Preached on: Sunday 2nd May 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no Powerpoint pdf accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Joshua 4:1-24
Location: Brightons Parish Church
Father God, as we come now before Your word we ask that indeed that You will bless us through that word, You will guide and You will lead us just as You led the Israelites across the Jordan, lead us across the difficulties that we may face in life, that we might walk with You and that we might understand Your word. In Jesus name we ask it, Amen.
That was appropriate we had a technical hitch just when it was ‘I do not know what lies ahead’. I trust the God of miracles and we also trust Richard the technician of technology here in the sanctuary for getting us up and running and going again.
And we come this morning to the Israelites again, with Joshua, and they stand there at the Jordan and they’re about to cross over. As we join them in chapter 4 this morning we are with these people and we’re with a God who, in this passage this morning, calls them to remember; to remember how good their God is and how He maintains His purposes; how He keeps His promises.
The people of God have already been told to tie the word on their wrists and put it on their doorsteps that they might remember the Lord their God at every moment and here in Joshua chapter 4 verse 7 we have these stones which are to be, to the people of Israel, a memorial forever.
Humanity by nature, however, is very good at forgetting. We, as people, are very good at forgetting. We come up with a number of mnemonic devices to assist in remembering all sorts of things; names, phone numbers, dates and vocabulary, and what is true of us all, as individuals, is also true as a nation. Forgetfulness is the cause of all kinds of trouble; it’s true in interpersonal relationships, marriage relationships, community relationships, and also in our relationship with God.
Israel long has recognized the need to remember so God has, at various points in the redemptive history, had his people place markers as memorials to remind them of His mighty deeds, and this is the case this morning in chapter 4. God wants to ensure that his people will never forget what He has done and so He says, in verse 7 “these stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” This is not the first time that God asked His people to remember. After His mighty work in rescuing the people from Egypt and the Passover, God says “When your children ask you what this means, tell them this” You can find this call to remember in the previous book of Deuteronomy also, in Ecclesiastes, and here in Joshua. The word ‘remember’ doesn’t simply mean ‘to bring to mind’, it means to focus on and reflect on with love and devotion and this theme is picked up in the New Testament as Paul says to Timothy “remember Christ Jesus” or Peter says too, it is right to refresh your memory, and of course our Lord Jesus Christ Himself as He brought bread, and gave thanks for it, to His disciples He said “Do this in remembrance of me.”
And Joshua basically catechizes His people at the end of this chapter, for providing them the question that they know they’re going to be asked he gives them the answer that they’re to give as well as the purpose as to why they’ve to give it.
The question they will be asked is “What do these stones mean?” Children ask lots of questions. have a very inquisitive grandson, Caleb, and at times the questions he asked fill me with delight, other times they may be wearing me out, or they may be a bit difficult just to get the right answer, but few things give me more joy than when he and other children ask about Jesus and God and what he’s done and I can only imagine that if our children today saw these stones for themselves they’d be asking what that pile of stones was there for, and one day our own children, grandchildren, and by God’s grace will become parents too, and if we’ve done our job now answering their questions about God, then one day too they’ll be able to glorify Him giving the answer to their children and on and on the generations. Joshua describes in detail the answer that he’d be given this morning, God’s word tells us of the many important questions but what does it mean here?
Well perhaps whatever you want it to mean today, but that’s quite a welcome answer. In our modern society reflecting and turning the answer to what suits us rather than what suits God and they don’t always give the Biblical answer, the answer given by God’s word,
The stones mean something. We Christians with a biblical worldview, one that begins with God and His Holy Majesty, with His power and His creation, we recognize that when God interferes into His world and intervenes in what’s going on, He does so very purposely. So, Joshua says, the answer to the question is, God dried up the river Jordan before you until you had crossed over. In the same way he dried up the Red Sea when He rescued His people out of Egypt. God enabled the people to cross the river Jordan and so the people of God are to tell their children what God has done and the uniqueness of what He did.
It’s interesting that in verse 19 the day is mentioned, and that day is significant because it’s 40 years exactly to the day that the Passover was established. God performed this mighty deed at just the right time, even a time when the river Jordan was in full flow mode in the previous chapter.
