'For You Have Not Passed This Way Before'

The last two nights Susie and I have rented movies, partly (I must acknowledge) in an attempt to avoid having to think about the inevitable. It is really starting to hit home now: This baby girl is going to be born soon, and with her first cry she is going to struggle to breathe. Though at our last meeting we were too fearful to ask the doctors point blank about her chances of survival, the impression we were left with was basically 50/50.

And yet: Christ is present. He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. He knows how to minister to weak and fearful children. "The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down," we were assured in this morning's worship service at Park Cities Presbyterian Church. "The Lord watches over the sojourners."

The sermon, based on Joshua 3 — the history of Israel's passing through the Jordan River into the Promised Land — was titled "The Lord Will Do Wonders Among You." The children of Israel were told right up front to keep their eyes on the ark of the covenant "in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before."

Now keep in mind that the Jordan at that time of the year was raging, overflowing all its banks. It was not crossable. But just as Peter would one day step out of the boat onto the water, his eyes fixed on the true ark of the covenant, likewise these children of Israel stepped out in faith.

Matthew Henry comments that "while we are here we must expect and prepare for unusual events, to pass ways that we have not passed before, and much more when we go hence; our way through the valley of the shadow of death is a way we have not gone before, which makes it the more formidable."

I also find it interesting, and helpful, that Calvin says it was necessary for the children of Israel "to be divinely guided by an unknown way; that anxiety and fear might keep them under the protection of the ark." Indeed, Calvin says the fact that the river was overflowing "increased their fear and anxiety. God was pleased that his people ... should contend with these obstacles, in order that the victory of their faith and constancy might be more illustrious."

Susie and I have not passed this way before. These are uncharted waters, if you will. But insofar as it causes us to turn our eyes upon Jesus and look full in his wonderful face, fear is our friend. And we know that, as the soloist sang this morning, "From life's first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny."

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