12 “Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the Lord - the Lord of all the earth - set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.”
14 So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. 15 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 water’s edge, 16 the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17 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.
1 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”
4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.’
8 So the Israelites did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, as the Lord had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. 9 Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant had stood. And they are there to this day.
An evangelist was talking to a man who said he was a Christian. “Have you joined your local Church?” he asked him. “No, the dying thief never joined the Church and he went to heaven,” was the answer. “Have you talked to your neighbours about Christ?” “No, the dying thief never did.” “Have you given to missions?” “No, the dying thief never did.” “Well, my friend,” said the evangelist, “the difference between you two seems to be that he was a dying thief, and you are a living one.”
It was exactly a hundred years ago that the First World War began. All over the world there are ceremonies paying tribute to those who lost their lives during the war.
You’ve probably seen pictures of the amazing display of nearly 900,000 ceramic poppies at the Tower of London. There is a poppy for each allied soldier who died during the war. Wherever you go you’ll find statues and memorials from armed conflicts. There are also statues of famous politicians, sports and movie stars. You name it - if the person was famous, we’ll erect a statue or monument of some kind.
Memorials tell stories to future generations of what happened in the past.
This practice though, is not new. Archeologists continue to find evidence of memorials going back thousands of years.
Today we’ll be spending some time looking at the crossing into the Promised Land by the Israelites, and in particular the instruction they were given to erect monuments on the west bank of the Jordan at the place where they crossed over.
Of course, the most important memorial we have in the Church today is the Sacrament of Holy Communion. It serves as a reminder to us of the ultimate sacrifice that was made for us as Jesus gave Himself as the atonement for sin. Had He not been willing to die we would still be in our sin. Without Jesus, we would be lost forever, and without hope forever.
Whenever we share in Communion, we’re reminded of the hope we now have.
We need to be constantly aware of the provision that was made for us and of the reality of a new and living relationship we now have with God.
Our scene for today is the Jordan River. God’s people were making the crossing into the Promised Land and they were instructed to set up a memorial as a constant reminder of God’s goodness in their lives.
This memorial, these twelve standing stones stood as a profound reminder to the people.
Firstly, it reminded them of the power of God.
For nearly forty years they’d struggled through their journey in the wilderness. Yet, in all of that, God was faithful despite their constant complaining and rebellion. A journey from Egypt to the Promised Land should have taken no more than a week or two, but because they failed to trust God, He led them on a long and winding journey during which an entire generation died off, apart from Joshua and Caleb.
Despite this long journey, they still had much to be thankful for. They had spent more than 400 years in slavery in Egypt and God rescued them from that, so the memorial they set up gave them an opportunity to tell their children of His goodness and power.
The challenge for us today is to do the same – to tell of God’s goodness and power, and what He has done and is doing in our lives.
If you are a Christian, you’ve been delivered from bondage too. You were living in a foreign land, apart from God, enslaved to the bondage of sin and He brought you out of that through the provision of Jesus’ blood shed on the cross. People have to hear that story.
We will never fully comprehend just what God has done for us, but we do understand enough of what He’s done to tell others about it. Someone once said that sharing the good news of Jesus is no different to one beggar telling another where to find bread. You don’t have to have a deep understanding of the properties of bread and how it’s made. All you have to do is say to someone, “Are you hungry? I was hungry once, and I found the bread of life. Let me show you where to find it.”
We need to become awestruck all over again as we consider what God has done for us. Too many Christians have become complacent about their salvation. We lose the awe and appreciation of all that Christ did for us, because we forget too easily what God has rescued us from.
Those Israelites that God brought out of Egypt only knew slavery. They had never been free. Being enslaved was all they knew. When they walked through the Red Sea, they were in unchartered territory. They had no idea which way to go as they left Egypt. God led them to the Red Sea and when it seemed as if they were all about to die, He parted the waters and led them across on dry land.
