Crossing the River
Pocket Full of Easter
Journey to The Cross
Crossing the River
When I was a young mother, our family went on a camping trip to the Mayport, Florida beachfront park, Hanna Park. One bright sunny day, our extended family decided to join us for a day of swimming, fishing, and picnicking.
After they arrived, the men decided to go on a fishing trip to what we called “The Bridges.” The bridges are a series of bridges that cross the marshland and waters of Hecksher Drive in Jacksonville, Florida. Everyone in Jacksonville knows that “The Bridges” are a prime fishing spot. A car holding my husband, father, brother, grandfather, and uncle loaded up their fishing gear and left for what was supposed to be a few fun filled hours of fishing.
“Be sure to be back in time for us to get home before dark,” my grandmother fretted. As the crow flies, “The Bridges” were just across the river from Mayport but the St. Johns River created a barrier for getting there. If you managed to catch the ferry, the journey was short. If you had to use the closest bridge, the journey was much longer.
“Don’t worry,” Bum Bum (my nickname for my grandfather) encouraged. “The ferry runs late. We’ll be back with your supper.” Famous last words.
As we prepared our evening meal, we waited anxiously for our men. We wondered if there would be fish to cook. The hour grew later but no men arrived bragging about their catches. When it grew dark, we began to worry. Each of us thought the same thing - what would we do if something had happened to our men? When it was completely dark, a car with flashing lights blinded us as it pulled into our campsite. “Oh no,” my grandmother wailed, expecting the worst. “It’s the police.”
Thankfully, it wasn’t the police. It was a park ranger announcing that our men had missed the last ferry and were having to drive all the way the way around. This was before cell phones so they’d stopped to call the park to say they would be late.
When they finally arrived home, we had passed from worry into anger. Our guilty men began making excuses. “We thought the ferry ran later than it did,” my husband offered hopefully.
My brother was perhaps the most honest. “You can’t leave just when the fish start biting. We had to stay.”
My grandfather offered the most interesting excuse. “I was counting on God to part the waters of the St. Johns River but He refused. Are you going to argue with God?”
God could and did choose to part the waters for His people but He had a better reason than a late fishing trip. He parted the Red Sea to allow His children to escape slavery and He parted the Jordan River so they could enter into the Promised Land. Between those crossings were years in the desert. Today we’re going to study how those crossings relate to us as Christians.
Read Psalms 66:5-6.
Come and see what God has done, how awesome his works in man's behalf! He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot — come, let us rejoice in him. NIV
• Remember the awesome works God has done in your life.
• Put yourself in the scene of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. Egyptians are chasing you. How does it feel to walk across the dry bottom of the Red Sea after years of slavery?
• Now put yourself into the scene of the Israelites crossing the Jordan River. How does it feel to cross into the Promised Land after years in the desert?
• Allow yourself to rejoice with the Israelites as they reached safety.
• Prayerfully examine your life. Are you trapped in slavery, wandering in the desert, or living in the Promised Land?
• Tell God your joys, fears, and needs. Praise Him in everything.
• Pray for knowledge of God’s will for you today and the power to carry that out.
• Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.
Morning Bible Study
You probably have heard the dramatic story of the Israelites escaping slavery by the Egyptians. The Egyptians had a comfortable life and naturally didn’t want to release the hard working Israelites. God led Moses to confront Pharaoh and ask for freedom. When Pharaoh refused, God helped convince him by sending a series of disasters. In desperation, Pharaoh finally agreed to their release.
At the last minute, Pharaoh changed his mind and began chasing the terrified Israelites. The Israelites ran for their lives until they were stopped by the deep waters of the Red Sea. There was no ferry or bridge for them to cross.
The Israelites panicked. “We don’t want to die,” they screamed to Moses in terror as they looked behind them. “It is better to be alive and in slavery than to be free and dead.” Anyone could understand their logic as they looked hopelessly at the Red Sea.
Moses was a true leader. Read his words in Exodus 14:13-14.
Moses answered the people "Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still." NIV
• What were Moses’ instructions?
• Who was going to fight for them?
• What was the only job of the Israelites?
My mother-in-law used to have a saying. “If I’m drowning, don’t stop to pray for me. Jump in the pool and save me.” There’s a time for prayer and a time for action. When God does a mighty work in our lives, He usually requires an act of faith on our part. Read God’s words to Moses in Exodus 14:15-16.
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. NIV
• Why did God scold Moses?
• What were God’s instructions to Moses?
The Israelites were focused on themselves and wanted to escape as quickly as possible but God had a bigger vision. He also cared about making a point with Pharaoh . The Israelites would probably have preferred God to act immediately but God took His own sweet time, carefully unfolding His plan. He also took the time to explain Himself to Moses. Read Exodus 14:17-18.
I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen. NIV
• What was God’s plan?
It must have been a long night for the Israelites. God protected them but they were probably looking over their shoulder the entire time. Read Exodus 14:21-12.
Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long. NIV
• How did God protect them?
• How do you think the Israelites felt as they waited for God to act?
• Why do you think God waited all night before acting?
• Have you ever had to wait on God to act?
Finally, Moses took action. Read Exodus 14:21-22.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. NIV
• What did Moses have to do?
