(Preached at FBC Pauls Valley, OK, Sunday morning July 20, 2014)
A couple of weeks ago our son Michael took a Drivers Ed class in Norman. We were all excited about it; we pre-registered him online, and we made sure to check the list of all the things he had to have ready for the first day: the payment for the class; a folder to hold his papers in, a highlighter, lunch plans. We went by the school to make sure we knew where it was and how long it would take us to get there, etc. We weren’t leaving anything to chance; we are ready for him to drive, so we wanted to make sure everything was prepared & ready for him to take that class!
You’ve probably done the same thing with certain events like that in your life: perhaps getting your kindergartener ready for their first day or class, or a big job interview. If we make that kind of preparation for those kinds of things, how much more should we prepare for the things of God?! I want us to turn to a verse of scripture that speaks of God’s people preparing for Him work, Joshua 3:5:
“Then Joshua said to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.'”
I. The path set before them
The way before them was a challenging one: they were on the verge of entering the Promised Land, and there were many obstacles. In fact, of the 12 men who went to spy out the land 40 years earlier, only two thought they should enter and take it. It was a difficult and challenging direction they were about to embark on.
But there was not only the “big picture” of the conquest of the entire land; even crossing the Jordan to get into the Promised Land would be a challenge. Verse 15 says the Jordan was overflowing its banks those days. Some strong men might be able to cross it (I Chronicles 12:15) but how would they get the whole nation of people: men, women, and children, old and young, across? It was a difficult path.
Their path was challenging; but many of us face difficult paths as well:
— FBC Pauls Valley is currently without a pastor, and has just put together a search committee, and needs to get a direction for the future — and all this in a day and time in which leading a church is a difficult thing. 80% of our Southern Baptist churches are either plateaued or declining. Our culture is becoming increasingly hostile against Christianity; this is not the 1950’s; it is a difficult time in which to do ministry. It is a difficult path which is set before this church.
— Some of us personally are also facing challenges: for direction, purpose, ministry. Some of us need to know what God wants to do with our lives. Others are looking for jobs, or income to support your family, or trying to find the ministry that God has for you. Maybe you are having to work through an illness, or a difficult diagnosis, or a family that is falling apart, or challenging finances, or navigate through a career change. Many times there are no “easy answers” for these things. It is just a difficult path that is set before you.
What should we do in those times?
II. The Consecration that is precedes God’s work:
Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow YHWH will do wonders among you.” He said that God was about to do something great: “wonders”, which would overcome all the obstacles on the course that was set in front of them. But before He did, they needed to prepare themselves first: “consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”
Bible history is replete with examples of those who prepared themselves for God to do something special:
— In Exodus 19:10, before God gave the people of Israel the 10 Commandments, He told Moses: “God to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments (:11) and let them be ready for the 3rd day, for on the 3rd day YHWH will come down on Mt. Sinai …”.
— Here Joshua told the people of Israel, about to cross the Jordan to enter the Promised Land, to prepare themselves.
— Before the Messiah would come, Isaiah 40 says that “every valley shall be exalted, let mountains and hills be made low, rough places plain … before the day of the Lord will come.” In other words, they were to prepare in the desert a highway for the coming King.
— John the Baptist came fulfilling Isaiah 40’s words, preaching: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord”. There was preparation that needed to be done before Jesus’ ministry would be manifest on earth. He came to prepare the way. In Luke he told them some specific things to do in order to prepare (we’ll look at those in a moment …)
— In Matthew 4, Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days in the wilderness, preparing Himself for the mission God had set before him.
— Before He left earth, Jesus told His disciples to prepare themselves by spend time in the upper room in prayer, until they would be filled with the Holy Spirit for the work He had for them.
— Paul told Timothy in II Timothy 2:2, “if a man therefore cleanse himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, and prepared for every good work.” Paul told Timothy that if he wanted be “a vessel for honor” — someone whom God would really use in a special way — that he should “cleanse himself from these things”. Preparing himself in personal holiness would prepare him for the ministry God had for him.
