Faith: a Tale of Three Rivers
Continuing in our series on Christian Character, we look back to the last message, on Jesus Christ, where we saw Him as the creator and exemplar of Christian Character, so demonstrated in His last earthly Passover, at the Garden of Gethsemane and his unwavering, though faltering, walk to the Cross at Golgotha. But Jesus is also the author and finisher of our faith.
Today, our focus is drawn to the issue of our faith, because it is only by faith, and in our faith, that, once saved by the Blood of Christ, we are empowered and called by God to walk out our faith, all the days of our lives, in how we live, in what we do, from minute to minute, from year to year.
So, how is this a Tale of Three Rivers? The most important of these Three Rivers is the River of Life (Revelation 22:1), which irrigates the Tree of Life (Revelation 22:2), which brings forth Fruit (Revelation 22:2) and whose leaves heal the nations (Revelation 22:2). We want to live in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2) in which the River of Life which runs in the middle of the street (Revelation 22:2). But to get there, we have to cross two rivers, if you will, and they are, in Biblical History, the Red Sea, and the Jordan River, but we have supernatural help.
To cross both the Red Sea and the Jordan River requires us to act in Faith, because in the Biblical context, both involved danger and thus provoked fleshly fears. The crossing of the Red Sea was stimulated first by obedience to God’s command, to leave Egypt, and then by fear of Pharaoh’s armies sent to bring the Israelites back into bondage. The crossing of the Jordan River was stimulated by hopeful obedience to reach God’s promises in the Promised Land, although it was accompanied by danger and fleshly fears, and the fear – the great fear – of the unknown on the other side of the Jordan River in the Promised Land, and that crossing, after 40 years of wandering in a small desert area, came at a time when the people were undoubtedly weary and discouraged from 40 years of homelessness.
Our frears, weariness and discouragement, our temptations to sin, all – none — are never new “news” to God. He knows, He knew, He understands, He understood, all of them.
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him, who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.Hebrews 12:1-3
Jesus has authored in us that sufficient “Measure of Faith”, Romans 12:3. And by His Grace, Hebrews 12:1, we can “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus”: He is the “finisher” of our faith, and as we look unto Him for inspiration and encouragement and wisdom in the Holy Spirit, He will help us finish that race, no matter how much endurance it requires to overcome our fears, no matter how much hostility from our fellow sinners we are called to endure, no matter how weary or discouraged we are in our soul realms. Jesus, Himself, ran the race set before Him, all the way to the Cross at Golgotha. He is on the other side of the finish line, encouraging those who follow to run the race with endurance, and to finish it in obedience.
Like running a race, or maybe as part of running the race, the Israelites had to cross these two rivers, the Red Sea and the Jordan River. To cross them, like in running, they had to keep moving, they had to put one foot in front of the other, even when it made no sense in the natural.
The Red Sea history is in Exodus 14. In verses 13-14, with the Israelites’ backs against the Sea and the Egyptian Army, Moses, the Leader, encouraged the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you and you shall hold your peace.” You see here their fears, and the call of encouragement to endure while God finished their faith. I notice here that “hold” is an active verb, not a passive verb, “hold your peace”. There is always a struggle, as Satan seeks to pull your peace from us, and as we struggle to pull it back and hold on to it. That is active, not passive, in life.
Then, in verses 15-16, God instructs Moses, the Leader, “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward (that is running the race!). But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go over on dry land through the midst of the sea.” Then, in verses 19-20, the Angel of God, and the pillar of cloud were supernaturally placed between the Egyptians and the Israelites, to protect the Israelites.
Imagine the scene, of these great, high, splashing walls of water, restrained by no visible barrier, but “only” restrained by the will of God. The confidence of the people in God’s miracles in Egypt, and the spoiling of the people with wealth in their leaving – all God’s miracles for His chosen people — had already been forgotten (in verse 12, the people were asking Moses to leave them alone, that they might go back and serve as slaves to the Egyptians again rather than die in the wilderness). In this context, God instructed Moses in yet another set of miracles, and Moses obeyed and called on the people to obey, and you can only imagine in that context their reluctance to take another risk and to walk out onto the bed of the Red Sea. Yet they did! And Hallelujah for their obedience, for their overcoming of fears, weariness and discomfort enough to act in obedience, to run the race, one foot in front of another. Yet they did!
And then at the Jordan. After 40 years of going in circles, you know they were apprehensive, and they were tired and they were discouraged. Scholars tell us that at the season of this crossing, the Jordan would most likely have been at flood stage, outside of its banks, with swift currents, deep waters, and very wide, even miles wide [see Joshua 3:15, “(for the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of harvest”)].
Here is how God told them to do it, to cross the Jordan, by His instruction to Joshua, in Joshua 3, in verse 8, “You shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, saying, ‘When you have come to the edge of the water of the Jordan, you shall stand in the Jordan.'” And Joshua, understood that the people were to follow the priests and the ark of the covenant into the Jordan, and here is what Joshua told the people, in verses 9-13.
So Joshua said to the children of Israel, ‘Come here, and hear the words of the Lord your God . . . . By this you shall know that the living God is among you, and that He will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Hivites and the Periizites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Jubusites: Behold the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is crossing over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore, take for yourselves, twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one man from every tribe. And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand in a heap.”Joshua 3:9-13
And then in magnificent understatement, Scripture next says, “So it was. . . .”
