Pastor Gary Wong September 6, 2020
Joshua 24:1, 2a; 14-18
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, 14 “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[b] 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!”
On a recent family trip to Wisconsin, we were getting low on gas. So, we pulled in to the local Kwik Trip. I swiped my credit card in the computerized pump, put the nozzle in the tank, and started filling up with E 15 unleaded. As I was getting the gas, one of my kids hopped out of the van, grabbed a squeegee and began washing the windshield and the back window. Then we went over to another island to get air for the tires. As family members were busy servicing the van, I started to think about the good old days. When my dad drove into a service station, the tires would roll over a rubber hose that rang a bell. An attendant would come over and ask whether you wanted regular or premium gas. After he got the fuel going, he would wash your windshield and check your tires. Then he would check your oil and radiator. In the old days, not only did they pump the gas for you, you also got those other services at no extra charge. Nowadays, if you want any kind of help, you’re going to have to pay for it. The idea of full service, let alone service with a smile, seems to be a thing of the past. In our lesson, Joshua also speaks to us about service—not about servicing a car—but rather, service to the Lord. Joshua speaks to all of God’s people and he encourages us to choose to serve the one true God. Let these inspired words of Joshua move us to serve the Lord with all faithfulness. Motivated by the great things that God has done, let’s be full service Christians.
Our text is part of Joshua’s address to the Israelites in what would be his last official act as God’s chosen representative. For forty years, Joshua had faithfully led God’s people. Under his leadership, they had conquered the nations that had occupied the land of Canaan. So now, Joshua gathered all of Israel’s officials and all of God’s people at Shechem. The entire assembly was buzzing with excitement. But who could blame them? After all, God had promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants hundreds of years ago. Yet, generations of Israelites had lived and then rested with their fathers in heaven without seeing that promise fulfilled. But now, it had finally happened. Under Joshua’s leadership, they had taken possession of the land that God had promised them.
The people eagerly waited to hear their leader’s words. What a magnificent setting for this solemn, yet joyous occasion! Joshua’s words rang out and echoed from Mt. Ebal on one side to Mt. Gerazim on the other. Joshua began by declaring, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says” (Jos. 24:2a). Right at the beginning of his address, Joshua told the Israelites that the words he was about to speak were not his own, but that they were the very words of the one true God. They were the words of the LORD Almighty, who had brought his people out of Egypt and who was giving them this land flowing with milk and honey.
Joshua then went on to tell the Israelites “Fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness” (v. 14). At first glance, it might seem somewhat odd that Joshua would say something so obvious. Did he think that fearing and serving the LORD would be difficult for the Israelites to do? You wouldn’t have thought so. After all, these were God’s chosen people. These were the same people whose forefathers had declared, “The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Dt. 6:4). The reason why Joshua reminded the Israelites that they were to fear the LORD and to serve him was because he knew that the people’s actions did not always reflect their words. He knew from past history that there were times when the Israelites had actually worshipped and served other gods. That’s why Joshua told them to “Throw away the gods your forefathers worshipped beyond the [Euphrates] River and in Egypt” (v. 14). Joshua’s words were a pointed reminder of the Israelites’ past unfaithfulness. For instance, Abraham’s forefathers had worshipped the false gods of Ur. Many of the Israelites whom God had delivered form the hands of the Egyptians worshipped the golden calf in the shadow of the holy mountain, even as God was giving Moses the Ten Commandments. It seemed that no matter how many times the Israelites declared that they were going to faithfully serve the Lord, they still clung to and served false gods.
How could those Israelites have been so foolish? We would never do that, would we? Sadly, you and I know that we have given in to the same temptations as the Israelites did. We have failed to worship and serve the Lord with all of our hearts, souls, and minds. Instead, we have also served other gods. For many people, the other god they serve is money. For some it’s their job, while others spend too much time in front of the TV or on their smart phone. Please understand. There is nothing wrong with working hard at your job. There’s nothing wrong with having money. There’s nothing wrong with spending some time on a hobby or on social media. The problem is when those other things take precedence over our commitment to the Lord. Sadly, we can become slaves to things or even people. All too often we live our lives more as self -service Christians rather than Christians fully committed to serving the Lord. Jesus issued a strong warning against serving yourself over serving the Lord. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other” (Mt. 6:24).
