Sermon Options: November 12, 2023

October 2nd, 2020

Choosing Faith

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

If the truth be told, all life involves choice. M. Scott Peck's best-selling book is titled The Road Less Traveled. We know too well why it is less traveled. The choices and discipline are too severe for most folks; therefore, there are few on the road.

Our text from Joshua is the story of covenant renewal at Shechem. It involves the opportunity and celebration of choice. We might even say that every act of covenant is both a choice and a celebration.

I. The Choice of Faith Must Be Made Again and Again

Joshua gathers the people, reminding them about who they are: "Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods" (v. 2). These Hebrew people have made a previous choice for Yahweh. Now it is time to renew their pledge of faith and allegiance to this God who was able to do many things for them. Joshua then recounts part of the story of salvation.

II. Faith Must Be Acted on Again and Again

As Joshua finishes recounting Yahweh's gracious dealings with Israel, he puts the choice, or re-choice, to Israel: "Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD" (v. 14). This choice is one that we still make today, just as Joshua asked his people to make long ago. Do we worship our professed God? Or are we idolaters who worship whatever "divinity" of the moment strikes our fancy?

III. Faith Requires Taking a Stand

Joshua, as good leaders often do, lets the people know exactly where he stands, saying, "But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD" (v. 15). Joshua's decision influences beyond himself. He makes the profession for himself and also for "my household."

Our important decisions—especially our professions of faith—go beyond our individuality; they affect our families and others. This turns the modern "what's in it for me" question slightly askew when we realize that those we love are affected by the ultimate, and even the smallest, decisions and professions we make.

The last part of the text (vv. 19-24) is a dialogue between Joshua, speaking as a prophet of the Lord, and the people, represented by one voice saying, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods" (v. 16). Joshua wants them to realize the gravity of their decisions. A decision for covenant relationship with Yahweh means, to Joshua's way of thinking, there is no going back. This image—going back to Egypt—is a powerful one, symbolizing that there is always a tension between the promise of Yahweh for a future and the safety of a past that was familiar—though often painful.

Faith decisions are just that—decisions of faith. And this bothers those of us with modern sensibilities because we want our understanding of God and the world to be infallible. Faith, however, is never a guarantee of anything except a relationship with God. But for the one whose life has been transformed by such faith, that is more than enough. (David Neil Mosser)

After Death, What?

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

In a letter to his wife opened after his death, Samuel Shoemaker, rector of the Calvary Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, wrote the following credo:

As I sit in the study...I look back with many thanks. It has been a great run. I wouldn't have missed it for anything. Much could and should have been better, and I have by no means, done what I should have done with all that I have been given. But the over-all experience of being alive has been a thrilling experience. I believe that death is a doorway to more of it: clearer, cleaner, better, with more of the secret opened than locked. I do not feel much confidence in myself as regards all this, for very few have ever "deserved" eternal life. But with Christ's atonement and him gone on before, I have neither doubt nor fear....I believe that I shall see him and know him, and that eternity will be an endless opportunity to consort with the great souls and the lesser ones who will have entered into the freedom of the heavenly city. (Faith at Work, January-February, 1964)

Two months after writing this letter, Shoemaker died (October 31, 1963). How will it all end? What will occur after death? The former question cannot be answered until one has faced up to the end of life. The latter question is addressed by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Paul contends that the end of it all is not death. The end of it all is God's triumphant return through Christ, which will signal the beginning of the beginning.

I. Death in Christ Brings Restoration (vv. 13-17)

Paul's fundamental thesis of his theology is the Resurrection—not the Crucifixion. Without the Resurrection every sacrificial work performed in Christ's name would be in vain. The Thessalonian church did not know how to handle the matter of Christ's return in light of believers who died before his return. The Thessalonian believers expected the Lord to return within their lifetimes. They grieved over fellow saints and saved loved ones who died before the day of the Lord. The question on their minds was whether the believers who died prior to the Parousia would be left behind at the return of Christ. Paul corrects their erroneous thought, relieves their anxiety and assures them that those who had been saved and died before the day of the Lord would also share in the glory of eternal life.

