Crossing the Impossible Jordan
Dr. Dan Woodward
Dan Woodward is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dwight, Illinois.
We’ve been studying the book of Joshua. Although it contains many historical facts, we don’t approach it as a historical book, but as a book that has many deep lessons for us. This is one of those lessons. Here in chapter three, we come to the monumental event of crossing from the wilderness into Canaan Land. The crossing of Jordan does not illustrate passing of a soul into eternity, but crossing from wilderness wandering and self-dependence to the Christ-centered blessed life and victory we have in Christ.
Song writers have written many songs about “Deep river – my home is over Jordan. Deep river, Lord, I want to cross over.” Many of the songs are similar, but it’s not about crossing into eternity in Heaven. Here the children of Israel were crossing over to the Promised Land, the land that flowed with milk and honey, what God had promised them. This crossing of Jordan was symbolic of the end of the self-life and the beginning of the Christ-life. During the wilderness wandering it was all about self. They wandered and paid the price. By the way, anytime you follow self, you’ll wind up in the wilderness wandering.
But crossing over Jordan symbolized an end to a life lived for sin and self, the beginning of a life lived on the principles of faith and obedience. We saw what happened when they didn’t obey, and they wouldn’t go into the Promised Land. They paid a terrible price. Thousands of people died in the wilderness. Only those that were 20 and under went in, with only the exception of Caleb and Joshua.
Between this Promised Land and the wilderness wandering rolls a mighty river, the Jordan. This is, for us today to understand, the river of impossibility. I’ve titled the message Crossing the Impossible Jordan.
Today we face many impossibilities. You must understand they had to cross this Jordan. We’ll see down in verse 15, they didn’t cross it when it was at its lowest level. They crossed it at the highest peak, during flood time. We’ve been seeing a lot of flooding here in Illinois. You can drive along and see fields that are still flooded, but again they crossed it at flood time, at its highest level. Many times we face those important crossings at the hardest times to cross. It is seemingly an impossible task to complete.
Today we face an economy that seems an impossibility. Folks, we, as a nation, are leaving a debt for our children that is going to be impossible to pay back. When you pause to realize that they already spent, in Obama’s first few months in office, more than what’s been spent in the history of our country and past Presidents. That’s unbelievable.
You see today a moral decay in our nation, with politicians that are not helping that situation. The gay agenda is being lifted up. Churches are having to take special measures so they are not sued because of the onslaught of immorality, and the gay and lesbian movement.
We face in our day very real personal impossibilities, some financial, some family, some health, some heartache. A pastor in Wisconsin lost his wife to cancer. What that church is going through seems like an impossible situation. What is so wonderful to understand is that we serve a God of the impossible.
The hard thing is trying to get across Jordan. All we see is the raging river. If you were to go to Israel and see Jordan today, you wouldn’t say it is a raging river, but at the place where they crossed at the time that they crossed it was at it’s flood stage.
“And Joshua rose early in the morning; and they removed from Shittim, and came to Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and lodged there before they passed over. And it came to pass after three days, that the officers went through the host; And they commanded the people, saying, 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. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore. And Joshua said unto the people, Sanctify yourselves: for to morrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” (Joshua 3:1-5)
Understand the children of Israel have not passed this way before, but get ready. God is going to do great and mighty things, many wonders. By the way, every time a child of God comes to something new and impossible, God is about to do some wondrous work.
“And Joshua spake unto the priests, saying, Take up the ark of the covenant, and pass over before the people. And they took up the ark of the covenant, and went before the people. And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee. And thou shalt command the priests that bear the ark of the covenant, saying, When ye are come to the brink of the water of Jordan, ye shall stand still in Jordan. And Joshua said unto the children of Israel, Come hither, and hear the words of the Lord your God. And Joshua said, Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you into Jordan. Now therefore take you twelve men out of the tribes of Israel, out of every tribe a man. And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests that bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of Jordan, that the waters of Jordan shall be cut off from the waters that come down from above; and they shall stand upon an heap. And it came to pass, when the people removed from their tents, to pass over Jordan, and the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people; And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,) That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon an heap very far from the city Adam, that is beside Zaretan: and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt sea, failed, and were cut off: and the people passed over right against Jericho. And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.” (Joshua 3:6-17)
Crossing Jordan, getting over that impossible task. How does one cross this impossible Jordan? First of all, the children of Israel had to face the impossible conflict. They could have stayed and wandered. They could have stayed on that side, but God wanted them to cross over. Sometimes things that seem impossible, we tend to hide from them. Some run. You can’t hide from the impossible Jordans in your life. You can’t run from the impossible things. They won’t go away. They would never have reached the Promised Land. There wasn’t a bridge to cross over. God allowed them to cross over miraculously.
