember how that felt, how hard it was to wait for him to return? You ached for him to come home and time just dragged by?
Well, pick one of those word pictures, or a similar one from your own experience, and put yourself in it. Everybody got one? Are you trying to relive that feeling of waiting and waiting and waiting for something? Good! Now, do you remember the joy when that day finally dawned? Christmas came, or after a late night trip to the hospital, that little daughter or son was born, or your husband finally walked through the front door, returning safely from his long journey?
Well, if we did this right, then we each have at least a small understanding of how the Hebrew people in our text for this morning felt. You see, the third chapter of Joshua records that time when this nation that had been waiting a very long time finally prepared to cross the Jordan River and claim the land God had promised them. All that stood between them and the fertile region that would become their homeland and that of their descendants was this river, and they had been waiting to cross it for sooooooo long!
I mean, think about it: most of the people Joshua was leading this day of days only knew life in the desert. Remember? They had been born there as part of that new generation that had replaced the one that had refused to trust God for the conquest of Canaan four decades earlier. So, for their entire lives, these participants in a literal million man march had been told of this promise that one day they would leave the desert and cross over the Jordan into a fertile land flowing with milk and honey.
Two of these marchers, Joshua and Caleb, had waited even longer than the rest of this “desert generation,” twice as long in fact. Remember? In this chapter they are 80 years old and were the only two of the original crew who had trusted God to enable them to conquer Canaan decades earlier. As two of Moses’ original spies, they had seen the promised land up close and I’m sure that as they trudged through the desert all those years they kept dreaming of the day when they would leave the scrub brush and scorpions behind and claim that wonderful land as their own.
But all this still doesn’t explain how long the Hebrew people had waited for this day because God had originally promised this land to them through Abraham more than 500 years earlier! That promise had been repeated to the patriarchs over and over again ever since. So, more than half a millennium of fervent anticipation had passed, and now the moment had finally come.
Well, with the help of your own memories of “waiting times” can you begin to imagine what that moment must have been like as these millions of feet that had only known the seething, searing heat of the desert sands finally made this crossing? Picture it: mothers clutch their babies, wide-eyed children squeeze their fathers’ hands, old men hobble on their staffs, and young wives clutch their husbands’ arms as God’s chosen people finally cross over and claim the promise He had made to Abraham five centuries earlier.
Enough imagining. Let’s read the actual record of this day of days. Take your Bibles and turn to Joshua chapter 3 or look at the screens behind me as we read today’s text.
1 – Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over.
2 – After three days the officers went throughout the camp,
3 – giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it.
4 – Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the ark; do not go near it.”
5 – Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.”
6 – Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.” So they took it up and went ahead of them.
7 – And the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses.
8 – Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.’ ”
9 – Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God.
10 – This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that He will certainly drive out before you: .the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites.
11 – See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you.
12 – Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe.
13 – And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the LORD-the Lord of all the earth-set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”
14 – So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them.
15 – Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge,
16 – the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea ) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho.
17 – The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.
1 – When 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 stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”
4 – So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe,
5 – and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites,
6 – to serve as a sign among you. 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. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
8 – So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the LORD had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down.
9 – Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.
This is the Word of the Lord; thanks be to God.
I’ve chosen to preach on this text that chronicles this historical crossing for two reasons.
First, CROSSINGS in one form or other are a part of our spiritual pilgrimage. Crossings are part of the journey each of us takes to grow to be more and more like Jesus. After all, God didn’t save us to make us statues and put us on display in a museum. He saved us to conform us to the image of His Son. He saved us to mature us and equip us to do His will. He saved us to teach us how to be His flesh in this world. I mean, there is more to this Christianity thing that just being delivered from bondage to sin. So, like the delivered Hebrew people in this text, each of us has a rich inheritance to cross over and claim as God’s people.
In Deuteronomy 6:23 Moses told the Hebrews, “…God BROUGHT US OUT from here [Egypt] in order to BRING US IN, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers.”
Well, God brought you and me out of sin to bring us in to full maturity. We are saved from sin; but we’re also saved for spiritual maturity. Salvation is just the beginning because the Christian life is a journey, not an arrival.
In fact we can apply the words of Joshua to our individual spiritual growth, when he said, “There remains much ‘land’ to be possessed.” (Joshua 13:1) I mean, as children of God we have a long way to go-there’s a lot of spiritual “property” to be claimed!
So, studying this crossing of the Jordan does far more than educate us when it comes to the History of the nation of Israel. This study can be good for us as individuals because it symbolizes our passing from one level of the Christian life to another. Studying this text can help us in the crossings of life because it teaches us principles we need to learn in order to mature spiritually.
But, I another reason I have chosen this text is because, as you should know, our church is poised to make a very important crossing as we raise the money necessary to build Phase 1, this gymnasium or family life center. These next few months do indeed mark a time of crossing for Redland Baptist Church. We who make up this church are making history right now.