As they journeyed in the wilderness having no idea where Canaan was, God led them with His providential hand. He guided their steps and led them to the land of promise. And He has guided us as well. Where would we be today had God not been there to lead and guide us? With the benefit of hindsight I’m able to look back and see the hand of God guiding me, even during the times in my life when living for God was the least of my priorities. For years I had no interest in pursuing a relationship with God, but He has always been interested in a relationship with me. Looking back now, I can see it, and so can you.
The story of God’s guidance is the provision of God for His people in the midst of a barren wilderness, both for the Israelite nation all those years ago, and our lives here and now.
In Exodus 16 we read the story of how He provided manna for the Israelites to eat in the desert, and verse 15 tells a story all of its own:
“When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, ‘What is it?’ For they did not know what it was.”
What do non-believers see when they look at us? Whether life is good or hard, do they see something in us that prompts them to ask, “What is it? What is it about you that brings you peace, despite all the turmoil going on around you?” What do they see?
Are we able to answer as Moses did, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat?”
Their lives stood as a resounding testimony that God is more than able to meet their needs. What testimony do people see and hear today in our lives?
The rebellion and grumbling of those people as they journeyed through the desert is well documented. Yet God blessed them more than they deserved, and He has done the same for us.
This is one of the many reasons why we need to be reminded of His provision and protection. He has blessed us far more than we could ever deserve.
Rather than being grateful for their deliverance and for what God had done for the Israelites, they complained instead. Yet He was merciful and patient, continuing to guide them and meet their needs.
How do we complain and grumble about God? How often do we stop instead and thank Him for not giving us what we really deserve?
We need to thank Him for being so patient and longsuffering with us. He doesn’t throw the clay away, but instead continues to mould us and make us.
The power of God is something that the Israelites saw and experienced for themselves. We too have seen Him at work, and we are to tell others about what God has done.
The second thing that the standing stones the Israelites erected reminded them of was the presence of God.
The Ark of the Covenant was the most prized possession they had. As they journeyed through the wilderness, every time they stopped for the night or stopped to rest, a temporary Tabernacle was set up, and the Ark of the Covenant was put into it. The ark was the symbol of God’s presence. It was kept in the Holy of Holies behind the veil, and the high priest was the only one who ever had the privilege of entering behind the veil, but the people enjoyed the benefit of having the presence of God in the camp. The stones they erected after crossing the Jordan reminded them of the presence of God.
Each of us has experienced the Lord’s presence in this place in one way or another, and it is a good thing to be reminded of that. We also need to constantly seek His presence. Knowing God is not a once off event. It is a lifetime and a lifestyle of walking with Him and being in His presence.
Future generations (including our own children and grandchildren) need to experience the presence and power of God. Do they see us as living, standing stones – as testimonies to the power and presence of God?
For the Israelites, being near the ark meant being near the Lord. In those days the people did not have the Spirit of God within them as we do today. Their nearness to God and God’s nearness to them meant being near to the Ark of the Covenant. There were blessings associated with the presence of the Ark.
Today things are very different. God has come near to us in Jesus. Christians are indwelt with the Holy Spirit and we can enjoy His presence wherever we are, but the principle remains the same. We need to be reminded of the need to stay near to God. Being close to Him enables us to receive His blessing and power in our lives, and that can be a powerful testimony to the presence of God in itself.
God was near to the Israelites as they crossed the Jordan. The Ark of the Covenant was carried into the river, so in a very real sense God was there, protecting them as they crossed over.
We may have to wade through some deep and troubled waters in this life, but we don’t have to make the trip alone. God will be there to lead and guide us on this journey. If He has brought us to it, He will lead us through it.
Psalm 18:16 speaks of a wonderful promise: “He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters.”
The third principle which standing stones remind us of is the promises of God. He is not only the God who did wonderful things in the past for previous generations. His promises are for us and for those yet to come.
The Lord could have instructed Joshua to tell the priests to erect just one stone as a monument, but instead each tribe was told to.
Verse 2-6: “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”
So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, ‘Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you.’
