Today, we begin a new sermon series that deals with the very core of what it means to be a Christian. The Bible is full of individuals and groups of people who did incredible things, not because of the strength they had in and of themselves, but because of their great faith in God.
A God-sized faith is displayed when we step out in trust before the miracle takes place. It means we keep our eyes on Jesus when the storms are raging around us. It means we are willing to follow God without fully even knowing where He will take us. And it means living for God, even if it costs us something.
For the next few weeks, we are going to explore the lessons we can learn from the extraordinary faith of some of the greatest stories in Scripture. In order to begin this series on faith and trust, it would be helpful to define what we mean by faith because there are many different ways to talk about this aspect of our relationship with God. But there is a passage of Scripture that captures it in a simple and concise way. We find it in the book of Hebrews.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
So faith is confidence that what we hope for will actually happen. Faith gives us assurance about the things we cannot see. In other words, it’s trusting. It’s confidence in what or who we do not see, but yet who we know is trustworthy.
When people have faith in Jesus, they are placing their belief, hope, and trust in someone they do not see, someone they cannot touch or feel in physical form. Yet, they hold this deep conviction that the Spirit of God is so worthy of their confidence.
Maybe it is better to just demonstrate this truth. I’m going to show you what faith looks.
We are going to do what’s called a trust fall in front of everyone. Carter, please come up front. He’s going to stand with his back towards me, and on the count of three, he’s going fall straight back and hope that I will catch him. That’s faith, but a little too obvious. I’m bigger than him, so in his mind, I should be able to catch him.
But here’s what God-size faith looks like. This time, I’m going to turn around. He’s now going to count to three, and I’m going to fall back and trust that he will catch me and not allow me to hit the floor.
True faith incorporates both belief and action. Carter believed I had his best interest in mind, and he believed that I would keep him safe. I believed that Carter had my best interest in mind and that he would keep me safe. We proved our faith by being willing to take the fall. We took action. That’s true faith. It’s an assurance and a conviction of things hoped for and yet unseen.
God desires for His people to live out extraordinary faith. The stories of faith in the Scriptures have been given to us as great examples to follow. The first story we will look at today shows us that sometimes we have to take a first step to see that God is trustworthy.
POINT #1 – We Become Witnesses of God’s Power When We Are Full of Faith.
The Bible tells the story of how Moses rescues the people of Israel after 400 years of slavery in Egypt, and then they began a long journey, that is called Exodus, to a place that had been promised to God’s people long before their time. It was called the Promised Land and was said to be a place “flowing with milk and honey.” It was a symbol of God’s blessings.
But a problem arises as God’s people realize that the land of Canaan is inhabited by giants. This causes fear in their hearts, and they decide it’s too scary to take the land over, so they don’t want the Promise Land. By this time, God had put up with a lot from the Israelites. Again and again, the people had refused to trust and obey God even though God continuously showed them His power and love for them. The whole nation showed distrust in God, except for two men, Caleb and Joshua.
So God told them, since their greatest fear was dying in the wilderness, that they would wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until that entire generation (except for Caleb and Joshua) had died. In 40 years, a new generation would have a chance to enter the Promise Land. And by this time, they have a new leader, Joshua.
In order to take the land of Canaan, they would still have to exercise extraordinary faith. The book of Joshua begins with Joshua readying his people to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land. This is the first test for Joshua and the Israelites. The future is uncertain. The way is dangerous. However, God gives the people clear instruction for their next steps of faith.
Early the next morning Joshua and all the Israelites left Acacia (uh-kay-sha) Grove and arrived at the banks of the Jordan River, where they camped before crossing. 2 Three days later the Israelite officers went through the camp, 3 giving these instructions to the people: “When you see the Levitical priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord your God, move out from your positions and follow them. 4 Since you have never traveled this way before, they will guide you. Stay about half a mile behind them, keeping a clear distance between you and the Ark. Make sure you don’t come any closer.”
5 Then Joshua told the people, “Purify yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do great wonders among you.”
6 In the morning Joshua said to the priests, “Lift up the Ark of the Covenant and lead the people across the river.” And so they started out and went ahead of the people.
Camped on one side of the Jordan River, the people are told that when they see the priests move the Ark of the Covenant, they are to follow. The Ark was very significant to the Jewish people. They believed it housed the physical presence of God. So God gives this instruction because God wanted the Israelite people to stay in step with Him. Not to go before Him or too far behind Him. Instead, He wanted them to follow as He led them.
If they did, Joshua promised that they would see the Lord do amazing things. God desired obedience from His people, and their faithfulness would result in Him showing His power and might right in their presence.
Fun fact; something you may or may not know is that Arabian horses go through intense training in the deserts of the Middle East. The trainers require absolute obedience from the horses and give them a final test to see if they are completely trained. The final test is almost beyond the endurance of any living creature. The trainers force the horses to go without water for many days. Then they turn the horse loose, and as they start running toward the water, just as they get to the edge, ready to plunge in and drink, the trainer blows his whistle, and the horses who have been completely trained and who have learned perfect obedience stop.
They turn around and walk back to the trainer. They stand there quivering, wanting water, but they wait in perfect obedience. When the trainer is sure that he has their full obedience, he gives them a signal to go back and drink.
In order to see God move powerfully in our lives, we must follow His lead. We must be obedient. There have been times in my life when I have operated full of faith. When I prayed, read His word, and spent time with other believers, I have sensed God’s leading and knew His will for me. Those times have only been a reality though because I have been trained to listen to Him and respond to His leading. I don’t always do it perfectly; however, the times that I do have produced amazing results that have increase my faith in Him even more.
