Sermon on Joshua 24:14-33 – “A Serious Choice”

Sermon for Sunday, January 22nd, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Jos 24:1-13 ESV] 1 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. 2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. 3 Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac. 4 And to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. And I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. 5 And I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in the midst of it, and afterward I brought you out. 6 “‘Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea. And the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. 7 And when they cried to the LORD, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did in Egypt. And you lived in the wilderness a long time. 8 Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan. They fought with you, and I gave them into your hand, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. 9 Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and fought against Israel. And he sent and invited Balaam the son of Beor to curse you, 10 but I would not listen to Balaam. Indeed, he blessed you. So I delivered you out of his hand. 11 And you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, and the leaders of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And I gave them into your hand. 12 And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored 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.’

New Testament reading:

[Act 11:19-24 ESV] 19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

Gospel reading:

[Jhn 6:60-69 ESV] 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” 66 After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69 and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Sermon Text:

[Jos 24:14-33 ESV] 14 “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 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.” 16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, 17 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.” 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. 20 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.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, but we will serve the LORD.” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey.” 25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. 26 And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. 27 And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.” 28 So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance. 29 After these things Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being 110 years old. 30 And they buried him in his own inheritance at Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. 31 Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the LORD did for Israel. 32 As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph. 33 And Eleazar the son of Aaron died, and they buried him at Gibeah, the town of Phinehas his son, which had been given him in the hill country of Ephraim.

[Thus ends the reading of the word of God, and thus ends the Book of Joshua. The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of the lord is forever.]

Introduction

This is one of the most “serious” passages in the Bible.

A decision must be made.

Will you follow the Lord or go your own way?

I’ll later in this sermon be developing two pictures:

I. A Picture of the Living for yourself.

And

II. A Picture of Living for the Lord.

These are the only two options.

But first, before we get to those options and that choice, let’s note that the first 13 verses of this chapter in the Book of Joshua are a summary of God’s “being there” for His people for generations.

Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, the officers of Israel.

Remember Joshua knows his time is short. He is “old and advanced in years.” And he gave Israel the charge to obey the law and to love the Lord.

Now he summarizes the faithfulness of the Lord to the generations gone bye.

God was with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. And He was with Moses and with Aaron. And He brought the people out of Egypt with great wonders and great power. And He defeated the Egyptians who chased the Israelites. And He defeated the Amorites, the Moabites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

The Lord HIMSELF did this. And He gave them “a land on which they had not labored and cities that they had not built.” And they ate the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that they did not plant.

All of this is akin to our salvation. The Lord gives us victory of sin, death, and the devil. And He gives us rewards in heaven — eternal land and eternal fruit — that WE did not earn. It is not of our labors that we are saved.

But salvation is all of the Lord. He who was faithful to generations past, is faithful to us, and blesses us as He blessed them, bringing to us even eternal life. Eternal life which we did not earn.

What a great reminder then is this section of Joshua’s speech.

There is a phrase is real estate that goes like this: “Location, location, location. “

And to give a three-fold phrase to our salvation, we should say It is “of the Lord, of the Lord, and of the Lord.”

This then sets the stage for this climactic saying of Joshua; this great statement that you have likely heard many times before. And if there is anything the Book of Joshua is known for it is this phrase.

“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 who land you dwell. BUT AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSE, WE WILL SERVE THE LORD.”

There is a stark choice, a serious choice that must be made. There can be no fence sitting, no middle ground. A most important choice must be made. Are you going to worship the Lord or not?

Jesus says to the Church in Laodicea in the Book of Revelation:

“Because you are lukewarm, and neither hold nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

Indeed there is no middle ground.

Will you serve the Lord?

What is the alternative?

I. A picture of living for yourself.

The alternative is living for yourself.

Now, the text has the alternative as “worshipping foreign gods.” I see this as equivalent to worshipping self. And the reason is that these gods are products of one’s own imagination. And so when the people worship these so-called “gods” they are only worshipping themselves.

They have a god of the harvest because they want to eat plentifully.

They have a god of fertility because they want to be head over a large family.

They make up various god’s that benefit them.

And the “saints” of Rome are not much different. Though the Roman “gods” (Jupiter, Saturn, Nike) were put away, the various saints have basically replaced them.

Saint Isidore is said to be the patron saint of the harvest.

Saint Gerard is said to be the patron saint of fertility.

There is a patron saint of almost everything, even one for bad backs.

And this all takes away from worshipping the Lord.

Without the Lord, one’s worship is literally “all over the place.” There is no solid ground. Life is not based in His reality but in fleeting desires.

These two options — worshipping God or worshipping — are the two options also presented in Augustine’s greatest book, “The City of God.” There he has “The City of God” and the alternative, “The City of Man.” These are the only two choices.

But let us picture this “City of Man.” What does it look like?

Essentially, it looks like a war of “all against all.” Everyone grabbing for a claim at what is his own.