Joshua 1:6-7 gives us some valuable instruction for those times when you face Jordan and come to the impossible thing. The Bible says, “Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them. Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.” Here you can’t go to the left or right. You’ve got to go straight ahead. You have to go forward and face that conflict.
I want you to see Joshua 1:9, “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” Look at verse 11. “Pass through the host, and command the people, saying, Prepare you victuals; for within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land, which the Lord your God giveth you to possess it.” Again, we have to face the impossible.
We understand the Spirit of God is not a spirit of fear. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear: but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7) How are we ever going to get through these things? As a Christian, we understand that even in this economy and crisis, God can take care of whatever our needs are. He can see us through. He can help us cross over in a time of moral decay. How do we raise children to fear? We are living in a generation when births in our nation has dropped way down, because of the fear of bringing children into this time. In this time you can rear godly children. Kids can turn out right, and honor and serve the Lord.
We live in a day and age where cancer is prevalent. Illnesses and struggles and problems that people have, we’ll face those, and we’ll be with those that cross over to Heaven. By the way, there are things that can be done. We live in a nation that is not taking this thing seriously of taking care of yourself. Everything we do is based on money, not based on what is best for us long term. “No, that costs too much. I’m not going to do that. It costs too much to eat right.” So we don’t eat right. We make excuses.
We have a generation running from family problems. You have to hit family problems head on. Heartache, causing people to withdraw and never give their heart to anybody, never help anybody, never live for others, because of heartache. “I’ve been hurt.” You have to face those things. As you face those things, it’s time to take heed to the Bible’s counsel to be strong and of good courage.
let god lead
Secondly, I want you to see we must let God lead us in this impossible crossing. Look at chapter three, verses 10-11. “And Joshua said, Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you, and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Hivites, and the Perizzites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Jebusites. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passeth over before you into Jordan.” Understand, here was the impossible crossing, but for the children of Israel it was not only a day of conflict and impossibility, but also a day of victory. Often the victory is so close. They faced great problems, not just the impossibility of crossing Jordan, but the impossibility that they faced in Jericho with this great, walled city. Canaan, inhabited by seven nations, which we saw in verse 10.
Notice it was the ark of the covenant that would lead them over. The ark of the covenant represents the presence of the Lord. For us today as saved, born again Christians, Jesus being in our heart represents the presence of the Lord in our life. For many of us we must see Jesus and all His promises. We must see His Word and claim His promises. Looking at the flooding impossible Jordan, I want you to see and understand there are impossibilities all through life. How are we going to deal with these impossibilities?
Many today are caught in this impossible location. Your eyes are on the impossibilities, and not on the overcoming power of God. We will all face impossibilities. What causes impossibility to have its way in our life? As we study the heart of man, we begin to see, first of all, the secret things. Before they crossed over Joshua said, “Sanctify yourself.” Set yourself apart.
We’ve been having the Lord’s table service and many people have said, “Preacher, there are things that I’ve gotten right month after month this year already at the Lord’s supper time.” That’s wonderful. The secret things, the hidden things of the heart that nobody knows, that our spouse doesn’t know, our friends don’t know, our co-workers don’t know, our preacher doesn’t know. Let me say this today. God knows the secret things of your heart. We live in a crazy day of secret sins. The internet has destroyed many homes, messed up many a young person, messed up many a marriage. Secret hidden sins are dangerous, and we need to repent, confess and forsake so that we can have God’s blessing and victory in our lives. It doesn’t matter that no one else knows, God knows.
Then we have this unloving spirit within the heart. We are talking about things that blind us to the power of God, and hinder the Spirit of God from working. A harsh judgment toward others, being quick to judge.
Another is this over-sensitivity we often see, getting our feelings hurt. Christians that are so easily offended and get hurt or offended over the littlest things.
As a preacher, often my mind is flooded with all kinds of things. Sometimes even my staff doesn’t know when I get called out at night. I may have spent most of the night with a family trying to put the pieces back together. People have no idea what is going through my mind and things that I have to care for. Those things weigh heavy upon me when it involves the heartache of my people.
Sometimes if I’m not careful, I can walk around thinking about different needs or problems, how to help somebody or even be caught up in a mind of prayer, asking the Lord what to do. During those times I’ve been known to cross somebody’s path and I may not even see them. I work hard trying not to be so preoccupied and distracted, but sometimes I forget. Sometimes I may not even know. My wife says, “Hey you. Are you here? Where have you been? Where are you at?” I haven’t gone somewhere physically, but I wasn’t there mentally, because my mind was consumed with something else.
I remember a situation years ago underneath this very auditorium. I was walking through, coming up on a Sunday morning, with my mind just heavy on the message and heavy on the burdens of things that happened. I failed to say hello to somebody, and they got offended and left. They assumed the preacher was mad at them because he didn’t say hi to them. I wasn’t mad. I had nothing ill towards this person at all. I just was so consumed with my thoughts I failed to see them.
Why do people always assume the worst? This type of thing is getting worse in our day. Psalm 119:165 says, “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.” Are you easily offended? You are going to cross an impossible Jordan. Sometimes there are things of the heart that we must deal with.
This generation is prone to stand for their rights and against injustices of life. Always championing the cause for naught, that has no meaning. Today maybe it’s jealousy. It comes in all forms. Jealous of what others have. The true Christian doesn’t worry about what others have, because the Christ-like spirit rejoices with those who are rejoicing. I can always tell someone’s spiritual condition if I buy a vehicle. I always get criticized. “The preacher bought a new car. How could he afford to buy that car?” It’s easy. Go to the bank and get another payment book. You’ve got to work and hustle and whatever it takes to make the payment. You can have that car, too, if you want the payment book.
Folks, come on. If folks buy a house or whatever they do, we ought to be happy for them and rejoice as children of God. We don’t need to get jealous over what people have. I have made this church look good over the years when people said, “Boy, your church keeps you in a nice car.” I say, “They are awful good to me.” I worked hard for many years and fixed up old cars and painted them and sold them to get some value built up so I could afford a nice car. I did it for a second reason, so that our kids could see preachers that serve God don’t have to drive junk. They don’t have to live as if they have nothing if they just step up and work a little bit.
There is nothing to be jealous over. We get jealous over different people. We get jealous that a person looks this way or that way. Husbands and wives get caught up in jealousy over one another. There ought to be a trust. I understand trust is built, but jealousy is not a spiritual thing. You need to get victory over that. There is such a thing as a godly jealousy that God has for His people. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about a sinister jealousy that draws you to a rage, away from the Spirit of God. All these things that I’ve just said feed impossibility. All this rolls like the river Jordan at floodtime, this flood of impossibilities. We need to let God lead in this crossing.
Clear the Way
Thirdly, we must keep the way clear. You can never cross this Jordan of impossibilities if you don’t have a personal view of Jesus Christ as you follow Him. The ark went before them, which represented the presence of the Lord. The ark was to go before them and there was to be a certain distance set between them and the ark so that they could see it clearly.
Look with me at verse 15. “And as they that bare the ark were come unto Jordan, and the feet of the priests that bare the ark were dipped in the brim of the water, (for Jordan overfloweth all his banks all the time of harvest,)” We see down in verse 17, “And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of Jordan, and all the Israelites passed over on dry ground, until all the people were passed clean over Jordan.” The way was clear for them to go as they followed the ark. They kept their eyes on the ark, and this for us is symbolic of keeping our eyes on the Lord. We live in a day of great danger, and we tend to take our eyes off the Lord. When you take your eyes off the Lord, you are looking down.
