Joshua dabbed at the perspiration on his forehead.
They’re almost all here, Mr. Joshua Sir.
Joshua nodded from his seat behind a tree and took a sip of water. It was an important day. Joshua, the general of the Israelite army, was about to make a speech to tens of thousands of Israelites. They had gathered in Shechem – a place centrally located to the entire land of what – until recently – had been called Canaan.
Now it was known as Israel.
Joshua smiled at the thought. This is exactly what God had said. Over 500 years ago, God had promised this land would be theirs. God had said that he would give it to them. God had promised that he was going to do some awesome things to get them to this point even when they were slaves in Egypt!
And God had.
When they faced a roaring flood stage river and were unable to cross, God was with them…and split the waters in half for them to cross.
When they faced a gigantic 12-foot-thick wall surrounding the city of Jericho, God was with them…and knocked the walls at the sound of a trumpet.
When they were running out of daylight to defeat their enemies, God was with them and held the earth in its place, on its axis, pausing the universe to give them the land he desired to give!
The land was theirs.
It was all thanks to God.
But…recently…people seemed to be forgetting that.
He had overhead some of the soldiers talking about “What a great thing it was that they had done. And how they had won this land for themselves.”
He had seen fliers being passed around for a new group’s weekly meetings: the W.I.A.A.S. We Israelites Are Awesome Society.
He had noticed fewer and fewer people had been attending worship services on a weekly basis.
Even as Joshua watched the people file into the makeshift amphitheater, he could see signs of it.
The “Baal, golden calf god” t-shirts were speckled throughout the arena.
A tattoo could be seen that read “Praise to Asherah! The cool NEW god”
The look of annoyance on the teenager who could clearly be seen mouthing the words, “Why do we have to listen to what the LORD has to say? He isn’t relevant anymore.”
Joshua shook his head
And his eyes got a bit teary eyed.
How could they forget? How could they forget the LORD?
He got the signal from his assistants. The people were ready.
He took a deep breath.
He may have been old. He may not be hip. He may not be cool.
But he knew…EXACTLY what needed to be said:
Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served or the gods of the Amorites in whom you are now living. But…as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (24:15)
Today we look at the final chapter in the book of Joshua. We will unpack this statement from Scripture as we learn (1) why serving two gods doesn’t work (2) which household gods to throw away (3) which God to serve and (4) how to ensure that our households serve that God. Before we do that, a prayer: Strengthen us this morning by the truth, O God. Your word is truth. Open our eyes to see what YOU want us to see. Open our ears to hear what YOU want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what YOU would have us believe. Amen.
I. Is it Possible to Serve Two gods?
Maybe this seems a bit strange to you. Why is God so jealous? Shouldn’t he be content if people worship him sometimes? Think about it:
People have two dogs.
People have two cats.
People have two kids.
People have two Netflix series that they watch at the same time.
Why can’t people have two gods?
The answer lies within the definition of a god. A god is “whomever or whatever you love, fear, and trust the most.” Makes sense. God is who you view as most powerful. God is who you view as most protecting. God is the one to whom you are most thankful for things. God is the one to whom you turn when you are in trouble.
Notice. God is a superlative. He is MOST. If we think back to English class, do you remember what a superlative means? It means there is nothing that holds a higher content of whatever adjectival quality is attributed to it.
The spiciest chili pepper is the ghost pepper. Nothing is spicier.
The tallest mountain in North Carolina is Mt. Mitchell. No mountain is taller.
The best biscuits in Raleigh are at Rise Bakery. No biscuits are better.
When faced with a superlative, the reality is that there can only be one.
I’m a pastor. Pastors should be all things to all people. In other words, I want to enjoy the things people enjoy so that I can serve them with the message of God’s Word. That means I like coffee with the coffee drinkers and tea with the tea drinkers. It means I high five those who like high fives and shake hands with those who like to shake hands. It means I cheer for UNC with UNC fans and the Wolfpack with Wolfpack fans. I am neutral.
At least, in theory.
A couple of years ago the two teams were playing in a football showdown. I thought to myself, “I don’t know who I’m going to cheer for.” But as the game went on, I noticed something. There was definitely a team that was I was cheering for. There was definitely a team that I like better.
