In our reading from Joshua, the people of Israel are on the verge of entering the land of promise. There’s just one problem. Despite the fact that the land is theirs—they have no power or ability in and of themselves to enter in and possess it. The flood waters of the Jordan river lie between the people and the promise.
And yet, as we read, the Lord intervenes in a miraculous way. His presence goes before the people as the ark of the covenant is carried into those dangerous waters. His power is displayed before the eyes of the people as the waters part and the ground underneath the feet of the priests becomes instantaneously dry. His people cross over in safety as the Lord of all the earth stands in their midst to hold back the waters and show them the path in which they may walk securely and without fear.
Now why does the Lord display his power and presence to his people in this miraculous manner? Well, I’m going to cheat a bit and read the final verses of the next chapter in Joshua. Here Joshua says that “the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over…so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.” (4:23-24)
Here, we are told that this miraculous sign that the Lord does is not simply a testimony to Israel, but to all the peoples—all the nations—of the earth. Israel’s weakness is meant to point all the earth to the Lord’s mighty power. Israel’s helplessness is meant to point every nation to the God who makes all things possible.
It’s a reminder to us that God loves to show his power to the world through our weaknesses. That’s what Paul finally realizes when, as he’s fervently praying for God to take away this thorn in the flesh, God says to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Leading Paul to declare, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (1 Cor. 12:9-10)
You, like the people of Israel, have also been promised an inheritance. Christ has promised to give you his eternal kingdom. But here in this life you obtain this inheritance through weakness. Through cross and trial and suffering. Why? Not so that you might earn merit. But so that God’s power, and his grace, and his love might be displayed to others through you. Looking weak and helpless is by no means an American virtue. Yet God does not call us to flex in the face of difficulty, but to be content. To wait patiently for the day of his salvation to be revealed. To be witnesses who through weakness become instruments of God to show his wonders to the world.