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Gospel: John 4:5-26 (NIV)
- Gathering Rite “Remember Your Love”
- Men’s Chorus “Salvation Belongeth to Our God”
- Hymn CW 703 “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”
- Hymn CW 677:1-5 “The Death of Jesus Christ, Our Lord”
- Hymn CW 394:1,3,4 “Come to Cal’vry’s Holy Mountain”
What is coming up in your future that gets you rather nervous? What is on the calendar that makes your stomach churn?
There are many times in life when we hope for the best but prepare for the worst. In Joshua chapter three, the Israelites felt the same. Our text finds the Jewish people at the end of their 40 year camping trip in the wilderness. Anyone 40 years or older who defied God and wouldn’t enter the Promised Land died in the desert. Those 39 years or younger who saw the Red Sea part or were born in the wilderness now stood east side of the Jordan River overlooking the Promised Land. They were nervous, scared and unsure of what to expect. After all, there were literal giants, called Nephilim (Numbers 13:33), living across the river waiting to hurt or kill them. If that wasn’t terrifying enough, Moses their fearless leader just died.
Joshua 1 records that Moses died overlooking the Promised Land and appointed Joshua to be the Israelites’ new leader. In chapter two, Joshua sent two spies across the Jordan River to the big border city of Jericho where they met Rahab—who became part of the story of your salvation. If you don’t know this amazing account, I encourage you to read Joshua chapter two this week. When those spies snuck back across the Jordan, they reported to Joshua, “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” (Joshua 2:24)
The Israelites initially were pumped up about the new opportunities and the fresh start that awaited them in the Promised Land. But there was one problem. One big, massive, intimidating problem that robbed them of their joy and made them unsure if God was going to be able to give them what He promised. And that something was the Jordan River. Normally, the Jordan only about 90 feet across. Normally. But not now. Joshua 3:15 tells us the Jordan was at flood stage making it nearly a half a mile wide!
And what did God do? He ordered the Israelites to get ready for a roaring, raging river crossing! “Joshua and all the Israelites went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over.” (Joshua 3:1) There are a number of unknowns that must’ve made the Israelites confused about God’s command. The first was the timing. They wandered for 40 years. That was plenty of time for God to figure out when the best time was to cross the Jordan. Why now? Of all the times God could’ve commanded them to cross…why make it so dangerous and difficult?
And why did God make “all the Israelites” go down to the Jordan to cross into battle against those angry giants living in the land? Why have the woman and children and elderly cross the river and expose themselves to the dangers of war? Our soldiers overseas don’t bring their spouse and children and grandparents with them. Why did God? It didn’t make sense.
Then God made them stare at it for three days. For three days they heard the deafening howl of those snarling, surging waters. For three days, they asked, “So do you really think God is going to make us try to cross THAT? It’s a death trap!” For three days, they were beaten down and baffled by all these unknowns. With every hour, they grew more nervous and fearful.
What are you nervous about? What’s in your future that has you locked in concern? What big, ugly, uncrossable problem is in front of you? (dealing with a death, divorce, disease, destroyed economy, draining bank account) You try not to think about it. You try to ignore what’s coming. But those anxious thoughts are like a mile wide river that rips apart your confidence.
For the Israelites, this command from God to camp before the Jordan brought their worst-case-scenario. New, untested leader not named Moses. Check! A raging deathtrap of a river. Check! And there’s one more…God’s presence and guidance were no longer visible. Check! You see, just over forty years earlier the Israelites hightailed it out of Egypt after the Ten Plagues struck the Egyptians. As they fled, Pharoah set out after them with all the chariots of Egypt. But God moved His presence of the Pillar of Smoke by day and the Pillar of Fire by night between the Israelites and the Egyptians. And then God pealed back the waters of the Red Sea so the Israelites could go through to safety on dry ground!
Throughout their wandering in the wilderness, God’s visible presence of the Pillar of Smoke and Fire was there to guide them, to guard them and to give them peace. But all that changed. The pillar of God’s presence was gone as they camped before the raging Jordan River. Everything Joshua knew about leading the Israelites was now rather useless. This is how Joshua learned to lead. “Okay, Israelites, the Pillar of Smoke is moving. Pick up your tents.” “Okay, everyone, the Pillar of Smoke stopped. Set up your tents.” That’s what Joshua learned but it was gone now. And Joshua didn’t know what to do next with the unknowns of what was to come.
