Ever since I was young, I’ve always had a bad memory. My dad, on the other hand, can remember very detailed events from his childhood. I remember him telling me story after story about what he used to do as a kid. But for me, I usually need something physical to remind me of an event. Usually a picture works the best. I remember sitting on top of my dad’s shoulders as we walked at night in Disneyland when I was about five, but it’s because there’s a picture of me doing it that keeps the memory alive for me. And because I’ve seen that picture so often, the memory has lodged in my mind. I remember wearing an L.A. Rams kids costume, but only because the memory has been seared into my mind, since I’ve seen the picture multiple times. I still remember one Christmas when I was about six or seven because I have a stuffed animal from that day.
But if you were to ask me, “Do you remember this, or that?” You’ll usually get a blank look from me, until I can talk about the event enough, to where I unlock that memory. And that’s one of the great things about having a physical memory device like a picture, letter, or something that we attach to that memory. That physical memory device, helps to keep our memories easily accessible.
And it’s that physical memory attachment that we’re going to be talking about today. So if you have your Bibles we’re going to be looking briefly into the book of Joshua chapter 4, verse 1.
And as we turn to Joshua 4:1, I want us to go over the events that we have covered just from last week of our study in the book of Joshua. And the reason why we just need to cover the events from last week is because we left off with the understanding that we hadn’t left the situation of being in the Jordan River.
See last week, we talked boat how God told Joshua that he wanted the Ark of the Covenant to go ahead of the nation of Israel into the Jordan River. The Ark represented God’s presence as the people made their way into the land that God promised them over 700 years earlier. We noticed that God said that he would be with Joshua as he was with Moses, who was Joshua’s predecessor. It was after this assurance of being with Joshua, that God told him to send the priests with the Ark into the Jordan. Then we noticed that Joshua understood that God was going to part the waters, because even without God specifying what would happen when the priests entered the water, Joshua told the people that the water would part.
It was in this interaction between God and Joshua, that we saw Joshua’s understanding that God was with him in this calm moment, just like God had been with Moses in the calamity moment of when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea a little over 40 years before. And it’s in Joshua’s understanding that we walked away last week with an understanding that we need to remember that God has us in the calamities of life, and the calms. And we need to seek him in both, trusting that he will part the waters in our life when necessary.
With that understanding, let’s jump into the book of Joshua chapter 4 starting in verse 1; and like the last two weeks, we’re going to cover an entire chapter today, by looking at some key verses. So I would encourage you this week to revisit this chapter and read the whole thing. Let’s read together.
1 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, 2 “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, from right where the priests are standing, and carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”
4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”
The Israelite people cross the Jordan River and the first thing God has them do is set up a memorial to remember what he had done for them. He tells them to set up twelve stones, each representing the twelve tribes of the Israelite nation. And these aren’t small stones. These are stones that they heaped up on their shoulders.
Now the place that they set up camp and this stone memorial was eventually called Gilgal which means “rolling or circle of stones”. Gilgal became the launching point from where Joshua and the Israelites would move into the land of Canaan. And though Joshua would eventually move the religious center to Shiloh, it was brought back to Gilgal in later years after Shiloh was destroyed by the Philistines.
God kept bringing them back to the place where he told them to remember. Even when eventually, the people turned away from God and Gilgal was turned into a place where the Israelites worshiped other gods in idolatry, it was still remembered as the place where God brought the Israelites across the Jordan River on dry ground. Even today, a Christian church sits on top of the area depicted on a 6th century AD map of Gilgal, in what today is modern day Madaba, Jordan.
Joshua’s words, “These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever”, endure even to today even if the stones themselves don’t.
And so we pick up in verse 19 of chapter 4 where it tells us what happened after they grabbed the stones from the river bed, and came out of the Jordan on the other side.
19 On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. 20 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”
God used these stones to help the Israelites remember who they were in association with him. These stones were a physical memory device to help the people remember God’s work. They were his people, he led them into the promise land through a river that was flooded, but he parted it and made a way on dry ground.
And it’s this emphasis on having a physical reminder, of what God has done, that brings us to today. When we started our study through Joshua, I didn’t plan on this topic being on the day we serve communion, I’m not that good of a planner. But on the day that we celebrate and remember what Jesus did on the cross, of taking a piece of bread, and a cup of juice in remembrance of his death and sacrifice on our behalf, what better day to talk about the great things God has done.
So, when I realized a little over a week ago that this is where God was leading us, I knew it was appropriate to bring our own rocks of remembrance to the table of communion.
Around the room you may have noticed that there are tables set up, with permanent markers and paint on them. Today we’re going to go into a time of music worship where I want to encourage you to do two things:
First, in the middle of the room is the communion table. When you want to, I would encourage you to come up and take communion, the Elders will be here to give it to you. The bread represents Jesus’ body, broken for us on the cross. The cup represents Jesus’ blood poured out on that same cross. These two elements represent the broken relationship we have with God through our sin. That broken relationship through sin, is mended through God the Son taking on our human flesh and frailties. Then having that body broken so that our relationship with God could be fixed, and our sin dealt with so we would not have to face the penalty of a second death. Jesus instructed us to take communion to remember what he had done for us. It is a physical memory device.
Second, I want to encourage you to take the rock you brought with you today, and go to one of the tables and with either marker or paint write or draw something to remind you of what God has done in your life. Something that might be big, or might be small, but you want to remember, and share that memory with others. If you don’t have a rock, we have some for you.
And as you make your way through these two stations, we’re going to be leading music, and we will continue until everyone has an opportunity to partake in both these moments of remembrance.
If you cannot physical reach either of these two stations, simply raise your hand and we will bring the station to you.
When you are done with the stations, I invite you to return to your seat and continue to worship with us through music.
Then at the end, as a Church body, we’re going to go outside and place our rocks together as a memorial of all that God has done.
My challenge for you today, is to remember the things that God has done, so that we will not forget it in the future, and so that generations to come will see that God has done great things.