14th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, It’s that time of year again. Hard to believe it! It’s that time of year when synapses in the brain are firing and logical connections are being made. When the wheels are turning and discoveries are made. It’s that time of year when students go back to school and begin learning things. It’s also this time of year when a certain dialogue fills the air. Questions and answers. Teachers will be asking questions and hopefully students will be answering them J. Usually questions are either difficult or easy and answers are either right or wrong. Questions are easy when you know the subject and can remember and recall information. They are difficult when you can’t. And nobody wants to have the wrong answer and feel ashamed. Well, today in our text there’s an implied question to answer: who are YOU going to trust? Who are you going to serve? What’s your answer?
The book of Joshua is a very interesting book. It covers the time period right after the death of Moses. Remember Moses was the great leader who led the Israelites out of Egypt and then led them as they wandered in the desert for 40 years. After those 40 years were over God allowed the Israelites to take over the promise land of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership. The book of Joshua recounts the battles and events of how the nation of Israel overtook the land of Canaan and settled it. (Here I’m going to put in a shameless plug for the new Bible study that we will be starting next week, we’re going to begin a study of this book of Joshua which is packed with excitement, variety, and God’s grace.) Our text for this morning happens at the very end of the book of Joshua and at the very end of Joshua’s life. It’s his farewell sermon to the Israelites. The Israelites are now living peacefully and comfortably in the Promised Land.
“Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem.” I’m guessing that not many here would be able to find the city of Shechem on a map. Well, Shechem is located right in the center of the promised land of Canaan. There was a reason why Joshua would have picked Shechem for this sermon. Here they are right in the middle of the Promised Land able to convene in this large meeting without worry or concern, why? Because God had given them this land. Shechem was also important for several other reasons: it was here where God promised Abraham that his descendents would live in the Promised Land, here where Jacob buried the household gods that had been brought from Laban’s house beyond the River Euphrates, and here where Joshua had earlier inscribed the Law of God on stone pillars. So, all in all, Shechem was a good location for Joshua to have the people assemble and renew their commitment to God before he died.
You’ll notice in our text that a few verses are left out. From verse 2 through verse 13 Joshua actually speaks to the people on God’s behalf reminding them of everything God has done for them. “I, God, brought Abraham from his land and from his family that worshiped false gods, I gave him this land, I made his descendants into a great nation, when the nation was in slavery in Egypt, I afflicted the Egyptians, I brought your relatives out from there, I parted the Red Sea for them, I guarded you through your wanderings in the desert, I brought you to this land, I drove out the nations that previously live here, I gave you this land for which you did not toil and did not build, I gave it to you.” Notice a theme? God first reminds them of what HE has done for them, how HE has blessed them, how HE has saved them.
So, after reviewing some 7 centuries of God’s saving grace, Joshua said, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.” Revere, honor, trust, put your confidence in, and worship God alone. “Throw away the gods of your forefathers…and serve the Lord.” God wanted their hearts. Remember how the Israelites were constantly prone to idolatry? Just after they left Egypt they set up a golden calf to worship. “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.” If you turn your back on God, then you have options, you can pick which worthless god to serve. You can pick the gods of your forefathers or the gods of the people who live here in Canaan. But remember, these gods were powerless and helpless to their clientele when God came through and wiped them out and gave their land to you! So you have options. If you reject the one true God, there are bad decisions you can make. Everyone has to worship someone or something, just like everyone has to eat. If you reject God, you have the choice between gorging on garbage or devouring dung, which one do you want? Then Joshua concludes with a statement that has had an impact on godly people for over 3 millenia, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” Wow! It doesn’t matter what you do, it doesn’t matter if you choose to oppose me, it doesn’t matter if I have to swim upstream, as for me as head of my house, and my family, we will continue to serve the Lord… no matter what!
The people responded saying, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods!” Then they list all that God had done for them and how He had protected them, provided for them, and drove out their enemies before them. They like Joshua said, “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”
This portion of Scripture is very popular today. Unfortunately, many people use this passage to defend a false teaching called “Decision theology.” Which in essence says, “You must decide to believe in Jesus to be a true believer. After all, Joshua says, ‘Choose for yourselves…’right?” First, God says people are born in this world spiritually dead, spiritually dead people cannot make any spiritually living decisions. Second, Joshua is here talking to people who already believe in God, not unbelievers. Third, the word “choose” is only used here to “choose” between two bad things. If you reject God, all you have is bad choices, which false god you want to follow. You see, it is God who first must work on our hearts through the Gospel, telling us what He has done to save us, then He turns our hearts and leads us to trust in Him as our Savior.
How does this apply to us today? It shouldn’t surprise us to see idolatry and immorality all around us in this world. Why? Because everyone in the world is “incurably religious.” Humans have to worship someone or something. Even so-called “atheists” have their god to worship, whether it’s power, pleasure, or property or even their own mind or reasoning, which they claim is so much smarter than the Bible. Everyone has to worship. And without God a person is incurably sinful. Humans are born in sin. Without the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith a person can only make spiritually bad decisions. But the amount of good that does is no more than someone praying to, bowing down to, and worshipping a rock or a piece of wood.
We see in this account how ready the people of Israel were to follow the true God and forsake idols. But history shows us that the same people who confessed God here would later turn their backs on him for false idols and gods. A confession once given is not once for all. Think also of Peter in the Gospel…He gave a bold confession here, but only to deny Him later. Totally by God’s grace He has worked faith in our hearts through the Gospel, when it comes to our salvation God did it all from a to z. But now in our lives of sanctification we have a battle going on. In bringing us to faith God has created in us a new person, a new man that loves what God loves and wants to follow Him alone, but we also have a sinful nature, an old Adam that clings to us till the day we die. In our lives as Christians there are all kinds of decisions we have to make. Do we follow the gods of this world, the gods of our sinful nature or fear and serve the Lord? The fact that we are strong in faith today is no reason to let our guard down against the idols of this world. All we need to do is look at our own past history filled with idolatry. The gods of this world are legion: the god of discontentment, the sex outside of marriage god, the god of greed, the temporary gratification god, the god of selfishness, the “if it feels good, do it” god, the “everyone else is doing it” god, and the list goes one.
Where are those gods when you need them the most? What good are those gods when you are searching for meaning and purpose in life? Where are those gods when you long for answers to life’s questions? Where are those gods to give you peace and security when your life is spinning out of control? Where are those gods to give strength and confidence when you face life’s challenges and difficulties? Where are those gods to give you comfort and consolation when a loved one is taken away from you? Where are those gods when you need them most? Where are those gods when you are lying on your death bed and facing death?
By God’s grace you are on the path that leads to life, the path of fearing, serving, trusting, and worshiping the one true God. But this path has many forks in it and many off shoots to turn off on, many gods on those roads offering you cheap, temporary thrills, but a life of heart-ache, guilt, and trouble. And each of those roads take you further away from God and they all end in the same place, death, eternal death. So who are you going to serve? Which path are you going to take? What is your answer?
What gives you the power to give the right answer? It’s continually reviewing and remembering God’s gracious generosity found in His word. It’s gazing at the jewels of God’s generosity. Watch as the record of God’s grace in Christ takes hold in your heart. In love he chose you, redeemed you through the blood of Christ, called you to saving faith by the Gospel, washed you in Holy Baptism. Daily he forgives you and lavishes on you all the riches of his grace!
So, who are you going to fear and serve? Who are you going to follow? What’s your answer? Look at God’s faithfulness, be reminded of what He has done to save you, and the answer’s obvious. When temptations come alluring, when sins seem pleasing, when the gods of this world are beckoning, you will answer with Joshua, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD!” Amen.