There have been times throughout history and throughout America’s history when God has given visited us with great revivals. Usually, these are kindled in a small place in a small way, then just seem to ignite until God’s presence is manifest among his people and his power is displayed. In these great revivals, the church is restored and souls are awakened to their need for Jesus Christ and the salvation he brings. The lost are saved and saved are reignited in their passion for Jesus Christ and a nation is redirected; its march toward spiritual decay arrested, or at least stalled for a time.
Oh, that God would visit us with such a moment now. I’ve heard it all my life. We need revival. We need it badly. And I agree. We need to draw near to God and experience his drawing near to us. What was true in the 60s when my dad was preaching is still true today, even more so.
Revive us again, fill each heart with Thy love,
May each soul be rekindled with fire from above.
Hallelujah, Thine the glory. Hallelujah, Amen.
Hallelujah, Thine the glory. Revive us again.
But there is a problem with these kinds of revival. We want them. We need them. But they are remarkably rare. They are sovereign works of God, done according to his will and at his timing. We cannot make them happen. In the hundreds of years the colonies and the United States that formed from them have existed, there have been only four or five of these great sweeping revivals. There were the First and Second Great Awakenings, which were so stunning and world-altering that they are studied even by secular historians. The Prayer Revival of 1858 brought many souls to Christ. Unfortunately, many of those souls died in the Civil War, which effectively put an end to that work of the Spirit. The Welsh revival at the dawn of the 20th Century spilled over into America and many people consider the Jesus People movement among the hippies in the 60s as a small but powerful revival.
Revival is very rare.
But there is another kind of revival, another kind of spiritual awakening that is much less rare. It took place often in the Old Testament and is offered in the New Testament. James 4:8 promises us that if we “Draw near to God” that “he will draw near to (us).” This second kind of spiritual awakening is personal. One man or woman returns to God and walks in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. A family turns to the Lord and is restored to spiritual health and vitality. A church draws near to the Lord together and the Spirit of the Living God falls fresh on them. He breaks them, melts their hardened hearts, molds them after his will and fills them to serve him in power.
These kinds of revival happened regularly in the Old Testament. As is normal, God’s people tended to drift from him. We can never fully leave God, but that does not stop our deceptive, sin-seeking hearts from trying. We get enamored with the things of this world and enslaved by its desires. We seek ourselves and our own advancement. We seek pleasure. We seek money and that which money buys. But then God cuts in and draws us back to himself by his grace. It always begins with God. The people draw near to God and he draws near to them.
This happened during the time of Samuel, as he led God’s people out of the darkness of the end of the period of the judges. Elijah briefly led God’s people to realize that he was their true Lord. Ezra led those who were reestablishing Israel after the exile in a massive revival. But there is one revival I would like to discuss today. We do not have much information on how effective or long-lasting it was. Unfortunately, they never last too long. God’s mercies must be renewed regularly. But I’d like to direct your attention today to Joshua 24 and the renewal of the covenant that took place at the very end of his ministry as leader of Israel.
In Joshua 23:14, he reflects on the inevitable and declares that he would soon “go the way of all the earth.” Our lives are like grass. Even the longest life among us little more than a breath, a moment in light of eternity. As Joshua faced his mortality, his desire was that Israel would walk in the ways of God even after he was gone. He knew that human hearts were hard and prone to drift away into sin. So he called Israel to spiritual renewal.
As I read this passage this week, I was burdened with a strong sense that I needed to share this message with you. I am going to Israel this week and have no knowledge that I am about to “go the way of all the earth.” I hope to remain in God’s service for a couple more decades, at least! But when I read this passage, I sensed that this was the message I was to preach this week. In it, we seek a path to personal revival and renewal. It would do us all good to follow that path.
The Beginning of Revival
It is interesting how this renewal began. Joshua did not go through and enumerate the sins of the people. The Bible never shies away from calling our sin what it is. Joshua deals with that aspect later in this process. But he did not begin with the enumeration of the sins of Israel. He began in Joshua 23:14 with this statement of fact.
“(Y)ou know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed.” God has been very good. The return of Israel to loyalty to God began with the recounting of God’s goodness to his people.
