Message: Preparation for an Ordinary Glory | Scripture: Joshua 5:10-12 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
When God acts extraordinarily in history, his intention is never to make the extraordinary primary. Instead, the ordinary is his priority. He does great things so that you might revel the rest of your normal days in his greatness and strive to honour him in all that you in response. The Christian life is about a humble, ordinary worship recognizing that God has done everything he needs to do in order to draw you to himself and enable you to do great things in this world through the proclamation of the name of his Son. Our salvation is meant to colour our the ordinary, remembering always that the ordinary was given to us as a gift at great cost to the ultimate Creator and Giver. Let us not spurn this gift. Let us not drag our feet for the time is short. Give your life to God zealously, humbly, obediently as a response to what he’s done for you extraordinarily, and what he continues to do for you in the ordinary.
- What is the danger of thinking about the Christian life only in terms of being saved from sin and the wrath of God? What should our remembrance of our salvation propel us towards? Is it legalistic to call people to live a zealously righteous life (that we ought to feel both obligated and desirous to do what is right in God’s eyes)? Why/why not?
- How do we keep one another from seeing that the call to zealous righteousness and intentional holiness is not the same as calling someone to be legalistic? How ought we to demand (and I use this word intentionally) one another to greater enjoyment in God/holiness/righteousness/goodness/obedience? What ought our posture to be in this conversations (can you show this from Scripture)?
- What blindspots do we have as a church when it comes to exhorting and admonishing one another to greater righteousness and obedience?
- What areas in our own lives are we afraid to receive exhortation and admonishment that call us to greater righteousness and obedience? Do any such areas exist in your life?
- How might you define what humility is?
- If we’re humble, do we have license to do whatever we want? Why/why not? How about when we’re suffering, or when things aren’t going our way? Do we have license or leniency when it comes our obedience?
- What is God’s intended way of acting in our lives? Does he intend to preserve our lives and our faith in him through the extraordinary? Do you often find yourself becoming bored with the ordinary/normal course of life? Why/why not?
- You may have answered this already, but just to emphasize it to ourselves, what ought to colour our existence and propel us to a life of glorious ordinariness? Answer honestly, are you still astounded by this when you think about it?
- And when you do think about it, in those moments of astonishment and deep sense of gratitude, do you feel compelled and propelled to tell others about it knowing that the days grow darker and the Christ’s return draws nearer and nearer?
- The beginning of the Christian life is an event that is supposed to point us to its inevitable end in this world–do you think of that end often? Why/why not? Would you say that your temporary life is coloured by a Christian worldview of things/the urgency and temporary nature of this life or by a worldliness and fear of what others might think of you as you grow in your zeal for the gospel?
- Take some time to pray for one another–that God might increase our individual and collective zeal to make the goodness of his Son crucified and risen made known in our community and in all the world.
Consider with me a scenario that I’ve heard used before in which a poor, worthless man is sitting on death row for a heinous crime he committed intentionally and voluntarily. And one day, a righteous man of immeasurable wealth walks into the prison in order to take the place of the unrighteous man. He substitutes himself and his righteous blood so that this unrighteous man might not only be set free but inherit all the riches that the righteous man possessed. Now, upon being released from prison, the unrighteous man who has been declared legally righteous on account of the righteous man being legally declared unrighteous, being filled with joy, thinks only one thing as he walks away from the penitentiary, and it’s this: “I’ve escaped death, I don’t have to pay for my sins anymore.” Five years later, no other new thought has come to his mind, “I’ve escaped death, I don’t have to pay for my sins anymore.” Ten years later, same thought. Thirty years, the same.
And I ask you, in this scenario, what is more tragic to you? Is the tragedy in the fact that the wealthy righteous man sacrificed his life for the poor, worthless unrighteous man? Or was it the fact that this unrighteous man, having heard and received all that the righteous man had done for him, lived for the rest of his life considering only that he had escaped a death that he deserved? Is the substitution more tragic, or the sense that the substitution was wasted in the man who focused only on that which he escaped and not upon all that he gained?
This is the predicament that lies before both Israel and us in our text today, and the predicament might be formulated as a question like this, “What does it mean to live as one delivered from sin once-and-for-all?” Are we to live like the man in our example whose life is wholly and only focused on the fact that we have escaped death and the consequences of our sin, or is there supposed to be more? What is our appropriate response to be? And my contention this morning is that our response is supposed to be proportionate. As God has given us a glorious salvation, our lives ought to be gloriously proportionate in response as we live out our days in our ordinary circumstances. And I’ll get into this a little bit more in a bit, but let us first read the passage of our focus this morning in Joshua 5:10-12. TWoL.