Verses 14-17 give us the rest of that history: All obeyed; the priests carried the ark of the covenant into the Jordan River; nature obeyed its Creator (can you believe that?!), and the upstream waters stood in a heap, causing dry land, over which the millions of Israelites crossed into the Promised Land.
Now, many of these people had not seen the parting and crossing of the Red Sea, but they had heard about it. And they were called to be obedient again to something that made no sense in the natural world of their experiences. But to exercise their faith, they had to be obedient, and God provided supernaturally for them, yet again.
There are messages aplenty here for us. If we make all the decisions of our lives based only on natural wisdom, understanding, knowledge and discernment, it is impossible for us ever to be fully obedient to God! To live in obedient faithfulness, we must extend ourselves beyond the natural into God’s supernatural realms of provision, of healing, of blessings, of favor. That always involves stepping into places where our soul realm screams , “NO, NO, NO!!!” Why, because it does not make sense, in the natural. Our natural fears well up at every such occasion. No wonder, then, why God kept telling Joshua, the Leader, and the children of Israel, “Be Strong and Courageous” (Joshua 1:6, 9, 18).
The core of the faith to disregard the natural warnings and to obey the supernatural instruction is hope. And the core and foundation of hope is truth. Example: confrontation with a poisonous snake – the truth is that if you slap it with your hand you will almost certainly be bitten. But if you back away, the truth is you will almost certainly not be bitten. Yet, if a mosquito lands on your hand, the truth is that if you slap the mosquito you will most likely kill it without harm to yourself. So you take action in each case based on the hope of the outcome, and you measure your degree of hope by the truth you know. When we are called to supernatural obedience, we are called to act in hope based on truth we cannot prove naturally or scientifically or mathematically, indeed, based on a truth we must “know” even without seeing it. So in our lives, it is real important to know where our hope is, where our truth is, because that determines who we will serve, and particularly, whether, how, and to what extent we will serve God, because he will not leave us to serve Him only in the areas of natural truth; He will call us to serve him in reliance on supernatural truth.
Now, no man can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). That is why the issue of choice has ever been before mankind, as it was before the children of Israel in the days of Moses and the days of Joshua, was before the people of the world when Jesus spoke those words of Matthew 6, and is certainly before us today.
The series of last year, on God, Man and Society, showed us that God intended that we live in Godly society, in obedience to Him in everything, including in the government of Society. The foundation of such a Godly society is Godly men. As a result we have been studying for some time Christian Character, which is the definition of Godly men. Without men (and women) of Christian Character, we cannot have and maintain a Godly Society. So, these two series are intimately and causally (not casually) related.
When the people of a society break covenant with God, He will respond. In Deuteronomy 31:16-17, God told Moses it was time for his death, and He said this to Moses, prophetically seeing into the future.
Behold, you will rest with your fathers, and this people will rise and play the harlot with the gods of the foreigners of the land, where they go to be among them, and they will forsake Me and break My covenant which I have made with them. Then, My anger shall be aroused against them in that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured. And many evils and troubles shall befall them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’Deuteronomy 31:16-17
As we are in a season of great change in our society, we must hope for a profound and pervasive return to God, that our people – grafted into the Blood of Abraham by the Blood of Jesus Christ – will realize that many evils and troubles have befallen us and threaten us , and that we are in trouble because “our God is not among us.” If we reject God, He is still available to our repentance, but we cannot, individually or as a society, a nation, play the harlot in idolatry, and expect God’s supernatural deliverance from our fears, our weariness and our discouragement.
Brothers and Sisters, as Psalm 46:4-5, encourage us, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved.” That River is the River of Life; those waters are living waters. In Revelation 7, there is discussion of those who came out of the great tribulation, and it says, in verse 17, that the Lamb is in the midst of the throne, and will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters! Hallelujah!
Today, II Corinthians 6: 16, “(we) are the temple of the living God”. And through the Person of the Holy Spirit, He will shepherd us and lead us to living fountains of water.
How many know that we need those living fountains for salvation, yes, but also to live in obedience to God, to sustain us in His Lordship, if we will so submit, of our lives? We do need those living fountains of water. But we have to cross our own Red Seas, and our own Jordan Rivers, to live out the purposes and plans for which God created us, in the first place, and to which He has eternally called us. To make those crossings we have to put our feet in places that make no sense in the natural world, we have to take natural risks in reliance on God’s supernatural plan and salvation and Lordship. That is the essence of the faith in which Jesus chose to act, for the Joy set before Him, in His walk to the Cross at Golgotha. Only in that reliance on God and His supernatural provision can we run with endurance the race set out before us, only in that reliance can we overcome the hostility of our fellow sinners, and the weariness and discouragement of our own souls. Only in that reliance, in that shepherding and leading, will we cross our rivers of difficulty and faith-testing, and rest in the New Jerusalem at the River of Life. But, here is what we all overlook: We have the River of Life now, supernaturally, and it is to sustain us in our travels and travails, as we trust God to heap up, and hold back, the mighty earthly waters of adversity and forces against us, so we may step out to obey His call, and to put our feet where He wills that we should. When you are living like that, you are living well in Christian Character. Examine yourself and figure out where you are in your Christian Character, and choose to trust God more and more, that in all things, “Not my will, but Thine”, especially when we come to those river crossings in life where God is calling us to hope in his supernatural truth, or what we really call faith. That, brothers and sisters, is the tale of three rivers.
God bless you+