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Crossing the Jordan

Exodus 12:13 - The blood will be a sign for you on your houses; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you.

Joshua 3:11 - See, the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you.

Joshua 4:8 – They took 12 stones from the middle of the Jordan…and they carried them over with them to the camp, where they put them down.

Joshua 4:9 – Joshua set up twelve stones that had been in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the Ark had stood.

Joshua 5:3 – So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites…

1 Corinthians 10:11 – These things happened to them for examples and were written down as warnings for us…

Ephesians 1:3 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ.

Ephesians 6:10-11 – Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God in order to stand against the devil’s schemes.

Because of political conditions in the Middle East today, crossing the Jordan River from the country of Jordan to Israel is not a “piece of cake.” Careful passport checks and baggage searches can take a big chunk out of the day for a modern Holy Land tour! And, for very different reasons, it was no “piece of cake” when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River under the leadership of Joshua at the end of the 15th century BC (about 1400 BC). The river was at flood stage (Joshua 3:15) and there were no boats and no bridges. Furthermore, they were entering enemy territory opposite Jericho, a major fortress city of the Canaanites. But in spite of the problems, Israel crossed the Jordan River because God had promised them the Land. With a mighty miracle, the waters of the Jordan River were cut off and the people of Israel crossed the Jordan without even getting their sandals wet.

Besides the obvious practical application that our all-powerful God can do amazing miracles and accomplish His purpose on our behalf against all odds, there is more for us to learn from the inspired record of Israel crossing the Jordan. In fact, 1 Corinthians 10:11 says that “all these things happened to them [the Israelites] as an example for us.” “All these things” refers to all the events in the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Land that God had promised them.

Spiritual Pictures

In 1 Corinthians 10:3-4, we learn that the manna the Israelites ate was spiritual food, the water they drank was spiritual drink and the spiritual rock from which the water flowed was Christ. Does this mean that the manna wasn’t real food and the water wasn’t real water? Do these verses teach that Christ was following the Israelites in the wilderness in the form of a rock, or that the rock was a Christophany? No, these verses explain to us that these events in the journey from Egypt to Canaan are “examples” from which we can learn, and they all are part of a spiritual picture of the Christian life from salvation to maturity.

The word translated “example” is the Greek word “tupos,” from which we get the word “type.” A biblical “type” is an Old Testament person, place, event or other item that illustrates New Testament truth. So 1 Corinthians 10:11 teaches us that the entire journey of the people of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land is a “type,” or picture, that illustrates New Testament truth. It is an illustration of the Christian life-all the way from our salvation to our “possession of the land”-the land of spiritual blessings in Christ. The events in the travels of the Israelites contain many lessons. Besides general biblical principles such as “Trust the Lord!” and “Don’t complain!” we can learn profound theological truths.

Imagine that God has painted the entire 40 year journey from Egypt to the Promised Land as a huge mural, which we may examine to learn valuable truth and lessons for our lives today. We find the written material for this mural in the biblical books of Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy and Joshua. In the first panel of the mural we see Egypt, a pagan polytheistic civilization, and we see the Israelites as slaves, under the domination of cruel taskmasters (Exodus 1:8-14). The Bible often uses Egypt as a picture of the world that has rejected God, so bondage and slavery in Egypt presents a vivid spiritual picture of our helpless bondage in sin before Christ. But the next scene in the mural shows us the Passover (Exodus 12), which pictures the means by which God rescued us from our slavery to sin! Just as the Israelites were delivered from Egypt after the blood of the Passover lamb was applied to their homes, so we have been redeemed, “not by silver and gold, but by the precious blood of the Lamb” (1 Peter 1:18-19). “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us” (1 Corinthians 5:7), and when the blood of our Passover Lamb is applied to our lives, we are redeemed from slavery of sin.

However, escape from slavery in Egypt was only the beginning of the Israelites’ journey. Another broad panel of the “Egypt to Canaan mural” shows the people of Israel wandering, disobedient and disgruntled, in the Sinai wilderness. But God hadn’t rescued His people from slavery to wander in the wilderness. He didn’t want them living on the fringes of the Promised Land, either. God wanted much more for His people! He wanted them to pass through the wilderness, cross the Jordan River and enter and enjoy the blessings of the Promised Land—the Land of blessing that “flowed with milk and honey.”

Blessings and Battles

In the spiritual “Egypt to Canaan mural” that God has given us, the wilderness where the Israelites wandered represents the “land of discouragement, disobedience and defeat” in our Christian experience. We wander, as they wander, because of unbelief in the promises and power of God. The Promised Land represents the “Land of spiritual blessing” which we are promised and is available for our enjoyment and experience because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:3 says that believers are “blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ.” Our spiritual Promised Land, called here “the heavenlies,” is the sphere of our spiritual blessings in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14). The “heavenlies” is not our heavenly home of the future, but rather the realm of our spiritual experience now. The “heavenlies” is also the sphere which includes our spiritual battles according to Ephesians 6:10-12. Being victorious in spiritual warfare is just as much a part of Christian maturity as enjoying our spiritual blessings in Christ.

