GRACE AND PEACE TO YOU FROM GOD OUR FATHER AND THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. AMEN.
(2 Corinthians 1: 2)
WELCOME TO OUR SUNDAY WORSHIP!
OPENING HYMN (CH-46)THIS IS THE DAY of light: let there be light today; O Dayspring, rise upon our night, and chase its gloom away.
This is the day of prayer: let earth to heaven draw near; lift up our hearts to seek Thee there, come down to meet us here.
This is the first of days: send forth Thy quickening breath, and wake dead souls to love and praise, O Vanquisher of death!
LET US PRAY:
ETERNAL AND GRACIOUS GOD, we come before You in the name of Christ, setting aside time and space in our lives to reflect on Your greatness, to rejoice in Your goodness, and to respond to You with gladness. Receive our worship. We come with praise, with thanksgiving, joy, and celebration. We come to share fellowship, to make our confession to You and one another, to pray for ourselves, our world, and our loved ones, to offer our gifts and our service. We come seeking Your presence, Your guidance, Your strength, and Your mercy. Loving God, we are here before You in the name of Christ. Receive our worship. Receive our faith. Receive ourselves and help us to receive all You would give us through Your Word, Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
OLD TESTAMENT READING: – JOSHUA 3: 14 – 17.
SO WHEN THE PEOPLE BROKE CAMP TO CROSS THE JORDAN, THE PRIESTS CARRYING THE ARK OF COVENANT WENT AHEAD OF THEM. NOW THE JORDAN IS IN FLOOD STAGE ALL DURING HARVEST. YET AS SOON AS THE PRIESTS WHO CARRIED THE ARK REACHED THE JORDAN AND THEIR FEET TOUCHED THE WATER’S EDGE, THE WATER FROM UPSTREAM STOPPED FLOWING. IT PILED UP IN A HEAP A GREAT DISTANCE AWAY, AT A TOWN CALLED ADAM IN THE VICINITY OF ZARETHAN, WHILE THE WATER FLOWING DOWN TO THE SEA OF THE ARABAH (THE SALT SEA) WAS COMPLETELY CUT OFF. SO THE PEOPLE CROSSED OVER OPPOSITE JERICHO. THE PRIESTS WHO CARRIED THE ARK OF THE COVENANT OF THE LORD STOOD FIRM ON DRY GROUND IN THE MIDDLE OF THE JORDAN, WHILE ALL ISRAEL PASSED BY UNTIL THE WHOLE NATION HAD COMPLETED THE CROSSING ON DRY GROUND.
NEW TESTAMENT READING: – MATTHEW 14: 26 – 31.
WHEN THE DISCIPLES SAW (JESUS) WALKING ON THE LAKE, THEY WERE TERRIFIED. “IT’S A GHOST,” THEY SAID, AND CRIED OUT IN FEAR. BUT JESUS IMMEDIATELY SAID TO THEM: “TAKE COURAGE! IT IS I. DON’T BE AFRAID.” “LORD, IF IT’S YOU,” PETER REPLIED, “TELL ME TO COME TO YOU ON THE WATER.” “COME,” HE SAID. THEN PETER GOT DOWN OUT OF THE BOAT, WALKED ON THE WATER AND CAME TOWARD JESUS. BUT WHEN HE SAW THE WIND, HE WAS AFRAID AND, BEGINNING TO SINK, CRIED OUT, “LORD SAVE ME!” IMMEDIATELY JESUS REACHED OUR HIS HAND AND CAUGHT HIM. “YOU OF LITTLE FAITH,” HE SAID, “WHY DID YOU DOUBT?”
Some days are forever etched into people’s memories: births, weddings, deaths, end of world wars or great tragedies, and we will never be able to forget Coronavirus and how has had changed our lives. Whenever in unfamiliar times or places, the natural reaction of faithful people in all ages was to look for God’s familiar presence; uncertain times always revived trust in the certain God. Each generation must overcome its own challenges. This is what happened to God’s People at the River Jordan, and the message sent is that God is able to take care of us even in the most imperfect of situations and conditions, that everyone of us may cross the river.
