Wet Feet
(The Jordan River)

Introduction to Lesson two:

The ancient land of Israel is a testimony, evidence if you will, of the greatness of what God did in that country, a testimony of the truth that we find in the pages of the Bible.

Many ancient civilizations had a sacred river, the Nile, for example, for the Egyptians. The Jordan River never was that for the people of the Bible. Never was something they worshiped, or considered sacred. But rather it was a barrier. Something to be crossed in order to move on to what God had placed before them. Both the children of Israel, and Jesus himself, entered into the Jordan, to come out to move on, to the task which God has put before them.

I. The geographical site:

It’s a beautiful setting here, right along the Jordan River, just after it leaves the Sea of Galilee. Remember, the country of Israel is really made up of different geographical regions, and one of the distinctive geographical regions is that very deep valley, that runs along the eastern side of the state of Israel. And that valley we call the Rift Valley, it’s that cut in the earth’s crust that starts just a bit north from here and runs all the way down into Africa, all the way down to Lake Victoria, and in southern Africa even.

In this part of that deep valley, below sea level, well below sea level at this point, is the Jordan River. Now the Jordan River actually starts way north of here at the foot of Mount Herman. And those streams combine into one stream that runs into the Sea of Galilee.

Now there’s 25 miles as the bird flies from where the river starts to where it runs into the Sea of Galilee, and then from where it runs out of the Sea of Galilee, to where it ends in the Dead Sea is another 65. So really you’re talking 90 miles of distance from Mount Herman, not counting the Sea of Galilee, to the Dead Sea. However, in that distance, the Jordan River runs 200 miles.

Now it’s called the Jordan, because it comes from a Hebrew word that means to descend, to go down. And the idea is that it descends from Mount Herman which is 9,000 feet above sea level, to the Dead Sea which is almost 1,400 feet below sea level. That makes it one of the faster flowing rivers, just for its size, that exists.

Now, one of the things that makes it a little different, we’ve got to recognize that from Bible times is that today the state of Israel, for its water demands, has dammed up the Jordan River where it runs out of the Sea of Galilee. So at this time of year the river isn’t really flowing much at all, because all of the water is held in the Sea of Galilee, and that was not true in Bible times.

II. Biblical references to the Jordan:

The Jordan River is a very significant biblical image. Let’s talk about the imagery of it a little bit. It is mentioned 181 times in the Old Testament, and 18 times in the New Testament. One of the most frequently mentioned geographical features of the entire country. However it’s quite different, it’s interesting in the biblical culture, in the Jewish culture. In some cultures, like Egypt, their river was almost sacred, the Nile was very, very important. The Ganges, in India, is such a sacred river to those people. The Jordan never really was that. The Jordan was more, for them, a barrier, something to cross. And it begins to pick up that imagery, that to cross the Jordan was to get from one place to another, across a barrier, something that stands in your way.

I’d like to just talk about a few biblical things that happened at the River, now they didn’t all happen here, and that’s a very important detail to remember. There’s a 65 mile distance between, 200 miles of river down to the Dead Sea, and these events happened all along there, but we just came to this spot to think about them and to reflect on the Jordan.

A. The first event goes back to the entrance into the promised land.

Somebody might ask, “Is the Jordan River bigger than this?” And the answer is: really not. It never gets any wider or bigger than this, so you’re seeing the Jordan River about as big or as wide as it gets. It’s not the Hudson or the Mississippi, or something like that so, when you think of those images of Elisha crossing the Jordan, or Elijah crossing the Jordan, or the Israelites crossing the Jordan, this is what you’re thinking of.

There are a couple of stories thought that I would like to have you focus on this morning, for the basis of our faith lesson. The first one involves the children of Israel. Now let’s set the stage for that. They left Egypt, they’d gone to Mount Sinai, God had established that Torah covenant, and they were now His selected people, out of all the people on the earth, and God said, “I’m going to use you to be my witnesses, so that the world may know that I’m God.”

And they then went to the land, but due to their lack of faith, they complained, and God said, “Alright, you don’t have the faith, go back out in the desert.” So they went out into the desert for 40 years, into the wilderness. And now they came back, up along the eastern side of the Jordan River, and decided to cross right across from Jericho, found near the end of the Jordan River at the Dead Sea. And so there they came, there they stood. And I’d like to think of it this way: out in front of them was the promise land, the place where God had said, “This is where you have been called to be my witnesses. This is my life which I have arranged for you. This is the land, and I’m going to give you each a little piece of that land, and you can use it to show the world what it’s like when a group of people live for God with all of their hearts. There it is.”

There’re on that side, coming out of the desert, their sheep, their people, large numbers of people, and they’re waiting. In between them is a barrier. The barrier, I think, in that culture represented a couple of things. One, the citizens of Jericho and of Cannon worshiped the fertility gods, particularly Baal. Now what is Baal the god of? Sure enough, water, rain, storms, wind, thunder, lightning, depths of the water. And we read in Joshua chapter 3 that the river was at flood stage at that time. So in a sense, for the Canaanite at least, for the Jericho person, like Rahab and her family, that river represented at that moment, the fact that they were shielded from the Israelites, by their god. “We’re protected. He’s protecting us.” And the dividing of the Jordan River was a powerful way that God made a declaration, that He was stronger, not just in nature, but He was stronger than the gods of the culture.

And it’s interesting, how many miracles during that wilderness period of time, during Israel’s existence, were water miracles, which had to impress on their hearts, that their god was not only a desert god, there god was not only a god of a limited location; their god was god of everything. And He was bigger than all other gods in the culture.

