By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
November 5, 2023
Joshua 3:7–17 (ESV)
7 The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. 8 And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’ ” 9 And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. 13 And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.” 14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.
Moses is no longer the leader of Israel. The Desert wanderings are now over. The future is now upon us. What do we do? Where do we go from here? How will we know what to do?
For thirty days Israel mourned for Moses. He had been their leader for these past forty years. An entire generation. They had heard stories from their grandparents about life in Egypt and the crossing of the sea. Their parents had told them stories about the day God spoke to them from above the mountain. How shortly after this encounter, the older people among them worshiped an idol instead of the living God. They had eaten the bread of heaven their entire life, along with quail. But now Moses is gone. Who will lead them? Where will they get their food? Is God still with them or did he vanish like their beloved leader?
Change is never easy. But this transition is probably worse than anything we have ever experienced. The people that were looking across the valley had only known one way of life. They had only known the desert. They lived their entire life looking toward the future, but now this future they had dreamed about is upon them. Can they really move forward?
I have struggled with this week’s passage. I do not really know why. I sat with it in prayer. I contemplated it repeatedly. I looked at the words hoping to receive some divine inspiration and, to be honest, all was quiet.
This happens on occasion. In our lives of faith, we have expectations. We want to hear God’s voice. We want to experience intimacy with Him. We want, and we need to know that God is near. We have this expectation that if we are faithful, God will show up. If we sing the right songs. If we keep the commandments. If we give our tithes, read scripture, and say our prayers. Unfortunately, God does not always succumb to our formulas.
I wrestle with this often. When I first came to Willow Creek, I was excited about what could be. It was the first time I had ministered among people in a city. Everything was new, and I was nervous. In my mind I did not know what we should do, and luckily the co-pastor also did not have a clue, so we both suggested that we begin with prayer. We prayed. We asked questions, we got to know each other. We became a family before we did anything else. Then after a year, the co-pastor left.
I started that entire process over again. How can I lead this group of people? Was I even qualified? I knew who you were, I had been part of this congregation. I struggled. This led me deeper into prayer and study. Because there was a concern that we would even survive? I looked at who we were, I looked at our community, I struggled to find where or what we should do. Our community did not seem to want to hear what we had to offer.
This is when I began to read about the land of Ireland. Patrick was not the first missionary to go to Ireland. Others went before him, and they made no difference. Ireland was happy with who they were and the direction they were going. But after Patrick came the entire island seemed to convert to his faith. Why and how did Patrick succeed where others failed?
I thought in my mind that Patrick held the answers that I was seeking. I read everything I could find on ancient Ireland. I read about their culture. I read about geography. I read about their ancient mythology, the customs they held prior to conversion, and I read about Patrick’s ministry. Something changed in Ireland that moved them from completely closed off to the testimony of Christ, to fully engaged. And then I found the answer.
I found the key, and it was anticlimactic. Why did Ireland embrace God? They embraced God because Patrick was not afraid of the dark.
It is ridiculous I know. It seems almost too simplistic, and it is. It was not simply that Patrick was not afraid of the dark, he was not afraid of what could lurk in the darkness. Ireland prior to Patrick was a land of spirits, fairies, leprechauns, and ghosts. It was enchanting and chaotic. We, today, have a nostalgic view of that pagan land but these spiritual beings could be cute and devastating. The people lived in fear that they might offend one of these beings and death could be the result. It got so bad that people were said to have been literally scared to death. And the night was the worst. The spirits of vengeance would act when you least expected it, they would strike when your guard was down. And Patrick came into that land bringing the Gospel of Christ, and that Gospel was an offense to these spirits. Everyone expected spiritual retaliation and death to Patrick, but he was not afraid.
They watched him day after day, listened to his stories into the night, and he would simply pray and sleep. He did not consume alcohol to force his slumber like so many did, he simply went to sleep.
Patrick did not fear. He faced the chaos of the unknown with confidence. He continued to live the life he felt he should live, he presented the message he felt led to give, he would sleep, and wake up to do it again. This intrigued me, it brought clarity to the mission I felt led to as well.
Patrick faced many struggles. His life was not easy, because many opposed his message at first. Change is never easy. He would feel like he should go one direction and then seemingly all at once things would change and he would go the opposite way. The later monks that followed Patrick’s ways would describe this as chasing the wild goose, which is where the phrase wild goose chase comes from. And it is describing what it often feels like when we embrace the Spirit of God. We do not always know where it is going to lead us, Jesus calls it the wind. We do not know where it comes from nor where it is going.
I bring this up, because that is what I imagine was going on in the minds of Israel as they prepared themselves to enter the land before them. It was the land of the Giants.
As Joshua seeks God for direction, God tells him, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel that they my know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” He then tells Joshua what to do. And Joshua tells the people, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites…” If we were to investigate these people groups, we will not find a great deal of information. Many of them are only mentioned in the bible and there is no outside collaboration that they ever existed. But of the groups we do know have information from, we do know what type of people they are. The Hittites for example are the people that once lived in the land we now know as Turkey. They were also the group of people that moved to the east and would eventually become the empire of Babylon.
This is important because it connects back to the spies, and to the statue that Aaron created that the people began to worship. These people were followers of great men of renown, the offspring of the gods of the world.