While the people of Israel were encamped at Gilgal, they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month in the evening on the plains of Jericho. And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land. And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
What I’m tentatively afraid of as we go through historical narratives like Joshua is that we might take the descriptive nature of the text and forget its theological and prescriptive principles. Said another way, I’m afraid that we think books, like Joshua, are filled only with indicatives and no imperatives—facts without accompanying commands, and I want to show you this morning that this cannot be farther from the truth. There are, of course, many indicatives in Joshua—many statements of fact and narration—but our job as Bible readers, and as Christians, is to understand facts in such a way that they lead to undeniable imperatives—the principles that drive our lives based on the premises given to us by the text. These stories are supposed to change our lives.
We’re supposed to be radically different people as we walk with Israel out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land, and this is the substance our proposition this morning: Let the extraordinary deliverance of God propel you to respond proportionately as he preserves you by his ordinary faithfulness. God’s extraordinary action is not supposed to leave us unaffected, even if those extraordinary actions become a part of our past. No, the extraordinary prepares us to act proportionately even in, and especially in, our ordinary lives because when God deigns to step into our little universe, there is no such thing as a response that’s too big. Nothing we do can outdo God’s extraordinary work, and because this is so, we ought to do everything we can to honour his unfailing effort. His work hasn’t failed, and our lives are meant to be a response to show that this is true. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s unpack how we see these imperatives from the indicatives of our text by looking at our first point:
1) Divine Order Recalled
Before we talk about what the significance of Israel’s observance of the Passover was in v. 10, let’s spend a brief moment considering when they observed it because the author of Joshua is very meticulous in giving us details about when these events take place. He says that they observed Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month, and it’s important to know this date because just previously in Joshua 4:19, the author tells us that the Israelites did not reach the land of Canaan until the tenth day of the first month. So, everything that’s taken place between 4:19 and 5:10 has been within the span of 4 days, and what has transpired in those four days? All the men of this new generation of Israelites standing upon God’s promised land were circumcised.
What hasn’t been told to us is all the other stuff going on in the background to prepare for Passover. See, the tenth day of the first month in Exodus 12:3 is also important because that’s typically the day that every household selects the sacrificial lamb for the family’s sin. So, the question before us is what is the posture of Israel as they prepare for Passover? What is their situation as they come to the most important date of their religious calendar? Their situation—their posture—is one of desperate weakness. All of these men are recovering from a fairly debilitating, and at the very least painful, procedure, and what we learn from Leviticus 16 is that Passover is quite an extensive event that takes place over the course of seven days.
So, in the four days leading up to the next seven days, these men are, literally, weak in the knees and suffering. And we would do well to remember this because right here, Israel is modeling for us a glimpse of what is to come in the Christian life. Deliverance does not mean that life will be easy. In fact, if we see the intentionality of God’s sovereign hand over all of these events to lead Israel here into the Promised Land at this specific time of year, we know that God has ordained things in such a way so that our suffering is a part of his plan. He may bring suffering into our lives. Why? Not only to point out his sovereignty but also to point out that the result of his deliverance of us is meant to humble us and to prune us of our pride and self-reliance. There is only one disposition that we are to have before the God who glorifies himself, and it is one of lowliness, weakness, dependence—it is one of humility.
Whether or not you’re Christian, you can rightly evaluate that life is not easy, but it’s only the Israelite delivered by God—it is only the Christian—that can understand why it’s not easy and still have hope. Because we can remember that in our lowliness, weakness, frailty, darkness, and sin, God came for us and plucked us out of obscurity to bring us to himself and to enjoy him in his rest. We are persevered in this life not because it is easy but because in our suffering God enables us to remember him and look to him as the one who has delivered us, and who continues to do so evidenced by the fact that we still breathe, that we still remember, and that we still depend upon him.
And not only shall we suffer humbly in this life, but our passage tells us that even in our suffering, we are still called to observe the particular order, commands, and ways of God. There is a right way of doing things. We aren’t only called to be humble as we do things the way we want to do them, no true humility is doing things the way God wants us to do them because God is God, and we are not. God alone can do as he pleases, and God alone can command us to do as he pleases.
