As I said a few weeks ago, Michael’s wedding last week put an “exclamation point” on a busy first half of the year for Cheryl & I, that included getting COVID to start the year; then a mission trip to Bulgaria, a major vacation with our grandkids to Florida, the birth of another grand baby, helping one of our kids move, and now the wedding in South Carolina. We’re glad to be home, and looking forward to just a “normal” schedule for a while! But the wedding was a big deal, and as you know, it takes a LOT of planning and preparation to bring it off: dresses and shoes and suits and dinners and table settings and money and money and money!! It was a beautiful wedding, and a great time for our whole family to be together — but something like that doesn’t just “happen;” it takes MONTHS of planning and preparation to put it all together.
The Mutina’s are going through the same thing for Madison & Jason’s wedding next month; many of you have done the same with events like that in your life. We have to prepare today, if we want an important thing like that to go well tomorrow. We know that. But do we realize the same thing is true for the things of God? If we want to see God work in our church in the days ahead, we need to prepare for it today. If we want God to work in our personal lives tomorrow, we need to prepare for it today. One of the verses we read this week, Joshua 3:5, speaks to that. It says:
“Then Joshua said to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.’”
The context here is that Joshua and the people of Israel are just about to cross the Jordan River and finally go in to the Promised Land. But God says, wait a minute! You can’t just “traipse right in”! You have to prepare yourselves for it first. And I believe we as a church are in a similar situation today — and some of us as individuals are in similar situations as well. We’re looking ahead and we think God may be about to do something in us and through us. And He MAY — but we need to realize that it won’t just “happen;” we have to prepare today, if we want to see God’s wonders tomorrow.
I. The challenge set before us
The way before Israel then was a challenging one: they were on the verge of entering the Promised Land, but there were many obstacles. In fact, of the 12 men who went to spy out the land 40 years earlier, only two thought they could enter and take it. There were giants. It was a difficult and challenging task they were about to embark on.
But even just crossing the Jordan to get IN to 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, challenging path God had placed before them.
Their path was challenging; but so is ours. As a church, we at First Baptist Angleton have a challenging path. We are here in a new building, having gone through two years of COVID, in which we have seen this building full to overflowing during three different seasons, only to have our attendance knocked back to almost nothing again by COVID all three times. We’re still working our way back attendance-wise from the last time. Now we’re seeking to fulfill our mission, to “worship God, and reach and teach and care for people”, in a day when many churches’ attendance is dwindling, when churches are cutting budgets and staff; when the “current” of society is going against the beliefs and morals of God’s word, and we are “swimming upstream” against “the world, the flesh and the devil” as a church. 80% of 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 harder time to do ministry. It is a difficult path which is set before this church. YET we believe that God is still leading us to greater things; we believe He WILL help us swim against that current; He WILL lead us on to greater things; He WILL help us to expand and grow. But it is a challenge. We can’t do it without His blessing.
— 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 problems, or challenging finances, or navigating a career change. Many times there are no “easy answers” for these things. It is just a difficult path that is set before you. You believe that God has good things for you, but how will you get there? How will WE get where God wants us to be as a church? How will YOU get where God wants you to be as an individual? We need to see that it’s not just going to “happen;” we have to DO something today, to prepare for what God wants to do in us tomorrow. And that “something” is:
II. The Consecration that must precede 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, Joshua told them they needed to prepare themselves first: “consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you.”
Bible history is full of 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 this passage 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 had to prepare for the coming King.
— John the Baptist came fulfilling Isaiah 40’s words, preaching: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord”. Preparation had to be made before Jesus’ ministry would be manifest on earth. John came to prepare His 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 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 2:21, “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: if he wanted be “a vessel for honor” — someone God would really use in a special way — that he must “cleanse himself from these things”. He had to have personal holiness to prepare himself for what God had for him.
All of these show us that before God does something special with His people, He asks them to prepare themselves for what He is going to do. We must prepare ourselves as individuals, and we must prepare ourselves as a church. I believe like Israel that God has good things for us tomorrow — perhaps even “wonders” — but it’s not just going to happen. We have to “consecrate yourselves” today, that tomorrow He might do these wonders.
We’ve got to be committed to prepare ourselves for what God wants to do. You’ve probably heard the old maxim: “The will to win is not nearly as important as the will to PREPARE to win.” That’s so true. It is one thing to say you really “want” to win; it is another to have the will to PREPARE to win: to do the workouts, to learn the plays, to go through the practices, to put in all the preparation that is 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 of the championship, if they didn’t have “the will to prepare to win” by getting in good condition during drills, then they’ll run out of energy, and their “will to win” will falter. It is not “the will to win” that matters, as much as “the will to prepare to win.”
We need to see it’s the same with the church. I can show up here on Sunday and really “will” for God to do something 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 He could use to touch hearts? Did I spend time in prayer all week, asking Him to bless our services? Did I keep my life clean from sin so that I could be a vessel through whom His Holy Spirit could work?
So I could apply that old maxim: “My will to see God work is not as important as my will to PREPARE to see God work!”
— That’s what is before us as a church right now. I think God wants to do something special with this church in the days ahead; but the question is: Will we prepare yourselves for God to do something special in this church?
— This is what’s before some of you as individuals right now. God wants to do something great and special in your life. But it’s not just going to “happen.” You have to prepare yourself for what God wants to do.
“Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you”!
III. What “Consecration” means:
What does that word “consecrate” mean? “Consecrate” is the Hebrew word “kawdash” — it means to be “holy”, set apart; sanctified. The related word “kadosh” is the word the angels cry out day and night around the throne of God: “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 same verse for us in the New Testament, so this is God’s command for us today too. To consecrate ourselves means to make ourselves more holy; to make ourselves more like God.
