From the moment your alarm goes off in the morning life throws at you a non-stop sandstorm of choices.
• To snooze or not to snooze? ... that is the question!
• To hop in the shower or simply spray on some deodorant? That’s another!
• Will it be the understated blue shirt or the vibrant pink one?
• Will you wear your hair up or down, braid it or bunch it, straighten it or curl it - or if you’re a bloke will you at least put a comb through it?
And if like me you have small people living in your house then one of your big choices you have to make first thing in the morning is how to handle the daughter who can’t find her shoes even thought they are exactly where she left them last night and the son who is lying on the floor with his pants half-way up his legs whining “I can’t do it. I’m too tired.” – Will you be patient and nurturing… or will you lose it and start World War 3 over your children’s glacial attempts to get ready?
Now if you’ve just finished your exams in the last couple of weeks all of this may seem fairly irrelevant to you. Your choice is simply whether to get up in time for the lunchtime or the tea time showing of Neighbours. BUT whatever time of the day you get up you still face a bewildering array of choices. Researchers have estimated that we make 35,000 different decisions every day.
Of course they can range from the trivial like your choice of breakfast cereal, to the more serious like what we do with our time, our money, and our talents. But ultimately all of those choices boil down to a choice between 2 things: Following Jesus or… Not following Jesus. Letting Jesus be Lord of your life... or letting something else be our master.
That is the big issue in this final chapter of the book of Joshua that we’re looking at this evening. There are choices that are to be made. Joshua is coming to the end of his life and these are the final words to the people he has lead for a generation. And he is passionately concerned that they will go the right way. That they will make the right choices in their lives once he has gone.
And he says that amidst the bewildering array of choices that you will be making day by day, week by week, year by year through your life there is one major choice that will underline and underpin every single choice that you make - it’s there in verses 14-15 - and it’s this: Will you be prepared to serve God or not? In a nutshell he says: Are you going to serve the Lord or are you going to serve the other gods that are around you? What are you going to do? Well I’ll tell you this for free:
“...as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (24.15)
Joshua has made his mind up. But what about us? What choices are we going to be making? And as we make them will we be able to echo what Joshua says here “...as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
That’s the challenge of this passage and in order to follow in his footsteps Joshua he encourages us to do 3 things. Here’s the first one:
(1.) Remember What The Lord has Done (v.1-13)
The first 13 verses of this chapter are a potted history of God’s saving actions on behalf of his people. Take a look at verse 1 with me:
“Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God.”(24.1)
This is a momentous occasion. In a momentous location. Joshua gathers God’s people at Shechem. Which may not seem like that big a deal to you, but this is the very same spot where 500 years earlier their great, great, great, great grandfather Abraham had stood and heard God promise:
“To your offspring I will give this land.” (Genesis 12.7)
It was an amazing promise as at that time Abraham was 75 years old and his wife Sarai was barren. “To your offspring I will give this land” says God. “But we don’t have any offspring,” thinks Abraham, “and the chances of getting any sometime soon are zilch, zip, nada, nil! and even if we did pop a sprog or 2 this land is swarming with Cannanites - how on earth am I and my fictional kids going to claim this land?” It seemed so unlikely that it would ever come true. Indeed left to Abraham and Sarah it would never come true.
Yet now here they were, the descendants of Abraham - thousands of them in the land with the Cannanites defeated - gathered together at Shechem on the very spot where the promise had been given. The promise had come true. The Lord had kept his word. He had done what no-one else could do. That’s the point of the verses that follow.
Do you see that? Listen to how it was the Lord who did it as we whizz through the first 13 verses of this chapter - This is the Lord speaking:
• Verse 3: “I took your father Abraham from beyond the River... I led him... I gave him Isaac.”
• Verse 4: “I gave Jacob and Esau... I gave Esau the hill country...”
• Verse 5: “I sent Moses and Aaron... I plagued Egypt... I brought you out.”
• Verse 7: “...your eyes saw what I did...”
• Verse 8: “ I brought... I gave... I destroyed...”
• Verse 10: “ I delivered...”
• Verse 11: “ I gave...”
• Verse 12: “ I sent...”
• And verse 13: “ I gave you a land on which you had not laboured and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.”
No less than 18 times God says “I did that.” God was behind all these great moments in their history - As he says: “It’s not what you did, it’s what I did that gave you this land.”
The point of this GCSE Bitesize History of Israel? Answer: Pride! Because it would be all too easy for the Israelites to look back on this long, successful campaign and say: “Look at what we’ve done! Look at how great we are.”