The context begins with the call of Abram, – The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you (Genesis 12:1). Abram travelled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” In the story of Exodus, the Israelites accused Moses of leading them to slaughter, but Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today … Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left (Exodus 14: 13, 21-22). Miracles accompanied God’s People all the way to the Promised Land as the Prophet Isaiah said: – “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you …” (Isaiah 43: 1-2). Both Joshua, and later Peter, strongly believed that.
- – CROSSING THE JORDAN RIVER INTO THE PROMISED LAND. Water is not the environment for humans to live in; but to die. Therefore, from the very beginning people feared the waters and believed that were the home of the Evil, the Leviathan, or the Beast. After 40 years in the desert, Israel was about to have a memorable day. They were arriving at the God-Promised Land. This was the second time waters parted for Israel and the second time they walked across on dry ground. The Jordan was at flood stage; these were not perfect conditions. Someone had to put their feet in the water. This group of people were not present at the Red Sea. They had heard the stories, but this was their moment. And again, their God took care of them. This kind of reassurance was especially important following the death of Moses, who had led Israel so powerfully during the forty years of the Exodus. God wanted to demonstrate again, that He was with Joshua as He was with Moses. Just as the Israelites were able to cross the Red Sea in the midst of the waters, so here the people were able to cross the Jordan River to enter the Promised land, sworn by God to give to Abram’s offspring. The moment came, the miracle has happened. The priests carried the Ark of the Covenant at the front of the procession, and the people followed behind. When the priests stepped into the flooded river, the flow of the water stopped, and the water piled up in a heap. “Dry ground” is mentioned twice. Israel crossed on dry ground, and the priests stood on dry ground. This was in the middle of the Jordan River, and it was like the dry ground that the Israelites experienced at the crossing of the Red Sea. The Ark of the Covenant was a chest made of acacia wood overlaid with gold ( 45 by 27 by 27 inches, or 114/ 69/ 69 cm), and contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments as well as Aaron’s rod and a golden cup filled with manna. On the top of the Ark, two cherubim guarded a gold mercy seat – God’s Throne. The Ark was the symbol of the Presence of God. When Joshua led the people of Israel across the Jordan River, it was as if God was saying: – “I don’t want you only to see a miracle; I want you to be a part of a miracle. God’s Plan remains ever the same. He wants His people to be part of the miracle of Salvation, and enter His Eternal Kingdom, being saved through faith in Jesus Christ.
Joshua 3 and 4 belong together. In Joshua 4, the twelve men selected in 3:12 set up twelve stones to be forever a memorial to the people, and when the priests came out of the Jordan after the crossing of the people, and set their feet on dry ground, the Jordan returned to its place and ran in flood as before (Joshua 4:18). The great Reformer, John Calvin, said that this wonderful sight must have been received with feelings of fear, leading the Israelites more distinctly to acknowledge that they were saved in the midst of death. For what was that collected heap but a grave in which the whole multitude would have been buried, had the waters resumed their naturally liquid state? If they would have walked upon the waters their faith might have served them as a kind of bridge(reference to Peter’s walk). But now, while mountains of water hung over their heads, it is just as if they had found an open and level path beneath them. The locality is marked out as situated between two cities, that the remembrance of it might never be lost; and, in like manner, God ordered stones to be set up as a memorial, that this distinguished mercy might be celebrated by posterity in all ages(Calvin: On Joshua).
The good news (Gospel) for us is that when we step out in faith, and maybe things still look hopeless, and it looks like the promises of God aren’t being fulfilled, somewhere upstream, or maybe just out of sight around the corner, God is at work. God has already performed a miracle, and we are about to see the results. And little by little, as we continue to step out in obedience, God begins to reveal the miracles and the amazing tomorrows that He has in store for our lives. God is calling us to prepare ourselves because He wants to do amazing things for us. The miracle of the parting of the Jordan started when the People stepped out into the water. God does not only want us to see a miracle; He wants us to be part of His Miracle.
