Topic: Default Passage: Joshua 23:1–23:8
Well, we are almost done with this book! Lord willing, we will finish next week, then spend one Sunday in Revelation, and then do something unique. We are going to have a five week series on our core values. We are going to spend five weeks looking at who OGC is and where we sense God leading us. I’m excited about this series and I hope that it will be both informative and encouraging.
Today, though, we are in Joshua 23 where we are reminded once again that Joshua is old. This chapter is about 20 years after the last chapter and Joshua is well over 100 years old at this point. So, Joshua summons all of Israel together to give a farewell speech. These aren’t his very last words, but it is very much a type of final marching orders.
They have had 20 years in the land now, Joshua knows he is not long for this world and he feels like it is not only timely, but necessary that he say something . What does he say? Stay focused! Don’t lose perspective in this season of peace and prosperity.
I don’t know what you would look for in a good farewell speech. I googled farewell speeches this week and there are tons of resources out there and some very strong opinions about what you should do if you ever give a farewell speech. If you think about it, this farewell speech isn’t that different than a sermon, so I started to think about what I would want to hear in a sermon.
I don’t get to listen to sermons on Sundays the way you do, so I enjoy listening to sermons by other people during the week. In years past I have had seasons of listening to sermons because they were funny or because I as going to learn some completely new theological concept that I had never considered before. Basically, if you were funny and could work in infralapsarianism, you had me. Funny and deep are not necessarily bad things, but those aren’t the things I look for anymore.
My life feels complicated. The more people I have in my life that love and care for, the more fears creep in. I constantly feel like I could be doing more for my wife, I constantly feel like I’m screwing up my kids, and I always feel like I could have spent that extra hour on the sermon. So, now, I don’t want a sermon that is primarily funny or even deeply theological, I want a sermon that is helpful to my heart. I want a sermon that brings the truths about our God to bear in the parts of my soul where I need them the most.
And the more I put myself in the place of the Israelites, the more this sermon of Joshua’s does that. He keeps my eyes where they need to be and my heart where it wants to be. Joshua’s message has something for the anxious, the depressed, the scared, and the lonely. In this sermon, Joshua tells us how to stay the course by stewarding what you have seen, staying faithful to what you are commanded, and knowing what lies ahead.
- Steward what you have seen 1-5
Imagine all the who’s who of Israel gathering here. You have Caleb, Phinehas, and Rahab. All much older than we would have remembered them. It’s like Israel’s version of Iron Man’s funeral. Of course now without Spiderman, but I digress. They gather around and Joshua says this: “I am now old and well advanced in years. 3 And you have seen all that the LORD your God has done to all these nations for your sake, hfor it is the LORD your God who has fought for you. - Joshua 23:1-3
Did you hear that? You have seen all that the LORD your God has done. You have seen something special and you have a responsibility to steward that gift. So, what exactly have they seen? Verse four says that they have seen victories over cities, the capture and allotment of the land, and then the settlement of that land. They have seen the Jordan dry up on command, the walls of Jericho fall down, and nature fight on their side.
This land is as good as theirs if they will continue to follow God. And that’s the problem. We know that three chapters later in Judges chapter two, just one generation later, they have not been faithful. It makes me think that Joshua is beginning to see the people drift and that is why he is calling them together and asking them to remember all they have seen.
Why is it important that they remember what they saw? Well, there seems to be three components here. First, their own faith depends on it. A really important component to the Christian faith is that it is rooted in things that really happened. All the things we read in this book really happened. Jesus really was born of a virgin, really lived a sinless life, and really came back from the dead. It’s not only knowledge, but there are real things that we need to know and remember.
This knowledge is often accompanied by deep feelings, but our faith is not based on and driven by feelings. They saw something happen, they heard God say some things and their faith and faithfulness depends on remembering and embracing those truths.
So much of our culture wants to bypass fact for feeling and we do this in different ways. Sometimes we do this by doing what we want to do. We want to pursue the things in this life that we think will make us feel happier like money, sex, and power (COMFORT) not realizing that our feelings won’t lead to the feeling we truly seek.
Or, we can try to bypass fact for feeling in the way we do church. We can think, “Well, I really liked the feeling I had at that concert, why don’t we skip the heavy lifting and get right to the feeling by having similar music, lights, and lazers?” If we do that we can really give them the feeling that something is happening when it really might not be.
Here’s a great example. I have some friends who went to a certain church and they came back and told one of my close friends that the Holy Spirit was really present at that church. So my friend said, “That’s great! How do you know that?” They said, “Because everyone had their hands up.” And we’re all great with hands up, so my friend asked, “At what point did all the hands go up?” “Well, when the worship guy said to raise our hands.” Ok, now this is feeling less like the Holy Spirit and more like the worship guy’s doing.
We have to see that what we believe is fundamentally rooted in truth.
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. - John 4:24
Our faith is based on real events that we have seen and experienced and that can and should produce great emotion! Now, if we have all the right answers, but no emotion or joy, we have gone too far the other way. The truth should get us to a place where our feelings really want to be. Bypass the truth and we miss it all.
