“What do you believe is impossible?” It might be easy for some of us to proclaim that nothing is impossible with God. Greater is he who is in me than he who is in the world. So goes the common Biblical Christian thought. And it’s true to be sure.
But, those words are easier to proclaim than they are to actually believe and obey. Most of us (or all of us if we are willing to be honest) have faced enough disappointment in this life to admit that there are things in our lives that we struggle to believe that God is able to overcome. Notice the impossible feeling of Joshua chapter 3…
1 Then Joshua rose early in the morning and they set out for Shittim. And they came to the Jordan, he and all the people of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. 2 At the end of three days the officers went through the camp 3 and commanded the people, “As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. 4 Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.” 5 Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” 6 And Joshua said to the priests, “Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass on before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people.
7 The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. 8 And as for you, command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the brink of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” 9 And Joshua said to the people of Israel, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God.” 10 And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. 11 Behold the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. 12 Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. 13 And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”
14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan.
The verses we just read come to us immediately on the heels of the two spies giving their report to Joshua after spying out the city of Jericho. You may remember the story in chapter 2. Joshua sends two spies into Jericho (deep into enemy territory), they are helped by a prostitute named Rahab (an unlikely servant), and then the two spies come back and they give Joshua a good report that ends with these words: “Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us” (2:24). In other words, God is about to do what appears to be impossible.
We experience the pain of death, the sting of addiction, the burn of broken relationships, the fiery temptation of our ongoing struggle with secret sin, shortcomings, inadequacies, fears, worries, doubts, failures, etc. The list of the impossibilities that we face daily is probably seemingly endless for most of us. The truth of this passage is that God is the God of the impossible! Believing this truth helps us to face the impossible.
#1: Facing The Impossible (1 – 6)
I think it probably seems much easier to take the path of least resistance sometimes. Sure, there are times when I love a good challenge. But at other times, it seems much easier to run, hide, duck and cover when the hailstorm of impossibility looms in my life. When a particular issue in my marriage resurfaces or when a certain struggle in parenting comes up again or when an ongoing struggle with sin starts to get the best of me again, in those moments it sometimes seems easier to just simply change the subject rather than face the impossible problem that I have tasted failure in time and time again. Can you relate with me here?
Now it is true that we must be wise in picking and choosing the battles we fight. We are not called to be waging war on every front to the extent that we don’t take any ground at all because we are spread way too thin. But we are definitely called to wage the good warfare that Paul encourages Timothy towards by fighting the right battles one fight at a time (1 Tim. 1:18). So, while avoidance is not a wise fight plan because I won’t win fights that I’m not engaged in; wisdom and discernment in choosing to fight the battles that the Lord has called me too is vital to winning the war one fight at a time.
We must prepare to face the impossible. This is what Joshua and the nation of Israel do in the first 6 verses of our text. They prepare to face the impossible. They leave the city of Shittim and they come to the banks of the Jordan River. The Jordan River is all that separates them from walking into the Promised Land. Notice that this river is overflowing its banks according to verse 15. God didn’t wait for summertime to bring his people into their inheritance when the river would have been naturally dried up. He brought them to the edge of their inheritance when it seemed to be the most impossible to lay hold of.
Doesn’t this just sound God? Why do we often lose heart when facing impossible circumstances? Isn’t it true that God grows and strengthens our faith in the most difficult of circumstances? Isn’t it true that the character of Christ is grown in us through our most painful of experiences? If God removed every area of suffering and difficulty and impossibility from our lives, what would the outcome be? Could it be true that the Lord allows some impossible circumstances to remain in our lives so that our hunger and our thirst for Heaven would deepen? Wouldn’t we get satisfied with the things of this earth if God removed every impossible thing?
There’s another observation we should make in the text here. In verses 2 – 6, notice that the Levites (spiritual leaders) command the people to follow the ark of the covenant (God’s presence and Word) when they see it moving. They aren’t suppose to follow it too closely so that they miss the direction God is going (and probably as a reminder that no one can come that close to God without a mediator). But they are to follow nonetheless. And they are to follow only after a waiting period of 3 days. Can you imagine those three days on the edge of the overflowing banks of what appears to be impossible? It probably felt like a lifetime of facing something impossible.
