Sermons from Lone Rock Bible Church
Stevensville, MT
August 17, 2003

Wide River, Wet Feet
Joshua 3:1-17

To many people, faith is a mystical, elusive concept; having faith seems like nailing Jell-O to the wall! In the Bible, however, it’s a bit simpler than that, and we’re glad this chapter of Joshua gives us a good description of actual faith, which . . .

  • Always begins with God’s Word,
  • Always includes God’s presence,
  • Always involves difficult action,
  • Always results in God’s reward.

In Joshua 3, the children of Israel are faced with a really unprecedented challenge. They’ve been wandering for 40 years. Forty years ago this November, President Kennedy was shot, so those of you who remember back then, realize how much has transpired in that forty years. Picture yourselves wandering in a wilderness for that same amount of time.

Now they’re standing on the east bank of the Jordan River. They have had victory among the Ammonites and others on the east side, and they’re prepared to cross. There are a couple of issues that they need to face. Not only are there Amorites across the river, and a bunch of other "ites" that Joshua lists for us in the third chapter, but the river is at flood stage, and you don’t just walk across the Jordan River at flood stage.

Challenges come in life, don’t they? Each one of us sitting here today could name a challenge that we’re facing. It’s the nature of life. It could be anything from an issue with relationships in a family, in a marriage, at work, at school; perhaps it’s a serious crisis, maybe involving money or health; maybe involving something that keeps us awake at night.

The Bible tells us that you need to have faith. You’ve got a challenge -- face it by faith, and God’s people say, "Amen!" But God’s people don’t all agree on this faith thing. Face it by faith? What is faith anyway? An astute Christian will say, "Faith, that’s Hebrews 11:1, ‘… The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.’ It’s defined for us right there." What does that mean? And how does that help me with my crisis?

Others would say, "Well, faith is this spiritual power that you have and you can bring it out and generate it when you need it, and if you get that kind of faith and believe, God’s just going to come through for you." I wonder about that. In fact, I kind of doubt it.

I really like what the Bible says about the faith of Abraham in Romans 4, beginning in verse 19, where his faith is the topic of discussion. Abraham had a few obstacles. First among them was his old age, and second, was his wife’s old age and her life-long inability to have children. And yet God said, "From you, Abraham, and Sarah, I will raise up a nation." How is Abraham going to fix this? How is this going to happen? The Bible says, "God promised, Abraham believed Him, and Abraham obeyed God."

I have this definition for faith. I used to say it this way: "My personal definition for Biblical faith means positive response to God’s revelation." Sound good? And it’s true; I still believe that, but I’ve changed it a little bit because as I get older, I get simpler. It is my conviction that Biblical faith means, "Trust and obey; trust and obey, going God’s way."

Faith is not normally complicated, it’s fairly simple. What has God said? What shall I do? Then I trust Him, and I move in His direction.

Joshua 3: Israel Crosses the Jordan

1 Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and he and all the sons of Israel set out from Shittim and came to the Jordan, and they lodged there before they crossed.  2 And it came about at the end of three days that the officers went through the midst of the camp; 3 and they commanded the people, saying, "When you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God with the Levitical priests carrying it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it.  4 "However, there shall be between you and it a distance of about 2,000  cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before." 5 Then Joshua said to the people, "Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you."  6 And Joshua spoke to the priests, saying, "Take up the ark of the covenant and cross over ahead of the people." So they took up the ark of the covenant and went ahead of the people.  7 Now the LORD said to Joshua, "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you. 8 "You shall, moreover, command the priests who are carrying the ark of the covenant, saying, 'When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'" 9 Then Joshua said to the sons of Israel, "Come here, and hear the words of the LORD your God." 10 And Joshua said, "By this you shall know that the living God is amongyou, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite. 11 "Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over ahead of you into the Jordan. 12 "Now then, take for yourselves twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man for each tribe. 13 "And it shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry 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, and the waters which are flowing down from above shall stand in one heap." 14 So it came about when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), 16 that the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose upin one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the SaltSea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. 17 And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.

What we are going to pull from this chapter, is what I would call, an accurate and Biblical description of real faith; not whistling in the dark, not anything weird, just trusting God and obeying what He says. There are four different points to help us grasp this. With each one, I’m adding another verse in the Bible to elaborate it a bit.


Biblical faith always begins with God’s Word.

Romans 10:17, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God." Faith always begins with God’s Word, and here is where we need to be careful that we are not fooled. Faith always, always rests on solid, objective truth that begins with God, not on someone’s feelings or someone’s impressions, or somebody’s report of super-spiritual or ethereal thing that happened.

