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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:We All Gotta Serve Somebody
Text:Joshua 24:14-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Calling
 
Added:2022-05-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Joshua 24

Text: Joshua 24:14-22

 

WE ALL GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY

  1. Our Choice

  2. Our Service

  3. Our Inability

 

  1. Psalm 96:1, 3, 5

  2. Psalm 36:1-3

  3. Psalm 114:1, 4

  4. Hymn 80:1-3

  5. Hymn 80:4-6

  6. Psalm 134:1-3

 

Words to Listen For: Prussia, breakfast, conspiracy, nope, Passover

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. What is “people-first” language?  Is it good?  Is it the BEST order?  Why or why not?

  2. How does Joshua 24 fit within our system of God’s sovereignty?

  3. What is the story of Nokseng?  Where do you know his final words from?

  4. What are the two kinds of fear?

  5. What is the problem of worship?  How did God solve it?

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ our Lord,

There has been a shift, over the last several years, when referring to certain groups of people, to use, what is known as, PEOPLE FIRST language.

For example, we no longer speak of disabled people, but of people living with a disability.  We no longer speak of autistic people, but of people living with autism.  While there are a few schools of thought on this, the push isn’t JUST to be politically correct, but rather it puts the person ahead of the disability.  See the person first.

There is a certain order that is correct.  A person is more than a disability, a person is more than a diagnosis.  And there’s something about person-first language that is such ripe ground for a metaphor.  Such ripe ground for an example for a sermon.  A lesson for the Christian life.

While having the person before the disability is important...person-first language isn’t quite far enough.  Because, the truth is, we AREN’T people first.  There’s something bigger.  There’s something more important...whether we realize it or not.

It is, as the popular musician Bob Dylan once crooned: 

You're gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are

You're gonna have to serve somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody

Now, I don’t know enough about Bob Dylan to say whether he is a Christian or not...this song came out during his Christian period in the late 70s and early 80s, but we would do well to listen to this “folk theologian” … at least on this point.

It has been said, by so many different theologians that it is impossible to find the original source...that we are liturgical beings.  This is what Bob Dylan was getting at.

We are liturgical beings.  This simply means that we are beings that worship.  We might worship at a different temple, a different altar...but each and every human being worships.  It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but we all worship, we all serve.

And so, while we may rightly reject disability-first language...while we are not a DISABLED PERSON (in that order)...we are, in fact, a WORSHIPPING PERSON - in that order.  We must have worship-first language.

This is how we were created, this is what we were made for.  We were created to worship...and 

WE ALL GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY.  This morning we will look at

  1. Our Choice

  2. Our Service

  3. Our Inability

 

Our Choice

Everyone, you see, has a choice.  But that choice is not to be religious, to be worshipful...or not.  This is not the real difference between an atheist and a Christian.  For both atheists and Christians worship.  A Christian worships God, but an atheist worships certain branches of science, or materialism, or Epicureanism (the pursuit of pleasure).  There is a slot, there is a hole, there is a gap in the mind and heart of every human being.  Every human being was created to worship, and it is up to us to choose what to fill that gap with.  Who or what will you worship?

It is so very clear that God created us for something bigger than ourselves.  God created us...for Himself.  God created us for Himself, and therefore, we are called to fulfill our purpose.  We are called to fear the Lord, and serve Him.

This commandment, within its context in this chapter, has echoed throughout history.  We are hardly the first to see its value or application beyond the ancient Israelite covenant renewal at Shechem.

Frederick William IV of Prussia publicly declared at a national assembly in 1848, that the truth at the center of his reign would be: As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.  Just a few verses after our text, stating the same truth.  Applying that same truth personally.  This was at an assembly to decide taxation, and yet Frederick William IV made it about worship.  Because he recognized that it WAS.

We all gotta serve somebody.  Joshua knew this, Frederick William IV knew this, Bob Dylan knew this.  So, the question is...do we?