Now...I’m not telling which one. I don’t need to get mugged after this. But do you get the point? When pitted against one another, one team becomes more important than the other. You can’t have two superlatives.
And if that’s true for football teams, wouldn’t it be true with “god?”
Jesus said this, “You cannot serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Mt. 6:24)
Because when Jesus says, “Serve me only” and Allah says, “Serve me only.” You can’t serve one without immediately breaking the command of the other.
You can’t serve two gods.
II. Society’s Household Idols
That was the problem that ancient Israel was facing. There were a bunch of different options that were suddenly available to them in their new land. Joshua mentions the “gods of your ancestors and the gods the Amorites.” Those were the ‘false gods’ that were a part of their society. There were a few:
There was Baal – a bronze god that was ½ human and ½ cow.
There was Dagon – a stone gold that was ½ human and ½ fish.
There was Asherah – a formless fertility goddess that you worshipped by having intercourse in front of the statue.
They were new.
They were interesting.
They seemed to allow more “fun.”
The only problem? None of them were real.
Baal was a bronze statue.
Dagon was a stone statue.
Asherah a piece of wood that had etchings, paint, and a bit of glitter tossed on it.
How could any of these things be “most” powerful if they didn’t even come into existence without the artistic hands of the human being?
How could any of them be “most” loving if they couldn’t even have emotions?
How could you put their trust in any of them, if you got into a bit of trouble and, “Oh no, I left my god in my other pair of pants?”
Baal, Dagon and Asherah are not as popular today. (You might not have even heard of them until today.) But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of false gods in our society. Here are a few:
Have you heard of this god before? He’s very popular in our society. Sometimes he’s green with one dead president on it. Sometimes he’s a little piece of metal that fits in your pocket. Sometimes he’s just a bunch of numbers that appear in that frequently used banking app on your phone.
Money is not bad. We need money. But the problem is society tells us to trust money to fix our lives. And when we believe that, we start trusting money more than God.
Yes. I know God is there, but things are going well, because I have money. Thanks be to you, O money.
Things aren’t going well. It’s because I don’t have enough money.
If I want things to be good for my kids and for them to have opportunities, I’d better work more, I’d better make more money, because money will fix us.
Money doesn’t care about you.
Money didn’t create you.
Money was created in some US Government mint machine.
Money will not save you to eternity.
It will just get spent.
Don’t choose it for your household god.
Academics are a big deal in America. There’s all kinds of pressure to teach your kids lots of things and lots of stuff. The goal is so that they have a 5th grade education by the time they are five. We do it because we figure that they’ll get ahead. If they are only smart enough, then they get a job and life will be wonderful for them.
But what happens if we trust Academics as the key to a good life—more so than God?
Yes. Bible study is important, but if my girl gets a 4.0 then she’ll be set for life!
I’m sorry honey, there’s no time for devotion tonight; you need to be working on homework!
Yeah, I know…Sunday School and getting you ready for eternal life, but…this online course? It might get you to Harvard.
Academia is good, but Academia is also not god.
Don’t make it your household god.
I asked a mom what she had going on that weekend. She response that she was taking her kids to soccer in the morning, then get karate, then swim lessons, then chess club, and finally home for piano lessons. In other words – she was working for Uber.
But this is a common thing. The notion is that the only good parents are the ones that get their kids involved in at least seven extra curriculars. (And almost none of them are ever God related. Because God is the one extracurricular that society frowns on, but…I digress.) The point is that there’s this pressure to devote your life and your kids to extracurriculars. Because maybe they’ll be the next Lebron James…and then they’ll be set.
Extracurriculars aren’t bad. But when you start to devote more of your life to them than God then…there’s trouble.
School House Rock songs become more important than God songs.
Swimming lessons become more important than baptism.
Kids Cooking class becomes can’t miss while worship becomes…I suppose, if there’s time.
Extracurriculars are fine. They are also not god.
Don’t make them your household gods.
(4) Your Kids Themselves
That might be a bit strange. You might not label your kid as god, yet – we mentioned earlier a god is whoever you fear, love and trust most in your life.
