In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside; death of death and hell’s destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side. (Lutheran Service Book 918:3)
The Israelites were on the verge. They were about to cross over the Jordan into Canaan. They were about to die to landless wilderness wandering Israel, and rise to land flowing with milk and honey Israel. They were about to be blessed with a good, abundant land, an Eden-like land. And who led them? The Lord. His ark. Carried by His priests. When their feet touched the water, when the Lord went into the water, something happened. The waters piled up like a heap. They stopped. The Israelites had a clear shot to the land of the Lord’s promise.
In Christ we’re on verge of Jordan too. Not merely about to die, but dead already, and eager to die. Ready to cross over to another life, the better life of heaven in Christ’s eternal kingdom. For in Christ, by baptism we are dead to sin and alive in Christ. For in Holy baptism your old sinful self born of flesh died, and a new righteous you, born of the spirit was raised. And that means that both death and life live in you. Sin and righteousness. For there is an old man of sin who is dying inside you and a new man of faith who lives forever. Christ in you. Alive. Living. And because of these two yous there is a battle going on constantly within you. For the old sinner in you wants nothing that is good. The saint in you wants only what is good, right, god-pleasing. So they are locked in deadly combat within you. Fighting over control of your body. Fighting for your eternal destiny. So that you do not do what you want. You don’t even know what you want half the time, for your desires wage war within you. So that you are on the verge.
Dear Christian, you are so sick of this fight that you often look forward to crossing over final Jordan to your promised land of heaven. The new Eden. A land without sin. Populated with the righteous who are without sin. For when you die, the old sinner in you dies. Only the true you remains. Only the you Jesus raised up in you when you were baptized into Him.
The Israelites knew this. After all they were baptized in the Red Sea when the Lord led them out in pillar of cloud. It was death and resurrection for them. On one side of the water they were slaves. But going down into their watery grave, they arose from the water on other side of the Sea a free people. Dead and alive. Old and new. A new identity. A new Israel. No longer a slave people. Now a free people. A fearsome people whose God had triumphed over all the gods of mighty Egypt. His people. Given His commandments at Mount Sinai. Brought up to the land He’d promised. But this free people, this new people, this people of faith lacked faith. Like dog to its vomit they returned to their fear, to the ways of slavery, to the life they knew before. For they looked at themselves, not at the Lord who led them. For their old selves were still there, even as the new Israel of faith had emerged out of waters of the Red Sea. So they were two Israels: believing Israel, new Israel, and unbelieving Israel, slave Israel.
But despite these two Israels after a time the Lord brought Israel to the verge of Jordan. To a parallel of their baptism. To another body of water. Another miracle. The Lord parts these waters when the feet of those carrying His ark hit the water. But this crossing is less about them and more about the Lord in the water. For centuries later this same Lord who led the Israelites took on flesh and walked among us. When His own physical feet hit the water, Jordan was not parted the heavens were. The Holy Trinity appeared. The Son in the water. The Spirit as a dove. The Father’s voice, “This is My Son whom I love.” The Father exalted his Son Jesus at the Jordan, just as Jesus exalted His Joshua at the Jordan. This is one of the many mind bending details in the Bible for Jesus and Joshua are the same name in Hebrew: Jehoshua which means “the Lord is salvation.” Listen to Him.
There on the verge of Jordan the Lord’s chosen one, Joshua was lifted up as the one who followed Moses. Just as Moses had split the Red Sea with the Lord’s staff of power, now Joshua split the river with the Ark of the Lord’s presence. So Joshua was lifted up as the one giving them the glorious land the Lord promised. A done deal. A foregone conclusion. Joshua, their Lord’s salvation.
And there on the verge, having entered into the land they set up a perpetual memorial. 12 stones. 1 for each tribe of Israel. For 12 is the number of God’s people: 12 tribes of God’s Old Testament peopel, 12 apostles of His New Testament people. God’s people. 12. They set up the stones, to always remind of how He had brought them over, how He would give them the land, how He had fed them miraculously with bread from heaven which was new every morning. And there in their land, at this memorial, they remember the covenant of Abraham. Abraham had received the promise that his descendants would be given this land. And the Lord true to His Word gives the land to them. So they remember this covenanted promise. Which means they put the sign of that covenant in their own flesh for all the boys born out in wilderness over the 40 years hadn’t been circumcised into the covenant. Thus, the reproach of Israel’s unbelief, their unwillingness to go into the land 40 years earlier, was rolled away, as their foreskins are, so that that place of those 12 stones from the river (along with a hill of a million men’s foreskins) is called Gilgal which means “to roll”.
These things happened to them. For us Christians they are an image of our own life. We are born as slaves to the sin we inherit from our first father Adam. We are freed by water and the Lord’s promise in Holy baptism. After which we wander as His people, trusting in Him, fed by His hand the miraculous bread of heaven, His own body and blood throughout the days of our pilgrimage. We believe and doubt, live as His people, and reject Him all along the way. And yet, out of love for His Son who died to take away your sins His Holy Spirit calls you to repentance day by day. Leads you in His ways. Renews you day by day in your baptismal identity. Until He finally calls you to His eternal home, till He opens the way to His house. And just as Jesus opened and led the way for the Israelites by His ark, He himself has already gone that way before us and prepared a place for us in His Father’s house, leading us through death unto our promised land. There He seats you at His eternal banquet table to eat from the bounty of His land which flows with milk and honey forevermore.
Today, Rayna and John Reese who have been baptized will eat of that bread of life, the supper of Jesus’ body and blood. They have craved it. They have a lot more years of life wandering in this valley of shadow of death, this spiritual wilderness. Yet the Lord will lead them. The Lord will feed them with the fruit of His cross given and shed for the forgiveness of their sins and the sins of the whole world. What a glorious miracle is faith which clings Jesus Christ. For He frees us, feeds us, and leads us unto our eternal home. For they, like we, are on the verge of Jordan today.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON