Church Dedication: A House of Refuge
Scripture: Numbers 1:47-49; 53; 35:1-2; 6; Matthew 25:34-40
We have gathered here today to dedicate this building to God. God saw fit to allow us to occupy this place after we had met in schools for over eight years. Today, having completed the work necessary to fully occupy this place, we can now dedicate this building and its functions to God. To dedicate something means you set it aside for use for a special purpose and today we will set aside this place as a house of God for worship and a place of refuge for those in need spiritually. Before we go through the formal service of dedicating this building, I want to lay the proper foundation for what we are dedicating this building for – as it relates to it being a place of refuge. I do not think I need to elaborate on it being a place of worship. We recognize that the people of this congregation are the Church and this place where we come together weekly to worship God with other believers. But as a Church (both as people and this special place that God has given us, we have another responsibility to reach out to those around us.) Now that we have this place we must be attentive to what takes place in this house and how we use it in our service to God. For example, in one of the cities where I used to live, there was one Church that used one of their fellowship halls as a Christian night club where people could get together and party – which is really what they did. We will dedicate and treat this place as a house of God for worship of Him and a place of refuge for those seeking help. Please turn with me to Numbers chapter one and we will begin reading at verse forty-seven.
I. Cities of Refuge
In the first chapter of Numbers, God directed Moses to take a census of all of males of the twelve tribes of Israel over the age of twenty – these were men who could be used a warriors if needed. The tribe of Levi was exempt from this census as they were not to be warriors. Let’s start with verse 47. “The Levites, however, were not numbered among them by their father’s tribe. For the Lord had spoken to Moses saying, ‘Only the tribe of Levi you shall not number, nor shall you take their census among the sons of Israel…..But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there will be no wrath on the congregation of the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the testimony.” (Vss. 47-49; 53)
The tribe of Levi was appointed to a lifetime position as priests over Israel. They were not allowed to be warriors, but were assigned to keep the house of God. When the Children of Israel came into the Promised Land, the Levites were not given land as the other tribes, but were given cities. These cities were placed strategically throughout the land. When you read verse fifty-three God said that the Levites would camp around the tabernacle so that His wrath would not be on the people of Israel. Here is what we need to understand. God’s tabernacle was a holy place and only the tribe of Levi was allowed to enter. If anyone else came within a certain distance of it, they would be put to death. God’s house is a holy place and we need to remember and respect that. Too many times we treat God’s house like any other building; we need to not take His house for granted. So the tribe of Levi was to camp around the tabernacle to keep the people safe while also performing their duties as priests to keep the people focused on their one true God. Now turn to chapter thirty-five. Let’s start with verse one.
“Now the Lord spoke to Moses in the plains of Moab by the Jordan opposite Jericho, saying, ‘Command the sons of Israel that they give to the Levites from the inheritance of their possession cities to live in; and you shall give to the Levites pasture lands around the cities……The cities which you shall give to the Levites shall be the six cities of refuge, which you shall give for the manslayer to flee to; and in addition to them you shall give forty-two cities.” (Vss. 1-2; 6)
When God brought the Children of Israel into the Promised Land, He instructed Moses to have them give the Levites cities for them to live in. When these cities were given, they became cities of refuge, especially for those who had killed someone unintentionally. Now you would think that if someone accidently killed another person they would be fine since it was an accident but that was not the case. The person could still be killed by the “avenger of blood” who was a family member of the deceased person seeking an eye for an eye as it were. These cities were set aside as places of asylum for the accidental manslayer and were evenly distributed throughout Israel. These cities also accepted people who were criminals. Once a person entered into the city, they could not be apprehended or punished even if they were guilty. The Israelites were commanded to give every assistance to those seeking a city of refuge. To this end the roads to the cities had to be properly maintained and signs had to be posted along the way. The cities were located so that none were more than one days travel from anywhere within the land of Israel. God placed the cities so that there would not be endless bloodshed because someone was accidently killed. Remember, the “avenger of blood” could continue until a family was wiped out. For example, I killed your brother and you kill me; then my brother kills you and then your brother kills my brother. See how far this could go? The cities of refuge were designed to stop this type of continuous killing from happening.
Now here is what I want you to consider. The cities of refuge were placed under whose providence? The Levites. When someone was in trouble, they were to seek refuge from a place that was designated for help – the city where God’s presence was located. These cities would in fact save their lives. There should always be a mentality of saving a soul where God’s presence resides. Do you understand this? God presence resides within this place primarily because He resides within you. So within each of you there should be a mentality of helping those in trouble because that is what our Father does. Now keep this in mind as we transition to the New Testament.
II. Church Responsibility
I want to read a very familiar Scripture to you and then I will tie this up and we will move forward with the dedication of this building. Turn with me to Matthew chapter 25 and we will begin reading at verse 34.
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You? The King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:34-40)
As a Church body this is what we’re supposed to be about – helping those in need. We are to be the modern day city of refuge from those who are hurting. The Church is where people should find rest, comfort, encouragement and God! This Church building that God has blessed us with is not just for us to come, have our services, fellowship with one another and keep everyone else outside. It is to be a place of refuge where those in need can come and receive what they are in need of. It is a sad day that many Churches operate on such a tight budget that their focus in on keeping the lights on; the air conditioning running and the building pretty. They are spending so much money taking care of the physical building and their leaders that they cannot afford to do these “other things” to help those in need. I want you to know this morning that this place will not operate that way. This is God’s house and it should be a place of refuge for those who are in need and those who are hurting. When we’re in trouble, we should run to God and this place should be a place where anyone who is seeking God can find Him. God did not give us this building so that we could just come in and use it for ourselves. If we’re not trying to help others in a tangible way why do we need a building? If we’re not going to be able to provide food to the hungry, why do we need a building? If our goal is to make sure we have the biggest and we have no funds to help anyone in need, why do we need a building? God trusted us with this building so that we can fulfill the mission that He has given this Church. This house is God’s house and we will treat it accordingly.
Webster’s dictionary defines refuge as “a place of shelter from danger.” We live in a very dangerous world and people need to have a place of refuge where they can come and rest. People are hurting and in need and the Church should be a place of refuge where they can come and receive what they need. The problem right now is that the Church is not living up to its billing. We are not doing our jobs! We are not ensuring that we have our act together so that we can reach out to the world. People now come to Church and leave in much greater distress than when they first walked into the building.
New Light, I decree this day that we are going to be different. We’re going to ensure that we use this building for the spreading of God’s word; to help those in need; to provide a place of refuge from those who are hurting; alone and at the end of their rope. We’re going to help them stay on.
We might not be big in size, but with God, we can do “big things! Please stand to your feet as we prepare to dedicate this place.