Do we truly understand the radical call of the passage in front of us?

I began this sermon with the example of “worship-first” language, not to be a cool and contemporary pastor, not to be politically correct, but I began it this way because, no ifs, ands or buts, no qualifiers, no excuses...who or what we worship is the most important thing about us.

Being a Christian is more fundamental to my identity than my age or my gender.  Being a Christian is more fundamental to my identity than being Canadian, more fundamental than my marital status, my height, my weight, or whether I am a Star Wars or Star Trek fan.

All these other things will fade away in the light of eternity...but not who I serve.

The answer to this question will outlast governments and civilizations.  While they fall to dust and their memory is erased from this world, this question and this answer will ring out:

WHO DO YOU SERVE?

    I WILL SERVE YAHWEH.  I WILL SERVE THE LORD!

This is what Joshua was trying to impress on the people of Israel.

Just as Deuteronomy is the farewell speech of Moses, Joshua 24 is Joshua’s farewell speech.  These are the final things that he wants to impress on God’s people.

Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.  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.

Joshua is calling the people of Israel to choose.  Choose.  And choose today.  Tomorrow might be too late.  Someday isn’t good enough.  There is a fork in the road before you, and this is the time to choose your path.

And when we hear this verse...when we hear these words, maybe even when you saw this point in the liturgy sheet...your reformed radar might have popped up.  We see the red lights, we hear the beeping...something is wrong here.

CHOOSE?  But...this is ARMINIAN LANGUAGE!  WE DO NOT CHOOSE GOD, HE CHOOSES US!  What is Joshua talking about here?

Should we choose to follow the theology of Joshua, or John Calvin?

But before the younger ones begin tossing their copies of Calvin’s Institutes (that you clearly all have), and before the older ones begin sharpening their pitchforks...let me explain.

It is true that we are not able to serve God in our own strength.

All throughout Scripture this is made clear, the closest reference being in this same chapter - verse 19 - But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God.  He is a jealous God.

It is true that God chooses us because we are dead in our sins...but this does not mean that we are simply robots, following a pre-programmed set of actions.  We make choices each and every day...AND God is completely and totally sovereign.

Let me give you parallel accounts of the nation of Israel and you.

The nation of Israel were slaves in the land of Egypt.  They were conceived and born in slavery, helpless to resist.

And you...you were dead in your sins.  Even if you grew up in the church, you were conceived and born in sin, helpless to resist.

Without any help from the Israelites, without an army, without a champion, God sent Moses to break the power of Pharaoh, essentially dragging the kicking and screaming Israelites along the way, bringing them to freedom.

And you...without any of your help, without your cooperation, God sent Jesus Christ to break the power of Satan, essentially dragging you, kicking and screaming, along the way, bringing you to a life of freedom and holiness.

You see? It was all God!  The Israelites were slaves, and you were dead.  The Israelites didn’t save themselves from Egypt, and you didn’t save yourself from sin.  You didn’t even contribute to your rescue.  God was sovereign.

But NOW...AS RESCUED PEOPLE, AS SAVED PEOPLE...now we have choices to make.  The Israelites were free to make choices in the wilderness...and oh boy did they make choices.  They chose to make and serve the golden calf.  They chose to constantly complain, and weary God with these complaints.  They chose to rebel, again and again and again.

And you...every day you wake up in the morning, you have countless choices.  What are you going to eat for breakfast?  Cereal? Toast? Eggs?  Just coffee?  Are you going to read your devotions, or are you going to put it off for later?  Are you going to start the day with prayer, or by checking social media?

These are YOUR CHOICES to make.  And you must choose wisely.

And Joshua explains this to the Israelites.  You are standing at the beginning of something new.  You’re standing at the starting line of the race.  How are you going to run?  God brought you here...but now it’s your turn.  Make your choice.

If it is evil in your eyes, Joshua says, tongue in cheek, if it is EVIL in your eyes to serve the LORD...then make your choice!

Who are you going to serve?