All of these instances tell us that before God does something special with His people, He asks them to prepare themselves for what He is going to do.
If we want to be used by God as individuals, we need to prepare ourselves to be used by Him, by consecrating ourselves. The same thing is true for this church. I believe He has good things for you tomorrow — perhaps “wonders” — but it is not just going to happen. You have to “consecrate yourselves” today, that tomorrow He might do those wonders.
We must be committed to prepare ourselves for what God is going to do. You have probably heard the old maxim: “The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to PREPARE to win” (some credit that to Bobby Knight; some to Joe Paterno; and some to Bear Bryant. Since Bryant was the oldest, I’m going to give him credit for it! But it doesn’t matter as much who said it, as the truth that is in it!) It is one thing to say you really “want” to win; it is another to have the will to PREPARE: to do the exercises, to make the practices, to put in all the preparations that are necessary throughout the year to win a championship. A team might have “the will to win” a game, but when it comes down to the 4th quarter, if they had not been having “the will to prepare to win” by getting in good condition during conditioning drills, then they will run out of energy, and their “will to win” is going to falter. It is not “the will to win” that matters, as much as “the will to prepare to win.”
What we need to see is that it is the same with the church. I might show up on Sunday and “will” for God to do something really great in the worship service. But the question is not as much “do I have the will on Sunday?” but did I have the will during the week to PREPARE for God to do something great on Sunday? Did I study His word and prepare a message that He could use to touch hearts? Did I spend time in prayer asking Him all week to bless the services? Did I keep my life clean from sin so that I could be a vessel through whom His Holy Spirit could work?
Thus we might apply that old maxim in this way: “The will to see God work is not as important as the will to PREPARE to see God work!”
— This is what is before you all as a church right now. I think God wants to do something special with this church; but the question is: Will you prepare yourselves for God to do something special in this church and in this town?
— This is what is before some of us as individuals right now. God wants to use you in a great and special way. But it is not just going to “happen.” You have to prepare yourself, if God is going to use you.
“Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you”!
III. The Meaning of Consecration:
What did Joshua mean when he told the people: “Consecrate yourselves”? This word “consecrate” is the Hebrew word “kawdash” — it means to be “holy”, set apart; sanctified. The related word “kadosh” is the word the angels who minister around the throne of God cry out day and night: “kadosh, kadosh, kadosh … holy, holy, holy.”
In Leviticus 11:44 God told the people of Israel, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (I Peter 1 quotes this in the New Testament, reinforcing the fact that this is God’s command for us as New Testament Christians.) That is this same word. To consecrate ourselves is to make ourselves more holy; it is to make ourselves more like God.
So Joshua told the people that they needed to prepare themselves by becoming holy, for the the great things that God was about to do.
They knew very well in Joshua’s day what it meant for them to “consecrate” themselves. They had been given detailed instructions in the Book of Leviticus about what was “clean” and what was “unclean”. For example, in Leviticus 11, God gave the people of Israel rules for avoiding “unclean” things: dead animals, or unclean animals which they were to avoid. At the end of that chapter, in :44 He said, “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourself unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth.”
So when He was telling them to “consecrate” themselves, that was telling them to make themselves clean from contamination they might have had from contact with any of the unclean things they might have come in contact with. There are all kinds of example of that in Leviticus: they were to avoid animals that God told them to stay away from; they were to keep the sacrifices God had commanded them to keep; they were to prepare themselves physically by being clean; they were to make sure they had kept all the commandments that God had given them in that book, so that they were totally right with God in every way.
