After months of waiting, this week it is finally here! Starting this Friday Pleasant Ridge will be presenting our Christmas musical “The Grinch” downtown at the CoMMA. It is a major production, and preparations have been made for months in advance: the choir has been practicing twice a week all fall; actors have learned the lines for their characters; costumes have been sewn; tickets have been bought and given to friends and co-workers; tests have been made on the equipment for the characters that will fly; videos have been made; all kinds of people have been lined up for food, and child care, and decision counseling, and greeting people at the CoMMA — preparation in every imaginable way has been made for this program.
Preparation is vital for something like this, because programs of this magnitude do not just “happen.” It takes preparation to make something like this come off successfully. What we need to see is that there is another kind of preparation that needs to be made if this program will accomplish what we really desire — and that is our SPIRITUAL preparation. If our hearts and lives are not right before God, and we have not prepared ourselves spiritually, then all the other preparations we have made are made in vain. We must prepare ourselves spiritually if we want to see God work this week. And we need to understand that this same kind of preparation is also vital if we want to see God work in other areas of our lives in the days ahead: in our families, our church, and our community. This morning I want us to turn to a passage of scripture that challenges us to prepare ourselves today, in order that we may see God work in a special way in the days ahead. Joshua 3:5 says:
“Then Joshua said to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.'”
I. Challenges That Require Consecration
Joshua and the people of Israel definitely faced a challenging path: they were on the verge of entering the Promised Land, and there were many obstacles that faced them. In fact, of the 12 men who were sent to spy out the land 40 years earlier, only two thought they could 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 that lay before them; 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 challenging and difficult path that faced them.
The path that they faced was challenging; but many of us face challenges as well:
— Our church faces great challenges. We have a major ministry presentation this week at the CoMMA, for sure. But there are even greater challenges: of trying to reach and disciple people, in a culture that is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity, and even those who are not hostile are apathetic. Statisticians tell us that 80% of our Southern Baptist churches are either plateaued or declining. The pressures to compromise Biblical standards are great; it is a difficult path which is set before our church.
— And many of us personally are also facing challenges. 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 navigating 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 these challenging times?
II. The Need for Consecration
In Joshua 3:5, Joshua said, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow YHWH will do wonders among you.”
He told the people that God was about to do something great among them: “wonders”, which would overcome all the obstacles on the course that was set in front of them. But before God would do that, Joshua said that the people needed to prepare themselves first. He said: “consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”
The Bible 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: “Go 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 …”.
— In our passage for today, Joshua told the people of Israel who about to cross the Jordan to enter the Promised Land, to prepare themselves that God might do wonders among them.
— 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. So God sent John the Baptist to prepare the way. In Luke John told the people some specific things they needed 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 spending 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 about 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 God has some great things for us in the days ahead — perhaps even “wonders”, like Joshua talks about here. But it is not just going to “happen”. We have to “consecrate ourselves” today, that tomorrow God 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 saying 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: “The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to PREPARE to win.”) It is one thing to say you really “want” to win a football game; it is another to have the will to PREPARE: to do the exercises, to put in the practices, to make 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 had “the will to prepare to win” by getting in good condition during conditioning drills, then they will run out of energy as they come down the stretch, 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 really “will” that God would something really great in our 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 those services? Did I keep my life clean from sin so that I could be a vessel through whom His Holy Spirit could work? It’s not just “Do I have the will for God to work?” but “Do I have the will to PREPARE for God to work?”
— And that is what is before us as a church right now. I think God wants to do something special with this church; I think He wants to do something special at the CoMMA this week; even more than that, I think God wants to do great things with this church in the days ahead, to glorify His name in worship; to see people saved and discipled and sent out to the nations on mission. I think this church has great potential to see God do some awesome things. But the question is: Will we PREPARE ourselves for God to do something special in this church? Will we fast and pray and seek God and prepare ourselves in holiness so that we might see Him do that kind of great work?
— And it’s the same way with some of us as individuals right now. I believe that God wants to do some special things in some of the lives and families of people right here. I believe He 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. That’s why Joshua said: “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you”!
III. The Meaning of Consecration:
But what does this word “consecrate” really mean? Most of us don’t use that word very often in daily conversation. What does it mean to “consecrate” yourself?
The word “consecrate” here in Joshua 3:5 is the Hebrew word “kawdash” — it means to be “holy”, to be set apart; sanctified. The word it comes from, “kadosh”, is the word the angels who minister around the throne of God cry out day and night: “kadosh, kadosh, kadosh”: “Holy, holy, holy.
And because God is holy, He commands His people to be holy. In Leviticus 11:44 God told the people of Israel, “Be holy, for I am holy.” He says the same thing in Peter 1:16, reinforcing that in both Old and New Testament, God’s desire is for us to be holy, like He is holy. So to consecrate ourselves is to make ourselves more holy; to make ourselves more like God.
