Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18 In our text today, we find the children of God in the
. It was a long, difficult trip from slavery in
to freedom in the Promised Land. But God
was with them every step of the way on that journey of faith. Egypt
The LORD delivered his people from slavery--he destroyed their enemies in the waters of the Red Sea--he provided for them in their desert wanderings and guided them every step of the way with his bright, shining presence--he gave them victory over their enemies in Canaan so that they were now the possessors of the land–just as he promised.
And so Joshua gathered the people together to remind them of this--to give them an opportunity to remember all that God had done for them–to reflect on their own lives of faith and discipleship-- to repent of their sins--and to renew their commitment to the Lord.
It is in this context--in the remembrance of what God accomplished in their salvation--that Joshua spoke to God’s people and said: “choose this day whom you will serve”.
It is important that we understand what had transpired up to this point-- because too many people get this passage wrong. They make these words into a “proof-text” for “decision theology”-- as if this call to serve God happened in a vacuum--as if the Israelites could choose to be God’s people or not—choose to be saved or not.
But that’s not the point at all! The people assembled at Shechem already were saved--they already were God’s people. God had rescued them from slavery in
could do nothing to save themselves. God
had destroyed their enemies in the waters of the Egypt Red Sea
when they were powerless to protect themselves.
God had provided for them and guided them when they were lost and afraid
and in need.
Joshua did not call upon them to honor and fear and love and serve and worship the Lord so that they could become his people or to save themselves. Instead, Joshua called upon them to worship and serve and fear and love the Lord because he had redeemed them and set them free and made them his own dear children.
And so the question for the Israelites that day was this: Would they continue to serve the one who had saved them? Would they, in grateful obedience, do as the Lord commanded? Would they remember and recognize that it was God alone who was the source of their life as individuals and as a nation? Or would they abandon him to follow other gods?
For Joshua, the choice was clear: “Choose this day whom you will serve”, as for me and my house--we will serve the Lord!”
If some of these ideas and circumstances and themes that we see in our lesson from the 24th chapter of Joshua seem familiar to you and applicable to your lives at this moment–it’s because they are! Everything that I’ve just said about the Israelites at Shechem that day--can be said of you this day.
The Lord has set you free from slavery to the enemies of sin and death and the devil. He has done this by one even greater than Moses--by his own Son Jesus Christ. By his holy life, bloody death on Calvary’s cross, and glorious resurrection, Jesus has redeemed you and set you free from slavery to sin and death and the devil, and through faith in Christ, you are God’s child.
Just as with the Israelites, your heavenly Father has provided for your physical needs every moment of your life’s journey. More importantly, he has provided for your spiritual needs. Week after week he has spoken to you from his Holy Word: revealing your sins—and assuring you of his forgiveness- and providing guidance for your life. He has given you the true manna from heaven, Jesus’ own body and blood in Holy Communion.
It has been a long journey from the waters of Holy Baptism to this moment, but God has been with you every step of the way–just like he promised.
And so then, this day, just like that day thousands of years ago, is an opportunity for you to remember all that God has done for you–to reflect on your own life of discipleship up to this point–to repent of your sins–and to renew your commitment to the Lord.
Just like for the Israelites that day, this day is important in your lives as God’s children because there is a choice of eternal consequence that lies is before you: a choice to either remain steadfast in the knowledge and worship of the true God and serve him only-- or to slowly but surely give in to the idols of the pagan world that are present all around you.
And so then, the question for you this day is the same as it was for the Israelites of that day: Will you serve the God who has rescued from your sins at the cost of his own Son’s life? Will you honor the God who has made you a part of his people through Holy Baptism? Will you fear and obey the God who has conquered death and the grave on your behalf? Will you love this one, true Triune God who has loved you from eternity with an everlasting love?
Or will you follow and love and serve and honor the false gods of this sinful world in which you live? “Choose this day whom you will serve!”
That you can make this decision to serve God at all is only because God has already graciously chosen you in Christ to be his child. Jesus told his disciples, “You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you to bear fruit that will last.” Paul assured the Ephesian believers that, “God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world, to be holy and blameless in his sight.” He told the Thessalonians that “God chose them to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” And James reminded his congregation that “God chose to give us birth through the Word of truth.”
The Good News for you today is that God has chosen you in Christ to be his own dearly loved child in time and eternity, by giving you the gift of faith in Jesus Christ-- and it is only because of God’s choosing you-- that you can choose to serve him as your master. “Choose this day whom you will serve!”
These are some of the most inspiring words in the whole Bible. Many of us have them in our homes in some format–on a plaque or wall hanging. For thousands of years these words have been a rallying cry for every true believer to re-commit themselves to the Lord. They are a call to all of God’s people–young and old–to remember God’s salvation in Christ and repent of our sins and resolve to serve him more faithfully and follow him more carefully. “Choose this day whom you will serve!”
No less than the children of Israel, you are surrounded by a pagan world and their false gods. Not gods of wood and stone and metal-- but the much more subtle, and therefore sinister, gods of materialism and self-centeredness and sexual immorality. This is the culture of death in which you live.
Satan, the great deceiver, is still at work in this world and would have you be lax in your commitment to the Lord and lull you into sinful, spiritual complacency. You will be tempted to abandon your spiritual lives by staying away from worship and bible study. You will be tempted to make room in your lives for sin. You will be tempted to use your Christian freedom, not to grow closer to the Lord, but to grow closer to the world.
This is the spiritual battle that you will face–and you should be aware of it. It is a serious thing the Lord asks of you today–to commit your lives to his service–to promise your faithfulness to Him above all others–to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from your confession of faith and your allegiance to Christ’s church.
“Choose this day whom you will serve.” The Israelites, to their credit, despite their failures of the past and uneven track record in obedience, joined with Joshua in resolving to follow the Lord. With one voice they affirmed all that Joshua had said and they promised their obedience to the LORD. “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God!”
There will be challenges in your walk of faith. There will be times when you stumble and fall. But the God who has known and loved you and chosen you from eternity to be his own–the God who lived, died, and rose again to save you—the God who called you to be his own in Holy Baptism--will be with you-- moment by moment and day by day–lifting you up–forgiving you–strengthening you-- and guiding you by his abiding, living presence in Word and Sacraments.
This is why it is so critically important to attend worship services regularly and hear and study the Word of God and receive the Body and Blood of Christ and be absolved of your sins. These are the gracious means that Jesus has lovingly provided to keep you strong in your faith and resolute in your commitment to serve him.
In light of this never-ending love that God has for you in Christ Jesus, I invite you, to join with all of God’s faithful people past and present and make this solemn resolution in your heart today: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!” To this end may God grant you his grace for Jesus’ sake! Amen.