Whenever I deal with somebody who is in the midst of trouble, usually their head is down, and I have to say, “Look at me.” You ought to make your children, when you talk to them, look you in the eyes. That is a sign of rebellion when a child won’t pay attention as you are talking, and they are pouting and pretending to ignore you. We must not look down either, even when we’re facing troubles and impossibilities. We must see life on a new level.
Your tendency is to keep your eyes on the Jordan and worry about what is going to happen. “What if? What if?” You can spend your whole life in ‘what if’ land, and never take the first step of following the Lord in faith. You must step by faith into impossibility, and you can’t do that unless you keep your eyes on the Lord. Thank God, we serve a risen Saviour. We don’t go kneel before some statue, some cold, lifeless idol formed by a man. There are poor folks all over this globe that pray to statues and count little beads and expect God to do something. You must understand He’s already gone before us.
I wonder, are you standing today before the flooded Jordan, this river that floods at harvest time? The flood of Jordan seems impossible. Let’s get our eyes back on the Lord. “Preacher, how can we get our eyes back on the Lord?” You get your eyes on the Lord when you spend time looking and gazing upon His Word.
I was with a man not long ago who was asking, “How do I know God wants me to do something?” I said, “Get you a verse.” This is Brother Gearis talking. Every time I counselled with Dr. Ron Gearis he’d say, “Brother Woodward, do you have a verse?”
I’d say, “No, but I will come back with a verse.” Often he wouldn’t counsel me until I had a verse, and then sometimes he’d say, “You’ve got a verse. You don’t need any counsel.” We need to get into God’s word and get our counsel and leadership from Him.
Do you have a verse? When was the last time you were reading the Bible and God spoke to you about a certain question or need in your life and you knew that it was for you? “That’s just what I needed.” I believe when you go into seasons of prayer about things, you ought to ask God to give you a verse. We need to let God lead us through His precious Word.
I love the book of Hebrews. Turn to Hebrews 12:1-2, a very familiar passage of Scripture, but I like it so much. The Bible says, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Lay aside every weight and sin, because that weight and sin causes us to take our eyes off of the Lord. Looking unto Jesus.
As soon as people begin to talk about the impossibilities and not about the God of the impossibilities, I soon find out they haven’t been with the God of the impossibilities, spending time in the Word of God. Because time after time as I read and study through the Bible, I see how God took impossible circumstances and turned them for His glory. I see how God has done mighty things to overcome impossible circumstances and brought about great victory.
This one thing I’ve learned about victory, it is not the victory that God wants, but the victor. Think about that because that’s heavy. It’s not the victory that He wants; it’s the victor. He wants you and I. He wants you and I to be victorious Christians. He wants us to depend on Him for every crossing in life. I’m at some personal crossings in my own life right now. I have to trust Him to cross. I can’t just look around and say, “It’s impossible.” I’m crossing some things with my health and not being able to physically do some of the things I used to do. That’s a tough thing for me.
Not long ago, I was getting after some young punks and they said, “Shut up, old man.” That was the first time anybody ever called me ‘old man.’ I walked away from those kids and said, “You know what? They’re right.” I go look in the mirror and I’m gray headed and bald. Maybe I’ve still got a lot of years here, but nobody knows. For some of you, you’re crossing into the twilight years of your life. My dad said it truer than anybody. “Son, there is more sand in the bottom of the hour glass than there is in the top.” You’ve got to accept that and just face those things and go forward by faith. Remember, it’s about the victor.
This crossing over into God’s blessing and victory is about a life of no self-interest. It’s about a life of no sensitivities or injustices, a life which isn’t provoked, a life which isn’t caught up in jealousy watching everybody else. We’re keeping our eyes on Him. A life which isn’t seeking a blessing, but only wants to seek the Lord and please Him.
It’s amazing. God did not force them to cross this impossible Jordan, but they had refused to cross before and faced the consequences for 40 years. God never forces us to do anything. He wants to lead us, to go before us. We have a God that doesn’t lead from behind. He leads from the front. He leads the way and He gives us a free choice and a free will to choose to follow.
