A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Frankfort, Ky., on November 6, 2011.
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
In 1950, Billy Graham took to the airwaves with a thirty minute program called, ironically, “The Hour of Decision.” Each week, Graham preached a sermon and called for his listeners to make a decision to follow Christ. At its peak, this evangelistic program was heard at over 1,200 outlets.
Based upon our text, the Israelites were facing their hour of decision. Listen to the bold challenge Joshua issued to his people as they began living in the Promise Land and had to decide whether they would follow the God who created them and delivered them from bondage in Egypt, the gods their ancestors worshiped in a foreign land, or both.
“Now, therefore, revere the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Now, if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are now living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” Joshua 24:14-15.
Why did Joshua feel the need to issue such a forceful challenge to his people? Perhaps timing had something to do with it. He knew he was not going to live much longer and wanted to have a final talk with the people he loved about their relationship with God.
I don’t think this is uncommon. I believe every grandparent, or anyone struggling with a terminal illness, understands why this was important to Joshua.
It was also time for the people to settle down and begin living their lives in this new land which was given to them by God. The conquest was complete; they had a place to call home now.
What would be important to them? How were they going to arrange their values and priorities? How would they handle their problems, challenges and temptations? What kind of neighbors would they be? How would they relate to one another, especially those with whom they disagreed or those who hurt them?
Joshua knew that whoever or whatever they gave their allegiance to would determine how they lived their lives. He also knew Yahweh, the one who created them and delivered them from bondage in Egypt, would bring the best out in them. He would enable them to make wise decisions, be strong and courageous, treat others the way they wanted to be treated and overcome life’s stiff challenges.
There was a problem, though. They could not serve this God and pay homage to the gods their ancestors worshiped before they had their encounter with Yahweh, gods created out of man’s need and crafted by his hands. Evidently, they had begun to do this, and Joshua sensed they were wavering in their commitment to keep the first commandment, to love and serve only the God who had been so good and faithful to them. So, Joshua issued this strong challenge and called for them to make a decision that day.
He did one other thing, too. He told them what he and his household were going to do. They would place all their confidence and trust in God. They would keep the first commandment, along with the other nine, reflecting the heart and mind of God by the way they lived.
How did the people respond? “Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us all along the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore, we also will serve the Lord, for He is our God” Joshua 24:16-18.
Once again, Joshua reminded them that this decision meant they must turn away from all other gods, which would not be easy. Well-meaning neighbors would tell them if they did not bow to those man-made gods, harm would come to them or prosperity would elude them. They assured Joshua they would be faithful, however.
“The Lord our God we will serve, and Him we will obey,” they replied. So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.
What is it time for you to do today? Do you need to evaluate your level of commitment to the Lord? Was there a time when you were more faithful to God, but you have let other things interfere.
How many gods do you have in your life now? Have you divided your allegiance, and as a result, your values and priorities have changed. Is it time to see where those changes are leading you, and what they are doing to you?
Are you saying and doing things you never thought you would? Have you let selfishness and greed consume you? Have you neglected your family and your health? Have you grown callous and cold? Do you stay upset and angry? Are you restless and worried?
Is it time to take an inventory of God’s goodness, ask Him to forgive you for not being faithful and draw close to Him again? Is it time to “put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the Lord, the God of Israel?”
Is it time to have a heart to heart talk with someone who has wavered in their level of commitment to God and is exhibiting unhealthy behavior? Is it time to express your concern and issue them a challenge similar to the one Joshua delivered to his people?
Is it time to tell someone who and what are important to you and set the right example for those who are watching? Never underestimate the power of your influence or the willingness of others to listen. Clearly state how you feel, and what you are going to do, as candidly as Joshua did.
Do you think this story had an impact upon Jesus? I certainly do. He took Joshua’s words to heart and never wavered in his faith. He kept the first commandment his entire life, and he loved God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength.
Even when he faced intimidation and hostility from the religious leaders for exposing their hypocrisy, he never wavered. He remained faithful all the way to the cross, in spite of an onslaught of temptation to turn away from God.
“Nevertheless,” he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the night he was betrayed, “not my will be done but yours.” How proud Joshua must have been when he heard about this.
This morning, would you ask the Lord to help you maintain this high level of commitment and withstand the temptation to divide your allegiance? I assure you he will.