This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak from the Joshua series “New Beginnings”
The story in this text is so powerful that I almost hate to make comments on it, but I will. I’d like to start with the last verse that says, “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.” This story is to be told so the nations of the world would know that the power of God is with the Jews and so the Jews would fear the Lord. God’s people are always supposed to have a fear of the Lord. However, I think that fear is practically gone today. We are more prone to worship idols and even try to turn God into an idol. Idols are helpful because we can make them in the way we choose and have them do our bidding. We may tell the idol to bless our crops and the idol may require certain sacrifices from us, but we are the ones who determine what he should do. We don’t have to do the idol’s bidding; he is supposed to do ours. That conveniently leaves us with being the real god. We like that position. We don’t have to fear the idol because we control him.
Today, when many of us talk about our god, we are really talking about an idol. We are talking about a god we have made up and who fits our lifestyle. We make up a god we believe we can control. We don’t really want to have a god whom we are to obey in any significant way. We much prefer a god who will obey us. When we do that, we need to realize that we have become a god and have reduced the real God to an idol to do our bidding. That is a tempting alternative in today’s world. We have been taught a humanistic way of looking at the world which is centered on us. We are then the ones who control everything from the world’s ecology to our individual destiny. We have lost the sense of God’s control and our fear of Him.
Joshua did not go to God with what he thought was a really good battle plan and then ask God to bless his plan to conquer the Promised Land, expecting God to think his plan was really a good idea and get behind it. God did not follow Joshua’s plans; Joshua followed God’s plans. It was God’s idea that He would back up the flow of the Jordan River so the people could walk across on dry ground. I’m not even sure Joshua knew what was going to happen beyond the fact that the priests were to carry the Ark of the Covenant into the edge of the river. It seems like God took it from there. He was in total control and Joshua and the Jews followed His lead. It is an awesome thing to see the power and majesty of God at work. It is no wonder that the Jews feared God and held Him in awe. J. B. Phillips said that Our God Is Too Small. That is quite true of our time. We like a god who is small enough to control but that sort of god doesn’t do much. When God’s people fear Him and hold Him in awe, then He can be seen by the rest of the world. When we live that way, God does things in our midst and we can all see His power. Looking to our own power and trying to reduce God to our helper is totally natural to the way we are. We need to do the unnatural and fear God.
This passage also says, “That day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they revered him all the days of his life, just as they had revered Moses.” Joshua had now become God’s leader for the Jews. He did not appoint or promote himself as leader. He wasn’t even elected by the people. In our country, the people elect the leaders, so power rests in the people and the leader is responsible to the people. It didn’t work that way with Joshua. There was no election to decide that he would be the next leader of the Israelites. There wasn’t even a divine right of kings so that a son of Moses would follow Moses. God personally selected Joshua so the power Joshua had did not rest in his ability to rally the people around him. It wasn’t until God demonstrated His power at work in Joshua that he became the real leader of the people of God.
Today, when we choose leaders in the church by election, we then think that the leaders are responsible to do what we want. However, if we follow the pattern of the Bible, the people who are the real leaders in the church are the people God chooses. Their power to lead does not reside in the people, but in God. Leaders are to follow God’s wishes, not the wishes of the people. The leaders are responsible to lead as God directs. They help God’s people see what He is doing in the world. It is God Himself who shows that these people are truly His leaders by working through them. This happened to Joshua. It was not that the people knew they had elected the right person; instead, it was God who showed them that Joshua was His man to lead the Jews. When Joshua spoke the Word of God to them and they saw it truly was God’s Word, Joshua was validated as God’s leader. A pastor is not validated by just being ordained; his true validation only comes as he speaks the Word of God to the Church and then that Word is validated by God.
The central message in this passage is that we are to remember what God has done. While the Jordan River was still being held back, a member of each tribe was selected by Joshua to go to the center of the river where the priests stood holding the Ark of the Covenant. Each of them was to bring a large stone from the bottom of the river and pile them where they camped. Joshua then said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over.” The Jews were to tell their children again and again the story of what God had done.
I love the opportunities we have to visit our grandchildren. One of their favorite things is for us to tell them the stories of our family. Sandy is better at this than I am. She tells them great stories of her childhood and that is the one time when the sit quietly in her lap and listen. They love stories about what it was like when we were children or even what they were like when they were younger. Sandy is wonderful at doing that. Once in awhile I try to do it, but I’m not as good. I have just read a study that showed that kids who know the stories of their families grow up more secure and open to others. Those stories help to ground the children in who they really are. I am going to try to do better at telling childhood stories to my grandchildren. Not all my stories are dull ones about driving a tractor around and around a field. I need to pass on the good stories.
We are also God’s family and there are a lot of great stories in that family. We need to tell them to our children so they can know who they are. This story of crossing the Jordan River on dry ground is one of them. We don’t usually have a chance to go to Gilgal and see the pile of rocks but we still need to tell them the story. We can also tell them other stories of what God has done in the lives of His people. We can tell them the stories of what God has done in our lives.
We don’t know people or God when we immediately meet them. We know people through history and remembering. Some of you have known me ever since I came here thirty-two years ago. You know me well because you know the history in my life. I also know the history in your lives. Those who haven’t had all of our history can hear the stories. That history helps to deepen our relationship to each other and enables us to be of more help to each other. When I visit someone who is going through a hard time, I like having known that person for many years. When I know much of his story, I can be more of a pastor to him.
We know God in the same way. We need to tell each other the stories of His history with His people and with us. We can read these stories to each other and think about them. The greatest story is the one we particularly remember this morning. This is the story that God Himself came into this world as Jesus Christ and lived among us. He took on the sin of the world when He died on the cross and then arose again so that we might have life, a real life that is lived in God’s presence and in knowing Him in the depths of our being. That is the great story we are to remember and the one we will remember now as we take Communion this morning.