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“Stepping Out By Faith”
Today we are looking at part 2 of our series within our series on Practical Faith as we look at Joshua and the children of Israel as they ready themselves to cross over the Jordan River and into the Promise Land. And by doing so we’ll see the faith it takes to step out into the promises of God.
We are kind of picking up our study from where we left off last week, as part of the process of Joshua defining His purpose as He and Israel were about to step out by faith and cross over the Jordan River and into the Promised Land.
One reason why people lack vision is because they lack the faith to believe that God will do what He has promised. The first time the children of Israel were at the border of the Promised Land they didn’t enter because they lacked the faith to believe, so they never received what God had in store for them.
However, after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, they didn’t make the same mistake twice. They moved forward and stepped out by faith, keeping their eyes firmly fixed upon the Lord, and this time they crossed over into God’s promises.
Let’s take a look at this story.
“Then Joshua rose early in the morning; and they set out from Acacia Grove and came to the Jordan, he and all the children of Israel, and lodged there before they crossed over. So it was, after three days, that the officers went through the camp; and they commanded the people, saying, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, the Levites, bearing it, then you shall set out from your place and go after it. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure. Do not come near it, that you may know the way by which you must go, for you have not passed this way before.” And Joshua said to the people, “Sanctify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.” Then Joshua spoke to the priests, saying, “Take up the ark of the covenant and cross over before the people.” So they took up the ark of the covenant and went before the people.” (Joshua 3:1-6 NKJV)
“So it was, when the people set out from their camp to cross over the Jordan, with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as those who bore the ark came to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of harvest), that the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap very far away at Adam, the city that is beside Zaretan. So the waters that went down into the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, failed, and were cut off; and the people crossed over opposite Jericho.” (Joshua 3:14-16 NKJV)
The people were about to cross over into the Promised Land, but there was one obstacle before them, the Jordan River. Normally the Jordan is not that wide or fearsome, but in the springtime it’s generally flooded, and so instead of calm flowing waters, the children of Israel encountered a rushing raging river, and to cross it at this time wouldn’t be the smartest decision, in fact, they may have said that it was insane.
But God commanded that they cross if they wanted to enter the promises. As such, they were to enter these raging waters, but not presumptuously, but with full faith in God.
And so, they began where all faith begins, and that is with the Lord God, and in keeping their eyes firmly fixed upon Him.
Solomon said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV)
The word, “acknowledge,” means to know God in a real and intimate way. And so, as we looked at this last week, if we want the Lord to direct us in the way we should go, then we have to know Him personally.
Now, Jesus tells us to love God with the whole of our being, that is, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). And that sort of love means that we are to make Him first and foremost in our lives. And that’s exactly what Joshua commanded the children of Israel to do when he said they were to “sanctify” themselves before the step of faith was made.
To sanctify means to set ourselves apart, and to be completely dedicated unto the Lord and in His service.
We see this in the command when the people were told to keep the Ark of the Covenant clearly in their sights, and not to move until it moves. Back then, the Ark represented the Lord’s presence among His people, and so in essence the people were told, “Don’t move until you see God move.”
The priests were to carry the Ark into the Jordan River and the people were to follow. To the priests Joshua said, and I’m paraphrasing, “Don’t wait until the waters to go down, rather step into the river now and see God move.” (Joshua 3:6)
It’s similar to when Jesus told His disciples to get into a boat and cross the Sea of Galilee. But while they were following His instructions a great storm came and they were tossed about pretty good. Then in the midst of the storm Jesus came walking on the water, and it says they were troubled.
Jesus immediately assured them that they weren’t seeing a ghost, and then Peter asked if Jesus would command him to come on the water to Him, to which Jesus replied, “Come.” Peter stepped out of the boat and onto the water and began one of the greatest walks of faith ever known. Yet, as he began to look around at the wind and waves, he began to sink. Immediately he cried out for Jesus to save him. Jesus reached out and pulled Peter back up and said, “Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt.”
Now it’s easy to get on Peter’s case for not trusting, but if the truth be told, most of us would have never gotten out of the boat to begin with. It’s true that Peter had little faith, but for most of us it would have been less than a little.
This is where we find the priest in our story. They had to get their focus off of the current condition, that is, the raging water, and put it on God’s promise. And so into the water they went. They couldn’t wait for the waters to recede, because if they waited they would still be standing on the shoreline today.
We cannot afford to wait until the circumstances in our lives to get manageable; instead we need to venture forth by faith upon God’s word. You see it wasn’t until they stepped into the river that the waters began to pile up several miles north of where they stood.
Now catch this, these priests had to stand there in the river until miles of raging water passed by them; water that threatened to drown them and wash them away.
That’s the way it feels when we step out by faith in the dreams and visions of God. It feels like the waters of difficulties and problems are going to drown us. But before we can enter into the fullness of the promises, we’ll have to face these same seemingly impossible situations and obstacles.
But we do so by faith and with hope. I love what the Lord said in Isaiah 43:1-2.
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.” (Isaiah 43:1-2 NKJV)
But, to get to the other side we must stand resolute upon God’s word and be obedient to what He asks us to do, no matter what the situation and consequences may be.
It’s always an exciting thing, and a bit fearful as well, to give God a chance to do something great in our lives. But God doesn’t want to do it alone, He desires for us to join Him on these, shall we call them, great adventures. But to fully find out what God is doing, we have to step out by faith. But such ventures shouldn’t be presumptuous, thinking that God must do what we’ve determined is necessary; rather it’s trusting God at His word and not falling back to our own understanding and power to work it out.
“‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6 NKJV)
We see these stories of faith throughout the Bible.
In 1 Samuel chapter 14 we see King Saul and Israel’s rag tag army with no weapons facing the awesome military might of the Philistines. Many in Saul’s army began to desert, fleeing across the Jordan River or hiding up in the mountains.
But Jonathan, Saul’s son, caught the vision that he could defeat the Philistines. He told his armor bearer of this vision saying that if God wanted to defeat the Philistines He didn’t need a whole army. He said that if God wanted to defeat the Philistines He could do it with one man as easily as with a thousand.
Now according to human logic that’s nuts, but from God’s standpoint it made perfect sense. All God needs is one person in harmony with His will and purposes, and with that person God can do great things.
So these two ventured out by faith saying, “Let’s see what God wants to do!” Stepping out by faith is simply making ourselves available for God to use.
But Jonathan didn’t proceed presumptuously; rather he set up a safeguard. If the Philistines said, “Wait there and we’ll come down to you,” then it wasn’t of the Lord. But if the Philistines said, come on up, then God wanted to deliver the Philistines into Jonathan’s hand.
By leaving the matter open to the Lord, Jonathan and his armor bearer were able to defeat the Philistines, and their faith was greatly rewarded. They gave God an opportunity to work by making themselves available for God to work through.
Another classic example of stepping out by faith is the story where the Syrians surrounded and besieged Samaria in 2 Kings 6-7. As a result there was a great famine in the city. One day the king took a walk on the wall when a woman cried out to him. She and another woman made a pact that they would eat their babies to survive, but the other woman reneged.
This so outraged the king that he tore his clothes and blamed God for their plight and swore to kill the prophet Elisha.
The Lord, however, told Elisha that the king was on his way to do him harm, but when the king arrived, Elisha told the king that the very next day food will be plentiful. The officer who accompanied the king scoffed, not believing prophet. He said, “If God opened up heaven itself could such a miracle take place?”
Elisha replied, “Yes, you shall see it with your eyes, but you shall not eat of it.”
Why did the officer balk and such a promise? It’s because it doesn’t make sense to our human understanding. We see the circumstances and think they are beyond anyone’s ability including God’s.
It’s unbelief that stopped the children of Israel from entering the Promise Land the first time, and it’s unbelief that stops us at the boarder of attaining all the promises of God. And now, it’s this officer’s unbelief that will prevent him from participating in this great miracle that’s about to happen, and that miracle happened because of the faith of four lepers.
As the story continues four lepers lived outside the city gates, unable to come in because of their condition. They lived off the garbage of those within the city. But there was nothing to eat in the garbage, so they said, and I paraphrase, “Why are we just sitting here until we die? We can’t enter the city, and even it we could there’s only famine. Let’s go to the Syrians and see if we can get some food from them. If they do, we live, but if they kill us, what’s the difference?”
Sometimes we have to come to the place where we have to face the facts that what we’re doing isn’t working. So we have to believe in God and in His word and step out by faith into something new.
Well that evening when the lepers arrived at the Syrian’s camp it was empty. You see, the Lord had caused the Syrians to hear sounds of Egyptians chariots, so they fled for their lives leaving everything behind. So the lepers started going from tent to tent, eating their fill, and buried the silver, gold and the possessions they found.
But soon they felt guilty and went to tell the king and people of Samaria. Once it was verified, the people rushed out the city gate, which was manned by the officer that doubted. He was trampled to death, and so why he saw it, he didn’t partake of it.
One last story before we end, and it’s found in 2 Chronicles 14
The story is about King Asa. He was 25 years old when he ascended the throne. Shortly thereafter the Ethiopians came to battle with a million-man army. Asa immediately went to the Lord and prayed.
“Lord, it is nothing for You to help, whether with many or with those who have no power; help us, O Lord our God, for we rest on You, and in Your name we go against this multitude. O Lord, You are our God; do not let man prevail against You.” (2 Chronicles 14:11NKJV)
This was basically the same thing that Jonathan said, and what the Apostle Paul says to the Roman church
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31 NKJV)
God heard Asa’s prayer and gave him the victory. On his way back the prophet Azariah said,
“Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.” (2 Chronicles 15:2 NKJV)
Under the reign of Asa, the nation prospered and the people were blessed. But toward the end of his reign, the northern kingdom of Israel began building fortified cities on the boarder to begin a siege.
To stop this Asa hired the Syrians to come down and attack Israel. Israel pulled its troops to fight the Syrians allowing Asa and Judah to tear down these fortifications.
The strategy was successful, but not in the eyes of God.
Hannai the prophet came and gave Asa the bad news.
“Because you have relied on the king of Syria, and have not relied on the Lord your God, therefore the army of the king of Syria has escaped from your hand. Were the Ethiopians and the Lubim not a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him. In this you have done foolishly; therefore from now on you shall have wars.” (2 Chronicles 16:7-9 NKJV)
When Asa had no strength and looked to God, God brought victory. This was the Lord analysis to Paul.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NKJV)
What Asa tried to do was to complete in the flesh what God had begun in the spirit. Paul makes this same argument to the Galatian Church.
“Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3 NKJV)
God desires to do a great work on our behalf, so let’s not blow it by trying to do it in our own power or with our own understanding.
Instead God is looking for those who will make themselves available and who will live in harmony with His will and His word.
God desires us to step out by faith and see Him move. Let’s be led by the Spirit and stop being afraid to step out and follow.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study