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Choices: Whom Do You Serve?

Text: Joshua 24:14-16

Dr. Alex Tang

 Summary

Life is about making choices. There is only one true God. But you can choose to serve the One true God who offers you freedom. Or you can choose to serve other ‘gods’ that keeps you in bondage.

Text

14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.  15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served 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.

1.      Life is about Making Choices

1.1              Peter Parker in Spider-Man 2

Spider- Man 2, the movie is one of the summer blockbusters of 2004. In a way, spider-man, conceived by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1961 is the antithesis of a hero. He is Peter Parker, a teenager who was bitten by a radioactive spider gain fantastic powers like ability to climb to walls, strong webbing's that shot out of his wrists, agility and strength of 10 men. Yet Spider-Man/Peter Parker is driven by guilt and self-doubt. He blames himself for the death of his Uncle Ben because he failed to stop the robber who shot him. He wants to do the right thing, but is not always sure what that is. He is constantly forced to choose between helping others and helping himself. In Spider-man 2, Peter Parker is struggling to make a choice – to remain as spider-man and reject the love of his childhood sweetheart, Mary Jane because as spider-man, he will have many enemies and will put Mary Jane’s life in danger or to give up being spider-man and live life as a ‘normal’ man with the woman he loves. The movies poster shows spider-man/Peter Parker at the top of the city looking down and holding his mask. It was titled ‘choice’. Spider-man reminds me of the Christian life. Out of the blue, he was given superpowers when he was accidentally bitten by a radioactive spider-man. We too are given ‘super power’ when we are born again and receive the Holy Spirit. Like Peter Parker, we too have to make a choice- to live a new life in Christ who means we have to sacrifice some things or to live life as ‘normal’ not using the gifts God has bestowed on us. The elder Parkers often give good advice. In the first movie, Uncle Ben teaches Peter that with great power comes great responsibility. In Spider-Man 2 Aunt May teaches Peter that sometimes, to do what is right, we must give up what we want the most, even our dreams.

 

1.2              Jesus in Gethsemane

      Jesus too has to struggle with choices. Jesus' life on earth is not easy. We then to think of Jesus being God and knowing everything so it is a matter of following what has already lay out by His Father. But if we believe that Jesus is fully God and fully human, then we must also believes at Jesus, when he walks on earth has to struggle with making decisions, like we do. One good example is in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus knows what he needs to do but he also knows what it will pain him- the pain, the humiliation and worst of all, separation from God. Jesus could have made the decision to walk away from it all, marry a pretty wife, have children and a family and settled down as a carpenter in some small town. Life could have been simpler and less painful. Life is full of choices.

 

1.3              Joshua at Shechem

In our text today, Joshua has gathered his people at Shechem. They have completed the first phase of their conquest of Canaan, the Promised Land.  They have seen victories after victories. They have captured rich cities and acquired much riches and land. The times of warfare is almost over and they are about to settle in the land they have conquered. Yet it is interesting that Joshua takes this time to again ask the people of Israel to make a choice.

 

2.      Text Exposition on Joshua 24:1-16

2.1              The God of Israel

God was identified as the Author of the covenant and Israel as the people (vv. 1-2a). Following this preamble is the historical prologue (vv. 2b-13) in which Yahweh reviewed His past blessings on His subjects. He brought them out of Ur of the Chaldees (vv. 2b-4), out of Egypt (vv. 5-7), and into Canaan (vv. 8-13). It was God who spoke in this recapitulation of Israel’s history; 18 times the personal pronoun ”I“ is used: I took . . . I gave . . . I assigned . . . I sent . . . I afflicted . . . I brought . . . I delivered, etc. Like a Hittite king reviewing the benevolent acts he had performed for his vassal subjects, God reviewed the marvelous deeds He had performed for Israel’s benefit. Any greatness Israel achieved was not by her effort but through God’s grace and enablement. From first to last Israel’s conquests, deliverances, and prosperity were because of God’s good mercies and were not of their own making.

 

2.2              Choose who to serve, not choosing God

The main point here is not choosing which god. It is already assumed that the listeners know who the God of Israel and their God is. The question here for the renewal of the covenant is which God or gods do they choose to follow. Here there is no coercion. People are given the choice. Whom do you choose to serve?

 

3.      Who do You Choose to Serve?

3.1              A Decision Point, your Shechem

Joshua at Shechem. Shechem, a few miles northwest of Shiloh, was where Abraham first received the promise that God would give his seed the land of Canaan. Abraham responded by building an altar to demonstrate his faith in the one true God (Gen. 12:6-7). Jacob too stopped at Shechem on his return from Paddan Aram and buried there the idols his family had brought with them (Gen. 35:4). After the Israelites completed the first phase of the conquest of Canaan they journeyed to Shechem where Joshua built an altar to Yahweh, inscribed the Law of God on stone pillars, and reviewed these laws for all the people (Josh. 8:30-35). Joshua had good reason, therefore, to convene the Israelites at this location. Certainly the stones on which the Law had been written were still standing, vivid reminders of that significant event. From this moment on, that beautiful valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim would be associated with this poignant farewell scene as their honored leader spoke to them for the last time.

