Dr. Jim Denison
Thesis: We find peace only in the gracious covenant of our Lord.
Goal: Respond to God’s grace with obedience.
Years ago, an artistic competition was announced on the theme of “peace.” Beautiful paintings were entered—a pastoral landscape, with sheep grazing contentedly; a warm fire blazing in a rich wooden study; a tranquil sunset over a calm ocean.
But the award-winning submission was different from all the others. The artist pictured Niagara Falls in all its roaring, cacophonous power. The viewer could nearly feel the mist in his face, the wind in his hair, as the water rushed over the rocks in a thunderous torrent. At the edge of the painting, the artist rendered a slender tree branch, and on that branch a tiny bird nest. A bird sat in that nest, perched over the falls, gazing into the sky with contentment. The picture’s caption was simple: “peace.”
The bumper sticker has it right: Know God, know peace; no God, no peace.
In all the recorded years of humanity, historians can find only four years where there was no conflict raging somewhere on the globe. We cannot produce peace. But we can receive it at the hands of the Prince of Peace.
Respond to the graceful initiative of God (vs. 1-13)
One last time, Joshua assembled the elders and leaders of the nation into a kind of national congress (v. 1). His purpose was a covenant renewal ceremony, his last gift to this nation he had led so capably across so many years.
Such ancient ceremonies typically began with a recitation of the history of the people. And so Joshua recounted their experience from Abraham to the present. But with a theological theme: every provision they had experienced had come from the hand of their gracious God, by his initiative and mercy.
So it was with Abraham, himself part of a pagan family. By his grace God took Abraham from that place of idolatry and gave this childless, elderly man “many descendants” (v. 3). Abraham did nothing to earn such favor from the hand of his God.
Next the Lord sent Moses and Aaron to lead his people from Egyptian slavery to their freedom. The plagues which freed them and the miracle of the Red Sea which preserved them were again his gifts, in no sense the result of their work or merit.
When the nation came to the Amorites east of the Jordan, God conquered them. He refused the curse of Balaam, and blessed his people instead. He led them across the flooded Jordan River, gave them the conquered city of Jericho, and brought them into military victory they did not earn.
In summary, “I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant” (v. 13). Nothing they could see was theirs except from the hand of their gracious Lord.
Were Joshua to stand before our congregation this weekend, he could make exactly the same speech. Every breath we draw comes from our Creator; every birth is his gift; every salvation is by his grace. Our church was birthed in his heart before it was dreamed in ours. Our buildings and ministries are led by his Spirit and prospered by his mercy. He receives our worship only because he is a God of love. He guides our Bible study and obedience by his grace.
The peace we seek can come only from God’s hand and his heart. We can do nothing to earn his favor.
Let us resolve to refuse the subtle temptation to believe we have earned the peace and prosperity we know today. R. A. Torrey once told of receiving a note from a Presbyterian elder. The man complained that God was not answering his prayers, even though he had been a faithful elder for many years, a Sunday school superintendent, and a recognized church leader. Torrey came to the heart of the problem: the man was praying in his merit. He thought that his religious works had earned an audience with God. He was wrong.
Is the same subtle temptation present in your life and ministry? Is it possible that some of us teach or preach so that God will bless us in return? That we expect him to answer our prayers and meet our needs because we do this work in his Kingdom? The covenant to which God calls us in renewal this day is one based on his grace, not our goodness. And on no other foundation.
Everything you do should be motivated by the grace of God, as we will discover next.
Choose the obedience which comes from gratitude (vs. 14-18)
Now Joshua called his people to “fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness” (v. 14). No partial obedience, this. “All” faithfulness requires that we give God Monday as well as Sunday, our private thoughts as well as our public actions. If he is our King, and we are in covenant with him, then every moment of every day is his. Every dollar belongs to him. Every relationship is to be governed by his word and will.
For the Israelis, such a commitment meant that they must abandon every false idol (v. 14). This was to be a conscious, intentional decision, made carefully and definitively (v. 15a). Joshua offered them his model: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (v. 15b), perhaps the most famous statement in the book bearing his name. Would to God that you and I provide such an example for those whose spiritual lives we influence.
When I first met Janet’s parents in Houston, I was immediately impressed by a plaque hanging on their dining room door. It contained the words of Joshua 24:15. I soon discovered that her parents lived by these truths. They were not just a motto for their house, but a commitment for their lives. Can others say the same of us?