Sermon for Sunday, October 30th, 2022 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Jos 8:30-35 ESV] 30 At that time Joshua built an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, 31 just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the LORD and sacrificed peace offerings. 32 And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. 33 And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. 34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.
New Testament reading:
[Rom 12:1-2 ESV] 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
[Luk 9:23-27 ESV] 23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. 27 But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”
How often do you rededicate your efforts?
How often do you rededicate your life?
Perhaps every January 1st you say “I’m going back to the gym.”
Perhaps every Sunday you say “I’m going to dedicate more time to prayer.”
On the one hand, rededicating ourselves, recommitting ourselves, is necessary or we tend to fall away from good things.
But on the other hand, no matter how hard we try, we are bound to fall short at some point or another.
I remember two times in my youth especially that exemplify this point – no matter how hard I tried, I would slip from my goal.
The first, at about 8 or 9 years old, around the time I got my first Bible. And I wanted so badly to life a perfect life. For I feared that anything short of perfection surely brings upon me the wrath of God. But it wasn’t long before I realize that, try as I might, perfection was unattainable. I kept failing. I kept sinning. Maybe I just need to try harder?
Then I remember a time in my teenage years where every few months I was rededicating myself to physical health. If only I could spend every waking minute exercising then, I thought, I could really be something. I could be really great at Tae Kwon Do (which I had long practiced) or I could be really impressive in the gym. Well, the frequent rededication perhaps helped spur on some healthy choices and activities, but it never lasted. Just as it was impossible to find moral perfection, so it was impossible to attain physical perfection or even the pursuit of it.
Our hope, I later concluded, and still do conclude, cannot be bound up in our dedications or re-dedications or three-dedications, but must rely on the Lord whose promises are always Yes and Amen.
You see, while the people “renew the Covenant,” God never has to. His promises stand, never fading away.
So we have in passage that “Joshua Renews the Covenant” but even there we see that the Word of God is “written.” His Word stands, unchanged. His promise is eternal. His covenant never fails.
I. Piles of Stones
In our reading Joshua makes an altar of uncut stones.
And this makes me interested in seeing just how many “piles of stones” we’ve seen so far in the book of Joshua.
And, are not these piles of stones “re-dedications” of the people to the Covenant of God?
Perhaps not all of the stone piles represent re-dedications. But what we do see, even from a single rededication, is that people fail. People fail to keep their promises, and so must be called to frequent re-committal. There is not a single pile of stones in Israel that for all time suffices, but a number of re-dedications, a number of monuments for remembrance.
So let’s enumerate the piles of stones.
1: First, in Joshua chapter four there are the twelve stones from the Jordan that are placed as a memorial to that miraculous crossing of the people over the river. Some believe this to be two piles of stones, one in the river and another near the river. But we’ll just count this as a single occurrence in the text. Well this (or these) pile (or piles) had an explicit purpose: “that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean to you? Then you shall them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the water of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”
These stones then are a sign of God’s covenant promise, His unchanging love. But there is a sense in which the people rededicate themselves in each generation as they see the stones and reflect on their meaning.
2: The next pile of the stones, the second incident in Joshua, is from chapter 7. There a great heap of stones is pile upon Achan. And, it is said by the author, that the great heap of stones “remains to this day.” Though not specified in the text, the fact that the stones remain means that they continue to be a reminder to the people not to sin. A reminder to rededicate themselves to the Lord.
3: The third pile of stones comes in chapter 8 where a great heap stones is raised over the body of the deceased King of Ai which again “stands there to this day.” Again this must function as a reminder to the people to flee from sin and rededicate themselves to the Lord.
4: Now we have the fourth pile of stones. And it is in our text from the end of chapter 8. These stones are uncut, but they are not piles loosely or haphazardly, for they make an altar and so must be set with some precision.
II. Offerings for Sin
And on this altar they offered burnt offering to the Lord and sacrificed peace offerings.
This is one of many repeated and repeated sacrifices of animals in the Old Testament.
But these sacrifices never sufficed for sin. And they kept doing them over and over.
But by the blood of bulls and goats it is impossible to take away sin.
