Joshua 4:10 “Now the priests who carried the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything the Lord had commanded Joshua was done by the people, just as Moses had directed Joshua.”
If you want to be inspired and amazed, I invite you to read Joshua three and Joshua four every day for the next week. There is so much good stuff, so many eternal truths and applicable principles in those four chapters, that it could literally transform your life. I decided after reading and re-reading Joshua 1 through 4, if a preacher couldn’t find something to preach in those four chapters, a head examination was needed. I mean, you could write a book on Joshua one through four. There is enough there for a full-length movie or even a mini series of movies. It’s good stuff.
When we begin in Joshua Moses is dead. Joshua is commissioned to take his place to lead the Israelites. The Israelites have wandered in the wilderness for their disobedience in not taking the Promised Land 40 years earlier. They had listened to the negative report of the 10 spies who said that the people occupying the Promised Land were too powerful for them to overtake. They got 40 years of punishment, wandering in the wilderness, one year for every day that the spies had taken to survey the Promised Land. In addition, all of the adults except Joshua and Caleb, the two positive spies would die in the desert. It would be the children of that generation that would inhabit the Promised Land. I could preach on the consequences of sin and rebellion this morning, but I’m not going to.
Joshua is told by God in chapter one that God is going to be with him as he was with Moses. Joshua hears from the Lord that God is going to give His people the Promised Land. That’s the same message God gave to Moses. You can see a pattern from the beginning. Joshua was told to be strong and courageous. In other words, God said, “When you get to the edge of the Promised Land this time you will be going in. Get ready. Get the people ready. There will be no excuses this time.” Joshua also sent spies to scout things out just like Moses. He didn’t send twelve, however, only two. He didn’t tell the rest of the Israelites what he was doing. Joshua 2:1 says he sent the two out secretly. Being a leader under God’s command, he had learned that negativity spreads and that people are easily persuaded by a bad report. He wasn’t going to have these two coming back to the camp with a negative, “can’t do,” defeatist attitude. I could preach about learning from past mistakes and the way negativity spreads, but I’ll leave that for another time.
The two men found their way into Jericho to take a look at things and when the king of Jericho heard they were there, he went looking for them. They were hidden by a prostitute named Rahab. Now, listen, you’ve got to know that when your enemy hides you and your enemy aligns with you, the power of God is on the scene and His protection is over your life. Not only did Rahab hide them, but she also gave them some very important information. She told them in 2:9, “We already know we’re dead meat. Everyone here in Jericho is afraid of you. We’re all melting in fear. Our hearts have sunk and our courage has failed. So, please, in exchange for this information, spare me and my family.” They promised to do so and they went back to Joshua to tell him that everyone was completely afraid of the Israelite army. I could preach that when you find out before you even go into battle that your enemy is defeated, that’s a God thing that ought to give you daily confidence. But I’ll by-pass that for now.
In chapter three, the Israelites are given some instructions about what was about to take place as they would cross the Jordan River. Just like Moses, Joshua was going to take this new generation through a river. They are told in chapter 3 verse 3, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are the 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 dark. Do not go near it.” I could preach this morning about how we must never get out in front of the Lord, how His presence better go first, how we always must let Him lead the way, how you don’t want to go anywhere if God isn’t going ahead of you, but that’s not what God has had me prepare.
In verse 5 of chapter three, Joshua told the people to consecrate themselves because the next day, something amazing was going to happen. I could preach about staying humble and getting low before anything high or victorious can happen in your life; about walking humbly with God and keeping in constant preparation for the next miracle through prayer, worship, Bible reading and constant dependence upon Him; about how we have to constantly keep preparing for the next miracle of God, but I’ll let you process that on your own.
Chapter three goes on to detail that the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant which housed the presence of God-as soon as they set foot in the Jordan, the waters parted and piled up in a heap. Just when their toes got into the water, even though the waters were at flood stage and had overflowed the banks, they piled up in a heap leaving enough dry ground for the Israelites to cross over. Now I could preach about how miracles happen as we move forward in faith. I could develop the fact that the priests had to get into the water before there was any movement; how we have to exercise our faith; how we can’t stand on the shore and expect a miracle when God has told us to get in, but I won’t.
The whole nation of Israel crossed successfully over and we know that later, the flood waters came back together. You’ll remember that when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea and the waters came back together to drown Pharaoh’s army, that crossing led them out of slavery, away from bondage. That first crossing was about separation from the past. The second crossing, however, through the Jordan River was about entering by faith into our spiritual inheritance in Christ. It was a step of faith that helped prepare them for battle. The second took more faith because once the waters came back together behind them, there was no turning back. Once in the land, they would have to face the enemy with their armies, chariots, and walled cities. The entire nation took this step together in complete commitment to God.
In the first crossing, the Red Sea crossing, their enemy was defeated once and for all when that Egyptian army was drowned in the Red Sea, but after the second crossing, the crossing of the Jordan, the Jews had to win one victory after another to possess the Promised Land. I could preach this morning that Jesus, through His death on the cross, has drowned our enemy, Satan, and has defeated Him once and for all, and about how we now set out to conquer territory in His name, proving that Satan is a defeated foe, but I’ll not digress.
