Sermon on Joshua 3:1-17 – “Crossing the Jordan”

Sermon on Joshua 3:1-17 – “Crossing the Jordan”

Sermon for Sunday, August 21st, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Psa 78:1-16 ESV] 1 A Maskil of Asaph. Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! 2 I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, 3 things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. 5 He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, 6 that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, 7 so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments; 8 and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God. 9 The Ephraimites, armed with the bow, turned back on the day of battle. 10 They did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law. 11 They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them. 12 In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan. 13 He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap. 14 In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a fiery light. 15 He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep. 16 He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers.

New Testament reading:

[Heb 12:25-29 ESV] 25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken–that is, things that have been made–in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

Gospel reading:

[Jhn 14:1-6 ESV] 1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Text of the sermon:

[Jos 3:1-17 ESV] 1 Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out from Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. 2 At the end of three days the officers went through the camp 3 and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. 4 Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way 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 said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people. 7 The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. 8 And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.'” 9 And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. 13 And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing 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 from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.” 14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.


The crossing of the Jordan should immediately remind us of the crossing of the Red Sea that we read not so long ago in the book of Exodus. In each case we have a miracle of the Lord, holding back the waters as His people cross on dry ground.

And these two miracles bookend the time which the Israelites spent in the wilderness; the time between Egypt and the promised land. They came into the wilderness through the waters (without getting wet) and came out of the wilderness through the waters (without getting wet).

But there is much of contrast as well between the crossing of the Red Sea and the crossing of the Jordan.

First, of course, the Red Sea is a sea and the Jordan is a river!

Then, in the first account the armies of the Egyptians are on the same side of the water and are chasing the Israelites, but here we have the Canaanites on the opposite side of the water with the Israelites coming after them! How the tides (no pun intended) have turned.

In the crossing of the Red Sea there was Moses, now in the crossing of the Jordan there is Joshua.

And in the first there was not yet the Ark of the Covenant which now features prominently.

But for all the differences we yet have the same Lord and the same promise of the Lord, that He will be with His people and bring them into the promised land.

So far in this book of Joshua we’ve read of the change in command from Moses to Joshua, and we’ve read of the spies searching out the land and of Rahab the Canaanite prostitute whom the Lord has called unto salvation along with her family. These set the stage for the whole nation of Israel to now enter in.

So we see in our text today that, as my Bible titles it, “Israel Crosses the Jordan.” But like so often in the Bible the focus is as much on the Lord as on anyone else. So, with that focus on the Lord, we will see in three points:

I. The Lord Promises

II. The Lord Precedes


III. The Lord Protects

[REPEAT: The Lord Promises, the Lord Precedes, and the Lord Protects]

But, first lets look at the setting. We find the people at the edge of the promised land, about to enter in. The place called Shittim is like a base or headquarters for Israel. And they depart from there and camp for three days on the Jordan river. Then the officers go about the camp and command the people to follow the Ark of the Covenant when they see it carried by the Levitical priests. They are told to follow it at a distance of 2,000 cubits, which is 1,000 yards.

And we have that phrase is our language of the “thousand yard stare.” The 1000 yard stare is that blank, unfocused gaze of emotionally detached; those suffering from great atrocities or shock.

Here, we have something quite opposite with this 1000 yard distance. The ark, it seems, is to be so far ahead so that all can see it. The whole nation is to follow the Lord, the Ark being a symbol of his presence among the people.

So they are to follow the Lord, AND they are to “consecrate themselves.”

Joshua said to the people “Consecrate yourselves.” (v. 5)

What does this mean? How are they to consecrate themselves?

This idea comes up in a number of places in the Old Testament.

Twice in Leviticus God says “Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” (Lev. 11:44, 20:7)

In 2 Chronicles we read “Now consecrate yourselves and consecrate the house of the Lord, the God of your fathers, and carry out the filth from the Holy Place.” (29:5)

So there is definitely an element of “becoming holy” in this idea of consecration.

And, there is an element of preparation.

Here in Joshua they are to consecrate themselves just before crossing the Jordan.

And in 2 Chronicles 35:6 we also have the idea of preparation emphasized – “And slaughter the Passover lamb, and consecrate yourselves, and prepare for your brothers, to do according to the word of the Lord by Moses.”

So to consecrate is to sanctify, to prepare, to dedicate, be hallowed, and to be holy.

How precisely the people are to do this here in Joshua we’re not told. But it must include whatever physical preparations and especially spiritual preparations are necessary before departing to a new land.

And perhaps we should all consider this more strongly when we go on a trip or move to a new place. We prepare for many hours physically – getting things fitting just right in the trunk of our car — but what of our spiritual preparation? Should we not spend at least as much time praying for the journey ahead and asking the Lord’s blessing on it?

And what of our eternal estate? That final crossing over, not of a river, but from life to eternal life. Should we not greatly consecrate ourselves for that, spending much time on earth seeking the Lord, preparing to one day meet Him face to face, becoming holy as he is holy?

We are indeed called to do such things, but PRAISE THE LORD, the work of salvation is His.

The full statement in our text is “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do wonders among you.” Not so much “prepare yourself for what you are going to do.” But be prepared for WHAT THE LORD IS GOING TO DO! He will do wonders among you! Indeed we shall see wonders as well.

