This is a message from pastor and teacher Bill Serjak from the Joshua series “New Beginnings”
Following the Lord
The Jews had been wandering in the wilderness for forty years and now the Promised Land was just across the Jordan River. God backed up the water of the river and they crossed on dry land. They were ready to begin the battles to conquer the land, but the first thing they did was to circumcise the whole army. Militarily, that did not make much sense because it made their whole army totally vulnerable for several days. However, they did not put their trust in their military strength; they put their trust in God and God required that each Jew be circumcised. To put themselves in right order with God, they needed to be circumcised.
Baptism today is like circumcision was in the Old Testament. When someone becomes Christian, he seals that belief by being baptized. If he has been baptized as a child, he grows into the faith of being a Christian making his baptism complete. It is a sign that someone is a Christian and circumcision was the sign that someone was a Jew. It is the act of being identified as a Jew, just as baptism is the external act of being identified as a Christian. The Jews lost their identity while wandering in the wilderness and did not keep up the ritual of circumcision. As they would now be entering the process of conquering the Promised Land, they, above all, needed to see themselves as God’s children. God was in the process of pulling them together in a special and unique way. They would no longer be a bunch of people wandering in the wilderness. They would become God’s people, bound together according to God’s rules and God’s ways. Baptism does the same thing for Christians. It is the external seal that shows we are bound together as God’s family. The basic meaning of the Greek word baptismo is to identify with. When we are baptized, we are identified as being a part of God’s family.
Tonight, we will baptize a couple of teenagers in our church. They always come to the evening service, so it seemed appropriate to me that they be baptized in front of the group of God’s family with which they most identify. Their baptism shows that they are no longer just Christians who have their own relationship with God independently of the rest of God’s family. Baptism identifies them as being a part of God’s family. They will have to answer questions saying that they are sinners and trust in Christ alone for their salvation. By doing that, they will confess that they have an individual relationship to Christ. Then, they will answer questions saying that they are also identified with God’s family. The people they worship with on Sunday night will surround them as they are baptized as a seal of being God’s children and a part of God’s family. This is a very similar to what the Jews did as they entered the Promised Land. They were not going in as a nation that was attempting to conquer all other nations. They were God’s people, under His direction and in obedience to Him. They had to do things God’s way and that needed to begin with circumcision.
We don’t usually think of ourselves as being God’s people and see the importance of doing things His way. We usually think in terms of our strength to conquer the obstacles of life. We think that how many soldiers we have and how well equipped they are as being the main place to put our trust. We don’t have much of a picture of God’s power and are much more accustomed to finding power in the things in this world’s structure. As the Jews were learning to trust in God’s power, they had to learn to do things God’s way and circumcision was a part of God’s way. By the world’s standards it would seem ridiculous to make your whole army vulnerable circumcising all the soldiers, but if they were trusting in God’s power that is exactly what they had to do. It was an open way of identifying themselves as God’s people.
Whether we are working in the Church or as Christians in the world and following God’s ways, those ways may look ridiculous according to the ways of the world. We are to go ahead and look ridiculous and even make ourselves vulnerable to the world as long as we are following God’s ways. Joshua was establishing with these Jews the importance of following God’s ways rather than the ways of the world.
The Jews then entered the Promised Land and celebrated the Passover, which was the remembrance of the time the Jews left their slavery in Egypt. They were now finally entering the land that had been promised to them all the way back then. When they celebrated that Passover, they were looking back and looking ahead at the same time.
They evidently used some of the produce of the Promised Land for their Passover feast and immediately the manna from heaven stopped. God had promised His people a land flowing with milk and honey and as soon as they even began to enter that land, God stopped His miraculous provision of manna. They had to begin to work as God’s children for their own provision. We often misinterpret God’s promises to provide for us. We think He will always provide even if we don’t work for our provision. There may be seasons of our lives when God makes miraculous provision for us like He did for the Jews in the wilderness, but His normal way of operating is providing the means for us to provide our own food and He expects us to then work for it.
Jesus did work to provide for Himself. Even when Satan told Jesus to turn stones into bread so that He could eat, He refused to do it. Paul made tents to provide for himself. God didn’t give him manna from heaven. He had to preach the gospel and also make his own living. He reminded the Thessalonians of that in II Thessalonians 3:6-15.
“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’
“We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.
“If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.”
Not many sermons are preached on this text, but it is in God’s Word. This passage of the Bible and others teach that if God gives us the ability to earn our support and to help others, that is what He expects us to do. He dried up His provision of manna for the Jews and He will often not make direct provision for us when He has given us the ability to make that provision. God will not always heal us directly when He has given us doctors and medicines to help us. He may not take away my back pain but will tell me to lose some of the extra weight I carry on my front and that will relieve my back pain. God doesn’t always provide for us like the manna that appeared each day. We often must work to have His provision. Once the Jews were in the Promised Land, immediately the manna from heaven dried up. They now had to produce their provision from the land God had given them.
In the last verses of this passage, Joshua sees a soldier from God and asks him the same question we would likely ask him. “Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’” We always want God to be on our side, but that is not the significant question. God’s soldier responded, “Neither, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” The real question is not if God is on our side but if we are on God’s side. We like the idea of His doing things according to what we want but He is God and doesn’t work that way. God is never our servant; we are always His servant. We always need to be careful to see that we are on God’s side and fighting His battles alongside His soldiers. We need to be submissive to God’s ways and his battle even if His ways causes us pain, makes us vulnerable to the world and makes us look stupid. We need to be willing to do this to be on God’s side.