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Please turn in your Bibles to Joshua chapter 24, and follow along as I read v15.
“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 living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."
Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.
This is a true story. A young man in his mid-twenties drove a carload of friends to a concert. At the concert, they were serving alcoholic drinks. Now the young man knew that he was the designated driver, but everyone else was drinking, and finally they prevailed upon him to have one drink. Everyone said that was all right. After the concert, on the way home, the police stopped him for speeding. The car reeked of alcohol so the cop hauled the young man out and had him do some informal tests—walk a straight line, touch your nose with the tip of your finger, etc. Apparently these tests were indecisive. The cop said, You’ve got to go downtown and blow the breathalyzer.
So the young man’s girlfriend and all their friends had to hire taxi’s to take them home while he was hauled off to the police station. Turns out that you do not just run in and take the breathalyzer. You are put in the drunktank until someone decides to give you the test, and afterwards you are returned to the drunktank, until the test is evaluated and a decision is made.
The young man passed the breathalyzer test. Eventually the police began to feel some sympathy for him, and they dropped the speeding charge and set him free. So he did not get fined; He did not get points off his license. That is the good news. The bad news is that he got to spend several hours in jail, and then he got a lecture from his girl friend, and his girl friend’s parents, and his parents--Because he made a bad choice. He knew he was the designated driver. He knew he should not drink, but he did. Granted it was only one drink—still a bad choice.
But we all sometimes make bad choices. That first piece of Hershey bar cake so was good, I have got to have another. Or, I went to a mid-morning meeting and they had all kinds of pastries, and out of boredom, I ate several pastries. Or I know I ought to quit but I need a cigarette right now to calm my nerves. That is three bad decisions right there.
It’s amazing how easy it is to make bad decisions, and the consequences come back to haunt us. That is the problem with choices. There are always consequences.
This is what Mary Shelley was trying to tell us in her novel Frankenstein. Written in 1816, Frankenstein is the story of a young Swiss student who discovers the secret of animating lifeless matter. By assembling body parts, he creates a monster. This monster is rejected with horror by human society and then vows revenge on his creator.
There have been unnumbered adaptations, sequels, spin-offs, rip-offs, and spoofs of Mary Shelley’s novel. The name of "Frankenstein" has become associated with one of the world's most recognizable movie monsters. We all remember the old black and white films starring Boris Karloff as the creature, with outstretched arms, flat-topped head, and neck bolt. In the movies Frankenstein met Dracula, the Wolfman, and even Abbott and Costello. Many actors, other than Karloff, have played the creature: Charles Ogle, Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange, Christopher Lee, Robert De Niro—to name a few.
The monster is as for as most people get when it comes to Frankenstein, but Mary Shelly did not really write a horror story, to be shown on late night TV every Halloween. She wrote about choices and consequences. She wrote a parable about what happens when we in our arrogance make choices without considering consequences. The scientist, Victor Frankenstein, can conceive of constructing a creature, and he makes the choice to do so, without ever considering what will happen after the creature is constructed.
In Joshua 24:15, the old general calls upon us to make a choice and consider the consequences. Joshua is a man with an astonishing history. He was born in Egypt as a slave. As a young man he witnessed all the astonishing events of the Exodus. He saw the effects of the ten plagues on Egypt. He fled with the people out of Egypt. When Pharaoh sent his army after the fleeing slaves, and trapped them against the Red Sea, Joshua saw the sea opened. He fled with the Israelites across the opening, and when the Egyptian army followed, the sea closed over them and destroyed them all.
Joshua was with the Israelites when Moses led them down to Mount Sinai where they received the Law. By this time Joshua was recognized as the army commander. He led Israel in battle against the Amalekites. When Israel moved toward Canaan, he was one of the spies who went into the land. But that first attack on Canaan failed and Israel wandered in the desert for forty years. Moses and that generation that came of Egypt died in the desert. But Joshua did not die. He led the second generation in a new invasion of Canaan that was spectacularly successful.
With the lord’s help, he took Jericho. He defeated coalitions of kings that were arrayed against him. He swept into Canaan and established Israel so firmly in that land that it afterwards became not Canaan but Israel.
That, in brief, is the amazing life of Joshua. When we come down to Chapter 24, we have reached the end of that life. He is an old man. He has gathered the people together at Shechem for his farewell speech. He talks about how wonderfully God has worked to change their lives. He rehearses their history, much of which is his personal history. They were Egyptian slaves, now they are a people settled in their own land, with vineyards and crops and towns. This is what God has done.
Then he gives them a final charge and admonition. In v 14, he says, “Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the river, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD.”
Having recited the history of God’s actions, he exhorts them to reverence God, to be in awe of God’s holiness, to accept God’s authority over their lives, to live in the knowledge of the presence of the Lord. Furthermore, Joshua reminds them, and us, that the worship of God is a worship of “sincerity and truth.” We are to be earnest and serious about God. We are to be focused on God and worship God alone.
