Theme: Memorials help us remember God's great deeds and blessings with gratitude.
Some years ago, my family visited the capitol. We toured some of the great memorials. Most prominent are the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. Then there is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, and more recently the WWII Memorial.
Of course, all these memorials are expensive. It takes plenty of tax dollars to design them, build them, maintain them + protect them. So why do we do it?
Because memorials help us remember things we should remember. Our memories need to be prodded; otherwise we are prone to forget. We forget what a precarious experiment democracy was when George Washington became our first president. We forget how easily our country could have been split except for Abe Lincoln. We forget the world's future really hung in the balance when Hitler rolled over Europe.
In our Joshua text God’s people are poised to enter the Promised Land. But their path is blocked by the Jordan River swelled during a spring flood stage. Then God did something spectacular: he stopped the river’s raging force- completely. It’s as if he placed the Hoover Dam upstream: the water simply piled up in a heap. And the whole nation of Israel crossed over on dry ground.
Notice the symmetry in the journey of God’s people. To exit the land of slavery, the people crossed the Red Sea on dry ground. Now to enter the land of prosperity, the people cross the Jordan River on dry ground. Both display God’s immense power and miraculous provision for his people.
And get this: while God is performing this great feat, he is already arranging a memorial. It’s as if General Washington rowed across the Delaware + stopped to set up a landmark, before catching the British off guard in a surprise attack. Or as if Union soldiers had no sooner repulsed Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg then they preserved their cannon and flags for a war memorial.
Joshua 4:1 Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.
Then vs 6: In the future, when your children ask you: What do these stones mean? Tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant... These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever. I'll call it the Jordan River Memorial.
Now, there wasn’t any visitor center there or any park rangers to give a tour. But picture generations of children in the Promised Land coming across those stones. Picture their descendants being told what happened there. Our text notes that when the book of Joshua was written, the stones were still there. The stones were still standing to remind people that God had done a great wonder.
Memorials help us remember things we should remember. When we forget what God has done, we are the poorer. Our faith in God grows fainter. When we forget, we are prone to wander from him.
Generations after the Israelites reached the Promised Land that very thing happened. Judges 3:7 says: They forgot the LORD their God. They forget what he had done. They forgot the awesome plagues he sent on Egypt. They forgot how God parted the Red Sea to let them walk through on dry ground.
They forgot Gods provision of quail and manna and water in the desert. They forgot his stopping the Jordan River to let them march into the Promised Land. They forgot how the hand of the Lord conquered the mighty people in the land. And in their forgetting they ran after other gods.
Memorials help us remember things we should remember. And the remembering is more than just keeping the historical record straight. The physical presence of a memorial prompts a remembering that moves us. At memorials there is emotion, sometimes tears, often a deep sense of gratitude.
I think of people finding the names of loved ones on the Vietnam War Memorial. Tracing the name etched in stone; tears in their eyes. When I visited the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania there was a sense of awe: awe at the horror of terrorism that can strike anywhere + gratitude for heroic passengers.
In the same way, the memorial stones were meant to move Gods people. Look at those stones! They come from the middle of the Jordan! God stopped the force of this entire river! Isn’t he great? Look what he’s done for us!! Now we possess a land flowing with milk and honey! Those twelve stones were meant to inspire worship!
Memorials help us remember things we should remember. Remembering gives proper attention to what God has done. Remembering is really a window to God. It helps us know him- that he is powerful. Remembering helps us trust him and live by faith in the present.
Now, I don't think the twelve memorial stones are still standing today- 3,000 years later. None of us live near the Jordan river. Does that mean we have to do without memorials? Absolutely not. Memorials still have an important place for us.
First, there are personal and family memorials. You know that both my boys were adopted- while I was a church planter in California. At the last-minute Paul's birthmother invited us to come to the hospital for his birth. We dropped everything, got in our car and drove the four hours to get there.
But here’s another detail: we did have the presence of mind to pack a video-camera. And we put it to good use to capture the action around Paul’s birth. A while ago, we got out that tape and watched it as a family. We hooted; we hollered; we poked fun; we laughed; we cried. It helped us remember. And we praised God all over again for his goodness in making us a family.
Some people know the time and place where they accepted Jesus into their lives. Celebrating a spiritual birthday can be a memorial- to remember God’s saving grace. Wedding anniversaries can be a memorial- to savor God’s gift of committed love. Recovering alcoholics may celebrate the date they stopped drinking + remained sober. What about you? What special moments of grace in your life ought to have a memorial?
Second, there are civic memorials. I've already mentioned the various national monuments in Washington DC. And holidays like this function as a memorial. We specially remember all those who served in the military and laid down their lives to defend liberty + justice for all. Memorials of God’s grace.
Third and most important, we still have God-given memorials. The twelve stones at the Jordan are long scattered and gone. But in a broad way the Bible itself acts as a memorial.
Through the Bible every new generation remembers what God has done. Through the Bible we learn about God's great deeds- from the first day of creation to the last day of redemption. Through the Bible we remember and give thanks that God stopped the Jordan River, so that his people could cross over into the Promised Land. About 1400 years later a more important event took place in the waters of the Jordan. We don't know if the twelve stones were still there. But in his gospel Mark writes: Jesus came... and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
Having been baptized and filled with the Spirit, Jesus began his work of redemption. He conquered giants in the land- disease, spiritual blindness, evil spirits + Satan himself. His final victory was accomplished by dying on the cross to save us from our sins. His redeeming work was so important the Holy Spirit inspired four accounts about it.
And already the night before his death, he set up a memorial. This time he didn’t give us stones; he gave us bread and wine. Eat this bread; drink this cup in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
Memorials help us remember things we should remember. What stones should you set up to mark God’s power and grace in your life? What memorials should you be visiting? God’s people must always look forward in hope. But may we also know the importance of remembering.
Neil Jasperse Faith Church Nashville Memorial Day Service