The first Sunday in June our church took some time to stop and remember when we returned to the church property after the lockdown of 2020. We chose to do this by having an outdoor service followed by a picnic lunch. It was a wonderful time together and gave the space to reflect on how much meeting as a church means.
Last year when we came back to the church property for the service it was the first time most folks had been to the property in three months. Most churches across the country were facing the same challenges of how to meet and what needed to be done to keep people safe. This last Sunday did not have the same “feel” of last year when we had not seen one another for some time. Nevertheless there was excitement to be together as a church and have lunch together.
The sermon was from Joshua 3-4. I wanted to give the main points of that sermon because there are some timeless truths in the passage to hold fast whether in a worldwide pandemic or facing personal challenges at home.
God’s desire is for the people to remember when he led them across the Jordan river and safely brought them to the land he promised them. He wants them to remember his goodness, his greatness and that he always keeps his promises.
“…so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, that you may fear the Lord your God forever.”
Before they cross the river, God has them stop – for three days. That’s a long time to look and listen to raging river and think about threatening things on the other side. What if some people get scared and leave? What if there is an uprising because of their fear? But Joshua tells them to “lodge there” (3:1). Waiting is hard but waiting while the obstacle in right in front of you can feel daunting. God could have kept them from seeing the obstacles but he didn’t. When we see an obstacle and we are waiting for God to give us the next step to take, remember this is not wasted time. God is using it and we are right where he wants us to be.
The next set of instruction in Joshua 3 is about what to watch for:
[Joshua] commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it.”
There was even a distance to be put between the people and the ark so that everyone had a clear view. The obvious question here for today’s reader is, “What are we to look at seeing as we don’t have the ark of the covenant?” The ark was a visible representation of the presence of God. John 1:14 forwards for us that God came in Christ and “we beheld his glory.” We look to Christ. Jesus draws some of the Old Testament images together in John chapter 3 when he talks about the bronze serpent that Moses put on a pole for the people to look at and be healed. For the person living from the time of Jesus and beyond, we look to Christ.
Once the people were brought to the very edge of the Jordan river, Joshua says this:
And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God.”
Listen to God’s words. They didn’t have Bibles to carry with them but we do. Listening is more than hearing. Listening is active, leaning in. It is giving weight and consideration to the words of God. Listening does what Mary did when she revived the news about her baby, about Jesus, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” When I am waiting and my heart is restless, am I listening to God’s words?
The response of the people was to “consecrate” (3:5) themselves. To devote themselves afresh to God and make a conscious effort to honor him in this moment. They did walk across that river on dry ground and they did set up those rocks as a memorial on the other side (4:20). When their children asked about those rocks they would tell them what happened. They would tell them that their God was mighty (4:24).
Where does it seem you are stopped right now? What words is God wanting to give you today to help you keep your eyes on Christ? I think it is interesting before they ever cross the river that the people are told, “you have not passed this way before” (3:4). God specializes in uncharted territory.
Look and live my brother live;
Look to Jesus now and live!