- – PETER WALKED WITH JESUS ON THE WATER, IN A STORM.
This was one of those few times when the disciples were not with Jesus. After feeding the Five Thousand, Jesus told the disciples to get in a boat and go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, to Gennesaret, while he went to pray and rest. The Sea of Galilee, as locals call it, or the Lake of Gennesaret, is eight miles wide and thirteen miles long. Eight miles is a long way to row in a storm. As fishermen, the disciples endured hundreds of windy rainstorms, but this wasn’t just an ordinary storm, this was enough to scare these veterans of the sea. As they struggled to bring the boat across the waters, they fought at the same time a spiritual battle: – fear vs. faith. Jesus even said at one point, that they are of “little faith.” The story invites us to confront our fears during the dark, stormy times. It is about our human weakness whenever we face life threatening danger, like drowning into the sea or struggling against Coronavirus. And Jesus just takes the dangerous situation and uses it to teach us a hard lesson about FAITH, with three very important aspects of it.
- – Faith requires Perseverance. There was a massive storm over the sea. Why did Jesus not instantly rescue the disciples? He chose to leave them in danger, allowing them to persist in their struggle. We just wonder … Did any of them become angry with Jesus? Did they start blaming Him for not being there when needed? Did they pray to God? Humans, we are masters at creating terrible events in our minds and worrying ourselves to death. How often are we being tempted to ask: – Where is God in these difficult, life threatening moments? Yes, we understand the disciples all too well! …and like them, we easily accept that all that was needed there was to not give up, just continue to row with persistence and …fearing the worst but still trying to hope for the best. But also,
- – Faith requires Trust. The disciples noticed a silhouette, but they could not make it out through the rain. They said to themselves: – “It seems that it might be a man, but how could a man be out there; so it must be a ghost!” They also remembered that there was a highly respected old superstition among sailors that right before they die in a storm, the ghosts of other sailors will guide them into the afterlife. If that was the case, it is understandable how terrified the disciples were. It makes me wonder … what are our boats? What are the things that we assume can keep us safe, and if overconfidence arises, what might even hold us back from getting to Christ? Too much trust in the circumstances, in others, or is it self-sufficiency? When it comes to trusting in Jesus, what keeps us from getting out of the boat? Only one, Peter, dared to trust in the coming Lord and decided to go to Him as soon as he could. The rest of the disciples were simply short of memory. They had just assisted Jesus earlier on, in His miracle of feeding the Five Thousand, but could not apply faith to the next situation they were in. Without real trust in God, faith remains passive. To really trust in the Lord, we need to know Him in the deepest personal sense possible. Only as we grow to know Christ more deeply will we be able to recognise Him when he shows up in our lives’ dark, stormy moments. It is not easy to understand Peter’s request to be allowed to go to Jesus. Was he testing Jesus, trying to get Jesus to prove that He is who He says He is, by enabling him to do the impossible? Or is it an act of faithful confession? The words “It is I” that Jesus said are the very same words that God gave for His own name to Moses. By saying this, Jesus made clear Who He is and what power He has. Peter’s request, then, can be interpreted as a way of stepping into Jesus’ promises and claiming his identity as a trustful follower of Christ. Whatever his motivation was, once on the water, Peter failed and begun to sink, as he realized the danger of the high waves around him. Therefore:
- – Faith requires Focus. Jesus didn’t lift Peter out of the boat. It was Peter’s courage and TRUST that moved him, but his eyes were not informed by faith, and he lost his FOCUS on Jesus. His fear overcame him and suddenly his faith and trust were at risk. Peter anxiously cried out for Christ to save him, and he soon found himself caught in the strong hands of the Lord. Together they returned to the boat as the wind and the waves had ceased. In all this, the disciples realize that the words spoken by Jesus – It is I – we true, and that Christ truly is the Son of God. On that stormy sea, the disciples, including Peter, went from fear to faith. This was the first time that they recognized Jesus as the Son of God, but it will take a little longer to fully focus themselves on to what it really means to live through Him.