  • Is it going to be the gods that your fathers served back in Egypt?  When they were slaves?

  • Or maybe it’s going to be the gods of the people of this land...this land that you wouldn’t be in possession of, if not for the one true God?

Who are you going to serve?  MAKE YOUR CHOICE!

Even though there is a REAL CHOICE...it isn’t REALLY a CHOICE.

Will you choose to serve the One True God...or will you choose to serve idols who have no power?

Will you choose life, and life abundantly...or death, and death violently?

And so the people make their choice, and it seems that they make it rather quickly

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, 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 sings in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the people through whom we passed...therefore we will serve the LORD, for He is our God.

 

It is an easy choice, but it is no easy thing to serve.  Our second point.

When there is a choice like this before us - life, or death...it is easy to choose life.  We don’t even have to think about it.  But as soon as the decision is made, things get a little more complicated.

Think of the stories of martyrs, who have made this choice, and have to face the consequences.  From the first Christian martyr, Stephen, in the Book of Acts, to the martyrs today in China, India, and Nigeria.

There is a martyr story that will stay with me as long as I live.  The story of Nokseng, a Christian who died in India a little over a hundred years ago.  Though you may never have heard his name before, you probably know his final words.

In the early 1900s, a revival in Wales sent many missionaries to India, including to vicious savage tribes living there.  One missionary shared the gospel to Nokseng, his wife, and his two children.  The gospel found rich soil, and the entire family accepted Jesus Christ as their Saviour.

The chief of the village was furious that Nokseng and his family had turned away from the traditional Indian religion, and gathered the entire village together, and in front of them all, he demanded that Nokseng renounce his faith.

Nokseng responded: I have decided to follow Jesus.  No turning back.

The chief wasn’t going to lose this fight with Nokseng, and so he ordered that Nokseng’s two children be killed in front of him.  Then he asked Nokseng again if he would deny his faith.

Nokseng responded: Though no one joins me, still will I follow.  No turning back.

Nokseng’s wife was then executed in front of him, and he had one final chance.

Nokseng responded: The cross before me, the world behind me.  No turning back, no turning back.

This is the story behind the Christian Hymn: I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.  It isn’t some kind of Arminian conspiracy, though it has been used as such.  Instead, it is a monument to the faithfulness of a brother in Christ, who was martyred for his faith.

This choice that we are to make is costly.  It is difficult.  It will cost everything you have...but you will gain so much more.

But what exactly is required of us in our service?

We are to FEAR the LORD and we are to SERVE the LORD.

Let’s examine both of these aspects.

We must FEAR the LORD.

Now, there are two kinds of fear that Scripture speaks of, and we would do well to have both when it comes to Yahweh, the God of the Universe.

This word can refer to fear as we normally think of it today.  Fear as in being afraid.  Fear as in terror.  And we are far too quick, when we come across this word in Scripture to say, “Oh it doesn’t really mean that!  There shouldn’t be fear in the heart of any believer.”

And while we shouldn’t live lives dominated by fear, it is right, it is healthy, for us, from time to time, to have an existential crisis when we reflect on JUST HOW BIG our God is.  JUST HOW GREAT He is.  JUST HOW POWERFUL, and HOLY, and WISE and JUST and GOOD He is.

The God who breathes galaxies into being, the God who created the sun, moon, and stars by speaking a word, the God who cannot be contained by this UNIVERSE...He’s mine...and I am His.

If we truly begin to understand that...we WILL FEAR.  We can never be casual around God like He’s our buddy.  God LOVES us, God is our FATHER, God has compassion like a mother hen and wants to gather us under His wings...but God is not our buddy.  God is not safe. He’s not domesticated.  When we realize just who God is and just how tiny we are...we SHOULD fear.

We should do as Isaiah did in the throneroom of God and fear for our life.  We should do as the Apostle John did, and fall at Jesus’ feet as though dead.

But this isn’t where our fear ends.

