A sermon based on Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18
Sunday, August 27th, 2017 – Pentecost 12B
Indy just barely survived the first trap. At the last second, he understood that a penitent man bows before God. And falling to his knees, the blade went right over his head instead of taking it from his body. He then followed the footsteps of the Lord, stepping on the letters that spell "Jehovah," almost remembering too late that there is no "J" in Latin. He took a leap of faith to cross the invisible bridge and finally arrived in the room where an old knight protected the cup that Jesus used at the very first Lord's Supper—the Holy Grail.
But there were hundreds of cups sitting in that room. Which was the right one? Indy had to choose wisely. He let the antagonist of the story chose first. And that man chose poorly. Drinking from cup he aged rapidly and turned to dust right before Indy's very eyes. And the old knight explained that just as the true grail would bring life, so any false grail would take it from you.
Now it was Indy's turn. There was no time to lose. But he had to choose wisely. If he chose wrong, he too would die a horrible death. A lot was riding on this decision…
Joshua, the leader of the Israelites after Moses death, had led the people into the promised land and fought with them to rid the place of its inhabitants. Now, for the most part, the work was done. And Joshua presented the Israelites with a choice. And their decision, like Indiana Jones', was a life or death decision. If they chose wrong, they would die a horrible death, not just physically, but eternally. "Choose wisely," Joshua told them and still tells us in Joshua 24:1-2 and 14-18…
Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God.
2 Joshua said to all the people, "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 'Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods…
14 "Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers 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 Then the people answered, "Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God."
"Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord," Joshua told the Israelites. But wait… what? Throw them away? You mean to tell me that they carried those stupid idols with them that entire time! After seeing the true God show off his might by the ten plagues… after leaving Egypt through the Red Sea on dry ground… after eating miraculous manna and quail every day, after marching around Jericho and watching it crumble… After all they had come to know of the true God… They still carried these idols along with them for 40 years of wandering in the wilderness!
What a terrible choice they made! You can hear the sarcasm in Joshua's words, can't you? "If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you…" Literally the Hebrew word is "evil." "If serving the Lord seems [evil] to you…" "If serving the God who loves you and rescued you seems so terrible…" That's the way they were acting by carrying around these other false gods. And they deserved to be rejected by God for the way they chose to reject him. They deserved to be struck down by another plague or by venomous snakes or by the earth opening up and swallowing them whole. They deserved death for their terrible choices.
But… so do we. Because we have our own gods that we carry around with us. I've carried mine around for almost 40 years myself. No, I don't have a statue of a golden calf in my closet or anything, but I still choose to serve myself instead of my God—the true and only God who has only loved and rescued me!
Every day is full of choices for me. It's full of choices for you too. We can choose how we will spend our time—whether we will be faithful and diligent in our work, or if we'll be self-serving, whether we'll spend time with God in Bible study and prayer, or just be entertained, whether we'll use our time to serve our families, neighbors, and friends, or if we'll just use it to serve ourselves. Do you always make good choices? Do you always choose wisely?
And we have choices every day on how we spend our dollars. Will we spend wisely to care for our family, saving responsibly? Will we give generously to show our thanks to God and use the blessings he's given to share the Gospel with as many as possible? Or will purchase whatever it is we think will make us happy right now in the moment? Will we hoard our dollars in "self-preservation," trusting our savings more than our God?
How do you choose to spend your time? How do you choose to spend your money? I think the answers to those two questions are good indicators of what your god is. We may not literally carry around idols for 40 years, but we sure have our own gods—those things we put our trust in, spend our resources on, and think about most.
And while they may not seem like life and death choices like Indiana Jones' choice about the Holy Grail, nevertheless, they are life and death choices. More like the frog choosing to remain in the pot while the temperature slowly rises, cooking him to death, the daily choices we make, choosing to serve other gods, leads us to a slow, comfortable death. And, honestly, one choice to serve the "god" of self over the true God, one time, makes us deserving of death. We deserve to be forsaken by God. We deserve eternal death and to be forsaken forever in hell.
That's what the Israelites deserved too. For carrying those idols around for 40 years, when they'd so much power and love from the true God, they deserved hell. Nevertheless, God didn't immediately wipe them off the face of the earth and damn them to an eternity apart from him. Why not? Who knows? That's grace. For no reason besides "that's who God is and what he does" God chose his people to be rescued and redeemed. When they confessed, "He is our God" in the last verse of our text, that was not their choice. It was God's. He rescued them. He brought them out of the Egypt, the land of slavery. He made them his own. The verses we skipped over make that clear. Listen to how many times God says, "I"…
2 Joshua said to all the people, "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 'Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods. 3 But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the River and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants… I gave him Isaac, 4 and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I assigned the hill country of Seir to Esau, but Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt.
