Doing the Impossible

Reading: Joshua 3
Is there something that you very badly wish you could do? Someone else can do it and we think, "I wish I could do that too! I wish I could lead the singing like Chris Dick! I wish I had the sort of faith Jack Frewen-Lord expressed!" Or perhaps someone is doing something particularly daring and we say, "There's no way I could do that!" That's the feeling I had when we were on Long Service Leave and we drove up Mount Buffalo. When we got up we saw the hang-gliders. I am quite sure that, aerodynamically, any of those would have carried my weight. But I said, "There's no way I am going to do that!"

You may have heard the confident claim, "The difficult we will do at once. The impossible may take a little longer!" Of course, the people who say that aren't really talking about the impossible, are they? So often our strength, our skills, our confidence and our imagination need to be stretched to a point where the possibilities actually increase.

It is said that a weightlifting coach took his team into the gym and got them to do their very best lift. Then he took them aside and told them that there was a new secret drug - this was before the time of anabolic steroids! - a new secret drug that would significantly increase their strength and their ability to lift. At that point he gave each of them a little pill - which in fact was only sugar! - and took them back to the weights to see what they could do. Their performance improved somewhere between 10 and 30 percent - on a little bit of sugar! Of course, it wasn't the sugar that did it, was it? What he had done was lift their expectation. Very few of us, so we are told, really work ourselves to full capacity. (If you are past the age of fifty, perhaps you shouldn't be trying to work to full capacity! But there are a lot of us who could work a lot harder than we do and we wouldn't die of a heart attack! In fact, we might even prevent one!)

But some things are really impossible! Could you create a seed which would germinate, grow into a plant, produce a flower which has a scent which attracts bees who pollinate it so that it will produce fruit which will would bear other seeds…? The scientist might work to modify existing genetic material to produce new varieties, but create…? Yet while such creation is impossible to us, it is very possible for God who is the Creator!

Facing the Impossible

As we reflect on our Bible reading, let's think about the situation these Israelites were in. The Jordan River was in flood. This has been a regular occurrence over many of hundreds, thousands of years. It is caused particularly when the snows on Mount Hermon melt.

As a sidelight, I think it really makes the story lively to do a bit of lateral thinking when you read the word of God. Do you ever have these other little questions that come up? The Jordan River was in flood. How did those two spies cross the river in chapter 2 to check the defences of Jericho? I am sure that it is easier to get two people across than a whole nation with all their cattle, sheep and goats and all their fighting men with some sort of physical protection on and the women and the children and the old people - to get everyone across.

But there is another, more important question. How will this untrained and untried band of people take possession of this land? We read that there were armed men who were going to cross. But they had been living in the desert. They knew the shape of their swords and spears. They had been involved in a few little skirmishes with the Amorites and the Moabites, but had hardly been tested in a major battle.

Thinking of the task of taking possession of the land - forty years before, from a much better location where they wouldn't have had to cross the Jordan River, down at Kadesh-Barnea, twelve spies had been sent into the promised land (Numbers 13-14), to find out "what kind of country it is, how many people are living there, how strong they are, to find out whether the land is good or bad, whether the people live in open towns or fortified cities, to find out whether the soil is fertile, whether the land is wooded. Be sure to bring back some of the fruit that grows there."

So they went off up and down the countryside and after exploring the land for forty days. They came back and gave a glowing report - rich and fertile - here's some of its fruit - they had a bunch of grapes so heavy that it took two people to carry it on a pole - but the people who live there are very powerful and their cities are very large and well-fortified and, even worse, we saw the descendants of the giants there. It was Joshua and Caleb who said, "We should go in now. We are strong enough!" But the people said, "No, we can't! It's impossible! We felt as small as grasshoppers and that's how we must have looked to them! Let's go back to Egypt!" But Joshua and Caleb said, "The Lord is with us! Of course we can go in!" And the generation that listened to the unbelieving fear of the ten and rejected the confident trust of Joshua and Caleb died in the wilderness.

As we read the book of Joshua we realise that they are facing that same seemingly impossible task, the task that had looked to the generation before to be impossible. Yes, and it had been impossible except for the fact that the Lord had been with them as Joshua and Caleb had said! And forty years later this was still the only way to take possession of the land - to face the impossible odds with the promise that the Lord would be with them!

Purify Yourselves

Then we hear Joshua saying to the people, "Purify yourselves because tomorrow the Lord will perform miracles among you."

Purify yourselves! God is holy! If you are to see God working for you, you too must be holy! God is a holy God. Remember that. Don't just think, "It's going to be a great time. Isn't it going to be a picnic? We're going to see the Lord do a few miracles tomorrow! Is'nt it going to be fantastic?" Purify yourselves!

Again and again we hear the Lord saying to his people, "I am the Lord your God, and you must keep yourselves holy, because I am holy. I am the Lord who brought you out of Egypt so that I could be your God. You must be holy, because I am holy" (Lev. 11.44-45).

