Living Stones (Joshua 4)


New Year’s Day is a special day for people. We like the idea of a fresh start. We like the idea of moving forward from the past year and having the hope of a better year. We like the idea of improving ourselves, improving our condition, and improving our lives. This year is just going to be our year. It is a time when we like to remember and a time when we like to make resolutions to do better. Since this Sunday falls on New Year’s Day, I wanted to do a lesson called Living Stones so that we could have a better year spiritually. God wants us to improve spiritually. God wants us to have a better life because we are drawing closer to him. What I want to do is focus on one of the ways God wants his people have a better life for him. One of those ways is through memorials. God repeated uses memorials as a way for his people to stay faithful to him. God’s memorials are used so that the people will not forget God and stay close to him for the rest of their lives.

Examples of God’s Memorials

There is not time to list all the memorials that God gave for his people. But I want to talk about a few of them just so that we can get a sense of how many and how often God did this for his people. The whole book of Deuteronomy is a memorial. Moses preaches to the people of Israel before his death, reminding them of everything that God did and everything that happened to them from the exodus to that point in time so that they could not forget and would live faithfully for the Lord.

The Lord gave the Passover memorial in Exodus 12-13. The Lord proclaimed that the Passover was to be a lasting ordnance for the generations to celebrate (Exodus 12:14). The reason for the Passover was so that the people would remember. But it was more than just to remember. Exodus 13:9 we read that God wanted the Passover remembered as a sign so that, “law of the Lord may be in your mouth.” The Passover celebration was more than a memorial but to cause the people to have God’s laws on their lips.

The high priest wore an ephod with stones on it. The two stones on the shoulders were called the stones of remembrance (Exodus 28:12). It pictured God remembering the sons of Israel when the high priest went into God’s presence. The Sabbath day was given so that the people would remember that they were slaves in Egypt and how God rescued them by a mighty hand (Deuteronomy 5:14-15). But the day of rest was so that the people would worship. The day was so that they would not be worries about physical things but spend their day focused on God alone. In 1 Samuel 7 we read about Samuel setting up the Ebenezer stone so that the people would remember how the Lord helped them against the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:12). As you can see, I have not traveled far in the scriptures and have already noted the many memorials that God had given. But today I want to focus on one memorial that is given in the days of Joshua. Open your copies of God’s word to Joshua 4.

Living Stones (Joshua 4)

In Joshua 3 we see that Joshua is preparing to lead the people to cross the Jordan River. The instructions are given that the priests are going to carry the ark of the covenant before the people. When they carried the ark into the river, the waters stopped flowing, standing in a heap, in a similar way that it did during the exodus (Joshua 3:13; cf. Exodus 14:22,29). In preparation for this, the Lord commands Joshua to take 12 stones out of the Jordan River and bring them over to the other side so they can be set up as a memorial (Joshua 4:1-3). The stones were placed as a memorial so it would be a sign among them. But let’s notice the reasons for the memorial and then we can talk about our memorials for 2023.

Important Reasons For Living Stones

First, the memorials were to learn and never forget what God did in their past. The memorials were given so that they would last. We see this in Joshua 4:7 where the command to set up these stones is so that it will be a memorial to the people forever. We understand the need for this because we quickly forget major events in our past. The events of 9/11 represent how easily we can forget. We have memorials for this historical event in the United States and we can still forget. Palm Beach Gardens and Wellington have actual pieces from the towers that fell that day. Now we just drive by them and do not hardly notice them. It shows how easily we forget monumental events in history. So God gave memorials so that we would remember and never forget.

Second, notice that there is more than just remembering for themselves. The purpose of the memorial is so that the people would be forever changed by what God did. Look at Joshua 4:20-24.

And those twelve stones, which they took out of the Jordan, Joshua set up at Gilgal. And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these 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.” (Joshua 4:20–24 ESV)

The end of verse 24 says, “that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” Remembering what God did for you yesterday is supposed to change how you live tomorrow. Do not just remember. Remember and let it change your life. Remember and do something about what God has done. You see the apostle Paul use this very idea in Ephesians 2. After telling us that were children of wrath but we saved by God who was rich in mercy, Paul tells us what we are supposed to do about this.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

Do not just say, “Wow! I am so amazed by what God has done.” God wants what he did to affect change. You were created for good works. So live doing those good works. Fulfill your life purpose because you remember what God has done for you.

