The 17th Sunday after Pentecost September 20, 2015
2, 365, 625, 123
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of 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.”So the people answered and said: “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for the Lord our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, who did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way that we went and among all the people through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out from before us all the people, including the Amorites who dwelt in the land. We also will serve the Lord, for He is our God.
Moses was chosen by God to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land. However, because he had disobeyed God openly before the people, Moses would only see Canaan and not enter it. Before he died, Moses gathered the people together and gave them final words of guiding counsel and blessing.
Joshua was the man whom God chose to lead Israel into Canaan and into battle as they drove out the enemy nations. After the enemies were subdued and Israel was at peace, Joshua oversaw the dividing of the land. Lots were cast and portions of land were given to each tribe.
Years later, when Joshua was “old and advanced in age” he called the leaders of the people together at Shechem for his farewell address. The words given to the people by God through Joshua reviewed their history and all the things which God had done for them. Then Joshua urged the people to serve the Lord.
It is our desire to serve the Lord also and to do so we need to know the God’s expectations. As much as we want to serve the Lord, our sinfulness often turns us away from doing so. Therefore, we do well to learn the motivation for our service. As we serve the Lord we ultimately make a confession of our faith by what we say and do. I. Expectation, II. Motivation, and III. Confession are what we consider as we seek to SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS.
After reviewing all of God’s blessings on Israel, Joshua began his exhortation with these words, “Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD!” [v.14] Joshua’s words are really an expansion of the first commandment given by God which says, ‘You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).
Joshua’s words and the first commandment define God’s expectations for our service to Him. God’s expectations, of course, go beyond the first commandment and include the other nine commandments as well, but all of them come back to the first. If we serve God with a perfect keeping of the first commandment and, as Luther explained, “fear, love, and trust God above all things,” then we will at the same time be keeping all of the other commandments.
Joshua identifies four points of faithful service to the Lord. We can use these points to learn God’s expectations and to learn what is involved with “having no other gods before Him.” Joshua’s four points are: 1) fear the Lord, 2) serve in sincerity, 3) serve in truth, 4) put away false gods.
Every sinner has good reason to be deathly afraid of God. Imagine children who, despite their parent’s warning, have played in the yard and broken a window with a ball. They may well hide in fear of punishment. Likewise, all sinners have cause to cringe in fear before the almighty and holy God because of the sins committed against Him. When God gave His law to Israel on Mount Sinai the people were very afraid of God’s presence. There was thundering, lightning flashes, the sound of a trumpet blasting long and ever louder. The mountain was completely enveloped in smoke and the whole mountain shook. The people were afraid.
If we consider the power of God displayed on Mount Sinai and also God’s command, “You shall be holy for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44), we will be afraid. We can well say with the psalm, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3). This fear toward God is brought about by sin. If not for sin we could stand fearlessly before God.
Because our sins are forgiven by Jesus death, we can stand before God forgiven and holy and not in fear. Therefore, our fear of the Lord is no longer one of terror before the almighty God whom we offend with our sins, rather it is now a fear of awe, reverence, honor, and glory to our Savior God who has redeemed and saved us.
Unfortunately, we still sin and our sinful natures need to be reminded of God’s Law and the consequence of breaking that Law. Our sinful natures need to see the fearful consequence of sin lest we take sin lightly and suppose that there is no consequence for it. However, the fear is comforted when we hear that Jesus bore the consequences of all our sin on the cross. Then we will look with sorrow on our sins and fear the Lord with honor and thanksgiving for all that He has done.
Joshua told the people to serve the Lord with sincerity, i.e. complete and whole serving of the Lord and not half-hearted. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Serving the Lord according to God’s expectations does not allow for choosing in what areas of life we will follow Him. We would like to say, “Yes, I will follow God and His Word as long as it doesn’t conflict with what I want.” We, in effect, do say that each time we fall into sin and turn away from God’s will.
God’s Word doesn’t truly change but it is changed by people in their minds and hearts in order to give them a comfortable feeling. In our day, God’s Word is changed to allow women pastors, to condone sexual immorality of all types, to place the guilt of wrong doing anywhere but on the sinner. This changing of God’s Word makes it possible for individuals to go right on in their sinfulness and still feel that they are loving God with their heart, soul, and mind. In reality, their heart, soul, and mind are under the deception of Satan and they are serving his purposes.
Joshua told Israel to serve God completely in all things and to serve in truth. Serving God in truth is to serve Him faithfully at all times. God’s expectation does not allow for our service to go up and down with the ups and downs of life. Our serving God should remain steady, even, and faithful to Him at all times. The Apostle Paul’s life is a good example of ups and downs. He had the downs of being thrown in prison and beaten. In these and other hardships he rejoiced. Paul had the ups of being able to preach the Gospel which people heard and came to faith. In these and other successes Paul did not glorify himself but glorified God. Paul’s faithful service remained steady no matter what was going on around him.
Joshua’s fourth point is forsaking other gods. Generations earlier, the Israelites had served false gods. Before Abraham was called by God to go to Canaan he lived in Mesopotamia on the other side of the Euphrates River. In Mesopotamia, Abraham’s family—his father and brother—served false gods. The Israelites had worshipped the golden calf at Mount Sinai. Joshua told the people, don’t follow the false worship of your ancestors and the previous generations. Break with tradition and follow the true God and Him alone! There is only one God and He expects that no one else and nothing else should receive honor or glory as to a god. “I am the LORD, that is My name; and My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8).
