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What happens next? This question is asked in many different circumstances in life. You can be in the doctor’s surgery and you get the news you don’t want to hear and you ask, ‘What happens now?’ Or when you retire after doing something the same way every day for forty years, all of a sudden you ask, ‘What happens now?’ When a relationship breaks down, you think, ‘What happens now?’ It’s a question that we are confronted with at various points in our lives. We have to answer it. That is the question that you as a church in Penuel, in your 200th year, have been asking yourselves. As you’ve done two centuries, what happens now? What do we do next? Maybe you’ve got a plan. That’s great. If not, I want us to try and answer that question from what we’ve read this morning about these stones and the incident that happened in the life of Joshua and the nation of Israel.
Isn’t it amazing – in the case of the Israelites, who have been wandering around, led in the desert for forty years, they arrive in the springtime, at the worst possible time, to cross the River Jordan. They’ve had forty years together, arrive and it’s a terrible time; the snow on Mount Hermon is melting and the spring rains have come. The river that’s normally a nice little river going along, is at places now a mile wide. The floodplain is a mile wide. There’s no way to get across. There’s 2 million or more of these people waiting to cross into the Promised Land. I can hear them on the banks of the River Jordan asking, ‘What happens now?’
Isn’t God good! He has a plan. He said to Joshua, ‘I want you to tell the priests to carry the Ark of the Covenant and the moment the feet step into the water, the water will pile up.’ It did. The impossible happened. We are told in the Bible the water piled up sixteen miles up- stream from where they were, in a place called Adam, in the town of Zarethan. So, the water was cut off sixteen miles upstream and five miles down to the Sea of Arabah, down to the Dead Sea. There was now a twenty-one mile dry riverbed, from which all these people could cross into the Promised Land. They didn’t see that coming!
God has got a plan. Isn’t it comforting to you and me, on the threshold of a third century of service, or as you receive that news in the doctor’s surgery, or whatever time in life when that question comes your way, ‘What happens now?’ to know that God has always got a plan. And God is in control of that plan. You and I can follow that plan. It will be for our good as it leads us to our own promised land. As Christians, we are heading to the promised land; we’re going home one day.
In this story today there are stones. The people are building a memorial. If I said to you, ‘I’ll meet you for coffee on the 11th November,’ it would spring into your mind that that is Remembrance Day. Probably you would see a cenotaph with names of people on it, poppies, and there might be a memorial. This year, on 23rd October, it’s 200 years of your church. You know the date.
In this story, the whole nation crossed over. When God opened up the way, nobody was left behind. Everybody made it into the Promised Land. Everybody made it across the river that had, so far, been impossible to cross. God’s plan meant that everybody who was following Him was saved and made it home. Isn’t that an encouragement to you and I? Whatever we face in life, or as a church, that God has got a plan and that one day we are going home. We are going to be in the promised land.
The stones had to be picked up. God asked Joshua to get twelve blokes, one from each of the tribes, to pick up a stone, put it on their shoulder and take it to the place where they would stand that night, on the other side of the Jordan. I want us to notice that the whole nation of Israel was involved. Not everybody could have picked up a stone – two million would have been too many. However, God got everybody involved by them being represented. Everybody had a part to play. Everybody was doing their bit. Everybody was included. There was unity amongst the whole tribe.
The whole nation was moving together with one common purpose, heading into the Promised Land. It is important to remember that you and I need to do the same. You and I each have a job to do. We might be all different in our churches but each of us has got a job to do. God has called us to a work of service. He needs each of us to work together. He needs us to do it in unity. We have a common purpose; we all belong to Jesus and we are all heading home to the promised land. We must all be united as we do so.
There is a story about the tools in a carpenter’s workshop. They were having a meeting. Brother Hammer was presiding. Everybody wanted to have a say. Brother Hammer started off, then someone said, ‘You’ve got to go because you’re far too noisy, you just keep banging on. Get out of the chair.’ Brother Hammer replied by saying, ‘That’s OK. But Brother Screw, you should also go because you have to keep turning round and round and round to get him to do anything.’ Brother Screw became offended and said, ‘Actually, that’s not very fair. What about the Plane? All his work is on the surface. There’s nothing deep about him.’ Someone else said, ‘Well, what about the Ruler? He’s always messaging everybody thinking he’s always right.’ Then there’s Sandpaper, who is rough and keeps rubbing everybody up the wrong way. Just then, the carpenter from Nazareth came through the door, put on his apron, and started his day’s work. He picked up the hammer, the screwdriver, the screw and all those other tools in the workshop and made a pulpit from which the gospel could be preached. At the end of the day Brother Saw said, ‘Brothers, I think we’re all needed. We’ve all got our part to play. We’re all involved in the work.’
