October 25th, 1959 @ 8:15 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-25-59 8:15 a.m.
To you who listen on the radio, these are the early morning services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Crossing Jordan. And the reading of the Scripture is in the third chapter of the Book of Joshua—Joshua the third chapter. God gave to His people a marvelous and a heaven-appointed sign that all the land of Palestine should be theirs. And that wonderful and marvelous and heaven-appointed sign is this, Joshua 3:9 and following:
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.
What a marvelous and wonderful sign. The results are assured says the Lord God through Joshua to His people. All through the seven years of that violent war between the people of God and the desolate, blasphemous Canaanites, there was an assured and certain victory. And God gave His people a sign. And the sign was, when these that bear the ark touch the waters of the turbulent, flooded Jordan, the Jordan shall divide and shall be heaped up, and God’s redeemed people shall cross over the dry riverbed [Joshua 3:13]. He whose mighty hand can stay the flood of the Jordan is the same large and mighty God who assures to Israel a certain and a final victory. It is the same thing as the sign the Lord God has given us from heaven, that we shall triumph over the works of Satan and the powers of darkness and of death [Hebrews 2:14]. When the feet of our Lord Jesus were dipped into the cold waters of death, the waters shrunk and fled away, and God’s people, redeemed and blood bought [1 Peter 1:18-19], shall go over in victory and in triumph [1 Corinthians 15:55-57]. This is God’s heaven-appointed sign.
Now the most reiterated promise, I suppose, in the story of the Mosaic deliverance of the Exodus and the wilderness wanderings of the people of God is to be found in these little words, “I will drive them out.” For example, in the twenty-third chapter of the Book of Exodus, in the last few verses that little phrase is used four different times by the Lord—”I will drive them out” [Exodus 23:23, 28, 30, 31]. Why was it? To us, as we look upon a family and a nation housed and habitating a land, to us sometimes it looks cruel that God would pronounce a judgment like that, “I will drive them out.” Why did God say, “I will dispossess these Canaanites, and Hivites, and Jebusites, and Gergashites, and Hittites?” [Joshua 3:10]. Why does God say, “I will dispossess them of their land and give it to the children of Israel?” [Exodus 23:23, 28, 30, 31].
Now there is a very plain answer to that question, and you will find it three times here in the Book. The first one: in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis and the sixteenth verse, when God speaks to Abraham, He says, “In the fourth generation, out of their captivity shall My children, thy seed, come hither: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” [Genesis 15:16]. And that fullness had now developed. Somehow, God leaves a nation in its perversity and in its iniquity to follow a self-appointed and evil course. But there is a set judgment day for every nation under God’s sun that follows an evil and iniquitous course. God has an appointed time when the flood waters of judgment and of wrath will fall. And the time had not yet come in the days of Abraham. “But it shall come,” says God, “when the iniquity of the Amorite is full” [Genesis 15:16]. And that fullness and that day of judgment had now come [Leviticus 18:24]. And the judgment and wrath of God were executed upon the evil inhabitants of Palestine [Deuteronomy 9:4].
The second reason why God said, “I do drive them out” [Exodus 23:30], is to be found in Leviticus, the eighteenth chapter and the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth verses, when God says to His people, “Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things”—and I would blush to read these things, what God had said His people must not do; no one would read it in a public audience—”Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I drive out before you: and the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants” [Leviticus 18:24-25]—because of the vile, indescribable, abominable, iniquitous immorality of the Canaanites, God says, “I do cast them out. Yea,” the Lord says, “the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.”
That is an identical thing you find repeated again and again in history. When the days of Noah came up unto God, they were vile above all description [Genesis 6:5-8], and the waters of the flood fell upon the evil inhabitants of the children of the earth [Genesis 7:17-24]. The same thing happened again in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah. The people were so vile and so abominable that fire and brimstone fell from heaven to devour the evil inhabitants of the land [Genesis 19:24-29]. That same thing has happened in the story of the nations ever since—Assyria and Babylon, Greece and Rome, and some of the modern nations, like France, the judgment of God upon the indescribable immorality and abominable iniquity of its citizens and its inhabitants; the land itself vomiteth out her people.