This gathering of the people could easily break out into one of those big backslapping awards ceremonies. “and the award for best leader in a middle eastern military campaign goes to... Joshua!” And in his acceptance speech Joshua could do a bit of “Hey guys do you remember when.... We escaped Egypt because of our awesome negotiating skills or when we brought Jerico’s walls tumbling down by the shear ferocity of our trumpet playing. Altogether now everyone: ‘We Are the Champions My Friends.’”
That’s so often what success does, doesn’t it? It tempts us to take pride in ourselves, rather than thank God for what He has done for us. So you may well be graduating with a 2:1 or better still a 1st or you might have won a promotion or been made player of the year or maybe you’ve just had a really good year where everything just seems to have gone your way, and you feel good about yourself. Well congratulations! I’m really pleased for you, but beware... because pride is always lurking on the doorstep of success.
And pride is deadly. Because it keeps us occupied with ourselves, rather than looking to the God who gives us all good things. Give in to pride and we become self-obsessed. What keeps us from reading our Bibles and listening to God everyday? Pride - because we think we know it all already or that missing a few days won’t make any difference. What is the biggest hindrance to prayer? Pride - because we think we’ve got it all so together that we don’t need to pray. What stops us serving others - putting their needs before ours? It’s pride because we think our needs are more important!
Pride is deadly because it makes us think that we can cope with life… without God. AND that’s just the attitude Joshua was seeking to challenge in the hearts of the Israelites by encouraging them to not only remember what the Lord had done for them, but also to...
(2.) Remember That God Is Not An Optional Extra (v.14-18)
Dive back into Joshua 24 with me to verse 14 again:
“Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness.” (24.14)
Which seems like a no brainer when we remember everything that God has done for us... but our hearts are all too easily distracted. So Joshua goes on:
“Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”(24.14-15)
Did you notice what the choice is here? It’s not to serve the Lord or not. It’s serve the Lord or you’ll end up serving some other god. That’s the choice we all face.
To which you might say: “But you don’t understand Ken, it’s not that I want to serve other gods, it’s just that I don’t want to serve the Lord or at least not just at the moment or not yet. I just want to be neutral.” But Joshua is telling us there is no such thing as spiritual neutral! We are made to serve God. We are designed to worship Him. We are worshippers by nature. So if we will not serve the Lord we will inevitably find other things to worship.
If you won’t believe Joshua, then listen to Jesus in Matthew 6:
“No one can serve two masters...” - No one! - “... either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6.24)
We can’t be spiritually neutral. The Bible says that if you won’t whole heartedly choose the Lord then what non-god are you going to have? What are you going to live for if you’re not going to live for him?
The fundamental question of life is this: Who are you going to serve? God is not some optional extra that we can just add in and subtract out of our lives when it suits us. No! We are not just to believe in him, not just to trust him for our salvation... But to serve him. We are to make him the undisputed number 1 in our lives! Tell me - If I saw a video of your life... what would you be living for?
‘Cos when we don’t live for God’s glory, this is what happens... our hearts are kidnapped and we end up pursuing other dreams and we expect God in a way to be a divine waiter who we touch base with and who comes and delivers what we want, and if he doesn’t then we’ll jettison him. Or if he’s inconvenient then we’ll hide him in the cupboard at the back of our lives.
This is why we pray so hard for those of you in CYFA who are heading off to University this autumn and those of you who are graduating - For we know how easy it is at times like that for folks to drift away and end up worshipping other things. We’ve experienced those kind of temptations ourselves - away from your parents and the church youth group for the first time or all alone in a new city earning a wage with money to burn - you are surrounded by all kinds of new possibilities, the liberty to try them out, and the anonymity not to get found out, and in those kind of situations it’s all too easy to get sucked away from the Lord.
Life is a series of decisions. Every single day we have to choose. Every single day we make decisions which will either strengthen our relationship with Jesus or see us drifting away from Jesus.
It’s like the tracks diverging on a railway line - you come to a point where you have to choose the left track or the right - to worship the Lord or pursue other goals. And that day your decision doesn’t seem that big a deal you’re life is still practically speaking running parallel with God’s will, but then a month or so later you’re moving further away till a year later you’re on a different course altogether.
AND I guess that’s why Joshua calls the people in verse 15 to “...choose this day whom you will serve...” Choose now! Don’t prevaricate. Don’t delay. Choose today!
