When We Take A Step Forward In The Faith
January 7, 2007
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. A few moments ago [we] gave a blessing for the new adults. It goes without saying that the coming of age ceremony is one of the great junctures and turning points in one's life. They can no longer be called minors. They will be required to have behavior that is responsible and with judgment as adults. Not just the juncture of adulthood, but there will be many people who will encounter great junctures besides that during this whole year. Our own seminarian in this church, [brother] Ishii, will graduate this spring from seminary and take [his] first steps as an evangelist. Besides that, there will be others who will start school, or go into college, get married, or even change occupations. Thus, in various forms we are experiencing the end of one period and the beginning of a new period.
2. The man Joshua and the Israelites led by him, both appeared in the plot in today's first recitation, stood at the juncture of one of the great periods of time. The illustrious leader Moses, who had led them out of Egypt, had departed this world. The new leader Joshua was installed by God. The forty year journey in the wilderness where he had been walking with Moses was about to come to its end at last. The land of promise upon which the ancestors had had their eyes was spread out on the opposite side of the Jordan. Now the time had come when they were supposed to cross the Jordan and enter the promised land. One of the periods of time was about to end. A new era would begin from there after that. What in the world did he hear from God at that point? How would he respond to that message? As we compare ourselves to Joshua and the people of Israel, we want to listen carefully to the message from the Lord.
3. I will read to you from the very beginning section again. "Joshua arose early in the morning and departed Shittim along with all of the Israelites, and they had reached the banks of the River Jordan, but before crossing the river, they made camp there," (verse one). Shittim is a point on the map about ten kilometers east of the Jordan River. The reason the Israelites who were camping there had faced the banks of the River Jordan with Joshua was because of [their] conviction that the time had at last come for them to cross the Jordan. But when we read the next part it says, "three days later." They had encamped at the banks of the Jordan for three days.
4. Why in the world did they stay there for three days? Getting to the reason is simple. Even though they wanted to cross, they could not. In verse fifteen the Bible says, "At the time of the spring harvest, the waters of the Jordan River fill up and overflow the banks." When it calls it the time of the spring harvest, it means the time when the snows of the faraway mountains of Lebanon melt, the volume of the water in the Jordan increases, and the water overflows on both sides of the low lands. With the muddy Jordan bubbling up before them, they must have been completely helpless. Were there just robust and muscular men and women among the people, they probably might have been able to cross it. But, any way you count it, it was impossible for all the elderly and the children to cross it.
5. The promised land was right in front of their eyes. To go there was the will of God. But, it wasn't so easy to make it happen. Right in front of their eyes there was a huge difficulty blocking their progress. What in the world were they supposed to do? For Joshua and the Israelites, the three days at camp must have been three days of earnest beseechment of the Lord for his leading.
6. And when the three days had passed, Joshua spoke to the people. Please look at verse five. "Consecrate yourselves! Tomorrow the Lord will perform something astonishing among you," (verse five). What does it mean to consecrate yourself? As an example, in Exodus chapter nineteen and verse ten, as a specific act, the washing of clothing is shown. But it seems pretty much clear that God did not just require of them to just merely be washing their clothes on a formal level or to be washing themselves. This matter of consecrating oneself primarily means to set aside for God as God's. So, in saying "consecrate yourself" it is not merely the act of conducting a ceremony of purification, but it also contains the important elements of considering yourself completely as belonging to God, as offering oneself up to God as a sacrifice. In other words, it is the same as resolving to obey God and trust in him as his own. In sum, Joshua demanded that they would resolve to trust and obey God as he told them the specific instructions from the Lord.
7. As you think about it, this is exactly the way it should be because with obedience to God as the prerequisite, then asking for God's leadership begins to have meaning. But, the proper course often times gets overlooked. Though we always claim we are seeking for God's leading, yet we are not ready to obey. We might always say we are seeking God's leadership, but we're actually just seeking for a message that will be convenient for us. That's what happens. So, we must first consecrate ourselves. When we're seeking for the leading of the Lord, the Lord requires of us that we consecrate ourselves first.
In Order To Take The First Steps Of Faith
8. In addition, Joshua commanded the priests, "Carry the ark of the covenant, stand at the head of the people and cross the river," (verse six). Why did Joshua command such a thing to the priests? The reason is made plain in verse seven. The Lord spoke to Joshua as follows. "After today, I will make you a great person in front of all Israel as they watch. And as I was with Moses, I will make every person know that I am with you. Command the priests as they carry the ark of the covenant to come to the water's edge and then stop and stand inside the Jordan River," (verse seven).
9. But, even though Joshua may have said it, even though the Lord himself may have said it, in the plain sense of it, the command looks quite ridiculous. He may have said, "Carry the ark of the covenant, stand at the head of the people, and cross the river," but since they could not actually cross, they would naturally conclude they would be coming to a dead stop right in front of the Jordan. However, the Lord did say, "Command [the priests as they carry the ark of the covenant] to come to the water's edge and then stop and stand inside the Jordan River," and if they would just so much as stop and stand in the Jordan River, everyone should expect to cross long before [anything else happens]. The volume of water was increasing, the water was actually filling up and coming over the embankment. Should they enter into that, they would immediately end up slipping for sure. What's worse, he tells them this and to go and carry the ark of the covenant. What would they ever do if the precious ark of the covenant ended up being washed away?