The third—and this is a surprising thing—the third reason why God says, “I do drive them out” [Exodus 23:30]—in Deuteronomy, the eighteenth chapter beginning at the ninth verse:
When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of those nations.
There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.
For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee. . . .
For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened unto the observers of times, and unto diviners; but as for thee, the Lord thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.
These diviners, and consulters with familiar spirits, and witches, and wizards, and necromancers, and spiritualists, God says, they transgressed the bounds of humanity that the great Creator hath cast around the human family, and you are not to do it. Any man that consults with a spiritualist or a familiar spirit or seeks to commune with the dead, has violated the boundaries that God has cast around humanity, and it is an abomination unto the Lord, and you are not to do it. “Thou shalt not do it,” says the Lord God. For that reason the Lord says, “I drive out these nations from before you” [Exodus 23:30]. So they fade, they fade as a corrective rod in the hand of God, they fade a great assignment and a great past. Entering into the Promised Land, it is inhabited by the powers of darkness and of evil, but God has promised His people His Spirit goeth with them, and they have an assured and a certain victory [Exodus 23:20, 23].
All right, now let’s follow the crossing of the turbulent, flooded waters of the Jordan. The story is in the third chapter of the Book of Joshua: “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 crossed over” [Joshua 3:1]. They spent the night on the edge of the flooded stream. The name “Jordan” means “down comer, descender.” It starts up here at Mt. Hermon, and you can see the whole length of the land, the whole vista. It starts up there at Mt. Hermon, which is a little over 12,000 feet high, and it descends down to the waters of the Dead Sea, which are 1,292 feet below sea level. And in that small strand and length of land, it comes down furiously, so it is named “Jordan, descender, down comer.”
And they slept that night on the edge, on the brink of those turgid and turbulent floods [Joshua 3:1]. Then the next day Joshua sent his officers through the host and said unto the people, “Sanctify yourselves: for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you” [Joshua 3:5]. Sanctify yourselves. Consecrate yourselves. Wash yourselves clean. Give yourself wholly unto the Lord, for tomorrow He will do wonders among you. When God’s people give themselves to the Lord, God always does miracle-working wonders among His people. In the city of Nazareth, the Scriptures say, “He could do no mighty work there because of their unbelief” [Matthew 13:58]. But let God’s people give themselves in trust and committal to the Lord, and then behold the wonder-working, miracle-working power of God.
Would you like to see the myrtle tree grow instead of a thorn; the fir tree instead of a brier? Would you like to see the desert blossom like a rose? Would you like to see our church rise and put on her beautiful garments? Would you like to see the strong arm of God bared in our midst? Then let God’s church, this people, consecrate themselves unto the Lord and see what God will do. We say the wonder-working, miracle-working power of God is all over and belongs to days past; not so, not so. If God’s people today, any day, this day, will consecrate themselves to the Lord and sanctify themselves unto God, you shall see again the wonder-working power of the Almighty in our midst and in our day and in our generation. “Sanctify yourselves: for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you” [Joshua 3:5]. Then tomorrow came and it came to pass; Joshua 3:14:
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 . . . That the waters which came down from above stood and rose up upon a heap . . . 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 against Jericho.
And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on the dry land in the midst of the Jordan, and all of the Israelites—
all of them, the little, the cripple, the holt, the lame, all of them—
passed over on dry ground, until the people were passed over Jordan.
What a sight; that great host there, facing the turgid flood, beyond the tamarisk and the palm and the city and the land promised to their fathers, and that flood rolling in between, and as the sun rose to their backs and they faced the waters of the flood, there came out of the host a little band of men, and on their shoulders they bore the sacred ark of the covenant, covered over with its veil of blue. They were dressed in white. Their feet were bare. And as they went through from the host and slowly but majestically walked toward the brink of the flood, I can see the hush and the silence and the gay and the wonder and the awe by which every eye followed the steps of those priests bearing the ark of the covenant of God. And when they came to the brink of the flood and their feet were dipped into the tiny wavelets, brown with mud, yeasty with foam in its fierce descent, those waves began to shrink away and the waters began to draw away, and the flood begins to flee away—what an impression that made upon the memory and the conscience of Israel forever. For example, in the one hundred fourteenth Psalm:
When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language;
Judah was His sanctuary, and Israel His dominion.