Baptism being one of my passions, I could preach about how Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, the same river the Israelites crossed when they went into the Promised Land. I could talk about how it depicts our faith in Christ and how it signifies that we are claiming our spiritual inheritance. I could speak of how we too prepare for battle when we go through that act of discipleship and publicly express our faith. I could argue that the parting of the Jordan River was to become a reminder that their past way of life that included disobedience and rebellion was on the other side of that crossing, not behind them and in the past, but I’ll refrain.
We’re told that the whole nation of Israel crossed successfully and two memorials were built. One person was selected from each tribe to pick up a stone from the river bed and to carry it to the next campsite. That place became known as Gilgal. It was a reminder that they had crossed over into this land and that there was no going back. It became the center of operations for Joshua as Israel began to take the Promised Land. In later years, Gilgal became an important center for the nation. Israel crowned their first king at Gilgal in I Samuel 11. Samuel thought Gilgal was so important, he made it part of his ministry circuit in I Samuel 7:16. Gilgal became the home to a school of the prophets in the days of Elijah and Elisha in II Kings. I could preach to you about the importance of remembering what God has done as that becomes the building blocks for a memorial in your heart and mind that you will visit over and over again for strength, but I’ll resist.
I could point out that the twelve stones on the bank of the Jordan came out of the midst of the river and build a sermon out of the principle that every time you have to cross a river, you can take something lasting out of it with you, to establish you and help build your faith; that we don’t cross any river that doesn’t have a purpose and that won’t make us stronger, better, more faith-filled and more prepared for the next battle that is ahead, but I’ll not go there.
The second memorial that we read about in chapter four is one that Joshua built himself. He took 12 stones and built a memorial in the exact spot where the priests were standing while holding the Ark of the Covenant, in the middle of the Jordan River bed. What was the purpose of that? Those waters were going to come back together very soon. Who but God could see twelve stones heaped together in a riverbed? I could preach about the sea of forgetfulness and how God buries our sins when we confess them and remembers our old ways against us no more, and how we can move on from the chains of our past by letting God bury them in His Sea of Forgetfulness, but that’s not what I’ve chosen to say.
What I’ve chosen to say comes from chapter 4, verse 10. I think it is the key to everything else we read in these opening chapters in Joshua. Again, it says, “Now the priests who carried the ark remained standing in the middle of the Jordan until everything the Lord had commanded Joshua was done by the people, just as Moses had directed Joshua.”
Here’s my one point:
If God is in the middle of something, we need to stay in the middle with Him until He is finished with whatever He is doing.
Those priests stood there, holding on to the presence of God until all of the people in the nation had crossed over. That was a lot of people to wait on. Those priests stood there, holding on to the presence of God until both memorials had been built. Until the mission was successful, until all of the people had made it through safely, there was a perseverance, a drive, a passion, a desire to see it through and to not short-circuit the purpose of God on the part of those who were holding on to the presence of God, that they dared not move out of the middle until everything God had commanded had been executed.
I have come to tell you that it takes more courage and faith to stay in the middle than it does to get in. If you get in, you can always get out, but when you move into the middle of what God is doing, you are entrenched, you are surrounded by the plans and workings of God.
Notice, they were in the middle, but they were in the middle while holding on to God’s presence. While they remained faithful to hold onto God’s presence, the whole nation made it safely through. I don’t know how long it took. I don’t know how physically demanding or fatiguing it was to hold the Ark, I don’t know if they were encouraged by others to leave the middle and follow the pack that was crossing, but I do know the writer of Joshua wants us to know without a doubt that those who had the presence of God stayed with the program, stayed with the progress, stayed with God’s plan until it was completed.
I believe this word is for several people here this morning. You’ll recall that it was the priests who were to carry the presence of God. Friends, if you are in Christ, you are a priest this morning. He has made us a kingdom of priests. (Revelation 1:6) It is Jesus, our High Priest, who is in the middle between God and us. He has bridged the gap between the Father and us. Where sin broke down that fellowship, Christ has restored it. We, however, being made a kingdom of priests, those who house the presence of God, are still commissioned to carry on Christ’s work here on earth. We’re to be in the middle of what God is doing and are to be holding Him high for all to see.
What if the priests decided they didn’t want to stay in the middle? The memorials wouldn’t have been built. Some or all of the people would have died. God wouldn’t have been honored. Perhaps those enemies who occupied the Promised Land who were afraid of the Israelites would regain courage and mount a successful attack. There were tens of thousands of people counting on these priests to stay in the middle.
God is looking for people this morning who won’t quit until He says, “They’ve all safely crossed.” We’ve got a community to reach, a state to reach, a region to reach, a country to reach, a world to reach, and until He says our work is over, we’ve got to stay in the middle, holding on to the presence of God and allow ourselves to be used of God to see His purposes come to pass.