For what does God say to us?  Time after time after time? Through His angels and through His Word?  FEAR NOT.  For though God is great and majestic, though He is holy and we are not...He is for us!  He is not our enemy, but our loving Father.  His great power will not be used against us, but for His glory and for His people.

And so, our occasional existential crisis of terror, should fade into that second kind of fear - that awe and reverence.  We still bow down before Him, but we don’t tremble quite so much.

Serving the Lord in fear means that we will be stopped in our tracks by who He is.  We will look at Him, we will see Him as He comes to us in His Word and in His World, and we will pause, we will take a breath and whisper to ourselves...wowWow.  This God loves me.  This God who is holy, and dwells in unapproachable light has chosen to approach me and have fellowship with me.  This amazing God calls me His child...wow.

And this MUST NECESSARILY change how we live.

God welcomes us into His family, and there are certain rules.  Not rules so that we belong, but rules because we ALREADY belong. These are the “house rules” of God’s household.

And if we have that awe, that reverence, that respect for God...we won’t try to get away with stuff.  We won’t try to do things our way, thinking that we know better.  But we will say, again and again, Wow!  Wow!  This is God!

We are to fear the Lord, and we are to serve the Lord.  These two things flow, one right into the other.

Wow!  Wow!  This is God!  I will do everything He says because of who He is!

We are to serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness.  Our service of God must be be complete.  It must be total.  We can’t fake service, and if we have a true fear of God, then we won’t even feel the need to try.

Serving God in sincerity and in faithfulness means that we read our Bibles even when nobody is watching.  It means going to church not to please our parents or to get our elder off our back, but because we desperately want to worship God and meet with His people.  It means being excited to spend time on your knees before God at the beginning and the end of your day, sincerely asking Him for the strength to serve, and thanking Him for all His blessings.

It all sounds so good, doesn’t it?  It sounds so good...but so hard.  It sounds like something that we could maybe eventually attain after years and years of effort.  Maybe at 70, this kind of sincere and faithful service is possible.  But as a teenager?  There’s just so much temptation and so much going on at school and starting a job...maybe I’ll do it in my 20s.

But in your 20s, a job turns into a career, dating usually turns into marriage.  It’s all too crazy right now...maybe in my 30s.

But in your 30s, you’re trying to get a promotion, you might be blessed with children, and it’s all too crazy.

And on and on it goes.  There’s always an excuse.  But what does God say to Israel and then to us?

Choose for yourself...next year whom you will serve.

    Nope, not quite.

Choose for yourself...tomorrow whom you will serve.

    No.

What does he say?  Choose for yourself TODAY whom you will serve.

Tomorrow will be jut as hard as today, and next year might be too late.

Make your choice and live with it.  Right now.  But it’s not that God is ignorant of the difficulty.  It’s not that God doesn’t care that it’s hard for you.  He knows of our inability, and He makes a way.  Our third point.

 But Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.

It must have seemed strange, for the people of Israel to hear Joshua turn on a dime like this.  He had just been impressing on them the importance of serving the Lord.  This was THE MOST IMPORTANT THING...and yet...now they couldn’t?

Now, there are those who say that Joshua was using a rhetorical device here to get the Israelites to pledge even more strongly their devotion to the LORD.  He was using reverse psychology - you don’t REALLY want to serve the LORD, do you?  You can’t even really do that! But this isn’t how the Bible works.  Joshua isn’t being sneaky, he isn’t being tricky...he is being realistic, knowing, as he does, the nature of God, and the nature of man.

God’s nature is that of holiness and jealously…whereas man’s nature is that of sinfulness.  It’s not exactly a match made in heaven.

And it’s curious...this is a tension that isn’t exactly resolved by Joshua.

He gives Israel this warning, impressing on them the seriousness of their commitment, and their inability, and the people declare, all the louder, that they WILL serve the LORD.  And this is where it ends.  Joshua sets up a stone of witness to Israel’s commitment, and, for the rest of Joshua’s life, Israel serves faithfully.