It is shifting sand. One is constantly moving from one thing to the next. One is “seeking” and always seeking, for as Augustine said “Oh Lord, my soul is restless until it rests in thee.”

This alternative of “living for yourself” is personified by the foreign nations. The Canaanites and all their gods, their gross immorality, their heathen ways. Orgies, child sacrifice. All abominable practices.

And in our own day, those who are “living for themselves” advocate these same practices. The sexual mores of our society would even shock the ancients who were themselves utterly depraved. And the advocacy and sheer number of abortions in our society would impress the Ammonites and their god Molech.

This is what society has come to. In worshipping self, there is no morality. There are no rules. It is all against all. And there is little surety of what comes next. One administration produces one set of rules, the next undoes those and establishes a whole new set of rules. None obey the law of God.

The picture of this alternative — this living for self — is a picture of chaos. Nothing less than complete moral and living chaos.

Our Bible study this morning in Job expressed this chaos, summarizingthe life of the wicked as follows:

vs. 5-6 The dark life of the wicked.

vs. 7-10 The dangerous path of the wicked.

vs. 11-16 The miserable life of the wicked.

vs. 17-21 The sad destiny of the wicked.

So Joshua says:

“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 who land you dwell. BUT AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSE, WE WILL SERVE THE LORD.”

Do you want chaos or do you want the Rock of Salvation?

II. A picture of living for the Lord.

The picture of living for the Lord is a drastically different picture.

It is a picture of humility, of patience, or hard work, of blessing, of peace, and of trust. Ultimately of trust in the Lord.

Rather than chaos, it is stability. For we worship the Lord who made an orderly world out of chaos. In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and void. And the spirit of God hovered over the waters of the deep. And the Lord said “Let there be light” and there was light. And in six days he ordered the universe for us.

The Lord gave us objective, definitive, and rather simple commandments to follow that we would not have moral chaos, but have a guide for life.

In this City of God — which is the eternal heavens typified by Israel and by the Christian Church — our focus is not on self but on God. For God alone deserves to be worshipped.

And when most all departed Jesus because of his difficult teachings, Peter said

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

Possibly no verse has had a greater influence on me. Whenever doubt seeks to creep in or challenges come about, I repeat to myself the words of Peter: “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

The point is clear. There is no eternal life outside of Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and there is none but Him.

So we worship the Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who deserves to be worshipped. That is where we “go.” And there is where we find peace.

Peace is the opposite of chaos.

It is as if Joshua is saying “Choose today whether you want peace or chaos.”

As for me and my household, I choose peace.

Here, like so many other places in the Scriptures, we find emphasis on “the household.”

This tells us that a household is to be unified behind a leader. Joshua is not only the leader of the nation, he is the leader of his family. And all who live in his house are to worship the Lord. It is not a house divided.

This is part of the picture of living for the Lord. That is, we live for the Lord TOGETHER. Together within a household and together with the church. If one is here not to worship the Lord but to draw attention to self and cause chaos, then Paul tells us what to do in his letter to Titus “as for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, having nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

But let us consider positively more of what is looks like to live for the Lord.

It is to devote oneself to God.

And that is where a grand decision must be made. It is a decision not merely to come to church, but to direct one’s whole life according to the commands of God.

This is a most serious choice. But it is a choice that must be made. Let us all seek and worship the Lord.

For those who already do believe, this is a call to be serious about it. To commit to the Lord in all your life.

This doesn’t mean that you must be perfect to appease the Lord, but it means that because the Lord has given you salvation in Jesus Christ that you fully desire to live for Him.

And ultimately, while the Christian life brings MANY (MANY!) challenges, it is the life worth living and is the right choice without any doubt. For to whom else would we go, when Christ as the words of eternal life?

III. Covenant Renewal and God’s Grace

Joshua seems to know that the people will fall away from the Lord. And in the book of Judges — the next to come — the people fall away repeated from the Lord.

The covenant then becomes “a witness against them.” They said they would follow the covenant, but they don’t and they won’t.

Joshua said “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God.”

What hope then is there?

We want to choose the Lord, but are not able.

What we need is grace. God’s grace. Marvelous grace.

For our salvation is not dependent on the strength of our promises to God, but on the steadfastness of His promises to us. [REPEAT: For our salvation is not dependent on the strength of our promises to God, but on the steadfastness of His promises to us.]

So this is a call not to trust in themselves or their abilities or even their ability to choose, but to trust fully and ultimately only in the Lord who is gracious. Who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

The good news of the Gospel is not our promise to God, but His promise to us. That is why it is good news. We are promise-breaking people. But He is a promise-keeping God.

So as the Book of Joshua ends, there are three burials. That of Joshua, that of the reburial of the bones of Joseph and the burial of Eleazar the High priest. All three of them were buried in the promised land. And all three of them died with a hope of eternal life not because of anything in them but because of the promise of God.

Conclusion

Let us then praise the Lord that our salvation depends on the promise of God. We have no other hope than in His faithfulness. HE has the words of grace, He has the words of eternal life. Praise be to God. Let us pray.

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