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'In the mosaics of the earliest churches of Rome and Ravenna,' says Dean Stanley, 'before Christian and pagan art were yet divided, the Jordan appears as a river-god pouring his streams out of his urn. The first Christian Emperor had always hoped to receive his long-deferred baptism in the Jordan up to the moment when the hand of death struck him at Nicomedia.... Protestants, as well as Greeks and Latins, have delighted to carry off its waters for the same sacred purpose to the remotest regions of the West.'
The Future All Unknown (for the New Year)
What a thought for the New Year! We have here a great statement, and this statement is given as a reason for a certain kind of action. The circumstances were these: The Israelites had spent forty long, wearisome years away from the Promised Land to which God had said He would bring them, and now they found themselves on the very threshold of the land of promise. They have to go into that land of promise by a strange, mysterious, fearful way. They have to pass through the very bed of the River Jordan, and God, Who has brought them thus far, is to pile up the waters on either side of them while they go through on dry ground. If you will picture them about to cross the river you will realize how fully this statement is true that they had never passed that way before. It was totally new, absolutely strange. Before they reached the Promised Land they had many difficulties to face. They had victories to win and foes to conquer, and had they not the initial difficulty of crossing that great dividing river which separated them from that great, mysterious land of promise beyond?
I. There is a Strange Parallel between the Position of the Israelites and that of Ourselves Today. Have we not, by God's grace, been brought to the threshold of another year? A new year, an unknown year, an untrodden path. And in this new year that lies before you and me we must serve God's great purpose. There is fresh land to occupy; there are victories, through God's strength, to win; there are foes; there are sins which, by God's grace, we are meant to conquer. 'Ye have not passed this way heretofore,' and in entering upon this new year we are treading on new ground, consecrated ground, which our foot has never yet defiled.
II. Guidance Vouchsafed. What was the plan arranged for their guidance? We read it in the third verse. 'When ye see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place and go after it.' What a comforting thing for these Israelites that the ark of God was to lead them! All through their strange difficulties they had before them that old ark that they had followed all the time and which they loved, which kept them in touch, as it were, with God. What a difference it must have made!
III. Let us See that the Ark of God's Presence Goes Before Us takes us into our difficulties and out of our difficulties, so that through the presence of God we may conquer our sins and gain from Him our strength in this life. If this be so, we need not fear; we can face the year with confidence. Let us see that Jesus still leads on till our rest be won. We need to know the way in which we must go. There will be many times of difficulty in this new year. We shall sometimes want to know what words to use and what position to take up in the various incidents of our daily lives; what course of action we ought to follow. There are bound to be difficulties in the way, and the only way to fight them with anything like hope, with anything like assurance, is that God be asked to help us, that God be asked to make His way clear before our face. 'O God, set watch on my mouth, keep the door of my lips.' Let us trust in Christ to lead us in the right way.
IV. The Ark of God never Led them Wrong. And so it will be if Jesus leads us on, and we are following Him and asking Him to teach us what to say and what to do, He will never lead us wrong.
References. III. 4. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1057. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Deuteronomy, Joshua, etc., p. 99. C. S. Robinson, Sermons on Neglected Texts, p. 224. W. M. Taylor, Outlines of Sermons on the Old Testament, p. 56. W. R. Inge, All Saints' Sermons, 1905-7, p. 49. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sack ville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 34. F. B. Cowl, Straight Tracks, p. 41. J. Laidlaw, Studies in the Parables, p. 217. J. Parker, Ark of God, p. 26. III. 5. E. R. Conder, Outlines of Sermons on the Old Testament, p. 57. III. 5-17. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Deuteronomy, Joshua, etc., p. 107. III. 11. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, part iii. p. 49. III. 15, 17. R. J. Campbell, Sermons Addressed to Individuals, p. 89. IV. 6. P. T. Forsyth, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. 1901, p. 415. IV. 7. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 162. IV. 9. J. M. Neale, Sermons for Some Feast Days in the Christian Year, p. 183. IV. 10-24. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Deuteronomy, Joshua, etc., p. 115.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Joshua 3". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany