Click here for the reading: Joshua 3:1-3, 7-8, 13-17.
The passage of Israel through the Jordan is a people wondrously coming into its own. Preaching on baptism cannot neglect that the reality of God’s wonders happens for a people and that the promise of baptism is most fundamentally forward-looking.
The people are centered on the movement of God’s presence in the Ark. Where it goes, they go. Where it rests, they rest. The announcement of the officers in the camp of Israel is that the Ark will be moving. Since the Lord’s coming, that presence is connected to His Word, not to some object such as a box or an altar. What His Word commands or refrains from commanding, the church carries out or refrains from carrying out. What the Word says, the church says. What the Word does not say, the church does not say. There is always one Lord and one people, not one Lord and many, many individuals with their own ways.
This people necessarily has a leader, but Joshua is not a type of the pastor of a congregation or the president of a church body. His equality with Moses does not fit him merely to speak God’s Word publicly. That is something any priest could and should do in Israel. Instead, Joshua is a type of Jesus, whose Greek name has its Hebrew equivalent in Joshua’s name. Joshua will receive exaltation in Israel’s sight such as Moses had. He will lead the people, and they will listen to him.
He will lead them into a glorious but unknown future. The movement from the Transjordan into Canaan means that the wonder inaugurating Israel’s entrance is not the last wonder they will encounter. When they come into the land, they will find miraculous victories in battle against overwhelming forces and a land prepared for them by the Lord’s providence. The entrance into Canaan is an entrance to a life that is given and found, the unbought grace of life under the Lord’s care.
It is because the Lord is steadfast in His love that His people’s life is forward-looking. Nostalgia had overtaken Israel many times in the desert, leading always to dissatisfaction with the servant of the Lord, Moses, and with the deeds of the Lord in saving His people from Egypt. Life in His ways is forward-looking because it understands the future as determined by a God covenanted to save His people. If He has sworn that the waters of the Jordan would stop and they indeed did so that His people could pass, what else will He not do for His people?
Since readings are usually printed out in bulletins, you should print out the entirety of Joshua 3. Material for preaching that one loses in following the strange excisions of the assigned pericope are: the work of the Levites in leading the people, the admonition to listen to the words of your God, and the enumeration of which enemies God will drive before His people. All these are profitable and contribute to the sense the congregation should have that they are not only individually baptized but are collectively baptized for an inheritance God prepares and leads them to.