The sea saw it, and fled: Jordan was driven back . . . What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest? thou Jordan, that thou was driven back?
Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob.
What is the matter, flood? What is the matter, river of death? What is the matter? “What aileth thee … that thou fleddest away? [Psalm 114:5]. The steps of the Lord God of heaven, how it is the cold waters of the Jordan of death, and death flees away.
Now, in these few moments that remain, may I speak of the spiritual, Christian meaning of this glorious and incomparable, heaven-applauded sign? More than just a piece of history; more than just the recounting of how Israel entered into the Promised Land; God’s Book says it is “a heaven-appointed sign,” and it is. In Joshua 3:1 it says, that Israel camped on the edge of the flood. And the next verse, “And it came to pass after three days” [Joshua 3:2]; “after three days; after three days” is the phrase in Scripture which is used for death and for resurrection—“after three days.” As Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights [Mathew 12:40]; or as the prophet Hosea says, “And after three days He will raise us up” [Hosea 6:2]. After three days it came to pass, after three days the death and the resurrection [1 Corinthians 15:4].
In the fourth verse: “But, there shall be a space between you and the ark of the covenant, about three thousand feet: . . . thou shalt not come near unto it” [Joshua 3:4]. But you shall follow, what is that a picture of? There is to be a space between the ark that enters into the flood and you. There is a space between the entrance of our Lord into the cold waters of the flooded Jordan and His people who follow after, His church who shall come after [1 Corinthians 15:23]. There shall be a space in between, our Lord first. As the tenth chapter of John and the fourth verse says, “Our Lord, when He putteth forth His sheep, He goeth before them” [John 10:4].
“I go to prepare a way and place for you” [John 14:2]. “Christ, the first fruits,” says the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians: “Christ, the first fruits: and afterwards they that are Christ at His coming” [1 Corinthians 15:23]. As Colossians 1:18 says, “that in all things He might have the pre-eminence.” There is “a space” in between; our Lord first, and then we in our day, and in our time, and in God’s will, and God’s call; the space in between. The seventh verse: “And the Lord said . . . This day will I begin to magnify thee” [Joshua 3:7]. And the day of the beginning of the magnifying and glorifying of our Lord was in the day when His feet entered the river of death [Luke 24:26]. Yet the Gospel of John, the apostle John, constantly refers to the death of our Christ as the day of His glorification [John 12:27-28]. “This day will I begin to magnify thee, to glorify thee” [Joshua 3:7].
The glorification of our Lord began when He entered the river of death [Matthew 27:32-50], and in His resurrection [Matthew 28:1-6], and in His ascension [Acts 1:9-10], and in His session at the right hand of God [Hebrews 10:12, 12:2]. “This day do I began to glorify thee” [Joshua 3:7], the day of His crucifixion and His death. And the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan until all the Israelites passed over, all of them, all of them [Joshua 3:17]. The strong Son of God held back the heaped-up waters of the flood until all of His children passed over—His little ones, His tender ones, His lame ones, His crippled ones, His weak ones, His strong ones—not a one was left behind. Not a one. All of them passed over, and the strong arm of God held back the waters of the flood until all of His redeemed were passed over [Joshua 3:17].
That same, strong arm of God today, holds back the judgment and the wrath and the outpoured fury of God upon this world until the last one, the last little one, the last believing one of God’s redeemed cross over. And when the last one is in, when the last little one has crossed over, the great flood and the judgment day of Almighty God shall fall upon this evil and villainous and wicked world [1 Thessalonians 5:3]. But the flood cannot come, and the waters cannot descend, and the fire cannot fall as long as on this side there is one little one that trusts in Jesus. I don’t know when it is. I don’t know the date or the hour, but there is a time and an hour known to God when the last believer is in the kingdom [1 Thessalonians 5:4-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:7]. And when that hour comes, it is the end.