"Sleep in Jesus" (v. 14 KJV) literally means "to put to sleep through Jesus." The Greek word we translate as "cemetery" means "a sleeping place." It is the place where bodies sleep, awaiting the resurrection. Death separates loved ones. When Christ returns, there will be a reunion. The living saints will not precede the resurrection of the dead saints; but all saints will come together to meet Christ. The dead saints will receive a wake-up call, the living saints will receive a "formation notice," and all saints, both living and dead, will receive new bodies (Phil. 3:20-21; 1 John 3:1-3). The saints will be snatched away speedily and moved to a new place of rest and repose.

II. Death in Christ Brings Consolation (v. 18)

Christians are expected to be sorrowful when loved ones die. However, their grief is not a hopeless grief. Their grief is good grief. They go through the normal stages of grief, walk through the valley of loneliness, and shed tears of sorrow for their saved brothers and sisters—but not without hope. Their hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. The dead in Christ shall rise!

No Christian knows how life will end. We don't know about tomorrow. We know who holds tomorrow, and we know God holds our hands. God's tomorrow will be better than our today. (Robert Smith, Jr.)

Ready or Not, He's Coming!

Matthew 25:1-13

Our family moved from the United States to the Philippines for a mission assignment. Part of the culture shock was adjusting to the Asian sense of time. The event was more important than the announced time for it to occur. Consequently we spent a good amount of time waiting. We would arrive before the time of a wedding, but it was not unusual for it to start an hour or more later. You feel that some Eastern sense of time in the wedding Jesus described in Matthew 25.

The bridesmaids waited and waited and waited some more for the arrival of the groom. All ten knew he was coming, and all of them dozed off with apparent confidence. With the announcement of the groom's coming, five bridesmaids discovered they had no oil for the lamps. They could not walk in the street processional from the bride's house to the home of the bridegroom. "While they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut" (v. 10). Ready or not, Jesus is coming!

I. Be Ready at Any Time

"Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming" (v. 12 NKJV). Twenty-three New Testament books speak of Christ's return. The Scripture emphasizes the certainty of his coming at any time. Speculators abound. Full-page ads in USA Today announced his imminent return. Thousands of pastors received a booklet citing eighty-eight reasons why Jesus would return on Halloween night a few years ago. He didn't. But he is coming. Be ready!

II. Now Is the Time to Get Ready

Five of the bridesmaids made a wise decision. They prepared before the bridegroom arrived. "Those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet." When the bell rings for the fight to begin, it is too late for the boxer to find his gloves. When the expectant mother tells her husband, "It's time," he better be ready. All ten maidens looked alike in outward appearance. Each of them had the opportunity to be in the wedding. All of them knew the place and the people involved. When the crucial moment arrived, only five were ready. The foolish ones could have been prepared but were not. Time ran out, "and the door was shut."

A sixty-five-year-old construction worker responded to an evangelistic appeal at the close of worship and submitted his life to Christ. I later discovered he had often attended church with Robert Schuller at the Crystal Cathedral. Many opportunities to trust Christ were lost. An accident brought him near death. Emotionally, he approached the time when "the door was shut." He told me, "Life can be snuffed out in a moment. We all need to be ready."

III. All Things Are Ready, Are You?

The radiant bride became excited with the approaching arrival of the groom. Everything was ready while five bridesmaids scattered to find oil. They returned to find the door shut and heard the sad word, "I do not know you" (v. 12). People are not ready for the Kingdom unless they know the Lord. "Everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life" (John 3:16) . Jesus is the way into the kingdom of heaven. Are you ready to go? Lee Atwater managed the successful 1988 campaign for George Bush. Two years later Atwater collapsed during a speech. Physicians located a brain tumor, and when it spread to the other side of his brain, "the master of political hardball sat there and cried. Now, he realized, was a time for coming to terms with the less virtuous acts of my life" (Associated Press, November 14, 1993). We may go before Christ comes. Be ready for either eventuality. (Bill Whittaker)

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