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 God was telling Israel to “consecrate” themselves, He was telling them to clean themselves from any contamination they might have incurred had from things that He had commanded them in His word to stay away from. They were to make sure they had kept all the commandments that God had given them in His word, so that they were totally right with God in every way. (I love what New Orleans Baptist Seminary Professor David Howard says: that “consecration” is 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 means that we need to fix ANY area of our life that is making us unholy before God.
That’s a very challenging command — and it is also very general, and sometimes it is easy for us to not apply a command like that the way we should. But we also get some more specific ideas in scripture of what it means to consecrate ourselves. One of those places is in the passage we mentioned a few minutes ago, Luke 3, where 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 John gave them some very 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 your business; be people of integrity. It matters what you do on the job as well as in the church.
— He told the soldiers not to accuse people falsely, and to be content with their wages. Again, God wanted them to be people of integrity, not lying, and not living just for money.
John 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.
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.
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.
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 means that we need to deal with “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 year or so 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.”
In other words, what those two men are saying is that you & I can pray for “revival” to break out in our lives and in our church all we want to, but our prayers for God to do something are no substitute for actually REPENTING in specific areas of our lives that need to change. Now I have not listed — indeed I cannot list — every individual sin that everyone in this congregation needs to repent of this morning, but the Holy Spirit of God is able to convict us about what He needs to. Most of you know, right now, deep down in your heart, 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” so that God might work wonders in your life, and in this church, in the days ahead.
IV. Personal Consecration:
It is important for us to understand that in Hebrew this verb is reflexive (Hithpael), which basically means that this is something that a person does for themselves. So if the consecration of Israel in Joshua’s day was going to happen, THEY had to make it happen for themselves.
It is interesting that we see the same thing in the 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.” No one else can do it for us!
Now I believe strongly in the sovereignty of God — but we make a mistake if we think that God is just suddenly going to reach down from heaven and “zap” us into a more spiritual state. No, He says, “Consecrate yourselves.” We have a role in it. (Really it is GOD who nudges 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 be confident that God is up to something!)
So consecration is something that YOU must do for yourself:
— 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 notice that it is “Consecrate YOURSELVES”: notice the personal focus on this command. The focus of your consecration is to be on YOURSELF, not OTHER PEOPLE!
This is important, because our tendency is to say: “yeah, our country really needs to change”; or “our church people really need revival”; or “the church staff really needs to get on fire”; or “if those deacons would just get consecrated” or “if my husband or wife would just start doing what they should do …” etc.
God reminds us here that all of those other people are not your responsibility! You are to focus on YOURSELF: “Consecrate yourself.” You are not responsible for what everyone else does. You are responsible for 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 so that you don’t hinder what God is up to 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 whatever He is going to do anyway. No, He said “consecrate yourselves” — there was something they needed to do. And 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 he, the protector of Israel was about to die. Elisha told him to take some arrows and strike the ground. So Joash struck the ground 3 times, and then he stopped. Elisha was angry and told him he should have struck the ground many times — then he would have destroyed his enemies if he had, but as it was, he would only defeat them 3 times. The point is, it mattered how many times Joash 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 we need to understand there is, that it matters what one person does. ONE person’s sin can could cause defeat for the whole people of Israel. Don’t you realize that it is the same way today? 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 this 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 great revival shook the country of Wales in the early 1900’s, and it so changed the people 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, when they asked for someone to share a testimony, and no one else would, ONE young woman stood and said, “I just want to say that I love Jesus Christ with all my heart” in a heartfelt and simple way. And 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 whether you keep doing that sin or not; it DOES matter how you pray; it DOES matter whether you fast or not; It DOES matter what YOU as an individual do. That’s why he says, “Consecrate yourself …”! It matters very much what you do.
The result of Joshua’s command to the people of Israel was that they DID consecrate themselves, and God DID do wonders: Joshua Chapter 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? What do you think He might want to do at the CoMMA this week? I believe that God wants to do things more wonderful than you & I would dare to imagine. But for that to happen, we have got to take Him seriously, and consecrate ourselves today, so that He will do wonders tomorrow!
What is God calling you to do in response to this sermon today?
— He’s calling each of us to turn from known sin, to be more holy. What sin comes to your mind right now that God is calling you to forsake, so that He will do great things in your life, and in this church?
— He’s calling all of us to pray and to seek Him, for ourselves, our loved ones, our church, the program this week. How is He calling YOU to pray, and fast, and seek Him? Maybe to begin NOW to humble yourself and go to the altar to pray …
— Maybe you can’t “consecrate” yourself, because you have never really nailed down your commitment to Jesus as your Savior, and you need to do that today …
— DON’T THINK IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT YOU DO RIGHT NOW!