That, of course, is not just Old Testament teaching. Don't we shrug things off our shoulders and say, "That was just back in those days!" Let's hear Jesus saying, "You must be perfect - just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5.48). Let's hear Peter writing, "So then, have your minds ready for action. Keep alert and set your hope completely on the blessing which will be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. Be obedient to God, and do not allow your lives to be shaped by those desires you had when you were still ignorant. Instead, be holy in all you do, just as God who called you is holy. The scripture says, 'Be holy because I am holy' " (1 Pet.1.13-16). Or we think of John writing in his first letter, "My dear friends, we are now God's children, but it is not yet clear what we shall become. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he really is. Everyone who has this hope in Christ keeps himself pure, just as Christ is pure" (1 Jn.3.2-3).

Sometimes we talk so easily about the Holy Spirit without realising that he is at work to produce holiness in us. Do you believe that the Father and the Son are holy? Of course they are! The holy Father, the holy Son and the holy Spirit - the Holy Trinity! But we talk about the Holy Spirit because his particular work is to produce holiness in us as believers - to apply the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross in the life of the believer so that the character of Jesus Christ becomes increasingly visible within us! We need to be reminded of that so often!

I am reminded of the words we read in Heb.12.1ff. Having talked in chapter 11 about the heroes of the faith, the writer goes on to say, "As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus…" "The sin which holds on to us so tightly" - "Purify yourselves". What is "the sin that holds on to us so tightly"? Is there something in us that is a barrier to what God is wanting to do? Sometimes people think of particular sins as a cross that they have to bear! No! Sin is not a cross we have to bear! It is something we need to repent of and renounce and accept the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to purify ourselves as we come to the Lord, as we face the impossible.

Obedient Faith

Then we notice how Joshua was calling on the people to exercise obedient faith. As I read this passage, I am always struck at how the priests in v.8 have to wade in and stand near the bank. In fact as they began to wade in the water started receding - so they ended up right in the middle of the stream and there was no water there. But they had to act in obedient faith.

Isn't it true that so often we want to say, "Lord, you've got to do something! I'm going to sit here and watch while you do something, Lord!"? And the Lord is saying, "Step out!" It is as we act in obedient faith that the Lord does his work.

Notice in vv.15-16 "As soon as the priests stepped into the river, the water stopped flowing and piled up…" The people were able to walk across.


The memorial stones were set up - in the river to be submerged and at Gilgal where they camped that night. These were to be a testimony to succeeding generations.

The people of Israel didn't stay at that camp at Gilgal.

Sometimes that is what we would like to do. Remember when Peter and James and John went up on the mountain with Jesus and the appearance of Jesus was transformed before their eyes and they had this wonderful experience of seeing Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus - a wonderful glorious experience. And Peter said, "Lord, it's great for us to be here! Let's set up three tents - one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah - and let's stop here! Wouldn't that be tremendous - to stop here on this mountain?" But we know that Jesus didn't let them stay on that mountain.

I believe that it is important, as we move forward, continuing to exercise obedient faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, to remember what he has done in a particular situation of our life. But we don't stay back there. There are a lot of people who stay back in the past, who remember the great times that God has done. (Since coming here I have heard people talk about the great times when fifty or sixty people used to come to the evening service and "wasn't that great?" Of course it was great. But it was quite a while before we came that there ceased to be that number of people here.) But the Lord is calling us on. Remember and thank God for what he has done, but don't try to live there. That is the testimony, but let us move forward in obedient faith, trusting in the Lord!

Well, what is the impossible thing for you? Jesus said that if we have faith we can say to this mountain, "Be removed and cast into the sea" and it will be done. I am not sure if you have a mountain that needs to be cast into the sea. Jesus said that whatever we ask for in his name he will do it.

I am not asking what you can do. God expects each one of us to do some things this week. We are not in the Mary Poppins situation - where they are tidying up the room and things are zipping and going into drawers so that they have lots of time to play and do the exciting things Mary Poppins has for them to do. It isn't really like that, is it? Does Jesus do that for you? Does Jesus do your chores? No! you are meant to do those things in your life. We are not meant to laze around and expect him to do what he has given us to do!

And that's true in the Christian life. You don't sit in a vacuum and say, "Lord, I want to grow!" You read the Word. You give yourself to the discipline of prayer and fellowship - putting yourself in the place where you will be able to grow. This is very important.

But what are the impossible things - the things you can't do, yet that are part of what the Lord wants to do through you? What are those things that your heart yearns for, that you know are impossible apart from God? God is calling on you tonight to purify yourself - see what the junk is that you need to get rid of from your life, whether it is things to confess or things to be off-loaded - to purify yourself, and to be ready then at his bidding to step out in expectant and obedient faith in him.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Mooloolaba Uniting Church,23 October 1994
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, 1992.

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