Sermon: "Crossing Over"


Fifth in "Share The Vision" Series,
Delivered November 21, 2004 by Rev. John Schmidt.
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5
See also the Share the Vision campaign.

Theme: God called Israel to take the risk to cross over the Jordan, on the basis of his promise alone. But the call of God was not just to that one miracle, but to enter into all the challenges that faced them in the land beyond!

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Sermon Text: Joshua 3

Early in the morning, Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went throughout the camp giving orders to the people. "When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God and the priests who are Levites carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about a thousand yards between you and the ark; do not go near it."

Joshua said to the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you."

Joshua told the priests, "Take up the ark of the covenant and pass in front of the people." So they took it up and went ahead of them.

And the LORD said to Joshua, "Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: 'When you reach the edge of the Jordan's waters, go and stand in the middle of it.'"

Joshua said the Israelites, "Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God. This is how you will know that the living God is among you and will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, the Hittites the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites and the Jebusites. See, the ark of covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. Now, choose twelve men, one from each of the tribes of Israel. And the priests who carry the ark of the LORD - the Lord of all the earth - will go into the water, and as soon as they reach the edge of the Jordan's water, the waters from upstream will stop flowing and stand up in heaps."

So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests who carried the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest, yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the edge of the water, the waters from upstream stopped flowing. The water piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan , while the waters that flowed down to the Sea of the Arabah were completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

Well for Israel the time had come. The whole nation lined up on the edge of the Jordan River and God says, "In that land is the place that I promised you for generations. Go in and take it. I have given it to you." This is a promised that had been held on to for hundreds and hundreds of years. Abraham, their ancestor, had heard a promise from God and he had left his own country, his own city, and had gone wandering and he wandered through a land and he walked through that land and God said, "In the future I will give this land to your descendants." And when Abraham heard that from God he believed it. He said, "Yes God, okay. This land will belong to my descendants." And even though Abraham never lived there, he held on to that promise, a promise that would only be fulfilled in the future. Later, another one of Israel's ancestors, Joseph, lived in Egypt and in fact brought all the tribes of Israel to Egypt for a period of time. And even though he lived in Egypt, he believed so much that in the future God would give this land to the people Israel that he said to them, "When I die be sure to box up my bones and take them with you, when you go an inherit the land." And this was hundreds and hundreds of years before the events that we read about in Joshua 3.

Moses, a much more recent leader, believed these promises and led Israel out of Egypt. Through a series of miracles, they came out of Egypt, they marched through a wilderness and they came to the very edge of the land, and God said "This is your land. I am giving it to you." And they sent in twelve spies to kind of scope out how things were and when they came back ten of them said, "This might not be a really good idea, because you know, inside that land, you can't see it right here, but every city here has a wall around it, and they've got armies inside and you know these people are not normal height people. These are big, tall types. This is not going to be an easy thing." And only two among them said, "No, God has promised it to us." One of those was Joshua. So Israel was not ready to take the land and so they turned around and God for forty years let them wander around. He let a whole generation pass away, but God was still faithful to them because after a time, God leads them back to the edge of the promise land and he says, "There it is. I promised it to you. Go. This is the land that I have promised to your forefathers, to your ancestors and now to you."

Now there is a problem here. They've got a new leader, Joshua, and Joshua was hand-picked and Joshua was prepared, but Joshua was brand new to all of this, so they've got this new leader. The leader Moses is no longer with them. But that's the smallest part of their problems. Because when they look into the land, it's just the same as it was forty years before. Not much has changed. All the towns still have walls. All of them still have armies. Nothing has changed there. You know, you would have thought that in that forty years maybe a few earthquakes would have happened, dropped a few walls, or maybe some people would have decided to migrate out. They could walk into an empty land. But that's not what happened. Everything is still the same.

Worse than that, between them in the land is the Jordan River. Maybe it's not worse. The Jordan River really isn't that formidable of an obstacle if you go at the right time and the right place, but this is not the right time and this is not the right place. Because the Jordan at this point is at flood stage, and so between Israel and the land that God is saying, "Go ahead in, take it, I promised it to you" - between them, is a river that is swollen because of flood waters . You can't walk across. You can't even swim safely across because of the current. And so, you know it would be easy to be tempted to think, "Well you know, God, we waited forty years. Can't we wait another month?" And the water would drop.

What I find amazing in this passage is that Joshua doesn't argue with God. Instead Joshua goes to the priests and tells the priests, "Okay, we are going to be heading into this land and the way we are going to do it, is we are going to get a bunch of you to pick up the ark of God" - which was that box that had in it certain important things from Israel's history and represented the presence of God to Israel. It was a large box and it was covered with gold. It was extremely heavy and it had poles through it so that people could lift it up and carry it as Israel wandered through the wilderness. And so now he tells a bunch of priests to pick that up and on the following day they are supposed to walk into the water carrying the ark, that big box. Then he turns around to the people and he tells them that when this happens, "Stand back a little bit, stay back about 1,000 yards so that you can see what God is doing as the priests enter the water. But each of you has to prepare for this event by consecrating yourselves, by dedicating yourselves to God." And so that day and that evening, every single person in Israel was supposed to deal with what it meant for them to be part of God's people as they entered into the land. Each one had to think about what their role would be, what it meant to dedicate themselves to God, to consecrate themselves. And so it was an unusual night as everyone was personally wrestling with what it meant that tomorrow God was going to do something amazing, and they were going to begin to enter the land that God had promised them for hundreds, and hundreds and hundreds of years.