The second reason it’s important for them to remember what they saw is that future generations depend on it. Judges 2 records this in the same breath as Joshua’s death. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD or the work that he had done for Israel. - Judges 2:10b God has designed that this faith of ours, the news of a God who is working to redeem this fallen world would pass from one generation to another. This is why Psalm 78 says, known, that our things that we have heard andmhide them from their children, lfathers have told us. 4 We will not
Judges two doesn’t say that the problem was a shortage of perfect parents. It doesn’t say that the problem was that they ate food that wasn’t organic or that they didn’t go to the best schools. It doesn’t even say that the problem was that they didn’t have family worship every night with well behaved kids. The problem is that they didn’t know and believe what the Lord had done! Our job is to remember what the Lord has done and to pass that to the next generation whether that be our children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces or kids in this church.
It’s worth noting that we can be faithful to remember what we have seen, but sometimes the next generation doesn’t hold onto it. That could very well be what happens here. But, the next generation can’t have a God they do now hear about, so we do our best make Him known and trust that is God who opens eyes and changes hearts.
And for what it’s worth, there are people here working hard to make sure OGC can come alongside you in that task from the youngest ages all the way through high school and you’ll be hearing more about that in the coming weeks.
Third, the Israelites are to steward what they have seen so that others might also see. God told Abraham that through him the nations would be blessed and we are seeing this happen as people like Rahab and the Gibeonites are brought into the fold of God’s people. And we know that this is just the beginning as long as the people of God steward what we have seen.
So, what have we seen? I mean, no one here actually saw the Jordan River dry up or the walls of Jericho fall. But, we have seen even more than they have. We have the full counsel of the Word of God here. We have seen so much more! We have seen so much more! We have seen the better Joshua, Jesus come to bring us into the better promised land. We have seen our hearts completely changed by the Holy Spirit as a downpayment, a deposit of what is to come. And we are to steward what we have seen because we desire the Kingdom of God to grow in this city.
Second, Joshua says they must remain faithful to what God has commanded.
- Remain Faithful to what God has commanded 6-13
We talked about this last week, but the first 21 chapters of the book focused on God’s faithfulness to Israel and in the last three chapters there is this noticeable shift from God’s faithfulness to Israel to Israel’s faithfulness to God. And, particularly, faithfulness in the realm of love fueled obedience.
In what way is Israel called to be obedient? Two ways. First, they are called to be
neither to the right hand nor to the left, - Joshua 23:6 You may remember that God gave this command to Joshua in chapter one and now Joshua is expanding that command to all of Israel AND to all of us.
If you think about it, not turning to the left of right is a big command. It’s especially big when you think about the culture we live in. I talk to people regularly who like certain parts of the Bible like loving one another and taking care of the poor, but they really don’t like other parts. Now, to be fair, sometimes they just don’t understand the Bible. Sometimes they say, “Well, I can’t follow a God who promotes genocide, slavery, and the suppression of women.” If someone says that, they just don’t understand the Bible because none of those things are true. And, if you’re new, because we are in Joshua, we have an article on our website addressing the genocide issue.
But, sometimes people rightly understand the Bible’s teaching on sexual ethics, money, and the exclusivity of Jesus and decide that’s just not a part of the Bible they want to follow. Well, that’s turning to the left and right. Why is it that God doesn’t want us to turn to the left or right? Because He has designed us and knows the circumstances in which
we thrive. The more we stray to the left and right, the farther we get from the environment our God has made for us to flourish.
There are a few ways I can drill down on this, but instead of going the guilt route, I wan to give you some signs you’re doing it well. Some signs that, if they are true of you, you are probably not straying to the left or right. If you care about the Bible, if you spend time reading the Bible, if you find the Bible instructing the things you do and the way you pray, if you are talking to other people about the Bible, if you find the Bible challenging because you are really wrestling with it, if you find the Bible drawing you into God’s presence, you would likely be what Joshua would call an obedient person.
Now, there is an even more specific way the Israelites are to be obedient and we see it in verses 7 and 8: that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you oor make mention of the names of their gods por swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, 8 qbut you shall cling to the LORD your God just as you have done to this day - Joshua 23:7,8
They aren’t to mix with any of the other nations. They certainly aren’t to marry them. And this verse has been misapplied in so many ways. I had an older man once point to this verse as to why white people shouldn’t marry black people. That’s what he had grown up hearing in church. Nothing about what Joshua is saying has anything to do with race. Rahab was a different race and she married in. Moses married outside of his race. It has nothing to with race and everything to do with the heart. These other people serve other Gods and Joshua knows (and maybe even sees it already happening) that marriage to these other people can pull you away from your devotion to God and your ability to pass that devotion on to the next generation. If we learn anything from the book of Judges it is that the Israel’s main threat wasn’t external, it was internal.