That’s true of the church, isn’t it. We’re all involved in it. We’ve all got a part to play. So, let’s make sure, as we start our next part of the journey here at Penuel, that we are united, that we have common purpose, that we are looking to the future, heading in the right direction. Everybody has a part to play.
Secondly, we need to notice where these stones came from. God said, ‘I want you to pick up the stones from near where the Ark was stood in the middle of the riverbed.’ So, they were to pick up the stones, carry them out and put them on the other side. There is some debate as to whether the stones are being built in the river, on the edge or were there two memorials (v9). It doesn’t matter. The fact is there were twelve stones being built into a memorial. These stones were symbols of what God had done. The stones themselves are of no value. They were symbolic of what God had done at that place, on that day, for His people. That is why they were important.
You and I have got similar symbols. We have the cross. We actually choose, as our faith, an instrument of Roman torture. But the reason we look to it is because of what Jesus did there, what God did through Jesus on the cross. Because on the day He opened up the promised land. Just as the River Jordan was opened up into the Promised Land, so our promised land, heaven and glory, is opened because of what Jesus did at the cross.
It says that the stones are still there to this day. Are they, as a lasting memorial? I don’t think they are. I don’t know where they are. Does it mean that God has failed? No. Because 3,500 years later we have just read about them. Somebody wrote it down in a book called Joshua, which is included in the Bible, which is the word of God, which stands forever. It’s the truth and from there we find out the truth. There it is. It’s a memorial to God for what He did on that occasion. God doesn’t open the Red Sea everyday or the River Jordan every day. He doesn’t do miraculous things like that every day. But He uses symbols to point back to those occasions, the things that should keep us going.
We have communion, a symbol which points us back to the cross. It reminds us of what Jesus has done for us. As we go into our next 100 years of service here, we have got to continue to meet around that table. It is so important because it points us to the cross, it keeps us in mind of Jesus and what he did for us, and it keeps you and I united. We can’t have that together unless we meet in the right way. We have to be right with each other. We have to keep on looking to the cross because it keeps us focused as we go forward for Jesus.
Thirdly, the order came to collect these stones. Did you notice how it happened? God told Joshua, Joshua told the twelve and it happened. We also read that that day Joshua, God’s appointed leader, was revered by all the people. If we go back to chapter one we find out that God had appointed Joshua. But it wasn’t until this day that he was revered amongst all the people, as Moses had been revered. I wonder why Joshua was being revered? Because he had done exactly what God had wanted him to do. In exactly the same way, Jesus did exactly what God wanted Him to do; He came to earth and died on the cross for you and me. This was the way that God had chosen to open up the way. We can see it through the chain of command, the order came from God in both cases.
There is a chain of command for you and I; at the top of it is always God. It’s not the Archbishop of Canterbury, the pastor or the deacons, although they have a part to play. We only have one leader and that’s Jesus. We look to Him and we’re to revere Him. Why? Because He’s doing exactly what God wants Him to do. In that process He saved our lives, and has given us an opportunity to follow and serve Him. Our responsibility is to follow Him.
What does it mean to follow Jesus? At the end of His ministry Jesus asked His disciples to tell everybody in the world about Him. Are you doing the job that you’ve been commanded to do? That’s a standing order from our commander in chief. There are a lot of problems in the world: floods, droughts, wars, fires that are affecting farmers who are now going to be out of pocket, problems with anxiety and depression in our society, food and heating, the cost of living. It’s tough. People haven’t got the answers. But friends, you have. Jesus is the answer to the problem.
Jesus can make a difference in people’s lives. He can bring forgiveness, hope, joy and peace – even in the middle of the crisis. It doesn’t mean necessarily that the crisis will go away, but Jesus will be with you and them in it. We have to tell them. Our mission, our standing order, is that we go on mission, and we tell the people.
