Choose today whom you will serve

Scripture Readings

  • Luke 14:15-30;
  • Joshua 24:14-27

Introduction

Dear friends in Christ,

Not far from us there is an ice cream shop which sells 76 flavours of ice cream.  When the grandchildren come up for a visit, going for ice cream is a no brainer.  

Imagine yourself this scenario:  I take my grandies to that shop.  Their choice is to have one or walk out of the shop empty-handed.  The normal state of affairs is that they will not pass up the opportunity, even if it means that they would tell grandma that they are not hungry at lunchtime.  

Salvation is from and by God

Joshua 24 records some of God’s acts of salvation for his people.  The phrase “I” or “the Lord” referring to Almighty God occurs no less than 21 times.  Listen to just one verse: 

Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I afflicted the Egyptians by what I did there, and I brought you out. When I brought your people out of Egypt …(Joshua 24:5–6, NIV)

And the last act of God recorded here:  

So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build… (Joshua 24:13, NIV)

Now the choice:

… 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.” (Joshua 24:14–15, NKJV)

The choice of worship flows from redemption

We always put our money where our mouth is. It then is true that if someone wants to see who or what we worship they could just check out how we spend our money, our time and our energy.  

If money is the god, it flows from the fact that I feel safe and secure once I’ve got my financial matters sorted.  Which means that faith in God as the provider for my life is secondary.  My eye is more on the stock exchange and my bank balance that on God.  Should my financial security become unsteady, the first thing I do is not to trust God’s guidance, but my financial adviser. 

Further, what I love will get my dedication in time and energy.  I spend my time on things that give me satisfaction and peace. I dedicate more time on these things than focus on the things of God, his will for my life, and how I can serve others in his name.  I am the master of my time, my plans, my resources.  Any other secondary activity is regulated by my primary choice.  

The Larger Catechism helps us to put the true worship of God under words:  

We have to know and acknowledge that God is the only true God.  We must worship and glorify him by thinking, meditating, remembering, highly esteeming, honouring, adoring, choosing, loving, desiring, fearing  Him, believing, trusting, hoping, delighting, and rejoicing in Him; being zealous for him; calling upon him, giving all praise and thanks, and yielding all obedience and submission to Him with the whole man; being careful in all things to please him, and sorrowful when in anything He is offended; and walking humbly with him. (Micah 6:8)

What is forbidden are:  

having or worshipping any other god beside or instead of Him is idolatry; self-loving, self-seeking, and self-controlled mind, will, or affections upon other things, and making them things which exist apart from God; discontent and impatience at his provision, charging Him foolishly for the evils He inflicts on us;  ascribing the praise of any good we either are, have or can do, to fortune, idols, ourselves, or any other creature.

So the question is then, who or what sets us free and makes us happy?  What makes us go to bed with a smile; who do we trust when things don’t go well?  What happens when we lose everything? How will I have face persecution or death because I proclaimed God alone is my Lord?  Will I perhaps be like the wife of Lot who for the last time just wanted to have a look back on the city she loved to dwell in: she died in God’s judgment.

Choose for yourselves whom you will serve.  Will it be the God who provides total redemption and salvation in Jesus Christ?  Or are you wondering, wavering, holding back, keeping the secret corners of your trust to yourself?

The subject of our choice determines the way of our worship

Joshua that day challenged the people:  

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.” (Joshua 24:15, NKJV)

The choice ultimately is between evil and good.   Is it a good or evil thing to worship God?  Most of us will agree that it is a good thing to worship God because He is good.  But let’s consider a few things. 

Joshua put them before a few choices:  serve that god, these gods, or the God, the last is Jahweh.

It is either the gods Abraham worshipped before God called him to follow Him.  

Your fathers, including Terah, the father of Abraham and the father of Nahor, dwelt on the other side of the River in old times; and they served other gods. 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. (Joshua 24:2–3, NKJV)

The truth is this:  those” gods had no hold on Abraham, they could not control him, they could not give any inheritance, no promises, they could not make his a blessing to the nations of the earth, and they could not give him and Sarah any children.  God did.  Is this a good or a bad thing?

