As the Israelites were about to enter the promise land, Joshua rose up “and commanded the people, ‘As soon as you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God being carried by the Levitical priests, then you shall set out from your place and follow it. Yet there shall be a distance between you and it, about 2,000 cubits in length. Do not come near it, in order that you may know the way you shall go, for you have not passed this way before.’”(Joshua 3:3–4 ESV)
Watch as a little girl sits in her chair on the first day of the 1st grade. See the man with no cooking skills in the kitchen with the idea that he is going to make an apple pie. Then, there is the woman who has raised her children as a stay-at-home mom as she walks into her new job in the work force. Or, the young couple, unable to have a baby of their own, waiting, as just the other side of the door is the infant they will take home and raise as their own. Uncharted territory!
Have you ever stopped to imagine what it would have been like a few hundred years back to have been on the Mayflower? Leaving everything you know back in “civilization:” your family, your church, your job, and your home. Days and days at sea with nothing in the distance but sea! Then someone cries, “Land, ho!” With a snap of the neck, the eyes strain as you gaze into the distance, causing emotional stirrings within you as you finally behold the land you have longed to see. My new home! But, then a daunting sense of alarm comes rushing in as you see the tree line looming larger and larger with every passing moment. What lies beyond? What befalls us behind the tree line, as we have not passed this way before?
Israel had known about the promise land for forty years, but they had not experienced it. They had no idea what laid beyond Jordan’s distant shore. They had been told about a land that flowed with milk and honey, Exodus 3:8; 33:3. What did it mean to live in houses you did not build, nor partake of vineyards you did not plant? Why, it must have sounded too good to be true as they had “not passed this way before.”
Salvation! Forgiveness! Release from sin! Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world that God loved, John 3:16. Stand there in the temple yard on Pentecost Day as Peter is preaching, Acts 2. You are instantly amazed that you can hear the message so clearly in your native tongue. But, there are people all around you, which you cannot communicate with, who seem to be able to understand everything being said just like you do. The message is strong, powerful, and compelling. You hear yourself crying out with others, “Men and brethren what shall we do?” I need to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of all my sins? These are uncharted waters. Do I trust Peter’s words? Do you trust the newly proclaimed Messiah? Do I let Him have His way with me, as we have not passed this way before?
Heaven! Hell! We have read about both. Never been to either one! One is good and the other is terrifying. No one has ever gone to either place and come back to tell us about it. There is strong evidence that both places exist, but as we have not passed this way before, we are left to decide—do we trust what we read in the Bible concerning both and act accordingly, or do we press on with doing things our own way? The adulterer, the homosexual, the murderer, the liar, the thief, and all of us sinners have to decide. When? Now! For, when it comes to eternity, entering it is a fact, Hebrew 9:27. The when is unknown! Deciding is a must, as you have not passed this way before.