Joshua four comes after the miracle of the people of Israel crossing the Jordan River. In chapter three, the priests bearing the ark walked into the Jordan, and the waters stood up in a heap. Then the people passed over from the east side of the Jordan to the west side on dry ground.
Our reading tonight is not the miracle itself but the memorial. Twelve stones were placed in the middle of the Jordan, and twelve at their camp sight, as a visible sign for the people to remember what the Lord did for them that day.
A memorial is worth keeping, especially for children. Children of future generations were not there, and even small children might not remember the events of that day. But for us adults as well there are times when we need a memorial of what God has done for us.
What is most important in the memorial is not only the miraculous event, but what it meant. The people of Israel were reminded that the same Lord who was with their fathers at the Red Sea was also with them. The same Lord who conquered their enemies, Pharaoh and his army, was with them to conquer their enemies, the Canaanites. Chapter five of Joshua reveals that the hearts of Israelís enemies melted when they heard that the Lord had stopped up the waters of the Jordan.
This same Lord was giving them entrance to the Promise Land, and affirming their identity as His people. The Ark of the Covenant that stood in the Jordan as they crossed was the visible reminder that He had chosen them as His own inheritance. In the Covenant, they were His.
These are things worth creating a memorial for, and worth bringing to mind.
Now we have our own river. For most of us, our Jordan River was located in a humble font. Not much of a river, from a human viewpoint. Yet our River Jordan is a far greater sign than the crossing of the people in our text.
We are reminded in holy Baptism that the same Lord who was with Moses at the Red Sea is with us. The same Lord who stopped up the Jordan has also worked mightily for us in the water of our Baptism.
This Lord has conquered our enemies. He has not only done it on the Cross, but also at the Font. On the Cross, He conquered sin, death, hell, and satan. He purchased forgiveness and won immortality for us sinners. He shut the gates of hell for us, and He crushed the serpentís head. At the Font, He delivered these victories to us. In the washing of water with the word, all our sins were forgiven. The sting of the grave was removed for us by the washing of regeneration and renewal. Hell has no power over us, and satan cannot accuse us, because we are clothed with Christ in holy Baptism.
These are greater enemies than Pharaoh and his entire army and all the Canaanite armies put together. When Christ conquered our enemies at the Cross and the Font, then we received eternal life. An enemy soldier may end this earthly life. But Christ has given us immortality that no spear or sword or bullet can take away.
When you were received into the Lordís new covenant in Baptism, then the hearts of your enemies melted. The devil trembled, because another soul had slipped from his grasp. The grave had lost its power over you. Now you are one of the sons of light. You are Godís people, the children of the promise. You are held in Godís hand, and no one can snatch you from His hand.
More than that, you have the Word of the Almighty God in your mouth. You can be an instrument to snatch others out of satanís clutches. You can be the tool to take away deathís power over others. You can lead them to the same waters that destroyed their power over you. Therefore, these enemies fear you.
Now you are given entrance into the Promised Land. This is more than a specific parcel of land in this present world. No, you have the inheritance to a greater land, the new heaven and the new earth. Your Promised Land is perfect, without thorns or thistles, without sickness or death, without sin or evil. The seal and pledge of the Lord that you will receive the new heaven and earth is written in the water of holy Baptism.
Baptism is able to give this eternal pledge from the Lord because its power is in the Blood of the Son of God. So you can know for certain that you have become Godís inheritance. You are one of His chosen people, the elect from every nation, whose identity is in the crucified Lord.
These things are worth having a memorial to remind us of what we have received in Holy Baptism. For this reason we have things like Baptismal certificates and sponsors. We do not want any doubt that we are baptized into Christ. The Font is such a miraculous, amazing work of the Lord that we want to be reminded over and over. For this reason also, our sermons and study of the holy Scriptures will call to mind the great blessings that are ours through the precious water of Baptism.
Our text ends with the words, ďthat you might fear the Lord your God forever.Ē That is, the memorial made of twelve stones was to create fear of God in the people. This was not a cringing fear as we might feel against an evil tyrant. No, this was to be a deep respect and reverence toward the loving Father. It was to trust in Him, yet also to treat Him as holy.
May we have such a reverent fear. As we have received so much from His hand, so we should treat Him as our loving Lord, not casually or indifferently.
We should particularly do this because our identity as children of the Lord is not in our actions or heart, but in the mighty work of God for us. Our status before Him is not because He has rewarded us for good behavior. Instead, He has withheld His hand from the punishment we deserve, and instead turned that punishment upon His Son. Therefore we should, out of gratefulness, not tempt His patience by deliberately sinning against Him. As the redeemed who are washed in holy Baptism, we should act appropriately to the redemption and washing we have received.
May the Lord strengthen us to do this, by His grace. Amen.
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