I don’t know what your plan is for the next twelve months, but here’s a thought for you to pray about. At least once a month, why not get an outreach event for the next twelve months, that reaches the needs of this community. Invite them to something different every month, to tell them about Jesus. Pray about it.
The stones were collected by one person from each tribe. They went into the river. They had been obedient, and God had opened the way. The moment their feet touched that water, the water was no longer there. Isn’t that amazing! Some people love to try and explain away the miracles of God. Some say it may have been a landslip. It may well have been. There have been landslips in the River Jordan. There was one in 1267 which lasted for ten hours. The water stopped flowing. It happened again in 1906 and again in 1927. Is it coincidence then? Well, the water piled up in Adam, 16 miles upstream. I’m no mathematician but I know that if the water stops 16 miles away, it’s going to be a few hours before it’s actually dry at this bit. The moment they put their feet in it, it was dry. They all walked across, dry. The moment the priest got out, when they were all on the other side, safely in the Promised Land, the water flooded again. Doesn’t that prove that that was God’s timing. Nobody else could have done that. This is God’s power at work.
When the people went, the people hurried over. I don’t know whether it was because they would panic because they were fearful of when the water was coming back, or because they were just so excited, having been waiting to get to the Promised Land for so long. Whatever it was, notice that they hurried, it was quick. Nothing impeded them, not the water, weeds or anything. God had opened the way, and nothing impeded them on their journey to the Promised Land.
Iris Sankey, the famous guy who used to write loads of hymns, was on a Delaware steamboat on Christmas Eve 1875. On this occasion he was quite famous because he’d been caught on a photograph with Dwight Moody, the evangelist. People now knew who he was and who Dwight Moody was. The people on the boat spotted him and asked would he sing one of his songs. He replied that he wouldn’t sing one of his own songs but would sing ‘Saviour, like a shepherd lead us.’ One of the lines in the hymn he so beautifully sang was, ‘We are thine, who Thou befriend us, Be the guardian of our way.’ After he sang, a guy came out of the shadows and asked him, ‘Were you in the Union army?’ Sankey replied that he was, in the spring of 1860. The man responded by saying he was in the Confederate army. He asked Sankey if he remembered doing picket duty in the spring of 1862. Sankey remembered this clear night. The man replied that he too was on duty that night. He continued, ‘You were in the moonlight, I was in the shadows. I raised my musket, and you were in my sight. Just at the point I was about to pull the trigger you started to sing the song you’ve just sung. I thought to myself, ‘I may as well listen and watch before I shoot.’ As Sankey sang and the man listened to those words, it reminded the man of his mother, who used to sing that song to him as a child. He continued, ‘I remembered all that my mother taught me about God. At that point I lowered my musket. At the end of that song, I couldn’t shoot you.’ He explained, “I have reasoned that Lord, who is able to save men from certain death, must be great and mighty and powerful.”
Along the way friends, you and I will face certain problems, but God can bring us through those problems, He can open the way. The way has been opened by Jesus, ultimately to get us to our promised land. Whatever problems we encounter on the way, there is nothing that is going to divert us from getting there. Along the way things might happen. Your life might actually be spared to be used by God in the reaching of others, just as it was on that night, through that song. So, what happens now? You go forward, you keep following Jesus. You keep on being obedient to what He wants you to do.
The stones were dated. We know the date of your chapel anniversary. When you go to memorials, there are dates and the reason why there is a memorial. The date attached to these stones, when all this happened, was the 10th day of the first month. This would be the 10th day of the month of Nissan. I began to wonder why this was included in this portion of scripture. It was an important date because of what happened. But do you know what else happened on that day? 40 years, prior to that day, the Israelites were still captured in Egypt. God spoke to them saying, ‘I want you to get a lamb. I want you to make sure it’s ready for the 14th of the month, when you are going to celebrate Passover. So, effectively, the 10th of the first month of Nissan was the release from captivity of those people. It would have been the first thing they were being asked to do to prepare to leave. 40 years, to the very day, was the day they actually arrived in the Promised Land. Isn’t that amazing. It’s important that you and I remember these dates.
