Who Will You Serve?
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
November 8, 2020
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. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many.
“Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region 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.”
Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 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.”
But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot 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.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” 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.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.
Joshua said to his people, “Your God is a holy and jealous God, and He will not do good to you if you turn away from Him and worship other gods and idols.” What we see in the response of the people is that they were willing to saying whatever it took to satisfy Joshua. “Sure, we will worship the Lord our God only” they said figuring that was what Joshua wanted to hear. Three times they said this to Joshua. But Joshua was smarter than that for he had the ear of God and Joshua knew exactly what they were doing. Joshua had been along for the ride in the wilderness as Moses tried to lead the people to the Promised Land. He had seen all the grumbling and groaning and deceit against Moses and against God. Remember the Golden Calf back when Moses went up to receive the 10 Commandments? Joshua responded with, “If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you.” Joshua pulled no punches when it came to serving God and he expected nothing less from his people. It’s sort of like when you ask your child if they broke the vase and respond by saying “no” because they know that is what you want to hear plus it eases the chance that they will get in trouble.
It also reminds me of many, not all, politicians throughout the years who made promises they had no intentions to keep. They say what needs to be said to certain socio-economic groups to get their votes. Then once they get into office they get swept up, or sucked in, by political parties or lobbyist groups that end up swaying their opinions away from those matters they promised the people they would fight for. Matters like pro-life vs. abortion, raising taxes vs. lowering taxes, or what form of healthcare programs they will support.
Everyone, at one time or another, make promises they have no intention of keeping. Like, I’ll take out the trash before I go to bed. And then while all snuggled in bed your wife asks you if you put the trash out. OOPS! Out of bed, slip on some shoes and march the trash can out to the curb. What is more important is what those promises are and what the consequences are toward others. Taking out the trash (or not) is a very minor detail. No one suffers from it. However, promising to worship God only and not following through with it is a direct sin against God as told in the first two Commandments.
You shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make idols.
God is a jealous God, and He wants all our attention given to Him. When we turn away from God to things like video games instead of picking up the Bible, or we decide to sleep in on Sunday morning in lieu of attending church in person or online so we can praise God for all He has done for us, does not bode well with our Lord. God is indeed a jealous God.
Next we find Joshua addressing the leaders of the people, those who were to be the most respected, most knowledgeable of the people and he gives them an ultimatum, "choose this day whom you will serve" (15). His words suggest that some of these high-ranking Israelites had already been observed worshiping the gods of their ancestors or the local Amorite deities. Of course, the correct response by the people would have been to give up their other worthless gods and follow the one true God, the God of Israel. So Joshua puts a bit more emphasis on his challenge by telling them by saying, "as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." Joshua was trying to set an example because he had long since made the commitment to have his family worship God only. Joshua and his family made the promise to give their lives to the One who rescued them from the tyranny of the Egyptians and was with them in the wilderness, the One who got them to the land of milk and honey, the One who swore to be with them always. This covenant, this promise, was a reminder of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants may between God and His people during the time of Abraham found in the Book of Genesis and with Moses found in Exodus and Deuteronomy. God is asking each of us, through the covenant made through our baptism and Christ’s death on the cross, to be the one to set a positive example to others. Not only in who we worship, but how we worship and how we invite others to join us in worshipping God. God also wants us to set a proper example in how we live our lives even outside the church. We are called to live a Christ-like life in all aspects of our lives. We cannot live a part-time Christian life. We cannot go to church on Sunday and then fall back into a secular way of living the other 6. God does not want us to be His children one day and the world’s another. You can’t play for both teams in any event that I am aware of and it holds true for spiritual living as well. Just as Joshua asked his people to "choose this day whom you will serve", I ask you, if you haven’t already made that decision, to make today that day. And I pray you are filled with the Holy Spirit to the point of overflowing in the love of Jesus Christ that you choose wisely.
Jesus said Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters: Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” In this verse the word “money” can be substituted with many things. Like, toys, food, TV, sex, politics, even family. Now God is not asking us to completely give up everything to worship Him. But God is asking us if it came to a choice between God and something else, that we would always choose God. That regardless of the circumstance, God would come first.
The choice that Joshua laid out before the Israelites was a breathtaking, yet wonderful one. The language about choice is not found anywhere in the Old Testament. Normally, God was the one who made the choices. God chose Israel, out of all the nations in the world, to be His people. But now, they were being given a choice of their own to make. Where did their loyalties lie? Did they lie with God or with those pagan gods? There was to be no halfway in their choice. There was no middle of the road or “on the fence” answer. It was to be one way or the other. The choice was simple and Joshua had set the correct answer before them.
We have choices to make every day. In fact, this past Tuesday we all had the opportunity to make very significant choices. We had the chance to express our freedom of choice in choosing what political candidates would fill specified government positions. Many parts of the world do not have that same opportunity. Many countries are run by dictators who make all the choices for the people. Many are permitted to choose but if they choose wrong, they are illuminated. Thus, guaranteeing certain victory by one candidate. Voting is one of many freedoms we have in this country and if you didn’t vote, that was your choice as well, but you must be willing to live with outcome, like it or not.
This coming Wednesday we celebrate Veteran’s Day. The official day we take time to thank all military veterans, living and deceased, for giving of their lives for the freedoms we tend to take for granted. According to Military.com this holiday started as a day to reflect upon the heroism of those who died in our country's service and was originally called Armistice Day. It fell on Nov. 11 because that is the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. However, in 1954, the holiday was changed to "Veterans Day" to account for all veterans in all wars. It is very important that we take time to say a prayer of thanks to those who gave their lives while in battle and for those who have passed on after their years of service. We also need to say “thank you” to those who are still with us, retired and still enlisted.
(At this time have those veterans stand if able.)
Gentlemen and ladies, we celebrate and honor you for your patriotism, love of your country and your willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. May God bless you all the days of your lives and know that your country loves and we love you more.