I’m wondering today as we talk about life’s impossibilities, will you stand by faith on top of those impossibilities? It’s a choice. It’s hard. I’ve learned in life nothing is easy. But that’s why we need a miracle-working God.
All the way up to probably age 47 or 48, I would jump out of bed in the morning. My wife would say, “How do you get out of bed and just go?” I could stay up late to all hours of the night, but I’d get up at the same time and go, and not have a problem. Now I can’t wait to get to bed and I don’t want to get up. I know it’s physical. I used to preach against snooze buttons, but I think I’m going to recant everything I ever said about them. No, I’m just kidding.
Our church faces impossibilities, wanting to grow and go at a struggling time, a time that seems filled with overwhelming impossibilities. Remember that God knows where we are at and knows what is going on. We are pulling our boot straps up and tightening our belt and trimming everywhere possible to trim and going forward, but we still have to face the impossibilities. You can’t run away and hide. We’ve got to be yielded to let God lead us. One of the greatest dangers as a child of God is trying to figure things out yourself, not being led by the Spirit of God.
We wouldn’t have a football camp today unless we had let God lead us across some impossible times. I was watching the promo video that is ready to be mailed out. Brother Booth told the story how he came to me with the idea of a football camp. I said, “Let’s do it.” I could have said, “How are going to do it? We’ve got to have equipment. We’ve got to have this. We’ve got to have that. It’s impossible. How could we ever do it?”
I believe you’ve got to be organized. You’ve got think things through. But I remember our first football camp. The dates got mixed up with the Riddell Corporation. The vice president of Riddell had become a friend of mine. We met through the president of the National Pop Warner League, and he introduced us to the vice president of the Riddell Corporation, Angelo Debario. Angelo became our friend, but somehow we got the dates a week off. We were waiting for the equipment to come in and the equipment showed up a week late after camp was over.
We were in trouble with no equipment. What are we going to do? An impossibility – we failed. We had 24 boys coming and some coaches and we failed. Brother Sanney coming from Ohio, a layman Brother Booth had met, and was a godly man, a coach. Others that came in to help us. We failed. It’s impossible. Brother Booth had come in early. We began to pray and ask God what to do. God provided. Amazing, how God provided the equipment. You’ve got to let God lead, and then you’ve got to keep the way clear.
I wonder today what’s in the way of victory over your impossibilities? Understand as a child of God, even if it is this impossibility of cancer, Heaven is not a bad deal. It’s a win, win, when you know the Lord as your Saviour. I’m reminded of the Gomez family and watching Mrs. Gomez go home to be with the Lord, watching Brother Gomez and his children stay beside their mother, watching her say goodbye and crossing over. What a blessing.
My dear friend, Brother Gomez, thought it would be an impossible thing, that he could never bear this. He would as soon die and go be with her. He didn’t know that God had a plan and that he would spend some months in God’s school of suffering and heartbreak, and then God would help him to cross over this impossible Jordan and now be married again. God had provided in another impossible situation. Who will marry Dr. Keith Gomez? Who wants to step into that position as a pastor’s wife of a large ministry, of a national preacher that travels? God had the one.
In impossibilities God says, “This is good. It’s My turn now. There is no way they can see to do it. There is no way anyone else can take the credit. There is no way they are going to be able to scheme their way through this one. This one is all Mine.”
God works in impossibilities. God is well able to solve impossibilities in marriages that are seemingly at the end. You have to choose to let the impossible God work. This impossible Jordan, I challenge you dear people of God, when you reach an impossibility, it’s time to step back and say, “God, it’s Your turn.” If it’s financial impossibilities, “Lord, I’ve done all I know I can humanly do. I tithe. I’m faithful. I manage my money. You are going to have to provide the increase.” He will. You may lose some hours. You may even lose your job, only to find that God gives you a better job. That’s how He works.
Today maybe you are crossing your impossible Jordan. Face it, don’t run from it. Let God lead. Keep your eyes on Him. Face the conflict. Let God lead in the crossing and keep the way clear today. God has the solution to your impossibility. He has the power and wisdom that we lack. Follow Him, and He will lead you to the victory side.