So maybe you’ve got some decisions at work? It maybe a choice between furthering your career... or standing firm for Christ. I hope you can do both! That you can stand firm for Christ and further your career, but we know that there are moments when it’s one or the other. Choose today to serve Christ! Don’t say “maybe next time”.
Or what about relationship decisions? Will you go out with and possibly end up marrying someone who has no concern for the things of Jesus Christ or will you give that person up in order to be unhindered from serving Him. Don’t let that decision linger. Say “no” today.
Or perhaps you’re starting at University or in a new job and you’re wondering about when or how to let folks know you’re a Christian? Well say something straight away, don’t delay. Be up front about it from the word “go”.
There are all sorts of things in this world crying out for your attention, grabbing to control your lifestyle, and quite frankly making a play for your soul! Which is why Joshua calls us to “Now fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness.” Because we if we don’t serve him... we will serve something else.
AND so the people Israel answer in verses 16 & 18: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods... we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.” Which brings us to Joshua’s third and final encouragement. And what a strange gift of encouragement he has as he says: “But...
(3.) Remember That You Can’t Do This! (v.19-27)
Do you see that in verse 19? “But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.”
The people have pledged allegiance to the Lord! If this had been me I would have been punching the air like a tennis player and posting on Facebook “What a Result Tonight at Jesmond Parish Church! #Revival.” Yet Joshua says: “Serve the Lord? Nah. I don’t think you can!”
What is going on here? Is this Joshua being a cantankerous and argumentative old codger? He is 110 years old after all! Well rest assured these are not the words of a grumpy old man - this is the advice of a wise old saint. Joshua wasn’t convinced by their bubbly enthusiasm. He’d heard it all before and then seen the Israelities turn away from God time and again. He knows that they are trusting their own words. Their own will. Their own abilities. He knows that they mistake brave words in the heat of moment with the long walk of obedience.
The point is that Joshua is right - They and we and no-one can serve the Lord as we should. By our own strength we can’t do it! Of course we should pledge our allegiance to Him, but as we do we must realise what we’re promising. We must grasp the enormity of and take the time to reflect on the words we say, the prayers we pray, the songs we sing. And we must realise that we are too weak to keep the promises we make. This is the starting point of genuine faith. And it’s the way we go on in faith - Knowing that we can’t keep our promises, but God can.
Joshua knows that somehow we must stand between the “I cannot serve the Lord” of verse 19 and the “Remembering what the Lord can do” of verses 1-13. He says: “Do you know who you are promising to serve?”
He says: “The way you will serve him properly is if you understand who he is and fear him.” Did you notice that back in verse 14? Joshua invited the people to “...fear the Lord & serve him with faithfulness...”
You see Joshua’s purpose here is not to drive us from the Lord, but to make us run to Him. Because if I fear Him and know Him, I will run to Him not from Him.
I understood that better than I have ever done before when I was playing “Monsters” with my children a few weeks ago. Have you ever played Monsters? For those of you who don’t know - I have three children aged 6, 4 and 2. And when we play “Monsters” - The children go into another room and I run in and go “Rarrrr. I’m coming to get you!” And they scream and laugh and then they say… “Again daddy.” And I go out and come back in again and go “Rarrr!” And they say “Again daddy, but louder.” So I go back out and run into the room through a different door and go “Raaaaaarrrr!” And this was too loud for my 2 year old daughter who burst into tears and ran!
But do you know what was really interesting? She ran to me and grabbed my legs. And I lifted her up into my arms and hugged her. And then I realised what she had done - In fear she ran too me. If you’re scared of someone you run from them not too them don’t you? But she did exactly the right thing. Because while I was scary (And I am scary as a monster). While I was scary I am also her daddy.
And that’s what it means to fear the Lord. When we fear him we run too him. Because there who else should we run to? You cannot escape him! For we know from verse 19 that: “He is a holy God and a jealous God...” He’s a perfect God, a protective God who won’t keep on forgiving if we’re flippant about sin. And we know from verse 20 that if we desert him he could consume us in an instant!
But he is also our Heavenly Father... who rescues us from our sins and provides for all our needs. So we run to him and grab hold of him and we shelter under his protection! Yes we promise to serve the Lord - But we must not make our decision casually, lightly, flippantly… but fearfully. We can’t do it ourselves, so we must fear Him and run to Him and shelter in Him.
There are choices to be made folks. Choices to be made. Do not trust yourself! Trust God in whom all our hope can be placed. Run to him and make Him alone your master.