Famous Last Words...
There’s the joke that goes, what does it mean when a pastor says, “And in conclusion, I’d like to say…” The answer? Absolutely nothing! Well, it might seem like pastors’ sermons never end, but eventually they do. And sometimes, concluding remarks actually have some significance. In fact, 3,500 or so years later, the parting words of Joshua—the great conqueror and settler of the Promised Land—carry eternal significance. It doesn’t hurt that they’re also the inspired Word of God!
Although Joshua was “old and advanced in years” (Josh. 23:1) and at the age of 110, he perfectly sets up his closing statement to the nation of Israel to be something to which they can refer when they need inspiration to do the right thing when the going gets tough in the future. It’s something from which we can benefit as well. And so the words of wisdom begin…
When tempted to abandon God’s principles and plans for your life, be reminded of what He has done. Joshua said:
And you have seen all that the Lord your God has done to all these nations because of you, for the Lord your God is He who has been fighting for you (Joshua 23:3).
We humans are forgetful. The very fact that God chose to write His Word down is testimony to the fact that He knew we would forget all He had done, from the creation of the universe to the salvation of our souls. If we are not reminded of His many benefits and blessings to us, we are much more likely to begin to believe we are somehow in charge of things and act like He doesn’t exist.
The well-known poem by William Ernest Henley, published in 1875 called “Invictus,” is best known for its final famous lines: "I am the master of my fate / I am the captain of my soul." It has inspired everyone from Nelson Mandela to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and is really an ode to self-sufficiency. Remembering what God has done helps us reach for His sufficiency in the future, not just our own. In the final analysis, becoming self-sufficient is insufficient.
Begin now to make the choices that will stand you in good stead as you move into the future. Next Joshua said:
Now, therefore, fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord (Joshua 24:14).
After Joshua tells the people to look back, he tells them to look down at where they are. What do they currently have in their lives that needs to be put away so they can better serve God? Stop playing games with the Lord and start relating to Him in sincerity and truth, not with lip service or merely going through the motions.
And in the next verse he turns his attention to the future. No good closing statement would be complete without giving a statement about the future. The conclusion of the sermon would be lacking if the preacher didn’t tell the people what God would have them do next. In Joshua’s case it was simple:
When it comes to the future, determine who your master is going to be. Joshua put it this way:
…Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).
On June 7, 1891, “The Prince of Preachers,” Charles Haddon Spurgeon, delivered his final message. In his famous last words, the conclusion of that sermon, He said:
Every [person] must serve somebody: we have no choice as to that fact. Those who have no master are slaves to themselves. Depend upon it, you will either serve Satan or Christ. Either self or the Savior. You will find sin, self, Satan, and the world to be hard masters; but if you wear the uniform of Christ, you will find him so meek and lowly of heart that you will find rest unto your souls. … If you could see our Captain, you would go down on your knees and beg him to let you enter the ranks of those who follow him. It is heaven to serve Jesus.
Look back and be reminded of what He has done. Look down at choices you can make now to change tomorrow. Look ahead to see what sort of master you will serve. The time is now; the choice is yours.
“For You are the Lord Most High over all the earth; You are exalted far above all gods.” —Psalm 97:9