5 " 'I sent Moses and Aaron, and I afflicted the Egyptians by what I did there, and I brought you out. 6 When I brought your fathers out of Egypt, you came to the sea, and the Egyptians pursued them with chariots and horsemen as far as the Red Sea. 7 But they cried to the Lord for help, and he put darkness between you and the Egyptians; he brought the sea over them and covered them. You saw with your own eyes what I did to the Egyptians. Then you lived in the desert for a long time.
8 " 'I brought you to the land of the Amorites who lived east of the Jordan. They fought against you, but I gave them into your hands. I destroyed them from before you, and you took possession of their land. 9 When Balak son of Zippor, the king of Moab, prepared to fight against Israel, he sent for Balaam son of Beor to put a curse on you. 10 But I would not listen to Balaam, so he blessed you again and again, and I delivered you out of his hand.
11 " 'Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did also the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. 12 I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you—also the two Amorite kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. 13 So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.'
Now, it might seem like God chose poorly. He chose rebels who would stray again and again. But God chose not for something in them, but entirely by his grace. And that's the same reason that God chose you. It wasn't anything in you, in who you were, in who you were destined to be, but entirely by his grace that he chose you to be his own. As God, through Paul, says in Ephesians 1(:4-5), "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…"
And he not only chose you, but he rescued you. He rescued you not just from Egyptians, but from satan. He rescued you not just from slavery, but from sin. He rescued you not just from enemy territory, but from hell.
How? Well, Joshua is a type of Christ. In fact, "Jesus" is Greek for "Joshua." Both names mean "The Lord saves." Just as God through Joshua fought the battles for the people and really just handed them the land when they put their trust in him, so God fought the battle for us in Christ. We do nothing. We trust in him and in what he's done. As one author summed it up: "As the Lord, through Joshua, conquered Israel's enemies and provided rest for the people, so [the Lord] through Jesus has conquered our enemies and provides rest for us."
Hebrews 4:8-10 puts it this way: "For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his."
Jesus did everything for your salvation. He chose you. He chose to come to earth as a man to live under the law. He always chose what was pleasing to God, every choice of every day. He chose to go to the cross. It wasn't nails or rope that forced him, but his love that compelled him. He chose to endure hell so you will never have to. He chose you over himself. So you have forgiveness. You have peace with God. You have rest from your own works. You have rest from the guilt and the shame. You have perfect rest in him. Jesus meant it when he said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)
Now, even though it was God who did the choosing, God who did the saving, God who made this people his own, Joshua still called for the people to make a decision. He didn't ask them to decide if they would be saved or not. Don't confuse this choice Joshua asks them to make with "decision theology." Joshua called them to decide whom they would serve. They had to serve someone. We all do. Would it be other gods? Would it be themselves and their own sinful nature? Or would it be the God who rescued them from slavery and promised to rescue them from sin?
You see, it was kind of a no-brainer. They didn't have to be smart like Indiana Jones to figure it out.
Which would you choose: Dial-up internet at $99 a month? Or 1GB downloads at $15 a month? It's a no brainer! Which would you choose: A free fillet mignon and lobster tail dinner? Or a can of Alpo that costs you $2? Which would you choose: Serving the God who rescued you from sin and death and satan and hell? Or serving your own sinful appetites which slowly lead you away from Jesus and toward eternal death in hell? It's a no brainer, isn't it?
So choose wisely, dear friends! Choose to spend less money so you'll be able to give more. Choose to spend less time being entertained so you'll be able to spend more time serving others. Choose to serve yourself less that you might serve God more.
Indiana Jones chose the right cup. He didn't immediately die a horrible death. In fact, he was able to save his dad when he poured water from the Holy Grail over his gunshot wound. He chose wisely. For us, our choice isn't a life or death decision. Our lives have been saved already. Our lives have been saved eternally. We have a guarantee of eternal life with God in heaven because of all that Jesus chose to do for us. It's a done deal. That means that the pressure's off.
And while Indy had to use his brain to make a wise a choice, our choice is a no-brainer. The choice is obvious: We choose to show our gratitude to the one who chose us to be his own and did everything it took to make it so. It's the only choice that makes sense! So choose wisely! Choose to live for him! In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.