1) Remember the Goodness of God
The way that God dealt with Israel is often used as a pattern for how he deals with us today. As Joshua recounts the goodness of God in Joshua 24:1-13, we can see glimpses of God’s goodness to us and we can give thanks to him.
A) God Selected Israel. God Selected US!
It is easy for us to forget the seminal fact of all the Bible. It all begins with God. God does love you because you chose him, you sought God because he loved you and chose you as his very own. Let us lay aside, for a moment, all of the conflict that goes along with that concept and just revel in what we know the Bible says about our relationship with God.
Any of you who can remember back to your playground days when they were “choosing up sides” and the horror you felt when you were not chosen early, when you knew you were not really wanted; you can understand the beauty of this concept. Before the world was created, God chose you as his own and determined to make you an object of his love. God continually reminded Israel of this throughout the Old Testament, and we would do well to be reminded of this.
To Israel, Joshua said, in verse 3, “Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac.” To us, Paul said, “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world.”
My friend, God did not sit back and tell us to get our act together, clean up our lives and maybe we could be his friends. He reached down while we were still sinners, no, even before we were sinners, and he set his affections on us. We love him because he first loved us.
God is very good, so good that he chose sinners like us to be his own!
B. God saved Israel. God Saved Us.
There are few times in the OT, when God speaks to Israel, that he does not bring up the fact that he saved them out of Egypt. Here, he does so in verses 6-7. “Then I brought your fathers out of Egypt, and you came to the sea. And the Egyptians pursued your fathers with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. And when they cried to the LORD, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did in Egypt.” He set up feasts, rituals and sacrifices designed to remember this great saving act. God reached down to his people in slavery in Egypt and rescued them.
We too are slaves; not to another nation, but to our own sin. It wraps its cords around human beings and drags them to an eternal hell. But because of the great love of God, he broke those bonds. As he rescued Israel from Egypt, he rescued us from our sins.
He did so by the greatest act of love that has ever taken place in this world. He sent his Son to live the life we couldn’t live – perfect, sinless. Then, Jesus offered his sinless body as the payment for our sins and God’s wrath fell on him instead of us.
In the New Testament, everything centers around the Cross and the Empty Tomb that followed. There is no life or hope outside the Cross of Christ. But when you go to the Cross for God’s forgiveness, you find “Mercy there is great and grace is free, pardon there is multiplied to me. There my burdened soul found liberty. At Calvary.”
C. God Sustained Israel. God Sustains Us.
God did not choose Israel, save Israel, then leave them to their own devices. I am amazed at how many people think that is how God works. He chooses us as his own, saves us by his grace, then turns us loose to live as best we can until the day we go to heaven. That’s not what God did with Israel and it is not how God treats us.
In verses 7-13, Joshua recounts the sustaining power of God in Israel’s life. He then says in verse 13, “I gave you a land on which you had not labored and cities that you had not built, and you dwell in them. You eat the fruit of vineyards and olive orchards that you did not plant.” God’s grace continues to us even after we are saved. He gives us strength for each day, hope, joy, peace, and a constant flow of his love. What a great illustration of the Christian life. We experience victories over enemies we did not defeat, experience blessings we didn’t earn and provisions we did not pay for. We live by God’s grace.
Here is the point of all this, folks. God could not be any more good to us than he has been! He chose us, cleansed us with his saving grace and clothes us daily in his sustaining grace. From eternity past and for the duration of eternity future, he floods our lives with his goodness.
Here is Joshua’s point as he enumerates God’s goodness to Israel. In the light of all that God has done for you, how can you do anything other than love him with all your heart and serve him with all your might? How can we live our lives as we so often do in the light of the goodness of God?
2) Return to the God of Goodness
Having enumerated the goodness of God, Joshua pleads with the people to return to the God of goodness; to love him, serve him and follow him. We must, even today, heed that call. There is a natural tendency for us to drift from God, for the fires of our passion for him to die out. We must return to him. We must draw near. That is the kind of revival I am recommending today. I wish I could promise a sweeping, stunning, worldwide work of God that would make the First Great Awakening look small in comparison. But I can recommend that as you come to the table of the Lord today, you draw near to him, repent if need be and be restored to him. Draw near to God today, and he will draw near to you.