And crossing times like these are not unique to RBC. As they grow and develop, all local churches come to crossing points from time to time. In fact, the life and destiny of many congregations like ours often comes down to a few critical decisions at these crossing points, decisions like the one we now face.
Some church families decide to obey God and move forward in dependency on His intervention and they experience glorious victory, just like the Hebrew people did in this text. But other churches come to the “riverbank of their own peculiar Jordan” and they retreat. The timid souls in local bodies of believers like this opt for the safety of predictability rather than the adventure of crossing over, and because they do their church remains small and ineffective.
So, as I said, this text deals with much more than ancient history, the amazing things God did thousands of years ago for the Jews. No, this text is included in God’s book because it has implications for both your individual lives and our corporate life as a church family.
These verses contain a challenge as to what God wants to do here and now for those of us who will trust Him. And we must learn to accept this challenge-we must learn to leave our fear and obey God-because in the Christian life you’re either an over-comer or you’re overcome. You’re a victor or a victim. And many times the determining factor is whether or not you obey God and “cross-over!”
I want you to be sure and hear me on this. I was listening to one of my dad’s sermons on tape the other day and it reminded me that one of his “habits” in preaching was to ask “Are you listening?” several times during each sermon. Well, I’ll borrow this habit from him this one time and ask you, “Are you listening?” Good, because I want you to be sure to hear what I’m about to say. I believe that this building program-this capital campaign deal-I believe this is a God-given crossing for Redland Baptist Church. In the same way that God commanded the Hebrew people to trust Him and cross the Jordan, I believe He is commanding each of us to trust Him and give sacrificially so we can build.
And I must say that if Satan’s attacks are any indication that we are following God’s will then this campaign definitely qualifies because the adversary has been doing all he can these past few weeks to discourage me and make my life miserable. So please hear me! For this and many other reasons I sincerely believe this is God’s will for RBC.
The question is this: How will we respond to this fearful challenge that I believe God has given us? Will be stay where we are-out here in the “desert” so to speak-and be content to just be a “way station” for all the Christian transients that come and go around here? Will we basically remain just a nice happy little church home for people who come here with Uncle Sam and leave for another assignment a few years later?
Or, will we grow to be much more than that? Will we trust God and go forward and build this gymnasium and in so doing gain a tool that we can use to reach the residents of this area, the lost people of our community?
Or, will we opt for what looks like the “safe” decision and embrace the status quo?
Now, I would be the first to admit that this is a fearful step-$3million dollars is a lot of money! In fact, even when you divide $3 million by the number of active families you begin to realize how really scary this step is for us as individuals who will have to pledge to help raise these funds. So this is a scary step to take, not unlike that first step the priests carrying the ark made into the flood swollen Jordan River. But, as I have said, I also sincerely believe God has commanded us to take this step. And we’re going to be looking to His written Word when it comes to this issue for the next month both in worship and in Sunday School.
The issue I want us to deal with this morning question is: what do we need to know to take this step? How can we cross from fear to faith? How can we embrace enough faith to obey God, and make this fearful crossing as a church? And remember, as I told you earlier, this text doesn’t just apply to our building effort. It applies to your individual life as well.
So, what can these verses from the book of Joshua teach us when it comes to this capital campaign as well as the other kinds of crossings in life? Let’s look to the example of the Hebrew people here for answers to these questions.
(1) First, their experience tells us that before we make any crossing we need to look IN.
Before that first step, each of us needs to examine our lives in a spiritual sense. We need to evaluate how close we are to God, how we are doing when it comes to His will.
To put it in the Biblical vernacular, before we make any crossing we need to consecrate ourselves. Look at verse 5. “Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.'” The word “consecrate” here literally means “separated to” or “belonging to God” and, one reason Joshua issued this command was to remind the Hebrew both who and whose they were.
By the way, this isn’t the first time the Hebrew people had been given this command. In Exodus 19 prior to their receiving the Ten Commandments God said to Moses,
“Go to the people tomorrow and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.”
So here in Joshua the people were to once again cleanse themselves physically.
Of course, life in the desert involved learning to do without water. So bathing and doing laundry was not something you did that often. And this atypical, outward act-this outward cleansing-was a way of reminding the people of the inward cleansing we all need before we can come into the presence of our Holy God. I believe this may be where we get our custom of wearing our “Sunday best” whenever we come into worship. We do this to remind ourselves that this is literally a reverent time, a holy time a time for us to come into God’s holy presence and offer Him our lives. This Sunday custom should help us to remember that as God says in Leviticus 19:2, “You must be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”
What else does this part of Joshua’s crossing instructions mean to us today?
In my mind, first of all it reminds us that to be the people of God, every day we must decide to leave behind the sin of the world and strive for purity and holiness. Christians should live “set apart to God lives.” We are to live in such a way that people can clearly see we are different from this fallen world. We are to live so that people can see who we are and whose we are.
