Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Crossing the Jordan

Last Sunday my wife and I attended the adult Sunday school class at our church.  We read a short passage from Joshua, watched a short video and then took part in a discussion.  The reading, Joshua 4:23-24 says,

“For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over.  He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God.”

The context of this passage is that it comes at the end of the description of the Hebrew people crossing the Jordan River and entering the Promised Land.  As the crossing concludes the Hebrews are to take up 12 stones from the river and then construct a stone marker at the place where they camp that evening, a marker that will remind future generations of what God did for them in making it possible to cross the river safely.

In the video we learned a bit about the Jordan River itself.  It is a fairly short river, just 156 miles long, and it makes a quick descent in its first 60 miles, from it’s headwaters to the Sea of Galilee, and then drops more gradually as it flows to its outlet in the Dead Sea.  One other characteristic of the Jordan is that it runs along a geological rift, so that in many places its banks are steep, making entry and exit difficult.  The Bible tells us that the Hebrews crossed it when it was a flood stage. 

The full Biblical account of the crossing of the Jordan River is contained in Joshua 3 and 4.  The synopsis is this: The priests were to lead the group, carrying the Ark of the Covenant.  God promised to stop the water’s flow as the first priest placed his foot in the water. The priests carrying the Ark were to stand in the middle of the river bed as the people crossed over.  Then the priests carrying the Ark were to be the last to exit the river, with the water resuming its flow as the last priest’s foot left the dry river bed.

In our discussion we talked about how important it was for the Hebrews to follow God’s instructions as they crossed the river.  They had to trust that God would do what he said they would do.  They had to have faith as they stepped from dry land on to a river running at flood stage.  There are lessons here for us as well.  We need to trust that God is who he says he is and will do what he promises to do.  We have to walk through life holding on to him in faith.

But I think there is also something more powerful in this account, particularly in Joshua 4:23-24, the verses noted above. 

In order for the Hebrews to pass over the Jordan and into the Promised Land they needed God to do something that they were unable to do on their own.  They needed God to remove the physical barrier of the water and give them a safe path to travel across.  In including within the story of the river crossing the fact that the Hebrews placed a stone marker of God’s action for their benefit, something that they would always look upon as a reminder, these verses foreshadow the entire focus of the Bible, which is that God has definitively acted in history in the person of Jesus Christ.

The stone marker of God’s past action in the history of the Hebrews is also a marker that helps us to see what would be, chronologically speaking, God’s future action in Christ, an action that ultimately transcends time and is of benefit to all of God’s chosen people throughout all of time.

In Christ and the finished work done through him on the cross, God has removed the barrier of our sin, so that we may enter into his eternal rest, a Promised Land that will be perfect in every way.  Our sin, no matter how it may look to us (i.e. “it’s not that bad”  “no one got hurt” “everyone is doing that”) is always an offense against a God that is always holy, always righteous and always just.  To use the river metaphor, absent the forgiveness that comes through Christ, even the least of our sins is a raging river that separates us from God, a river that we can never cross on our own effort.

So pick up the best marker God has given us, his word in the Bible, and read some of your favorite words of assurance, the words that give you comfort and trust in his promises.  If you don’t have any favorites I’m going to suggest a few of my own for you to try out, like Psalm 23, Ephesians 1:1-14, and Romans 8, especially verses 31-39.  Then give thanks to God for the good and perfect thing he has done for you and ask him where he would have you share this good news, the very best of news, in the world.

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