Stay Close, Step Out, Cross Over
Have you ever felt like something was standing between you and your dreams? In your mind’s eye – you can see it – you can almost taste it, almost feel it. But there is a seemingly impenetrable wall between you and the realisation of your goal. That's the story of Israel described in Joshua three, and that was my life on a long night in Warsaw.
In May, 1990, when I not quite 24 years old, Jean, who was my fiancé at time, spent two nights in Warsaw after our most extraordinary days in Ukraine. The women and the men on this mission trip were staying in two different places, and Jean had been with me over at the guys’ place.
When I walked her back to the ladies’ accommodation, we got lost along the way as the day-time street scenes were all gone late at night and by the time we found it, it was all closed; we had to throw pebbles against windows to get someone’s attention. Likewise, when I got back to the guys’ place – I had to fight my way into the courtyard – literally - to get access to the door into the building (you can watch me tell that story here). Sometimes, we’re desperate to get from where we are to where we’re going!
This is the situation with the people of God in Joshua 3. They had dreams of entering the promised land, but there was a barrier between where they stood and where they wanted to be. That barrier was the Jordan River. When the chapter starts, they are on one side the Jordan River; when we finish chapter 3, they are on the other side.
Two Problems: Barriers and Directions
The first problem they encounter is the barrier of the Jordan River:
v.1: Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over.
Here’s the deal: there are barriers that stand between us and our destiny, us and our calling, us and our purpose, us and our inheritance. We often pray for God to remove the barrier; sometimes, God wants to take us through the barrier. Like me trying to get back into my accommodation in city centre Warsaw, sometimes, we have to look at barriers and say, ‘No!’.
The second issue was a lack of directions. Notice what God tells them in verse 4
v. 4: you have not passed this way before.
God was taking them in a new direction. It was not theologically new, but spiritually new. Theologically, this is the same promise they had been living in since God spoke to Abraham. But while it was not new TRUTH, it was new DIRECTION. They had been going around and around in the wilderness for forty years, and now the Lord is leading them OUT of the Wilderness and INTO the promised land.
We’re in a similar place. None of us have ever lived through lockdown like this before; we’ve never sought to be faithful in God’s mission during a global pandemic. God is not leading us into new truth, the truth of God is unchanging. We are learning to live in the same promises of the gospel God’s people have been inhabiting for years. BUT: the Lord is leading us into a new situation. We have never lived in a post-pandemic period.
THEY HAVE NOT BEEN THIS WAY BEFORE!!!.
So how are God’s people going to cross the barrier and enter the promised land? How are they going to navigate this new situation? HOW are we going to be faithful in the new reality of the future? The rest of this chapter gives us the answer:
Three Solutions: Stay Close, Step Out Cross Over
To get God’s people to the other side, he gives them three simple instructions: stay close, step out, cross over.
1. Stay close
The first instruction is to say close to God’s presence:
v. 2: As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lordyour God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it.
Remember that the ark of God is the place where the presence of God was with his people.
It’s one thing to know God; it’s another thing to stay close to the presence of the Lord. We stay close to God in times of uncertainty through consistent Bible reading, meditating on God’s word, and regularly worshipping God. It’s hard to keep up these disciplines during times of turmoil, and that’ the point: to get where we’re going, we need to stay close to God.
2. Step Out
v.13: And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.
When the Israelites were leaving Egypt and they came to the Red Sea, Moses held out his staff, the waters parted, and THEN the Israelites crossed over on dry land. It’s easier like that, isn’t it? It’s easier to move forward once we see that God is already at work.
But crossing the Jordan was different. The waters didn’t part until the priest stepped into the river first. Sometimes, we’re waiting on the water to part before we step out; sometimes, the waters don’t part until we step out.
This is why it is so difficult to be led by circumstances. Some people are going to say, IF THE LORD WAS WITH US, THE WATER WOULD ALREADY BE PARTED. But actually, often the waters don’t part until we step out.
3. Cross Over
Sometimes we’re content to know that we have God’s promises; the Lord invites us to move forward in his promises and to lay hold of what he has provided.
v.17: Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.
To get where God wanted them – to step into the dreams that had been living in their hearts, they had to cross over. They could not fulfil God’s purpose and stay where they were. Notice that crossing over is on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan. God will give us the necessary provision to cross over into his purposes.
This is a challenging text inviting us to adopt a posture of proactive boldness. This is not rashness; it’s not unbridled optimism. Rather, we enter God’s promises by faith – believing that what God has said is true. Even when we cannot yet see evidence that the Lord is working, we enter into his promises by staying close, stepping out, and crossing over.