Joshua 24:14-27 MARCH 26, 2017
“A CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP”
This message that I preach today is the same message that I gave on my first Sunday in this pulpit on February 20, 1983. I believe this passage can speak to us today as it did 34 years ago.
Joshua was the leader of Israel after Moses. He is the one who led the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land. He led the people as they secured the land by defeating the Amorites and the other tribes who worshiped other gods (idols). Joshua’s leadership was coming to an end and this scripture was his last message to all the people of Israel. In the preceding verses, Joshua recounts all that the LORD had done for his chosen people.
When someone whom you respect speaks, one tends to listen attentively and especially if this person has been your leader. The soldiers in the Confederate Army listened to General Robert Edward Lee when in May 1865 he had made the decision to surrender to General U.S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. He told them his goodbyes and urged them to go home and be responsible citizen to the United States government. Most Americans also listened attentively to President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the 1930’s and 1940’s when he gave his “fireside chats”. When someone who has led you during difficult times, one tends to listen to their advice! Joshua 24:14-15 (NIV) 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.”
Most people probably expected Joshua to speak encouraging words of advice. Instead Joshua confronts them and says they must make a choice whether or not they want to serve the LORD. He then says that regardless of their choice he and his family will serve the Lord. The Israelites almost seen offended. Joshua 24:16 (NIV) “16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods!
Joshua wanted the Israelites to truly think about their choice before they committed themselves. It was Moses who spoke to Israel of what God desires from his chosen people. Deuteronomy 10:12-13 (NIV) “12 And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?” The LORD wants every individual to make the choice to love and serve God. God desires to have a close intimate relationship with us. God wants what He knows is best for us.
It has been discouraging to watch individuals show disrespect to our nation’s flag. It hurts to see how little people seem to appreciate our freedoms in this country when an athlete takes a knee when the Star Spangled Banner is played. In a similar manner how do you think God views our glib statements of faith? Joshua did not want the Israelites to voice approval then have their actions fail miserably.
The centuries pass but people remain the same. This is why Jesus warned the crowds who came to listen to him. Matthew 6:24 (NIV) 24 “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” We tend to want to serve God and yet live our lives for the sake of pleasure. We tend to serve our pleasures first and if there is any time left over then we will think about serving God. Jesus would not be surprised that less than 10% of Christians tithe their income.
So, it is not surprising that the people protested that they will indeed serve the Lord. Joshua 24:16-18 (NIV) “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.”
Joshua was in effect saying, “Be careful and don’t make a hasty decision based on your emotions. It’s like falling in love and you decide to get married but then as the years go by the couples decide to separate and get a divorce. Joshua wanted the Israelites to be absolutely sure before they make a commitment to God.
How many of you have been to revivals or evangelistic crusades? I have been to numerous revivals and crusade over the years and I have a few observations. I have watched many people become emotional, crying and weeping over their sins, and they would walk down the aisle and make a commitment to Christ. Yet as the weeks pass, many of these individuals have gone back to their old lifestyle. Only the Lord knows the heart and sees whether or not they have made a true commitment to Christ.
Joshua issues a warning. Joshua 24:19-20 (NIV) “19 Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.” Jesus issued a similar warning. Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV) 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Are we serious in our commitment to follow Christ?
In the Old Testament, the Israelites had to depend on themselves to live up to their commitments. When we come to faith in Christ we are given the Holy Spirit to assist us in our walk of faith. Ephesians 1:13-14 (NIV) “13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession–to the praise of his glory.” In Christ, the Holy Spirit helps us with our weaknesses. Romans 8:26 (NIV) “26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.”The Spirit never gives up on us. Philippians 1:6 (NIV) “6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
How did the people respond to Joshua’s words that they would fail? Joshua 24:21-24 (NIV) “21 But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the LORD.” 22 Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the LORD.” “Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied. 23 “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the LORD our God and obey him.”
Joshua then made a covenant with the people that they would follow and serve the LORD. Joshua 24:25-27 (NIV) “25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he drew up for them decrees and laws. 26 And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the LORD. 27 “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the LORD has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.”
We do not have a stone to remind us. But we do have this building which stands as a witness to this community that there is a church here with a group of believers who have made a commitment to follow Christ. The LORD has heard our words of commitment in this place. Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV) 14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Joshua gave this message to prepare the people for the upcoming change in leadership. This day as we say our goodbyes I ask you to faithfully serve the Lord in the days to come and may you give your new pastor the same love and support you have given me.
Let us pray. Lord, bless these people who love and serve you. Keep them close to you in the days to come. Amen