The work is of the Lord. And we see that in the text as the Lord Promises, the Lord Precedes, and the Lord Protects.

I. The Lord Promises. (v. 7)

The promise of the Lord here comes in verse 7:

7 The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.

“As I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” This is God’s promise.

How great it is that He repeats His promise so frequently, for people who are so clouded in mind because of sin. I ask you, how many times do you think you heard the Gospel before you understood it? And how many times do you think you heard the Gospel before you BELIEVED it? Few can say that they understood and believed on the first go ‘round. Fortunately the Lord repeats His promise and keeps His promise.

For many years the people had been looking for this day because of the promises of the Lord.

In Genesis 15 God promised Abraham saying: “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. Bu I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.”

Then in Exodus God promised Moses saying: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 7 I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.'”

Now in Joshua the Lord’s promise continues and begins to be fulfilled.

And for us it continues not in the promise that we will inherit some land in the Middle East, but that we shall forever be in heaven where we will have an inheritance greater than any earthly king.

Indeed, the Lord promises us great blessings.

II. The Lord Precedes. (v. 8-15)

Not only does he promise these things, He fulfills them.

I our text we find that fulfillment in that the Lord Precedes. That is, He goes first. The Ark of the Covenant goes in front of the people and they follow it.

The people do find their own way into the Promised Land. They must go in the way of the Lord. All other paths are of destruction and drowning in the river. But following the Lord promises a safe passage over dry land for the whole nation of Israel.

The Lord precedes.

And, in our case, the Lord Jesus Christ precedes us in death, and in resurrection, and in entering in to that eternal rest. Christ is the firstfruits, the first to be resurrected from the dead. And we shall one day all follow in that.

We read in John 14 that the Lord Jesus Christ precedes us into heaven as well:

[Jhn 14:1-3 ESV] 1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Our crossing over into heaven, like the Israelites crossing over the Jordan, will be 100% by the power of God.

This means — and I hope this is a great relief to you — this means there is NO ENTRANCE EXAM AT THE PEARLY GATES! No review of your sins. Just a welcoming savior. [REPEAT: I think this is worth repeating. There is no entrance exam at the pearly gates. The Lord has won your salvation. It is finished.]

And so Jesus is preparing a place for you! He is not a mean professor preparing a test for you! He has taken the test, passed it with flying colors, and given you the grade, and the diploma!

Therefore we do not show up in heaven as an unannounced guests, but finding it to be our eternal home prepared by Jesus Christ, our loving savior. He precedes and He prepares for us. Praise be to God.

III. The Lord Protects. (v. 16-17)

In addition then to the Lord’s Promise and the Lord’s preceding, we find that the Lord Protects His people. [REPEAT: The Lord protects His people.]

As they cross the Jordan river, the waters stand IN A HEAP! Last I checked, water doesn’t do that! They cross on dry land! Because the Lord protects them.

And consider the priests who hold the ark of the Covenant. They must stand in the Jordan throughout the whole time that the people are crossing over. They get to see the miracle of the Lord for hours. They are not craning their necks – rubbernecking – like a passing motorist at a crash scene, but they must surely be standing in awe of God for hours, learning all the more to trust Him as the waters are held back; waters that could at any moment destroy them. Salvation is of the Lord. In fact, the Lord is Salvation. And so the Lord protects them and He protects us.

From the consequence our sins which would bring about our destruction by the wrath of God, the Lord Jesus Christ protects us. 1 John 5:18 says that the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ “protects” us who have been born of the spirit. We shall be born of God – resurrected – as he was resurrected.

Applications and Conclusion: Consecrate Yourself

This account of “Crossing over the Jordan” has me thinking of the “crossing over” we shall all experience. From life to death and to eternal life. From this earth unto heaven.

And I mentioned that there is no entrance exam.

See in our Catechism this encouragement. A friend of mine noted this Q&A 37 this week following the death of a Christian leader we both know. A seminary president and minister of the Gospel. He has now “crossed over.”

Question 37: What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?

The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united in Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection.

We too, each one of us, are at the edge of the promised land. You may be only a short time away from eternal life in heaven with the Lord. Consecrate yourself. Prepare yourselves. Yes, your entrance therein is because of the Lord, praise God! But this doesn’t escape the importance of preparation, or consecration. The Lord calls us unto this.

The acquaintance of mine just mentioned died of liver cancer. I only heard of his condition a week ago, and in a short time he was gone.

Is our time much longer? Maybe, maybe not. But even if you live for another 100 years, that is not that much time.

Consecrate yourselves. Prepare. Preparing yourself for the wonders of God, for our wonderful Savior has promised us eternal life, and preceded us unto heaven, and is preparing a place for all who believe in Him.

How then do you prepare for entering in? Be holy. Or, its literal meaning “separate yourself.” Separate yourself from evil and cling to that which is good, that which is of God. Believe in His promises and know that salvation of of Him.

Indeed we are weak, but He is strong.

It is not we – even in all our collective efforts – who can hold back the waters of destruction, but the Lord does so without any difficulty.

God stops the waters. And the passing is on dry land. Our slate is clean, our sins forgiven, praise the Lord. Praise Him indeed. Amen. Let us pray.