Maybe this is exactly what Israel (and we) needed. Maybe they (and we) need to slow down long enough to admit the impossible things that gnaw on our hope so that we can prepare to walk by faith with our eyes locked on God. Joshua tells the Israelites to prepare themselves by devoting (consecrating) themselves to the Lord. There can be no obedience to the Lord’s commands without first being devoted to the Lord. We prepare to face the impossible by keeping our eyes on God, devoting ourselves to God and stepping out in faithful obedience.
#2: Understanding God (7 – 13)
God’s ways are far above my ability to understand. But that doesn’t mean that I should give up on striving to understand him. Can you imagine a marriage where a husband or a wife just stops striving to know his or her spouse because he or she is too complex or too confusing? What kind of a marriage would that be? No doubt, every one of us who is or has been married has experienced at least short seasons of disillusionment and impossibility that results from a failure to understand our spouse.
Can you imagine Israel standing on the brink of laying hold of the Promised Land, staring down the barrel of the most impossible thing they’ve witnessed in a while (the overflowing banks of the Jordan River) and just checking out completely? Can you imagine the catastrophic outcome of ignoring God in those moments because his ways are far beyond our understanding? Thankfully, this time, Israel listened with open ears that desired to understand the Lord.
You can witness and almost feel the palpable excitement in the air as God begins to speak to Joshua and then Joshua speaks to the people. The message in verses 7 – 13 is a message that helps God’s people understand a little bit more of his character. For Joshua there’s the promise that God is going to make him great just like Moses. He’s going to help Joshua fill Moses’ massive shoes of leadership. I love Joshua’s words in verse 9 when he says: “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God”. These words are spoken like a faithful preacher with unflinching faith and resolve who continuously calls God’s people to hear the Word of the Lord to walk in faith-filled obedience week in and week out.
Joshua’s message is instructive and descriptive. He instructs Israel how to cross over the impossible and he describes how he (the Lord) will lead them through the impossible. And they will know that the Lord is with them because he will miraculously defeat a list of 7 violent and destructive enemies not to mention the promise to make the water part just like the Red Sea. This whole story is meant to reveal the supernatural power and faithfulness of a God who overcomes the impossible for the good of his children and the fame of his own name. Have you ever experienced the God of the impossible doing the impossible?
#3: Experiencing God (14 – 17)
God may not show up in every circumstance to do the impossible thing you want him to do. But what about experiencing the impossible thing you don’t see him doing in the midst of facing the impossible thing you can see? Are you tracking with me? Maybe he doesn’t heal the impossible marriage or fix the impossible job loss or remove the impossible health concern or knock down the impossible financial barrier or change the impossible relational loneliness or any other impossible physical circumstance.
But have you stopped recently and witnessed the impossible spiritual fruit he is producing in your life in the midst of the impossible physical difficulty you are facing? The final portion of our text (14 – 17) is simply a recounting of the actual historical event that took place on the day when the Lord split the waters at the Jordan River so that his people could cross into the Promised Land. The water stopped and piled up in a massive illustration of what it looks like for the Lord to bring us through the eternally deadly circumstances of this life and into the Promised Land (Heaven).
Commentators are quick to point out that Israel must have experienced this in a very real and tangible way as they crossed over on dry land. And as they crossed over they would have visually experienced the horror and the fear of possible death under that wall of water and the subsequent assurance of their impending salvation at the hand of the Lord as the God of the impossible did what they previously thought was impossible.
What do you think is impossible spiritually? Do you believe that you are impossible to love? Do you believe that it is impossible to overcome that secret sin? Maybe you believe that it’s impossible to have the strength and the courage to lead your family. It’s impossible to heal from the emotional scars left by someone who hurt you. It’s impossible to love your spouse, to discipline rebellious children, to be patient with your employer, to be kind to your enemies, to have joy in the midst trials, to be peaceful in the chaos, to be faithful to the Lord’s commands, to be self-controlled with your cravings.
What do you think is impossible? The truth of this passage is that God specializes in things thought to be impossible. God is the God of the impossible. And the proof of this is found in the picture of the cross and the empty tomb of Jesus Christ. Miracles are miracles because they aren’t normal. Miracles don’t happen every day or at least we don’t see them every day.
And that’s the beauty of the cross and the empty tomb. 2,000 years ago we look back and we see what Jesus did on that cross as he paid the price for our sin and we see the power of the empty tomb as he rose victorious over our enemies (Satan, Sin, the Grave) and we see that God did the impossible once and for all. And that picture if you face it head on and if you seek to understand it and if you experience it will radically transform your life forever as you encounter the God of the impossible doing the impossible. – Amen?!