In the Wilderness: The Stages of our Journey

In the Wilderness  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Just as Israel went through stages during their journeying, so also the believer goes through stages in their spiritual journey through life.

Text: Numbers 33:1-55
Theme: Just as Israel went through stages during their journeying, so also the believer goes through stages in their spiritual journey through life.
Date: 05/17/2020 Title: InTheWilderness-13.wpd No:
I want to preach this morning on the stages of the Christian’s journey from awakening to Christ to glorying with Christ. Just as Israel went through stages during their journeying, so also the believer goes through stages in their spiritual journey through life.
The Book of Numbers is an important book in that it illustrates the three great themes of a Believer’s life. As we watch Israel go from slavery in Egypt to possessing the Promised Land of Canaan, we see these great themes:
This morning I want us to think about the Christian life as a journey. As we come to chapter 33 we see a long list of place names; places where Israel journeyed to and from during their wanderings. Except for the first four verses, and last six verses of the passage we read the repetitious refrain, “They left ... and camped at.” Forty-two times we read They left ... such-and-such a place, and camped at such-and-such a place. Some of those place we know, while some of them have been lost to time.
This in one of those chapters in the Bible that we’re tempted to gloss over quickly. Generations of Christian have asked, “What can we learn from a chapter full of place names?” Seventeen hundred years ago, Origen, the great Bible scholar from Alexandria in upper Egypt, which was a home to many early Christians…Origen was having to answer objections to this chapter. Their question? “If you really believe that God has inspired all of Scripture, how can you possibly believe that a chapter of this nature has any value whatsoever; and, thus, isn't that an argument against the inspiration of Scripture?” And Origen said in response, “We cannot say of the Holy Spirit's writings that there is anything useless or unnecessary in them.” In other words, even this chapter has something to teach us if we take the time to look for it. After all, of the Israelite’s wanderings, didn’t Paul the Apostle remind us; “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor. 11-12, NIV). So bear with me.
This is a text about journeying. Some have referred to the chapter as The Forty-year Travel Journal of Israel in the desert. At the Lord’s command, Moses sits down to list all the places Israel has been over the last forty years. “Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron.” (Numbers 33:1, NIV84). Some bibles translate vs. 1 as Here are the journeys, or Here are the places ..., but I like the NIV and ESV use of the word stages. Israel is not merely going from campsite to campsite, but they are going through spiritual stages as well. Their’s is as much a spiritual journey as it is a physical journey. In that journey, they are learning something about themselves and they are learning something about their God. I don’t think it’s an accident that when John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress that he doesn’t have chapters in Christian’s life, but stages. The opening line of the book reads, As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den; and I layed me down in the place to sleep: and as I slept, I dreamed a dream.
You and I are journeying through the wilderness of this world. It is a spiritual journey as much as it is a physical one. The question is, “What stage of the spiritual journey are you in?”


1. as we read through this chapter four stages pop out at us that are instructive for us to consider
a. Israel’s stages in their spiritual journey lays the foundation for understanding the spiritual journey we are on

A. STAGE ONE: Israel’s Initial Redemption and Victory vv. 1-4

1. this is their journey from the City of Rameses to Red Sea
2. this chapter is more than a list of places; it’s a testimony to the sovereignty of God in dealing with His people
ILLUS. A.T. Pierson was an American Presbyterian pastor, Christian leader, missionary and prolific author. Perhaps his most famous quote is; “History is His story.” God doesn’t just record history; He plans history and sees that His plan is executed.
“But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” (Psalm 33:11, NIV84)
3. after hundreds of years as slaves in Egypt, God tell Moses at the burning bush “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey ... “ (Exo. 3:7–8, NIV)
a. ten horrific plagues later the Hebrews are on their way out of Egypt and headed toward the Promised Land, the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
1) most Bible translation interpret Number 33:3 as saying the Hebrews marched out boldly in full view of the Egyptians
2) but I really like the way the newest version of the New International Version reads
a) it says that the Hebrews marched out defiantly in full view of the Egyptians
ILLUS. This is a fist-pumping, high-five, excessive-celebration-in-the-end-zone moment for Israel.
b. they march out while the Egyptians are still burying their first born who died when the death angel came through the land on the night of the first Jewish Passover