• What did God do?
The next part of the story is harsh. We wonder why God had to kill all those solders to make His point to the Egyptians until we remember that He had already communicated to them through temporary plagues and disasters. The Egyptians were a hardheaded bunch so God had to speak louder. Read Exodus 14:23-28.
The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh's horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He made the wheels of their chariots come off so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, "Let's get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt."
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen." Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen — the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived. NIV
• What truth did the Egyptians realize?
• What happened to these soldiers?
• What impact do you think losing their men had on the rest of Egypt?
What a sigh of relief the Israelites must have breathed as they watched those walls of water close over their enemies. They were safe. Their God had protected them. They stopped and had a worship service, praising God for His mighty acts. Read Exodus 15:1.
Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: "I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted.” NIV
Unfortunately, the story didn’t end there. The people’s faith was short lived. They disobeyed God and wandered in the desert for 40 years. They wanted God’s salvation but still wanted to hang on to their own ways. God protected them the entire time but their desert days were difficult. They paid a heavy price for disobedience as an entire generation lived and died in the desert.
Read Deuteronomy 2:7.
For the LORD your God has blessed you in all that you have done; He has known your wanderings through this great wilderness. These forty years the LORD your God has been with you; you have not lacked a thing."' NASU
• What did God do for them while they were wandering?
• How do you think the Israelites felt as they wandered?
• Have you ever wandered in the desert? How did it feel?
Finally, after 40 dreary years, God allowed His people to cross into the Promised Land. When the people got to riverbanks of the Jordan there was no bridge or ferry. Once again, God parted the waters. Once again, God’s work required an act of faith. The waters didn’t part until the Priests put their feet into the deep waters of the Jordan River. Instead of rushing across, the Priests had to stand firm until all the people had crossed.
Read Joshua 3:14-17.
So when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people, and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan. NASU
Like the ancient Israelites, Christians must cross two rivers to reach our Promised Land. First, we have to cross the Red Sea by accepting the truth of the cross and escaping the slavery of sin. Read John 3:16.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. NIV
• What do we have to do to be saved?
Unfortunately, after accepting Christ, many Christians wander in the desert for years without claiming the power of the resurrection. We have to cross another river into the Promised Land of a life of following Christ. Read Colossians 3:1-3.
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. KJV
• Who is this scripture to – Christians or non-Christians?
• What are Christians to seek?
• What should we set our affection on?
If we are to reach our Promised Land, we have to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. Read Matthew 16:24-25.
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. KJV
• What do we have to do to find life?
Our Promised Land is the peace that passes all understanding. (Philippians 4:7) It is our ability to live not in the shadow of the cross but the light of the resurrection. Christians that never learn to die to self are doomed to spend their time on earth on the wrong side of the River Jordan.
When I first started traveling America, I thought my message was for non-Christians. I expected to write about how happy Christians were as compared to non-Christians. What I found instead were countless Christian believers wandering aimlessly in the desert.
I don’t know why I was surprised. I looked back at my own spiritual journey. I became a Christian at age 8. I went to church every Sunday, married a Christian, and brought up my children in a Christian home. Yet, I spent my 20’s in a desert of emotional desolation, physical pain, and spiritual bankruptcy.
Finally, in desperation, I cried out to God. What is wrong? I cried. Why am I so miserable? God allowed me to take an honest look at my wasted life. While my husband was thriving, developing his career, and growing spiritually, I was spending my days overeating, watching Soap Operas, and pretending I was a stay-at-home Mommy.
Obesity had destroyed my health and self-esteem. Guilt plagued me about what I wasn’t doing with my children. Church activities were driven by a need for attention rather than a servant’s heart. Jealously of my husband’s success created rifts in my marriage. I may have been on my way to an eternal heaven but I was living in an earthly hell.
God heard my cry and sent answers. Like the Israelites stepping into the River Jordan before the waters had been parted, I had to put down excess food before God gave anything to replace it. I had to turn off daytime television before anything else interested me. A strong mentor gave assignments that forced me to look at my motives and myself, to confess my sins, make amends for my mistakes, and to change the way I was living. Many of my sins were sins of omission as I didn’t claim the talents and abilities God had given me. Some of my sins were sins of commission because I had failed to provide as loving and supportive a home for my family as I could.
Little by little I crossed the River Jordan and into the Promised Land of peace. I began developing a close and intimate walk with Jesus Christ. Since 1979, I have begun my days with meditation, prayer, and Bible Study.
God and I made a deal. I would get up every morning and ask for knowledge of His will and the ability to carry it out. He would tell me what to do and give me the power to do it. My walk with God is one day at a time. On the days I remember to keep my part of the bargain, God keeps His. On those glorious days when I can see the face of God, feel the love of God, and hear the voice of God, my Promised Land is filled with dancing, laughing, running, and blowing bubbles. On days I forget to die to self, I’m back in the desert.
Are you bound by slavery? Cross the Red Sea and invite Jesus into your life?
Are you wandering in the desert, feeling desolate and alone? Cross the River Jordan by dying to self and allowing Jesus Christ to walk you into the Promised Land.
If you are laughing and playing in the Promised Land, praise God and do what it takes to stay there. Never look back wistfully at the desert.