 

3.2              Choose gods of Egypt and Beyond (Mammon) or Amorites (Self-gratification)

(v.15a)  But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.

(a)        Beyond the River

·        Beyond the river often refers to Egypt, the river being the river Jordan. At that period, Egypt was the richest and most powerful nation on earth. A land flowing with milk and honey.  A very wealthy place. Egypt is often associated with Mammon or Money. Jesus mentioned Money as a powerful contender for idolatry which is the worship of false gods.

      Matt 6:24

 "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

The Bible talks more about money than any other subject other that the worship of God. That is because money can be a god and people can chose to serve money. Common phrases we hear are:

·         'Time is money' - meaning that time is more valuable than anything else. We spend 24 hours a day making money and it is all right.

·        'Money makes the world goes round' - money solves everything. Having money is everything. You can buy everything with money- houses, cars, justice and even love.

·        'He who dies with the most toys wins' - hoarding and accumulation of things.

·        'What is you have is who you are' - if you have money you are a somebody, if not, you are a nobody. In yesterday's paper, the BMW advertisement about owning a 5 series 'Make a statement this weekend.'

The Chinese are very pragmatic and open about this. They have their god of prosperity which they welcome every new year.

I am not saying earning and making money is bad. We need money to survive in this world. But what I am saying is that the hunger for more money such that money becomes a god we worship and serve is bad. You don't think we worship money?  Think of the temples of money god- the banks and the stockmarkets.  And the money god is a very demanding god. It makes you lust for more money and gets you the good feeling when you are rich. So you are willing to offer the sacrifices demanded by this god- your time, your talents, your spouses, your children and your souls.

And the change of worship from God and money can be very subtle, so subtle that many Christians are not aware of it. When I graduated from medical school and started working for the government as a houseman, I was paid a princely sum of RM 745.00 per month! That's after 6 years of medical school. I gave my first pay cheque to the Lord as my first fruits. It was no great deal. But as I begin to earn more, I find it harder and harder to give. Money has begun to have a subtle hold on me. The more I earn, the harder it is to give. And I also find that when my spiritual life is not going well, when I am harboring some unconfessed sins, to is even harder to give. Even Christians can choose to serve Mammon.

 

(b)        Gods of the Amorites

The gods of the Amorites are Ba'al and Ashtoreth. The god and goddess of fertility. Their worship services, they often end with orgies. It is a worship of self and self -gratification.

2 Timothy 3:11-5

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-- having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.

 

The language of the god of self-gratification or lover of self are:

 'look out for  number one',

 ' it is okay as long as you don't get caught',

 'I want sex with commitment',

'use people to get what you want',

 'We will be better if we are_______'( fill in the blanks -slimmer, taller, better looking, younger looking etc. The slimming and diet plans industry is a billion dollars industry. A friend of mine is in the Anti-Ageing Society.

 

In the end, they will discover that it is an illusion. At the end of the day, after all the parties and drinking and food, they still feel emptiness. They grow old. Wrinkles come in spite of the biotox injections. Their bodies' age not matter what they do.

3.3              Choose Yahweh who gives freedom

(v.14)  “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.

            (v.15b) But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

 

      (a)        fear God


Sir John Franklin was the greatest explorer of the Arctic, but his greatest discovery was God Himself--the omnipresent, majestic God of Creation who is everywhere, knows everything, and works with omnipotent power. He knows our thoughts and searches our hearts, though He himself is unsearchable. After receiving no word from an icy Arctic expedition, two skeletons were discovered lying beside a Bible. Underlined were these words: "If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me" (Psalm 139:9-10). The 'fear' of the Lord is the awareness of the greatness of our God.

 

      (b)        throw away all other gods

Choosing to serve God also means you have to throw away other gods. A pastor friend in Cheras was sharing with me about how one man accepted Christ as his Lord and Saviour. Immediately he wanted to get rid of all the idols he have in his house. They have to get a small lorry to carry all his idols to the dumpsite. It was estimated his idols alone cost RM $50,000.00! It was a large amount of money but this brother wanted to get rid of it immediately. He did not want these idols in his house anymore.

So we have to get rid of the worship of idol of money and  idol of the self . These are false god. This does not mean that God wants us not to use money or look after ourselves. It means that money and our bodies serve us, inside of us serving them.

 

      (c)        serve Him with all faithfulness

We choose to serve Him. Like the covenant the Israelites makes with God, or choices to serve God have to be renewed often. It is so easy to slip into worship of money or self because we live in a world where many other worship these gods.

Daniel 1:8

 But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.

So like Daniel, we have to take a conscious decision to serve God.

 

4.      Closing Thots

Life is about making choices. There is only one true God. But you can choose to serve the One true God who offers you freedom. Or you can choose to serve other ‘gods’ that keeps you in bondage.

 

                                                                                                      Soli Deo Gloria

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