At times people recognize unscriptural teaching in their church but remain with it for sentimental reasons. Reasons such as, “it has been the church of my family for many many years,” or “this is where my family attends, therefore, I will not leave even though there is false teaching.” This is not serving God completely. It allows other concerns—be they of family, friends, finances, or other things—to interfere and take away part of what belongs to God alone. Jesus said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). A false god does not have to be an idol like those in Israel but is anything which takes a place above God in our heart and in our considerations. God expects us to serve Him alone completely and faithfully.
Joshua presented God’s expectations and then asked the people to decide whom they would serve, the Lord or the false gods? “And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell…so the people answered and said: ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for the Lord our God is He who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went and among all the people through whom we passed. And the Lord drove out from before us all the people, including the Amorites who dwelt in the land.” [v.15-18a]
Joshua said, “If it doesn’t seem good to serve the Lord then choose which of the false gods you will serve.” The people said “far be it from us to forsake the Lord because just look at all that He has done.” If we are looking for reasons and motivation to serve God and Him alone we need only look back to what He has done. Friendships and relationships are built on what we know about a person and what they have done. Our relationship to God is no different. What God has done is our motivation to serve him.
Before God ever gave any of the commandments He said, “I am the Lord God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2). God gives His expectations in the Ten Commandments but just before He does that He impresses on us who He is so that we are happy and willing to obey them. Our motivation to serve God is not built on fear and forced labor, but is a willing response to all that God has done.
The Israelites remembered that God had taken them out of Egypt and their slavery. They thought of the plagues which God sent on Egypt as well as destroying the Egyptians in the Red Sea, providing food and water in the wilderness, and many other miraculous things. In whatever path the Israelites wandered the Lord preserved them, and among whatever people they traveled the Lord protected them. The Children of Israel considered all that God had done and concluded, “How could we forsake Him or not serve Him? Why would we want to forsake such a gracious and loving God? Be it far from us!”
Compare any false god with the true God and the false god will come up short. Whether a particular false god is an idol, or a person, or wealth, or something else, it can do nothing. It cannot protect you from all danger, but the true God can and does. A false god cannot love you, but the True God does and sent His Son to die for you. A false god cannot answer prayers, but the True God is always present and ready to help you. He does answer prayer in the wisest and best possible way.
When we remember what God has done for us it is easy to say with Israel, “Be it far from us to forsake the Lord!” Yet, we still do forsake Him whenever we sin—just like Israel often turned away. The motivation to serve and the strength to resist temptation will come from recalling the Lord’s past mercies and blessings. Samuel told the children of Israel, “Only fear the LORD, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you” (1 Samuel 12:24).
Remember how the Lord has delivered you from the house of bondage. No longer are you a slave of Satan condemned to die because of your sins, but you are redeemed from death, restored as a child of God, and forgiven all your sins. The Lord has provided all of the signs and wonders described in His Word to assure you that He alone is God and that He preserves you. You personally see one of those signs each time you see a rainbow. The rainbow is a sign of God’s promise that He will never again destroy the whole earth in a flood but will maintain for your preservation, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night as long as the earth remains (Genesis 8:22).
Think back and remember how the Lord has preserved you in every path and among all the people through whom you have traveled. He has created and preserved your faith as well as your body. When you strayed like a foolish sheep, He called you back like a faithful shepherd and healed your wounds. No matter where we turn in history, whether it be history at large or our own personal history, we will see the Lord’s hand supporting, protecting, guiding. “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).
Be it far from us to forsake the Lord, but let us remember His merciful dealings with us and be motivated to serve Him with gladness.
Joshua and the people considered what the Lord had done and they reached the same conclusion. Joshua said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” and the people concluded, “We also will serve the Lord for He is our God.” [v.15,18]
Look at all the facts presented in God’s Word and there is only one right conclusion—the Triune God of Scripture is the one true God who deserves all honor, glory, and praise. He is the God whom we serve.
Serve God with worship and praise for all that He has done. Everything good comes from God and the credit for it belongs to Him. He is worthy of every bit of praise and thanksgiving that we can possibly give. “Serve the Lord with gladness; come before His presence with singing…enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting…” (Psalm 100:2ff).
Serve God with faithfulness to His Word. Faithfulness to God’s Word involves many things. Serve Him by faithfully following His commandments and not turning to the right or the left. God in His Word invites you to trust Him for everything and go to Him for every need—serve Him by doing so. God has given you His Word to use for your own benefit and to give benefit to others. Serve God by standing fast to His truth without compromise and without error of any sort. Serve God by working to spread His Word directly through personal efforts and indirectly by supporting the efforts of others.
Serve God in your daily activities. Paul wrote the Corinthians, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Be faithful in your work whatever that may be. Be faithful in work even if the working conditions aren’t ideal. Show faithfulness in work which gives glory to God and does not merely seek the approval of men. Paul instructs all workers when he says, “…be obedient to your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eye-service, as men pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (Ephesians 6:5-7).
All of this service to God by words and actions is a confession to the world. When Israel was faithful to God the other nations took notice. When you faithfully serve God others will take notice. Others will hear and see your confession. Your confession in word and deed will also serve to strengthen one another. Joshua’s strong confession encouraged the people to look at what God had done, to be renewed in their faith, and to likewise make a strong confession that they also would serve the Lord.
It will ever take more strength to serve the Lord and thereby confess Him in what you say and do. Take heart! The new and added strength will be provided by the One who has given it in the past. Strength to stand up and say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.