But I also think it means that before we make this crossing as a church,`part of the process of our individual decisions to give must involve taking time to withdraw from the world’s influence through meditation and prayer. In this time we confess known sin so that we can clearly hear God’s voice, clearly distinguish His will. We need to do this because if there was ever a time when we need close fellowship with God, it’s at these crossing times of life.
It is in these times that we desperately need God’s guidance. We need Him to fulfill His promise in Psalm 32:8 where He says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.” So before we cross over, we need to examine ourselves and confess our sins. Remember as 1 John 1:5-7 says,
“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”
The fact is we can’t have the close fellowship with God that we so desperately need at times like this and at the same time willfully disobey His law.
William Yates tells of his days in the Army as he endured repeated inspections. He says he had a command sergeant major named Soto and one day Sgt. Soto inspected his barracks and every where he noticed film on the bathroom tiles he wrote, “Soto was here!” Anywhere he noticed dust on the floor tiles he wrote: “Soto was here!” Anywhere there was dirt, he wrote: “Soto was here!” Well as believers need to get our “barracks” in order before we make any crossing. We need to ask God to inspect us, to search us and show us what needs cleaning. We need to ask Him for examine our motives so that we are sure we are crossing for the right reason and in the right way. We need to pray as David prayed in Psalm 139:23, “Search me, O God, and know my heart…see if there is any offensive way in me-then lead me in the way everlasting.”
So, before God will work His wonder-working power in us-power we will need to make this and any crossing-we must first look in and consecrate ourselves.
(2) Next, we must look UP.
We must look UP as a way of reminding ourselves that God always goes before us when we are doing His will.
I mean, the plain and comforting fact is we will never make a crossing on our own. We will never go any where that God has not already gone. So we need to look up and follow Him. We find this principle in our text because the people were instructed to follow the ark of God.
If you’ve seen the first Indiana Jones movie then you have a fairly accurate understanding of the size of the ark because they got that part right. It was 2 feet by 2 feet by 4 feet, covered in gold with two cherubs facing each other on the top. The ark contained the Ten Commandments carved in stone that had been given to Moses at Mount Sinai. It also held the entire Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament as well as a jar of manna to remind the people that for 40 days God had met their physical needs.
But basically the ark symbolized God’s presence among His people. It was seen as the “portable throne” of the invisible God. And, the people were to follow the ark. Joshua didn’t say, “Follow us, men.” like some John Wayne movie. No, he said, “Look up! Follow God!”
Verse 15 of chapter 3 tells us that the Jordan was at flood stage as they prepared to cross. Usually it was not much more than a babbling brook but at this time of year with spring rains and melting snows from the mountains of Lebanon it would have been a raging torrent a mile or more wide.
God did promise to part the water as He had done the Red Sea forty years earlier but this was to be different. Forty years earlier, Moses had stretched out his staff and the water had parted and they had walked across on dry land. But this time there would be no staff-induced pre-parting. Instead, the water would part only when the priest took that first step, a literal step of faith. Can you imagine how that priest felt with his foot about to plunge into that torrent? Think of what it would be like to step into the Potomac right at the lip of Great Falls and you get the idea.
Well, they were to do this-they were to take this step not by looking down at the water but by looking up-looking to God’s promise and power. And in the crossings of life we too must look up. We must keep our eyes on Jesus, the Author and perfecter of our faith.
You see God still gives us God-sized tasks. He still commands us to cross deep rivers. He still orders us to do things that require us to look up and trust Him, like building this gym. But when in obedience we step forward, God always enables. He always parts the water.
I’m reminded of that scene from the film, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In his search for the Holy Grail-the cup of Christ-Jones came to that chasm, that bottomless pit, and to cross he had to look up and then just step out in faith. Do you remember this scene?
[Movie clip: Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade – 1:47:41 to 1:48:37]
Well, Jones’ and his dad were right: to cross over requires belief. It requires us to look up, to look to God. Only then can we take that step of faith. Often only after we make this step of faith do we feel our feet touch solid, dry “ground.” Only after we look to God in obedience do we experience God’s provision and power. This reminds me of something Brother Andrew once said, “The great thing about obedience is seeing what God had in mind.”
But understand, obeying God is not really what you would call blind faith. And we see this in a third principle this text can teach us.
(3) You see, before we make the crossings of life we must also look BACK.
We must look back so that we can see that God has always helped us make the crossings in the past. In this text Joshua’s faith was based on previous experience with God. He’d seen Him part the Red Sea so he had faith to cross the Jordan.
I’m sure the story of the crossing of the Red Sea had been told over campfires for 40 years as they wandered in the desert and that memory-that “look back”-gave the people the faith to step out and claim the Promised Land.
