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God does not place us on this planet without purpose. He has a divine design for each of us. But as we seek to follow His direction, difficulties confront us. Everyone one of us sometimes arrive at crossroads in our lives. Many times we get discouraged and lose heart. With God, we face life obstacles as challenges and overcome them in His strength. They become stepping stones for us, opportunities where we experience God’s power and develop strong faith in God to overcome your obstacles.
The two spies had returned from Jericho, having followed Joshua’s orders to check out the land and the city. They had escaped discovery with Rahab’s help, and now they give their report to Joshua. Their hearts were bursting with joy as they said the words of Joshua 2:24 They said to Joshua, “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.”
This was the news Joshua had been waiting for. Immediately he dispatched men throughout the vast camp of Israel, announcing that first thing the next morning, they would break camp and pitch their tents on the banks of the Jordan River. They would finally come to the entry point of the Promised Land. Joshua 3:1 Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over.
I’m sure there was a great buzz among the Israelites, “This is the day! We stand in the brink of a dream. Our forefathers blew it here, but this time we will obey!”
But as they approached the famous river that formed a barrier between them and their longed-for real estate, what they saw by the light of day was both confusing and dreadful. The Jordan was defiantly uncrossable! Joshua 3:15 Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest.
Now the Jordan overflows its banks throughout the harvest season. It stretches over 320 km from Mount Hermon to the Dead Sea, furiously plummeting from several hundred feet above sea level to approximately 1300 feet below sea level. Normally the Jordan is not difficult to cross. It is narrow and shallow. But when Joshua led the children of Israel to the Jordan it was spring. The snows had melted on Mount Hermon. The normally dry wadies that flowed into the Jordan were raging currents inundating the main river. No longer mild and tame, the Jordan was a raging river at flood stage. During the dry season, at its widest point, the Jordan was 100 feet wide, now it was over a mile wide. Moreover, the banks of the river had bushes which was non-discernable during the flood. The Israelites were at an impasse.
This was the sight that greeted the multiple hundreds of thousands that pitched their tents alongside the river.
Joshua 3:2 After three days the officers went throughout the camp. The Bible tells us that they spent the next three days right there. They are looking at Jordan and don’t know what to do. The waiting pounded reality into every Israelite. You could hear the doubts over night fires: “Maybe the strong among us can brave this flood, but how can we cross with infants, with the sickly, with the aged, all our possessions on the wagons?
1. Principle of Before.
The before principle manifests itself in everyday life. There are battles before victory. There are struggles before celebration. There are steps before arrivals. There is practice before perfection. There is preparation before completion. There is matriculation before graduation.
Over and over in Scripture this pattern is repeated: The Israelites had to march to the Red Sea before God parted it. Namaan had to wash seven times in the water before God cured him of leprosy. Gideon had to reduce his army from 32,000 down to 300 before God would deliver them from the Midianities. The loaves and fishes were given up before Jesus multiplied them. Peter had to obey Jesus to row out to deep water before he caught a boatload of fish.
Obedience has to precede a breakthrough.
Illustration: The following letter was found in a baking powder can wired to the handle of an old pump that offered the only hope of drinking water on a very long and seldom-used trail across the Amargosa Desert, Nevada, USA.
“This pump is all right as of June 1932. I put a new sucker washer into it and it ought to last five years. But the washer dries out and the pump has got to be primed. Under the white rock I buried a bottle of water, out of the sun and cork end up. There’s enough water in it to prime the pump, but not if you drink some first. Pour about one fourth and let her soak to wet the leather. Then pour in the rest medium fast and pump like crazy. You’ll get water. The well has never run dry. Have faith. When you get watered up, fill the bottle and put it back like you found it for the next perso.” – Desert Pete
“P.S. Don’t go drinking up the water first. Prime the pump with it and you’ll get all you can hold.”
If you were a lonely traveler shuffling down that parched desert trail, would you trust this letter. What if it a mad hoax? There are no guarantees to what he claims is true. And what would motivate you to prime the pump with the water in the bottle, perhaps the only water available. But you understand the fact that old pumps have to be primed. It’s a gamble. A risk. An adventure. What do you do? You obey.
