The children of Israel were ready to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. But there was a barrier between them and the city of Jericho. The people of Jericho worshipped Baal. Baal was the god of water, rain, wind, storms, etc. At this time, the Jordan River was at flood stage. To the people of Jericho, this was a sign that their god was protecting them.
In Joshua 3, when the priests' feet touched the water, the water stopped flowing and allowed the people to walk across on dry ground. Due to the nature of the way the Jordan River flowed at that point, to "step into" the water meant that the priests would have to basically jump into water that may have been over their heads. They had to make a total commitment to this! It wasn't a half-hearted step that they could have backed out of if God had not worked. It was a complete step of faith. That's what God wants from us too.
In Matthew 3, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. Total immersion was a sign of complete dedication. When we are baptized, we demonstrate total commitment to Christ.
During this event, the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove (Luke 3:22). Most Westerners recognize the dove as a symbol of God's presence and approval during the baptism of his Son.
In Jesus' day, Jews probably saw another level of imagery as well. Many seem to have connected the hovering of the dove to the hovering of the Spirit over the watery chaos that preceded the creation of the world (Gen. 1:2). Just as the Spirit drew out a new order through creation, they saw the dove as a symbol that Jesus' ministry would also bring a new order.
The Jordan's a place for trusting God and taking the first step was the place where Jesus began his own ministry. And just as the Israelites crossing began a new era of life in the Promised Land, so Jesus' baptism also brought a new beginning in the life of God's people.
Jesus' ministry symbolized a new, loving, caring way of doing things. Today, his followers are ambassadors of that new order. We live in a culture that does not understand or practice the values that Jesus taught. It is our job to demonstrate these principles to a watching world. At a time when many people lie and cheat to advance themselves, we demonstrate integrity and truth. In a world filled with hate and selfishness, Christians bring love and sympathy to our neighbors. And amidst the empty promises of materialism, God's people exhibit the peace and joy that comes from storing up heavenly treasures.
The degree to which we actually bring this new order is the degree to which we will successfully impact our culture for God's glory.
Sadly, many of us stumble and become attracted to the world around us. Instead of exhibiting the new order of Jesus, we sometimes follow the sinful values of our culture. When we do so, we damage our witness and cause others to stumble.
As ambassadors of the new order, our goal should be a consistent witness to the new order of hope and restoration. As we step in our faith to bring healing and truth to our communities, we will be effective in this calling.
Facts about the Jordan River:
- The Jordan River starts in northern Israel at the foot of Mount Hermon, more than 1,500 feet above sea level, and ends almost 1,400 feet below sea level at the Dead Sea.
- The Jordan River meanders 200 miles from Mount Hermon to the Dead Sea (a straight distance of 90 miles).
- The Jordan flows through the Great Rift Valley, the largest cut in the earth's crust. The Rift Valley extends all the way to Lake Victoria in southern Africa.
- The Jordan River received its name from a Hebrew word meaning "to descend, to go down." The river descends from the slopes of Mount Hermon to the Dead Sea.
- The Jordan is one of the fastest-flowing rivers for its size in the world.
- The Jordan is only fifty to seventy-five feet across in most places.
- Today, the Jordan has been dammed up where it runs out of the Sea of Galilee in order to meet the state of Israel's water needs.
- The Israelites feared the people of Canaan. As punishment for their lack of faith, God did not allow any Israelite over twenty years old to enter the Promised Land - including Moses. The Israelites wandered for forty years, and despite begging God to allow him to enter, Moses only viewed the Promised Land from a distance. (Deut. 1:21-32; 3:23-28; 34:1-4.)
- Elijah warned King Ahab of Israel that there would be a drought in the land because of Israel's evil deeds. After Elijah gave his prophecy, God told him to cross to the east side of the Jordan and hide from the king. The river became a barrier of protection for Elijah. (1 Kings 16:29-33; 17:1-6.)
- Absalom, David's rebellious son and the leader of Israel's army, schemed to kill King David and everyone who was loyal to him. David was forewarned and crossed the Jordan with his people during the night. The river became a barrier of protection for David and his people. (2 Sam. 17:15-22.)
- Before being taken up to heaven, Elijah struck the Jordan River water with his cloak. The water parted so that he and Elisha could cross. After Elijah ascended, Elisha again parted the waters with Elijah's cloak so he could return to Israel. (2 Kings 2:1-2, 5-15.)
Source: Faith Lessons Ray Vanderlaan