Summary: Calling people to "cross over" whatever river they may be facing into the promises God has for them

Who Goes First? – Joshua 3

June 2/3, 2002


At times in our lives, each of us reach points of critical decision – places where the decision we make will have huge effects on the rest of our lives. We come to a T intersection, and have to make a choice about whether we head left or whether we head right. I came to one of those points of decision in my life in 1992. I had been dating this wonderful, beautiful, brilliant young woman, and I decided to ask her if she would be my wife. I cooked a nice dinner (at her place… I lived with a bunch of messy bachelors and who wants to propose in that kind of atmosphere??), and then offered her a ring and the chance to spend the rest of her life with a great person like me… She faced a critical decision point then also. What to say to this guy who is somewhat strange, often stubborn, lazier and messier than she might have liked…

You can relate. You can look back and see those points of critical decision in your life as well. For many of us, the biggest decision we look back towards was a spiritual decision – the choice to accept God’s offer of salvation and invite Jesus to become our Savior and Lord. Career choices, decisions about how to respond to illness, if and when to start a family, all of these are critical points of decision.

Our friends the Israelites face just such a junction in chapter 3 of Joshua. As you are looking it up, I want to ask you to try to imagine spending your entire life dreaming of one thing. Your parents and grandparents dreamt of it before you, and would tell you stories from the time of your earliest memories about how wonderful it would be when this one thing finally came to pass. Now imagine that every other person you had ever known was also looking forward to this one thing – it was not a personal dream but rather a national dream, shared by everyone around you. All of your activities were supposed to be moving you in that direction, it was the one goal towards which everyone was striving. Can you imagine it? Can you feel the longing for it?

Try to imagine you are one of the Israelites as I read this story. (NLT).


Let’s put the story in context. First God chose Joshua to follow Moses as the leader of His people, and gives Joshua both the command, “Be strong and courageous and take the land,” and the promise, “I will be with you always.” Then Joshua sent two spies across the river to get a handle on what was waiting for the Israelites on the opposite side – they have returned with a favorable report. And now, finally, after forty years, the time has come.

We hear that 40 years figure all the time, and I wonder if we really appreciate how long of a wait that actually was for the people of God. I’ve never waited that long for anything – I’m not even that old! An entire generation has passed, the nation that stands here on the banks of the river was completely different than the nation that walked out of slavery in Egypt. So this national dream of a homeland has been the central focus of two complete generations of Israelites. And now the time has come. Now the command comes. It’s time to cross the river.

1. “Purify Yourselves…”

First, the leaders get the people ready – they go throughout the camp and tell them to follow the priests (vss. 3-4). There is a great line there in verse 4 – “since you have never traveled this way before.” This is a new chapter, a new adventure, a new land. And since it is all new, God is the guide.

Part of that preparation is a spiritual one. Joshua commands the people to “purify” themselves – to get spiritually ready for what comes next. (vs. 5). He knows that God wants to do something amazing, “great wonders,” as the NLT puts it. And he also knows that God can only do great wonders when we, His people, are pure. When we are holy.

There is a critical lesson here for us. If we want God to act in mighty ways in our lives and in our world, we had better stand before Him in purity. Now, we know that the first mighty thing that He does is to make us pure – to forgive us and release us and set us free – that is where it starts. I know that is kind of scary for some of us. We are afraid to stand before God and ask Him to purify us, we are ashamed, we are comfortable, we kind of like our sin because we are used to it and we have learned how to cope. In our more honest moments, we admit that it is harmful to us and to others around us, but we still lack something that will enable us to change and really experience freedom. I heard that on the news from people who smoke when the Alberta government slapped another huge tax on tobacco – “I know it’s bad for me, and for others, and it’s really expensive, but I’m still not going to quit. I can’t.” It’s like that with a number of things – treating those closest to us unkindly. Lying. Pornography. Being selfish. Sabotaging relationships with people who care about us because we are scared of really getting intimate, and then crying because we are lonely. It’s not that we want life to be like that, but we get trapped, then we get used to it, then we learn to cope and accept the things that are wrong, and then change becomes really really hard. Patterns get established that are hard to break.

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