B. STAGE TWO: Israel’s Instructional Time vv. 5-15

1. this is the account of Israel’s journey from Succoth—Israel's first camp out of Egypt—to Sinai where they will encounter the glory of Jehovah
2. this second stage in Israel’s spiritual journey is a time of intense instruction
a. during this time Israel learns that no difficulty was too great for God
1) He opened the Red Sea to let His people march through, and then He closed it and drowned the pursuing Egyptian army
2) when His people were in danger, God gave them victory over their enemies
3) when they were thirsty, He supplied water, and each morning He rained manna from heaven to feed them
b. it’s at Sinai that God delivers The Law ... 1st the moral law, 2nd the ritual law, and 3rd the civil law
c. in the first year of their deliverance they discover what kind of God Jehovah is, and His will for their lives

C. STAGE THREE: Israel’s Invisible Time vv. 36-37

1. their thirty-eight years of wandering fall between vs. 36-37 and are graciously passed over in silence
a. for the bulk of their time in the wilderness the bible is relatively silent on how Israel lived and what they did
b. the most significant event is Korah’s Rebellion (Numbers 16) where a small cadre of Israelite leaders rise up against Moses and Aaron which God squashes by opening up the ground to swallow those in rebellion
2. over the next forty years the Israelites will go about their daily business as nomadic herdsman
a. they’ll do what people do
1) they’ll love and laugh, and work and raise families; they’ll experience joys and they’ll experience heartaches; parents will grow old and die and children will grow up to begin their own families
2) the vast majority of these people are invisible to us
a) we know the names of Israel’s great leaders, and the names of Israel’s great rebels
b) after that the millions that leave Egypt, the millions that die in the dessert, and the millions that are born who will enter the Promised Land are simply nameless faces in Hebrew history
b. but through it all, they’ll be cognizant of God’s presence at all times, and His sovereignty over all things
c. everywhere they went, every time they decamped, and encamped He was with them
1) even when their hearts were in rebellion against Him, God never did forsake them

D. STAGE FOUR: Israel’s Inheritance Received vv. 37-49

1. this is their journey from Kadesh to the plains of Moab
a. God prepares Israel to receive her inheritance
2. Israel is in the “home stretch”
a. they have journeyed to the Plains of Moab, where Moses will deliver to them a series of sermons
1) those sermons make up the Book of Deuteronomy
b. very shortly, Joshua will lead them across the Jordan River to take the Promised Land


1. I said a few minutes ago that Israel’s journeying is an Old Testament metaphor for our journeying with Christ in the wilderness of this world
a. let me share with you what some of these stages are
2. the pattern I want to share with you is gleaned from two-thousand years of Christian experience
a. I think this pattern is consistent with Christian spirituality
b. at the same time, every such scheme is an oversimplification because every Christian is different
1) we cannot put God in a box insisting He work according to the pattern we expect Him to

A. 1ST STAGE OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH—Spiritual Awakening and Deliverance

1. just as Israel’s first stage of spiritual growth was their initial deliverance and victory, so the believer’s first stage of spiritual growth is our initial redemption and victory
a. this redemption comes when one has faith in the redemptive work of God that always involves blood
“In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (Hebrews 9:22, NIV)
“God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—” (Romans 3:25, NIV)
b. as harsh as it may sound, our victory comes as we defiantly leave the dead to bury their dead and follow Christ
2. in this stage, at some point, you wake up to the reality of God
a. this happen, not because you are seeking after God, but because He is seeking after you
1) this is God irresistible grace calling you by His Word and by His Spirit
b. in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, God’s Spirit overcomes any final resistance, and regenerates your soul freeing you to repent of sin, and have faith in Christ
1) Jesus called this the new birth

B. 2ND STAGE OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH—Believing and Belonging

1. this is where the new Christian connects with a community of believers, and begins to grow in his or her faith
2. in this stage our spiritual growth is formed by our association with other believers
ILLUS. Just like the believers at Thessalonica became imitators of Paul, we become imitators of the Christians we surround ourselves with.
a. we learn our doctrine from them ... we learn how to pray by listening to them ... we learn how to worship by interacting with them ... we learn how to serve by watching them
3. the second spiritual stage of any believer’s life is usually an intense time of spiritual growth
a. this is were we discover the nature of our sin, and the marvelous, infinite, matchless grace of God
b. we begin to learn some of the elementary truths of the bible, the importance of Christian fellowship, and the true meaning of worship
c. it’s a time when we learn that God takes sin seriously, and that there are consequences to disobedience