Why each tribe? Because they symbolised all of the people of God. The promises of God are universal, and no one is excluded or overlooked. They apply to everyone.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
God was faithful to each tribe of Israel and in essence to all of the people. Every individual who stood there that day shared in the promises of God, and nothing has changed to this day. God’s love is universal, and we all have the same access to the throne of grace. Through Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone, we are all recipients of His goodness.
The children of Israel were blessed because of their inheritance - God had chosen them as His people. But today our salvation and our membership of the family of God doesn’t depend on who we are or where we are born. It depends on who He is, and whether we have been reborn by the Spirit of God.
If you are a Christian, you have experienced and you will continue to experience the power, the presence and the promises of God, but now we come to the whole point of being a living testimony for Jesus.
The Old Testament explains it like this: “Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” (Joshua 4:5-7)
And in the New Testament: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15)
We looked at this principle last week. Witnessing to others about Jesus is the task of every Christian. The question is often, “Yes, but how?”
The simple answer is, “Be a standing stone – a living, walking, talking memorial and testimony for God.”
Generations see statues of famous people, and they ask, “What does this mean?” Tour guides and history buffs reply, “Let me tell you the story of this hero, and what he or she did.”
Generations of children asked the Israelites, “What do these stones mean?” And they replied, “The flow of the Jordan was cut off before the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord. When we crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.”
When people ask you to give the reason for the hope you have, that is your opportunity and your cue to say to them, “Let me tell you about what God has done for me.”
Many Christians mistakenly believe that God expects them to become experts on the Bible and that they should be able to engage in deep theological debates with those who question God and His goodness, but that is simply not true. All He expects of us is to give the lost and the seeking a reason to hope. The most powerful testimony of the reality of God is your own story, and that is the story people need to hear.
The world needs to hear of about God and the hope that He gives. There is so much emptiness and hopelessness in the world, but it doesn’t have to be that way. God has opened your eyes to the reality of who He is. He has given your life a meaning and a purpose, and you need to tell others about Jesus. The Church needs to declare the goodness of God and the hope that is to be found in Him.
Robert Le Tourneau was an American engineer and inventor who died in 1969. He was a devout Christian, and there is a university in Longview, Texas named in his honour. Interestingly enough, there is a statue of him on the campus. His area of expertise was the invention of earth moving equipment, and after his death a book about his life and witness was published. The title of the book is ‘RG Le Tourneau. Mover of Men and Mountains.’
He once wrote these words: “My challenge to laymen is that when Christ said, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel,’ He did not mean only preachers but everyone who believed in Him as the Lord of Glory. The division between the clergy and the laity is a division of our own making, and was not instituted by Christ, nor was it evidenced in the early Church. They believed the word ‘Go’ meant every man, and they obeyed the Lord’s command. My challenge to you is for a return to this first century conception of Christianity where every believer is a witness to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
I told you the story earlier of the ‘living thief’. There’s more than a little uncomfortable truth to that story than meets the eye. Sharing Christ is not an optional extra for the Christian. You have been given the most precious gift of all – eternal life. That free gift is available to everybody, and we all personally know people who have yet to accept it.
Are you praying for your unsaved loved ones?
Are you being a standing stone for Christ?
Are you prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have?
Homegroup Study Notes
Read Joshua 4:1-7
Erecting statues or monuments is an ancient practice.
The reason for these memorials is to bear witness of important events in history to future generations.
Why do you think it was important for the Israelites to tell about God’s provision and protection?
Read Matthew 28:18-20
In which ways have we as the Church (and our congregation in particular) succeeded in carrying out the Great Commission?
How have we failed?
Last Sunday we were reminded that God blesses a Church which faithfully undertakes to be a witnessing Church.
What opportunities have you had to witness for the cause of Christ during the past 7 days? How did it go?
Read 1 Peter 3:15
Have you ever been asked to give a reason for your hope, despite the circumstances in your life at the time?
Why do you think so many Christians are reluctant or even fearful to speak about their faith?
Close in prayer.
Ask the Lord to give you courage to be a standing stone and a powerful witness for how Jesus has changed your life.