Do you ever do something solely because you have a fear of not getting your daughter’s approval?
Have you ever not disciplined a kid for sin because you love their visible smile more than God’s invisible one?
Do you find yourself trusting that as long as my kid is happy (even if the happy is artificial flavoring induced) life will work out?
And suddenly we don’t feed God’s Word to our kids because – they really like it and I gotta keep them happy.
Here’s the truth: If you devote yourself to serving your kid’s desires instead of serving them the truth of God (and His Word), then you aren’t serving your kid.
Because happy people still die.
But people with faith in their Savior, live with eternal life.
And if you aren’t serving your kids a steady diet of their Lord, then…
You aren’t telling them about their Savior.
You aren’t telling them about his forgiveness.
You aren’t telling them about the peace he won for us.
You aren’t telling them about the One, the Only One who can get them into the promised Land!
III. The God who Serves You
Because he is the only option for household God – who has served you.
“I did not come to be served, but to serve and to give my life as a ransom payment for many.” (Mt. 20:28)
Think about this. Jesus said that His purpose was not to be served. He didn’t come to earth so that his disciples could kiss his feet, set him up in a hammock, and start waving palm branches at him. He did come to earth because he needed us to sing songs to Him, give money to Him, and say prayers to Him.
He came to serve.
And not just a glass of Coca Cola – or a bowl of Tostitos.
He came to serve with his whole life.
Even giving up his life as a ransom payment.
Because there is probably nothing worse than having a part of your family kidnapped. Can you imagine that? If someone was kidnapped, one of your kids, and there was nothing but one of those notes with only newspaper cutout letters that said, “Bring me $1 million dollars by Wednesday or else, you’ll never see your loved one again,” that would be awful! You’d probably do anything to get that $1 million. Take out a loan. Call al your family and friends. Sell all of your stuff on Amazon. Whatever it takes to get back your family member.
That’s what happened to us.
We followed other gods.
We fell into sin.
We were trapped – ransomed away from God’s family!
Only the ransom payment wasn’t a million dollars.
It wasn’t a bag full of gold.
It wasn’t even a getaway chopper.
It was the death of God.
So that’s what God did.
He gave up his life to save you.
And as we were being released from our sins.
As we were being released from our imprisonment to guilt.
As we were getting ready to mourn our God who gave up his life for us…
…three days later? He rose! He came back to life! He not only set us free but defeated our captors once and for all with his life and death on the cross!
Which means he still serves us.
He serves us peace in His Words.
He serves us forgiveness with His Promise.
He serves us adoption papers with baptism.
He serves us daily – with his promise of protection!
Which leads to this important truth:
God wants us to serve him because then he is truly serving you!
If you don’t serve God – if you reject him – if you want nothing to do with him, all of his gifts mean nothing! You’ve thrown them away.
But when we serve God.
IV. What Now?
(1) Throw Away your False gods
That was what Joshua told the Israelites. Take those false gods. Pick up those stone statues. Take those wooden poles and…toss ‘em. Burn ‘em. Destroy ‘em. Have nothing to do with them ever again.
Today God is calling us to do exactly that. Take those false gods…take that false god love and throw it away. Throw it at the feet of the cross. That’s confession. Jesus will take it to the cross, beat it with a hammer, nail it to a few pieces of wood, then take it down and throw it away into a tomb.
And…here’s a thought. Is there something that is taking up all of your time? Is there something that is getting in the way of you and God? Cut it out. Maybe you think you can’t do that, well, then why not cut it back? Remove the false gods so there’s time for worshipping the real God. Because when you worship the real God – he will be serving you!
(2) Make the LORD Your ONLY Household God
Don’t just do this for you; do it for all of your house. In fact, make the LORD your only household God.
Because contrary to what society tells you today, God is all you need.
When there are family struggles, God is all your need.
When there is sickness, God is all you need.
When there is sadness, God is all you need.
When there is guilt, God is all you need.
When there is death, God is all you need.
That’s what Joshua knew.
It’s what got Joshua to the Promised Land.
It’s what got Joshua to THE Promised Land.
It’s what will get you and your family there as well. Amen.