************ Sermon on Joshua 4:24 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 19, 2003
"A Memorial of Rocks"
Wherever you go throughout the Promised Land you will see rocks. Rocks exist there in natural abundance. Big rocks that tower over man and beast alike. Medium rocks that shelter coneys and lizards. Small rocks and pebbles that cover the stream beds and the wilderness path.
In our Scripture reading, Joshua takes a pile of rocks from the middle of the Jordan River and he sets them up as a memorial.
Now, memories are important to us. We use photographs and videos to help us remember vacations, special events like anniversaries and Cadet camp-outs, and especially how our children grow up. Some people use diaries or journals to help them remember what they are doing and thinking as they journey through life.
I don't know if you realize it or not, but tonight we are asked to remember the 50th anniversary of Cadeting. We want to remember and celebrate what God has done for so many men and boys of His church as they went through the Cadet ministry over the past 50 years.
Memories are important in the Old Testament too. Abraham was big on memories. Read through Abraham's life in Genesis and you will notice that Abraham set up altars, heaps of stones, wherever he went. Yes, they were established for the worship of God but they also served as a reminder. They reminded Abraham to worship God and of where he worshiped God; they reminded Abraham of God's leading to and across the Promised Land.
I also think of Jacob. One night Jacob used a rock as a pillow. While sleeping, he dreamt of a stairway going up into heaven; angels were going up and down and at the top stood the Lord. The Lord gave Jacob the same promises He gave to Abraham. The next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it and called that place Bethel (Gen 28). He wanted to remember that place because there He met God.
When Israel came out of Egypt, the Lord instituted the Passover as a memorial feast. He wanted them to remember the bondage and bitterness of Egypt and the wonderful salvation He gave them at that time.
Samuel set up a memorial at the place Israel routed the Philistines in battle. He called it Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far has the Lord helped us" (1 Sam 7:12). He wanted to remember how the Lord helped them against a fierce enemy.
Memories are important to Jesus too. Do you remember what Jesus said when He instituted the Lord's Supper? He said, "do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19). So, when we celebrate the Lord's Supper we remember how Jesus gave His body for us and how He shed His blood for us.
All these memorials witness to God's participation in human history for the salvation of His people. Memorials reinforce faith and provide opportunities for teaching. All these memorials serve to "proclaim" the good news of what God has done.
The rocks that Joshua set up are these kinds of memorials. They serve to remind Israel – and us – of what God has done in order to save His people.
I The Promise of the Land
A The book of Joshua starts off with promise, with anticipation. Since they left Egypt, and even before, the Lord had promised to give Israel the land of Canaan. It was a land the people knew to be flowing with milk and honey. In that land were to be found clusters of grapes so huge it took two men to carry it on a pole (Num 13:23).
The last time the people of Israel had come within sight of the Promised Land, 10 of the spies scared them off by talk of giants, fortified cities, and powerful armies; next to them we are grasshoppers, they said. But this time they heard from the two spies sent to Jericho that "all the people are melting in fear because of us" (Josh 2:24; cf 2:9). Not only that, but they were also told that the living God (Josh 3:10), the Lord of all the earth (Josh 3:11), "has surely given the whole land into our hands" (Josh 2:24). As the Lord of all the earth He has the right and the authority to give the land of Canaan to whomever He wants. And, as the living God He is able to do what the gods of the Canaanites cannot do. The gods of the Canaanites are dead gods who are unable to act or to save; they are nothing but idols and don't even have breath. But the God of Israel is able to act on behalf of His people and to save them from all enemies.
So, after 40 years of wandering, 40 years after leaving Egypt, the Israelites were on the verge of finally entering the Promised Land.
B However, there was one big obstacle. To receive the Promised Land from the Lord's hands they needed to cross the Jordan. People today who go to Israel always express disappointment about the size of the Jordan River. Their tour guide brings them to where John the Baptist was preaching and Jesus was baptized and they see a little stream rather than a mighty river. However, at Jericho and at the time of Joshua, it was not a little stream that stood between Israel and the Promised Land. The Jordan River runs through a deep gorge – the earth's deepest valley – into the Dead Sea, which lies 1286 feet below sea level. The actual river has a wider trough of 2000 yards which is filled only at flood stage and a narrower depression in the middle that can be 100 or more feet in depth; Joshua and Israel needed to cross the Jordan at flood stage (cf Josh 3:15). In addition to these forbidding features, the Jordan River valley has mountains on both sides. The slopes are generally steep and sudden. So, it was not just a small barrier that stood between Israel and the Promised Land.
Israel was about to enter the Promised Land. "Get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land," said the Lord (Josh 1:2). So Israel broke camp at Shittim – where she heard the report of the 2 spies – and she want and camped at the edge of the Jordan. And then she waited. For 3 days she waited (Josh 3:3). Why? The Lord wanted all the people to look over the Jordan River. He wanted them to see the Jordan at flood stage. He wanted them to look over the steep embankments. He wanted them to watch the waters raging down the valley. He wanted them to exchange stories about how deep and dangerous and treacherous it was to attempt a crossing. He wanted them to conclude that it was humanly impossible to move a complete people across the river to possess the Promised Land on the other side.
C How were they going to get across? How were they going to receive the land the Lord of all the earth had promised to give them?
