The story is told of a wealthy man’s funeral at which “Guide me O thou great Jehovah” was the opening hymn. It may have been a typo but the final verse read as follows:
“When I tread the verge of Jordan
Bid my anxious fears subside
Death of death and hell’s destruction
Land my safe on Canaan’s side.”
What is our hope beyond death? That is the question for all who “tread the verge of Jordan”?
In the Bible, Jordan is the barrier we must cross as we pass from the wilderness and into the promised land. It represents our transition from the testing of this life into the rest of the next. So, how can we be sure we will land safe on Canaan’s side?
In the book of Joshua, the one whose name is “Jesus” (Joshua) leads the people across the Jordan and into the land of milk and honey. In Joshua 3 and 4, this transition is described as both a “passing over” and a “parting of the waters”. This brings to mind the great salvation events of the Exodus. The reader is being told: entering God’s rest is about salvation. It’s about going death to life with Jesus at our head.
But as the Old Testament unfolds we see a bad people ruining a good land. They had been called God’s son – His pride and joy (Exodus 4:22). But far from living the life of God’s son, they “rebelled and vexed God’s Holy Spirit” (Isaiah 63:10). They earned His curses – just as Moses had predicted they would (Deuteronomy 4:25-28). They would be uprooted from the land and cast out. But beyond the exile would come the true salvation (Deuteronomy 4:29-31).
Fifteen centuries later, there was another gathering of Israelites on the banks of the Jordan. They had all come out to hear a wild and woolly preacher called John the Baptist. He told them they needed to pass through the Jordan’s waters again. They weren’t really the Lord’s people, they weren’t really at home with God – not spiritually. Multitudes agreed, they confessed their sins and were baptised. And then something extraordinary happened:
Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. (Matthew 3:13)
Jesus is baptized! The LORD of Glory joins the sinners, is numbered among the transgressors, and He “passes over” into God’s rest at their head.
Where we have failed to live the life of God’s son – the Son of God lives it for us. He is our spiritual Joshua, bringing us in to the Father’s rest.
So then, as death draws near – as it does to us all – we can take comfort in this: the Son of God has joined us in our predicament. And He passed through the waters for us. Jesus has taken on that final enemy, death, and burst out the other side. If we belong to Him, He will bring us through to Canaan’s side:
When I tread the verge of Jordan
Bid my anxious fears subside!