December 6, 2020
Pastor John Hering
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
24 Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, and he summoned the elders of Israel, its heads, its judges, and its officers, and they presented themselves before God.
2 Then Joshua told all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, has said.”
14 Joshua said, “Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly and faithfully. Remove the gods that your fathers served in the region across the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if you see no benefit in serving the Lord, then choose for yourselves today whomever you will serve—whether the gods that your fathers 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!”
16 The people responded by saying, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord in order to serve other gods! 17 For the Lord our God, he is the one who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, where we were slaves. He is the one who performed these great signs right before our eyes and protected us on the whole journey that we made and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 The Lord drove out of our presence all the peoples and the Amorites who were living in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God!”
You’ve heard plenty of sermons and Bible studies on making sure you keep your attention on the right things as we prepare for Christmas. We all want to keep our priorities straight. Having proper priorities is also a good point for us to consider as we kick off Growing Gifts with this Celebration Sunday—we want to keep our focus on God’s blessings to us first, and our opportunity to respond as disciples of God second. Consider the blessings God gives to us: family, food, clothes, relationships, homes, health, jobs, cars and even the simple pleasures like TVs, restaurants, sporting events, travel and even money. Growing Gifts gives us the opportunity to reflect on our blessings, then reflect and use them to God’s glory.
It might be a little hard to put ourselves into the situation in Joshua 24. It’s been 70 years since they marched out of Egypt between two walls of water, Mount Sinai, through the desert, crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land. And for the past 30 years fought battles against wicked enemies to finally gain a foothold and establish their homes. It was time for Joshua to address God’s people: “24 Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, and he summoned the elders of Israel, its heads, its judges, and its officers, and they presented themselves before God.” Don’t think of Joshua as a general sitting behind a desk to hear the reports of death and bloodshed. He led the soldiers on the battlefield for years to see victory after victory. Now it was time to gather his troops for his final farewell speech. But, Joshua did not talk about himself. The main point of his inspired farewell speech was to direct the people’s attention to God. “Look what God has done for you!” Abraham to the Promised Land, Promised Land to Egypt, then back to the Promised Land again. They watched the walls of Jericho come down. They watched in amazement as God made the sun stand still to lengthen the daylight so they could finish the battle. Joshua didn’t point to his operations, but to God’s operation! Joshua knew, and wanted everyone else to know, that all he had, all he was, all he did, all he hoped to be depended on God’s operation in his life. Joshua pointed God’s people to
See God’s Operation First
To Guide Us to Proper Priorities
It was about a year ago when Covid-19 began to march its way across the world. I’ll never forget the Facebook devotion I read and shared with you all last April: “Imagine how God used 10 plagues to drop the Egyptians to their knees. And now in three months God used one virus to drop the world to their knees! God has taken away all the “gods” people worship. If they worship athletes, God said, “I’m taking away sports.” If they worshiped Hollywood Stars, God said, “I’m taking away theatres.” If they worshiped money, God said, “I’m going to shut down the economy and crash the stock market.” And even those people who said, “You don’t have to go to church to worship God!” God answered, “Ok, I’ll make it so you can’t go to my house of prayer!” That rattled my life!
There are plenty of times when we get our life rattled. When it happens we usually pause to consider our priorities. In school you sailed along the classes but when you got that C- on the mid-term test you realized you needed to study more. Maybe it was in sports and you were doing so well, until you got an injury that ended your career. Maybe it was good health until the doctor diagnosed the lump or the polyp of cancer. Maybe someone you cared about said, “Enough is enough! I’ve forgiven you and put up with your half-hearted improvements, but either you address what’s pulling you down or our relationship is over!” And if you haven’t had an experience like that, you will because we’re living in a broken world. And when it breaks it causes us to evaluate our priorities. What really counts? My feelings? My record? My storehouse of trophies? My performance? No! Joshua directs our attention to God’s Operation that Guides Us to Proper Priorities.
“2 Then Joshua told all the people, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, has said.” Joshua directed the people to God’s Word and how God faithfully carried out his promises. What counted is all God did for them and for us! When we used Satan’s brick and mortar to build his worthless buildings God delivered us from the slavery of sin. God has delivered us through the waters of baptism and led us to the Promised Land of his forgiveness. God made his Son stand still as he was beaten and nailed to the cross so he could finish the salvation of our souls. God gives us the battle plans for Christian living to knock down the walls of temptation. Do you see? No matter how badly we have strayed and goofed up our priorities in the past, our hope rests in God’s Operation of Mercy that Guides Us To Proper Priorities. Now with our eyes focused on God’s Operation for us in Jesus Christ, just like God used Joshua to reveal God’s expectation for his people living in the Promised Land, so God uses his Word
To Guide Us To Proper Performance
Joshua offered this proposal: “14 Joshua said, “Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly and faithfully. Remove the gods that your fathers served in the region across the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if you see no benefit in serving the Lord, then choose for yourselves today whomever you will serve.” This is plain and simple. We are saved through faith in Jesus. How we serve Jesus reveals our faithfulness and fruitfulness. This has caused some confusion for some. Can we choose to be with God or not? The answer is “Yes” and “No.” No, we can’t choose to get into a spiritual relationship with God because the Bible says by nature dead, blind enemies of God cannot make this move. Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). But, once the Holy Spirit has created faith in our hearts and made us alive in Christ, then the answer is, “Yes, our New Man in Christ does make Spirit led decisions. We can choose to be more or less thankful. We can choose whether we sin or not. We can choose to respond to God’s goodness or not. This was exactly Joshua’s point. God graciously chose to put Israel in the cross-hairs of his love and caused them to be his treasured possession. Now, through Joshua, God Guides Us To Proper Performance. Simply put, “Are you going to trust me, or not? Are you going to follow me, or not? It was by my grace and mercy that you’re alive today. Are you going to be guided to Proper Performance or are you going to leave me?” It really is that simple. By God’s grace we are “in,” but one can choose to get “out.” Or in Joshua’s words, “choose for yourselves today whomever you will serve.”
