After decades of wandering in the wilderness, the children of Israel had finally stepped foot in the Promised Land.
When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” (Joshua 4:1-7)
“What do those stones mean to you?” So much more than a meaningless pile of riverbed rocks, this was to be a marker for the descendants of Abraham, a reminder of an incredible event in their history. But historical markers are easily passed by and taken for granted, aren’t they? Even more than a monument to the past, this collection of stones was intended to provide a teaching opportunity for the present, generation after generation.
“When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do those stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.” (4:22-24)
Those stones were a connection to the past, providing a teaching opportunity in the present, that generations to come might know and fear and build a relationship with the LORD their God.
Do you realize that we have similar teaching opportunities on the first day of every week? We may not stand with our children, grandchildren, or the children of our church family on the banks of the Jordan River looking at twelve literal stones, but the questions continue to arise, and each one of us provides an answer of our own.
- “What does that Bible mean to you?”
- “What do these hymns mean to you?”
- “What does prayer mean to you?”
- “What does this unleavened bread and fruit of the vine mean to you?”
- “What does the preaching of God’s word mean to you?”
- “What does the Savior’s invitation mean to you?”
- “What does the opportunity to sacrifice for the Lord and the work of his kingdom mean to you?”
With my priorities, my attitude, and my engagement, what answer am I giving?
Do you realize that those opportunities don’t just bubble to the surface every Sunday morning? Whether we look at them as opportunities or not, we’re providing life-altering answers to eternity-shaping questions, day after day after day.
- “What does marriage mean to you?”
- “What do your brothers and sisters in Christ mean to you?”
- “What does hospitality mean to you?”
- “What does patience mean to you?”
- “What does forgiveness mean to you?”
- “What does love mean to you?”
- “What do the poor, the hurting, and the lost mean to you?”
By my actions, interactions, and reactions, what answer am I giving?
Those twelve stones were so much more than a marker of an incredible moment in history. They provided an ongoing opportunity to teach the next generation, “Here is what those stones mean to me. Let me tell you what they ought to mean to you.”
Take the time to look around today. Little (and not so little) eyes, ears, and hearts are constantly noticing, learning, asking questions, and soaking up impressions. “What does ______ mean to you?” Be humbled by the fact that you’ve already given countless answers. Ready or not, you’ll continue to give answers.
Does the answer you’d like to give harmonize with the answer you’re actually giving? If not, what needs to change?
Let’s live in such a way that all the peoples of the earth may know. The hand of the LORD is mighty. He is worthy of our fearful service. Forever.