Summary: This New Year’s Eve Watchnight service sermonette focused on the significance of the memorial God commanded Joshua to build in Gilgal after the Israelites crossed the Jordan and entered the Promised Land.
1. The stones signified a strenuous past
2. The stones signified a sovereign God
3. The stones signified a saved people
You may be wondering why you got a stone when you came in tonight. They’re not for throwing, or making pet rocks or anything like that. As we get ready to ring in the New Year, I want to spend just a few minutes talking with you about the significance of stones. In order to do that, we’re going to look back at one of the great moments in the history of Israel—the time when they first crossed over the Jordan River and entered the Promised Land. You remember that God parted the waters of the Jordan just like He did with the Red Sea 40 years earlier. As the people were getting ready to cross the into the Promised Land, God gave Joshua some simple instructions. He told him to pick out one man from each of the 12 tribes. Each of those men was to pick out a stone from the riverbed. They were to take those stones and set them up in the Promised Land as a memorial. Let’s read from Joshua 4:19-24:
Now, those were just plain old river rocks. Just like the ones you have in your hands only a whole lot bigger. But when the children of Israel did what God told them to do, the stones took on meaning. They had significance. As we look at the significance of the stones here in our passage we’re going to look at three things our stones can signify as we enter this New Year. The first thing the stones signified was a strenuous past. Think about where they had come from. They had just seen all of their older relatives die while they were wandering through the desert for 40 years. At times over that 40 years, they had endured plagues, lack of water, strife, conflict, death, sickness, and hardship. They had rebelled and been restored. They had times of aimlessness and times of great purpose. Times of fear and times of mourning. Let’s face it, it had been a rough time ever since they left Egypt. As a matter of fact, even before they left Egypt. Because before they left, they were slaves. And they were abused and mistreated by the Egyptians. I would say that qualified them as having a strenuous past. So, later on, as they were sitting in the Promised Land, they could look at that memorial of stones and remember all the hard times they had been through. Because they signified a strenuous past. But that’s not the only thing they signified.
They also signified a sovereign God. As they were reflecting on the rough times they had in the past, how could they not see how God was with them every step of the way? God provided for them and brought them through it all. When they were thirsty, He gave them water from the rock. When they were hungry, He provided them Manna from heaven. He made it so their very clothes and shoes didn’t wear out the whole time they were wandering. Although He made them wander, He was constantly before them as a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. Before God even provided for their needs in the desert, He delivered them from their captivity and bondage in Egypt. God was with them. He provided for their needs. He protected them from their enemies. He cared for them, even when they complained and rebelled against Him. He showed His wonderful sovereignty in their lives. So, when from the Promised Land, they looked back at that memorial of stones, they could remember how God’s hand had been on them all along. Because they signified a sovereign God. They signified a strenuous past and a sovereign God.
But they also signified a saved people. When those men stacked up those stones, they did it while standing in the Promised Land. They were in the land of Canaan. But because they were there, had they arrived? Were they finished? Notice that God told them to build a memorial, not a museum. A museum is a place to look at all the great things that have happened in the past. A museum doesn’t point anywhere but backwards. But this was a memorial. A memorial that was more like a signpost. A signpost that not only showed where they had been, but where they were going. See, God didn’t bring them through all those things they had been through just so they could sit around and talk about them. He brought them through so they would be better equipped to handle what He had for them in the future. God brought them through the hard times so they could better serve Him in the future. He saved them so they could get busy driving God’s enemies from Canaan. So, when they looked at that memorial of stones, they could see a signpost that pointed to the future. It pointed to the work God wanted them to do. That stone memorial signified a strenuous past, a sovereign God, and a saved people. But what does that have to do with us? And what does it have to do with that stone you have in your hand? I want you to use that stone just like God told the Israelites to use their stone memorial. Take it home. Put it on a shelf. Use it as a reminder of the tough things you’ve been through this year. Every one of us in here has had some tough things that have happened to us in 2006. We’ve lost loved ones. Some of us have gotten sick. Some have had family problems—problems with our kids or parents. Some have had money problems or job problems. We’ve had strife and grumbling and complaining. We’ve all had issues. We’ve all had a strenuous past, so we can look at that stone and remember the hard times we’ve been through. But when we do, we’d better use it as a reminder of how God pulled us through those tough times. When we reflect on each hard time we’ve had in the past year, we can see God’s hand in them all. Some of us are still going through the hard time. It’s hard to see God’s hand in the storm while we’re in the midst of it. But when you look back at all the storms that God has seen you through in the past, it’ll give you more assurance that He will pull you through this one as well. Yes, we’ve all had a strenuous past, but we can look at that past and see the handiwork of our sovereign God. So, use your stone to remind you of all the ways God has seen you through your storms. Use it to remind you of your sovereign God. And finally, use it to remind you of how God saved you. And use it to remind you of what He saved you to do. Don’t just use it as a thing to remember the past. Use it as a signpost to point you to the future. A future that is rich with the possibility of serving others and serving Jesus Christ. He’s brought you through the storm for a reason. If you’re still in the storm, He’s got His hand on you and will bring you through for a reason. The reason is, He wants you to bring Him honor and glory in the future. As we begin this new year, let’s remember how God has brought us through 2006 in order that we might better serve Him in 2007.