What Mean These Stones?
Digest of the message given by Pastor Wiersbe on “Jubilee Sunday,” November 9, 1975, that commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of the church buildings.
“When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land.”—Joshua 4:21–22
Fifty years ago, when these buildings were dedicated, the pastor, Dr. P.W. Philpott, preached from this text. I have no idea what he said; some of you no doubt will remember. But the same word that was a blessing 50 years ago can still be a blessing today. Times change, but the Word does not.
Joshua had the men of Israel erect two monuments, one in the midst of the Jordan, and the other on the bank of the Jordan. These two piles of 12 stones each—one seen and the other under the water—had a special meaning to Israel. They were reminders of what God had done. A new generation would arise that would not know Joshua or the other great men of the past, and the stones on the river bank would teach them and remind them of their heritage.
The Moody Church, today, can learn from those two monuments. As a new generation looks at these buildings and asks, “What mean these stones?” we ought to be able to give a clear answer to the glory of God. As I see it, these two monuments teach us some basic truths that we need to know if we, as a church, are to appreciate our heritage and minister in this present day.
Remember The Past
Those twelve stones on the bank of the Jordan said to each new generation, “Remember the past! You have a great heritage—don’t take it lightly!”
Remember the power of God.It was God Who delivered them from Egypt, took them through the wilderness, bore with their unbelief and sins, and finally brought them into the Promised Land. None of this was accomplished by their own might; it was all a miracle of God’s power.
Certainly we can look at The Moody Church and say, “This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes!” When you think of Mr. Moody’s Sunday School, and then the church, and then the Moody Bible Institute, you cannot help but marvel at the great power of God.
Remember the man of God.We should always give glory to God, but it is not wrong to honor men of God who have faithfully served Him. Such a man was Joshua, and the generations to come would learn to honor his name. “On that day the Lord magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel…” (Joshua 4:14). And, God magnified the name of D.L. Moody, and used his ministry to win multitudes to Christ around the world.
Remember the people of God.It was a united, believing nation that marched across the Jordan that day. No doubt some were fearful, but they marched forward in obedience to God’s Word—and God saw them through!
May we never forget that we, today, have these buildings and this worldwide ministry because of the faith and courage of those who went before us. Were it not for their courage and faith, we would not be here today.
Remember the glory of God.“That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty…” (Joshua 4:24). The purpose of this ministry is to glorify God. How we thank God for the worldwide outreach of The Moody Church, not only through our missionary family, but through our radio ministries and tape ministry as well. The sun never sets on the ministry of The Moody Church! To God be the glory!
The stones on the shore remind us to remember the past; but what about those twelves stones in the midst of the Jordan? What do they say to us?
Bury The Past
Joshua was wise in his choice of material for the monuments, for to an Israelite, a rockwas the most substantial thing he knew. In fact, he even compared God to a rock! A river is about the most changing thing he knew, for a river is never the same, always moving. Here we have, I think, two symbols: the changing (the river) and the unchanging (the rocks).
It seems to me that we have three kinds of churches today. We have rock churchesthat resist change and have no intention of changing. They are like citadels, and I’m afraid they are not ministering to the needs of people today. Other churches are river churches—ever changing. They are like chameleons! Whatever new thing comes along, they grab it and put it into their program. The citadel church has a great past but no future, and the chameleon church has neither past nor future! Both are destined to die.
Our church must be a creative church,one that honors the past but is willing to change to minister to the present. We cannot live on past blessings or past victories. We want to remember the past to the glory of God, but we also need to bury the past. There is a tendency among the people of God to worship the past and think only of “the good old days.” The past can be the enemy of the present.
When Israel entered Canaan, they had a task to perform: “Inherit the land!” They had to step out by faith and claim God’s blessings—and God had many more miracles for them to share. What a tragedy it would be to sit by the Jordan and talk over the great experience of crossing the river on dry land! When Joshua put those twelves stones in the midst of the river, he was saying, “Yes, we stood there and walked there—but now that is past. Arise, let’s get moving! The whole land lies before us!”
We who are younger, who have come along in these later years, have no desire to criticize or minimize the past. I have often said that, as your pastor, I feel like a midget standing on the shoulders of giants. But old and young alike must bury the past—past mistakes, past successes, past sins—and move into the future by ministering in the present. We cannot change the past; those stones remain unseen in the river. But we can benefit from the past, and this leads us to our third truth.
Use The Past
This may seem like a contradiction to say “bury the past” and “use the past”—but it is not. But when you put the two monuments together—the stones in the river and the stones on the shore—you will see what they mean. Together, these monuments are a picture of death, burial, and resurrection.The people went into the river, passed through, and came out on the other side; and then the waters returned to cover the stones in the midst of the river. Death, burial, and resurrection. It is only as we bury the past that God can perform that resurrection and give us the power of the past for life today.
I suppose a seed is the best example of what I am trying to say. Jesus used the same illustration in John 12:24–25. When you plant a seed, it dies; and it is that death that brings forth life. Jesus died on the cross, was buried, and arose again in resurrection power. His power in the present is because of His death, burial, and resurrection in the past; for through this He sent us the Holy Spirit.
We at The Moody Church have a great past. We want to remember it. But we want to bury it. Why? So that God can give it back to us in a fresh, new way through the power of the Spirit. Mr. Moody is gone. The great pastors and musicians of the past are gone. But the Holy Spirit is still here!He takes the old and makes it new. He raises up new men to minister in new ways to a new day, always building on the solid foundation of the past. We do not live on memorials; we live on the power of the Spirit of God as He ministers the Word of God—and the Spirit and the Word never get old!
“What mean these stones?” They can mean many things, but I suggest that they say to us: remember the past, bury the past, use the past. Experience death, burial, and resurrection; and move into the future—your own Promised Land—to claim all that God has for you in Jesus Christ.