Sermon for Sunday, November 27th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Gen 15:12-21 ESV] 12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14 But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. 16 And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” 17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”
New Testament reading:
[Eph 1:11-14 ESV] 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
[Mat 24:25-31 ESV] 25 See, I have told you beforehand. 26 So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather. 29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 30 Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
Text for the Sermon:
[Jos 12:1-24 ESV] 1 Now these are the kings of the land whom the people of Israel defeated and took possession of their land beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise, from the Valley of the Arnon to Mount Hermon, with all the Arabah eastward: 2 Sihon king of the Amorites who lived at Heshbon and ruled from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, and from the middle of the valley as far as the river Jabbok, the boundary of the Ammonites, that is, half of Gilead, 3 and the Arabah to the Sea of Chinneroth eastward, and in the direction of Beth-jeshimoth, to the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, southward to the foot of the slopes of Pisgah; 4 and Og king of Bashan, one of the remnant of the Rephaim, who lived at Ashtaroth and at Edrei 5 and ruled over Mount Hermon and Salecah and all Bashan to the boundary of the Geshurites and the Maacathites, and over half of Gilead to the boundary of Sihon king of Heshbon. 6 Moses, the servant of the LORD, and the people of Israel defeated them. And Moses the servant of the LORD gave their land for a possession to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh. 7 And these are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the people of Israel defeated on the west side of the Jordan, from Baal-gad in the Valley of Lebanon to Mount Halak, that rises toward Seir (and Joshua gave their land to the tribes of Israel as a possession according to their allotments, 8 in the hill country, in the lowland, in the Arabah, in the slopes, in the wilderness, and in the Negeb, the land of the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites): 9 the king of Jericho, one; the king of Ai, which is beside Bethel, one; 10 the king of Jerusalem, one; the king of Hebron, one; 11 the king of Jarmuth, one; the king of Lachish, one; 12 the king of Eglon, one; the king of Gezer, one; 13 the king of Debir, one; the king of Geder, one; 14 the king of Hormah, one; the king of Arad, one; 15 the king of Libnah, one; the king of Adullam, one; 16 the king of Makkedah, one; the king of Bethel, one; 17 the king of Tappuah, one; the king of Hepher, one; 18 the king of Aphek, one; the king of Lasharon, one; 19 the king of Madon, one; the king of Hazor, one; 20 the king of Shimron-meron, one; the king of Achshaph, one; 21 the king of Taanach, one; the king of Megiddo, one; 22 the king of Kedesh, one; the king of Jokneam in Carmel, one; 23 the king of Dor in Naphath-dor, one; the king of Goiim in Galilee, one; 24 the king of Tirzah, one: in all, thirty-one kings.
This thanksgiving weekend we are called to count our blessings. We are called to remember what the Lord has done for us. Especially in our text thing morning, we see a count of the victories of the Lord. And certainly each of these victories is a great blessing to Israel.
Under Joshua’s leadership, thirty-one victories are counted. That is, thirty-one victories over Canaanite kings and their towns or cities.
Perhaps the number thirty-one brings to your mind the 31-flavors of ice cream at Baskin Robbins. Years ago they advertised much more frequently. I don’t think I’ve even been in one of their locations for 10 or 20 years. But I looked them up and they still exist, and they have the number “31” in logo. There logo is “BR” but the right side of the B is 3, and he left lift of the R is a 1. So that a 31 emerges from it.
The fact that they have 31 flavors of ice cream makes me wonder if the franchise began in Biblical times. And just like a little league coach takes his team out for ice cream upon each victory, so perhaps Joshua footed bill for the Israelites on each of 31 victories. Or perhaps not.
So there is a list here of 31 defeated kings. And this is quite the list. Showing, as it does, God’s faithfulness to His people with victory after victory.
I. The Victories of Moses and of Joshua
First there is a list of just two kings whom Moses defeated. Then there is a list of 31 kings whom Joshua defeated. Of course, the victory in each case was the Lord’s. But we should not thereby overlook God’s servants who led the nation in that time. Moses and Joshua are honored throughout this book for their obedience to God. We saw that twice in the last chapter:
First it says: “Just as the Lord had commanded Moses his servant, so Moses commanded Joshua, and so Joshua did. He left nothing undone of all that the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Joshua 11:15)
And then it says: “Joshua took the whole land according to all that the Lord has spoken to Moses.” (Joshua 11:23)
So Moses defeated, on the East side of the Jordan, Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan. Just two kings.
And Joshua, on the West of the Jordan, defeated 31 kings. Clearly the bulk of the victories occurred under Joshua, not under Moses.
You may liken them to a lawgiver and a warrior-king. Just as the Ancient Greeks had the lawgiver Solon and the warrior-king Leonidas, so did Israel have the lawgiver Moses and the warrior-king Joshua.
So while Moses is in many ways more prominent in the Bible, it is Joshua who has more victories.
II. The Blessings from God
But from both sets of victories, the people of Israel take possession of the land. That is the prize that comes from the victory. That is the blessing. A land of their own. No longer slaves in Egypt, nor wanderers in the desert, the people of Israel have received possession of the promised land.
Regarding the land East of the Jordan formerly controlled by Sihon and Og, verse 6 tells us “Moses gave their land for a possession to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.” Then in chapter 13 this inheritance is detailed. It gives the boundaries for the tribes using towns, and valleys, and rivers as reference points.