We can look back and see the day that Jesus saved us. We look back to the day that Jesus died on the cross because it’s important. We look back and we celebrate. Where best to celebrate than together as Christians in church on a Sunday? Some people are struggling to come back to church after Covid. I think some of us have become a bit consumerist in our views and think it’s ok to watch services on the tv. No! Don’t do that. You’ve got to be together. It’s what God wants. It’s important that you come together to worship and praise God. It is the single, most important event in your life every week – being in church on Sunday, together as the Lord’s people, as His family. Make sure that we continue to meet in this way. Go forward. Look forward. If you’ve got Bible Study on a Thursday, be there too. All of you, be there too because it matters. Because you can share your story, your encouragement, your experience, with the other people. That becomes a blessing to them. It also means that when people start to meet together, because something great has happened, other people outside get interested because they want to know what’s going on in your life that you’ve got, that they haven’t. It’s a double purpose. It’s’ benefit for the church that enables the Kingdom to grow. Be in church, worship God together, celebrate those dates that are on the stones.
Finally, number six: the reason for the stones. It says in the last verse of the portion of scripture we read, ‘When your kids ask you what these stones are all about, tell them that this was the place where God opened up the River Jordan in order for you and I to make it to the Promised Land. Tell future generations, pass the message on to future generations.’
Can I commend you for the work you’re doing amongst the children and young people in this church. It’s brilliant! I want every single one of you to be involved in it. You may say, ‘Doing young people’s work isn’t my thing, I haven’t got time for that.’ You may not need to be here in person, but you could stop where you are and pray, pray for those who are doing it. You could get a list of the names of those kids that come, and you could pray for everyone of them. You can all play a part. If those children come, and they come to know Jesus, they will bring their own parents. I think others will come. Keep on with the work of the children and young people. It’s vital. You must keep going.
It’s not just about children and young people; we’re all involved. Verse 24 sums it up, “This has happened that all might know.” God wanted everybody to know, not just the Israelites. He wanted people who saw that pile of stones to know that the God of the Israelites was powerful, that He was the one who had done it. He wanted the whole world to know about it. This is where everyone looks down at the pews – you are called to be a missionary. You’re going to think, ‘I’m not going to want to go abroad.’ It’s not about being abroad, it’s about being a missionary here. It’s the command that Jesus gave. We can be missionaries where we work, where we live, where we serve our community as a church. We are missionaries for the wider world. Why? So that everybody knows how powerful God is.
This verse also tells us that the Israelites, and you and I, must fear the Lord. Is it something we’re going to be frightened of? No. It means that we regard Him as holy, full of majesty, awesome and powerful. We revere Him and acknowledge Him as such. We need to build the Kingdom of God, and for you and I to be reminded who it is that we worship and we serve. What are we called to do right now? We’ve got to build a memorial. We’ve got to be missionaries and we’ve got to build the memorial.
What happens now? You’ve all got to get involved. We’ve all got to be united. We have that common purpose – we’re all heading to the promised land. We’ve got to commune and work together. We’ve got to share that table and remind ourselves, by looking at the cross, that you and I need to be right with God and we need to be right with each other. We need to follow Jesus’ command.
We need to be out there, on mission in this community. We need to be obedient to the call of God. Whatever that individual call is on your life, whether it is here or elsewhere, it is doing what God is asking you to do. Mark the days. Mark the dates when God has done great things. Come together and worship Him – for the day He saved you, the day that He blessed this church. Come together. Share these things with each other and glorify Him through it. Be there on a Sunday. Be there on a Thursday. If you start a meeting on a Monday, Tuesday and Friday, be there as well. Be at all of them and encourage each other. Tell the kids. Keep on telling the kids. Keep on telling the families of Roch. Keep on telling everybody in this community. Be missionaries. Know His power at work and fear the Lord.
The moment, the door for the opportunity for you to serve God, is open. Don’t miss the opportunity. This is your time to carry the torch in this church that’s been going for 200 years. It won’t always be there for you. Take it while you can. Make sure you are working for the Lord today.
May be God will take you on a different path than you thought you were going to take. Go with it. Go on that journey knowing that one day you are going to arrive at home anyway. But along the way, let it be exciting. Let it be something that God uses you to do for His Kingdom, in order to build a memorial that’s going to bring Him glory. I pray that you will set off this next year full of courage and that God will bless you.