The Captain’s Last Sermon - Part Five
THEME: Remaining Faithful to the End
This week’s lessons describe Joshua’s last address to the Israelites, which emphasizes their need to determine to choose each and every day to serve the Lord.
Those were Israel’s three choices if they did not want to worship the Lord. Joshua says, "Make your choice. You’ve got the gods of Egypt, the gods of Babylon, the gods of Canaan, or the God of Israel. What will it be? You have to choose. You have to go on choosing. But as for me and my house, we are going to choose God." Now the people made their choice, which seemed easy. After all, God had given them the land. Why shouldn't they worship God? That's the way they reply in verses 16-18: “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our forefathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”
Joshua perhaps thought that their answer came back a little too quickly. Maybe he thought to himself that although they think it’s easy to serve God and that they’re quite capable of serving God, the fact is that they do not know the depravity of their own heart. Nor do they really know the holiness of the God they’re called to serve. He answered them, “No, you’re not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God. He’s a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, He’ll turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you after He has been good to you.”
The people responded by saying, "Oh, no, we’ll serve the Lord."
And Joshua said, "Well, you’re witnesses against yourselves that you’ve chosen to serve the Lord."
And they say, "Yes, we’re witnesses."
So Joshua makes his appeal one more time. You see, they've said they would serve the Lord, but they haven’t said they would throw away their idols. And so he said, "Alright then, throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel." And all the people said to Joshua, “Yes, we will serve the Lord our God and obey Him.” So Joshua took them at their spoken word. He wrote up a covenant for the people—that is, an agreement that they were going to serve God. And then he put up a stone, a memorial. He said, "This is a witness. When I’m gone, that stone is going to be here; and when you see that stone, you’re going to remember that these are the things that you said."
And with that, Joshua passes from the scene. As a man of God, he had fought the good fight, he had finished the race, and he had kept the faith. Consequently there was laid up before him a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, would give him at the day of His appearing, and not to him only but also to all those who love God and look for His appearing (see 2 Timothy 4:7-8). Joshua’s sermon made an impact upon the people up to a point. We’re told in verse 31, "Israel served the Lord throughout the entire lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel."
But if we turn a couple pages in our Bibles and go to the second chapter of Judges, we learn what happened after these leaders were gone. In a passage that follows immediately after a repetition of that very verse, we read, "After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel. And then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the people around them" (Judg. 2:10-12a).
You and I can’t guarantee the choices of the next generation. We can pray that it might serve the Lord wholeheartedly. We can urge faithfulness among those who are young and who are going to carry it on in the generation to come. But we cannot guarantee it. Joshua couldn't guarantee it. Moses couldn't guarantee it. But my point is that this does not excuse us. We must live for God. We must make the choice. And we must go on choosing as long as we have breath because in this great battle to which we’re called, there is no truce. There is no ending until the Lord Jesus Christ Himself returns. And we pray that if we’re faithful, God, because He chooses to do so, will keep the future generations faithful too. And a true witness to God’s grace will not perish on the place that He assigned us to serve.
- After the people tell Joshua they are going to serve the Lord, what warning does Joshua give them?
- What did Israel then need to do as proof that they really were committed to serving the Lord?
- How was Joshua’s sermon received by the people, both in the short-term and in the long-term?
We are called to be faithful to the Lord in our own generation, which includes urging upon the next generation their own responsibility to be faithful in their Christian life. In light of this, what are we doing right now to fulfill our calling, or what do we need to start doing?