(I love how New Orleans Baptist Seminary Professor David Howard describes it: as separation from “anything that would contaminate one’s relationship with a perfect God.” (NAC Joshua, p. 122)
The same thing is true for us today. If we want to consecrate ourselves before God, to prepare for Him to do something special among us, we need to make sure that we are obeying Him in every area of our life, and that nothing is contaminating our relationship with Him. II Corinthians 7:1 says we are to “cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
That’s pretty all-encompassing in its scope, and is very general — but we get some more specific ideas in scripture:
— In Luke 3, we get some more ideas about what it means to prepare ourselves. John the Baptist came, telling the people to “make ready the way of the Lord”, to “make His paths straight.” The people asked him, “What shall we do?” And he gave them some specific things to change:
— He said let the one who has two tunics share with him who has none. In other words, don’t be materialistic; care about people more than money or things.
— He told the tax collectors to collect no more than they were supposed to. In other words, don’t cheat at business; be people of integrity. It matters what you do on the job as well as in church.
— He told the soldiers not to accuse people falsely, and to be content with their wages. Again, be people of integrity, not lying, not all about money.
He was saying that “preparing the way of the Lord” meant to get right with God and others in every area of your life: making God and not money the most important thing in your life; treating people the way you would want to be treated; helping those who need to be helped, sharing; being right with God and others in every area of your life.
In other words, “preparing the way of the Lord” and “consecrating” yourself means to obey God in specific, particular areas of your life that are not right with Him.
When Paul told Timothy in II Timothy 2:21 to “cleanse himself from these things”, it was in the context of doctrinal purity, of not quarreling over things in the church, of fleeing youthful lusts, and pursuing the things of God.
That means that if we want to “consecrate” ourselves like Joshua told the people to in Joshua 3:5, then we need to repent of false beliefs; we need to stop quarreling over things in the church and insisting on our own ways; it means we need to clean our lives from every kind of lust, pornography, wrong movies, books, every kind of immorality — as well as rededicate ourselves TO seeking God the way we should, in His word & prayer every day.
These passages and others instruct us that consecration is a call to address “anything that would contaminate your relationship with God.” It is a call to holiness and obedience in every particular area of our lives. Nothing less will do.
Alvin Reed, evangelism professor at our Southeastern Baptist Seminary, wrote a great blog article a few weeks ago on the need to pray for revival. His first point was: “If we simply use prayer for revival as an excuse for our unwillingness to obey God, we should not pray for revival, we should repent. Prayer for revival is not a bandaid cure; it is a call to repentance.” He quoted A.W. Tozer: “Have you noticed how much praying for revival has been going on of late–and how little revival has resulted? I believe the problem is that we have been trying to substitute praying for obeying, and it simply will not work.”
You & I can pray for “revival” to break out in our lives and in our church all we want to — but it can’t substitute for REPENTING in specific areas of our lives that need to change. Now I have not listed — indeed cannot list — every possible individual sin you might need to repent of this morning, but the Holy Spirit is able to convict of what He needs to. Most of you know, deep down, areas of your life that need to change. Repenting, and changing your life in those specific areas is what you need to do to “consecrate yourself” that God might work wonders in your life, and in this church, in the days ahead.
IV. The Personal Nature of the Command:
This verb is in the Hithpael in Hebrew, which is reflexive, meaning that one does it for themselves. This consecration is something that, if it was going to happen, they had to make happen themselves.
We see this same thing in that II Corinthians 7:1 passage: “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse OURSELVES from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” Again, we see the command in the New Testament is for God’s people to “cleanse (our)SELVES.” This is something that we must do for ourselves. No one else can do it for us!
I believe strongly in the sovereignty of God — but we make a mistake if we think that God will just suddenly reach down from heaven and “zap” us into a more spiritual state. No, He says, “Consecrate yourselves.” We have a role in it. (Really I believe that it is GOD who will nudge us to consecrate ourselves. If we do it, it is because He is up to something. When you see God’s people consecrating themselves, you can bet that God is up to something!)
So this is something that YOU must do.
— no one else is going to clean up your television and movie watching
— no one else is going to change your bad attitude
— no one else is going to forgive that person for you
— no one else is going to make you more faithful to your church duties
— no one else is going to make you stop being different at home than you are at church
YOU must do it. “Consecrate YOURSELVES” he said!
