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Joshua: A Call to Commit
June 8, 2014
True Choice Joshua 24 Introduction: Choice. Its as fundamental to being human as eating and sleeping. It’s a privilege that every American has enjoyed for hundreds of years. Freedom to choose what we do in life, where we live, and what we are going to eat (not if we would eat, but what we would eat) has been viewed as a fundamental right. We have fought wars for this freedom, we have ended relationships for it, and revel in the fact that we can choose our own outcome. Choice is a fact of life and we like the idea that we have an amount of control on our future. Freedom to choose is not always easy. In fact, its one of the goals as a parent to teach our children how to make choices, since we naturally choose the path of least resistance, which is rarely (if ever) the best choice. There is a reason for that. We are created as free standing moral agents, and thus each of us has the opportunity to make choice and the responsibility to live with them. We are all here today as a culmination of choices that we have made through life, both good and bad. Today we will leave this place and make hundreds of choices, some small (what do you want for lunch?) and some of them huge (what should we do about our future?). How we make these choices will be determined by our values and will determine our future. Far from being opposed to choice, every generation is faced with a choice when it comes to acknowledging, yielding, and following God , or not. The concluding chapter of Joshua is all about choice. Joshua challenges ALL THE PEOPLE gathered to choose, and to choose wisely. The way they choose and follow through on that choice would dictate their future, whether they would follow God’s way or not. In one of the most well known verses in Joshua that has graced many welcome mats and decorative displays in Christian homes, he challenges the people to choose to follow the Lord, as he and his house had. In order to understand our choices properly, Joshua gave the people the foundation, nature, and caution of making life’s most important choice: who will lead and rule your life, God or you. This is the fundamental choice that we are all faced with today (and our kids will be faced with in the future)
The Foundation of True Choice: God’s Sovereign Grace (24:1-13)
Joshua 24:2-5 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.
A. Fights against pride of personal accomplishment Ezekiel 16:2-5 "Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, 3 and say, Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. 5 No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. 6 "And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, 'Live!' I said to you in your blood, 'Live!'
Joshua: A Call to Commit
June 8, 2014
Before getting into the actual particulars of choice, it is of particular importance where Joshua starts. He goes back generations to the start of the Jewish nation, to the family that started it all. What Joshua reviews is not the most flattering of pictures. What he paints is a portrait of overwhelming mediocrity and nothing that screams “God’s people”. He began with Terah, the father of Abraham, who lived beyond the Euphrates (in modern day Iraq). Terah and his family served other gods, most like the worship of a moon god. In other words, there was nothing striking about Abraham or his family, and in fact, they were common, pagan, idol worshippers like everyone else in their culture. This is consistent with what Ezekiel wrote later, saying that Israel’s beginnings were nothing special, as Jerusalem started as a Canaanite city and the birth of the nation of Israel itself was like a baby born, left for dead on the side of the road, and if not for Someone or something to save it, would have died a pitied and an inconsequential death. What is significant about starting here? Why did Joshua pile on Israel’s ancestry? The answer is simple, and two-fold. First, Joshua wanted to make it abundantly clear to the people that had just finished conquering and possessing did NOT do it on their own, by their own cunning and strength, but it all came through the plan and will of God. They were given “land on which they had not labored, cities they had not built, and vineyards they had not planted” (24:13). As the people would move from war to peace, from conflict to ease, their mindset could readily revert to a place that looked at all they had and to believe that they somehow earned and deserved what they had (see Deuteronomy 8 for a strong warning against this!) . Before delving into personal choices, Joshua wanted to make clear that all that Israel possessed came from, because of, and was for God. What would be different about our choices today if we realized that all that we have belongs to God, and everything is ultimately for our joy in Him? How would that change your choices of material gain, possession, and willingness to give/serve?
