June 10, 2010 David Balzer

Joshua 23-24: As for me and my house – we will serve the Lord!

When it’s time for you to go, will it be with a WHIMPER? Or with a BANG?

Gough Whitlam went out with a bang.

That day when the Governor General, John Kerr, sacked him as Prime Minister, he stood on the steps of the old Parliament House, and roared those famous words, “Well may we say ‘God save the Queen’ because nothing will save the Governor General!”

Let me tell you about a much less famous occasion. Of someone going out with a roar. Not quite as animated, or over-the-top. But every bit as important!

His name was Tony Goldsby-Smith. And he was my Year 12 English teacher. I was no huge fan of English –DH Lawrence, TS Elliot and William Shakespeare didn’t really do much for me. But Tony Goldsby Smith was a man I respected.

He was a great teacher. Quiet and reserved, but great classroom control, and a great insight into literature.

We’d come to our last lesson. Week one of Term 4. We all filed into class, talking noisily. There was an air of excitement about the place. Only one week ‘till Stuvac. Only a month ‘til it was all over!

Tony was sitting on top of the desk, which WASN’T unusual. He was looking quite nervous, which WAS unusual. He normally seemed so confident. He waited until everyone was quiet. I can’t remember his exact words, but they went something like this.

“This will probably be the last time I’ll see many of you. Pretty soon school will be a distant memory. We’ve talked about lots of important things over the last two years. But I want to spend this last lesson telling you about someone who’s more important than any of them.”

And he proceeded to spend the rest of the lesson telling us his testimony. Why Jesus was the most important person in his life. How he’d changed. How his goals and ambitions and direction in life were different because of Jesus.

And how EACH ONE OF US needed to allow Jesus to do the same things for us.

There wasn’t a sound for the whole lesson. At the end, he handed everyone a New Testament as they left. Each one had a hand-written bible verse in it.

I don’t know what effect that talk had on the lives of the students. I was already a Christian, and I still remember it nearly 19 years later.

As far as the world sees things, it probably didn’t seem to be that impressive a way to go out, but I reckon that in God’s eyes, it made a pretty big impression.

That’s REALLY going out with a bang, not a whimper.

And that’s what Joshua was choosing to do, too. To go out with a bang, not a whimper.

In a sense, my teacher was making the same DECLARATION as Joshua. “Choose this day who you’ll serve. False gods, or the true God? But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

It’s a bold declaration, isn’t it! I don’t care what anyone else does! I know the truth. I have no choice but to follow it.

That was the declaration of the early Christian, Polycarp. He was the Bishop of Smyrna.That was a town in modern-day Turkey. And he was martyred – killed because he was a Christian – about 150 AD.

He was brought before the Roman governor. The governor wanted him to swear by Caesar. In other words, to take an oath to serve only Caesar.

When Polycarp refused, he was threatened with being thrown to the lions.

“Bring on the beasts,” said Polycarp.

“If you scorn the BEASTS, I’ll have you BURNED,” the Governor responded.

“You try to frighten me with the fire that burns for AN HOUR, and you forget the fire of hell that never goes out.”

Then Polycarp made his declaration. “”Four score and six years have I served Him, and He never did me wrong: how then can I revile my King, my Savior?”

He was burned at the stake. That’s going out with a bang, not a whimper.

But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

Is that your declaration? Can you say those words with Joshua? “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”?

That’s exactly what Joshua wants – that we declare OUR allegiance, too. That we join with Joshua in serving God.

His speech here, at the end of his life, is more than just a chance to congratulate himself. To slap himself on the back. More than just some old guy looking back, nostalgically, at his life.

He’s making his choice – taking his stand- and challenging Israel, and us, to stand with him.

But he does more than just make his choice. He tells us HOW we can do that. What it involves to FOLLOW THROUGH with the declaration. Because it takes more than GOOD INTENTIONS to keep serving God for the long haul.

Joshua’s message is that we can serve God by

  1. remembering God’s mercies.
  2. obeying God’s commands.
  3. recognising our own inability to do it.

1. By remembering God’s mercies

Firstly, we’re enabled, or encouraged, to serve God by REMEMBERING HIS MERCIES.

Notice how Joshua points the Israelites back? “Look back to how God’s dealt with you. Identify his hand at work. Remember!”

Sometimes it’s good to look back. At other times – perhaps not!