It’s easy for us to relate to the emotions and thoughts of Israel. So many of us face “personal Jordans” that feel so permanent and powerful that we don’t even try to make it across. Our lives feel stalled, stuck on the wrong side of God’s promises. We read about the abundant life, but can’t make it out of the wilderness. Believers can feel that way too, stalemated by the promise of something great with God, but blocked by all kinds of barriers.
When you obey God, God can turn a “no way” into a highway! The great question that loomed over the camp of Israel and over our lives today is, “Will we walk by sight or by faith? Do we really believe God can handle the impossible?”
Joshua 3 goes on to demonstrate something that is echoed throughout Scripture: Luke 18:27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.
God was about to reveal the steps that must be taken in every life and in every church if we are to move from grounded to grateful, from marooned in the past to marveling at God’s future! The experiences and decisions reported in this chapter were a major breakthrough for Israel. A whole new generation learned that victory depended totally upon Him!
As we stand on the brink of the God-sized future and consider the obstacles that hinder us, it can feel like we’re facing an impossible task between here and there. But these things are no match for the God of the Uncrossable!
He knows how to get you overcome your obstacles.
Follow God. Joshua 3:2-4 2After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.”
What did this command mean to the Israelites? Well, we get a clue when we look inside the Ark. The stone tablets with the Ten Commandments were inside that box, a sign to all Israel of God’s desire for relationship.
There was also a pot of manna, a reminder of God’s gracious provision during the previous forty years (Exodus 16:33-34). And there was Aaron’s rod, a dead stick that miraculously grew leaves and almonds to validate the power of God to use anything He willed to accomplish His will, down to the smallest detail (Numbers 17). You see, on top of the Ark was a gold plate called the Mercy Seat over which two cherubim knelt (Exodus 25:18-19). Psalm 80:1 and 99:1 describe God as “enthroned upon the cherubim.” God showed up right here, above the Mercy Seat, giving current meaning to past acts of power.
The Ark was the OT equivalent to Immanuel, “God with us.” When this chest led the way, it meant God was out in front. He would, so to speak, take the first steps into Canaan. Their task was to follow His lead, to pursue His presence, to come after Him.
But they were to keep a distance of about 1,000 yards between yourselves and the ark. God was very particular about the distance that was to be kept from the Ark, and His reasons are clear: He wanted all of Israel to see which way God wanted them to go. If the group in front crowded in too closely, only a handful would have seen it.
So now picture the scene: All Israel is encamped on a sloping hill beside the Jordan River. The Ark is positioned 1000 yards from them. Everyone in the nation would be able to see it. The priests would bear it by rods upon their shoulders as they stride toward the white water of Jordan. And everybody would understand the point: God intended for Israel to breach the Jordan with Him! But it could only be done if they focused on and followed Him.
Centuries later, the true Ark of God come among us, the living Immanuel. The Ark contained the Ten Commandments; Jesus fulfilled the Law (Matt.5:17). The Ark preserved the manna by which God fed them in the wilderness; Christ is the bread of life (John 6:31-46).
Hebrews 12:2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
Illustration: During the World War some Turkish soldiers tried to drive away a flock of sheep. It was on a hillside near Jerusalem. The shepherd who was sleeping was suddenly aroused to see them being driven off. But singlehanded he could not hope to recapture his flock by force. Suddenly he had a thought. Standing up on his side of the ravine he put his hands to his mouth and gave his own peculiar call which he used each day to gather his sheep to him. And his sheep heard it. For a moment they listened, and hearing it again they turned and rushed down one side of the ravine and up the other, and it was quite impossible for the men to stop them. So the shepherd was away with them to a place of safety before the soldiers could make up their minds to pursue them.
Illustration: A young lady leaving for the mission field was sitting by a dear friend in the home church the Sunday evening previous. Suddenly, as if moved by a strong impulse, the friend took the young missionary’s Bible and turned to John 10, and underscored part of the fourth verse: “And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them.” How many times during the years that followed, in days of darkness and difficulty, that promise was a source of power and comfort.