That is what happened to God’s People at the River Jordan and to Jesus’ disciples – especially to Peter – on the Sea of Galilee. In both cases the water – this alien environment for human life – had a key role, spiritually strengthening those believing in Him, to not perish but have eternal life, by crossing the river or walking on the water. To be able to achieve it, we have to know the Lord personally, to trust Him and to be focused always on Him. When we do these three things, He looks at us and says, follow me and you will cross the river, come and you will safely walk through the storms of life.
I wonder what effect these two spectacular biblical stories had on you, this morning? Did they inspire your faith for the future? Did they make you long for Jesus to calm the storms of your life right now? Did they enable you to look back and see where dangerous, flooded rivers parted to give you a safe crossing, and seas have been calmed and wind has ceased in your journey of faith towards the other side? Or do you, perhaps, see yourself in them, in the fear of the disciples or the faithful impatience of Peter? These lyrical thoughts may help you in your meditation: – When God wants to drill a man, and thrill a man, and skill a man, when God wants to mould a man, to play the noblest part, when He yearns with all His heart to build so great and bold a man that all the world shall be amazed, then watch God’s method, watch His ways! God always bends but never brakes when man’s good he undertakes; when He uses whom He chooses, and with every purpose fuses man to act, and act to man as it was when He began; when God tries His splendour out, man will know what He’s about! (D. Stone: If God is for us).
LET US PRAY:
LORD GOD, FATHER OF US ALL, we thank You for all the good things that surround us – our homes, our families, our friends, our church, the vastness of the universe, the beauty of the natural world, the sights and sounds of daily life. For all You have given, we praise and worship You. We thank You for the love of Christ encircling us, His Spirit guiding us, and Your eternal purpose constantly inspiring us. We thank You for this day set aside so that we might praise You, bringing our lives before You, and consecrate every day to Your service. Loving God, we bring You our praise. Gladly and reverently we worship You: – we declare Your greatness, we acknowledge Your faithfulness, we rejoice in Your goodness, and we marvel at Your holiness. All we have and all that is we owe to You. You are ever at work in our lives and our world, striving to help and strengthen, heal, and comfort, forgive, and restore, undo wrongs, and establish right. Have mercy on us, cleanse us from all our weaknesses, pardon our sins, renew our faith, and restore us to Your side, that we may be enabled to live more faithfully as Your children. Loving God, there is so much despair in our world, and for many there seems little reason to hope. Reach out, we pray, to all whose belief in the future has been destroyed, and grant support where there seems to be nothing left to hold on to. Rekindle purpose where confidence has been undermined, and hope that we will overcome this Pandemic. We pray for the sick and suffering, the poor, the oppressed, the lonely and unloved, the aged and infirm, the frightened and anxious, the sorrowful and the bereaved, the helpless and the hopeless. Living and loving God, there is so much need around us, in our Church, in our neighbourhood, our town, our country, our world – so many people are crying out for help. Reach out to us and to all in Your love. You came to us through Christ to help, to heal, and to save. So now we pray for our loved ones and ourselves, and in quiet faith, name all those whom we know to be in any kind of need or danger… Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayers, through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Saviour. AMEN.
THE LORD’S PRAYER: – OUR FATHER, WHO ART IN HEAVEN …
CLOSING HYMN (CH-279) – THINE BE THE GLORY, risen, conquering Son, endless is the victory Thou o’er death hast won; angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away, kept the folded grave-clothes, where Thy body lay. CHORUS: – Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son, endless is the victory Thou o’er death hast won.
Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb; lovingly He greets us, scatters fear and gloom; let the Church with gladness hymns of triumph sing, for her Lord now liveth; death hath lost its sting. – CHORUS: –
No more we doubt Thee, glorious Prince of Life; life is naught without Thee: aid us in our strife; make us more than conquerors, through Thy deathless love: bring us safe through Jordan to Thy home above. CHORUS: –
MAY THE GRACE OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, AND THE LOVE OF GOD, AND THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT BE WITH YOU ALL. (2 Corinthians 13:14)