I remember in my earlier Christian years, there was a fellow who was a self-styled prophet. Another young man, who was a new Christian like me, was wondering where he should go when he got out of the Navy. I remember this "prophet" coming to him and getting in his face and warning and scolding him, saying, "God has told me that if you choose this course of action, He will not be with you!" BUT the Bible says, "I will never leave you, nor forsake you." Beware of any so-called faith that doesn’t begin with and rest upon the clear truth of Scripture.

In Joshua’s situation, God’s Word, of course, began with the promise we mentioned earlier to Abraham --Genesis 15, Genesis 17, Genesis 22 -- these several places where God spoke clearly to Abraham saying, "From your seed I will raise up a nation and through that nation, I will touch every nation of the earth." Phenomenal promise, unknown to that point! Abraham clung to God’s Word. Moses clung to God’s Word. God said, "I will always be with you; I will take you into Egypt, Moses, and by your hand I will lead the people out."

Moses hung on to that, and now it’s Joshua’s turn. The LORD told Joshua, "Joshua, don’t ever let the Word of God depart from your mouth. Go where you will across this river, I will be with you. I will give you victory. I will lead you on." Now Joshua is passing that same word on to the people and to the priests, saying it’s time now, as it were, to get our feet wet. What they needed to know at the moment was that these literally are their marching orders for right now. Do them!

God’s instructions spring from a grand plan. We are the workers. The kingdom of God is what He is doing on a broad scheme. We can’t see the big picture; we certainly can’t change the big picture. What we as Christians are called to do, is to play our part in the project, wherever God has put us; it’s not our plan; it’s His.

What does God’s Word have to say about the opportunities He gives me in this kingdom business? Why has He given me the friends He’s given me, the family He’s given me, the neighbors? Why does he call me to know my Bible? Why does He call me to pray, to fellowship, to have ministry in a local church? Why? Because He’s putting together a great big plan and all we need to know are those work orders that He’s given to us.

Many years ago I prayed with a young man who said he wanted to trust Jesus as his savior and I was thrilled to be able to do that. We had a word of prayer; it was the spring of 1979. Years went by and I always wondered whatever happened to that spiritual commitment. I didn’t quit praying, I didn’t know what God was doing, I didn’t understand how the mechanics of prayer are taken in the hands of the Holy Spirit and levied into the heart of another person. I don’t know how it works; but I knew God called me to pray. So I did. Twenty-two years later, we saw fruit. That wasn’t my plan. God had it all in control. He simply called me to pray. He calls you to pray, to trust. His Word is where faith begins. That’s where it starts and from there we go forward.

Faith always includes God’s presence

Secondly, faith always includes God’s caring Presence. Hebrews 13:5 says, in the strongest terms a language could muster, "I will in no way, ever leave you, nor ever forsake you." That’s quite a promise. Can any earthly soul make a claim like that? No. It’s almost beyond our ability to fathom.

Now we know that Moses was the main man, he had been for years. Moses was the prophet of Israel par excellence; he set the high water mark. He was the author of the first five books of the Bible. The point of reference to which every future prophet would refer, was back to Moses. Moses had big shoes to fill; God called Joshua to fill them. It’s one thing for God to make that appointment; it’s another thing for the people to recognize and honor it, so God is setting Joshua up here. He says this in Joshua 3:7:

7 Now the LORD said to Joshua, "This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you.

Remember how it was when Moses parted the Red Sea? See what’s happening here? When Moses was the main guy, we part the Red Sea and get away from the Egyptians.

What’s very interesting is that Moses held in his hand the staff of God, Moses’ rod, something that the people needed to see. Remember, he held it aloft and they defeated the Amalekites. He held it aloft and the Red Sea parted.

Now Joshua is the main guy, and we part the Jordan River. The people needed to see that. Things have changed just a little bit. Joshua doesn’t have the staff; that was Moses’. Now the Presence of God is no longer represented by a man with a staff; now God’s Presence is represented by the ark of the covenant.

Their theology has come a ways; they have manna to remember, they have a written word to remember, they have Aaron’s rod that budded, and those things all go into the ark. The ark is that gold plated little box that’s carried on poles and has a couple angels on top.

What does the ark represent? Always and ever, the ark of God, (not Noah’s ark), the little box, the ark of God always represents the Presence of God. Does God live in a little box? No! And He didn’t live in a big temple either, like the one they built for Him in Jerusalem. Not even the highest heavens, the Psalmist said, can contain Him. If heaven is His throne, the earth is merely His footstool. You can’t put God in a physical structure and keep Him there, but because we’re people, we need to see something that represents the Presence of God.

The ark of God in Joshua 3, is mentioned nine times. It is the centerpiece for the people. God’s instruction was that the ark is to precede the people out into the river. Why? On the one hand, it separates the people; it makes them know for sure that it isn’t them, it’s God. And secondly, it puts the ark in a place of visibility for everyone, sitting out there where all will file past, and all will understand that it’s the presence of God that makes the difference.

