Dear Friends in the Risen Lord:
Every morning – when I turn on my computer – I wonder, “How much worse is the news going to be today than it was yesterday?” How many more confirmed corona virus cases will there be? How many more people will have died? What kind of greater precautions will we need to take, and what kind of greater restrictions will be placed upon us? How much more will the stock market plunge?
In the midst of all this, we need encouragement, a source of strength, and hope. What greater source of encouragement, strength, and hope could we have – and could we be able to share – than the good news that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead? He is with us in our struggles, and He has defeated our greatest enemies – sin, death, and the power of the devil.
I would like to share with you four sources of strength and hope from the account of the Israelites’ crossing the Jordan River on their way to the Promised Land, as recorded in the early chapters of the book of Joshua.
First, in Joshua 1: 2 the Lord said to Joshua, “My servant Moses is dead; now proceed to cross the Jordan.” The Lord did not say, “Moses is dead; you might as well give up.” Nor did He say, “Moses is dead; so why not go back to Egypt.” “Moses is dead; it will never be the same again.” Or “Moses is dead; what hope do you have now?” Rather the Lord said, “Moses is dead; now proceed to cross the Jordan.”
We have heard it said over and over again. We are living in unprecedented times. We were not prepared for this, nor did we see it coming. We do not know how long it will last or what life will be like after it is over. We know it will be different, but we do not know how it will be different. In many ways Moses is dead. The realities, resources, and support systems that we had been counting on no longer exist. And they disappeared so quickly. But just as God said, “Moses is dead; now proceed to cross the Jordan,” so God is saying to us, “Life will be different, but it is not over.” With God’s presence and power – with the hope of the resurrection – we will be able to get through this. One year from now we will be able to look back and say, “God is good, and He saw us through.” Moses may be dead, but we still need to and we still can cross the Jordan.
Second, three times in the first nine verses of Joshua 1 God says, “Be strong and courageous.” In verse 6, verse 7, and verse 9. “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
It would be very easy today to be frightened and dismayed. We have many, very valid reasons to be frightened and dismayed. Just like the disciples of Jesus, on the evening of Good Friday, had many, very valid reasons to be frightened and dismayed.
But the angel told the women who came early on Easter Sunday morning to the tomb, “Do not be afraid. I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here. He has been raised. Come, see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 28: 5-7) So we, too, need to see the place where He lay. We, too, need to see that the tomb is empty. Then we, too, need to go quickly and tell people that He has been raised from the dead. This year – during the upcoming Holy Week season – may God give you even more strength of conviction and mountain-moving faith, so that you will be able to believe with power and with boldness, “Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead.”
Third, in Joshua 3: 2-4 we read that the leaders of Israel went through the camp and commanded the people, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord our God being carried by the levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place. Follow it, so that you may know the way you should go, for you have not passed this way before.”
What do we need the most as we go through a national and global crisis unlike any we have experienced before? We need to know that God is with us and that He goes before us, “for (we) have not passed this way before.” I remember a poster I had on my wall in my dorm room in college. It showed a mushroom cloud from an atomic explosion. It asked the question, “Is there a future?” It gave an answer from God. “Yes, I am already there.”
Paul describes Jesus as “the first born from the dead.” Jesus has already gone through the experience of death ahead of us. And He has broken the power of death over us. Therefore, “nothing in all of creation” – and that includes the corona virus – “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8: 39)
Fourth, Joshua 3: 15-16 tell us that “when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still . . . while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off,” so the people were able to cross over on dry ground.
There was a miraculous crossing of a body of water at the beginning of the time of leadership of Moses (the Red Sea), and there was a miraculous crossing of a body of water at the beginning of the time of leadership of Joshua (the Jordan River). But there is a significant difference between the two. In the case of Moses and the Red Sea, God sent a strong east wind that blew all night. In the morning there was a dry path. The people did not need to step into the sea until they had a dry path. In the case of Joshua and the Jordan River, somebody had to step into the water first before the flow of the river stopped and a dry path became available.
I know that I, for one, would like to have a dry path before I have to step in. But that is not the way it always goes. It sure would be good to know how this pandemic will end and how long it will last, but at this point we do not know. But still we need to step in, take necessary precautions, help those who are most vulnerable, and see this time as an opportune time to show the kind of courage and compassion that Christ can give.
I remember several years ago a woman who was very close to dying from cancer read the lessons on Easter Sunday. Never before had those Scriptures passages spoken so strongly to me as they did that day as they were being read by someone who would soon be dying and who believed with all her heart that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life.
This Easter season may your faith in Jesus be even bolder, your hope in Jesus be even greater, and your love for Jesus be even stronger.
Dennis D. Nelson
Executive Director of Lutheran CORE
Our prayers are with all confessional Lutheran pastors as you find and develop ways to stay connected with your congregations, give your people hope, courage, and strength, and reach out to your communities during these most unusual times. On our website you can find a list of some congregations that are livestreaming and/or posting recordings of their worship services. A link to that list can be found here. Please let me know if you would like to be added to that list.