We as a congregation are at a time of crossing over just like Israel was. We have our own history. There is a story about our lives as a congregation. We have our own heroes in the past. We have people like Murray and Dottie who believed God, who were going to serve God as missionaries and when God changed the mission field, they were still going to be faithful to be in this mission field here in Towson, the northern part of Baltimore and to be faithful with that and to believe that God was going to grant victories, and grant the land and grant the people as they faithfully served. We had other faithful people in our past, people who had the vision to buy more land than they needed, to extend themselves, believing that even though there was no need for it at the moment, that in the future God was going to continue to bless them and one day this land would make sense. Others dedicated themselves to building a sanctuary that was bigger than their immediate needs, building new parts of buildings for ministries that we couldn't even conceive yet what would happen in there.

We have people that were faithful like that, but we have people also that were faithful in the day-to-day life of proclaiming Christ to their neighbors, of living lives of integrity, of learning how to pray, of growing in the faith and the grace that we find in Jesus Christ and living that out in the community so that there were people who came to understand who Jesus Christ was. And so throughout this group here, we have person after person who came into the life of this congregation, and it was here that they heard about Jesus Christ and it was here that they were nurtured in their faith and came to a maturity and it's from here they were sent out to serve, and some of those people that we sent out can't be here because they are serving in the ends of the earth. We have our history. And in the last fifty years we haven't had a time in the wilderness. If we had a time in the wilderness, it was before Murray when the congregation died in its downtown location and a generation had to pass away and a new start was made, but since then we have had faithful generation after faithful generation.

And so now it comes down to us. We are called now to dedicate ourselves, to consecrate ourselves. God has led us to this point. There is a future that God is promising and it demands certain things of us right now, and so we have been calling you for a period of weeks to dedicate yourself, to consecrate yourself, to pray, to think, to examine honestly before God what your part is in crossing over. And today is the day that we express that. But before we do, I want to go back to the passage for a moment.

As I studied this passage during the week, one of the things that came back to me again and again, is that crossing into the Jordan river and entering into the land, what end of God's promise to that? It was just the start. God had been faithful. God had delivered. God had done wonderful things in the people, but when they went through this river and came out on the other side, things were just going to begin. And so when Joshua called these people to come and go through this river, he was calling people to come out on the other side, but then there were cities to take, battles to fight. Joshua knew that some of the people he was calling to were going to die in the battle. So Joshua is calling them to exercise faith, to examine their role, but not just to get into the water on dry land, but to come out on the other side and to take the land that God had promised. So when the priests went down in to the water, God did stop the water, even though it was at flood stage, at a town called Adam. There was a landslide; the water piled up - this has happened twice in the twentieth century; we know that it happens in that area., The timing was incredible. The land dries up and the people walk through, but when they walked through, they began the challenge of inheriting God's promise. And it was going to demand more sacrifice in the future and there would be more victories in the future, not just the victory of walking through the water.

So when we consecrate ourselves today, when we make this commitment to God and dedicate ourselves, I want to be sure that you know that what we are calling you to dedicate yourself to is not just to building this building. What we are calling you to is a dedication to the battles beyond. God has made a promise to this congregation, I believe, to the original leaders, and to every successive generation of leaders, that God wants to use us to reach people in this area for Jesus Christ. He wants to grant us a land. He wants to grant us a people. To use us to draw people to Jesus Christ, and so when we make the commitment today we are making a commitment to that promise, the promise that God is going to use us, the promise that God is going to fill that building with good ministry that honors Jesus Christ, that we are going to be reaching out to people in need. We are going to be proclaiming the gospel clearly, and we are going to be living out lives that have enough integrity that people are going to believe the things we say. That's the battle we are committing ourselves to. And so today we are to consecrate ourselves. The start of the next stage of what God is doing among us is building this building, but by no means is it the end. The victories that God wants to give us are beyond this, in the land. Consecrate yourself to be part of what God is going to do to grant us those victories in the future.

Let's pray. Gracious God, we dedicate ourselves right now. We are each in different places in our lives. We have challenges, challenges that we don't even fully understand that are before us, but we know that this is the next step you are calling us to. After being faithful to us year after year, after raising up faithful leaders year after year, we are now at a point that you are calling us to another step of faith, and it's the first step of many more times that we will have to sacrifice, that we will have to serve, that we will have to stretch in our walk with Jesus Christ. So give us a clarity of mind, give us an openness of heart as we consecrate ourselves today, and cross over into the new promises, into the new victories you will give us in Jesus Christ. For it's in His mighty name that we pray. Amen.

© 2004, Rev. John Schmidt
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145
www.centralpc.org