God is looking for men and women who will stay in the middle, holding up the presence of God. That might mean staying on your knees, weeping and broken over those who are lost. It might mean some kind of physical sacrifice. It might mean befriending someone who is going to take a lot of your time and energy, but I’m telling you there is blessing in the middle with Jesus!
Be a middle man. Be a middle woman. Stay with it until God says it’s safe to move on. Don’t leave until God is finished.
The story is told of a man who had attended a Red Sox game. Discouraged that they were losing horribly, he left after the top of the seventh inning. The morning after, however, the papers and radio talk shows were all abuzz with talk about the Greatest Comeback in League Championship History. He missed it because he left the game too soon.
I think there might be some Christians who are checking out of the game, getting out of the middle, walking away from being used by God and they are missing some of the greatest miracles God can deliver. Don’t get discouraged.
Paul said it this way in II Cor. 4:1 “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.” Paul stayed in the middle. He didn’t quit because he knew He was involved in a God-given ministry. Paul couldn’t quit because he had been recruited by the Lord Jesus and had been given a vital role in the eternal work of His kingdom. Listen, we have to stay in the middle with Jesus because we have been given a task to win the world to Jesus. Eternity literally is at stake for thousands of people. And if we’re in the middle of what God is doing in someone’s life, and we’re holding high the presence of Christ, they’re going to have to walk by us to get to wherever God is leading them. They’ll see what Jesus looks like. They’ll encounter God’s presence in us because we are standing in between them and their deliverance! What a mission!
Leadership guru, Max De Pree, quipped, “Once you teach a bear to dance, you have to dance as long as the bear wants to!” Once you give yourself to a gigantic cause that’s bigger than you are, it has a way of capturing you, invigorating you, and you can’t quit. That’s the explanation Paul gives in II Corinthians 4, “I have this ministry, so I don’t lose heart! That’s how I keep on witnessing, I keep on traveling, I keep on preaching in spite of persecution and calamities. What I’m called to do is so compelling I can’t quit.”
Paul was compelled by a compassion to see people saved. Following a serious automobile accident on a Dallas freeway recently, one car ended up on its side, burning with the driver partially trapped underneath. Another motorist pulled over, got out and rushed to the overturned car. With uncanny strength for a man of only modest stature, he lifted one side of the heavy car enough that the woman underneath could free herself and escape. Later, when he was interviewed by television reporters at the scene, they asked, “How did you have the muscle to lift that big car?” He answered, “I don’t know! I don’t think I could do it again, but when I saw the fire spreading and heard that woman screaming for help, I just reached down and did it! Adrenalin, I guess!” So when you truly care about others, you can’t quit or turn back. There’s something about a frantic cry for help that generates unexplainable spiritual “adrenalin” to see you through.
If you’re the kind of person who has to have accommodating circumstances to keep going, then when the circumstances turn sour, so will you, and you’ll quit. If you have to hear applause to keep going, then on those many days when nobody notices, you’re going to be discouraged, and you won’t stay with it. If you have to see positive statistics, measurable evidence of progress in your work to keep going, then when the statistics are zero as they often are, you’ll be disheartened and you’ll turn back.
But if you know the Lord Jesus personally like Paul did, and if God’s invisible presence lives within you, and if your relationship is so close that you hear him say, “Don’t be dismayed; don’t be discouraged; I’ll be with you; I’ll never forsake you,” then that makes everything okay. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. It doesn’t matter whether anybody notices or not. It doesn’t matter what the statistics say. Your sufficiency is not found in things that are seen, but in things that are unseen. His invisible presence provides all the staying power you need.
Like Paul, we can be: Afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed… So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day… because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
You have a calling. You are priests unto the Lord. As people on a mission, I don’t believe we need an invitation to step into the middle. I believe we need to be looking for the middle of whatever God is doing and getting as close to the center of it as we possibly can. People need you to hold onto God’s presence and help them safely cross. Unless God has given you the okay to step out of the riverbed, it’s too soon to quit. If you quit because you are tired, you’ve quit too soon. If you quit because you are frustrated, you’ve quit too soon. If you quit because you don’t see results, you’ve quit too soon. If you quit because you can’t see a logical way that things could end well, you’ve quit too soon. Look to the things that are unseen to give you your purpose for staying in the middle.
It starts with a step of faith. Know going into whatever river you’re walking into that it might take a while. It might be physically tiring, but go in believing God has a miracle in store for someone in the middle of their situation and then determine that you’re going to stay there, you’re going to pray there, and you’re going to worship there holding high the presence of Christ until you hear God say He is finished.
We sing it, but do we mean it? “I want to be where the river is flowing. I want to be where the wind is blowing. I want to be a part of what God’s doing? I want to be where the Spirit is moving.” If you mean it, get in. Get into the river. Take the step of faith to walk into the middle.
If God is in the middle of something, we need to stay in the middle with Him until He is finished with whatever He is doing.