Good morning church! Just wanted to welcome everyone who has joined us this morning both in person at the hall and also online. Our prayer is that all of us would meet Jesus in a very real and personal way this morning as He speaks to us through His Word. If you’ve been tracking with us at the Gathering, we’ve been going through this series from the book of Joshua titled “Our Promise Keeping God” over the last 5 months. Today we arrive at the final sermon from this series as we cover the last 2 chapters of Joshua. As we’ve just read, these 2 chapters are the final recorded sermons that Joshua preaches to the people of Israel. I’ll read a small excerpt from Joshua 23:4-8:
4 Behold, I have allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off, from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west. 5 The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you. 6 Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, 7 that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, 8 but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day. (v4-8)
One of the things that’s common to most organizations is that they’ll regularly schedule policy training where they’ll give you an overview of the company, they’ll talk about the company culture and then they’ll also list down their expectations on how you are expected to conduct yourself during your tenure as an employee of the firm. And alongside the expectations, they’ll probably also mention what would happen if there was a breach or violation of the company policy. And this is something that isn’t just done on the first day of joining the firm, but it is done frequently with employees. And it’s interesting how in similar ways the Israelites are being given a sort of regular policy training. The only big difference is that this is not merely talking about serving a human organization or a human master, this is much more serious because it’s talking about serving God! And even as we try to understand what that meant for the Israelites, let’s not forget that this is a totally relevant question for us today because it’s not just the pastors, evangelists or people in ministry who are called as servants of God, every person who calls himself a follower & believer in Jesus is called to be a servant of God. And if we are all servants of God, then we ought to know “what it means for us to serve God” “What is the policy document for serving God” “What are the expectations of being servants of God”? To help us answer this question, today’s passage gives us 3 points:
- The choice to serve God – we all have a choice to serve
14 “Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond 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.” (Josh 24:14-15)
One of the most familiar Christian plaques or verses that’s put up in people’s homes is v15 which says
“as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”. Now that’s definitely a nice, encouraging verse to be put up in a home but it sometimes is easy to miss the context in which this verse was said. Towards the end of Joshua’s sermon, he confronts the people with a choice they have to make. He tells them that they need to either choose to wholeheartedly serve the God of Israel (Yahweh) or choose to serve the idols of the nations around them. It’s either this or that. There is no in between space. But what’s so interesting is that before confronting them to make a choice, Joshua prefaces the conversation by reminding them about God’s faithfulness shown to them through the ages.
The journey is traced back right from Abraham (Israel’s forefather). God had taken Abraham out of a lifestyle of pagan worship and revealed Himself to him. And though Abraham was too old to be a dad – 100 years old, God blessed him to have Isaac and through him formed an entire nation. And later after 400 years when the Israelites were enslaved by Egyptians, God delivered them out of their hands. But it wasn’t just against the Egyptians, God fought for His people against all the other great nations – nations who were greater than them in might and in number. And here’s how it’s summed up in Josh 24:12,13:
12 And I sent the hornet before you, which drove them out before you, the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not laboured and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.’
God’s heart was that when the people remember God’s faithfulness, generosity and kindness lavished upon them, they would be moved to wholeheartedly obey and serve God. God’s faithfulness is the context in which the people are confronted to make a choice to serve God. If you’ve been coming to the Gathering over a period of time, you would have noticed that it’s pretty much the same message that we preach week in and week out. It’s the same simple gospel message that we try to preach through every passage of Scripture. And why do we do it? We definitely want to be faithful to Scripture but also because we realize that if people need to truly obey and serve God out of right motivations, they can only do so if they remember the faithfulness, generosity and kindness of God. And so every week as we hear the Gospel, all of us (including us preachers) are confronted with the question: choose this day whom you will serve? Will you serve the God of the Bible who is so faithful, generous and kind to you or will you serve the relationships, jobs, money, comfort, pleasure and the stuff in your life?
But not only is there a choice to serve but there’s also an
- The inability to serve God
19 But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.” (Josh 24:19-20)
I wonder what the people thought when they heard Joshua respond like this. “Well, thank you Joshua for that piece of encouragement. We are trying to be committed, we have all the right intentions to be faithful, but somehow you don’t seem to be convinced”. But we need to understand why Joshua said what he did.
Firstly, it’s because he recognized that the God we serve is a holy God! “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at the wrong (Hab 1:13)” One commentator said it in this way “that God’s hatred of wrong is pictured by His not being able to look toward it. If He looked toward them, they must perish”. Also, it’s the fact that God is a jealous God. Now, this seems like a contradiction – how can God be holy and jealous at the same time? It’s not referring to envy in our hearts when we are envious of each other. It’s referring in terms of fidelity and loyalty in a close relationship. One of my friends once used this illustration which helped me understand this well. If my daughter goes up to anybody else and calls them “dad”, that would make me angry and displeased. Why? Because that relationship is unique and can’t be shared with another. The same goes in a marriage where it’s a unique covenant relationship between the husband and wife and that relationship cannot be shared with another.
And then it goes on to say that “God will not forgive your transgressions or sins”. Now that doesn’t mean that God is going to harbour unforgiveness against us. But rather that God cannot leave our sins unpunished. God cannot overlook our sins. His Holy character will need to respond justly to our sins. He will pour out His anger against us for our sins. Romans 6:23 says “the wages of sins is death – being eternally damned and separated from God forever”.
Secondly, it’s not just God’s character that Joshua is referring to but also our weakness and inability to be faithful to God with the consistency and perfection that He requires.
Some of us are perfectionists and go-getters, we are so disciplined and are able to achieve whatever we put our minds to. We think that if we discipline ourselves really well, we are able to serve God as He expects. And we need to be humbled to know that even the best of our efforts are filthy rags before a holy God. (Isa 64:6) our best efforts are simply not good enough for a holy God.
Some of us are people who probably think that we will do the bare minimum to go past the mark and God in His grace will understand. We think that our best intentions are enough for God. And we need to realize that even our best intentions are not good enough to serve God.
Why? The problem goes deeper than what we see on the surface – it’s with our sin infected hearts and that’s what renders us incapable to serve God as we should.
That’s why many times we fail to live up to the grand promises & commitments we make to serve God during our gatherings. It’s not because we’ve not tried hard enough or because we’ve not exercised self-discipline as we should have or because our intentions are not strong enough. If we were able to do it by ourselves, then we wouldn’t have required a Savior. And that’s why our inability to serve should point our attention to something outside of ourselves to come and help us. It should lead us to the
- The gracious provision to serve God
“And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed. But just as all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the Lord your God has given you, if you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you.” Josh 23:14-16
The OT covenant was a conditional one which provided blessings to God’s people based on their faithfulness and brought curses to them based on their unfaithfulness. Because we all have sinful hearts, it’s virtually impossible for us to secure blessings for ourselves based on faithfulness. So the OT covenant had limitations due to our sin infected hearts, and that’s why we needed a gracious provision from God to enter into a new covenant with God:
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord (spiritual adultery). 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts (heart change). And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord (close fellowship). For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (full pardon and cleansing)” (Jer 31:31-34)
This gracious provision didn’t come through a decree or words on a tablet. This gracious provision came through a Person – God’s own Son Jesus Christ. This gracious provision of the new covenant could be brought into effect only through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus – Jesus Christ lived the life we needed to live with the consistency and perfection as required by a holy God & then He died the death that we deserved as our substitute. He was buried and after 3 days He rose again defeating sin, Satan and death once and for all so that whoever may repent of their sins and fully trust in Jesus’ work would now no longer face God’s curse but enjoy eternal blessing forever.
Let’s take a minute to introspect on what this could mean for us. I think for some of us we’ve we have been carrying the burden of our relationship with God on the basis of how faithful, how sorted, and how committed we’ve been. So we are constantly oscillating between security and insecurity, trying so hard to achieve the blessing of God and constantly fearing the curse of God if we mess up. I think we need to realize that there is a better covenant already in place through the loving work of our Savior Jesus Christ. Through the cross of calvary, Jesus removes the curse from us by becoming the curse for us (Gal 3:13). And through faith in Jesus, He has granted us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3). What would it mean for us today to embrace this gracious provision?
Some of you might be aware of the name Derek Raymond. Even if you’re not too familiar with the name you would have definitely seen his video on social media. In the 1992 Summer Olympics at Barcelona, Derek Redmond was in good form for the 400m sprint. He posted the fastest time in the first round and went on to win his quarter-final. In the semi-final, Redmond started well, but in the back straight about 250 metres from the finish, his hamstring tore. He hobbled to a halt and then fell to the ground in pain. Stretcher bearers made their way over to him, but Redmond decided he wanted to finish the race. He began to hobble along the track. He was soon joined on the track by his father, Jim Redmond, who barged past security and onto the track to get to his son. Jim and Derek completed the lap of the track together, with Derek leaning on his father’s shoulder for support. In so many ways this can capture visually what it looked like for us in our attempt to serve God. With all our best efforts and best intentions, we still can’t reach the finish line due to our debilitating sin infection. And yet there is this gracious provision where Jesus Christ God’s Son ran up to us when we couldn’t run anymore and then carried us to the finish line on our behalf so that we can serve God in the freedom, love and joy as we ought to. How amazing is our Lord? How amazing is our Savior who would do this for us?