I have found that the power of God at work in my life is directly linked to my proximity to Him. When my faith in God declines, it’s always when I have distanced myself from Him. It’s always when I have failed to follow His leading closely. If we want to see God at work in our lives, we have to be obedient and follow closely.
In this story of faith, God is trying to instill trust in His people, to trust Him and trust their new leader, Joshua. God wants the people to see Joshua in the same light that they saw Moses. So the first thing He does is split the Jordan River for Joshua just as He split the Red Sea for Moses. There is a crucial verse in this story that offers an important key to living with God-sized faith.
7 The Lord told Joshua, “Today I will begin to make you a great leader in the eyes of all the Israelites. They will know that I am with you, just as I was with Moses. 8 Give this command to the priests who carry the Ark of the Covenant: ‘When you reach the banks of the Jordan River, take a few steps into the river and stop there.’”
9 So Joshua told the Israelites, “Come and listen to what the Lord your God says. 10 Today you will know that the living God is among you. He will surely drive out the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Per-i-zzites, Gir-ga-shites, Amorites, and Jeb-u-sites ahead of you. 11 Look, the Ark of the Covenant, which belongs to the Lord of the whole earth, will lead you across the Jordan River! 12 Now choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13 The priests will carry the Ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth. As soon as their feet touch the water, the flow of water will be cut off upstream, and the river will stand up like a wall.”
14 So the people left their camp to cross the Jordan, and the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of them. 15 It was the harvest season, and the Jordan was overflowing its banks. But as soon as the feet of the priests who were carrying the Ark touched the water at the river’s edge, 16 the water above that point began backing up a great distance away at a town called Adam, which is near Zarethan. And the water below that point flowed on to the Dead Sea until the riverbed was dry. Then all the people crossed over near the town of Jericho.
Speaking through Joshua, God gives the priests their instructions for what they must do in order for God’s people to enter the Promised Land. They are to take the Ark of the Covenant and enter into the river. This instruction is already a test of their faith because the passage tells us the Jordan River was at flood stage, and we all know how powerful moving water is.
However, Joshua knew that if the people were willing to trust God to make a way through the Jordan, He would also make a way through the new land where He was leading them. The two major obstacles: the river and the enemies.
What I find most interesting about this story is that God did not split the water and provide dry ground to walk across until the priests, carrying the Ark of the Covenant, put their feet into the water. And not just their tip toes. They were to take a few steps into overflowing water. So they were at least ankle deep. Their demonstration of faith, by putting themselves ankle deep in the Jordan, was just the start to the amazing things God would do for them.
POINT #2 – Faith Requires A First Step
Think carefully about this. What are you asking God to do in your life right now? What have you been praying for? What do you sense God is asking you to do about that? What first step may you need to take to step into God’s plan for you?
For the Israelites, they were believing God for a Promised Land of blessings where they would be set apart for Him. What about you? Maybe you sense God is wanting you to make the first step in reconciling a relationship. Maybe God is wanting you to move past some kind of sin that has held you captive. Maybe God is wanting you to begin tithing, making a commitment to Him to give of your finances to help continue ministries here in this church. Maybe He’s calling for you to sponsor a child overseas. Maybe you sense God is asking you to follow Him into ministry. Or maybe God is wanting you to serve someone in need right in your community.
You may feel scared because it seems like a hard thing to do. You may see a list of obstacles in your way. But what if God is asking you to take just one initial step? You don’t have to have it all figured out. The path may be murky, but the water won’t part until you get ankle deep.
Having faith in God is really simple in concept – follow closely where He leads and be willing to take the steps. And know that this kind of faith does not affect just you. It also has an effect on those around you. Hear how the priests’ obedience effected the entire Israelite people (my study bible states that it could have been 3 million people).
17 Meanwhile, the priests who were carrying the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant stood on dry ground in the middle of the riverbed as the people passed by. They waited there until the whole nation of Israel had crossed the Jordan on dry ground.
These priests were obedient to God’s instructions, it was their life that could be washed down the river if God didn’t come through on this. But the water did part and as long as they stood in the middle of the dry riverbed, the whole nation of Israel was able to pass through without getting wet.
POINT #3 – Your Step of Faith Could Be A Blessing To Others.
Faith is rarely a decision with only personal consequences. Because of Joshua’s willingness to lead God’s people, because of the willingness of the priests to step into the river, a way was made for God’s people to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land.
When we step out with trust in God, there are often others around us who benefit. A father who is full of faith will have a positive impact on his children. A wife full of faith can transform her spouse. A single family that is full of faith can affect a whole neighborhood.
God may be inviting you to step out in faith not only for your benefit. Your trust in God may be a catalyst for blessing people all around you. Someone who stepped out in faith and is still making a great impact on people’s lives today is someone who died over 100 years ago. His name is William Booth. He was a Methodist preacher in England in the mid 1800’s who, along with his wife, Catherine, faithfully founded the Salvation Army.
I love the way he said this about faith and action. “Faith and works should travel side by side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works; and then faith again, and then works again—until they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other.”
Yet our disobedience can limit God’s work in our lives. God can be trusted, and He will bless your obedience. For the Israelites, the first steps of obedience would allow them to see the miracle. What if God is waiting for you to exercise your faith by taking the first step, to step out in faith before you even see the miracle?
Your step of faith ought to lead to a step of action. So I want to invite you to spend a moment in prayer asking God to speak to you about what step of faith you need to make today. Because when God speaks, it is time to take the first step.
PRAYER: God, help us trust you with every opportunity you place in our way. Give us your mind and heart as we walk out our faith each day. We know that at times we may feel afraid, but help us to boldly follow you for our own sake and the sake of those around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Decide to do the hard things, and see God move in powerful ways.