Joshua promised the people that the Lord "will do amazing things among you" (Josh 3:5). Amazing things are wondrous things. Amazing things are things not ordinarily seen and done. In other words, a miracle. The living God, the Lord God almighty, will perform a wondrous miracle.
I can just imagine the people listening to these words while before them sped the raging waters of the Jordan at flood stage. "It will take some miracle," they all probably thought to themselves.
Finally, it was time to break camp and cross the Jordan. Joshua commanded the priests carrying the ark to go first. Why did the ark go first? The ark was not just a box made of wood. It was a sacred symbol of God's presence in and with the people. That's why Joshua was ordered to tell the priests carrying the ark to go first; in fact, a distance of 1000 yards had to be kept between it and the people. There should not be any rash handling or accidental touching of the symbol of God's presence. Thus, we see that the Lord, to Whom the ark belongs, is presented as the One Who actually enters Canaan ahead of His people.
You can bet all of Israel was watching as the priests carrying the ark followed Joshua's instruction. While the people remained on the high outer bank, the priests clambered down. They stepped into the water. The water went up to their ankles, then their knees, then their hips. The further they went the stronger the current and the deeper and more dangerous the river. I can imagine people saying, "Man, those priests are crazy! They are all going to drown!" The priests went the prescribed distance of a 1000 yards and stopped. Now what?! Then suddenly the current began to slow down, the water level sank an inch, then two inches, then a foot, then a couple of feet. Before you knew it the priests were standing on dry ground! In front of them the deepest and most treacherous part of the Jordan laid exposed like the insides of a filleted fish. The priests moved further, into the exact middle of the river bed, and stopped. The people followed, keeping their distance from the ark, and clambered up the other side of the Jordan's banks.
You know what happened? The Lord of all the earth did something amazing. He cut off the flow of the River Jordan and it piled up in a heap a great distance upstream (Josh 3:13,16). So not only were the priests standing on dry ground but all of Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground. Isn't this amazing? Isn't this astounding? Isn't this breath-taking and awe-inspiring? The Lord really has done something amazing.
D The last time, as I said, that the people had come within sight of the Promised Land they were scared off by talk of giants, fortified cities, and powerful armies. Yes, the giants and fortified cities and powerful armies were still there. But now, after seeing the amazing things the Lord has done with the River Jordan, the people know the living God will certainly drive out before them "the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites" (Josh 3:10). The people knew, after seeing what the Lord of all the earth can do, that there was nothing to fear. They knew the land was theirs for the taking.
II The Memorial Rocks
A Even before He did this miracle, this miracle of stopping the River Jordan, God had commanded Joshua to memorialize this. "I want you and all of Israel to remember this. I want this part of your photo album. I want you to be able to look and point and say, 'Remember what God did?'"
So we read in Joshua 3 of how 12 men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe, was selected. And, in chapter 4, we read how each of those 12 men took a stone from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests stood, and carried them to the place where they camped that night on the other side of the Jordan. I can imagine that young, strong men were selected – perhaps the strongest man of each tribe. I can also imagine that from the middle of the Jordan each of them grabbed the biggest rock that they could possible carry a little more than a 1000 yards. Then Joshua took those 12 stones and set them up as a memorial.
B In our text, Joshua made it clear what the rocks stood for. God wanted future generations to ask about the pile of rocks on the west bank of the Jordan River. God wanted children to ask their fathers and mothers, "What do these stones mean? What happened here?" And, God wanted parents to say, "God did the same thing here that He did at the Red sea – He dried it up so that His people could safely get across on dry ground."
Every time the children of Israel saw the memorial rocks on the west bank of the Jordan they remembered what God had done. But that is not all. They also remembered two things about God. First, they were reminded that their God is great. He is the living God. He is the Lord of all the earth. He is able to act on behalf of His people. He works to save His people. And, there is nothing that can stop Him or thwart His purposes: not the Pharaoh of Egypt, not the Red Sea, not the wilderness, and not even the Jordan River at Flood stage. All of these are as nothing to our God. All of these are as grasshoppers next to giants.
Second, every time the children of Israel saw the memorial rocks on the west bank of the Jordan they remembered that God is to be feared and honored and worshiped and praised. And, who wouldn't worship Him? Who wouldn't worship the God Who showed His might and power, Who showed Himself to be alive, Who showed Himself to be the Lord of all the earth?
We have a stone today – one stone – that is far bigger and that speaks far more loudly than Jordan's pile of stones. That is the stone that was rolled away from Jesus' tomb. But the message is still the same: look at what God has done, look at how He acts on behalf of His people, look at how He saves His people, look at His might, look at the worship due His name.
And, even today, God continues to build memorials to His name. God continues to build memorials to His name because God continues to act on behalf of His people.
One such memorial is our Cadet program. As I mentioned earlier, today we are asked to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Cadet program. Ask any of the counselors – none of them would say this is their program. Ask any of the counselors – none of them would claim the success of the program is their success. Rather, all would quickly testify that the Cadet program is like Jordan's pile of rocks: it speaks of God, the wonders He performs, His might, His praise, and the worship due His name. It is He Who builds His church. It is He Who saves His church. It is He Who nurtures His church.
So, I look at our counselors, do you know what I see? I see stones. I look at our boys, do you know what I see? I see stones. I look at our Cadet program, do you know what I see? I see stones. I see memorial stones that speak of God, His might, and the worship due His name.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page