Well, our faith steps in the crossings of life are made in the same way. We look back at what God has done and this look back gives us the faith to step out. Some people think that faith is a leap in the darkness but this is not true. No, we trust and obey God because experience has taught us that He is trust worthy!
In my office I have all kinds of reminders of God’s faithfulness to me in the past. For example, I have this picture, taken the day of my graduation from seminary, and it reminds me that God got Sue and me through those three years. He provided the finances to pay for my studies and food and rent money and car payments. He gave us great friends, lifelong friends. He provided wonderful professors who taught me so much. He gave me a great church to “cut my ministerial teeth” on.
I also keep this tract. It’s Steps to Peace With God in Spanish and I keep it because it reminds me of our mission trip to Saltillo, Mexico. We were driving from Harlingen, Texas in four vans and there were several check points along the way, where you had to stop and show your papers before going on. At one of these stops the inspectors insisted we open one of our suitcases. Of all the dozens of pieces of luggage, they “happened” to choose the one that was full of nothing but these tracts. Opening it gave us an opportunity to share our faith with him. So I keep this tract because it reminds me that God went before us in that time of crossing deeper into Mexico.
I keep this railroad tie as a reminder of one trip to Centrifuge with our youth from FBC Damascus. The theme of Bible study and worship that year was staying on track with God, living according to His will. I saw God work powerfully that week both in my life and in the lives of our teens, and this hunk of iron reminds me of that time when so many of us crossed over into deeper spiritual maturity.
One more. In the top drawer of my desk I keep this diaper, this tiny diaper. It belonged to Noah Aune, one of Greg and Christie’s twins born prematurely. They were soooo small. Emma weighed a little over 2 pounds and Noah weighed about a pound and a half. Greg could put his wedding ring all the way up Noah’s arm. I’ve never seen a human being so small! I will never forget the day I visited and Noah was out of the incubator for the first time. Someone took his picture and his tiny eyes squinted. That tiny little guy responded to our talking to him. And I keep his diaper to remind me of God’s power displayed in bringing those little children home to their loving parents. I also keep it to remind me how precious human life is at every stage of development.
Well, any successful crossing grows out of history like this because we can look back and remember that as Isaac Watts said in his great hymn text, “Oh God our help in ages past-our HOPE for years to come; our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home.”
So, to summarize, this text can teach us that when we come to the crossing points of life we must look IN; we must look UP; we must look BACK.
(4) And then finally we must look FORWARD.
As we think about how to respond to this challenge we need to remember that our response to God’s call when it comes to the crossings of life will influence future generations of believers. They will look to our example when it comes to their own crossings. We’ll be what they look back at!
We see this here in Judges. Acting on God’s orders Joshua instructed 12 men-one to represent each tribe of Israel-to each take a stone from the middle of the Jordan before the priests with the ark left and the waters returned. As verses 6-7 say, these stones were to “…serve as a sign.” Joshua said,
“In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean? tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
You know, I believe we will make this crossing as a church. Some may think I’m overly optimistic but I truly believe we will raise the funds and build this gym next year. And when we do it will stand as a testimony to future generations of the faithfulness of God to this church. Stories will be told about the miraculous way this facility came to be. With these “piles of stones” and mortar and dry wall and carpet and glass-especially that hardwood gym floor-we will be leaving footprints of faith for future generations to follow.
Like many of you, I’ve enjoyed the display in the foyer, especially the one on the left as you enter from the parking lot, the look back to the past. I’ve enjoyed hearing the stories from you “old timers” as you told how “way back when” God helped this church to build this sanctuary and the education building and the connector. The results of your faithful giving in the past has encouraged me here in what was then the future. It has helped my faith to grow as I have heard of your example way back then, and that’s the way it works with crossings.
Someday, the future Redland, will remember this. At our eightieth anniversary there will be pictures of our accomplishment. I won’t be around to tell the stories but my kids will and yours will, and those stories of what we let God do through us will give those future Redlanders the faith to step out in their own way.
We come now to our time of invitation. I feel led to point out that this regular part of our service is in itself a time of crossing over, crossing from where we are to where God wants us to be.
If you’re here and are not a Christian, then I believe that right now Jesus is knocking on your heart’s door. He’s inviting you to cross over in faith from unbelief to belief, from darkness to light, as you accept Jesus forgiveness for your sin and give Him your life to use as He sees fit.
You may be a Christian in need of a church home, and God may be leading you to cross over into membership here and RBC. We’d love to have you!
Or you may be facing some insurmountable problem and you need someone to pray with you so you know how to deal with it. I would remind you of the lyrics of that old song,
Got any rivers you think are uncross-able?
God any mountains you can’t tunnel through?
God specializes in things thought impossible.
He does the things others cannot do.
The words to this song are true. Come; I would love to pray with you. But, however God is leading, cross over into the center of His will.