Our co-laborer in this blog, the Rev. David T. Myers, comes today on this Memorial Day with a sermon suited to the occasion. This departs somewhat from our standard fare, both in content and in form, but I trust you will find it profitable and a blessing to your soul. May God be glorified.
A Memorial Day Sermon
by Rev. David T. Myers
Scripture Lesson: Joshua 3:14 – 4:7
(Illustration) There is on the web a post entitled “Children’s Letters to God.” It is both touching and humorous, to say the least. Let me read just a few to you by way of introduction this morning.
- Eugene wrote, “Dear God, I didn’t think orange went with purple until I saw the sunset you made on Tuesday. That was cool.” God is clearly in His creation for this child.
“Dear God,” Joyce wrote, “Thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy.” She was grateful for the new arrival to her family but hey, God, He hadn’t answered her heartfelt prayer for a four legged addition to the family unit. What gives?!
“I went to a wedding in church,” Neil wrote in his letter, “and the couple kissed right in church. Is that okay?” Good question, Neil. As a pastor who has performed the marriage of a number of couples, I too have wondered about what takes place in weddings.
Nan acknowledged “I bet it is hard for You to love everyone in the whole world. There are only four people in my family, and I can never do it.” The mystery of God’s love.
“Dear God,” Mickey said, “If you watch me on Sunday, I’ll show you my new shoes.”
Perhaps without realizing it, Mickey just affirmed the omnipresence of God. Everywhere there is a there, God is there.
Well, this morning, we want to look at, not our letters to God, but rather His letters to us. They are found in the Bible, one of which is found in the passage which was read for our Scripture Lesson this morning, namely Joshua chapters 3 and 4. So please turn there in your Bible.
All of us here know the history of this national holiday. It began back around the time of the Civil War. It was intended to remember those who had given their all to their country. And it was remembered by decorating the graves of loved ones who has died in the service of that country. As each national conflict came and went, we have seen more reasons to celebrate it. Yet the numbers who do that remembrance are getting smaller and smaller, prompting one individual to bemoan the amnesia of Americans who treat this day only as the beginning of summer, still many hold to the true meaning of memorial day today, especially in this chapel.
Today, from Joshua chapters 3 and 4, we hear the inspiring story of a Biblical Memorial to the God of Israel, and the biblical application to us.
Opening Prayer: Let us pause for a moment in prayer.
OUTLINE: Consider first with me
- AN AWARENESS OF GOD’S PRESENCE in Joshua 3:1 – 6.
Now we didn’t read this portion in our Scripture Reading earlier, but if you scan it quickly, you will see the presence of God found . . . in the ark of the covenant. That ark is mentioned seventeen times in Joshua chapters 3 and 4. Its presence hits us again and again. We cannot get away from it. The inspired writer obviously doesn’t want any of us this morning to miss the importance of the ark, which was the sign of God’s presence among his people. Specifically, how are we to be aware of God’s presence in this scene?
A. Clearly, we are to Perceive God’s presence at a distance. That is found in v. 4 (read)
There was to be a distance of about 1000 yards between the ark and Israel. Some commentators believe it was because of the majestic holiness of God. And there might be some truth to that belief. But it was also, and this is the primary truth, hat they needed to see in person, with their own eyes, what divine miracle God was about to do in their midst.
If they were right behind the ark carried by the priests, they wouldn’t be able to discern what might be happening. But by this distance, all would be able to see God’s great miracle soon to take place before their very eyes.
B. We are also to Prepare for the Lord’s Working in our Midst v. 5 “sanctify yourselves..”
Get apart from the ordinary things of your life and consecrate, dedicate yourself for the great work which Jehovah God is about to do. This certainly involved confession of sins. It involved a time in remembering the Word of God. Prepare yourself in a spiritual way, Israel.
Why bother with this preparation? Because it is crucial that what is about to happen is truly of God. They needed to understand that what was about to happen was a miracle in time and space history. This wouldn’t be some accident of nature. It wasn’t by luck or fortune or chance that the river would soon mysteriously part. God was going to do it. He is the Author of it. They were mere spectators of this miracle. So prepare for it, Israel.
This raises an important question by way of . . .
Application: Question? When we come to chapel each Lord’s Day, are we properly prepared for the public worship of God? Are we prepared to adore God, our Savior and Redeemer? Has there been confession of sins, so that there is nothing to hinder us from approaching God? Have we been praying for Chaplain Sieg who is about to lead us into worship? The prelude played by our organist or pianist is designed to quiet our hearts and prepare for worship.
This applies for all of life as well. Could it be that we fail to detect the Lord’s marvelous working in the routine working of our lives because we have not prepared ourselves to see or even expect that divine working? There is to be a place in our weekly life where God’s Presence is sought through prayer and meditation in His Word, the Bible. Are we engaged in that sacred preparation?
But having looked at the importance of the awareness of God’s presence, let us note second,
II. THE ASSURANCE OF GOD’S POWER in chapter 3 of Joshua, verses 10 – 13.
Look there in your Bibles, especially verse 10 itself. (read)
This is what Bible commentators call “theo-logic.” You take one large display or event of God and from it, you assure yourself that the same God who easily took care of that large event, will take also take care of all lesser events in your spiritual lives.
In the New Testament, it is found in Romans 8:32. Your lay leader read it this morning. Paul writes, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things.”
The most important truth in this text is that God loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son for us. That is the great truth of redemption. But here is a second truth too. To those who have received Him by faith alone, all lesser benefits of eternal life belong to us as well. It is a theo-logic argument, from the greater to the lesser.