We can’t see our way clear. We don’t know what’s lurking under the rushing water of our Jordan. We have no human way to cross our Jordan. What to do?
What do you do when you’re facing the impossible? You do what Peter when he walked on the water: Fix your eyes on Jesus. The minute he took his eyes off Jesus and saw the raging sea around him, he remembered that “people can’t walk on water” and started to sink (Matthew 14:27-31). We must all focus and follow the movements of our Lord, so that where He leads, we will follow.
Joshua 3:5 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”
The word consecrate means “to prepare, to be holy, to dedicate, to be separate or set apart.” God was telling His people that if they were going to cross the uncrossable and follow the will of the Lord, they must be set apart to Him. They must be holy.
One of the primary reasons Israel found their way blocked, and one of the reasons we find ours often blocked, is sin.
Isaiah 59:1-2 1Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. 2But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
What is the effect of sin upon the congregation of God’s people? It was some time later, when they had already entered Canaan when one man, Achan sinned. One out of all the hundreds of thousands, disobeyed the clear instruction of the Lord. But Achan’s sin brought misery and defeat on the entire nation. Thirty six Israelites died in what should have been an easy victory, Joshua 7.
On the eve of one of the greatest days in their history, Israel was commanded to be certain they were right with God, to examine their lives, confess and forsake sins, and devote themselves wholly to the Lord. God asked for repentance.
Act on what God has said. Joshua 3:7-8 7And 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. 8Tell 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.’”
Joshua 3:13 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.
Joshua 3:17 The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.
Faith moves you forward in God’s way, in God’s timing. And there will come a moment when you must act on what God has said. If you don’t, you’ll never cross the Jordan.
Illustration: One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, “Jump! I’ll catch you.” He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: “Jump! I will catch you.” But the boy protested, “Daddy, I can’t see you.” The father replied, “But I can see you and that’s all that matters.”
Focusing on the Lord is essential. And consecrating yourself to the Lord is vital. But we will never cross the river unless we take that step of faith. Our eyes and our hearts can be right on, but if we don’t move our feet to meet the challenges, we will never progress in God’s work. We must commit ourselves – our time, our energy, our money, our lives to what God is doing, or it won’t happen.
But let me quickly add something else here. I want you to notice an element in their trust that is present in all true faith. After they stepped out, they stood still (v.8). Why? They were waiting on the power of God. In all their activity, they maintained dependence. Their standing still testified to the fact that everything came from God. They were acknowledging that it wasn’t their work that changed anything–it was God and God alone. They stepped out, and they stood still.
Standing near the banks of the thundering Jordan were the armed warriors with sword and shield. Next to them, the aged men trembling on their staffs, along with wide-eyed mothers and helpless babies, some of whom were born that day. All about were flocks and possessions were gathered to move when God opened a way.
All the people had their eyes on the Ark, positioned high on the shoulders of the priests, who were wading in the shallows of the river. Everyone was ready–clean in heart and spiritually alert, watching for something that only God could do. Already, the step of faith had been taken. Now they were standing still, and a great hush fell over the people.
Then, someone noticed that the water was receding. It was dropping fast! Somewhere up river beyond their sight, the waters mounted up in a great crystal heap. The riverbed was dry. In fact, it was bare all the way south to the Dead Sea! Now the thunder of the river was replaced by the thunder of God’s people moving in a great swarm which extended a mile or more.
So stupendous was this event in the mind of Israel that a song was written about it. Psalm 114:3-7 3The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back; 4the mountains leaped like rams, the hills like lambs. 5Why was it, sea, that you fled? Why, Jordan, did you turn back? 6Why, mountains, did you leap like rams, you hills, like lambs? 7Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob,
Conclusion: God can help us overcome every obstacles that we face in life. The church in Acts crossed over in impossible situations repeatedly because they took the simple steps that remain for us to this day. A Jordan stretches before us; the challenges are too much for us. We must believe that nothing is too difficult for God. We must focus on Christ and follow Him. We must cast out all sin and set ourselves apart to Him. And we must be ready to move when He does His work, always being mindful that if anything is going to last, it’s from the Lord.