There are two types of people I want to speak clearly to this morning. First, if you are not married, this is the reason the Bible calls you to date and marry believers. This is what Paul calls being equally yoked. Stay obedient to the Word of God and God will bless you in your waiting. Second, if you are here today and you are married to someone who doesn’t believe. I want you to know that the person you are married to, if they are faithful, is 100% the person God wants you to be married to and you may be the instrument that God uses to reach your spouse. Stay obedient to the Word, love your spouse, and hear the words of God: For how do you know, wife, kwhether you will save your husband? Or how do you know,husband, whether you will save your wife? - 1 Corinthians 7:16.
Obedience, though, should be accompanied w/ joy. Remember, I said love fueled obedience. We see this clearly in verse 11: Be very careful, therefore, to love the LORD your God. - Joshua 23:11
I know plenty of people who are obedient to the Bible, but lack any kind of joy or love. As we take elder nominations this month, we aren’t just looking for someone who knows the Bible and seems to be obedient to it, we are looking for men who exude joy and love in their obedience.
I had a friend in college who we would have called ‘the Christian guy’ in our circle of friends. He clearly had a different ethic, a different North Star than the rest of us. Then, I became a Christian and some time later he pulled me aside, I thought to encourage me in some way, but instead he said, “I just want you to know how much you frustrate me. I don’t know how, but you seem to have overnight found what I have worked so hard for.” His obedience had no love. What Joshua is pushing us toward is love fueled obedience.
How is it that obedience becomes joyful? For obedience to become joyful, it has to play out in the context of a relationship. Obedience to a book isn’t going to produce love. But, loving someone will produce obedience. I love my wife so I am obedient to put boundaries in my life that both communicate and fuel that love. Obedience doesn’t produce love, love produces obedience and in turn that obedience reinforces the relationship and produces more love.
And the only way we can have a relationship with the God who created us is through Jesus Christ. Through His atoning death on the cross that heals our relationship with God and through His Holy Spirit who becomes a constant conduit of His love for us. Only in Jesus Christ can we have a relationship with God and experience the kind of love fueled obedience that Joshua is talking about.
Whether we have this relationship or not changes everything about what we do today and where we go tomorrow. This takes me to my last point.
III. Know what lies ahead 14-16
We live in a broken world. It seems like the older or sicker you are, the more you feel this. If you are under forty and have never been seriously ill, maybe you don’t feel the brokenness and frailty of this world, but you will. See, I turned forty this month, so now I’m full of wisdom and perspective that I lacked back in July. One of the pastoral interns said, “I’m so glad I can tell people my pastor is in his forties now. I feel like people will take us more seriously.” There is this point, maybe in old age, maybe in a bad diagnosis, maybe in the loss of a loved one, where you begin to see that this world will not give you what you want it to. Only the next one will.
It’s clear to me here that Joshua knows what is on his immediate horizon. He says in verse 14 that he knows he is about to die, but he doesn’t seem bothered by it. Listen to
pass for you; not one of them has failed. - Joshua 23:14
Joshua knows what lies ahead for him. He knows that he has a relationship with God who keeps His promises and covenants and he knows good awaits him on the other side of this life. But, it’s also clear that there are two options on the other side of this life and both are not good. Look at the next verse: 15 But just as all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the
covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you.” - Joshua 23:15,16
And that’s the end of his farewell speech. Clearly he never took preaching lab in seminary, because everyone knows you’re supposed to end a message with hope, but Joshua is old and he isn’t going to mince words or waste time. And that’s the end of his farewell speech. What lies ahead of everyone depends on whether or not you have a relationship with God. What awaits all of us after death is justice. If we have no covenant relationship, we get the justice we deserve which means everlasting punishment. But, if we have a covenant relationship, then we get the justice that Jesus deserves which means everlasting acceptance and love as a child of the One True God.
This is not a popular message in our culture, but if we are going to be faithful to what we are commanded to do (remember that was the second point), then we are called to know what lies ahead and to be able to explain this to other people. Death awaits us all, but what lies on the other side of that door depends on your relationship with God.
This is how John Piper describes what it looks like for a believer to die. Imagine you are in a small cabin in the woods. The door to that cabin is death and you moving inch by inch closer to it. As it opens, there is a huge, ravenous wolf with bare fangs and furious eyes. At first, you are terrified. But then the Holy Spirit opens your eyes, and behind the wolf you see Jesus, shining like the sun. He is standing with his arm extended to you and His face smiling. And hanging tight in his other hand there is a brass chain that leads to an iron collar on the wolf’s neck. You hesitate for a moment. But the Holy Spirit gives you strength, and as you put your foot in the threshold and the mouth of the wolf opens, Jesus flings him out of the way with one mighty jerk. The wolf is nowhere to be seen, and you enter into the presence of the Lord.
Death is an armed doorway if Jesus is not your Savior because we have no relationship with God without Him. But, if we do, then death is a doorway to glory.
What message does your heart need to hear? Our heart won’t benefit from messages that are primarily funny or messages that are primarily smart, our hearts will benefit from messages that are true and faithful and I think that is what Joshua gives us. Wise advice from an old man who knew God well. A message that has relevance to the scared, the hurting, the anxious, the depressed, and lonely.
Joshua is telling us that if we keep our eyes on Jesus where they need to be our hearts will have what they truly long for.