Joshua 3:16

July 17, 2016

Joshua 3:16
He was the first of
the twelve. Slowly he walked along; his pace governed by the other eleven. The
load on his shoulder was a burden but wasn’t nearly as heavy as his thoughts.
His feet moved as if they were on auto pilot and his eyes remained fixed on the
river in the distance. The dark brown waters swirled angrily as they raced
toward the waiting sea. The harvest floods had caused the river to overflow
it’s banks and the water had a cold and dangerous look about it.
And still he walked.
His eyes never leaving the raging torrents ahead. He would never question his
commander verbally but his mind was filled with whys and how’s.
He wished that he
could just stop and think it over but it was apparent that was no longer an
option. And besides if he did stop what would the other eleven think? What
would his family think after all everybody knew what an honour it had been to
be chosen as one of the twelve. Actually it seemed like a pretty dubious honour
to him.
And still he
walked.   Maybe it was all a joke, after
all the boss couldn’t seriously expect the twelve of them to just walk into the
river, he didn’t even know how to swim. That was it, at any time his commander
would holler “hey guys come back it was just a test” but the only sound to
break the still air was the tramp of the twenty-four feet closing in on the
river. All he could think was “nobody even told us where the rocks are.”
And still he walked,
and then they were on the edge of the racing maelstrom, the dark cold water
just inches from their feet. The time was gone to hesitate even if he wanted
to. The choice was no longer his because as the eleven others plunged ahead his
foot began its descent into the racing River Jordan and his mind went back to
the events that had led them here.
Here we are in week
four of our 3:16 series, though the summer we are looking at some of the
various Chapter 3 verse 16s that are found in the bible.  So far we’ve been in the book of John, Acts
and the 2nd letter that Paul wrote to Timothy.  This week we are moving back to the Old
Testament to a story told as the people of Israel prepare to claim the promise
given to them by God over forty years before. 
They are preparing to enter the promised Land. 
I would suspect that
most of us know the broad strokes of the story, if only from Hollywood. Most
recently of course was “Exodus: Gods and Kings”, before that Disney gave us
“The Prince of Egypt”, In 1995 Ben Kingsley starred in the made for TV movie
“Moses” and the most famous one of all would be “The Ten Commandments.”
And well none of them
really get it right they do lay the foundation for the story of the
Exodus.  400 years after Joseph and his
extended family settle in Egypt at the invitation of the Pharaoh the tide of
popular opinion has turned against their descendants and the people of Israel
are now slaves. 
God calls a man named
Moses, who confronts the Pharaoh and says “Let my people go”. You’ve seen the
movie so you know the story, plagues, release, Red Sea, Pillar of Fire by
Night, Column of Smoke by Day, Mount Sanai, Golden Calf, Ten Commandments Mana
and quail to eat, water from rocks and lots of grumbling. 
And after they arrive
at the Promised Land the naysayers have their way and the people spend another
40 years wandering in the desert before they finally prepare to enter into the
land that was promised them.
And now a new leader,
a man named Joshua, is about to lead them across the Jordan River and into the
Promised Land. And the only barrier that now stands in their way is the river
and we read in   Joshua 3:16  the water above that point began
backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan.
And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was
dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho.
But like all the 3:16s
Joshua 3:16 doesn’t and can’t stand by itself, it’s only a part of the story.
In this case the story had begun forty years
before, but realistically we only need to go back to the previous day where we
read.
Joshua
3:5
Then
Joshua told the people, “Purify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do great
wonders among you.”
This must have been
the highlight of Joshua’s career. When he and Caleb had brought back the report
of Canaan forty years before he had felt the surge of victory, had felt the
excitement course though his veins only to have it shattered by the disbelief of
his people.
Forty years previous,
the people of Israel had stood ready to enter the Promised Land and when Joshua
and Caleb cast the vision for what God had for them on the other side of the
Jordan the people braced their feet and refused to go, that might have been a
bit of an understatement, we read their response in Numbers 14:10 
But the whole community began to talk about stoning Joshua and
Caleb.    Not necessarily a resounding endorsement of their
leadership.
This time it was
Joshua and not Moses who sent out the spies and when they brought back a
favourable report he gathers all of his people around him for a gigantic pep
rally and he tells them to purify themselves, which simply meant that they were
to surrender their wills to God, and with that commandment comes the
promise.  
