Text: Joshua 24
Anyone who is a parent can remember the time when they set out with the family on a long car journey. You have travelled no more than five minutes, when a little voice starts singing out from the back of the car, “Are we nearly there?”
In the earlier chapters of the Book of Joshua we have seen the Israelites camped over on the east of the river Jordan. We have watched them send spies into Jericho, and we have observed Rahab and her family being rescued from the destruction that was to befall the city of Jericho. The remainder of the book records further victories over the Canaanites and settlement in the Promised Land. The Israelites must have thought that they were ‘nearly there’. But for them this was not the end; it was not even the beginning of the end; it was, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Thus it is that, in chapter 24, we find Joshua at the close of his long life summoning the people together and speaking to them from God, encouraging them to continue faithfully the journey that they have begun.
These words of the Lord through Joshua speak to us today, if we will but listen. I suppose that most of us here are professing Christians. Baptised, church-going, sermon-hearing, communion-receiving, followers of Jesus Christ. But on what grounds do we who profess to have begun the journey of faith hope to complete it safely?
There are two things in particular that Joshua urges the Israelites to keep on keeping on.
1. Remember. Verses 2-13 contain one of those mini-history lessons that we find so often in Scripture. Here, the tape is rewound back to the beginning of the Israelites’ journey, and then we have, in rapid review, the call of Abraham, the sojourn in Egypt, the Exodus under Moses, the crossing of the Jordan river, the conquest of Jericho and so on. The Israelites might well respond, “Yes, yes, we know all that, but what’s your point?” The point is very clear.
The point is that the Israelites are where they are today entirely through the grace of God. Josh 24:13 “I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.”
Moroever, what God has been is a guarantee of what he will be.
Eph 2:8f. Prompts us to look back, and to remember, it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.
Phil 1:6 – Urges us to look forward, and to remember that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
‘Through many dangers, toils and snare we have already come. ‘Twas grace that led us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.’
Friends, our gathering at the Lord’s Table is an excellent opportunity to strengthen our confidence for the future. As we consider the Saviour’s body, broken for us; as we marvel at his blood, shed for us, think: ‘This is what God is like. That is what he has done for us. He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’
Remember. Now for the 2nd thing that our passage urges.
2. Choose, verses 14-24. “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,” v15. Notice how ironically Joshua puts it, v15: choose between your old idols and your new idols. Joshua is well aware of the temptation to forsake the Lord and serve other gods. Verse 19, “You are not able to serve the Lord.”
(a) This must be an exclusive choice. Throw away your idols, v14. We usually think of an idol as a religious figure carved out of wood or stone, perhaps in some primitive tribe far removed from civilization. According to this definition, few if any of us are in much danger of lapsing into idolatry. But we ought to think rather of an idol as any person or any thing that we love, honour or exalt more than God. Accordingly, most if not all of us need to take great care to keep ourselves from idols (1 Jn 5:21). In addition to idolising false gods and false Christs we can idolise our children, our work, our hobbies, our possessions, our heroes, our selves. What is it that you love most? Would you be willing to give it up if Jesus asked you? If your answer is no then that thing has taken God’s place in your heart and has become an idol.
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be,
Help me to tear it from thy throne,
And worship only thee.
Throw away your idols. Only remember, “he is no fool who throws away that which he cannot keep in order to gain that which he cannot lose.”
(b) This is a hugely rewarding choice. I said earlier that the book of Joshua records an unfinished journey. Where is this journey heading to? Scripture often refers to the destination ‘rest’. ‘Rest’ is what God himself entered into when he finished his work of creation. ‘Rest’ is what God intends to share with his faithful people. ‘Rest’ of a temporary and temporal kind was what the Israelites entered into in the days of Joshua. ‘Rest’ of a permanent and eternal kind is what Jesus is bringing us into. This is precisely the argument of Hebrews 4:8-9, For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.
Mt 11:28ff “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
A service of Holy Communion provides us with a great opportunity to focus our thoughts on our journey together. For the Lord’s Supper, in addition to being a great reminder of what God has already achieved for us in Christ, is also the place where we re-commit ourselves to him, and where we receive strength and nourishment for our journey home, and a experience a foretaste of our rest to come. Here is a place of remembrance, a place of communion, a place of fellowship, a place of nourishment, a place of anticipation, till he comes, till travelling days are done.
May God grant that we may all learn the lessons of his people of old. May God grant that we may enter into our everlasting rest, and grant us grace that we may “fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness.”