Sermon for Sunday, December 18th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Jos 21:41-45 ESV] 41 The cities of the Levites in the midst of the possession of the people of Israel were in all forty-eight cities with their pasturelands. 42 These cities each had its pasturelands around it. So it was with all these cities. 43 Thus the LORD gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. 44 And the LORD gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the LORD had given all their enemies into their hands. 45 Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.
New Testament reading:
[Heb 6:13-20 ESV] 13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
[Mat 1:18-25 ESV] 18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.
With the victories over the Canaanites and with the distribution of the land to the various tribes of Israel, we find that the promises of God to the Israel have “all come to pass.”
I. The Allotment of the Levites
While each of the tribes of Israel received an allotment in the promised land, the Levities did not. At least, they did not receive their own region.
There are a number of references to this fact in the chapters previous to our text from Joshua 21. In the 14th chapter it says “to the Levites he gave no inheritance among them.” And in the 18th chapter it says “The Levites have no portion among you, for the priesthood of the Lord is their heritage.”
It is explained more in the book of Numbers. (Numbers 18:6, 21-24, READ these)
While certainly the priesthood is a great gift to receive, you might think, “Well, they need to live SOMEWHERE.” Where are the Levites to live? And they need somewhere for their herds.
So we find in chapter 21 that the Levites are given various cities throughout the land and pasturelands around them. They receive 48 cities and their pasturelands, each of which are within the domain of another tribe. Among these 48 cities are the 6 cities of refuge.
Now the text doesn’t explain WHY exactly this was the arrangement. But you can quickly think of various benefits. The Levites are to do the priestly work in ALL places. They are a glue that holds the nation together, spread out among the tribes, rather than being partial to any one of them. Teaching the Word of God in all places. (Deuteronomy 33:10 “[And of Levi he said] … they shall teach Jacob your rules and Israel your law.”)
Some find application here in saying that ministers should be supported by tithes. I think you might equally find support for bivocational work, for the Levites did manage their own pasturelands. But the application I want to look at is this: “Let us Be Content Where we are.”
Application: Let us Be Content Where we are.
There are are times when I (and perhaps you have this sentiment as well) wish to move to a place that is full of Christians. Here we live in a place with low rates of church attendance. But in the Lord’s plan He does not call Christians to all congregate in one place, in one city, but (like the Levites) to spread about throughout the world, proclaiming the Gospel where we are. Indeed, there is greater need for such proclamation in places where there are fewer Christians. So we should not so much lament not being surrounded by Christians, but praise the Lord for the opportunity to be witnesses of the Gospel to so many who do not know it. We should thank the Lord for where he has put us, wherever that may be.
II. All Came to Pass
So we find in our text that following all of the allotments of land that the promises of God “All came to pass.” And an interesting story comes to mind regarding that phrase “come to pass.”
It is a story of a man named Solomon Spalding.
Spalding was solider in the revolution and later a Congregationalist minister. In his later years he wrote a number of historical fictions about ancient peoples coming to America. Before Spalding died, he had sent his final manuscript to a publisher. A plausible theory is that the document sat there for some time until it was stolen by a colleague of Joseph Smith, the charlatan-founder of the false religion of Mormonism. They soon used Spalding’s manuscript as the basis of writing the Book of Mormon, yet another in a string of attempted get-rich-quick scheme that they had devised.
Well, Solomon Spalding had a favorite phrase that he took from the Bible: “it CAME TO PASS.” When his relatives and friends read one of his historical fiction manuscripts they told him it needed be edited because it used the phase “it came to pass” so frequently that it was almost comical. Similarly, one thousand four hundred and four times the Book of Mormon says “and it came to pass.” So when Spalding had died and the Book of Mormon was printed, and some of Spalding’s friend’s first read the book they recognized their old friend in it. One of them exclaimed “Old come-to-pass has come to life again.”
Well, we might say that “it came to pass” that the Book of Mormon was shown to be a fraud.
Now, the phrase in the Bible, “And it came to pass,” usually is just a referencing to the passing of time and the fact that some event occurred. Perhaps it came to pass that a new king came to the throne, or it came to pass that a child was born, or it came to pass that a prophecy was fulfilled. But here in Joshua chapter 21 it is a much more profound statement that “ALL came to pass.” That is, as it says, “Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.”
This is true indeed for Israel, and it is true indeed always. God does not change, and his promises always are fulfilled. His promises always come to pass.
All that the Lord had promised, the Israelites have received.
The promised victories have come to pass.
And the land they had been promised is now a land of their own.
Not one word of God has failed.
Indeed, when the Lord speaks, it is with power. He does not simply wish for things to happen, he decrees that they will happen. When the Lord speaks, it is as good as done.
III. Trusting in God’s Promises
So we see God’s character, and how it is that we can trust in Him. We can trust in the Lord because he does not back out from a promise. He does not begin something only to later change his mind, but always comes through, a faithful friend.
Paul summarizes the idea: [1Th 5:24 ESV] 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
He will surely do it.
God’s promises WILL come to pass.
What God has spoken, will come to pass.
Now God doesn’t promise us that we will acquire acreage in Canaan, but there are many other promises for us.
So I want to list some of the promises of God.
They are not “health and wealth” nor “prosperity and fame” or that all your dreams are going to come true on earth.
But they are better than that.
Here then are Biblical promises of God to us:
1. He promises “I am with you.” (Isaiah 41:10)
2. There is the promise “He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut. 31.8)
3. And “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.” (Psalm 32:8) This is a particular interest of mine. The Lord’s operation upon us as we learn. It was St. Augustine who declared that Christ is our only teacher; that He is the light that enlightens our mind.
4. And “I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
5. “The peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7)
6. “The Lord will fight for you.” (Exodus 14:14)
7. “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” (Isaiah 40:29)
8. “If you confess with you mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
IV. A Promised Messiah
And finally there is the fulfilled promise of the Messiah.
Our Gospel reading I chose not so much because Christmas is upon us, but because it shows a great promise of God coming to pass. That is, God has promised a messiah, a christ, to save His people from their sins. And Matthew writes, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place this way.” And he then describes it. But of greatest importance is that it “took place.” It happened. It came to pass. God fulfilled his promises.
Matthew says: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call his name Immanuel.’”
Time and again the character of God is displayed, for his glory and for our salvation.
All of His promises come to pass.
Then, our New Testament reading from the Book of Hebrews is titled in the ESV as “The Certainty of God’s Promise.” That, you might say, is the main point of this sermon. God’s promises are certain. All the promises of God in Christ are yes and amen.
When we hope in God and His promises it is a certain hope. It is not just a “I hope this is so” but “I know this is so.” It is an assured hope, strengthened by Christ’s fulfillment of prophecy and the Holy Spirit’s working upon our hearts.
So our Hebrews text says:
“When God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”
“A sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”
To summarize: God’s promises for us are many. And God’s fulfillment of his many promises is 100%. All will come to pass. Praise be to the Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.