An old were talking quietly in the hospital. The old man was lying motionless in his bed. He’d been slipping in and out of a coma for several weeks. His wife sat by his side. She’d been there every single day.

One day, when he came to, he motioned for her to come nearer.

As she leaned forward, he whispered, eyes full of tears, “You’ve been with me all through the bad times. When I got fired, you were there to support me. When my business failed, you were there. When I got shot, you were by my side. When we lost the house, you stayed right here. When my health started failing, you were still by my side ….You know what?”

“What dear?” She gently asked, smiling as her heart began to fill with warmth.

“I think you’re bad luck.”

Sometimes, it’s not such a good idea to look back.

But not in Joshua’s case. Once again, he reminds Israel how God’s brought them this far. Verse 2 of Ch 24.

(Josh 24:2-4 NIV)  Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods. {3} But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the River and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants. I gave him Isaac, {4} and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt.

God chose Abraham – perhaps even while he was worshipping other gods. And he showed him the land of Canaan. And gave him descendants.

And Joshua CONTINUES. God was there in Egypt. He brought them out. He killed the Egyptians in the Red Sea. He brought them through the desert. He defeat enemies there.

Then they crossed the Jordan, and came to Jericho. Verse 11. And God gave them all those nations with the funny names.

(slowly) And Joshua concludes in v13.

(Josh 24:13 NIV)  So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’

Everything they have/ is by God’s POWER and his MERCY. Nothing they have is because they WORKED for it, or DESERVED it.

It’s ALL by grace.

And it’s the same for you. Do you know that?

Do you know it with your HEART, not just your head? Does it TOUCH YOUR EMOTIONS when you think about God’s goodness to you? That there’s not a single, solitary thing that you’ve ever done to DESERVE God’s goodness.

Or is it only a truth in an INTELLECTUAL, or a RATIONAL way.

Nothing you have, or are. Is because you deserve it. It’s all by grace. So be grateful. ACT grateful. LIVE grateful.

Remembering God’s mercies motivates us to serve him.

“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

2. By obeying God’s commands

Joshua’s second point is that serving the Lord involves OBEDIENCE TO HIS COMMANDS. Look back to Ch 23 v 6.

(Josh 23:6 NIV)  “Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left.

And, in particular, Joshua highlights ONE AREA of obedience. That of worshipping OTHER GODS. It’s such a dangerous temptation that God doesn’t even want them to mix with the PEOPLE who worship the gods. It’s too easy to be sucked in.

Look at how he goes on to describe the spiritual tug of war. LET GO of one, and HOLD ONTO the other. Throw away the lies. And catch hold of the truth. Verse 7 of Ch 23.

(Josh 23:7-8 NIV)  DO NOT ASSOCIATE with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. {8} But you are to HOLD FAST to the LORD your God, as you have until now.

Joshua’s describing an either/or situation. Perhaps they were tempted to keep their options open. A little bit of this, and a little bit of that. Hedging their bets.

But that’s not good enough for God. It’s all or nothing. Verse 12.

(Josh 23:12-13 NIV)  “But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, {13} then you may be sure that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the LORD your God has given you.

There are serious consequences for dipping your toe in the ly pool of idolatry.

SNARES AND TRAPS are the sorts of things that catch you when you least expect it. Are you playing with idols?

Financial security, emotional comfort, job satisfaction, materialism, professional recognition.

They’re all idols that the world bows down to. Be careful that they don’t jump up and bite you when you least expect it.

You see, our Christian life is like a canoe. And the world is like the water. A canoe is designed to move through the water. It just doesn’t work if you take the canoe out of the water. And it doesn’t work when you take a Christian out of the world. We’re not designed to be cut off from the world. We’re designed to live in the world, and to move through it.

But there’s more. Canoes are designed to move THROUGH the water, but not be FILLED with water. If the canoe’s got a hole in it, you’re in trouble. The more water that’s in the canoe, the worse it goes.

And the more world that’s in the Christian the worse he goes.

Turn away from all other gods. Don’t let them leak into your canoe.

“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” And we can only do that when we hold fast to God, and let go of all other gods.

3. By recognising my inability to serve him – 24:19-20

Joshua’s third point seems a strange one. We can only truly serve the Lord when we recognise our inability to serve him.

What do I mean by that?

Flip back over to Ch 24. In verse 14 Joshua’s just pleaded with them to throw their pet gods away, and to serve the Lord.