B. Fights for savoring God’s sovereignty John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. Secondly, Joshua reviewed Israel’s history to stress the choices they were to make came because of God’s free, sovereign choice of them. What separated Israel from the rest of the nations? Were they somehow better, more obedient, more moral than others? Was Abraham somehow better than others in Ur? The answer: Israel was different and blessed because God chose to make them different and bless them (see Deut. 7:6-11 & Ezek. 16 to confirm). Notice in the first few, short sentences Joshua uttered. From verses 3-5, the phrase “I _______” is repeated 8 times showing that all that Israel was and had was a result of what God did (the phrase is repeated 18 times from verse 3-13!). God took Abraham from the land of Ur to Canaan. Abraham responded by faith in God, and that faith produced action, as Abraham followed God’s call to a place he had never been (see Genesis 12; Romans 4; Hebrews 11:8-10). Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness, but it was God’s choice of Abraham that allowed him to believe. Why is this so important? God’s sovereign grace is something that is to be praised, savored, and securely held on to. God’s sovereign grace in our lives frees us to choose to obey, since He broke the power and penalty of sin in our lives. I find that people are offended that our choice is based on God’s choice of us, and its completely understandable. We want to believe we are completely in control of every aspect of our lives, and anything less feels like bondage. But we would all understand that there are choices in this world that we can control, but many we cannot (the financial market, the safety of
Joshua: A Call to Commit
June 8, 2014
our children, the mood of our spouse, etc). There are key things we must understand to savor God’s sovereignty in our life: Israel was in this position because God chose them. We are all in the same starting position as Israel started out. Eph. 2:1-3 says that each of us started out as dead men who were destined for wrath. We were without hope, left like babies on the side of the road, and needed someone to make us alive. If we were left in that position, we would all choose wrongly! Romans 3:10-12 is clear about this. We would not choose God, righteousness, or God’s holiness. We might choose morality at some level, but that would only condemn us. God’s choice (Eph. 1:3-14; John 10:28-30) is our only hope, our only security, and the only way that we can believe. Eph. 2:8-9 says that we are saved by faith, but that faith is a GIFT FROM GOD, who freely gives us the faith to believe and be saved. God’s sovereign grace is the best news for us. Why is that such big deal with choice? Doesn’t this seem anti-choice at some level? All of God’s work in our life, Christ’s work on the cross, and the work of the Spirit are done while we were still enemies of Him, hating the light (Rom. 5:8). Without His work, we would have no real choice. We were slaves of our sin, dead in our trespasses, and the only real choice we had was to continue on a path that rushed toward hell and judgment. Any semblance of choice was a mirage. God’s choice and work freed us to choose, to break the power that sin had on us, to unshackle us from the chains of death, and to give us real choice to: 1) choose not to sin; 2) to choose to glorify God because of the work of Christ. This is why the gospel is the key to unlock real choice. This is what Joshua’s point was in recounting Israel’s past history, and thus could call those who had been called by God to choose.
The Nature of True Choice: Complete yielding (24:14-15)
Joshua 24:14-15 "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." Once freed up to choose, Joshua laid out the nature of choice, how we choose, and why we choose to follow and glorify God in all things:
A. Holistic choice The first challenge in choosing to follow God is that it is an all-in, holistic, total commitment. Joshua identified this with two key words: fear and serve. Fear the Lord – Wrapped up in the fear of the Lord is our view of God, self, and others. Fearing the Lord is not only the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7, 29; Psa. 111:10), it is the source of true joy. True fear recognizes the greatness and glory of God and the infallibility of man. When we understand our own weakness, we enjoy the fact that God is omnipotent, and find security in the fact that He is our God that we get to serve. Serve the Lord – Serving the Lord is the only reasonable recourse to do for One that we fear. Service to the Lord is not what makes us acceptable to Him, but because we have been made acceptable, we serve. Serving the Lord colors everything that we do, everything that we think, and shapes our purpose and goal in life. In fact, this is what the writer of Ecclesiastes crystallized at the end of examining all the possible searches for joy in life:
Joshua: A Call to Commit
June 8, 2014
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
B. Sincere choice Not only is our choice to glorify God a holistic one, it is a sincere one. This means that it is not merely a token, external, pithy choice of minimal effort, but one that generates from our soul, strength, and might. We choose in sincerity and faithfulness, truth, sureness, and firmness. In other words the call is not to a follow God when its convenient or when it suits us, but a choice that is so convinced by the truth that there is only one possible option, and that is to yield our whole life in fear and service to the Lord.
C. Comparative choice God does not play favorites nor does He share in competition with other gods. He is by nature jealous, and His name is actually Jealous (Exodus 34:14). Here is a profound statement by Joshua on behalf of God. He calls the people to examine all the other gods that they have observed and lived among, and challenged them to do comparative analysis. He gave three different groups of gods to examine:
The god’s of their forefathers across the River – these were the gods in Ur of the Chaldeans, the gods of Babylon, who were worshipped by Abraham’s family The god’s of Egypt while in captivity – these were the gods of the Nile, the land, and sky. Ra was the chief god, the god of the sun. These were the gods discredited by the 10 plagues, which showed that the God of Abraham was far superior to the Egyptian gods. The god’s of the Amorites, Canaanites – these included horrifying gods, like Molech, who called for child sacrifices and others who were fertility gods worshipped by cultic prostitution. This was the land that they now possessed, and which they were tempted by in their past.