The Lord’s memorials were intended so that we would be thankful and praise God for what he has done. We are not to simply remember what God did, but also use that time to be thankful for what he did. The people were to be thankful that God brought them out of Egypt. The people were to be thankful that God parted the Jordan River and brought them into the promised land. We are to be a changed people who now are thankful and glorifying God in all we do because of what he has done.

Third, the memorial was given so that we would teach our children to know what these things mean. The stones were placed so that future generations would learn what God did. But please notice that the children would not learn it by looking at the stones. The children would learn it by looking at the stones and the parents teaching them what those stones mean. Israel was instructed to use the memorials to tell future generations, ensuring that their children knew what God did.

Our Living Stones

So let’s consider the living stones that we have for our lives today and apply these principles God gave. The Lord has given us many salvation memorials. The cross is a key salvation memorial, marking the moment when God broke into the world for the purpose of salvation. In fact, the cross is so pivotal to the history of the world that God gave us the memorial supper to keep every first day of the week. The Lord’s Supper is to help us remember each week what the Lord has done for us. But the Lord’s Supper is also to help us live for Jesus because we remember what he did for us. The Lord’s Supper is not simply a remembrance but a means of proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes. It is supposed to change how we live.

Further, the Lord’s Supper is given to us so that we would be thankful. As Jesus instituted the Supper, he gave thanks before the bread and before the fruit of the vine. We give thanks, not as a habit, but because we see the importance of giving thanks to God before we eat the bread and drink the cup. Lord, thank you for your body that was sacrificed so that atonement could be made for our sins. Lord, thank you for your blood of the covenant that puts us in right standing before God.

But please go one more step. We need to teach our children what the Lord’s Supper means. We need to explain to them why we pass it by them. We need to explain to them what we are remembering. We need to explain to them why we thankful. We need to explain to them what these things means. Teach your children why we do this and why it is so important. The Lord’s Supper is a time for teaching our children as they sit there with us and explain it further as you go home.

Baptism is another salvation memorial that God gave to us. Notice that the apostle Paul describes our baptism in this way in Romans 6.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:1–4 ESV)

Paul is pointing out that our baptism is not just a point in time action that is forgotten later. Our baptism is supposed to mean something. Notice there are two things that our baptism means. First, our baptism is when we are united to Christ in his death and his resurrection. Baptism is not a mere sacramental act. Baptism is done in faith so we join ourselves to Jesus in his death and resurrection. Second, our baptism signifies our death to sin and our new way of life. Paul says our baptism means we cannot continue in sin. Your baptism said something. Your baptism said you died to sin. Your baptism said you are walking in a new way of life. Your baptism should have this meaning to you. It is to be your point of remembrance, to change your life so that you live for him. Baptism is your point of thanksgiving because this is when God erased your sins and raised you up to a new life. Further, we must teach our children what baptism means and why it is so important. Baptism is not something you do. Baptism is a critical commitment you are making in giving your life to the Lord.

But I also want us to think about our own personal memorials. I want you to take a moment and think about key moments in your life where God has helped you, rescued you, or changed you. I want you to think about times when you thought life was at its worst that God helped you. I want you to think about even some of the great highs in your life that God has given to you to experience. Think back to events this year. Think back to the events of the last couple years. Think back to when you were so much younger.

Then I want you to do the same thing that we see Israel doing. Make living stones for your life. Give yourself something so that you will remember what God did for you so that it will change your life. Be thankful to God for his past helps and victories. Then teach your children how God helped you in your life in the past. I think this can be one of our greatest weaknesses. We bring our children to church. But this is not going to be enough to teach them about the importance of God. It is one important thing we do and when we choose to not come, we are teaching them something about how little God means to us. But we need to do even more. We need to not only tell them about the cross, the Lord’s Supper, and baptism and what God has done for us. But would you tell them about how God helped you in your darkest times? Tell them about how God has blessed your life. Tell them that God is the reason why we have what we have. Tell them how things were hard but God got you through. Tell them about your life trials and how God carried you through to the other side. Would you make these things your spiritual resolutions for this year:

  • Remember so that it changes your life.
  • Be thankful to God for what he did for you.
  • Teach your children what God has done for you.

So for 2023, I want to place some living stones in your life. Before going forward with the new year, remember and give glory to God for the past. When you are experiencing doubts or fears, go back to those stones that you have mentally created and remember what God has done for you. Go back to your salvation moments. Remember your baptism. Remember the Lord in the Lord’s Supper. Remember the covenant that was made for you through the blood of Jesus. Go back and remember all that God has done for you to carry you through. Praise God for them moments and then tell others about what God has done for you.

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