Joshua 24:1–2a, 14–18
Joshua 24:1-2 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel. And they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.
… 14 “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” 16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, 17 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. 18 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.”
“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” Joshua proclaimed (v 15). These words may be familiar. We put them on tastefully done wooden plaques and perhaps mount them near our front door. Then there are the posters, stickers, decals, bumper stickers, and more. We want everyone to know that we are Christians and fear, love, and trust in God above all things. And so did the people of Israel. “Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God,” they said (v 18).
Not so fast, Joshua told the people. “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God” (24:19). God requires nothing less than service with our whole heart and faithfulness that does not falter. The people honored their vow for a while, but soon enough they began to worship other gods.
Whether or not we have it posted in our entryway, I’m sure we’d all like to make Joshua’s vow our own. As for us and our houses, we’d all like to serve the Lord. But how can we? As sinful as we are, just as sinful as Israel was,
How Can We Keep Our Vow to Serve the Lord? In the midst of unrighteousness, where our eyes and ears are continually being infiltrated with evil words in the media and entertainment industry, with evil images in the advertising industry and shopping malls, and evil temptations from our friends and associates and even our own fleshly lust, how can we keep our vow to serve the Lord? In a world that is hostile to Christianity and to the Church of Christ and disdains us, insult us, and even at times physically attack us, how can we keep our vow to serve the Lord?
Like Israel, we serve the Lord . . . and many other gods as well (vv 1–2a, 14–15). Yes, we’re ready to commit ourselves to the Lord. We know that God the Father sent his Son to die and rise again to save us. We know Jesus freed us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. We know that the Holy Spirit came to dwell in us in Baptism and make us God’s sons and daughters. We love God because he first loved us. We are moved to commit our lives to God. In our confirmation vows we explicitly state that we will suffer anything, even death rather than to turn away from Christ.
So why not say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord”? We can, and we should. After all that is what we promise in our baptismal vows and confirmation vows.
Yet the keeping of such a vow is not as easy as it seems, because we serve other things too. We have other gods besides the Lord. Like the father of Abraham living in Mesopotamia, beyond the river, who served other gods, we are living in this world full of idols and are influenced by other gods whom we serve daily. To be sure, we don’t go to Buddhist temples or bow down to a Hindu god or two. Yet there are things we rely on, things to which we devote our time and energy, things we trust along with God and His Word. Things like education, good jobs, retirement funds, good looks, popularity, and politicians. Oh, if we could just find the right candidates they would fix all our problems, create jobs, stop all the immorality, and lead us back to becoming a God fearing nation.
The world around us today hates Christ and threatens us Christians so we often rely on our own wisdom, or seek refuge in courts, or try to enact legislation to protect and defend us. We seek remedies in court, we appeal to the constitution, but in the end the attacks on our faith get more and more severe. But God tells us in the Psalms: “The king is not saved by a mighty army; a warrior is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.” (Psalm 33:16-17)
In the end, anything you trust in during times of trouble is your god. Martin Luther explains our gods this way: “For these two belong together, faith and God. Now, I say that whatever you set your heart on and put your trust in is truly your god” (LC I 3).
God wants us to trust in him alone, “We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.” But we also rely on other things, those “gods beyond the River or in Egypt” (v 14). Some trust in wealth, others in a drug or drink, others in relationships, being popular or well respected. The truth is that all of us trust in things in this life. The problem is, even the best and most reliable things in this world will sooner or later fail us or pass away. Even the largest fortunes can evaporate in a stock-market crash or through spending or a natural disaster. Drugs and alcohol make you feel good and forget your troubles, but sooner or later they will exact their price. Spouses and families support us in times of trouble, but they also become ill and die. Fame and popularity very rarely last long.
All are poor choices to trust, poor choices to serve. We break our vow to the Lord for these?!
But we can serve the Lord, because Jesus came not to be served but to serve. Only God can be trusted not to fail when we need him the most. God has made a covenant with us; a solemn promise; has obligated himself to us to be faithful to us. Though it is possible for us to be unfaithful to God, it is not possible for God to break his oath and promise to us. Yet God is often the refuge of last resort for us. We wait until all our other support systems fail before we cry out to him, “Lord, have mercy.” Thank God, he does have mercy! Thank God he will not forget his covenant with us.
Even though God the Son deserves our complete devotion, he set aside his glory for our sake. Sent to earth by God the Father, he was born of the Virgin Mary and became one of us. He lived a perfect life of service to God and to his neighbor, which God credits to us. Jesus served us by giving his life as a ransom for the many. He carried our sins to the cross, where he paid the penalty of our unfaithfulness to God. By his death and resurrection, Jesus earned forgiveness of sins for us. Even though we were unfaithful to God, God was faithful to us. Now we have life and salvation in his name.
So now, because Jesus served us, we can serve the Lord. When we are tempted to depend on earthly things more than on God, the Holy Spirit reminds us through the Word and Sacraments where our true security lies. When we consider all that God has done for us, we respond naturally to praise God for his love, mercies, and blessings. When we then fear, trust, and love God above all things, we want to help others around us.
Now, when “other helpers fail and comforts flee” (LSB 878:1), we are not destroyed because our trust is truly in God. While we are shaken, God is there to help us. And, when the time is right, Jesus will take us home to be with him forever.
So, we can boldly say with Joshua and the people of Israel, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” It will not be easy, for we still are inclined to trust in things that cannot bear the weight. But we have strength from the God who served us and gave his life for us. With that kind of help, we cannot fail. Amen.