Joshua told the Israelites that they had a choice. They could serve the false gods of Egypt and the Amorites, or they could serve the one true God. They could serve worthless, powerless idols of wood or stone, or they could serve a gracious, powerful and loving God who always protected them and always provided for their every need. Before the people even gave their answer, Joshua declared, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (v. 15). What faith Joshua expressed! Joshua was saying that even if he was going to stand alone, he was totally committed to serving the Lord with every fiber of his being. Now, Joshua wasn’t telling the people what to do. He was simply stating his own personal choice. The people responded to Joshua’s impassioned declaration by saying, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God” (v. 16, 18).
Like the Israelites, we also have a choice to make. We can either serve the Lord, or we can serve our own sinful flesh. The Israelites’ choice was clear to them when they recalled all of the mighty acts that the LORD had done for them. We are also moved to choose to serve the Lord as a grateful response to what our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has done for us. Jesus satisfied the demands of our holy, righteous God by living a perfect life in our place. Jesus gave up his life on the cross so that we could have eternal life. Because of his great love for us, Jesus—the Son of God—humbled himself and became a servant of his Heavenly Father’s will. Jesus said about himself, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28). Our choice to serve the Lord is clear as we remember God’s indescribable gift of love.
When Joshua heard the people saying that they chose to serve the LORD, his response was, “You are not able to serve the LORD” (v. 19). At first, Joshua’ statement might have caught you off guard. You would have expected that Joshua would have been elated at the people’s response. Instead, Joshua’s statement probably had left the Israelites confused and bewildered. What did Joshua mean? What was he trying to accomplish with this shocking statement? Joshua wasn’t implying that the Israelites had made a poor choice nor was he doubting their sincerity. Rather, he was sounding a warning. While Joshua knew that the new man delights in doing the Lord’s will, he also knew that the sinful nature in us resists the Holy Spirit at every turn. The new man wants to serve the Lord, while the Old Adam only wants to serve the desires of the sinful flesh. Joshua was warning us that we cannot serve the Lord if we depend on our own strength and ability. Joshua was pointing us to God’s grace. We can serve the Lord as we believe and trust in God’s promises and as we use the means of grace he has given us. God’s Word and the sacraments give us the power to serve the Lord. The love of Christ moves us to serve the Lord.
By God’s grace and through faith in our Savior, we can serve the Lord with all faithfulness. But just what does it mean to be a full-service Christian? Does it mean that you have to quit your job and train for the full time public ministry? Does it mean that you have to spend all of your time at church, be at every Bible study, and serve on every committee? Of course not. Being a full service Christian speaks about our attitude as well as our actions. A full service Christian is one whose heart knows that Jesus has forgiven his sins and that he is a dearly loved child of God. He has a heart filled with love for the Lord and wants to worship the Lord, sing God’s praises, and serve his Savior. When our attitude reflects the love of Christ, then everything we do is service to the Lord. For instance, parents are serving God when they bring up their children in the instruction of the Lord. Children serve their Savior when they honor their parents, teachers, and others in authority. Husbands serve the Lord when they love their wives as Christ loved the church. Wives serve God as they willingly accept their husband’s God given leadership. St. Paul said it best when he said, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). That is what it means to be a full service Christian.
Friends, these words from Joshua give us tremendous encouragement and purpose for our lives. As you ponder what your Savior has done and continues to do for you, commit yourself to him. Commit to serve him with all faithfulness. It won’t always be easy. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, you can do it. Along with Joshua, you can say, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Be a full service Christian. Amen.
“Though Thoughtless Thousands Choose” (CW 466)
Text: Joseph Hoskins, 1745-88, alt.
Though thoughtless thousands choose the road
That leads the soul away from God,
This happiness, dear Lord, be mine:
To live and die entirely thine.
In Christ, by faith, I wish to live,
From him, my life, my all, receive,
To him devote my fleeting hours,
Serve him alone with all my pow’rs.
Christ is my everlasting all,
To him I look; on him I call.
He will my ev’ry want supply
In time and through eternity.
Soon will the Lord, my life, appear;
Soon shall I end my trials here,
Leave sin and sorrow, death and pain,
To live is Christ; to die is gain.