At this point we’ve read through Joshua and started the book of Judges. In Joshua 3 Israel crossed the Jordan river into the land that God swore to give to the offspring of Abraham. God is faithfully fulfilling his promise!
You can’t help but see the similarities between what happens at the Jordan river and what happened in Exodus 14 at the Red Sea. God’s people passing through the waters signifies a transformation taking place. In Exodus, Israel was transformed from a subjugated, powerless people into a people of God’s own possession. “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God…” (Exodus 6:7). God delivered them through the waters into a barren land where he would be their only provider as he shaped their culture and their worship.
Now, in Joshua 3 Israel passes through the Jordan as God transforms them from a wandering, nomadic people into a powerful nation occupying a land “flowing with milk and honey.” Israel is to occupy a land purified from sin and fit for the presence and blessing of their Holy God.
The waters represent the boundary between a past identity and a new identity given to the people of Israel by the grace and faithfulness of God.
I believe part of the significance of baptism as Jesus commands us to do it today is that it represents in the same way a picture of the transformation of a person’s relationship with God. In baptism we enter the water as if entering a grave, having “died with Christ… died to sin” and we emerge from the water “free from sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:5-11). We pass through the waters of baptism as Israel passed through the Red Sea and the Jordan River, the water representing a boundary between our past identity and the new identity we receive by grace through faith in Jesus.
Do not underestimate the biblical, spiritual significance of baptism. It is a symbolic maker that connects our identity as Abraham’s offspring to the very same purpose and promises God made to Abraham and his physical offspring.
The book of Joshua closes on a sour note. Just before he dies, Joshua challenges the people of Israel, just like Moses did, to be faithful to God, to keep the covenant, to not turn away and worship false Gods. But look at what Joshua says in 24:14, “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him with sincerity and faithfulness. Put away the gods your forefathers served beyond the River and in Egypt…”
Put away the gods! Israel has never not had the pagan gods among them, even now. They have never once been faithful to God or true to the covenant. They have continually hedged their bets and chased after gods they could control rather than serve the One true God. Still, they stand in the land God swore to Abraham. They will eat crops they didn’t plant and enjoy homes they didn’t have to build. They passed through the waters into a new relationship with God. How? By the same power you and I can pass through the waters of baptism into a new relationship with God - even though we are sinful and often faithless - by the power of God’s grace and faithfulness to us in Christ. God is merciful and patient and loving beyond our ability to receive. Jesus is good!