There are no easy steps that I can spell out that lead automatically to revival. Each of us is in a different place and needs to take different steps. But there are some principles in this passage that we would do well to heed. As Israel returned to God, so can we. Verses 14-28 spell out this process.
A. Consecrate Yourselves to God
That is a big, scary word, but it simply means to set something apart completely to God. In verse 14, Joshua admonishes Israel, “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness.” The problem that would plague Israel throughout its years had already shown up. Israel was prone to wander from loyalty to God and serve other gods. Here, Joshua calls them to love God alone and to serve him alone.
When I stood next to Jenni and before my father, I promised to forsake all others. In 35 years, I have had only one woman in my life. Never had a date or shared a kiss with any other woman. That ought not to be viewed as heroic. It is basic marriage! But that is what God desires from us. Consecration. Devotion. Loyalty.
Is the God of goodness the passion of your heart?
B. Cleanse Your Life from Idols.
Verse 14 goes on to spell out the negative side of that positive commitment. If you are going to be consecrated to God, you must also put aside idols. “Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.” You cannot serve both God and idols. He will not be part of your life or one of the passions of your heart. He demands to be exclusive!
Americans, even American Christians, are as idolatrous as Israel ever was. We may not have shrines in our homes to pagan gods, but we worship and serve them nonetheless. We worship Ego, the god of self. It’s all about me! We worship Bacchus, the god of revelry – the party God. Hey, I just want to have a good time! We worship Aphrodite, the goddess of love and sex. We bow down to Mammon, the god of money and possessions and prosperity. Many today even serve at the altar of Lyssa – the goddess of anger and fury. Our grudges mean more to us than God!
And if we are going to return to God, we must reject all of these.
C. Count the Cost
I am going to jump ahead a bit, then come back to verse 15. All too often, when the discussion is revival or repentance, the preacher makes an emotional appeal, even a manipulative one. I remember a Sunday to Sunday revival held at a church I attended many years ago. The evangelist shared a story at the end of every sermon about someone who came to a revival, almost made a profession of faith, and then died before the next service. I didn’t know that many tragic stories existed! That was manipulation at its worst. You’d better come forward tonight or there might be a bus with your name on it, devoted to your destruction.
That is not what Joshua did here, and it is not what Jesus did in his ministry. He told people to count the cost. Think it through. Here, Joshua warns the people that returning to God is no small thing. He is holy and does not regard our unholiness lightly. He is jealous for our love and affection. “You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God.” Don’t take this lightly. Don’t make a snap decision which you will ignore later.
D. Choose You This Day…
This, of course, is the verse that struck me most this week. It is important that we give glory to God and recognize that we are only responding to his grace. It is important that we recognize that he loved us first. But if we forget that we must also choose whom we will serve, if we do not make the choice to draw near to God, if we do not commit ourselves to him, we will not experience the renewal we need.
In fact, every time the Word is proclaimed, you have a choice. And right now, I ask you what Joshua asked of Israel, in Joshua 23:15. “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.”
It is time for you to make a choice today, my Christian friend. Choose you this day whom you will serve. Having been chosen by God in his love, having been saved, forgiven and made new by his saving grace, having been sustained by his love daily, provided for, empowered, and lifted up, are you now going to serve yourself and your own interests instead of his. Will you serve money, or pleasure, or power, or any of those other gods that people serve today?
Choose you this day whom you will serve. As you come to the table of the Lord, choose you this day. It is not easy, not in any way. But the work of God in this world will not be done by half-hearted Christianity. Choose you this day whom you will serve. God does not need a majority to make a difference, but he does require a devoted minority, people who are passionate about him and his glory. Choose you this day whom you will serve. God is at work all around us. He is still the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He is working to redeem sinner and bring them into his kingdom. He still uses redeemed sinners like us to do that work. Choose you this day whom you will serve. You cannot come to God while you are still devoted to idols. You cannot serve self and serve him. You cannot love both God and money. You cannot live for pleasure and for Christ. So, my friend, choose you this day whom you will serve.
As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.