A sermon by Harry Goodhew
The opening chapters of the book of Joshua tell the story of the early days of Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land. There, on the farther side of the River Jordan, they gathered in preparation for the river crossing and the attack on Jericho.
Verse 9 of Chapter 3 says, “Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the Lord your God”.
He stirred their courage and resolve by reminding them that God had promised to give them the Land. Their task was formidable and daunting but God had promised.
Joshua’s words, “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God”, echo down the ages to us. We too pursue a journey and engage in a struggle.
Our challenge is to live a life of love and obedience to God until he comes or calls us home. So let’s, “Come and listen to the words of the LORD our God”, that we too may overcome and be victorious.
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:14-16 (NIV))
That’s a very famous promise made by God in Scripture: its fame, and the fact that it so well-known, ought not be allowed to blunt its power and purpose in our daily life with God.
I encountered verse 16 as a youngster. It was so pivotal for me that I wrote it in the front of my Bible which then, of course, was the King James Version.
I wrote: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that – and replacing “whosoever with my own name – Harry Goodhew who believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The verse speaks of God’s love for the world, for the cosmos, for everything and everybody He has made. It becomes particular and personal for us when we believe in Him.
I have friends who speak of “believing” as being like sitting on a chair. The chair is there in the room but it does nothing for me until I trust my weight on it and actually sit on it. The Lord Jesus is, in that sense, like the chair. He is there, God’s provision for our salvation, but we need to rest all the weight of our life, our sin, our death, and our eternity, on him alone.
Strikingly the verse says to us that God loves us, really loves us. As one famous writer said, he does not simply have a mild interest in our general wellbeing; he actually loves us and purposes to present us faultless in his presence. He is Love itself, as patient as an artist over his prized piece of work, as despotic as a man’s love for a dog that he demandingly trains so it can live with him in his house, as severe and unrelenting as a good father with the child he wishes to see grow into a true woman or man, and as exclusive and jealous as a man and woman deeply in love with each other.
What the Sun is to our solar system the love of God is to us and our salvation. It is the heat and light of our existence. God promises us eternal life, the life of His new age, a gift in the gift of his Son.
We need to “Come and listen to the words of the LORD our God”. In that way we will have confidence and courage. We are to trust that love, relying on him, calling on him, rejoicing in him day after day. We must not allow his promise to slip from the focus of our trusting attention.
We can “Come and listen” a little more “to the words of the LORD our God”, as we listen to the personal testimony of Paul the Apostle.
The words I’ve chosen come from his letter to the churches in Galatia. He was writing to dissuade Christian believers, especially Gentile ones, from accepting the false teaching of others who followed him. They were insisting that Gentile believers needed to be circumcised and thus put themselves under the tutelage of the Old Covenant. He saw that as a serious departure from the New Covenant established by Jesus in his death and resurrection. To make the point that salvation was through Christ alone and by dependence on Him, he wrote: “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:19-20 (NIV)
This issue of the role of the provisions of the Old Covenant was at the time one of great importance. It doesn’t figure greatly in our thinking today, but at that time Paul was contending strenuously for the truth that God’s saving purposes were accomplished in Jesus. It was then, as it is today, that God saves those who have faith in Jesus.
Two important “words of the Lord our God” occur in Paul’s testimony that we should note.
The first is that Christ lives by his Spirit in the life of each believer. We need regularly to remind ourselves of this. It is such an astonishing and wonderful fact. Hard sometimes to believe but wonderfully true. We may be very ordinary and unexceptional people but Christ himself lives in each of his children; in those who look to him as their King and Redeemer. So, listen to that word from God, focus on it, and take encouragement from it.
The second word God has spoken is linked with it: Paul said he lived his daily life “by faith in the Son of God, who loved (him) and gave himself for (him)”. What was true for him needs to be true of us too. Jesus loves each one of us and gave himself for each of us. We are to live by faith in him and in that important truth: he loves us.
Remember, ‘Faith’ is a decision; a decision we make to rely on or to trust in, something or someone. Jesus calls us to trust him and his love for us. It is a decision we need to make every day: “I will live this day by dependence of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me”
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
These are the words of the Lord God Almighty through Moses recorded in Deuteronomy 6. Israel was to listen to these words and respond in loving obedience.
Our Lord Jesus used this passage and the additional words of Leviticus 19:18 … “love your neighbour as yourself” as part of his answer to the question “Which is the great commandment in the law?” Remember, he declared that all the law and the prophets, that is the whole Old Testament, hung off these two principles like clothes off a peg in the wall.
The Deuteronomy passage came to form part of the daily prayer routine for devout Jews. It is called the “Shema” from the opening ‘to hear’, or ‘to listen’ It is possible that both the Lord Jesus and people like Peter and Paul prayed these words three times a day as part of their daily devotions.
Since they are so central to the revelation of God’s will for his people, not only does the Lord Jesus refer to them, but Paul in his letters to the Romans and to the Galatians, and James in his letter, make reference to the Leviticus command. Paul says that all commands are summed up in the command to love one’s neighbour.
The three times a day prayer routine was, and is, an highly effective way to fix one’s mind on God and to fix the heart on what pleases God.
It resonates with the words of the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” as Matthew records it. (6:9-13 (NIV)).
One way that you and I could attempt to capture that primary focus on God and, as well, frame our hearts towards following his purposes and responding to his grace might be to experiment with the practise for ourselves. We could try, three times a day, to use of these two “words from God”. That’s a practical and powerful way to listen to the Lord our God.
When God speaks it belongs to our wisdom to listen. His words are life and we are blessed to have his words in Scripture.
The world and daily life are filled with words. Our own minds produce words too, sometimes of hope and joy, sometimes of doubt and confusion. Yet we have the privilege and the joy of listening to God himself. We are unwise if we fail to listen to him. He speaks love, correction, and direction, and it all springs from his love for us.
Psalm 119, at verse114 says: “You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word.”
Listening to what God says to us is to find the heart and mind of God. That heart is wider than all universes and is filled with love for us. Joshua gave good counsel “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God”.