And in v15 he gives them the choice. And strangely enough, it’s a choice in THREE.

(Josh 24:15 NIV)  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. But as for me and my household, WE WILL SERVE THE LORD.”

The old traditional gods? The new trendy gods? Or the true God?

And the people immediately respond, “No worries! We’ll serve the LORD, because he’s our God.”

But they’ve answered too quickly. They’ve rushed the decision. And so, Joshua gives them a strange reply. Verse 19.

(Josh 24:19-20 NIV)  Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. {20} If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”

“Don’t take God lightly!” Joshua warns. “Don’t presume on his mercy!”

It’s no good SAYING you’ll serve God, but then running after the OTHER gods. He’s not interested in that sort of commitment. He WON’T forgive you/ if that’s what you attitude’s going to be. Don’t even bother!

And sometimes we can fall into the same trap. In our tradition we’ve had it hammered home to us – you’re saved by grace alone. Not works. Grace alone. Not works.

And so it’s very easy to fall into the trap/ of not worrying about our sin. Because forgiveness is just a prayer away.

But that’s treating God, and his mercy, like a PROCESS, or a MECHANISM. Not a PERSON who can be HURT, and INSULTED.

Joshua reminds us;

(Josh 24:19 NIV)  “You are not able to serve the LORD (with an attitude like that). He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins.

When we start to get too sure of ourselves. Too confident in our own ability, we’re setting ourselves up for a fall. Because NOONE is able to perfectly satisfy the requirements of a Holy God.

And the writer of Joshua knew that it wasn’t long before Israel stumbled, too. Look forward to Ch 24 v31. and read between the lines.

(Josh 24:31 NIV)  Israel served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the LORD had done for Israel.

What’s the assumption when we read that they served God during the lifetime of Joshua and the other elders? (pause for answer)

That they STOPPED serving once they DIED. And that’s what happened. Listen to Judges 2:7. The very next book.

(Judg 2:7-14 NIV)  The people served the LORD throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the LORD had done for Israel. {8} Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died at the age of a hundred and ten. {9} And they buried him in the land of his inheritance, …. {10} After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, WHO KNEW NEITHER THE LORD NOR WHAT HE HAD DONE FOR ISRAEL. {11} THEN THE ISRAELITES DID EVIL IN THE EYES OF THE LORD AND SERVED THE BAALS. {12} They forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the LORD to anger {13} …

{14} In his anger against Israel the LORD handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.

Joshua’s warning came true. Israel WASN’T able to follow God. They turned away, and he DIDN’T forgive their sin.

All the good intentions in the world counted for nothing. They made a promise. They even drew up a covenant. A legal contract. Between them and God. Specifying all the things they’d do.

But in the end it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on. Or the parchment. Or the stone. Because it was a covenant that noone was actually able to keep. It was an old covenant. An obsolete agreement. A useless contract.

What was needed was a NEW COVENANT. An agreement between God and man that could actually be KEPT. That was FEASIBLE.

And it’s just as well for us/ that God DID organise JUST SUCH A COVENANT.

A NEW covenant. An EFFECTIVE covenant. A covenant satisfied, and ratified, by Jesus. Listen to Heb ch 9 v 15.

(Heb 9:15 NIV)  For this reason CHRIST IS THE MEDIATOR OF A NEW COVENANT, that those who are called (that’s YOU and ME) may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

This is a treaty that can actually DELIVER. We CAN receive the promised eternal inheritance.

What the first covenant was never able to do – to deal with the sin that separated evil mankind from holy God – Jesus dealt with through the sacrifice of himself.

It’s only by recognising our DEPENDENCE on that act, that it’s possible for us to declare with Joshua, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

It’s only by recognising our own INABILITY to satisfy God that we truthfully declare “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Serve the Lord by remembering his mercies, by obeying his commands, and by recognising your own inability to serve him.

“But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Let’s pray.

Sometimes our declarations are in SONGS. There are SOME songs we need to think carefully about/ before we sing them. Do we really MEAN what we sing?

There’s an old hymn some of you might know. It goes like this;

“I know not why God’s wondrous grace

to me he has made known.

Nor why, unworthy, Christ, in love,

Redeemed me for his own.

But I know whom I have believed,

And am persuaded that he is able

To keep that which I’ve committed unto him

Until that day.

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