The same question is before you and me today. Your church leaders are offering you one of many opportunities for proper performance through Growing Gifts. Our church is here to provide avenues of success for you to be able to serve your Lord. But, we have been and will continue to be so very careful to follow God’s Word. For proper priorities to be seen in your life by proper performance start by looking at what God has already done for you in Jesus. Then look at your life. Then take God’s question to heart, “choose for yourselves today whomever you will serve.” God doesn’t ask this just for Growing Gifts, but for every day of our lives. The question begs for a response. As we’ve said many times in the last month, it isn’t about the size of the response, but rather about the attitude of our hearts as we present our gifts. How are you responding today? Is it a thankful, proportionate, generous, cheerful, first-fruit gift that trusts in God’s providing all you need? Our prayer is that our proper performance us guided solely by God’s grace for us in Christ. Let our Proper Performance echo that of the Israelites, “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God!”
Joshua guided the Israelites to the Proper Performance. As a true leader he set the tone for right priorities with memorable words which you and I would do well to have as a life motto: “But as for me and my household—we will serve the Lord!” These words are in essence a promise to yourself, your family, your church, and your God.
So, how did Joshua do? Well, after Joshua spoke these words we don’t have many more details about his life. We know Joshua was not perfect, but the testimony to his faithfulness to the Lord was summed up in the next book of the Bible—Judges 2:8, “8 Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of one hundred ten years.” Joshua promised, “I will serve the Lord,” and he was buried as “the servant of the Lord.” No big fanfare or lengthy eulogies about his greatness and accomplishments. But, neither dare we overlook what was said! “…the servant of the Lord, died.” Joshua was guided by the Lord God and his life gave testimony to Proper Performance to the glory of God. What an honor! What a high privilege! Who could ask for anything more?
The Israelites picked up on their leader’s example. They also trusted in God’s promise of a Savior that guided their proper priorities and led to proper performance. “16 The people responded by saying, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord in order to serve other gods! 17 For the Lord our God, he is the one who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, where we were slaves. He is the one who performed these great signs right before our eyes and protected us on the whole journey that we made and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 The Lord drove out of our presence all the peoples and the Amorites who were living in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God!” They trusted in God’s Operation for them, were guided in proper priorities and performance to God’s glory.
But, how did they do? You don’t have to read much further in the Book of Judges to find out. “10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them, who did not know the Lord or the deeds that he had done for Israel. 11 The people of Israel committed evil in the eyes of the Lord. They served the Baals, 12 and they abandoned the Lord” (Judges 2). When they failed to trust in God, their priorities and their performance sadly fell apart.
So, what about us? If you’re like me you want to confess and promise to serve the Lord faithfully. “I’ll work harder. I promise to quit a bad habit. I promise to focus on the needs of others more than my own. I promise to show up on time. And yes, I promise to offer my time, talents and treasures to the Lord faithfully.” I do hope you have taken the time to evaluate your priorities and performance this past month during our Growing Gifts emphasis. I do hope that you have seen sin that condemns. But, more importantly, I hope you have taken the time to see what is so much more important. During this season when the world surrounds us with commercialism at Christmas, families, food, clothes, relationships, homes, health, jobs, cars and even the simple pleasures like TVs, restaurants, sporting events, travel and even money…. I certainly don’t want my record published because it’s embarrassing and even damning. So, how are we going to get our priorities and our performance to match our promises? There is only one way. I hope you are driven back to Jesus. Let’s eagerly get on our knees beside the manger of Jesus and wonder that God would become one of us. Let’s stand beneath the cross of Jesus and see his amazing love for us. If we are going to have any hope of proper priorities and performance, then time and time again return to God’s Operation for you. See Jesus’ priorities and performance for you. Be Guided to Proper Priorities by Jesus’ love for you. Be motivated and guided to Proper Performance by Jesus’ love for you. Then you’ll enjoy the blessings now and eternally from God’s Awesome Operation for you and through you! Amen!