Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Book of Joshua Week 18: Covenant Relationship

You know that term wishy washy? It means that someone can’t make up there mind about something. It’s like if you’re out somewhere with someone, usually a spouse, and you need to get lunch, there’s always that inevitable question that arises, “where do you want to eat”. Now depending on when this question is asked, you might get the wishy washy answer, “I don’t care”. But if you ask that question with kids in the car, there is no wishy washy answers, because they know what they want, McDonalds. 
But it’s really easy to be wishy washy in a lot of our decisions, especially those decision that don’t have lasting consequences, like where do you want to eat? Even though that can be frustrating when you’re hungry and you just want to agree on a place. But what’s even more frustrating is when the decision impacts people in a way that effects lives. 
This is why I think we can get so frustrated with politicians who don’t stand on principle, but rather on what seems good at the moment, even if they’ve already committed themselves in the opposite direction.

And it’s this idea of being wishy washy that brings us to our final week here in the book of Joshua, where will be starting in verse 1 of chapter 23. So if you have your Bibles, you can open up to Joshua 23:1. 

Now we have covered a lot of topics this past summer, but as we finish up, we need to step back and look at the overarching point of the book. 
Several weeks back, we mentioned how the overarching point of the book of Joshua was to help us realize that God was accomplishing all the he promised, and that we are to learn to trust him fully. 
We saw this in Joshua’s first day on the job when he had to unite the people. We saw this when God told him to cross the flooded Jordan River. We saw this when the people walked around Jericho, and when they fought the overwhelming odds at Ai and Hebron. And with every battle the people had to fight, and every direction God sent them, the focus was on courageously trusting God. 
We saw Joshua finally internalize and speak this lesson when he fought the other kings of Canaan. And finally, we saw Joshua trust God when dividing the land between the tribes of Israel. 
This is the overarching point of the book of Joshua, to trust God in everything. And if we walk away from this book with that lesson concreted in our thoughts and actions, then we will have gained an immense jump forward in our relationship with God.
And it’s with this in mind, that we come to the final two chapters of the book of Joshua, where Joshua is about to die. Let’s pick this up in verse 1 of chapter 23.

After a long time had passed and the Lord had given Israel rest from all their enemies around them, Joshua, by then a very old man, 2 summoned all Israel—their elders, leaders, judges and officials—and said to them: “I am very old. 3 You yourselves have seen everything the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the Lord your God who fought for you. 4 Remember how I have allotted as an inheritance for your tribes all the land of the nations that remain—the nations I conquered—between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 The Lord your God himself will push them out for your sake. He will drive them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you.
6 “Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. 7 Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. 8 But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now.
9 “The Lord has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. 10 One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. 11 So be very careful to love the Lord your God.
12 “But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, 13 then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.
14 “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15 But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. 16 If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

This is Joshua’s farewell address to the people he has been leading for several decades. And in this final address, there are three things he points out to them.

First, Joshua tells the people that God has fulfilled his promises, the land is theirs. This promise was made roughly 500 years earlier to their ancestor Abraham, and now they have seen the fulfillment of that promise. Even though there’s still work to be done, Joshua is confident that because of all that God has accomplished, the work that is still ahead is merely the icing on the cake. 
Second, Joshua wants them to fully embrace following God. He wants them to embrace what God told him to do when he first called Joshua to lead the people. In chapter 1 God tells Joshua to meditate on God’s law, and to not depart from it. God was calling Joshua to a relationship that was fully onboard to wherever brought Joshua and Joshua was calling the people to this same type of relationship with God.
Finally, Joshua wants the people to realize that the land was given to them by God, and God can take away that land away if they decide to stop following him. This last part is key for what the people do in the next chapter. But Joshua wants the people to realize that they did not deserve the land, they didn’t win the land, and they have no right to keep the land. Rather, it’s because of God that they are allowed to occupy the land, and if they violate their relationship with God, he will take it from them.

This last emphasis on the land being taken is what brings us into the final chapter of Joshua. 
In the opening of the chapter we get a summary of the history of the Israelite people. From Abram to Egypt to the current place they find themselves in. At the end of the summary, Joshua says this in verse 14, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates 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 ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

The last part of verse 15 is a common saying or sometimes even a plaque that gets put up Christian homes. But here we see that Joshua is calling the people to make a decision in their lives: either follow God or not. Don’t be wishy washy in this decision, because their is no middle ground with God in this area. We either follow or we don’t. To which Joshua adds at the end, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua is letting the people know, that he will follow the Lord, no matter what their decision is. Why? Because of everything he has seen, and everything that has been done for him throughout his lifetime. Which we can read about starting in Exodus. 
This is when the people reply in verse 16, “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! 17 It was the Lord our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the Lord drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

The people respond that they too want to follow God just as Joshua has proclaimed he will. But Joshua challenges them on this, replying to them, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”

See Joshua challenges them to realize what they’re saying. To follow God can’t be half-hearted. There is no holding on to what we desire over God’s desire. There’s no thinking we can have it our way over God’s way. There’s no thinking that we get to do whatever we want,  because the reality is, we are to follow God, not lead him. Joshua challenges the people’s choice in following God, by telling them that if they choose this path, they can’t un-choose it and if they try, disaster will follow.

But even with Joshua’ warning about fully following God, the people agree that they will, and in verse 23 we see the whole back and forth end with this, “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”
25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws. 26 And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God. Then he took a large stone and set it up there under the oak near the holy place of the Lord.
27 “See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.”

