[Joshua 4] Who is the Apostle in Your Life and Why Does it Matter? When Joshua begins his ministry he is instructed to choose 12 stones and set them for a memorial. When Jesus began His ministry he called 12 apostles whose names are engraved in the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem. In this story of the people crossing from the problems in the wilderness to the potential of Canaan we see a figure of the much needed ministry of the apostle which is little in evidence in Christianity today even though Jesus said that he would build His church upon the apostles.
1 And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over Jordan, that the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying, 2 Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man, 3 And command ye them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of Jordan, out of the place where the priests ‘feet stood firm, twelve stones, and ye shall carry them over with you, and leave them in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night. 4 Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man: 5 And Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of Jordan, and take ye up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel:6 That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones? 7 Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever. 8 And the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of Jordan, as the Lord spake unto Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel, and carried them over with them unto the place where they lodged, and laid them down there. 9 And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests which bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day.
The beginning of the conquest of Canaan was marked by 12 stones taken out of the river bed of Jordan where the people went over on dry ground. This verse will give light on a much discussed verse of scripture where Jesus called Peter a rock that He would build on.
[Mat 16:15-19 KJV] 15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? 16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. 17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed [it] unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. 18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Now the churches that believe in the doctrine of apostolic succession believe that Jesus was actually referring to Peter himself when He spoke of the rock that He would build on. Evangelicals on the other hand teach that Peter was not the rock but rather Jesus was referring to the revelation that He was the Christ was actually the rock that He would build on. Never forget that Jesus was a Jew. He knew the scriptures. He knew He was named after Joshua. Joshua sets up 12 stones and He calls 12 disciples. The correlation is not accidental. Now those who believe in apostolic succession teach that their authority goes back to Peter who (in their view of things) appointed all of the bishops from the time of Peter down to Pope Francis today. They further believe that anything done outside the aegis of the authority of apostolic succession is ultimately not valid. This goes back to Ignatius of Antioch an early church father who supposedly taught that anyone acting outside the authority of the authorized bishop was in their words “anathema”. In those days the larger city churches would send bishops into smaller towns and build a house for them where all worship was to take place. If a house church or other activity took place anywhere other than the bishop’s house the organizers were excommunicated and sometimes executed. This was the beginning of a doctrine that exists today in many circles that anything you do without your pastor’s permission is rebellion because you are outside their “covering”. If you believe that then we all must go back to the Catholic church and submit to apostolic succession because (in this view) we who are not Catholics are in fact what they term us to be “schismatics” who need to return to the fold of the true church.
Back to the banks of the Jordan and Jesus with the apostle Peter. Was Peter the rock or was Peter’s declaration of Jesus being the son of God the rock? Remember that Peter’s name was actually Simon and Jesus renamed Him “Cephas” or “A Stone”. Paul said this:
[Eph 2:20 KJV] 20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner [stone];
Not only is Peter a rock but the 12 apostles and in fact ALL GOD CALLED APOSTLES and PROPHETS comprise the foundation that Jesus builds His church on. Where is the pastor in all of this? Necessary to be sure but not even part of the foundation. In the Revelation John describes the New Jerusalem:
[Rev 21:14 KJV] 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
The early church fathers saw the 12 apostles Jesus appointed as 12 founding apostles. They believed that at the end of the church age God would raise up 12 finishing apostles based on Rev. 12:1 where the church appears as a woman with a crown of 12 stars in her hair. They also point to the 24 elders around the throne as the 12 founding and future 12 finishing apostles they believe would be raised up. The 12 stones that came out of the river Jordan serve to confirm this thinking that the stones are not mere beliefs about Jesus but the men themselves anointed and appointed by God to apostolic ministry.
