Take The Step
The priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all Israel…. passed clean over Jordan.
We must have faith to see all God’s people brought into their inheritance. That is his purpose, and it will be carried through. But as a means to realizing that purpose, God needs those willing to step right into death if need be, and to stand there until all are safely over. Because that little band of priests did so, holding firm with the ark in the place where death threatened, a whole nation passed dry shod clean through Jordan. Not one soul remained behind! Of course it was not they, but the ark of God, that opened the way into a land of promise. Never forget that. But note this too: it was they who took it there and held it there. By their act of faith in standing with the Lord amidst death, others passed into abundant life. Am I ready for this?
Many times when people talk about their church they express that they’re either happy about all the things it provides for them or their unhappiness about some unmet need or desire. Often there are comparisons between churches about how many programs are offered, how well the music sounds or whether the sermons are engaging or boring. All these things tell that in these views lie a misconception about what church is. In our consumerism world, the focus is “What does the church provide for me?” And let me say that after fifty years or so of being part of the church and several congregations, there will always be in most settings something missing. One church may have great programs but lack in unity. Another may have great music but the sermons don’t make a connection. Another may have great fellowship and hospitality but little spiritual life. And we could go on and on. I’ve never discovered a “perfect church.”
What I have found it that in each church, there have been opportunities to be used by God to bless others. We will never find the “right place” until we change our search mode. With the wonderful world of internet, we find almost anything at our disposal. We can shop for that unique item that might not be found in a local store. We can find information without going to the local library and sorting through massive amounts of resources. We can find a thread or post teaching us how to do almost anything. The wealth of information is almost limitless. There’s only one hindrance. In order to find what you’re seeking, you have to know the parameters of the search. The words you put into the search box determines the output and if the input is incorrect, the results will either be wrong or you will be directed to irrelevant information.
This is the case with church. If our search engine is receiving incorrect data then its output will be incorrect. Suppose you’re seeking for somewhere to bring your children so they can be taught the Word of God. In addition you’re seeking a place that provides uplifting music and expressive worship. And because we want the whole package, your list includes inspiring relevant preaching as well as classes on subjects that are important to you. You visit a lot of churches and discover that one has one or two of the things on your list but not all. So your search continues and in almost every case only a part of your list is found. You begin to think that if you could piece together several churches, you might ultimately have your ideal church.
But what if we changed our search parameters? What if we made them a place where we experienced the presence of God? What if we added to that a place where we felt led by the Holy Spirit to go? And what if we sought a place that gave us the opportunity to serve- and I don’t mean a place where we are given a position or receive recognition for our work- just somewhere where we go to contribute rather than gain. What I’m suggesting is turning the box upside down.
This is the story of our text today. As the Israelites came to the Jordan River- the barrier hindering them from entering the Promised Land- they found it overflowing its banks. Among the congregation were the strong who perhaps could have found the strength to brave the flood. But there were also the feeble, children, and others who had no strength to overcome the power of the waters. If the strong chose selfishness they could have crossed over and enjoyed the bounty of the land, ignoring the fact that they had left the others behind. Let’s apply this point for a moment. Could it be that we become so focused on what satisfies us that we ignore those among us who may be weak in faith and find themselves trapped on the other side of the river, hence not coming into the blessings of God?
In that moment, God instructs Joshua to call forth the priests. These men had given themselves in service to God and to the people. They were the go-between bridging the gap between God and the congregation. I just heard a sigh of relief as some of us thought, “I’m glad that we have pastors and church leaders. Since I’m not one of those, this lets me out!” Really? Well not according to what the Bible says about believers in the New Testament.
“….and from Jesus Christ, the faithful and trustworthy Witness, the Firstborn of the dead, and the Ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who [always] loves us and who [has once for all] freed us [or washed us] from our sins by His own blood (His sacrificial death)— and formed us into a kingdom [as His subjects], priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the power and the majesty and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
“And they sang a new song [of glorious redemption], saying,“Worthy and deserving are You to take the scroll and to break its seals; for You were slain (sacrificed), and with Your blood You purchased people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. “You have made them to be a kingdom [of royal subjects] and priests to our God; and they will reign on the earth.”
Revelation 5: 9,10
On that day the priests picked up the Ark of the Covenant and placed it on their shoulders. We have no such object, but we do have the mantle of the Holy Spirit. Our first seeking after salvation is to be clothed with the power and compassion of God through the Holy Spirit. Those priests knew they had no power to overcome the raging waters of the Jordan, but bearing upon them was the presence of God and they knew that in Him was the power to overcome. The same is true today.
As they began to walk down into the water, it began to recede before them. Had they been self-focused, they would have continued to keep going. O beloved, may God deliver us from this. How sad it is when Christians focus on self and press to satisfy self. I’ve heard Christians say that they had gotten their blessing and that was all that mattered. If others didn’t, that was too bad. Sometimes as long as the church is satisfying us we are content, never considering perhaps a weaker brother or sister or more important the lost in our communities. I remember some years ago being in a gathering, sitting with an elderly pastor who was in his eighties. The music that evening was totally contemporary and while he stood, I didn’t hear him sing. As we were seated he patted my knee and asked, “Did you enjoy the music and worship?” When I responded, “yes,” he replied, “I’m glad. I miss the old hymns but I’m ok if I never get to sing another. I have enough stored up in me to last till I make it to heaven. My desire is that the next generation will write and sing the songs that lifts their faith and carries them into worship and the presence of God.” That evening I sat with a “priest” who willingly waded into the River so that others could cross over. Willingly he stood with the Ark on his shoulders so that the next generation might experience God as he had.
This is the picture painted in today’s text. Priests who were willing to place themselves in danger, stand holding the heavy Ark in the middle of the river, faithfully trusting God to keep the way open and to preserve them and the entire congregation until they all crossed over.
Some years prior to that, another man chose the good of the people over himself. God had come to Moses and told him that He would wipe out the Israelites because of their sins and raise up another people for Moses to lead into the Promised Land but Moses replied, “We all go or none of us go.” What a servant’s heart.
A few thousand years later another “Priest” would choose to provide a way for the multitude at great cost to Himself. Christ would hang on a cross and suffer and die to open up the way of salvation for us. He stills stands in the river, keeping the flood tide of sin at bay until we all cross over.
Full circle back to us. Will we be willing to serve rather than insist to be served? Will we give up our preferences for the sake of the lost? Will we risk the danger and endure the hardship as we bear the weight of the presence of God as we stand faithfully to keep the way to salvation open until all-everybody- are safely crossed over? It’s not an easy task but it’s a rewarding one. Will you set self aside and choose to be a “priest unto God and others” today?
Dr. John Thompson