In Joshua 3, by crossing the Jordan River by the power of God, or the larger event in the life of the nation, Israel will know that this same God will repel the enemy forces of all of these pagan tribes in the land now. If He can get you into the promised land, then He will surely give you the promised land. No one – not the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites – in other words, all the “ites” will not be able to match up against the absolute power of God. They will know that the living God is on our side.
How God’s people today need to remember this biblical truth. How His church needs to see that the God of the Bible is not just a three letter word in Christian jargon, but he is the Sovereign God who has come, who intervenes in history, who rescues us in our times of need, and who guides all His people in the perplexing times in which we live.
That is my God and your God. Amen? Amen! Even we Presbyterians pastors can say “Amen.”
We have seen the Awareness of God’s Person and the Assurance of God’s Power, now let us see for our third point,
- THE AWESOME GOD OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE Joshua 3:15
I believe all of us here know the thrilling account of Israel crossing the Jordan River. You have heard sermons on this before. You have studied the passage in our Christian Education Classes in Sunday School.
We are reading Joshua 3:14 and following with great expectancy to the pivotal part of the inspired story, when the priests carrying the ark will dip the soles of their feet into the water of the Jordan, with the result that the river will part, it will come to a heap on one side, and the people will go across on dry land. But then, in our section of Scripture, the whole thrilling story comes to an abrupt stop in action. The inspired writer in verse 15 supplies us all with a sentence of raw data on the river conditions of the Jordan in the spring time.
Why did the inspired author ruin a perfectly good story with a report on river conditions? Give me a break! You got to be kidding! Why dash our hopes here?
Answer? Because he wishes everyone here to appreciate the miracle they are about to hear and read about?
So let me give you some familiar facts. Just listen, and some of you may already know about this historical data, but listen anyhow by way of review. I have borrowed it from Dr. Dale Ralph Davis, on of my fellow ministers in his comments on this text. He writes,
“The actual Jordan Valley between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea varies in breadth from three to fourteen miles. Within this valley is the river’s flood plain, which is 200 yards to one mile wide. The floodplain was packed with tangled bush and jungle growth. Thus, it was not the river so much as the jungle growth that was difficult to cross.
Then Dr Davis continue on, “Then there was the river channel, which, was from 90 to 100 feet broad, with a depth of three feet at some fords to as much as ten to twelve feet” at others.”
Illustration: I can remember see a cartoon in a Christian magazine which depicted several of the priests who were carrying the ark. Seeing this water hindrance before them and the people, one of the them says to the others, “Did you ever stop to think of how silly we are going to look if Joshua is wrong” Yes, they would look silly if Joshua was mistaken. But, Joshua wasn’t wrong in his directions to the priests of Israel.
The point is, what Israel faced that springtime was no placid stream like the Yellow Breeches in our county, but a raging torrent, probably a mile wide covering a mass of tangled brush and jungle growth.
This is the import of this sentence in verse 15 which stops our attention in the story. Why did the inspired writer include it, except . . . to remind us that often the God of providence allow us to come into circumstances, into situations so bleak and hopeless, for the very purpose of impressing upon us that when we make it through them, when we endure them, it will only be because of His grace and power, and His grace and power alone!
Our help, the Psalmist reminded us for our Responsive Reading this morning, Psalm 121, “ Our help does come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
IV. Quickly, look at our last point this morning, which is THE APPLICATION OF GOD’S PRESENCE, POWER, AND PROVIDENCE It is found in Joshua 4, summed up in verses 6 – 7 (read)
The memorial pile of stones at the site built by the Israelites after the miracle was intended to, first, to
A. Cause Israel to Remember God’s Presence, Power, and Providence in their Lives and the Life of the Nation
Let’s face it, folks, the greatest enemy of faith may be . . . forgetfulness. We forget what God has done in the past in our lives and thus we too often question God in the present and future. We just simply forget what God has done for us, or for His church in times past.
The pile of stones deposited at the far bank of the promised land after the crossing of the river was intended to remind Israel in all her history that the God of Joshua was and continued to be their God in that same present time and the future. It was a visual aid to that end
B. This miracle was intended to Be an Instruction for Future Generations. Joshua 4:21 – 24
Read vv 21 – 24.
We can almost see in our mind’s eye, a future father and six year old son hiking in Gilgal National Park. The son sees the piles of stones, counts 12 of them, and says, “Hey Dad, what are those stones for?” The curiosity of the son becomes the occasion for the communication of the past event and how Israel’s God unleashed His power for His people.
That provokes in my mind, folks, a question. How much time, parents, did we give to re-telling the story of God’s faithfulness in specific instances of your life? I don’t mean here simply telling our children that this or that happened to you. I mean, how many times did we tell our family the place of God in your life?
If you haven’t done it as a practice in their younger days, it may not be too late to communicate this to your grown children, and especially your grandchildren.
This was the purpose of the 12 stones there on the river bank long ago.
- This miracle was intended to be A Witness to the World
Francis Schaeffer said in his commentary on Joshua “that the stones were to tell the other nations round about that Israel’s God is different. He really exists. He is a living God, the God of real power who is immanent in the world.”
So on this Memorial Sunday, by all means, remember those who served our nation through the years. I can do it for Chaplain US Army Major David K Myers, my father, who served in WW2 through the Korean War. My wife can do it for Newton Baxter, her father, who was a WW2 photographer at a factory building bombers for the war effort.
But as Christians, we can also remember the God of Israel who miraculously led His people across the Jordan River millenniums ago by a miracle in time and space history. That God is alive today. And we are to remember His Presence, His Power, and His Awesome Providence, as He continues to watch over, guide, and protect those who call on His Name today. Happy Memorial Day.