Remember, 38 years prior they had decided not to enter the land when they were at Kadesh Barnea. The spies went out and came back. It was ten against two and the people said, "No, we can’t go in there." God said, "Fine, then get out in to the wilderness for a few decades." "Oh, no, no. We’ll go." And God said, "I won’t go with you." "Oh, but we’ll go." Remember -- they went in and those Amalekites just whipped them and sent them out, because the Presence of God wasn’t with them.

There are many of them who were still alive, who were young people during that event, and now they’re ready to go into the land, and they need to understand, graphically and objectively, that the Presence of God is there first. If God is there, victory is sure.

Sometimes we fathom God this way, that He is just kind of out there, and that He’ll basically kind of tell us sort of what He wants, while we do what we want and hopefully it will all work out. We sometimes conceive that God is distant; we’re wrong in thinking that way. We particularly like it that way when we have sin in mind.

God didn’t just turn the people loose. His Presence was visibly and graphically in front of them the whole way. They couldn’t get away from it; they wouldn’t have wanted to.

We studied some in the book of Daniel in Sunday school. A couple of the chapters have to do with the Presence of God. When Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego got chucked into the fiery furnace, who was in there among them, guarding them, protecting them, keeping them? Whose Presence accompanied them into that tough spot, if not the Presence of the Angel of the Lord? When Daniel was at the ripe old age of 80 plus, dropped into the lion’s den, he reported later that the Angel of the Lord had shut those lions’ mouth. God didn’t abandon him anywhere.

Sometimes we think that Jesus was maybe just coming up with a real nice benediction, or being a little bit trite when at the end of Matthew’s gospel, He says, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you." That is the Great Commission. He closes out His benediction with, "And lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

That’s true, that’s not just a platitude. His Presence truly is with His people on into eternity. That’s wonderful news! How can that be? Jesus told His disciples that He would not leave them without a Comforter. It’s another study, perhaps another sermon, but the truth of the matter is that, by His Holy Spirit, God is always with His people. The Bible says His Spirit indwells His people.

We don’t need the temple any longer. The body of the believer is the temple now of the Holy Spirit. We can’t get away from Him even if we wanted to, and we don’t want to. He is always with us. When we are in our moments of joy, He is with us; when we are facing struggles, He is with us; when we are going through crisis, He is with us; when we are making poor choices, He is with us. He will never leave us; He will never forsake us. Biblical faith includes the caring Presence of God, always.

Third, Biblical faith always involves difficult action.

II Corinthians 5:7, the apostle Paul put his finger on a principle that we readily forget. Paul said, "For we walk by faith, not by sight." What does that mean? Faith comes by hearing the Word of God; that means that what God says, takes priority over what we see, or what we feel, or what we think, or what we face. What God has said is most important. Faith always involves difficult action. Why? Because we are so inclined naturally to respond to what we see and what we think and what we feel, and to react to things in a fleshly sort of way, then hope that God is there to help us and bail us out.

What makes this faith business difficult? Remember I said that the idea of faith is simple. By that I mean not complicated, but I would be lying if I said faith is easy. It’s not. Faith involves tough choices, and faith can involve tough consequences. What makes it difficult? It is because we have always had a natural resistance to the things of God. We are by nature at enmity with Him, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." There is not one who naturally seeks Him. We have it ingrained in our souls that our way is to be preferred over His.

We have several enemies, namely, the world, the flesh, and the devil, and every one of them would prefer that we not live by faith, but rather that we would live by sight. It’s the most natural course of action we could take. And yet, Biblical faith always involves action.

In James chapter 2:17&18, in his discussion of the faith of a believer, James says,

"Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, ‘You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and will show you my faith by my works.’"

Sproul has said it and Luther said it, "Faith alone saves, but faith that saves is never alone." It is a gift from God that involves an indwelling Holy Spirit, an inserted Scripture and a different heart. When God saves us, He does a work in us that makes us different. "For by grace are ye saved through faith… it is the gift of God…" that we might engage, Paul says in Ephesians 2:10, "unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."

He changes us so that we live differently, so that we rise to different challenges, so that we trust Him in different arenas, so that He can show Himself strong to us and through us, as He prepares us for eternity and eternity for us. That’s what He’s about in this kingdom business. Now this to me is where the adventure of being a Christian all comes together. If you don’t think of the Christian life as being an adventure, I recommend that you rethink your notion of the Christian life.

Joshua 3, if it doesn’t say anything else to us, ought to tell us that God’s people live an adventurous life, if only we live it by faith. If you are a believer, God is calling you into what Paul said is newness of life. Here’s how it works, here’s the adventure: Trusting God and obeying.

Look at Joshua 3, verses 15 and 16. This is what grabs me the most about this chapter. When those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped into the edge of the water, then the water stood up. Not when they were 100 feet away, not when they were 10 feet away, but once there was contact between the foot and the wet, and not until, did God come through with His fantastic deliverance.