B. AND it is “Consecrate YOURSELVES”: notice the personal focus on this command. The focus of your consecration is to be on YOURSELF, not OTHERS!
This is important, because our tendency is to say: “yeah, our country really needs to change”; or “our church really needs to change”; or “the church staff really needs to change”; or “if those deacons would just get consecrated” or “if my husband or wife would just get right …” etc.
God reminds us here that all of those other people are not your responsibility! You are to focus on YOURSELF; getting as consecrated and holy as YOU can. You are not responsible for what everyone else does. You are responsible for yourself. “Consecrate yourself” …
— not the other church members
— not the deacons
— not your neighbor
— not your husband or wife
— not the church staff
— not those “other groups” in the church …
— Consecrate YOURSELF! Your focus should be on what YOU need to do to consecrate yourself for God’s work tomorrow.
C. WHAT YOU DO MATTERS
The one thing you must NOT do is think that it doesn’t matter what you do; that God is going to do what He is going to do anyway.
No, He said “consecrate yourselves” — there was something they needed to do.
Throughout scripture we see that it DOES matter what we do individually:
— In II Kings 13, when Elisha the prophet was about to die, Joash, the King of Israel, came to him mourning that the protector of Israel was about to die. Elisha told him to take the arrows and strike the ground. So Joash struck the ground 3 times and stopped. Elisha was angry and told him he should have struck the ground many times — then he would have destroyed his enemies, but as it was, he would only defeat them 3 times. The point is, it mattered how many times he hit the ground with those arrows. It mattered what he did.
— In the Book of Joshua, the Bible tells the story of a man named Achan, who, when God told the people of Israel at the Battle of Jericho not to take anything from the city, took some clothes and gold. Israel won the Battle of Jericho, and Achan hid the things he took. But when Israel went to fight against the next city, the little town of Ai, they fled before the city and were defeated. Joshua fell down before the LORD and cried out, but God said, “Why are you crying out? There is sin in the camp!” And Israel could not go on to victory until the sin was eradicated from the camp.
The point there is, it matters what one person does. ONE person’s sin can cause defeat for the whole people of Israel. Don’t you think it is the same way today? Don’t you realize that ONE person’s sin can hurt the whole church? Everybody else in this church could get consecrated with God, and get right, and get ready for God to do something — but if YOU don’t, it matters. YOU could be the one who holds the church back from everything that God wants to do. And so here God is saying, don’t let that happen. Don’t be the one who stops His work. Be the one He uses to bring revival.
A couple of weeks ago I shared briefly about the Welsh Revival in the early 1900’s, which changed the whole nation of Wales, so that bars and gambling establishments were shut down for lack of interest, and the horses in the mines didn’t know how to respond to commands because the miners were no longer cursing. But that whole revival started in a worship service, with ONE young woman who, when no one else would offer a testimony, stood and said, “I just want to say that I love Jesus Christ with all my heart” in a heartfelt and simple way. And yet God’s Spirit used that one person’s obedience to ignite the Welsh Revival which changed a whole country!
All of this tells us that it DOES matter what you do. It DOES matter what you watch; it DOES matter how you pray; it DOES matter what decision you make. It DOES matter what YOU as an individual do. That’s why he says, “Consecrate yourself …”!
The result of Joshua’s command to the people of Israel was that they DID consecrate themselves, and God DID do wonders: Joshua 3 goes on to say that when the priests of Israel came up to the Jordan River with the Ark of the Covenant, the Jordan River (which was in its flood stage!) stood up like a wall on one side, to allow the people to cross into the Promised Land on dry ground! And that was only the beginning of the miraculous things God did among them.
When they consecrated themselves, God DID do wonders among them! What is it that God would do with you? What is it that He wants to do in this church? I believe He wants to do things more wonderful than we would dare to imagine. But for that to happen, we must take Him seriously, and consecrate ourselves today, so that He will do wonders tomorrow!