This is what we see in our text. As the people are suffering and humbled by the fact that they are weak and vulnerable and in desperate need of God’s sovereign hand to protect them from their enemies, while in enemy territory, they know that he also requires them to still do the things that he’s commanded them to do. Just because he’s delivered them from his wrath over the first-born in Egypt, just because he’s redeemed them out of their slavery, just because he’s brought them through the Red Sea, just because he’s carried them through the wilderness, and just because he brought them through the Jordan River does not mean that they get to do whatever they want. No, God will not be mocked. He has not delivered his people so that his people might forget who he is, and what he requires. He delivers his people so that his people might know exactly what kind of God he is—the one who has authority to control all things, and thus can demand all things. So, whether or not Israel is suffering, they shall observe his statutes.
But let us not forget what Passover is. It is a ceremony not to show their obedience to a meaningless statute. No, it’s a ceremony to remember the height, depth, breadth, and length of God’s lovingkindness shown through his infinitely merciful deliverance of them and his sparing them from his own wrath. Passover, brothers and sisters, is, at its root, worship. It is a response to God’s grace. See, humble obedience, even in suffering, is not obligatory only because God’s authoritative control requires our observance to his statutes. It is also something we desire to do because he has given us his own unmerited and present intimacy to do for us that which was impossible for us to do on our own.
Israel, having been spared from its own destruction time-and-time again, as they stand here in this land, they are not thinking about how much they’re doing for God in their suffering, they’re thinking that this is the least that they can do for a God who’s done far greater things for them. A God who knows them.
Worship, then, is the faithful response to say, just as you, O God, have shown your desire to know us, even though we are what we are (evil, wicked, weak, and frail), it is our desire, now, to know you as you are (holy, perfect, gracious and merciful). This is also why it’s so important to do things the way God instructs us to do them because by following his instructions, we prove that our desires are to honour and please our God. As one commentator puts it, “the form of worship comes second to the life that lies behind it,” but make no mistake, the form does count. We are not only to obey the spirit of God’s commands but the letter of his commands not legalistically but redemptively, gratefully, and zealously, as the Israelites do here in the midst of their suffering. Suffering isn’t the point. No, suffering only helps to highlight the point that God is worthy of our effort to honour his commands at all costs because he has saved us at all costs.
2) Divine Providence Initiated
Let’s remember our proposition: Let the extraordinary deliverance of God propel you to respond proportionately as he preserves you by his ordinary faithfulness. Our first point covered most of this proposition. It is in Israel’s deliverance from all of their misery into the promised land that joyfully compelled them to observe the Passover even in their pain, but is that where God stops displaying his love for us? Is the Israelite life and the Christian life simply one big, past experience of salvation without anything else now to motivate our obedience? Well, let’s see what our text says in verses 11-12a, “And the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased the day after they ate of the produce of the land.”
Something I’ve touched on briefly in previous sermons is how this period from leaving Egypt all the way until Israel enters into Canaan is a unique period. No aspect of their leaving until their entering can be separated from the rest. It’s like one long episode in a television series on the life of God’s people.
So, what’s important to notice here in our text is how this Passover is significant enough that the author of Joshua feels he needs to make a note of it when so many other Passovers throughout Israel’s history have not been mentioned. And it’s significant, the author tells us, because of the time it’s taking place. Not only is this the first Passover in the land that God’s promised his people, but it also signifies the end of their struggle out of Egypt. As the first Passover in Exodus signified God’s preparation of his people to deliver them from a land in which they were foreigners and aliens, this first Passover in Canaan signified the culmination of God’s deliverance of them into the land that shall be theirs.
I’m telling you all of this because with the observance of this particular Passover in Joshua, we are, as its readers, supposed to get the sense that the deliverance is complete. Salvation has been effected and secured, which means that all the things unique to redemption from Egypt and to initiating Israel as God’s covenant people were meant to come to an end, and this includes the extraordinary work of God’s provision of manna from the sky.
What’s really interesting is that the word that the author of Joshua uses here for “ceased” when he says in verse 12 that “the manna ceased after they ate the produce from the land” is the Hebrew term שׁבת. It’s where we get our English word “Sabbath.” And this is the same word, in the exact same form, that we see in another part of the Bible, namely, in Genesis 2:2 after all the six days of creation were completed, and God declares that the pinnacle of his creation in man and woman was very good. And then Moses says, “and he [that is, God] had שׁבת on the seventh day from all the works that he had done.”