So Joshua told the people 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”. We’ve read many of those commands in our Old Testament readings every day. They were to abstain from immorality of every sort; and what was immoral was very clearly spelled out. They were not to make false vows. They were to not to look the other way when a neighbor’s livestock got out. All these things. Basically he was saying, rededicate yourself to keep God’s commandments. Make sure you are clean from any sin against God, so that they were totally right with God in every way. (I love how New Orleans Baptist Seminary Professor David Howard describes it: cleanse yourself 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 prepare for Go to do something special with us, we need to “consecrate” ourselves: we need to make sure that there is no willful sin in our life; we need to make sure we are obeying Him in every area we can, and that nothing is contaminating our relationship with Him. II Corinthians 7:1 says it in a powerful and comprehensive way: 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, “all defilement of flesh and spirit” — but then God gives us some more specific ideas in other scripture:
— In Luke 3, 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 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 take 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, tell the truth, don’t make your life all about money.
John was showing us that “preparing the way of the Lord” (or “consecrating” yourself) means obeying God in specific, particular areas of your life that are not right with Him.
Paul told Timothy in II Timothy 2:21 to “cleanse himself from these things”, and if you read the context there, he was telling him to be right with God in doctrinal purity, in not quarreling over things in the church, in fleeing from youthful lusts, and in pursuing the things of God.
So if we want to “consecrate” ourselves like Joshua told the people in Joshua 3:5, and like Paul told Timothy, 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 actively seeking God the way we should, in His word & prayer every day.
These passages and others show 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. We MUST obey God in specific areas of our lives, if we want to be holy; if we want to see Him work. There is no substitute for it.
A.W. Tozer, the prophetic preacher of the 1950’s, wrote: “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.”
That’s a strong statement, and I believe it’s true. We can pray for “revival” to break out in our lives and in our church and in our country all we want to — but that praying can’t substitute for real REPENTING in specific areas of our lives that need to change. Now I have not listed — and I can’t list — every specific sin you might need to repent of this morning, but the Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of convicting you of what needs to change. In fact, if you are a Christian, and you have God’s Holy Spirit in your heart, you most likely already know, deep down, the areas in your life that need to change. That thing; those things; that came to your mind right now, are the specific things God needs you to do to“consecrate yourself” so that He might work wonders in your life, and in our church, in the days ahead.
IV. The Personal Nature of this Command:
A. The Personal EFFORT required
This verb in Hebrew is reflexive, meaning that somebody does this for himself. If consecration is going to happen, we have to make it happen ourselves.
We see this 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, like here in Joshua, we see the command is for God’s people to “cleanse 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 is just suddenly reach down from heaven and “zap” us into a more spiritual state. No, it takes effort on our part. He says, “Consecrate yourselves.” We have a role in it. 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 in Bible reading and prayer
— no one else is going to make you stop being a different person at home than you are at church
YOU must do it. “Consecrate YOURSELVES” he said! You have to take some steps.
B. AND notice the personal FOCUS of this command. Your focus on this, is to be on YOURSELF, and 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; you focus on being as consecrated and holy as YOU can. You’re 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 …
— You consecrate YOURSELF! Your focus should be on what YOU need to do to consecrate yourself for God’s work tomorrow, and not anybody else.
C. WHAT YOU DO MATTERS
The one thing you must NOT do is think that it doesn’t matter what you do; that God’s just gonna do what He’s gonna do anyway. No, He said “consecrate yourselves” — there was something they needed to do, if He was going to work those miracles.
We just read Joshua 7, that tells the story of a man named Achan, who, after God told the people of Israel not to take anything from the city of Jericho after that battle, took some clothes and gold. And when Israel went to fight against the next city, the little bitty town of Ai, they fled before them 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!” Israel couldn’t go on to the next victory until the sin was eradicated from the camp.
One of the big points there is, that it matters what even ONE person does. ONE person’s sin can cause defeat for the whole people of Israel. Do you think it is any different today? Don’t you realize that ONE person’s sin can hurt this 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 person who holds this church back from everything God wants to do. Don’t think that couldn’t happen. Don’t think what you do, doesn’t matter. It does. So don’t be the one who stops God’s work. “Consecrate yourself,” and be one of the ones God uses to bring revival to our church, and to our town.
In the early 1900’s, God sent a revival that changed the whole nation of Wales. It was such a powerful work, that bars and gambling establishments shut down for lack of interest. The horses in the mines didn’t know how to respond to the miners’ commands any more because they were no longer cursing and swearing at them! It was an extraordinary, powerful, work of God. But that whole revival started in one worship service, when they asked for a testimony, and nobody would share one — and then finally ONE young woman stood up and said: “I just want to say that I love Jesus Christ with all my heart” — and somehow God’s Spirit used that one woman’s obedience to ignite the fire of the Welsh Revival that changed a whole country!
It DOES matter what you do! It DOES matter whether you obey. It DOES matter what you watch; it DOES matter how you pray; It DOES matter what YOU as an individual do. That’s why he says, “Consecrate yourself …”! It matters. It matter not only for yourself, but it matters for your family, it matters for others — and it may matter for our whole church, what YOU do!
This story has a better ending than Jonah’s. After Joshua commanded the people of Israel to consecrate themselves, they DID. And the Bible says God DID do wonders among them: the end of this chapter says when they came up to that flooded Jordan River, God parted it like He did the Red Sea, and they walked through on dry ground! And that was only the beginning of all the miraculous things God did among them as they took the Promised Land.
When they consecrated themselves, God DID do wonders among them! What is it that God wants to do with you? What is it that He wants to do in our church? I believe He wants to do things more wonderful than we might dare to imagine. But if we’re ever going to see those things happen, we’ve got to take Him seriously. We’ve got to consecrate ourselves today, so He will do wonders among us tomorrow!