So can you have a valid ministry without apostles and prophets? The church has rejected the prophetic and the apostolic for centuries yet has won millions to Christ. The church as a whole only truly accepts pastors and evangelists and sometimes teachers. Should we then just dispense with the whole notion of apostles and prophets since we seem to do so well without them? Only if you are willing to reject the foundation that Jesus said He builds His church on. Who is the prophet in your life? Who is the apostle in your life? How different would our lives be and our church experience if we had these vital gifts that Jesus gave to us in Eph. 4:11,12.
10 For the priests which bare the ark stood in the midst of Jordan, until every thing was finished that the Lord commanded Joshua to speak unto the people, according to all that Moses commanded Joshua: and the people hasted and passed over. 11 And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over, that the ark of the Lord passed over, and the priests, in the presence of the people. 12 And the children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, passed over armed before the children of Israel, as Moses spake unto them:13 About forty thousand prepared for war passed over before the Lord unto battle, to the plains of Jericho. 14 On that day the Lord magnified Joshua in the sight of all Israel; and they feared him, as they feared Moses, all the days of his life. 15 And the Lord spake unto Joshua, saying, 16 Command the priests that bear the ark of the testimony, that they come up out of Jordan. 17 Joshua therefore commanded the priests, saying, Come ye up out of Jordan. 18 And it came to pass, when the priests that bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord were come up out of the midst of Jordan, and the soles of the priests’ feet were lifted up unto the dry land, that the waters of Jordan returned unto their place, and flowed over all his banks, as they did before.
While the priests stood in the middle of the Jordan with the ark on their shoulders the waters were parted and the riverbed was dry. The elders of the twelve tribes take stones out of the river bed and set them up and they also took 12 stones from the bank and set them up in the river (24 stones, 24 elders, 24 apostles). In all of these miracles Joshua’s ministry is established and they feared Joshua and they feared or honored Moses. Why? Because of the miracles. We can’t leave this out. One of the signs of apostolic ministry and calling is signs, miracles and wonders. Many men and women claim to be apostles and demand apostolic submission to their authority. Apostolic authority only exists or is measured by apostolic calling validated by signs, miracles and wonders. Powerless apostles are either not called in the first place or they haven’t matured into their calling. Most apostles would be offended if you called them baby apostles but outside of the manifestation of signs, miracles and wonders they are at best apostles in training and they need to stay humble enough and yielded enough not to become strutting little Napoleons demanding we align with them when in fact they haven’t matured into their calling. Remember the words of Jesus:
[Rev 2:2 KJV] 2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
19 And the people came up out of Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and encamped in Gilgal, in the east border of Jericho. 20 And those twelve stones, which they took out of Jordan, did Joshua pitch in Gilgal. 21 And he spake unto the children of Israel, saying, When your children shall ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean these stones? 22 Then ye shall let your children know, saying, Israel came over this Jordan on dry land. 23 For the Lord your God dried up the waters of Jordan from before you, until ye were passed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red sea, which he dried up from before us, until we were gone over:24 That all the people of the earth might know the hand of the Lord, that it is mighty: that ye might fear the Lord your God for ever.
The twelve stones served to establish a generational testimony of the goodness of God among the people. Likewise apostolic ministry is generational in character. The first century apostles generationally passed the teachings of Jesus from their generation to the next generation of leaders (known as the apostolic fathers). You can look even in recent times and identify leaders who established connections between one generation and what God did to the next emerging generation. Apostolic ministry marries the generations and furthers the purposes of God.
Hebrews 3:1 calls Jesus the apostle and high priest of our profession. John the Baptist as a prophet inaugurated Jesus in His earthly ministry. Prophets hold the door open for apostles. The prophetic move is only in the earth to be a forerunner of a coming apostolic move that will culminate in the emergence of 12 finishing apostles. Three of these apostles will emerge from the Arabian Peninsula out of the ranks of radical Islam just as Paul who was a former persecutor of the church. A great change is coming and we must be prepared to say “blessed is he (or she) who comes in the name of the Lord…” and be prepared to accept the shaking and upheaval that will attend the life and ministry of men and women who will move in unimpeachable power that the world cannot ignore and the church cannot marginalize.