In this moment the people renewed their covenant with God that they will follow him, and they did so by realizing the implications of that renewal. See a covenant was a legal contract that the people went into with God, knowing that there would be consequences if they broke their side of it. They were bound now to God, they would be his people, and he would be there God. If the people broke their side of the contract, then they would be subject to the penalties of it. 
And if you keep reading through the rest of the Bible, you’ll find that they break the covenant a lot. And even though they experience the penalties that came from breaking the covenant, God never abandoned them. He continued to work and guide the people, even as they fought against him.

Because even though the people were willing to enter into the covenant with God, their descendants weren’t. The descendants didn’t fully understand what it meant to live in a covenant relationship with God. And so they broke the covenant is so many ways, we can’t cover them all here. But in all of it, God never breaks his side of the covenant. With every penalty that came, God was always there to bring the people back to himself and re-establish the covenant with them.

And God continues to call people into a covenant relationship with him even today. Through the historical work of Jesus that is recorded in the Gospels, God is calling individuals into a covenant relationships with him. 
The Bible puts forth that humanity was designed to be in this type of relationship with God. In the opening chapters of the Bible, God creates Adam and Eve and he makes one rule, don't’ eat the fruit of a certain tree. The covenant was simple, trust God will take care of everything for you, but don’t do one thing. 
That covenant was broken.
Then God makes a new covenant with Abraham, to make his descendants great and to give them the land of Canaan.
Then God makes a covenant with the people of Israel under Moses, but they break this and spend 40 years in the desert.
Then again, God makes a covenant with the people of Israel under Joshua, which they break again, and again and again, until they are finally scattered to the world, because of their desire to have a broken covenant with God, rather than a life giving one.
But God is wasn’t done, and in fact had been working through each of these covenants to bring about the best one. With Adam breaking the original covenant and by doing so bringing sin in the world, all of humanity was now bound to rebellion in its desire to fight against God’s rule, which the Bible calls sin. That is why covenant after covenant after covenant was broken. So God himself comes to us, and brings a new covenant that is a lot like the first one, except this one is based solely on God and what he does, and not on humanities actions. See a covenant requires both parties to keep their side of the contract, but in God’s new proposed covenant, it’s all based on what God does for us.
God the Son becomes the man Jesus, lives the perfect covenant life that God calls us to, and is then killed by the people he came for. This shedding of blood doesn't’ stop the covenant, but rather seals it, and when Jesus is raised from the dead, we get God’s seal, his signature on the covenant. And now we’re asked to enter this covenant and do our part. And what do we need to do?
Well in Jesus’ own words from John chapter 3 verse 16, we learn what we need to do on our side to enter into this covenant. Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,” that’s God’s part of the covenant, “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That’s our side of the covenant.
And that word “believes” is the Greek word pisteuó (pist-yoo’-o), which means we entrust ourselves to him. We entrust our lives, we entrust our desires, we entrust our relationships, we entrust everything to God. 
And we live the rest of our days not doing good to earn something, but rather learning to be who God originally created us to be, doing what he desires, and learning to see the world through his eyes. God desires us to enter a covenant relationship where he does all the work, and we get all the goodness form it, and all it takes from us is to entrust our lives to him everyday.
But just as Joshua told the people to make sure they were ready to enter into a covenant relationship with God, Jesus also calls us to make sure that we’re ready to enter into this covenant relationships.

In Matthew 16:24-25 Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

In Luke 14:26 Jesus says, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”

And in Revelation 3:15-16 Jesus says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

To enter into a covenant relationship with God, we must first count the cost of it. Are we willing to embrace all the goodness that God has done for us? Breaking sin’s control over us, seeking the most fulfilling life possible for us in this world, helping us understand who we truly were created to be, mending broken relationships, and bringing us into an eternity of joy? And at the same time, are we willing to reject all those things that God calls us away from? Fear, self-centeredness, gossip, hatred, improper sexual activity, and more? 
This is the crescendo of the book of Joshua that echoes down to today. Are we willing to enter into a right relationship with God who seeks our best, or are we going to try and do it on our own, living this life for ourselves and in the end losing all of it?
This is the choice that each of us has to make. So today I want to call each of us into one of three decisions.
First, if you call yourself a Christian, that means that you have entered into a covenant relationship with God through what Jesus did on the cross. But the question is, are you holding back from God? Are you holding onto your desires, your anger, your selfishness and doing the things God has called you out of? You need to renew your focus on the covenant you entered into when you accepted Jesus as your Savior.
Second, if you are not a Christian, but want to enter into a covenant relationship with God through the work of Jesus, then you need to count the cost of that relationship. I wont’ lie, it can get hard. You’re going to struggle with things that you never thought were a problem, but God says they are. You’re going to pray, and struggle with questions like, “Why isn’t God answering me?” And there will be times when it seems easier to return to the old life, just so it won’t be so hard. But I will tell you almost twenty years on the other side of my decision to follow Jesus and enter that covenant relationship, that it is all worth it.
Finally, if you’re not a Christian and don’t know about making a decisions to follow him, don’t feel pressured into making a decision. Take the time needed to examine the evidence of Jesus. Take the time to work through what this all means. Take the time to count the cost of this decision, because this is the biggest decision you’ll ever make. It will alter your life in ways that you can’t imagine. I never pictured myself where I am today, or the things that God has brought me through, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I would love to talk with you about it and share with you all that I have learned from my walk with God these almost twenty years. 

God is calling us into a right relationship with him. Some of us need to go deeper, some of us need to start, and some of us need to weigh the prospect of it all. Let us all move forward in a truthful way, so we may experience the God who has done everything for us to bring us into a covenant relationship with him. Amen.

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