The remaining tribes of Israel take possession of land West of the Jordan. Chapters 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19 detail the boundaries of the lands of those tribes again using geographic points as reference.
If you are particularly interested in the geography and boundaries of the tribes at that time, then you can read these chapters in detail. They are chapters that I will not be dedicating each a sermon to, but will be referencing in this and, Lord willing, later sermons on the book of Joshua.
In these victories, we find that what had God promised He now brings to fulfillment.
Each of the victories brought with it the blessing of extended the lands of Israel.
The people were promised the land, as we read in Genesis 15. And it was given to them.
Likewise WE are promised eternal life. And it shall be given to us.
III. God’s Possession
A key word in this account from Joshua is “possession.” Not “possession” as in “being possessed by a demon” but possession as in ownership. The blessing the people receive is the ownership of the land. Or perhaps, better stated, it is the privilege to steward the land while they live there. Ultimately, God owns all the land.
Three times in chapter 12 do we hear of “Israel taking possession of the land.”
The Lord wins the victories, the people of the Lord get the blessing as they take possession of the land.
Now, as to our own circumstances, we may or may not ever own land. But God has won the victory in Jesus Christ for us to have eternal life, a far greater promise. Living not in the land of Canaan but living eternally in the New Heavens and the New Earth, renewed at the end of the world. So we are blessed in great measure.
So we read of these inheritance that becomes our possession in Ephesians:
13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire POSSESSION of it, to the praise of his glory.
Salvation brings eternal life, which is a guaranteed inheritance for all who are children of God. And one day we will take full possession of that eternal life.
But also, in the New Testament, the word “possession” is sometimes used a different — indeed greater — way. It is not that WE POSSESS LAND or even that WE POSSESS ETERNAL LIFE, but that GOD POSSESSES US. WE ARE HIS, forever. A prized possession.
[Tit 2:14 ESV] 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
[1Pe 2:9 ESV] 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Being claimed by God is the greatest blessing we can count.
We are blessed with eternal life. One.
We are blessed in being a possession of God. Two.
But as we look at victories, like Joshua had over the nations, so we must look in our own case to victories over sin.
Christ, no doubt, defeated death and forgave all our sins on the cross.
Yet, in both of those verses about being a possession of a God, we are called to therefore DO GOOD WORKS and to COME OUT OF DARKNESS AND INTO HIS MARVELOUS LIGHT.
We are called to victory over sin. In theology this is called “The mortification of sin.” The putting to death of sin. You know that word “mortification” that it means death. There is, at the funeral home a “mortician.” And in the Adams Family the mother is “Morticia.”
So what is the mortification of sin? It is our sanctification. Or part of it. One part of our sanctification is vivification – the growth of our Christian spiritual and moral character. We are made more and more alive for Christ. The other part of sanctification is mortification. Putting sin to death. Putting to death of our former ways. We should determine our sins or patterns of sin and in prayer to the Lord fight against those sins, seeking to forever put them to death, and never return to them.
I thought there was a lengthier explanation of this in our Confession of Faith. But there is just a short mention. In the chapter on Sanctification, the Confession says this:
“They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”
While on this side of eternity we shall never be without sin, the Holy Spirit works in us great strength that our sins no longer hold dominion over us but are weakened and mortified, that is put to death.
In each case then, where sin is mortified, there is victory. And we may count that as a blessing of the Lord.
Let us then each count our blessings of victories, especially those over sin.
1. There is Christ’s death for us on the cross. The greatest victory. The same Puritan – John Owens – who wrote a book on “The Mortification of Sin” wrote another on “The Death of Death in the Death of Jesus Christ.” The point is that Christ wins the victory.
Then there are those mortifications of sin. We should count it as victory whenever the Holy Spirit has defeated or sinful ways.
2. Anger. Do you sin in being angry? When the Lord works in you such that you refrain from anger, let us count this as a blessing.
3. Lust. Do you sin in having lust? When the Lord works in you such that you refrain from lust, let us count this as a blessing.
4. Jealousy. Do you sin in having jealousy? When the Lord works in you such that you refrain from jealously, let us count this as a blessing.
5. Gluttony. This is the opposite side of Thanksgiving. We celebrate and try not to eat too much! But when the Lord works in you such that you overcome gluttony, let us count this as a blessing.
6. Substance abuse. When the Lord wins that victory in you, count it as a blessing.
This whole idea of “mortification of sin” is not just a Confessional idea, it is a Biblical one.
[Col 3:5 ESV] 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
And in each of those cases, we count the blessing as we count the Lord’s victory over sin.
So I have a homework assignment for everyone. It will be challenging, but not impossible. I want you to count 31 blessing from the Lord. Particularly, blessings of victory. I mentioned those of victory of sin. How has the Lord changed you since you came to believe in Christ?
If you can’t get to 31, look to other areas of victory that can be counted.
For example, as you count your blessings, you might say “It is a blessing that so-and-so has been brought to the Lord.” A blessing that the Lord has won the victory and declared them His possession. And there are other blessings of victory as well. Getting work done is a victory. Sometimes, even getting up and going to victory! Praise the Lord that He gives us the energy and motivation to do so.
And praise the Lord for that we can count — as the greatest of all victories — Jesus’s victory for us on the cross. It is in his name that we have victory and it is in his name that we pray. Amen.