So, God gives them the question, He gives them the answer and He also gives them the reason. God and His purposes bring His people to places and points in their lives where the only possibility for salvation and victory and triumph is if He provides it. We see this in His stated purposes in Joshua 4. His purpose is that all the peoples of the earth would know that the hand of the Lord has a powerful hand and so the people of God who fear the Lord God, leads His people across the river at just such a time that there is no way of victory crossing the river unless God Himself can get them across. It’s in times like this that the people of God will sing with the Psalmist those words “I lift my eyes to the hills from where does my help come. My help is in the name of the Lord.
With the odds so dramatically stacked against the people of God, the only chance of rescue was if God Himself did it and when this happens all the glory goes to God, the one who is due all glory. To be sure the people are obedient but God’s power is behind it and it’s no different today, God saves and calls us His people to obedience, to fear the Lord our God and to revere Him. He acts to engender the faith and His people and the obedience and He speaks still of the awe-struck wonder of His people today.
Can you imagine all those years ago just being there? One day we will all stand on that side of the Jordan river and, as much as it represents death, and God calls us into obedience and we’ll stand ready to make a safe crossing based on the promise of God and His power.
And so, the people of God have that experience which is the same that has been through all the generations.
It might need to be said here that it flies somewhat in the face of those who say things like “You interpret the bible your way, I’ll interpret it mine.” but this passage doesn’t really allow for that. God gives the question, the answer and the interpretation, stating His reason and in all of this Jesus is there too, within the passage is the Ark, the Ark of the Covenant is a sign of God’s presence and His very power and purpose. It contained the Law of God framed by the mercy seat and it’s a symbol of the justice and the mercy of our God, as it contained the Law and as it took the blood of sacrifice that was sprinkled for the sins of the people by the priest at the time. Just as that Ark represented the power and the presence of God, we know that it most clearly seen as, seen in Jesus Christ, seen in His life, His death and His resurrection and so for the people of Israel to look to The Ark is for us who stand on this side of the cross to look to Christ Jesus because the way we know the invisible God in human form ultimately is in the person of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, we don’t look to an Ark this side of the cross, we look to Christ Himself, we look at the very power of that cross, He’s the author and the finisher of faith and for us the symbol has been replaced by the actual reality of the Resurrection.
Just as God wants the stones as a memorial of His great name, we, as people living on this side of the cross, need to look to the empty cross, look at the empty tomb.
Since God raised Jesus from the dead, He will also raise me too from the dead. It says look to the resurrection of Jesus, the unique and dramatic interventions of God throughout history, and there focus our eyes on the presence on the empty cross.
And so, we can, like the Israelites, say to our children and our children’s children, our God did this for us and He will be faithful to all, in all His promises, for He is the living God.
As we begin to head out from another lockdown with our hopes and aspirations, it may have felt like 40 years, but it hasn’t been it, but it might have seemed a long time since this pandemic began, and we know we still have some time to go before again we see some sort of normality in our church buildings, and we probably feel as if we’ve been standing waiting to cross the Jordan,
There are many times, not just during this pandemic when each of us will have stood at the water’s edge, stood there in times of job loss and financial insecurity, stood there at times of ill-health, stood at the water’s edge when we’ve lost a loved one, stood there in those times of pain and suffering, and we have or if we still have, we will come through them, and always remember, God was there in the midst of those times, He was right in front of us just as He went ahead of the tribes of Israel before they crossed over into the promised land.
Today, from this passage, we have to remember God’s great power, lest we forget the power of the cross itself, unless we forget about the Christ who died for you and for me.
I picked a little story up from the theologian Alistair Begg and he tells a story about three golfers Bill, Tom and Fred. There used to be a group of four along with Harry and they often played golf together over the last 12 years, but Harry had died. It wasn’t only Harry’s company they missed on the golf course, but they missed the fact that he was the only one at his age that could see well enough to follow where their ball landed after they hit it, and so they went to the club pro or president, or whatever they’re called, and they said they need a fourth man and the only requirement they wanted that he was able to see because none of us can see well enough to follow their tee-shots. And so, he gave them George assuring them that George had great eyesight for a man of his age.
They all hit off their tee shots and turned to George asking if he seen where the ball went “Sure did!” he replied in each case and then they jump and the buggies or the carts and they drive to where Bill would usually hit his ball. He stops the car and he asked George “Where’s my ball?” to which George replied “I can’t remember!”
This morning, can we remember God in the time of Joshua as they cross the Jordan, God when He’s beside us in our moments, and the God who will be with us.