They literally stepped out in faith and that’s when God moved. They would be on the east side of the Jordan yet if the priests, and I bless them, hadn’t put their big dirty toes in the river Jordan. That’s when it happened. Not when they were thinking about crossing, not even when they were praying about crossing, or looking forward to crossing; nothing happened until they got their feet wet.

This is Biblical faith in the present: you put your foot in that water and something is going to happen. Look at verse 4.

…Do not come near it, [the ark] that you may know the way by which you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.

It’s visibility. Folks, when we live by faith, when we look to God as He opens doors, as He burdens our hearts, as he challenges us, as He creates opportunities, we go through a new door that’s opening up. It’s an amazing thing.

I’ve thought about this in the past when work has been difficult. There have been times I’ve had to make difficult phone calls or have tough conversations and I don’t want to. I don’t like to be uncomfortable; I don’t like yelling or anger or bad feelings, but I have to remember this: God is teaching me something; God is teaching someone else something. This is a faith adventure for the two of us, although it may not be pleasant.

Open the door, say the word, trust the Lord, and see what He does in my heart, in the heart of another. Where’s the adventure? Maybe the adventure is with a neighbor; maybe there’s a conviction of the Holy Spirit on your heart that your neighbor may need to know about Jesus. Go there. That’s an adventure that God has put before us. It’s a sphere of influence that He has created in His kingdom.

I remember many years ago, the first time I took a group to the Montana State Prison, and I was able to recruit two little old ladies who had never done anything like that before. Going behind those walls with razor wire and big old doors that slammed shut and mean people, lots of them! And with genuine fear and trepidation, did these dear sisters make their way behind those huge walls. One gave a testimony and the other played piano, and they came out different because they had trusted God and stepped into an arena where they felt they knew He was leading. He went with them. Their faith was stretched; they knew God a little differently, and they returned to their normal lives a little more willing to risk something for God.

Imagine if we lived an adventure like that where God has placed us. What door will he open in my life today, or in yours? What would happen if I actually read my Bible and prayed six out of seven days this week? What might God do if I took a step of faith like that? What might God do in my heart if I took on a responsibility at Awana or at the nursing home or someplace where I’ve not been before? But God says, "I’ll go with you there." "I will use you there." "I’ll be with you there." "I will use you there." "I will bless you there." "I’ll work through you there." What might happen in our lives if we made those phone calls, extended that forgiveness, made that apology? What would happen at work if they knew I was a Christian and I actually sought to share my faith? What might God do?

Do you see how the Christian life truly is an adventure when we understand it and if lived by faith? What does God want me to do? Well, maybe I ought to do it. Look at verse 10. When we stick our foot in the water, that’s like present faith, and when we’ve never been this way before, like past faith. Verse 10 is perhaps future faith.

10 And Joshua said, "By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will assuredly dispossess from before you the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Hivite, the Perizzite, the Girgashite, the Amorite, and the Jebusite."

Do you see what he is saying to them? "You put your foot in the water, the water will stand up. Clearly God is proving His Presence to you. He will take you to the other side, and who knows what He’ll do from there, but He will assuredly keep his promise and go before you."

Faith always involves difficult action, but difficult action is what adventure is made of. And that’s what He calls us to do. What if, in high school or junior high or college or wherever we are, we took it on as an adventure that God had placed us in the midst of? Exciting concept.

Faith always results in God’s reward

Hebrews 11:6 says, "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him".

Faith always results in God’s reward. God always responds to those who seek Him by faith, seek Him with a mind to trust in Him, and do what He wants. II Chronicles 16:9 is a great verse, a picturesque verse: "The eyes of the LORD move to and fro about the whole earth, seeking those whose hearts are right toward God."

God is always on the alert for those people who are headed His way, who want to live by faith. God’s reward is peace in our hearts, peace with God, peace with one another, joy, calm delight in Who God is and what He’s doing; a joy that pervades our lives and draws attention, not to us, but to Him, because it doesn’t come from us. Unity, everybody agreeing that God’s way is best; victory, freedom from bondage; bondage to sin, bondage to bitterness, bondage to whatever vice may have us in its grip.

Your faith will be little things in this life, these temporary things. God says that He will put you over many things, great things, and bring you to the point where you hear, "Well done."

The family of God is saturated with testimonies of people whose lives were a wreck because they chose their own way. The Spirit of God gets a hold of a person, changes a life, changes a marriage, changes a family, changes a situation, and creates a testimony, not to anybody’s wonderfulness, but to God’s faithfulness and power, and that’s a reward. Of course, that reward echoes down through the halls of eternity, forever and ever and ever.

Faith -- we trust Him and we obey Him and He takes it from there.

Jim Carlson 2003, Lone Rock Bible Church, Stevensville Montana, USA