Joshua’s call was simple: Look at all the other gods, and if they are better and glorious, then by all means, serve and follow them. God throws down the gauntlet. He will not compete. The choice is theirs. Whatever choice they made, they needed to live with. It also meant that there was no such thing as a non-choice. The choice to not choose is a choice for other gods. There is no such thing as nominal service and following God.
D. Continual choice When Joshua called the people to choose this day whom you will serve, he used a significant word. The idea and tense of the word choose was one of a one time choice to continually choose. This is the nature of true choice. When we yield our lives to God in repentance, we choose to follow Him every day. This is the similar choice of those who have given wedding vows to a spouse. The choice to love a spouse is a one time declaration that necessarily makes a million other choices from then on. We declare love and service once so that we can live out love and service each day. A choice at one time that does not translate to continual choice is not a true one.
E. Personal choice Finally, Joshua made it clear that the choice to follow God is one that each person must make for themselves. Joshua could speak for himself and his family, but he could not choose for the rest, even if he wanted to. This is instructive for several reasons. 1) In the final conclusion of life, we stand alone before God, not with our church, family, or friends. God will hold each individual accountable for their 4
Joshua: A Call to Commit
June 8, 2014
sin and righteousness, not in a corporate way; 2) We can make decisions for ourselves, can choose whom we will follow, but CANNOT make the decision for another. We cannot save anyone. We cannot raise the dead. We can only bring the message, present it faithfully and completely, and call people to yield their lives to God in Christ. This is a hopeful venture because God has called us to it. If saving others were up to us, we would be in a hopeless, joyless existence that could only lead to failure.
The Caution of True Choice: Consider the cost (24:16-28)
Joshua 24:18-21 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."
A. Beware of quick, non thinking decisions The story concludes with the people of Israel answering Joshua’s challenge in the affirmative. This would seem to be reason to rejoice, but either Joshua sensed a flippancy among the people or simply wanted to impress upon them the weight of their decision. Sometimes we approach decisions of faith like we do accepting “I agree” to terms on new app’s or setting up iTunes. Not many of us take the time to read all the conditions we are agreeing to, but simply hit the “I agree” button and move on. We don’t often give thought to the implications of our agreement because we are more concerned with temporal engagement. So Joshua cautioned the people not to make a superficial decision that would only come back to haunt them. This is same principle Jesus Himself gave to the great crowds that would follow Him, loving His miracles and what they received from Him. He was aware of the fact that people wanted what He offered, not Him. So He declared to them what it would cost to follow Him: Luke 14:25-33 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. There is no mincing of words, here. There is a cost to choosing to follow Christ. There is a cost to being a disciple. Following Jesus does not mean we simply declare a statement and have no change in EVERYTHING that we do. It means that we yield ourselves fully to Him, and anything less is choosing something else. That is why Joshua and Jesus cautioned people: consider the cost BEFORE your choice. Do not make an emotional, reactive decision, but one that is intelligent, decisive, and willing. That is what true choice of following God really looks like.
B. Be aware that our choices are a witness
Joshua: A Call to Commit
June 8, 2014
Joshua 24:22-23 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." Finally, Joshua called the people’s own words as witnesses of their choice. He made a covenant with them , wrote them in the Book of the Law, and set up a stone of remembrance in Shechem. No one was coerced, forced, or tricked into this decision, but it was made with full knowledge and caution. The choice to follow the Lord only comes as a result of His work in our lives, but once that work has been effective, our choice is an all-in variety. The good news of this story is that the people of Joshua’s day and that of the elders who were alive in Joshua’s day faithfully lived out this choice, choosing to follow after God everyday. The bad news comes in what we will see next week, that the successive generations failed to make the same choice and instead chose to follow after their own heart, mind, and soul. So for us, today, what is our true choice? Do we choose today, to choose every day, to fear and serve the Lord? If it is not the Lord you are living for, what is it that we strive after? Have you been flippant in your pursuit of the Lord? Have you “said” you love the Lord, but have not done what is necessary to truly do it? God has done all the work, but have you been willing to work out your salvation with fear and trembling? (Phil. 2:12-13) I hope we can all leave here saying:
“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.