In the Middle of the Waters

A few weeks ago we entered into this journey through the book of Joshua, and Pastor Aaron asked the question: What rivers do you have to cross?  “Crossing the river” is a powerful and long-standing metaphor for facing and overcoming a challenge.  

Today is a big day in the life of Joshua and the Israelite people -- crossing the Jordan River.  It may be even more dangerous than crossing the Red Sea because this time instead of leaving enemies behind, they’re walking right into enemy territory.  But they didn’t go alone.  Just as we don’t go alone.  To this day, as with Joshua and the Isrealites...

God goes ahead of us and stands with us when we face our greatest challenges.

In Joshua 3:1-13  the ark of the covenant represented the real presence of God.  And because the Ark was God’s presence, and God is holy and pure, the people were supposed to “consecrate” themselves, that is, to make themselves pure to be in God's presence.  The significance is that they would not go across this river alone -- God was with them.  But not in a general way.  God is leading them in this, the first time in the Bible when the ark is described as explicitly leading the Israelites.  God goes ahead of us into our greatest challenges.

In Joshua 3:14-17 God stands in the middle of our greatest challenges.  

The priests who carry the ark are told to actually enter the water.  No small deal.  In the Bible, water symbolizes the realm of chaos, darkness, and death.  In the beginning God created order out of the watery chaos.  And God’s fulfilled kingdom is poetically said to have no sea, that is, no death nor disorder.  Water is also a means of God’s divine wrath.  You may have heard the story of Noah and the Ark, when God washed a corrupt world away in the Great Flood.  Or the story of hard-hearted Pharaoh and his army being drowned in the Red Sea.  Or the story of Jonah, whose disobedience of God led to a great storm at sea and even being swallowed within the sea for three days.  

But then the priests “touched” the water.  The Hebrew literally reads “dipped” their feet.  Try to remember that word, because we’ll come back to it in a few minutes at the end.

Then the water stopped. Because God stopped.  Right in the middle of the danger.  Right in the middle of the chaos.  There’s a big difference between being ”for” someone and being “with” someone.  When a team wins the championship, they appreciate the fans who cheered them on.  But they bond with the players who were on the field with them, in the middle of it all.  

The fact is that ever since the beginning God has wanted to be near his people. It is we who have resisted God.  And so it’s not a new notion that God wants to be in the middle with us still, even in our greatest challenges. And what an unforgettable image of being in the middle. To actually have the greatest representation of God’s presence  -- the ark -- standing in the middle of the the greatest symbol for danger -- water.  In the middle with us, God wields the power to stop the water, stop chaos, stop the wrath, stop the danger and death — and the promise is that he will stay there so everyone has a chance to cross over and partake of his promise.

Centuries later, the prophet Isaiah said that God was going to return, to be with people in a radical new way -- Immanuel, which means “God with us.”   And later another prophet, Jeremiah, said to an exiled people that God was writing a new covenant, to complete the one written on those tablets in the ark; and this new covenant was God’s promise to be in the middle of our lives to the degree that everyone, from the least to the greatest, would have the chance to know him.  
And again later, another prophet, who is also our great high priest, who is also our King, who is also God with us, who is all of these things wrapped up in one person -- Jesus himself -- would stand in the middle of the Jordan river again.

Remember when the priests carrying the ark literally “dipped” their feet into the Jordan River. Well, by Jesus’ time everyone in that region spoke Greek.  And the Greek root word “to dip” is “baptism.”  To baptize means to dip in the water.  

Jesus inaugurated his ministry and the promise of God’s Kingdom on earth by dipping his own foot into the water.  So his cousin John could dip him -- baptize him -- in the middle of the Jordan River.  And Jesus has been standing in the middle with us ever since.  
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