God’s children, His little ones in this earth who trust in Him, passing over into God’s celestial and Promised Land; then that strong arm that holds the judgment of God from this world shall be withdrawn. And the flood waters that are heaped up, that are accumulating in these generations and in these years and these centuries shall be turned loose, and all the days of the tribulation and the days of the sorrow of Jacob and the days of that awful and final hour, but God’s children shall have passed over [1 Thessalonians 5:1-6]. For the arm that holds back the flood is the arm that keeps them safe until they have all passed over [2 Thessalonians 2:7]. And then finally, “For Jordan overfloweth all his banks at the time of the harvest” [Joshua 3:15], and God’s children in this story have been brought down to the flooded banks of the Jordan. And all of God’s saints, and all of God’s children some time, some where are brought down to the flooded, fordless, boatless, bridgeless, turgid waters of the Jordan [Hebrews 9:27].
From the day of this incident, throughout the history of Israel, the swelling of the Jordan was used as a picture of tragic and terrible trouble. For example, in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Jeremiah, “If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of the Jordan?” [Jeremiah 12:5] That is a phrase for all who are troubled. Not to weary you, but just one other. Here in Jeremiah 49:19: “Behold, he shall come up like a lion from the swelling of Jordan against the inhabitations of the strong.” The flooding of the Jordan, the swelling of the Jordan, came to be a phrase to refer to awful and terrible trouble. And God’s children are brought down to the flooded river and to the flooded stream, and all of God’s children someday are brought to the edge of that turgid river. Beyond are the aromatic gardens, and the Promised Land, and the home for God’s children; but in between, that awful flood and the sentence of death is in ourselves, and we are helpless and so weak.
Like Abraham, brought down to the edge of that turgid stream; he is one hundred years old, and his wife is ninety years old [Genesis 17:16-19]; and he has no heir [Genesis 15:3-6]. But he staggered not at the promise of God [Romans 4:20]. In himself, no hope; but he trusted in God at the edge of the flooded Jordan [Genesis 15:6; Joshua 3:8]. Or when he offered up his son as a sacrifice, and lifted up the knife to plunge it in his heart; there again at the edge of the turgid waters of the Jordan, trusting in the power of God to raise up the lad from the dead [Genesis 22:1, 10; Hebrews 11:19]. Or like David, anointed as a boy king of Israel [1 Samuel 16:11-13], but in the manhood of his life hunted like a beast by Saul [1 Samuel 24:2]; the years of being on the brink of the flooded Jordan [Joshua 3:8]. Or like Martha and Mary at the tomb [John 11:19], brought down to the edge of the flooded, boatless, bridgeless waters of the Jordan [Joshua 3:8]. In ourselves so weak, so helpless; the sentence of death in our souls standing at the flooded waters of the Jordan; the swelling of the Jordan; the day of awful trouble and difficulty [Joshua 3:8]. I just mention it to make this observation; it’s not by resolution; it’s not by our own strength; it’s not by anything that we can do when we come to that place that we surmount the awful trial and the time of that tragic difficulty: our hope lies in God, and we stand and look up to heaven. “Lord, these hands so weak, and my efforts so futile; and this dark river running in between, O Thou great God, who raised again from the dead our Lord, Jesus Christ [Romans 8:11; Ephesians 1:19-20], O Lord, make a way for us to enter through, to pass between.”
And trusting God, standing at the brink of the river [Joshua 3:8], they saw the waters part [Joshua 3:13-17]. It is no less with us today. We ought not to dread the hour of our great difficulty and trial. For, to the one who has faith in God, when we come to the edge of the waters of the flooded river, God will part them. They will flee away. They will shrink away, and God’s people who trust in Him shall pass through victoriously, triumphantly. It is God’s appointed sign from heaven for the comfort and encouragement of His people [Joshua 3:13].
In this moment now, as we sing our song, somebody to give his heart to the Lord; somebody to put his life with us in the fellowship of the church; would you come immediately? On the first note of the first stanza, we have just this moment, just this moment, in this balcony round, on this lower floor, if the Lord bid you this morning, would you come? Taking Jesus as Savior or putting your life with us in this beloved and blessed church, would you come? One somebody you, or a family you, while we stand and while we sing?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
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