First Mennonite Church
January 15, 2017
What Do These Stones Mean to You?
Text: Joshua 4:1-8, 19-24
After forty years of journey through the wilderness, there was one more obstacle before the Israelites could possess the Promised Land: they need to cross the River Jordan. It was the rainy season, thus the river was flooded. They had come from the west side of its banks and Canaan lay to the east side of the River Jordan. The Promised Land was just a flooded river away. Chapter three of Joshua gives an account of the crossing. The priest led the way as they carried the Ark of the Covenant. They were commanded to step into the water and as they marched through the river the water was going to part. In that way Israel crossed on dry land once again along their deliverance from Egypt. The Israelite crossing of the Jordan in Gilgal is rich in symbolisms throughout Israel’s history.
- Gilgal is the symbol for new beginnings. Israel crossed the Jordan in the first month of the year. It is there where Israel ate food harvested from the fields for the first time in forty years. It is there also that Israel celebrated their first Passover in the Promised Land.
- It is in Gilgal where Israel complied with God’s requirement of Abraham’s children to be circumcised.
- It was near Gilgal, along the Jordan where many years later Elijah was transported alive to heaven. That is why the Jews in Jesus’ time thought John the Baptist was Elijah who had come back. It is along the Jordan that Jesus was baptized and began his ministry.
But in this story there are also Christian symbols.
- Joshua is the Hebrew name for the Greek name “Jesus”. And if Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, the new Joshua, Jesus, is the one who leads his New Israel into God’s promised fulfilled kingdom.
- In the Letter to the Hebrews we find that the entrance to the Canaan under Joshua was only a shadow of God promised of rest; the true Sabbath is found in Jesus.
We should be reminded that the generation that left Egypt had all died by the time Joshua arrived at the banks of the Jordan. The generation entering the Promised Land did not see God’s judgment over Pharaoh and his people. They did not see the parting of the Red Sea or the gushing water coming from the rock. But the generation entering the Promised Land was expected to abide by the covenant their parents entered with Yahweh. God was demanding the same loyalty and faithfulness. But God who is not unjust wanted to give that generation of Israelites an indubitable witness of his power, faithfulness, and steadfast love. Therefore, crossing the Jordan River on dry ground and the stones brought out from there to create a monument would become a memorial even for later generations. That monument would serve as a reminder of the day they finally entered to possess the land. But that monument would also become an invitation to respond with faithfulness to the God who proved to be faithful to them.
Joshua wanted the monument to become a conversations piece for families to teacher their children about the works of God. Joshua knew that the monument would trigger curiosity to the coming generations. It is here where we find a parallel responsibility and opportunity with respect of our faith and understanding of God’s work in our lives as Christians. Joshua said to the Israelites in Gilgal, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”
The question the coming generations will ask is not “What is the monument?” The question to be asked is “What do these stones mean to you?” We value something when it has meaning? We make sacrifices for things we believe in. We find joy and pleasure engaging in activities that have meaning for us. God has given us humans the marvelous gift of reasoning and understanding. And we look for meaning in the things we do in life. It is very true that people die when they cannot find meaning in life. People stop doing things when they can no longer find a meaning in what they do. People stop praying when they lose faith. People stop coming to church when they do not feel spiritually satisfied, besides other things. Thus the reason God instructed Joshua to make a landmark of the twelve stones was to provide the Israelites with the opportunity to search their heart regarding the meaning of God’s marvelous work for them. The monument was intended by God to keep the fire burning in search for meaning.
It is not easy to lose passion for some of the things we do in life.
Even marriages break apart when the couple lose the meaning of love for each other. Routine is the worst enemy to everything. The question anticipated from the coming generations is: What do those stones mean to you?
If you were asked by a non-church goer, “Why do you go to church?” What answer will you give? Will it be, “I’ve been going to church all my life?” Or, “It is my duty as a Christian?” When you children ask you, “Daddy/Mommy, why do you pray?” “Where is Jesus?” “Is he really in your heart?” Or when they ask you, “Why do you eat a little piece of bread and drink a little cup of juice?” When our children ask these questions we as parents are being given a moment to express with passion the meaning of these Christian practices. Our children should witness the joy and passion we have in what we do. When our children see joy and gratitude in what we do for the Lord, they too will desire to have the same experience as we have. But when we lack passion in what we do, our children are able also to discern that in us as well. It is true that faith has to be a personal experience in each person; it cannot be handed down as piece of inheritance from parents to children. We are often reminded that God only has children, no grandchildren. But we as parents and adults will have to not only explain the meaning of our faith to the younger generation, but we must also be living proof that faith has deep meaning in the way we live it. This might be the reason why the apostle Peter wrote:
Christ is the Living Stone and you like living stones, let yourselves
be built into a spiritual house, to be holy priesthood, to offer
spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ
Let us search our heart to see if there is meaning in what we do in the name of faith, church but most importantly, in the name of Christ. Let us be reminded that the moment we lose meaning in our service to the Lord, church life becomes an empty shell. Faith becomes empty and meaningless rituals void of life and joy. But when the Spirit of God dwells in us, even the natural act of breathing becomes a praiseworthy gift of God to us. May the Spirit of the Lord breathe afresh life and joy as we serve the Lord each day. May the Lord empower us to communicate the meaning of being saved by faith in Jesus. Amen.