In reference to our spiritual blessings, it is important to notice that we’ve been blessed with “every spiritual blessing” in the heavenlies (Ephesians 1:3)—but not every physical blessing. The people of Israel were promised earthly, temporal blessing in the possession of the Land, but earthly physical or material blessings are not promised to the believer. We can be thankful for any physical blessings God gives us, such as good health or a nice job, but physical blessings are not guaranteed to any Christian. (The currently popular “prosperity gospel” is not taught anywhere in Scripture.) But every spiritual blessing that heaven has to offer is promised to every Christian. Read the amazing list of our spiritual blessings in Christ in Ephesians 1!

Even though all the Promised Land was given to Israel, they still had to take action to possess it by leaving the wilderness and crossing the Jordan River (Joshua 1:3). Just so, all the guaranteed blessings of our “promised land” are ours for the taking—but we must take them! If we’re not appreciating or enjoying our spiritual blessings in Christ (such as assurance of salvation and a joyful, meaningful purpose in life), perhaps we’ve never crossed the Jordan. Perhaps we’re still wandering in the “wilderness” of discouragement and defeat in our Christian lives because we haven’t committed ourselves to fully obey the Lord. We must take action to “complete the spiritual mural”! We must claim our spiritual blessings by “crossing the Jordan” and living in the full enjoyment of our spiritual position in Christ.

In reference to our spiritual battles, we see from Ephesians 6 that we are guaranteed victory if we “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10-18). This guarantee of victory in every spiritual battle is pictured in God’s promise to Joshua and the Israelites when they crossed the Jordan River. As long as they were strong and courageous in the Land, and obeyed the Word of the Lord, they were guaranteed prosperity and success and the presence of the Lord in their midst as they crossed the Jordan and fought the enemy in the Land (Joshua 1:5-9). It doesn’t get any better than this! What a promise for the believer we see in this spiritual picture of crossing the Jordan—no defeats in spiritual battle! Doubt, discouragement, despair, demonic oppression and every other enemy will be overcome in the strength of the Lord. The fact that Israel was defeated at Ai (Joshua 7) and deceived at Gibeon (Joshua 9) was not God’s fault. God did not fail to keep His promises. Israel failed to trust the Lord and obey His Word. In the same way, if we as believers fail to follow the biblical principles of crossing the Jordan that we see in this spiritual picture, we will suffer defeat in spiritual battle and lose out on enjoying the spiritual “blessings in the Land.”

Biblical Principles

We’ve seen that to “cross the Jordan” in our lives as believers means to make a conscious decision to wholeheartedly follow Jesus Christ in a life of dedication to Him. It means to be joyfully appropriating our spiritual blessings in Christ and courageously engaging in spiritual warfare against God’s enemies. Let’s consider some further biblical principles for crossing the Jordan that we see in God’s mural. Recognizing the Importance of the Ark is an important biblical principle that is strongly emphasized in the mural. Remember the paramount position of the Ark of the Covenant in the affairs of the nation of Israel. The Ark of the Covenant represented the presence of God and was the meeting place between God and His people. Each year the blood of the atoning sacrifice had to be placed on the mercy seat, which covered the Ark of the Covenant, as atonement for the sins of the people (Leviticus 16). The Ark of the Covenant is a wonderful picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, the God the Son, who is the only Mediator between God and man through the shedding of His atoning blood. Trusting in Jesus Christ as our Savior and recognizing Him as Lord of our lives are essential steps for crossing the Jordan.

When the Israelites were camped, the Ark was in the midst of the encampment in the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle. When they traveled, the Ark was always in the center of God’s people. The presence of the Ark was with them wherever they went. God the Holy Spirit lives within us, and we must acknowledge the presence of God and follow His leading in our lives. In addition, when we fully trust in the reassuring promise of our “Ark,” the Lord Jesus Christ, to be with us at all times (Matthew 28:20 and Hebrews 13:5), we can move forward with confidence to cross the Jordan.

In Joshua 3 we read that the Ark led the people into the Promised Land. A distance of 3000 feet (ten football fields) was to be maintained between the Ark and the people so that everyone could see and follow the Ark. When the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark entered the River, the waters of the Jordan were miraculously cut off upstream so that the river drained away to the Dead Sea and the way into the Land was open to God’s people. When Christ entered the waters of death, which is the penalty for sin, the effects of sin were rolled back all the way to Adam, where human sin and death began. Our Lord Jesus opened up the way into the “heavenlies,” our promised land, by entering the waters of death, represented by the waters of the Jordan River. Notice in verse 16 that the waters of the Jordan were cut off at Adam! God ordained that even the geography of the Land would be a part of the mural! Following the Ark into the riverbed, the people of God crossed the Jordan. Just so, leaving the old life of “wandering in the wilderness” behind, and following our “Ark” across the Jordan and into the Land, we will be moving on to Christian maturity where we now enjoy our spiritual blessings more appropriately and fight our spiritual battles more effectively.