Then there are “these” gods.  They are the gods of the Amorites.  There was Molech, who demanded that his worshippers burned their children as sacrifices to him. There were other the gods: El, Dagon, Baal, Ashtaroth and others who made their worshipers participate in lewd, immoral acts with so-called “sacred” prostitutes. Theirs was a depraved form of worship that appealed to the base instincts of sinful human nature. They did not demand any teaching, they just thrived on the deprived nature of fallen man. They practised human sacrifice, and their religion sanctioned unbelievable cruelty in warfare.

Are they good?  Are they evil?  Are they powerful?  None of these!  They are nothing! Dead, made from wood or stone, they can’t hear or act, and they know nothing.  Is it good to worship things of your own making?  No.  It’s idolatry.  It drains your energy, it robs you of peace and resources, and it promises what does not belong to them.

Why chase after them?  Jeremiah charges the people:  

They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13, NKJV)

Figuratively, they stood at the banquet of ice creams and chose to walk away.  

But there is Jahweh, “the” Lord of grace.  He is the God behind the 21 “I”’s who made their salvation possible.  He took them from slavery into a land of milk and honey where they had peace and were subject to none but Him.  This is the God of Joshua.

They people promised to follow the Lord, Jahweh, 

“…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.”  (Joshua 24:17, NKJV)

Joshua’s reaction stunned them:  

“You cannot serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.” (Joshua 24:19, NKJV)

Choosing to worship God is not to pick Him as your God.  The challenge to choose is not to pick the winner of the contest between gods.  

Joshua knew this very well.  Let’s go to Exodus 24.  This episode is in some way repeat of what happened in Exodus 19.  Moses had to consecrate the people, who even had to wash their clothes.  They could not touch the mountain of the Lord for three days.  Then there were thunder, lightning and fire.  The whole mountain trembled.  The holy God visited his people.  Moses prepared a sacrifice to the Lord and sprinkled the blood over the altar, he read the Book of the Covenant, and also sprinkled blood over the people.  They were God’s holy people. And then, Moses and Joshua—then a young man of about 40 years old—approached God.  The glory of the Lord appeared on the mountain, something the people perceived as a consuming fire.  During the next six days it was sight of God’s holiness:  

and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. (Exodus 24:10, NKJV)

Joshua was there.  He knew the holiness of God! And now, he made it clear to the people that, although they chose to serve God, it will never be enough.  Their best intentions will not satisfy the holiness of God. By their own effort, their sins will never be forgiven.

The truth is, the choice to serve God is closely interconnected to the choice God made to choose his people.  His covenant with them is a covenant of grace.  

Today we stand before that choice too.  We don’t pick a god.  We have no right to pass moral judgment on whether God is good or bad.  To choose the God of grace is not a choice amongst many; it is the only choice.  Worship Him, or worship nothing!  Worship Him and receive mercy and grace; reject Him and his goodness will turn into disaster and judgement (Joshua 24:20).

So, in essence there is no choice.  Who is rebellious to choose death over life!

The way of worship determines the outcome of life

Joshua’s word was, 

“…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, (Joshua 24:15, NKJV)

It is a choice which stops you in you tracks.  It is a choice which brings a change.  It is a choice which will determine how you live from this moment on, and it will determine your eternal destination.  

If it is half-hearted, the journey will be half-hearted and you will not reach the end.  It will only be an exhausting journey of effort and disappointment.  

The prize if for those who overcame.  It therefore demands whole-hearted conversion.  

“Now therefore,” he said, “put away the foreign gods which are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord God of Israel.” (Joshua 24:23, NKJV)

This is the Old Testament equivalent to the call of Christ in Luke 14: 

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26–27, NKJV)

There is a price:  

So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:33, NKJV)

Conclusion:  God’s choice for us

Just after Jesus told the young rich man of Mark 10 to give away what he had and follow Christ, He said:  

“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” (Mark 10:33–34, NKJV)

If it is your choice to serve God, don’t count on your own contribution; you will fail.  You must follow Christ.  He alone meets the holy righteousness of God by his death and resurrection.  He said,

And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.

Amen.  

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 7 July 2019

 

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