You had such good intentions, BUT… fill in the blank. Good intentions to exercise more regularly, to stick to that diet, to save more money, to be more patient, to study more for that upcoming test, to go to Bible study. You had such good intentions, BUT… fill in the blank with whatever it was that derailed you from doing what you had planned on. Good intentions are only as good as the actions that follow them.
In our reading from Joshua 24 today, we heard how Joshua listened to the good intentions of the people that he had helped lead for nearly the last 60 years. It was around the year 1400 BC and the nation of Israel was finally living in the land of Canaan, the small piece of land about half the size of Wisconsin, that God had promised to Abraham and his descendants nearly 600 years earlier. As a much younger man, Joshua was one of the 12 men who had been sent by Moses to inspect this land called Canaan after Moses led the nation of Israel out of the slavery of Egypt. Unfortunately, Joshua was one of only two men who believed that God had the power to give the Israelites the land of Canaan. So for the next 40 years, the nation of Israel wandered in the desert until God was ready to lead them into Canaan. Joshua served as one of Moses’ right hand men, helping to lead God’s chosen people throughout those for 40 years. When Moses died, the Lord chose Joshua to take Moses’ place. Joshua was the man who led the military of Israel across the Jordan River to conquer the land of Canaan, and eventually to lead the nation of Israel to occupy the land that God had promised to his chosen people Israel.
Joshua had been through a lot with the people of Israel over these last 60 years. He had seen them at their best at places like Jericho where they trusted God and followed his commands. And he had seen them at their worst, wanting to kill Moses and go back to Egypt. Joshua knew these people all too well. As Joshua came to the end of his life, he gathered the elders of Israel for one final message of encouragement. He simply says to them, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness” (Joshua 24:14). How did the people respond? They responded in the way you would expect. They had great intentions! “Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods… We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God” (Joshua 24:16,18). Joshua even tells them how to carry through on these good intentions. He tells them, “Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped” (Joshua 24:14). Joshua tells them to get rid of any of those gods they had secretly held on onto, anything that could possibly lead them into sin and away from the Lord. Get rid of anything that might prevent and derail them from carrying through on their good intentions to serve the Lord. Get rid of them! You can almost imagine the Israelites standing there listening to Joshua and shaking their heads in agreement, determined to do what he said. They had such great intentions!
Sound familiar? All too familiar, right? We have good intentions. I don’t think that any of us wakes up in the morning thinking, “You know what? I am really going to sin a lot today!” I don’t think that you walk out of church thinking, “I am going to be selfish, angry, greedy, bitter, jealous and impatient this week!” I don’t think that is any of our intentions. No, like Joshua and the Israelites, our intentions are to, “Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness” (Joshua 24:14). Like Joshua and the Israelites, God calls us to identify and get rid of those things that we’ve been secretly, or maybe not so secretly, holding onto instead of the Lord, things that lead us into sin, that lead us away from the Lord. The greed that effects our decisions, the anger that effects our attitudes, the pride that effects our views of others, the lust that leads our minds and eyes to wander. We hear God say, “Get rid of them!” and we nod our heads in agreement. “You’re right, God!” Like Joshua and the Israelites, we have such good intentions to “Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness” (Joshua 24:14).
But did you notice Joshua’s response to what the Israelites said? He says, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God” (Joshua 24:19). That doesn’t seem very encouraging does it? It almost seems like Joshua is discouraging the people from even TRYING to serve the Lord, like, “Why even try because you’re never going to be able to do it anyways!” But these words are not a discouragement to serve the Lord. Instead, they are the reality of our service to the Lord. Joshua knows all too well that our intentions to be faithful to the Lord and serve him are not always acted on. He knows that the sins we have every intention of getting rid of, that we convince ourselves, “I will never do that again!” are the very sins that all too often pop up in our hearts and lives again. Our intentions to do better, to be better, repeatedly fall short. We cannot live up to God’s standards of holiness. Our faithfulness to the Lord cannot gain his blessing or his forgiveness of our sins. So why even try? Why try to do what Joshua and the Bible makes clear is impossible for us to do?
Why? Because what is impossible for US, God has made possible. God did what only he could do. Jesus came to earth to “Fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness.” Jesus’ life was not merely one of good intentions, but of perfect obedience to the Lord. He never allowed anyone or anything to distract him from doing what God wanted. There was never a complaint or bad attitude, never a lustful look at a woman or lack of patience with distracted disciples. His perfect obedience of God made Jesus the perfect sacrifice for sin. As the holy Son of God, Jesus was able to take the punishment of the world’s sins. For all the times when our good intentions fell far short, for the sins that we have secretly held onto in our hearts, the Holy Son of God suffers the punishment of hell in our place. What is impossible for us to do, Jesus did. The Apostle Peter put it this way, “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18,19). The perfect life of Jesus makes him capable of making the perfect payment for our sins. The perfect life of Jesus makes it possible for us to perfectly serve the Lord.
The Bible tells us, “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Through faith in Jesus, the perfect life of Jesus completely washes over us. Our sin-stained lives of imperfect service are now perfect in the Lord’s sight. Our intentions, our thoughts, our words, our actions – are purified of all sins, covered in the perfection of Jesus. You see, that’s what makes us the light of the world. It’s not because of the number of good things that we do or that we’re trying so hard to do more good things than bad things. No! It is Jesus who makes us the light of the world. In fact, that connection between Jesus and the bright life of Christian faith is actually found in the rest of that verse in 1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). The only way that we can “walk in the light” is because of our connection to Jesus through faith. It is that connection to Jesus’ purifying life and death that empowers our Christian lives. It is that connection to Jesus that creates us in the desire to want what Joshua says in these verses, “Throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel” (Joshua 24:23).
I especially want you to focus in on the second half of that verse, “yield your hearts to the Lord.” That word “yield” means, “to spread, stretch, bend, turn” in other words, it describes something that is pliable, something that can be shaped and molded, kind of like Play-Doh, silly putty or clay. But did you notice what shape our hearts are to be molded into? “yield your hearts TO THE LORD.” This is allowing the Lord to shape us – our feelings, our attitudes, our actions, our words, our lives, our decisions. It is saying to the Lord, “Lord, shape my relationship with my spouse, my children, my friends. Lord, shape my view of my use of my time, my money, my abilities. Lord, shape the way that I look at my work, the way I talk about others, the way I feel about others. Lord, shape me to be what YOU want me to be.”
The fact is that our hearts are not always so pliable. In fact, we can be pretty rigid and stubborn. “Yielding” requires trust, allowing someone else to be in control, and we’re not always so good at that. But who better to shape us, to yield ourselves to than the Lord? Remember, this is the Lord that has purified us of all sin. This is the Lord whose perfect life covers us completely and makes each of us faithful servants of the Lord. This is the Lord that empowers you to be the light of the world, shaping us each day by his forgiveness, and by his Word, to be bright reflections of him. Amen.