What have you lost recently that makes you nervous about the future? It may be your health or the health of someone you dearly love. No matter how many times the doctor is visited or medicine is taken, no matter how far medicine has advanced, it just isn’t getting any better. And it makes you scared to find out what the unknown is waiting around the corner.
Maybe it’s not a what that you’ve lost. It’s a who. It’s someone that you love that’s no longer with you. And you are going through all the firsts of life without that person. The first Easter is coming up since you lost mom or your spouse or your marriage or your child off to college. You don’t know how you’re going to get through it. The unknown is too much. And, truth be told, you don’t have to have just lost a loved one for it to still hurt.
What will the coming months and years bring? What will happen as you cross the divide into the unknown? The answer is the same thing that happened for the Israelites as they crossed the Jordan River into their unknown. God will be there! God will lead you. God will bless you.
God continued His history of leading and blessing the Israelites just as He had in their past. “For forty years You sustained them in the wilderness, they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen.” (Nehemiah 9:21) For over four decades, God provided for the Israelites all of their needs. Their clothes didn’t wear out. God blesses you with so many clothes you have a closet full of them!
God provided the Israelites with honey flavored bread every morning called “manna”. We open our pantries and our refrigerators and they are stocked full of food. God provided the Israelites water to miraculously flow out of a rock. We are the richest country in the world when it comes to our access to fresh drinking water. There are third-world countries where people literally kill each other over water supplies and die because they lack water.
God provided the Israelites meat to eat in the evenings as He commanded quail to fly into the Israelites’ camp each night. We have prepackaged meat on demand. We didn’t have to kill it, skin it, or process it.
How blessed those Israelites were in the wilderness! Even though God blessed their past, they were still nervous about how God was going to get them through the unknowns of their future. We share the same feelings.
Just imagine how that conversation went between Joshua and the Israelites. “How are we going to get everyone across the river? It’s at flood stage!” “I don’t know but pack your bags; God’s going to lead us and bless us.” Will the manna still appear in the morning and quail fly in during the evening on the other side of the river?” “I don’t know but pack your bags; God’s going to lead us and bless us.” “What about the water flowing out the rock thing, do they have one of those over there?” “I don’t know but pack your bags; God’s going to lead us and bless us.” “I heard there are like these big, mean giants over there who want to kill us, what are we going to do about them?” “I don’t know but pack your bags; God’s going to lead us and bless us.” Joshua didn’t have the answer to any of their questions but he did have one thing: trust. Trust in God that when God leads you somewhere, you are blessed when you follow. If God leads you to it, He will lead you through it.
I don’t know what lies ahead of you in the upcoming months…and neither do you. But God does. There are a lot of unknowns that surround us but they are not unknown to Him. So pack your bags because God is going to lead you and bless you as you trust Him.
Jesus knew exactly what was ahead of Him as He set out for the cross. His upcoming suffering and death were not unknown. And yet He went. He had no bags to pack but He took with Him His perfect and went. Jesus knew exactly what He had to endure to that you wouldn’t. Jesus knew exactly what it would cost for you to cross over from spiritual death to spiritual life, for you to cross over from fearful to faithful. It took his death on the cross. Jesus hung on the cross in the gap between the wrath of God and our sins paying the price so that you could cross over to the Promised Land of God’s grace…just as He did for the Israelites.
They packed their bags and God led them. The Pillar of Smoke and Fire were gone but God’s presence was still connected to the Ark of the Covenant. When the priests stepped into the Jordan River with the Ark, something miraculous happened. But it wasn’t what the Israelites expected. The water didn’t tear apart like it did at the Red Sea forty years before. “As soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away.” (Joshua 3:15-16)
Just as God led their ancestors through the impassable and impossible problem of the Red Sea crossing, so also God led these Israelites through the flooded Jordan River on dry ground! You’ll notice though that God had the water this time stop flowing up river which meant the results of His power and His goodness did not instantly make themselves known but the waters slowly, surely and certainly receded. God blessed them!
As you step into the unknown, God will be there. God’s guidance and grace will be there. Sometimes God reveals His might as He did before the Red Sea (instantly blasting away problem). At other times His might is revealed more gradually like before the Jordan but they are there. For God is there. With you. For you. Always. So, pack your bags and get ready because God will lead you and bless you with His guidance, grace and love. Amen.