11 January 2018Joshua 3:1-17
“While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.” (v. 17)
Psalm: Psalm 47
This is a watershed moment in the biblical story. After 400 years in Egypt, and 40 years wandering in the wilderness, the people of Israel were finally led into the land that God had promised them. They carried with them the ark of the covenant – a powerful reminder that God was with them; the box which held the sacred laws given to Moses. The ark was a symbol, and yet more than a symbol, to the people of Israel. It was a reminder of their salvation from slavery in the past, a sign of God’s holy presence in the present, and as they carried it forward it became about their faith in the promises of what God would do in the future. As tribe-by-tribe followed on and crossed the river Jordan safely, in a deliberate echo of the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 14), it was a moment filled with hope, expectation and exhilaration.
It was in that same river that Jesus was baptized hundreds of years later at another ‘watershed moment’ – one that marked the start of his ministry. And similarly, his cross and resurrection would form a watershed moment of history, from which nothing would ever be the same again. When a Christian is baptized, we symbolically re-enact those watershed moments, all rolled into one. Newly-baptized Christians take their place ‘in Christ’ (hence the term ‘Christening’) – identifying with Jesus so closely that all of the promises of God’s people become true for the believer; we become part of Christ, and part of Israel’s story too. Freedom from the slavery of sin, hope of the Promised Land to come, and the beginning of a life of discipleship, witness and service.
For Joshua and the people of Israel, the work was not finished when they crossed the river – far from it! There followed many battles and much destruction (and the rest of the Old Testament tells a sorry tale of the highs and lows of the kingdom that emerged, eventually leading to exile and the loss of the ark of the covenant). But the promises of God never failed and still hold to this day. Christians believe that all that God promised has been or will be fulfilled in and through Jesus Christ.
- After a wonderful or exhilarating Baptism (especially as an adult or teenage believer) there can often follow a time of spiritual struggle or doubt. The realities of faith can be harder and more mundane than the ‘watershed’ of commitment and spiritual blessing that surrounds the Baptism. It could be said that although we are already in the Promised Land – united to Christ now – it can feel more like the wilderness, since all will not be perfect until all that God intends to do is completed. To what extent does this feel true for you?
- If you have doubts, struggles, temptations, trials, how does the story of Israel, or indeed the story of Jesus, help you to keep faith to the end?
- In what ways do Christian fellowship and prayer uphold and support you in the battles that come your way?
- The New Testament letters (for example) are mostly written to give encouragement and guidance to true believers, reminding them that behind their ‘wilderness’ experience was a far greater reality. Read and reflect on Ephesians 1:3-14, as a good place to start.