In other words, the author is signaling us to the fact that we’ve come now to the end of God’s extraordinary creation narrative reimagined and reconstituted in Israel as they enter into Canaan. And the danger is to think that this is the end of the story rather than it being merely the end of an episode in an ongoing series. But the point of God’s extraordinary work isn’t to point us to the extraordinary work as an end in itself, but as the means to that thing, which is God’s true priority. God’s priority isn’t for the extraordinary to stand alone but that the extraordinary might prepare us for a life of glory in the ordinary.
God’s objective in creation isn’t to constantly have to reveal his power and majesty to you—he is these things by virtue of his mere eternal existence. He doesn’t want you astounded by the things he can do like some magician on the Vegas strip. All of the things he can do and does do are, instead, supposed to point you to the simple fact that he is God and that you are meant to have relationship with him in the creation that he’s created for you. A creation that is already miraculous and ordinary in its outworking—a creation created by the singularly creative God of the universe. The extraordinary serves to prepare us for the ordinary—to live in creation as those who are to toil over the land, subdue the earth, have dominion over it, and to multiply the image of God in all places.
And this is what we see in our text, isn’t it? The day that Passover ends, what do they eat? They don’t eat manna from the sky. They don’t eat something that God is putting on their plates miraculously, they’re eating the produce of the earth. The word ארץ can mean land, but it can also mean earth, and I think both meanings are in view here. They eat of the land God has given them. They eat of the earth that God has created for them—that he’s provided for them. They enjoy the ordinary having been prepared by all that’s come before in the extraordinary. The time of manna was preparation, but the normal harvest—God’s common gracious providence—the ability to live lives where people can function as they were meant to function in unhindered relationship with their God in the world that he’s made for them—this is the actual fulfillment of God’s promises. The extraordinary act isn’t the fulfillment, it’s the ordinary that results from the extraordinary. This is what we call providence. This is what we call the gift of God’s common grace.
I hope you see what’s taking place here, but the providence of God is something that is available to every human being. Every human is able to live in the creation of God. Every human is able to experience the sun of a new day and the moon of a clear night. Every human gets to breathe in the air around them. Every human gets to eat the food both harvested and grown upon this earth. But when God has acted in an extraordinary way in your life to bring you into knowing his purpose for your life by enjoying him forever, providence is no longer a simple ordinary experience. It is an unleashed, glorious one. Why? Because God’s salvation—God’s sovereign, merciful, gracious deliverance of us lowly, feeble, sinful, disdainful, pitiful creatures—colours everything that takes place in our lives from the point of salvation until glorification.
This is what Israel is experiencing in our passage. God has acted in extraordinary ways to do the impossible of recreation through redemption, and the Israelites now get to do normal things in that light. They get to harvest the land. They get to eat of its produce. But more than this, there’s a difference in who they are. There’s a zealousness. There’s an obedience filled with joyful experience and expectation. There’s a glee that despite having to do the work themselves now to get their food, this is what they were meant to do. This is what they were created to do. It’s not just that God saved them. It’s not just that God spared them from his righteous wrath. It’s that he’s saved them to be who they were meant to be in the company of the God who’s always meant it to be. Salvation colours everything that we are and everything that we do in the ordinary course of our lives.
And I know this is quite on-the-nose, but where else do we see this in Scripture? We see it in the extraordinary work of creation that leads to the ordinary experience of God’s rest. We see it in Noah’s Ark and God’s extraordinary protection of his family in preparation for their ordinary living upon the land once the flood subsided. We see it in Israel’s escape of Egypt and entrance into the promised land. We see it in the extraordinary giant slaying boy who becomes the King and establishes for all of Israel what ordinary, glorious life should look like with God. We see it in the extraordinary acts of Christ as he heals lepers, causes the blind to see, makes the lame walk, all so that they might do what? Live ordinary lives bringing glory to God.
And then, we see all of these things culminate in the extraordinary act of the death of God himself, the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, our Christ, slain for the sins of the world, so that all who confess with their mouths that he is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead three days later shall be saved and receive an ordinary, God-abundant life in a land that he is preparing so that we might be with him forever. The extraordinary is to prepare us for a proportionately glorious, ordinary life. It’s being astounded at his creative power to bring about all the things we constantly take for granted so that we might be amazed with who he is and what he has already done and not just with what he is able to do. Jesus is the foremost example of these things because he comes as an ordinary baby, taking on the flesh of an ordinary human, living the life of an ordinary, righteous man, and yet he dies an extraordinary death so that we might be prepared to live the life that he himself lived and that he calls us now to take up.
