Text: Joshua 24
Proposition: We serve God because we love God because we remember His love.
Introduction: It’s on brass plaques outside the front doors of many homes, it’s on tapestries hanging in kitchens and hallways and it’s been made into songs of worship. It’s one of the most well known quotations from the book of Joshua, “But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” It’s a quote that comes from the last chapter of the book of Joshua, it was his way of resolutely saying that no matter what happened they would serve the Lord. This would be the last time he addressed the nation of Israel, it was a time to remember, to consecrate and to dedicate. The bones of Joseph had been carried from Egypt and for almost sixty years they had cared for them, likely by the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh the offspring of Joseph. Now they were to be finally buried at Shechem, for Israel had peace in the land. This was a unique occasion, it was here at Shechem that God had first promised Abraham the land of Canaan, it was here that Abraham had bought a plot of land that they were now about to bury the bones of his great grandson Joseph in. It was like a great Memorial Day service, an intersection where Abraham, Joseph and Joshua all met and the key note speaker was God. Turn with me to Joshua 24.
I. What God Remembers Is Different Than What We’d Expect.
I was listening to a DVD by Brian Doerksen a couple of days ago and a particular phrase caught my attention, he described the Lord as having ‘prodigal grace’. I took that mean a grace that is radically different than ours, a grace that was like that which the father of the prodigal son had when he welcomed his runaway son home. Prodigal grace means that God remembers things differently than the way we’d expect. Let’s illustrate that with what we’ve just been reading in Joshua 24. Joshua and the elders present themselves before the LORD God, much like the way we present ourselves before the LORD God when we come to a worship service. It’s then that Joshua begins to speak prophetically, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel…” . God speaks through Joshua and instead of foretelling future events, He has Joshua speak of the past 600 years of Israel’s history. It begins from about the time of 2000 BC when God first called Abraham, when he was living with his father in Ur of the Chaldeans. What God remembers about this time is that Abraham, Lot and his wife and Abrahams wife Sarah and were all worshipping idols. It was while Abraham was hugging chunks of stone, fat bellied pieces of marble and distorted images in wood that God says, “Then I took your father Abraham from the other side of the River, led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his descendants and gave him Isaac.” God reaches into Abrahams life and literally ‘took him’ to follow the LORD God. In other words God remembers how lost we were, how far away from Him we were. He remembers well where we started out from and how it was He who drew us to Himself. As you listen to the rest of the history which is God’s testimony, the LORD God remembers how He led Abraham, raised up Ishmael and Isaac, directed Jacob, Joseph and Moses and established the nation of Israel. The trail from Egypt to Moab to Jericho is remembered but it’s what is not remembered that stands out. God doesn’t remember Abraham and Jacob’s failures in faith, He doesn’t remember the failures of belief that led to 40 years in the wilderness, He doesn’t remember the failure of Ai nor the short sightedness of accepting the Gibeonites. In short the LORD God doesn’t remember their failures as a nation, He remembers their obedience and faith. Nor does He remember their astute military skill or clever strategies, He remembers His sovereign hand leading them every step of the way even when it seemed like chaos was right around the corner. What God remembers is different than what we’d expect because He has little regard for our pride. Yet He has great regard for a heart that is humble and trusts in Him. So God took them to Himself, gave them children, cleared the way for them, heard their cries by the Red Sea, delivered them out of the hand of deceptive men, He gave them plowed land, built houses, crops ready for harvest. When we remember how God has remembered us, that’s when we are ready to serve the Lord. So what does that mean, what does serving the Lord look like?
II. To Serve the Lord Means a Shift in Attitude, Perspective and Choice.
From verses 1 -13 the LORD God has been the primary speaker, from verses 14 it’s Joshua speaking and the one thought he seeks to leave them with is, ‘Serve the Lord.’ It would seem that there are three main things that are the foundation points that serving the Lord rests on. 1. Attitude – a man by the name of Masterman once said, “God often comforts us not by changing the circumstances of our lives but by changing our attitude toward them.” In verse 14 Joshua says that our attitude towards God ought to be characterized by the attitude of reverence or fear of the Lord, to serve Him in a sincerity that is based on the truth not on what I’m feeling or even experiencing. There’s that old expression that says ‘Attitude determines Altitude’ which is really about an altitude of faith, hope and love. What is amazing here is that as Joshua tells them to have this attitude he also tells them to put away the idols that they have hung onto ever since they left Egypt, even the ones they picked in Moab just before they crossed the Jordan. How could they have hung onto these ‘good luck’ charms for so long and at the same time actually seen the presence of God fighting for them? Is it possible that part of us hangs onto our old way of thinking while at the same time we believe in God? That old way of thinking is influenced so powerfully by pride, it fires up anger and kicks up the dust of frustration so that we can’t see or even think clearly. Attitude is a foundation point for serving God.
2. Perspective – In verse 15 Joshua makes a rather simple but profound observation, ‘We all serve someone, who do you serve?’ He puts it a little more bluntly though, “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…”. How could it ever seem ‘evil’ to serve the Lord? The word in Hebrew is “ra`a” and it has the meaning of being displeasing, sad or even injurious, has serving the Lord been displeasing, sad or injured you in some way? I think that many times people would answer ‘Yes’ to that question. What I expected God would do He didn’t. What I prayed for wasn’t answered. What I believe I’m not sure anymore. Sometimes it has seemed evil to us to serve the Lord but that has more to do with unmet expectations than it does the actual person and character of the Lord. Joshua’s point here is that perspective is everything when it comes to serving the Lord, especially when times are tough. The perspective is simply this, we all have a master but you can’t serve two masters at the same time. The master of sin has been the old Taskmaster, the Lord Jesus Christ is our new Master. But one thing is for sure, you are not the master. That perspective is a foundation point for how you will serve the Lord. 3. Choice – Joshua has told the people that because God has remembered them they need to remember God and from that place to serve Him. Now he tells them that they can’t serve God because He is a holy God and a jealous God. In essence Joshua is saying that they can’t serve God if they have no regard to Who He is. To do so is not only to be contemptuous of God but it also will invite God’s correction and judgment upon them as a nation. Some might see this as an oratorical technique that is meant to draw the people to a place of decision but it’s not, it’s the truth. You can’t serve the Lord if you are too unwilling to change your attitude and your perspective. Their response rises to the challenge, they see that their attitude has been all wrong, they get the perspective that you can only serve one master and the old Taskmaster is a vicious one. They get it so they say, “No, but we will serve the Lord.” They choose in that moment to pursue God, to seek God, to love God, to serve God. Do you see what choice involves? It involves confession, I will serve the Lord. It involves repentance, I will put away the old idols. It involves worship, I will incline my heart towards God. That word ‘incline’ has the main meaning of, ‘to bend’, the way that we bend our hearts downwards before God. To incline your heart is where worship takes place. It’s your choice and it is the third foundation point upon which serving the Lord rests. The epilogue is the whole point of establishing a witness to all this. It is like spike driven into the solid rock upon which I now put my full weight and climb higher. So Joshua actually writes it in the Book of the Law, this would be like you writing in the back of your Bible. Then he writes it on stone, all this that we would hold fast in faith, move forward through trial and serve the Lord.