C. 3RD STAGE OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH—Service and Leadership

1. when you first awaken to God it’s as if you’ve risen from a long night’s sleep
a. the Spirit has stirred your heart and mind, and birthed you into the family of God
2. if you grow in a healthy way and move from awakening to believing and belonging, you will eventually grow into a new season of service and leadership
a. during this season, you become highly involved in ministries of compassion or administration, evangelism or justice
b. you might serve on a committee, volunteer for the choir or as a Sunday School teacher
c. you might engage in a service or mission project
d. you might even train as a minister, respond to a call for missionary service or become a deacon
3. you are, of course, still learning the Christian faith
a. unfortunately, this is where many Christian stop because it seems like a natural stopping place
b. you reach this point in your Christian growth, stay there for thirty or forty years, and then “retire” from service and leadership to let the next generation take over
4. the third spiritual stage of any believer’s life is discovering that God is always with us even during the mundane routine of life—which is the vast majority of our life
a. the Body of Christ around the world and through the centuries is much like Israel in the desert
1) we do what people do
a) we love and laugh, and work and raise families; we'll experience joys and we'll experience heartaches; parents will grow old and die and children will grow up to begin their own families
b) the vast majority of us are invisible to history
ILLUS. Outside of our birth announcement, and death announcement the broader world does not know us, and, in time, will barely remember us.
b. but through it all, the Christian is cognizant of God’s presence at all times, and His sovereignty over all things
1) everywhere we go, every time we decamp, and encamp God is with us
2) even when our hearts are in rebellion against Him, God will never forsake us
“if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13, NIV84)
5. here is one of the great truths of the Word of God ... “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee”
a. Jesus said the same thing in His upper room discourse, “I will not leave you comfortless” (which is, literally, I will not leave you orphans)
1) Jesus tells them, “I will come to you” (John 14:18)
b. how?
1) by sending the Holy Spirit
2) the Holy Spirit indwells every believer
a) if you are a child of God, you couldn’t possibly get away from Him
b) He wouldn’t let you go; He will go with you all the way just as He did with Israel
3) we may stumble, falter, and fail
a) we won’t always follow Him as we ought
4) but, thank God, He goes with us all the way!

D. 4TH STAGE OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH—A Second Awakening and a Deeper Walk

1. few Christian who get to stage three ever ask the question, “Is there something more to my faith, and my walk with Christ?”
a. it’s a question you need to aks from time-to-time
2. we catch a glimpse of this stage in Paul’s longing for a deeper faith walk
a. it is found in his letter to the Church at Philippi ...
“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:7–14, NIV84)
3. Paul speaks of the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord
a. this is something for which the Apostle is willing to lose all things
b. this stage is a serious moving past our knowledge of Christ, and what he has done for us, and moving into an experiential relationship with Christ, and a participation in his life
c. Paul says that knowing Christ Jesus my Lord in this way is something of incomparable worth
4. Paul lays out this deeper spiritual agenda in Phil. 3:10
a. I want to know Christ
1) the Apostle wants an experiential knowledge of Christ in his life
2) he is referring to a knowledge that gets beyond the mind and pierces the soul
3) his initial saving knowledge of Christ became the basis of Paul’s lifelong pursuit of an ever deeper knowledge of His Savior
b. I want to know the power of his resurrection
1) the Apostle wants the dynamic power of the Spirit in his live that he might defeat the world, the flesh, and the devil
2) this is the power that not only saves us, but sanctifies us
c. I want to participate in his sufferings
1) now there is a prayer you don’t hear a lot of Christian’s praying!
2) the Apostle wants to be identified with Christ even to the point of sharing in his sufferings
d. I want to be conformed to his death
1) in Romans Paul says that the Spirit is conforming all believers into the image of Christ
2) here Paul wants even more
5. this second awakening and deeper walk is the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus

E. 5th STAGE OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH—A Glimpse of the Promised Land

1. every now and then God gives the believer a view of what is ahead of him
ILLUS. At the end of Stage Eight in Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress, Christian and his friend, Hopeful, are given a fleeting glimpse of the "Celestial City". Bunyan strongly believed that a Christian’s perseverance is linked to, as Peter puts it, "an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you" (I Pet. 1:4).
a. the opening line of Stage Nine reads: And I slept and dreamed again, and saw the same two pilgrims going down the Mountains along the highway toward the Celestial City
b. Christian and Hopeful are now on the home stretch
c. like the Apostle Paul, we can say ...
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7–8, NIV84)
2. some of us are on the home stretch of our wandering through this world
“Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron.” (Numbers 33:1, NIV84). And you thought there was nothing of real importance to learn from Numbers 33!
I want to encourage you toward a deeper spiritual journey with Christ. There are no quick and easy paths to spiritual maturity. The soul that seeks a deeper level of maturity must be prepared for a long, arduous task. If we are to seek the Kingdom of God, we must abandon any formulae that promise instant spiritual gratification.
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