“Purify
yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you.” Maybe in hindsight Joshua might have realized that it
might have been more aptly phrased “God will do great wonders through you”
And now, four long
decades after their initial refusal God has finally given Joshua and Israel the
green light, and this time as the vision is cast we read Joshua 1:16  They answered Joshua, “We will do
whatever you command us, and we will go wherever you send us.
This was a defining
moment in the life of Israel.  God is not
only promising the Israelites “Purify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do
great wonders among you.” the reverse is there as well if not stated at least implied,
“do not purify yourselves and the Lord will not do great wonders among
you.” 
We need only to read
the Old Testament to realize that God kept his promise because there is no
other people in the world who have seen the hand of God in their history like
the Jews.
Probably if you had
of talked to the average Israelite at this point they would have told you it
was time for a rest, time to kick back and enjoy life for a while.  After all they had spent 40 years wandering
through the wilderness, 40 years of eating quail and manna, and they were so
tired of mana.  It was manna this and
manna that.  Manna loaf and manna
burgers, roast, boiled, poached manna and then for dessert it was manana cream
pie. 
And nobody wanted
them for neighbours, they were “Those people” so it was forty years of desert
skirmishes.
And now the Jordan
River stands between them and the promise. 
And it wouldn’t be the only barrier they would face.   In the next three thousand years the
Israelites would have their work cut out for them, claiming a homeland, keeping
a homeland and finally reclaiming a homeland and each step was a step of faith.
In Hebrews 11:1 we are told that Hebrews 11:1  Faith is the
confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance
about things we cannot see.
And it was that type
of faith that led the children of Israel into the promised land. A land only
seen in its possibilities by Joshua and Caleb. And it was the vision of these
two men that kept the promise alive year after year. And it was faith that
allowed the children of Israel to claim Canaan.
And as long as their
faith was alive they were blessed and when their faith became little so did
their blessings. After all it is spelled out fairly plainly in Hebrews 11:6  And it is impossible to please God
without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and
that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.
Paul didn’t write,
“It is hard to please God Without faith” he wrote “It is impossible to please
God without faith”
The Israelites’ very
ticket into the Promised Land was the ticket of faith. In Joshua chapter three
we read the account of the instructions that God gave to Joshua. How the twelve
priest had to carry the Ark of the Covenant down to the river Jordan which was
overflowing it’s banks with the freshet. In verse thirteen we read   Joshua 3:13  The priests will carry the Ark of the
LORD, the Lord of all the earth. As soon as their feet touch the water, the
flow of water will be cut off upstream, and the river will stand up like a
wall.”
Now I can just
imagine the conversation that Joshua must have had with his commanders “Hey
Joshua have you got a plan for tomorrow?” “I sure do, twelve men are going to
take the ark and they are going to carry it down to the water and then they are
going to step into the water and the Jordan’s gonna dry up, got it?” “uh Joshua
have you got another plan?”
God could have led
the Israelites to a shallow spot in the river, or he could have instructed the
Israelites to build a raft. God could have divided the Jordan before the
Israelites actually got there and nobody would have had to get their feet wet.
But the fact of the matter was that this incident had to happen for two
reasons.
The first was to test
their faith, they had to answer the question: 
do we really believe that this is the direction that God wants us to go
and do we really believe that he can provide the way?
It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who
said  “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t
see the whole staircase.”  
In this case faith was taking the first step, even while the river was
still raging. 


And the second reason
was even more important. When the twelve tribes of Israel followed the priests
and the Ark of the Covenant to the edge of the Jordan, and when they stood
there with their hearts in their throats waiting for the priests to step into
the muddy swirling water they were proving their willingness to obey God, no
matter what.
Had the Israelites
stopped at that point, if they had of devised some other scheme to cross the
Jordan I am convinced that today we would view Israel as just another ancient,
dead civilization.
Once again we see
that God never entrusts us with a lot until he tests us with a little.
And it worked, let’s
go back to this week’s 3:16. 
 Joshua 3:16  the water above that
point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is
near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until
the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of
Jericho.
Sometimes we are led
to believe that all we need is a vision and faith and everything will be all
right, but in the case of the people of Israel there was a raging river
standing between them and what God had for them, and then there was the city of
Jericho and then. . .
And really it all
came down to the faith of that one guy, 
the guy in the lead, if he had of stopped everybody would have had to
stop as well.  The destiny of a nation
rested in the hands of one man. 
So the question is,
What did he know?  Why was he willing to
step into a raging river?  And maybe you
are wondering, “So what?  What does
crossing a river 3000 years ago have to do with me today?”  Well the reality is that  if we are following God there will be times
as individuals and as a church that we will find rivers of doubt, controversy
and conflict that will need to be crossed.