The truth of God’s providence for Christians saved from eternal wrath and guilt in sin and brought into eternal life is understanding that there is nothing ordinary about this life anymore. There is nothing that is too mundane or too labourious, if it is something intended for us to do and experience by God—regardless of our circumstance. This is how the doctrine of justification informs our sanctification. This is how the death of Christ leads to the death of our sin. We are to be astounded by our salvation not as an end in itself, but so that we might live zealously righteous lives as those who, through salvation, have obtained and possessed God himself. To have God is, as John Piper puts it, “a million times better than” being merely justified. Justification is just a foot in the door to everything God wants for us in himself. We haven’t just escaped the effects and condemnation of sin. We haven’t just escaped hell. We’ve been brought into the kingdom of heaven to be citizens in that kingdom so that we might reflect its King.
When God acts on behalf of his creatures in extraordinary ways to deliver and redeem them from their own sinful demise so that they might rightly experience his ordinary providence, nothing, from our perspective, can ever be the same as it once was. No, our response is to be proportionate. It’s to be glorious. It’s to be righteous in doing things the way God intends for us to do them when he intends for us to do them. And we can, surely, do them—we can be zealously righteous in legitimate, God-glorifying ways in this life without waiting—because he has done everything by his own power in all that we see, do, and experience to enable us to those ends.
This world and all that is in it wasn’t made as a place for humans to merely exist. It was made for humans to know and exalt their God through his ordinary and regular providence. So, if today you call yourself a Christian, do not tarry or linger on the idea that God might help you do what he desires you to do. Rather, know that he has already helped you by saving you through the gospel and sustaining you in the power of his Spirit—you need nothing else. Let the extraordinary propel your ordinary life so that it might be glorious to the God who initiates it all.
3) Divine Providence Sustained
But not only has God initiated, he also sustains it. We end here with the last part of verse 12, which reads, “And there was no longer manna for the people of Israel, but they ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.” The only part of this verse that is left for me to focus on is that reference to time at the end of the verse, which says, “that year.” Of course, we know that these words are euphemistic in that instead of being fed for the foreseeable future by manna, Israel’s sustenance would come by ordinary means. But this reference to time in its euphemistic quality is also meant to remind us that God’s providence, his common grace to sinner and saved alike, is not something that shall endure. There is a time that is to come after the year is finished, and the author is intentionally vague about it.
He is pointing our minds to the end where we’re left asking, “what happens after the year?” And we are meant to ask this question because there is an urgency in this. Time is not something that we can take for granted because it is not something that we will always have. We know that God is patient, but we also know that his patience so long as sin exists in this world is limited. The phrase that we often use to refer to God’s patience is that he is long-suffering, and as we say something like that, we have to realize that the phrase is not that he is eternally-suffering.
I have said in different ways throughout this sermon that God’s salvation for us is effective. It is not ineffective. It is definitely, irresistibly, and unconditionally effective. It is effective to create within us a lasting change, but if we keep its effectiveness to ourselves, then perhaps we don’t understand just how definite, irresistible, or unconditional it is because while we know for ourselves that the constraints of time are no longer a hindrance to us as we live out our gloriously, ordinary lives, we also know that such a lack of constraint is not something that billions around the world can boast of.
The fact that these Israelites are able to eat of the land for the coming year is not a sentiment that many Canaanites would have been able to share. Most of them, in fact, would not get the privilege of seeing the year come to an end, and this ought to sober us as Christians saved by grace who live a life that we do not deserve to be able to live. John Frame puts it this way, “the regular passing of the seasons and God’s provision of food for his creatures should lead men to repent, and it should motivate Christians to sense anew the urgency of evangelism. For Christians know that God’s patience again will come to an end. There will again be a time like the days of Noah, and God will come in extraordinary judgment when men least expect it.” So, brothers and sisters, do the ordinary, glorious work of God now by proclaiming the gospel in radically courageous and unhindered ways. Evaluate your life and test it to see if there is any difference now in you that reminds you of the infinite mercy of God shown to us in the death and resurrection of his Son. And as you do this, as you are brought once again into his grace and transformed in your experience of his common providence, do not delay in showing the wonder of his majesty and the glory of the cross to others because the time is short. Men and women all around us are going to hell. How is it fair that we, sinners just like them, get the promise of heaven? This is a mystery that we cannot explain, but it is a mystery that we can announce and declare with an unfading zeal that Jesus Christ came to save sinners. Rehearse the gospel, live the gospel, declare the gospel as a result of having received the gospel, and may we do this all the days of our ordinary lives until he calls us home to live in the light of his extraordinary mercy and grace.