Summary: “Commemorate My Saving Acts!” 1) God's charge to Joshua 2) God's charge to us
The plot of land that for a decade has been known as “the pile,” “the pit,” and “Ground Zero” opened to the public last Sunday for the first time since that terrible morning on September 11th, 2001. Where the Twin Towers once stood is now a memorial consisting of two serene reflecting pools ringed by the engraved names of the nearly 3,000 souls lost. It cost $700 million dollars to build this memorial and it will take another $50 million dollars a year to maintain it. Is it worth it? The families of the victims who died in those terrorist attacks think so - especially those whose loved ones were firefighters and other “first responders.” They don’t want anyone to forget the sacrifice these men and women made on 9/11.
Wouldn’t it be more uplifting though if this memorial commemorated a victory rather than a tragedy? There are more of these “victory” memorials around than you may realize. In fact every person in this world stands as a monument to Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the devil. So that we don’t forget this, God urges in our text this morning: “Commemorate my saving acts!” That was a charge God gave to the Old Testament leader, Joshua, and it’s a charge that he gives to us. Failing to heed these words - failing to commemorate God’s saving acts will lead to a tragedy worse than the horrors of 9/11. So listen carefully and find out why God’s saving acts are worth commemorating, and learn how to do that.
Our text today takes us back about 3,400 years to the time when the Israelites crossed over into the Promised Land under the guidance of Joshua. Their great journey had begun forty years earlier with a miraculous escape through the water of the Red Sea, and it concluded with a miraculous passage through the waters of the Jordan River. In both cases God parted the waters so that his people could walk across on dry land.
The Jordan River crossing might not seem as spectacular because the Israelites didn’t have to walk as far. But at the time of the crossing, the river was running at flood stage. Anyone who has waded up to his waist or even up to his thighs in a fast-flowing river knows what a frightening experience that can be. Lose your footing and you may never come up for air again. So how were two million men, women, and children, and all their sheep and goats supposed to get across the Jordan? The Promised Land may have only been meters away but it would have remained out of reach had God not intervened.
Through Joshua, God directed the priests to carry the Ark of the Covenant into the raging river waters. As soon as the priests’ feet touched the water, it stopped flowing and “piled up” further upstream at a place called Adam. That would have been a sight to see: raging river water stopped cold as if it had hit an invisible dam! How high do you suppose the water towered over the dry river bed as it kept piling up? What we do know is that there was now enough room for the two million Israelites with all their possessions to cross over in a single day. Only one group stood still as this happened: the priests holding the Ark of the Covenant. They stood firm in the middle of the temporarily dry riverbed while everyone else filed safely by.
What was God trying to impress upon his people with this miracle? He was demonstrating how he is not a God who is far away. Indeed, he was right there in the thick of things, holding back waters that otherwise would have kept the Israelites out of the Promised Land. God hasn’t changed. He’s still in the thick of things protecting his people. Fourteen hundred years after the Jordan River crossing, the Son of God would stand up in the middle of a storm on the Sea of Galilee and command it to be still. In Gethsemane he stepped forward to be arrested so that his disciples could go free. Nor did he flinch when on Calvary he not only allowed nails to be driven through his hands and feet but let God the Father charge him with the sins of the world. In Joshua’s day God held back the raging waters of the Jordan River but in Jesus’ day, God’s Son held back his Father’s rage over our continued self-centeredness.
How can we not commemorate this sacrifice which means victory over sin and a place in heaven instead of hell? Of course we do commemorate Jesus’ death by displaying crosses in prominent places in our churches and in our homes. And that’s proper to do. In fact God told Joshua to do something similar. When everyone had crossed over the Jordan River, twelve men, one from each tribe, were supposed to heave a large stone on their backs from the very place where the priests were standing in the Jordan River and haul it to their camping spot that night. There they were to assemble the stones into a monument. For what purpose did God want these things done? God explained: “[These stones are 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” (Joshua 4:6, 7).