The Gospel of John: A Mandate to Remember.

He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many believed in him there.” (John 10:40-42)

I love studying history. Always have! As a child and a high school student, and then later on as a high school history and Bible teacher, I thoroughly enjoyed learning and teaching the truths of history: especially American history.

I recently re-watched a DVD series from Focus on the Family entitled The Truth Project. It was produced in 2006 and features such Bible teachers and apologists for the Christian faith as Del Tackett, R.C. Sproul, Ravi Zacharias and Os Guinness. It is designed for small groups in order to equip believers with a comprehensive and biblical world view.

One of the episodes in the series features a lecture by Dr. Tackett on the importance of achieving accuracy in our study of history. Particularly, biblical history. As I watched with a fresh and renewed awareness, I paid particular attention to the following statements.

  • “What you believe in the present is determined by the past. Therefore, history becomes increasingly important.”
  • “If I can changed your historical context, I can change the way you view the present. This is the power of historical revisionism.”
  • “He who controls the past controls the future.”
  • People without a heritage are easily persuaded.”
  • “God has given us a mandate to remember.” (See Joshua 4:1-7; Judges 2:1-15; Isaiah 464:8-11; I Corinthians 11:23-26).
  • “Our problem is that we are forgetting what we should remember and we keep remembering what we should forget.”

One quote about the importance of remembering past events comes from the writings of George Santayana, a Spanish-born American author of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” What he meant was that remembering the past is necessary to avoid repeating past mistakes. This truth can be applied not only politically, economically, and culturally but also theologically and spiritually in our walk with God.

Sir Winston Churchill said something similar when he wrote, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. We must always look forward, but we have to understand our history in order to not repeat the mistakes of the past. I have seen too many instances where people continue to pursue wrong courses of action because they do not take the time to think critically about what has happened in the past.”

Today’s text reveals that Jesus withdrew from the hostile Jewish religious leaders and went across the Jordan into an area known as Perea. Perea was a region immediately east of the Jordan River, northeast of the Dead Sea and southeast of Galilee. Perea was also notable because it had been the location of John the Baptist’s ministry (John 1:28). It was in this location that the people received Jesus much more favorably. This is probably because John the Baptist had prepared the people there. Even though by this time John was dead, He was still having an influence in people’s lives as they remembered his witness. Many believed in the person and work of Jesus Christ because of the Holy Spirit’s continuing work through John the Baptist.

Isaiah 46:8-11 says, “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.”

Within the context, the prophet Isaiah records God declaring the readers are to recall: 1) all the past history of fulfilled prophecies, as well as 2) miraculous deliverances such as that from Egypt, and 3) providential blessings Israel has experienced. All of these are ample evidence that he alone is God. How much more so today when Jesus calls the church to remember His sacrifice on the cross through the ordinance of Communion (I Corinthians 11:23-26).

Dr. Michael Horton, professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California and author of the book Christless Christianity, was recently asked in an interview what he considered to be the greatest threat to Orthodox (biblical) Christianity today. Dr. Horton replied:

“Shallowness. It is far worse than heresy. At least heretics take the gospel seriously enough to distort and deny it. And heresy always makes the church think more deeply about what it believes and why it believes it. However, shallowness is deadly for the Christian Faith.”

“If you just need some helpful advice, encouragement, inspiration, and uplift from your religion, you just need enough water to get your feet wet. A few slogans and insights will suffice. But Christianity bets all its chips on certain events that happened in history. “If Christ is not raised,” Paul said, “then we are of all people the most to be pitied.” After all, he says, we are false witnesses-perjurers-and Jesus is a fraud. You have not lived a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life if Christ was not raised from the dead; you’ve been duped, and we’re accomplices in that, Paul said (1 Corinthians 15).” 

Dr. Horton concluded by saying, “The gospel is not a religious feeling, a spiritual journey within, or pious advice. It is a story in the words of the British playwright Dorothy Sayers, “the greatest story ever told.” From this unfolding drama of redemption from Genesis to Revelation arise doctrines, which lead to wonder and thanksgiving, motivating grateful love and service to our neighbors. All of this requires that we submit to the discipline of listening, understanding, and growing in our faith.”

History, and particularly biblical history, is not a field of deep weeds which are best avoided. Rather, God commands His children to remember the truths of the past in order to avoid mistakes in the present which will impact the future.

God has given us a mandate to remember.

Soli deo Gloria!


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