Something greater, something permanent, something un-changing was needed.
III. The Unchanging Covenant of God
He who is unchanging is none other than the Lord God.
And the Word of the Lord does not change either.
We see in the text that a copy of the law of Moses is written on the stones. But though it is a copy, it is still the word of God.
Similarly, the copy of the Scriptures you hold in your hand is every bit as much the word of God as the original manuscripts themselves. And if the stones break or your Bible falls into a lake, the word of God is not harmed. It exists without stone or paper, and continues despite any decay of moth or rust.
So we have in our confession the teaching of the preservation of God’s word. God keeps his word pure through all ages. Just as the copy of the law of Moses is still the law of Moses, so is your copy of the Word of God still the Word of God.
Chapter 1, part 8 of the Westminster Confession says that not only is the Bible inspired of God, but that it is “by his singular care and providence, kept pure in all ages.” This is good reason to prefer the Majority Text, kept through the centuries in the church, and not the readings found in scattered fragments in the deserts of Egypt.
God does not change. And neither does His word.
The important point here, is that while we change and while we need to constantly rededicate ourselves to God, His covenant with us does not change. God is forever dedicated to those whom He loves.
And so the death of Jesus Christ was a one-time sacrifice, a once-for-all victory of sin, death, and the devil.
IV. Renewing Your Life
Though God is fully committed to us, and our salvation is assured by his upholding of the covenant, He calls to renewal and rededication of ourselves.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross DAILY and follow me.”
We don’t just say a sinners prayer and be on our way.
We must rededicate ourselves frequently, DAILY to the Lord.
Daily we should pray [Psa 51:10 ESV] 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
In the renewal and rededication we see in our sermon text, Joshua reads the ENTIRE revealed Bible to the people. He reads the Laws of Moses. The Torah, the Pentateuch, the five books. To remind them of everything that the Lord has said and everything that the Lord has done. And driving them to be committed to the Lord that day and each day to follow.
And in that reading half of the people stood in front one mountain, and half of the people stood in front of another. Gerizim and Ebal. And so Joshua read the blessings of God and the curses. Gerizim corresponding with blessings and Ebal corresponding with curses. Some think Joshua would have turned the one way when reading the blessing and the other way when reading the curses, but we don’t know.
This is as Moses had said in Deuteronomy 11:29 – [Deu 11:29 ESV] “29 And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, you shall set the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal.” The word of God would be read positively as a blessing to those who obey in one direction, and read as a curse to those who disobey in the other direction.
It is a double call then, to rededicate towards doing right, and to rededicate away from doing wrong.
Then, in our New Testament reading from Romans we heard “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” This tells us that renewal of habits, of holiness, of lifestyle STARTS IN THE MIND. To improve what you do, you must first improve what you think. And where are you going to go to improve what you think? CNN? The John Tesh radio program? Motivational speaker Tony Robbins? Of course not. You’ll go to the very Word of God in the Bible. While the Holy Spirit does the work, the Word of God provides the content for our growth in knowledge and subsequent growth in holiness. There is no renewal without the Word of God.
So I want you to take this sermon as a call to rededication.
In what way have you fallen from your goals and calling?
In what ways can you rededicate yourselves to the Lord?
How can you keep your mind on the things of the Lord?
And how can you hands be active for the kingdom of God?
This is a call to renewal, personal and corporate. For each of us and for all of us. Let us dedicate ourselves to the Lord who made and who redeemed us. Let us renew our minds, and renew our lives according to the Word of God.
And in all of this, know that it is the Lord who renews your life. Being born again is something that comes from the outside, something that comes from the Lord.
The faith that we have, and the repentance we’ve done are, as our confession says, graces of God; things done BY Him IN us. Our renewal is His work, and so we are to boast only in the Lord.
Our renewal is a recognition of and a product of the Holy Spirit working a change within us.
[2Co 5:17 ESV] 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
[Col 3:10 ESV] 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
[Tit 3:5 ESV] 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
All promised in the Old Testament.
[Eze 11:19 ESV] 19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,
Praise the Lord for the rebirth and renewal He works in us.
Let us pray.