They had faced this test once before. Forty years prior their parents and grandparents stood on this border. They looked upon the land in fear because the inhabitants of the land had gods that protected and led them. Who was their God, how could they trust Yahweh in the face of these established nations?
God had already defeated Egypt, the greatest of the nations on earth at that time, yet they were afraid. They did not know God. They did not trust or entrust their life to the ways of God. As a result, God took the people back into the wilderness. And they wandered in the desert until all that generation perished. Those that remained only knew one life and one lifestyle.
Today they gather once again at the border of the land promised to them. The land God claimed for his people as his portion from all the nations of the world.
The people stood on the banks of the Jordan, and they were concerned. They faced an unknown. Everything they could see in front of them seemingly opposed everything they had known before. Can they trust God? Will God even be with them as they face the giants?
God spoke to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you.” You can sense the anticipation in those words. Today I will begin.
Today. I want us to just let that declaration seep into our souls, because it is a reality now just as it was in the day of Joshua. Today, is filled with great potential. It can be the greatest day of your life. It could be the start of something new. It could be boring; it could be terrible. It could be any number of things. Today is about to unfold, how are you going to face that great unknown?
The people walked out that day and they looked across the valley. They looked over the waters of the river and they saw the land that for so long seemed a distant dream. And there is even more. The river that was before them was flooding. Usually, the Jordan river was around one hundred feet wide and anywhere from three to ten feet deep, but that day it was outside its banks. Have you ever stood on the banks of a river during a flood? The water is moving fast, it is eating away the soil as if it were a pie at thanksgiving dinner. Branches and even trees are pushed along in the current. The water rushes so fast that even the birds do not trust that they could fly out from it. God calls the people to stand on the banks of the Jordan during a flood and says today is the day. And Joshua tells the priest and one man from each of the tribes of Israel to walk forward.
Their parents and grandparents stood in that very place and trembled before the giants. And now they are back. They may not be afraid of giants this time, yet fear is still present. There will always be something that causes us to hesitate, to pause. No matter who we are, no matter how much we have prepared, when today comes there will always be an obstacle threatening our journey forward. What will we do?
Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out before you the giants and terrors…when the soles of the feet shall rest in the waters, the waters shall be cut off and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.
Imagine if Joshua said these words to you.
You have heard stories, but can your God control the waters? You know that God can provide bread, but can he really provide safe passage? You know your God can lead but can he really drive out the giants that haunt your dreams?
A generation prior 83% of Israel, could not even begin to think of crossing that barrier, has anything really changed during that time? The old has passed away and the new has come.
The people of God are standing on the banks. They are looking into the land. They are remembering the past. And the lessons that Moses taught them.
Exodus 20:1–17 (ESV)
1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. 8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
They consider these lessons. They think to themselves what type of world they would like to reside in. Do they want to live in constant fear of giants? In a world where people only look out for themselves? Or would they rather live in a land where they could worship God, and honor the image of God in those around them?
They have an opportunity. They have a chance to live differently. Today could be the day that all things could be different. Will they bear the name?
Joshua stood before the people. He stood there as their leader, but he knew he was just one of them. He is Joshua son of Nun. He was not the son of Moses, not the son of Aaron. He was just one among the congregation. Yet God had commanded him since the day Moses died to be Strong and courageous, to not be afraid, to walk forward. The raging flood is before him and the people.
A new job, retirement, a baby. Your child broke a bone, your grandfather is in hospital. A paper is due, the game is on the line. It does not matter what today is. There is always a raging river that threatens to drag you under, and our doubt is urging us to turn away. But hope is just on the other side. Will we step forward?
I hope you see the great faith of Israel that day. Giants still inhabited the land, yet they took a step. The waters rushed before them, yet they took another. They yearned for the land, they did not dwell on the struggle, but looked to hope. They desired a life where they could live according to the wisdom Moses taught them. The giants, and a flood were in front of them, and the desert was behind. They wanted the land; they wanted life. They had hope.
The priest took a step, and they each followed behind, step after step they moved forward. They faced their giants, they braved the chaotic waters, and they moved forward. They did not allow fear to grab hold because the land and the promise was greater than their fear.
Thirteen years ago, we faced an uncertain future together. Yet we walked. Today the future is no more certain than it was then, or even forty years ago. Today we, like Israel in the days of Joshua, must still make a choice. We still must choose whether to walk or not. I cannot stand here and say I possess every answer, or that I can prove to you that God is trustworthy. All I can say is that I can look at the world and all it has to offer, and I can look at Christ. I choose to follow Christ; I choose because that is how I want to live. I want to live in a place where there is no Jew or Gentile, male or female. I want to live in a land where we love our neighbor as ourselves. I want to believe that healing is possible and even if it does not happen as I would like that my God weeps with me. I want hope.
I might be idealistic. I might be naïve. Frankly I do not care. I stood here as I did a decade ago, unsure of what the future holds, but I do not fear. I do not fear because God brought Israel through the sea, across the desert, and into that land. God raised Jesus from the grave. Life goes on, even in the darkest hours. Hope remains. Let us take those steps forward. Into the raging river of life and let us grab hold of the promise.
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