10. But, that was God's guidance [for them]. Putting in a little bit of effort, we can fulfill [his will; that we can do]. -- If God always guided us in that manner, we would be quick, in a sense, to understand his leadership. God's guidance would be easy to accept if he only gave us tasks that we could achieve by trying our best just a bit. However, the nature of God's leadership does not seem to be that way at all. When we read today's passage of scripture, I get that sense again. It says, go stand at a place where you cannot possibly go any further and cross to the promised land that is in front of you. In this manner, then, at times, God shoves before us these huge tasks such that we will feel like murmuring, "How absurd!" In fact, we do not have enough time to even count the people in the Bible who were given tasks like that.
11. So, most of the time we want to run from it. We will want to throw off the tasks God has given us. We will furnish all kinds of reasons and postpone it. We will put the word of the Lord to the side with every kind of excuse. Even Joshua had excuses ready for the Lord a number of times. But, at those very times, we must consecrate ourselves [to the Lord]. At those very places and times our very identity is being called into account as to who we are. Are you truly the Lord's? Are you truly the people who believe the Lord? We are being questioned in this very matter. Our trust [in him] is being questioned. To trust in the Lord means the same thing as to hear and to obey the Lord. There is no trust where there is no obedience, and there is no obedience where there is no trust. Also, to obey means to take a specific step of faith.
12. Joshua said to the people, "When the feet of the priests carrying the ark of the Lord who is the Lord of all the earth go into the waters of the Jordan River, the waters flowing in from up river will be dammed up, and the water of the Jordan River will stand like a wall," (verse thirteen). [God] has spoken clearly here. "When the feet of the priests ... go into the waters of the Jordan River." Put another way, it would be that nothing would happen at all until the feet of the priests went into the Jordan River. Nothing would happen until the priests had taken a step into the bubbling muddy stream. The critically important thing is that first step of faith that one takes when trusting in God. When one has taken that first step of faith, a person will see God's handiwork. Those were the words of God's promise given to the people.
13. Upon hearing this, what did the Israelites do? In verse fourteen the scripture says, "When the people got away from their tents, to cross the Jordan River ..." We ought to be truly astonished. The scripture certainly does say here "to cross the Jordan River." How ever difficult it seemed, how ever impossible it appeared, though, they did face the river "to cross the Jordan River." Not only one section of the priests faced [the river]. Everybody believed along with the priests. By believing they made a decision. By making a decision, they actually stood up. By getting out of their tents they faced the Jordan. Not only the priests but everyone together [faced the Jordan] in order to take the first step of faith to cross the Jordan River.
The Way Was Opened Unto The New Era
14. When you read this, it seems that what happened just pops into your head. A small parade of priests taking the sun on their backs slowly draws near to the Jordan River. Nothing happens at the river as the muddy stream flows and makes its noise. Joshua said, "[God] will do something astonishing." But, it isn't happening. Not even [one] indication is seen of the water withdrawing. Yet, the priests do not stop. Then at last their feet get soaked at the water's edge. Whereupon something amazing happened. "The water that had been flowing from up stream stood like a wall at the town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan," (verse fifteen).
15. Some think of it [this way], there was a landslide at the outskirts of Adam, it dammed up the water. Or it may have been the way [it was described above in the text]. [Some] do not necessarily think of it as a supernatural situation. Whether it was a supernatural event or a natural event, there is no difference in that it was an act of God, [the handiwork of God]. The main message which the biblical narrative is relating is not about that something fantastic happened but about what happened when the feet of the priests stepped into the water. It is about what happened during the first steps of faith. It says that when they had taken their first step of faith, a path was opened that had not existed until now. As a result, the text says, "The people were ready to cross over and go to Jericho." They were ready to enter into the promised land. [So then] one period of time was over. And another one, a new period of time had begun for the Israelites from the place where they had been obedient to the word of the Lord.
16. Well, at the very beginning [of this sermon] I made mention [of the fact] that the coming of age ceremony is one of the great junctures and turning points in one's life and that there will be many people who will encounter great junctures besides that [this year]. However, as you think about it, though a person becomes an adult, or has started school, gone to college, gotten married, or [his or her] environment in [his or her] every day has had a drastic change, it could be possible that the person's natural life does not change in its essential nature, that nothing is new in that area. Isn't that true?
17. Just as it was that way in Joshua's case, the turning point in the true sense of it, the true juncture for us is always the time when God commands of us to "consecrate yourselves," and when he requires of us faith and obedience. Since we're near Jordan's muddy bubbling stream asking for the will of the Lord there and if the Lord leads us, we will take new steps with faith. At that time a way never seen till now will open before us, and in a true sense we will step into the new era.