Summary: 6th in long series on Joshua. This speaks of having the courage to cross the rivers that build up before us.
Joshua 3:1-17; 4:10-18 – Got Any Rivers?
Today we are continuing through our studies in the OT book of Joshua. Today we are looking at chapters 3 and 4, which make up one of my very favorite Bible stories. Let’s read 3:1-17 and 4:10-18.
Now, the Israelites are poised at the eastern side of the Jordan River. The river’s at flood stage. That means it’s the spring of the year, with the rains that go with the season, and the melting snows off the Lebanon Mountains. Normally, the river is between 3 to 10 feet deep, and perhaps 60 feet wide. But at flood season, the Jordan overflows its banks, making it over 200 feet wide. The River had gone from being an easily crossable stream to a raging torrent, next to impossible for an entire nation to cross. A wide, cold and fast-flowing river is a problem.
One lady wrote once, “In dire need of a beauty make-over, I went to my salon with a fashion magazine photo of a gorgeous, young, lustrous-haired model. I showed the stylist the trendy new cut I wanted and settled into the chair as he began humming a catchy tune and got to work on my thin, graying hair.
I was delighted by his cheerful attitude until I recognized the melody. It was the theme from the old TV show ‘Mission: Impossible’.”
Well, that’s what the Israelites were faced with – an impossible mission, more to the point, an impassable river. Because of God’s guiding, the Israelites were at the edge of a very trying situation. But you need to know – it didn’t just “pop up” that way. No, they were exactly where God had led them.
If you wanted to look at a map of the Holy Land, you could see that there was another way into the Promised Land. They could have just come in from the south. They could have gone through the Desert of Sin, right directly below where they wanted to get. Yes, there were foreign nations there, but they would face foreign nations soon enough. They could have avoided the River. God did not have to make them cross the Jordan.
But God chose that path. God wanted His people to come to the River, as a test. God wanted them to have a visible sign, letting them know that the Old was gone and the New had come. It was a new day for His people. It was a fresh start and a clean slate. And the waters of the River were evidence that God was leading them into new and exciting territory, despite its challenges.
Today, I want to speak to you about victorious living. The book of Joshua is all about victory, winning the day despite the odds. And you need to know, the situation the Israelites faced isn’t so much different from the challenges of our lives, too.
Over the years, “crossing the Jordan” has been mis-interpreted. For years, people used the phrase to mean dying and going to heaven. Granted, the Promised Land is a picture of heaven, but not a very good one. You see, in order for the Israelites to gain Canaan, they had to fight, kick and chew every step of the way. God had guaranteed them the victory, but they still had to work for it. There would still be wars and bloodshed, unlike what heaven will be.
I think a better idea of the Promised Land is seen like this: When the people were in Egypt, they were slaves. That was us in sin, slaves to our fears and passions and desires and lusts. The crossing of the Red Sea was our salvation, the past being put behind us. Now, the Israelites wandered for 40 years. They had the Law, but didn’t know what to do with it. They were free, but they weren’t at home or at peace.
You know, that’s where so many Christians camp out. They are forgiven, on their way to heaven, but they have never really established who’s in charge. They know what they should do, but don’t or can’t fulfill it. They never really rise above temptation. They never bring themselves to forgive that person, and so remain slaves to their past. They are content to settle for less than God’s best for them.
But the good news is that just as God had something better for the Israelites than wandering, God has something more for you, too. You need to know that even if your performance isn’t always 100%, your heart can be. Listen to me: you don’t have to sin on purpose! God can change your heart to make it pure and clean.
If you think I’m exaggerating, then you must think that Paul was too when he said that God “always leads us in triumphal procession” in Christ. Maybe Paul didn’t understand present and future tenses when he said that God “gives us the victory” through Jesus. Maybe Paul was taking it too far when he prayed that God would set the Thessalonian believers apart “through and through” – fully, completely, entirely. And you must think that Jesus really was only joking when, in the context of loving God and loving others, He told us to be perfect.