Jimmy Wayne never knew his father. His mom spent more time in prison than out. When he was twelve years old, she was released from jail and took up with a troublemaker. They loaded Jimmy into the backseat of the Olds Delta 88, and for a year the car was his home. “It had bench seats and smelled like body odor,” remembers Jimmy. They drove from city to city, avoiding the police.
After miles of drifting they dumped Jimmy in the parking lot of a Pensacola, Florida, bus station and drove off. He was thirteen years old. He had no home. No future. No provision. One day while wandering through a neighborhood, he spotted an older man who was at work in a garage wood shop.
He approached the elderly gentleman and asked if the man had any work. The carpenter sized up the boy, assessed him to be homeless, and decided to give him a chance. The man introduced himself as Russell. He called for his wife, Bea, to come to the garage. They showed Jimmy the lawn mower and how to operate it. For several weeks Jimmy cut the couple’s grass and survived on the twenty dollars they paid him each week.
After some time, Bea asked Jimmy where he lived. At first he lied, afraid she wouldn’t let a homeless boy work. But finally she convinced him to tell her the truth. When he did, the couple took him in. They gave him his own bedroom, bathroom, and place at the dinner table. The home was like heaven to Jimmy. He took a hot bath and ate hot meals. He even sat with the family in the living room and watched television in the evening. Still, in spite of their kindness, Jimmy refused to unpack his bag. He’d been turned away so many times that he’d learned to be wary. For four days his plastic bag sat on the floor, full of clothes, ready to be snatched up when Bea and Russell changed their minds.
He was in the house but not in the house. He was under the roof but not under the promise. He was with the family but didn’t behave like a family member.
Russell eventually convinced Jimmy to unpack and move in. It took several days, a dozen or so meals, and more than one heart-to-heart conversation. But Russell persuaded Jimmy to trust them to care for him.1
Our Father is still working to convince us. Maybe you question your place in God’s family. You fear his impending rejection. You wrestle with doubt-laced questions: Am I really in God’s family? What if God changes his mind? Reverses his acceptance? Lord knows, he has reason to do so. We press forward only to fall back. We renew our resolve only to stumble again.
We wonder, Will God turn me out? Boyfriends do. Employers do. Coaches kick players off the team. Teachers expel students from school. Parents give birth to children and abandon them at bus stations. How do we know God won’t do the same? What if he changes his mind about us? After all, He is holy and pure, and we are anything but. Is it safe to unpack our bags?
God answered this question at the cross. When Jesus died, the heavenly vote was forever cast in your favor and mine. He declared for all to hear, “This child is my child. My covenant will never change.”
Promised Land people believe this. They trust God’s hold on them more than their hold on God. They place their trust in the finished work of Christ. They deeply believe that they are “delivered…from the power of darkness and conveyed…into the kingdom of the Son” (Col. 1:13). They know that Jesus was serious when he said, “[My children] shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28, NIV). They point to Calvary as prima facie evidence of God’s commitment to them.
The followers of Joshua did something similar. They looked not to a hill but to a river. Not to Calvary but to the Jordan. The miraculous crossing convinced them that God was in their presence. As their leader had promised, “By this [crossing] you shall know that the living God is among you” (v. 10).
During most months of the year, the Jordan was thirty or forty yards wide, maybe six feet deep.2 But Joshua received his orders during the season of harvest (v. 3:15). The Jordan swelled to a mile in width, turbulent with the melted snows of Mount Hermon. Crossing the swollen current was no small task. Especially with millions of people!
“Go over this Jordan, you and all this people” (Josh. 1:2). God wanted every man, woman, child, and infant across the river. Not just the hearty and healthy, but the old and feeble, sick and disabled. No one would be left behind. Joshua might well have gulped at this command. Two million people crossing a mile-wide river?
Yet he set the process in motion. “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” (v. 3:1).
The people pitched their tents on the eastern edge of the river. For three days they waited, watching the copper-colored waters and yeasty waves carry debris and trunks of trees. For three nights they slept, or tried to sleep, listening to the endless rush of water in the dark.
Three days. Plenty of time to ask plenty of questions. How will we get across? Will we use a boat? Will someone build a bridge? Will everyone really go? What about the frail? What about the children? Most of all, how can a nation of people cross a flooded, bridgeless, boatless river?
On the third day the answer came.
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.” (vv. 2-3)
The Ark of the Covenant was a small rectangular box, commissioned by God, that contained a trio of Hebrew artifacts: unspoiled manna, Aaron’s walking stick, and the precious stone tablets that had felt the engraving finger of God. A heavy golden plate, called the mercy seat, served as a lid to the chest. Two gold cherubim with outstretched wings faced each other and looked down on the golden lid. The dwelling place of God was between the angels.