Another significant principle for crossing the Jordan is Identifying with the Position of the Ark. After crossing the Jordan, the Israelites set up two 12-stone monuments-one stone for each tribe. One group of stones was set up in the middle of the Jordan’s riverbed, where the Ark had been standing (4:9), and the other group of stones was set up in the Promised Landon the “resurrection side” of the Jordan (4:8). These monuments would be a perpetual reminder that God’s people were to identify with the Ark-where it had been in the Jordan and where it was after crossing the Jordan. The spiritual picture is quite clear: we must identify with Christ in both His death and His resurrection. According to Romans 6, when Christ died for sin, we died to sin. When Christ was raised in resurrection, we were raised to “walk in newness of life.” This is our righteous status or position before God. Crossing the Jordan involves recognizing and living out this truth. We must identify with the position of the Ark. “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord”(Romans 6:11). “Since you then are risen with Christ, set your heart on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).

Christians who fail to identify with Christ’s death and resurrection will never move on to fully enjoy the blessings of the Promised Land and will never be fully successful in spiritual warfare. They don’t lose their salvation, of course, but they will probably end up living frustrated and inconsistent lives as believers-just “barely out of Egypt” or “wandering in the wilderness”constantly beset by fleshly desires and problems. In Number 32 we read of the 2 1/2 tribes of Israel who wanted to live close to the land-but not in the Land. Like the 2 1/2 tribes, some Christians seem to be content to be “borderland Christians.” Numbers 32 tells us that these tribes wanted the comfortable material prosperity for themselves and their families that they saw on the “wilderness side” of the Jordan River. They didn’t want to make the commitment to live permanently across the Jordan. They begged Moses, “Do not make us cross the Jordan!” (Numbers 32:5). Unfortunately, Christians who follow this half-hearted lifestyle choice will find that they (and their families) end up falling short of the spiritual blessings and victories that God intended for them to experience in this life.

In Joshua 5 we see yet another principle of crossing the Jordan—the principle of cutting off the old life. The new generation of Israelites had not been circumcised during the 40 years of wilderness wanderings. This distinctive sign of the Abrahamic Covenant was commanded by God as a sign of the relationship between Him and His people (Genesis 17:9-14), and obedience was necessary before God’s people could move on to occupy the Land. And so this new generation of Israelites was circumcised. In the spiritual picture, physical circumcision portrays the necessity of “spiritual circumcision.” Spiritual circumcision involves a decisive “cutting off of the flesh,” or cutting ties with our old way of life so that we may properly reflect our covenant relationship with God. Colossians 2:11 assures us that we have been spiritually circumcised as to our position in Christ. Realizing the truth that our old sinful life is dead and buried is very important, but Colossians 3:5 makes it clear that we must vigorously put this truth into practice. We must take drastic measures to “cut off” the activities of our sinful nature, because leaving behind our sinful behaviors and selfish life-patterns doesn’t happen automatically. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature…you used to live in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things… (Colossians 3:5-8). So spiritual circumcision is more than just recognizing our position of having died and risen with Christ. It is the active practice of the “death to self” principle as a way of life. That’s what Galatians 2:20 is all about: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Spiritual circumcision means cutting out from our lives that which is not pleasing to God. It means bringing our lives into obedience to the Word of God. It means conscientious discipline of our thoughts, actions and speech. It means monitoring how we spend our time, how we spend our money, and what we read or watch. It means being loving and thoughtful in our relationships with our families and others, so that our covenant relationship with God can clearly be observed in the way we live our daily lives.

The final scene in the “Egypt to Canaan mural” is described in Joshua 21:43-45. “So the Lord gave Israel all the land He had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The Lord gave them rest on every side…Not one of their enemies withstood them; the Lord handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the Lord’s promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” What a wonderful spiritual picture of the Christian life God has given to us in His Word. We’ve only touched down in a few places! There are many more lessons and truths to be learned from this spiritual mural.

As the Lord wanted all His Old Testament people to cross the Jordan and possess the Land He had promised to them, so He wants His present-day people to “cross the Jordan” and possess and occupy the Land of blessing He has given us. He does not want us barely out of Egypt, or wandering in the wilderness, or living on the fringes of the Land. And He doesn’t want us moving in and out, or straddling the Jordan River-one foot in the Land and one foot in the world-reluctant to fully cross over. God wants to see all His children enjoying the “abundant life” (John 10:10) and finding “rest of soul” (Matthew 11:28). He wants us to “walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). And He wants to see us“fighting the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12) and “standing firm” in spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:14). These blessings and promises are all part of dwelling in the promised land of the heavenlies, but they can only be enjoyed and experienced by Christians who are willing to cross the Jordan.
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