There’s an island off San Francisco called Alcatraz that’s now a tourist site but until 1963 it was the location of a notorious prison. The dangerous currents that wrapped around the island made escape virtually impossible. In the months leading up the moment when I turned the control of my life over to the God who made me, it felt like being incarcerated on an island that I desperately wanted to get off. A causeway is an elevated strip of land over a stretch of water and they exist in different forms all over the world. There’s a famous one in the north of England, a fully made up tarmac road from the mainland to Lindisfarne, also known as Holy Island. It’s a place of great significance in the history of the Christian Church in these islands, a powerful ancient sending centre for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Maybe you’ve seen the movie Prince of Egypt that retells the story of Moses leading the people of Israel out of captivity in Egypt and through the Red Sea, miraculously parted to allow them to walk through on dry land. It’s one of the most epic Bible stories of them all. A vast army pursuing nearly 2 million terrified people destined to be cornered on a beach. Then a divine causeway appears and remains in place just long enough for the people to be evacuated. You see, Moses believed in what God had said and a miracle of mammoth proportions was the result. The parting of the Red Sea would be etched into the memory of those people as an everlasting reminder of the deliverance of God.
It’s yet another reminder that God is on the side of the oppressed, the persecuted and the discarded and he still is. He vindicates those who are enslaved by others or by circumstances that are not of their own making. The message throughout the Bible is the promise of deliverance, liberation and hope. The parallels with our lives today are huge. Lots of us are all slaves in some way. Unbreakable habits, crippling addictions and fears that grip us and dominate our lives. The good news is that God’s story never ends, it simply becomes the story of the next generation and the next. Despite the struggles of life on earth, God is present and profoundly connected to the people he has created.
For the nation of Israel all those centuries ago, trusting in God’s promise would require their voluntary displacement from all they had ever known. A desperately high price to pay for aplan that involved legging it all the way to the edge of the Red Sea in the hope of a freak of nature. There were probably mutterings about hiring a fleet of 15,000 double deckers buses as a backup. God was looking at the future and that epic maritime miracle would be etched in their hearts and written in their history. You see, a man called Joshua was there to witness the sovereign power of God. Something he would depend on 40 years later as a future generation would be required to trust in Almighty God once again for a miracle of similar proportions.
At 80 years of age, Joshua, now walking in the footsteps of Moses his predecessor, stood on the banks of the River Jordan at floodtide and trusted God to part the waters once again. At the Red Sea Moses raised a staff and God did the rest but this time it would require a physical step into the raging waters. Here’s how the Bible describes that incredible event. This is what the Lord told Joshua, Today I will make you a great leader in the eyes of all the people. They will know I am with you, just as I was with Moses. As soon as your feet touch the water it will be cut off upstream and the river will stand up like a wall.
So the people left their camp to cross the river. The Jordan was overflowing its banks but as soon as the feet of the leaders touched the river’s edge, the water began backing up a great distance away. The leaders stood in the middle while the people hurried across the riverbed. When everyone was safely across to the other side they all watched while the priests crossed carrying a chest containing tablets of stone that had the Ten Commandments written on them. As soon as the priests came up out of the riverbed and their feet were on high ground, the water of the River Jordan returned and overflowed its banks as before. Then Joshua said to the people. In the future tell your children, this is where the people of Israel crossed the Jordan. God dried up the river right before our eyes until we were all across, just as he had done at the Red Sea. He did this so all the people of the earth might know that the Lord’s hand is powerful.
I wonder what the atmosphere was like as word got out that they were to break camp and cross the Jordan. For the young and the strong, it probably couldn’t come soon enough but for the vulnerable it required faith in God that they would even escape with their lives. Right at the very centre of the Gospel of Jesus is the challenge to give up the control of our lives to be reborn into God’s Kingdom and then to step over the dividing line to become fearless carriers of this life transforming message in the hands of the God who made us. The followers of Jesus have always been people who have trusted God and then sailed into unchartered waters driven by a restless desire to radically follow the wind of his presence to bring change to people’s lives and society as a whole.
At the beginning I told you about the causeway from the English mainland to Holy Island, but here’s what I didn’t tell you. It is the only route on and off the island and it’s time dependant. Normally the causeway is totally submerged by the sea but you can use it twice a day at low tide. As you can imagine, there’s always a few nutters who turn it into an extreme sport trying the run the tide but the elements always win and sometimes it ends in tragedy. The divine causeway that was created by God allowing safe passage through the Red Sea and the River Jordan all those centuries ago could never have been predicted and has certainly never been repeated. A moment recorded only in the eternal calendar of God. And it’s the same for each one of us when God presents us with a causeway as the route through our separation from him. The way out of a meaningless life wondering if there is more but never personally connecting with it. Maybe you have sense the causeway emerging out of the water today, that is the voice of a Father calling you back into relationship with him. Why not respond to his invitation by praying this prayer with me today.
My Father in Heaven, I stand at the water’s edge of my separation from you. Thank you for sending you son Jesus to be the divine causeway back to you and my only hope of personal salvation. I choose to walk across today. Amen.