That is what the Israelites should be doing. But Joshua knows people. He is not a general for nothing. He knows what many in his audience are thinking. He knows that some would really rather worship the gods of the Canaanites who preceded them in the land, and others are attracted to the animal-headed gods of the Egyptians. Still others want to worship both the God of Israel and these other gods. They want to cover all bets so to speak. They want to worship at many altars so that they will not offend any god. From what Joshua says in v15, this last group may have been the largest. They would say that there is no choice to make. We will worship the God of Israel, and we will worship these other gods also, and everybody will be happy.
Joshua says No. You cannot do that. You have got make a choice. That prospect scares some folks. Some folks have “choicephobia.” They are afraid to make choices. They know choices have consequences. They avoid the consequences by not making a choice at all. But that also has consequences. Refusal to make a choice is itself a choice. It is a way of saying “no” without actually having to say “no.”
But Joshua is not having any of that. He says in v15, if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” Get off the fence, gather up your courage, make a decision.
Perhaps we see Joshua’s military background in this verse. I have often read that in battle--and this is true whether it involves a squad or a regiment--in battle to have any chance of success the leader must choose a plan, and then aggressively carry that plan out. You cannot choose several plans. There have been many generals who have tried to do that. They may have several options, and so they make compromises and come up with a plan that covers all the options, and does not cover any of them very well. Such plans are recipes for defeat.
Also, you cannot falter halfway through an operation and say, Oh, maybe this is a bad plan, maybe we should do something else. That is a sure recipe for disaster.
Joshua says, make your plan and carry it out. Either be for God or against God. Joshua makes it very clear that he has made his choice..."As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."
Notice Joshua includes his family in this declaration. He knows he has a responsibility to teach his children about God. Joshua is not like some, who plan on going to heaven themselves, but would have their children go to hell. Joshua knows that he is responsible for the religious education of his children.
That has not changed. Today, parents are still primarily responsible for the religious education of children. Now some parents might say, “We are not good teachers, we don’t know the Bible that well ourselves.” Ok, then send the kids to Sunday School. Come yourselves. That is an easy way to begin learning about the Bible. We cannot depend upon the public schools for any kind of religious education. Legally the schools cannot do that. So Sunday school is your best option for learning about the faith.
But let us return to Joshua. Notice the order in which he puts things. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” He first declares his own personal choice. Joshua is a leader. He leads by example. I will serve the Lord, and my example will encourage my family and those around me to serve the lord.
Notice that Joshua’s plan, Joshua’s choice, does not depend at all upon what the Israelites do. Joshua cares very much what they do. He wants them to serve the Lord as he does, but he is not going to alter his plan, no matter what they do.
Today many people around us, even most people around us, may choose not to serve the Lord. Christianity is in decline in the United States. Every year in the USA more old churches close their doors for the last time, than new churches open their doors. Every poll that is taken tells us that fewer people are attending church now than ten years ago.
Joshua says, So what! He says, when it comes to my religion, I do not believe in democracy. I do not care what the majority says. I have made my choice and I am going to stick by it.
You have got to love how positive Joshua is in this verse. “I will serve God.” This is a strong, straight-forward faith. Joshua looks you in the eye, and says, This is what I am going to do. There is no hatred in what he says. There is no malice. This is just saying what he believes in a very decisive and definite way.
This is the kind of faith we need today. We are so hesitant to speak lest we offend someone. We are so tolerant of all beliefs that people may wonder, with some justification, if we have any beliefs. We need some backbone in our faith. We need some of Joshua’s bluntness. We need to say, this is what we believe. If you do not like it, I am sorry, but this is what we believe.
The reason we need to be so straight-forward about our choice is the consequences of our choice. Most people today are sort of like Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelly’s novel. They take the path of least resistance. They make their choices and they construct a life, a creature, without ever considering the consequences.
They face Joshua’s choice. We all do. Choose God or choose the devil, and effectively they choose the devil because they never really think about it and never choose at all. Unfortunately, the consequences of this choice, or non-choice, are eternal.
The devil has a fate stored up for him. We read about that fate in Revelation 20:10, which says that “the devil … was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone … and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” That is where the devil is going to be, in eternal torment forever, and that is where those who worship the devil will be, in eternal torment forever. But those who worship God are not there. They are with God in the New Jerusalem—where there will be no more death and no more pain, where there will be no more sorrow and no more crying. So which choice do you prefer: the lake of fire or the New Jerusalem? Do you prefer to see eternity by the light of brimstone or by the light of the Lamb of God? That is a no-brainer. Choose God, choose the New Jerusalem. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 02/27/06