When God said, “Follow the ark,” he was saying, “Follow me.” God led the way. Not soldiers. Not Joshua. Not engineers and their plans or Special Forces and their equipment. When it came time to pass through the impassable waters, God’s plan was simple: trust me.
The people did. At the close of the three days, there was a stirring in the Hebrew camp. A chosen band of priests, robed in white, walked toward the river. They carried the ark with acacia poles that ran through corner rings and sat on their shoulders. People stepped out of their tents and watched in hushed silence as priests inched their way down the terraced bank toward the Jordan. The only sound was the rush of the water. It showed no sign of stopping. When they were thirty feet from the riverbank, the Jordan was still a rushing current.
Twenty feet, ten feet, five feet. Fast and furious. Even when the priests were a single step from the water, the flow did not slow. Surely the men paused. Should they proceed? The white-capped flood would knock them over and take the ark with it. Then they remembered what Joshua had said: “When you have come to the edge of the water of the Jordan, you shall stand in the Jordan” (v. 8).
Scripture does not veil their fear: “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…” (v. 15). The priests “dipped” their feet into the edge of the water. They did not run, plunge, or dive into the river. They placed ever so carefully the tips of their big toes in the river. It was the smallest of steps, but with God the smallest step of faith can activate the mightiest of miracles. As they touched the water, the flow stopped as if someone had shut off the water main.
“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” (v. 16).
Zaretan was thirty miles upriver. Thirty miles! In my imagination I had always envisioned a wall of water forming to the side of the ark and the priests. Not so. God began his work upriver. He wanted a wide path through which two million people could cross en masse.
And cross they did! “All Israel crossed over on dry ground, until all the people had crossed completely over the Jordan” (v. 17).
“All Israel crossed over on dry ground.” The men. The women. Old. Young. Feeble. Forceful. Believers and doubters. The faithful and the murmurers.
“All Israel crossed over on dry ground.” Might as well have been concrete. No wagon wheels got stuck. No feet got damp. As the people stood on the western shore, they had no mud on their sandals, no water on their robes, and, most of all, no fear in their hearts.
God did for them what they could not do. Imagine the Israelites as they stood on the western banks of the Jordan. High fives and shouts of “Man alive!” all around! Did they not brim with confidence? Did they not stand in awe of God? If God could turn a raging river into a red carpet, then “Watch out, Jericho. Here we come!” As Joshua had told them, “By this [crossing] you shall know that the living God is among you” (v. 3:10).
The Hebrews knew they couldn’t lose! The bicycle race was downhill with the wind at their backs. They had every right to celebrate.
So do we.
For Joshua’s people, assurance came as they stood on dry land looking back at the Jordan. For us, assurance comes as we stand on the finished work of Christ and look back at the cross.
The river we could not cross? Jesus crossed it. The tide we could not face? He faced it. For us. All of us! The young, the old. The courageous, the timid. Our deliverance is complete. Like the Hebrews we have been dramatically delivered.
But are we deeply convinced? Remember, the Hebrews could have entered Canaan four decades earlier. The prior generation had experienced a miracle every bit as grand. They had crossed the Red Sea (Ex. 14:21-22). Both crossings involved large bodies of water and passage over dry ground. The difference between the first crossing and the second? Joshua’s generation paid attention. The Jordan River crossing convinced them that God was with them.
Let the cross convince you. Be settled about God’s faithfulness. In one of the psalms the writer described a person of faith with these words: “He is settled in his mind that Jehovah will take care of him” (Ps. 112:7, TLB). Life has many unanswered questions, but God’s ability to save needn’t be one of them. Let this issue be settled once and for all.
Look at you. There is no mud on your sandals, no water on your robe. There is no sin on your record, no guilt attached to your name. Let there be no doubt in your heart. If God “did not spare his own Son but gave him for us all,” will he not also give you all you need for a Promised Land life (Rom. 8:32, NCV)?
Join the chorus of the confident and declare, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love…[I]ndeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vv. 38-39, NLT).
Rest in your redemption. The past is past. The future is bright. God’s Word is sure. His work is finished. You are a covenant partner with God, a full-fledged member of his Promised Land development program.
The Jordan is behind you. Canaan is before you. A new season awaits you.
Jimmy Wayne found a new season. He took his place in the family. He went on to get an education. He found a career as a country music singer and songwriter. His best days began when he unpacked his bags. Yours will too.
1. From a conversation with Jimmy Wayne and used by permission. For a full account, see Jimmy Wayne with Ken Abraham, Walk to Beautiful: The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid Who Found the Way (Nashville, TN: W Publishing, 2014).
2. F.B. Meyer, Joshua and the Land of Promise (London: Morgan and Schott, 1870), p. 35
Max Lucado is minister of preaching at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas.
From Glory Days by Max Lucado. Copyright © 2015 by Max Lucado. Published by Thomas Nelson . Used by permission.