It was the final barrier before the Promised Land, and this was a new generation, 40 years later, who had not known the Great Redemption of the crossing of the Red Sea. The priests and Levites went first, carrying the Ark of the Covenant, and the people started following behind, wondering what to expect. Joshua did not do as Moses had done, stretching forth his staff across the waters. It was a new day and a new way of doing things, for the presence of God was in the Ark, which carried the record of His commandments and His mighty deeds. It was the season of harvest, and the river was in flood, but when the priests carrying the Ark set foot in the water, the water upstream stopped flowing, piling up at a distance; the water downstream flowed away, and the whole nation crossed over into the a place where they had never been before. They had walked through a miracle into a promise, and victory lay just ahead.
The people came, from all walks of life. Oh, the gawkers and the idlers came to check out the new sensation, but they weren’t the only ones. The spiritually hungry came, and so did the ones who were crushed by the Law. The busy and the responsible came, for this was something new in Israel. Roman soldiers came, and also tax collectors. Many came because they knew that something was badly wrong, and they were desperate to find the keys to a new beginning. And the Pharisees and the Sadducees came to criticize, and when he called them a brood of vipers, there were gasps at his boldness, but also many quiet nods. For the wise know that when something is rotten at the core, one should question the leadership.
But perhaps the strangest thing was what he didn’t say, for he made no claim to be the Messiah, unlike many before him. The Messiah would be among them very soon, he said, and meanwhile their job was to repent, to enter the waters of baptism as if they were strangers and foreigners, joining God’s covenant people for the very first time. So they came to the river, and the waters did not part but closed over them as they renounced sin, and when they emerged from the waters some of them realised that this was the beginning of a new people of God, and the promises of God meant something more than just the physical land in which they already stood.
He has braved the way before us, our great High Priest who was, in his own self, the presence of God entering the darkest waters, the place called death which is the antithesis of that He is – the Living Lord. He has passed through, and he has made a way before us, for death itself has been destroyed. We must each come to the river, and our flesh may well recoil from its cold, harsh waters, but we know that He has been there before us, and the glorious fulfillment of every promise lies on the other side, for all the promises of God (yes, all of them) are yes and amen in Him. And so we come, and there are tears, for in mortality we taste the full bitterness of our fall, and the waters close over our heads. And we will rise from the waters to know our heart’s desire, and glory in the wonder of it. And there shall be no more death, for the river itself is transformed, and the water of life will flow forth from His throne. And all will be wholly well.