Unfortunately, all too quickly, we see that Joshua’s warning didn’t take root.  For what directly follows the book of Joshua?  The book of Judges, and as we just heard over the summer, in our last sermon series, this time in Israel’s history was so utterly sinful and hopeless.  Israel COULD NOT serve the LORD, and so they DID NOT serve the LORD.

And are we any better, beloved?  Are we any better than Israel?  We want to say yes, don’t we?  We want to make this commitment before the LORD right now, and have a rock set up, a memorial to our commitment.  We want THIS to be the day that we choose to serve God, and we want to do it faithfully all the days of our life.

Maybe it will be different for us than for Israel.

But it won’t be.  Because nothing has changed about God’s character - He is still just as holy as He always was.  He is just as righteous, and just as jealous for our love and whole-hearted devotion.

And us?  Well...we are still just as human as Israel ever was.  We were born with that same wicked fallen human nature.  We are still incapable of serving the LORD in our own strength.

But here is where things have changed.

In His infinite love and compassion, God made a way.  He made a way for a sinful people to worship a holy God.

It sounds impossible, but He made that way, and this was a way planned since before the foundations of the world.

This was a way that was promised moments after the first man and the first woman fell into sin.  It was promised when Adam and Eve were covered with fig leaves to hide their shame.

One day, God promised, One day, the serpent, who caused all of this...his head will be crushed.  He will be defeated, and you will be saved.  But it will be at great cost.  The heel of the Saviour will be struck, but the head of the serpent will be crushed.

This was a way shown through the first real coverings of Adam and Eve.  God took away their fig leaves, and He forgave their sin...through the death of a lamb, covering them in its skin.

This was a way shown through all the animal sacrifices that followed.  It was shown through the Passover lamb, whose blood saved the children of Israel from death.  It was shown through the hundreds of thousands of sin offerings made at the tabernacle, and then the temple.

It is a way promised through the prophets, becoming clearer and clearer with hints.

          This Saviour would be born in Bethlehem, and ride on a donkey

          This Saviour would be the Son of David...but also the Son of God.

          This Saviour would be righteous and innocent, and holy, but He would suffer and die for the sins of others.

The solution to the problem of Joshua 24:19 is Jesus Christ.

You are not able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God

You are not able to serve the Lord, for He is holy.

You can’t do it...but Jesus can.  For Jesus was holy and righteous.  He could fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness.  And that is exactly what He did.  Every day of His life on this earth, from the manger to the cross, Jesus Christ was a worshipping person.  Not a person who worshipped, but a worshipper who was a person.  Worship-first language.

You are not able to serve the Lord, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.

And yet...God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity, and transgression and sin.

Joshua knows this, Joshua loves this, but what He is saying is that God OWES nobody forgiveness.  Forgiveness is pure grace, from beginning to end.  God’s justice is absolute, and animal sacrifices could never take away the sins of humanity.  The sins of people.  God’s justice was sometimes shown through forgiveness, but often shown through punishment.

But all of that changed with Jesus Christ.

For in Jesus, our sins were truly forgiven.  They were truly washed away.  With His LIFE, He worshipped and served perfectly, on our behalf...it was through His DEATH that He won for us perfect and complete forgiveness of transgression and sin.

God’s justice was completely poured out on Jesus Christ.  I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, because we NEED to remember this...on the cross, Jesus Christ drank the cup of the wrath of God, and He drained it dry.  There is NO wrath left for those who are in Christ.  There is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Beloved, the words of Joshua still ring true today.  All throughout history:

  • Choose for yourself THIS DAY whom you will serve

  • If you choose to serve...serve in fear, in sincerity, and in faithfulness

  • And when you fail, know that your Saviour, Jesus Christ makes up for what you lack by His perfect life, and His perfect death.

You're gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are

You're gonna have to serve somebody

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you're gonna have to serve somebody

This is what you were made for.

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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