I think that first of
all He Knew the Provisions of the Past.  For forty years the people of Israel had
wandered in the wilderness.  Never
settling, never establishing a country, always at odds with their environment
and their neighbours.  And yet during
that 40 years they saw God’s hand at work over and over again.
God provided them
with food in a desert where they had no land to farm and if they had land the
wilderness was so inhospitable no crops would grow.  And for forty years they ate.  They wandered in a land without rivers and
lakes and yet for forty years they didn’t go without water. 
And the man in the
lead had seen it all, he had tasted the manna, had feasted on quail, had drank
water that miraculously sprang from rocks, I guess that would make it a spring.
He had seen God’s
hand as the Israelites defending their families against hostile forces.  And as a child he had witnessed the entire countries
escape from Egypt, he had walked on the floor of the Red Sea and had followed
the pillar of fire at night and the column of smoke during the day. 
And so he believed
that if God was faithful then, then God would be faithful now. 
As a church, when we
face obstacles we only have to look to the past and how God provided over and
over again.  When people shook their
heads and said Cornerstone would never survive, God had other plans.
When a group
averaging fifty, which included the kids, felt that God was calling them to
purchase land and build a permanent facility to call their church home, people
shook their heads and said it would never happen, but God had other plans. 
And each of you has
seen God at work in your lives and the lives of your families,    
And we have to
believe that if God was faithful then, then God will be faithful now.
But he didn’t just
know about the past, He Knew the Promise
of the Future 
For forty years he had
heard Joshua and Caleb talk about what was on the other side of the river.  For forty years he dreamed of the day that he
would have land of his own, for forty years he dreamed of a land that flowed
with milk and honey.
He knew that their
destiny wasn’t the wilderness but was the promised land.  There were those who would have settled for a
life in the desert, but he knew that God’s promises were much greater than the
wilderness. 
There were those who
would claim that the vision was Joshua’s vision but this man knew that it was
God’s vision and that Joshua was simply the messenger.  He knew that Joshua had seen the promised
land, that Joshua had tasted the fruit of the promised land, and that nobody
had sacrificed more for the vision then Joshua had.
There are times in
our lives that we can get distracted from the vision.  What is it that God wants you to do with your
life?  What is your vision for your
career? For your children?   For your education?  For your spiritual life?  Are you being true to the vision? 
Sometimes it’s easy
to settle for less than what God wants for us, to settle into complacency in
the wilderness and to miss the Promised Land that God has for us.  But that is to settle for less than God’s
very best.  And God’s very best might
just be across the river.
As a church the
temptation is there to stray from the vision that we were founded on.  And sometimes it seems it’s for honourable
reasons, someone has a great idea, it doesn’t necessarily match the initial
vision but the person is pretty pervasive. 
And they convince us that it seems the right thing to do and we make a
course correction here and a course correction there and pretty soon we aren’t
heading in the direction that God pointed us when we began. 
But ultimately we
need to ask is this what God wants us to do? 
How does it fit in with the vision?
Because those
carrying the Ark believed in Joshua and believe in the vision they weren’t
going to let a river stand in their way.
The vision for
Cornerstone has always been that we would be a church that would reach the
pre-churched, the de-churched and the un-churched.  And that has coloured the programs we offer
and what our Sunday morning worship experience looks like.  
And that means that
we won’t always look like other churches and we won’t always do things like
other churches.  And sometimes it means
we have to cross rivers to get to where God is leading us.
And ultimately He Knew His Faith Would be Honoured  I’ve said before that all faith requires
is that you believe.    You can’t demonstrate faith without belief
and you can’t demonstrate belief without action.
It wasn’t enough for
the first man in the group to proclaim “I believe that God can stop the river
so we can cross”, unless he was willing to take that first step and actually
step into the river.
There were those who
believed in the vision of Cornerstone 22 years ago when there was no
Cornerstone, and they showed up and there are some who are in this service
today.  There were others who said they
believed but they never showed up for the first  service.
There were those who
said they believed we could have a building of our own and when the time came
they committed their time and their money to make it a reality.  There were others who said they believed that
we could have a building of our own but when the time came to step into the
river and make the sacrifices necessary, they turned and walked away.
Any time God calls
you to do something he first calls you to believe, and then he calls you to
step out in faith.
What is it that God
is whispering in your ear today, what vision does he have for you for tomorrow,
what river is he calling you to cross? 
Only you can answer that and only you can take the first step.