And I’d like to think that as we sit at the Jordan this morning, one of the things we ought to reflect on is that each one of us faces that moment, where we need to decide if God is the god of everything, or where there are other things that are outside of His control, or outside of His sphere of influence.

But anyways, there they stood. The Canaanites thought that they were protected. The Israelites were here thinking, “How are we going to get across?” Then follows that great miracle of dividing the Jordan River. And I’d like to read just part of that from Joshua chapter three. And it says, “So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the Arc of the covenant when a head of them.” So here they come, down the bank, down to the edge of the Jordan, and the first group down is the priests, carrying the arc, the place where God’s presence was. It says now that, “the Jordan is at flood stage, during the harvest season. Yet as soon as the priests who were carrying that arc reached the Jordan, and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the arc of the Lord stood in the middle of the Jordan on dry ground while all Israel passed by, until the whole nation had crossed on dry ground. When the nation had finished crossing the Jordan the Lord say, ‘Choose 12 men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up 12 stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood, and carry them over with you, and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.’” So they end up with some standing stones, like tell Gezer, standing there, declaring what God had done.

But here’s the faith lesson. God says to Joshua, “I’ll divide the river. It’s my power. What stands between you and your calling in life, what stands between you and what I want to do with you, I’ll take care of it. But nothing will happen until you put your foot in the water.”

Now what you need to appreciate is that it was not a matter of they stood on a nice slope, like this, and touched one foot down in the water. But due to the nature of the way the Jordan River runs there, when you step in, you’re in. And once those priests stepped in, they were either going to be in over their heads, or the river was going to divide.

Now, if I’d of been one of those priests, I’d have been thinking, “God I’m going to stand right here. You take care of the river; I’ll be the first one to the other side.” If they would have said that, theoretically, that whole nation would still be standing there on the other bank. But what loosed, if you will, the power of God, was at the moment that they said, “God, to live or to die, we’ve got to make a commitment.”

And they stepped in, over their heads, and they were in. And boom, the power of God divides the river.

God acts often when people are willing to make that total commitment. And it seems to me that the first step that we need to take, as followers of those Jewish people, in our tradition, is we need to be willing to say, “God, my life is out there ahead of me, you’ve called me to all kinds of ministry. I don’t even know for sure what it is. But instead of standing here until my life is all together, and you’ve divide every barrier and I can just walk into my life. I think what we need to say is, “I’m going to make a total commitment to you! I’m going to step in, I’m yours. Because I believe when I make the commitment, God acts!”

Honestly I don’t think that until you have given your life to Jesus Christ, God clears the way. I think God clears the way when you’ve taken that step of faith.

“It’s becoming more and more clear and obvious to me that God does not want a half Baal and a half God relationship, He wants our all. He wants us totally. And He doesn’t want us to stick our foot in the Jordan; He wants us to step in all together. It’s an all or nothing relationship that He wants and He demands.”

“Maybe I’m being unfair to these priests, but I have this image of this priest coming down and saying one priest to the other priest, “Wasn’t I in front yesterday? Isn’t it your turn?” And it makes me think of how often there are a lot of people who are willing to step out, but they need someone to take the first step. And a challenge for us is to see in our own classroom, or in our place of business, wherever we are, maybe God’s calling for us to be the first one to take the step and that will give all the other people the courage to follow behind us. But that first step is the hard one, and we need to be willing to do that in faith.”

Amen. God says, ‘Folks, there’s a whole world out there that you have to be witnesses in!” You need to confront the power of your culture, but you can’t sit and wait until He figures it all out for you. Determine where you think God wants you to go. Determine where your abilities and interested are, and then go. But it has to be a total life commitment. It has to be a faith commitment.

B. Second Biblical event I want to mention before concluding on the Jordan river:

Jesus comes down to this same river, and there’s a man by the name of John the Baptizer, who’s baptizing people. Matthew 3:13-17 “…”

Now, a couple of thoughts about that. There’s an interesting phrase that has been discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in which the concept of the Spirit of God, hovering, is discussed. That when the Messiah comes, according to these folks who lived in Jesus time, or before, the Spirit of God will hover over the spirit of the poor and the oppressed and the underprivileged. Isaiah 11:1-5. And that has lead scholars to believe think that one of the keys to understand Jesus baptism, is that concept of the Spirit of God hovering. That apparently was a thought that was common in the Jewish culture of the time. And they seemed to have connected that Spirit hover with and the concept of water with Genesis 1:2.

Now Genesis 1:2 says that creation happened like this: there was water and turmoil and chaos, and hovering over that water is the Spirit. And out of that chaos, the Spirit somehow draws life, and creation, and a whole new reality we call: “Our world.” And it all comes out of the chaos drawn by the power of the Spirit of God.

-What seems to be the case is that’s how the early Christians views Jesus’ baptism. That as Jesus went down into the water, that’s death, that’s why Paul says, “You’ve been buried with Christ in your baptism Rom. 6:3. Why would you be buried? Well the water is this abyss. So you go down into the water and then you come back to life. The Spirit of God descends and puts order into place and give life. And they understood then, that they were the missionaries of that new order. Now, my faith lesson to you is this: that’s the new creation that you are the witness of, and you have become His ambassadors to that new order.

Conclusion:

So today are you ready to get wet for him? Are you ready to commit yourself totally to him? Will you become a witness to the world of what God can accomplish when a man lives totally for him?