I want to share a statement with you, and I want you to react to the statement.

Here is the statement: "When we refuse to learn from the past, we condemn the present and destroy the future."

What is your reaction? A typical teenage reaction: "Boring! Lame! Lame! Lame!" Typical young adult reaction: "Forget the past. History is a waste of time! This is a new world, a new age. The world never has experienced anything like today!" Typical middle aged reaction: "The past does not make a lot of sense; the present makes no sense at all. Confusion is all I get when I try to put the past and the present together." Typical post-retirement reaction: "There is a lot to be said for the past. The present scares me to death. I do not even want to think about the future."

Do people exist in every age group who realize that understanding the past powerfully contributes to understanding the present? Certainly! But they are the minority. But, those are the people who understand that the failure to learn from the past condemns the present and destroys the future.

  1. The Old Testament prophets could not interest Israel in learning lessons from their past, and that disinterest destroyed them.
    1. Israel and Judah absolutely refused to consider any lessons from the past as being relevant to their world or their lives.
      1. "This is a different world and a different age!"
      2. "We have never been slaves! We did not live in the wilderness! We have had a good life for generations!"
        1. "We have nothing to learn from Abraham! We are not a bunch of nomads!"
        2. "Moses has nothing to say to us! We are not a bunch of slaves wandering in the dessert!"
        3. "Joshua has nothing to teach us! This land is ours and has been for several hundred years!"
        4. "The only thing we need to learn from our ancestors' mistakes is, 'Do not be a bunch of losers!'"
        5. "We do not need to learn anything about their relationship with God--we figured God out; we have religion down pat."
    2. So God commissioned the prophets to take His message to people who refused to listen.
      1. Isaiah was eager to take God's message (Isaiah 6).
        1. God asked, "Who will I send?"
        2. Isaiah said, "I am here; send me!"
        3. God said, "Okay, go to Judah and speak for Me."
        4. Isaiah said, "For how long do you want me to go, Lord?"
        5. God said, "Until the cities are destroyed and no one lives in them; until farm houses are empty and no one lives in them; until the land is so empty that there is nothing but the wind blowing."
        6. "Did those things happen?" Yes. "Why?" No one listened to the lessons from the past, and nothing changed.
      2. Jeremiah was not eager to take God's message (Jeremiah 1).
        1. God said, "Jeremiah, I am appointing you a prophet to the nations."
        2. Jeremiah said, "No thank you, Lord, I don't want that job."
        3. God said, "You will go unafraid wherever I tell you to go."
        4. God said, "Tell Judah something horrible that will soon happen to them."
        5. God said, "I will use you to condemn the wickedness of Jerusalem."
        6. God said, "They will fight you, but they won't win."
        7. Jeremiah took God's message; Jeremiah changed nobody's heart or mind; it seemed such a useless effort that Jeremiah even tried to quit.
        8. Why was it such a useless effort? No one listened to the lessons from the past, and nothing changed.

  2. When one generation learns lessons the hard way from a life altering experience, their lessons become meaningless advice to future generations.
    1. "Oh, David, you are exaggerating!" Am I?
      1. Teens, let's say that you are a passenger in a car with a drinking, teen driver (entirely possible--some of you have already been there).
        1. The car wrecks, kills the drinking driver, and you barely escape with your life after a long hospital stay.
        2. When you are a grandparent (and you probably will be), will your grandkids listen when you talk about the dangers of drinking and driving?
        3. What do you let your grandparents teach you?
      2. Grandparents, think of the worst experience in your life.
        1. Think of the most important lesson you learned from that experience.
        2. Can you teach that lesson to your grandkids?
        3. Is it just meaningless advice from some older person who does not understand today's world?

  3. There is something basic, something fundamental you must understand about God's work with people.
    1. God always has worked with people through the agreement of a covenant.
      1. Let me give you some specific examples.
      2. In Genesis 17 God established a covenant with Abraham.
      3. In Exodus 19 God established a covenant with the nation of Israel.
    2. If your reaction is "so what" let me share with you how important God's covenant with Abraham is so you will understand "so what."
      1. If you are a Christian, you exist as God's child specifically because of God's covenant with Abraham.
      2. If you are not a Christian, you can exist as God's child specifically because of the covenant God established with Abraham.
      3. The first time God promised to bring a blessing to all people is when He made the promise to Abraham.
        1. The Bible says that Jesus was born in order for God to keep His promise to Abraham.
        2. The Bible says that Jesus surrendered to the cross in order that God could keep his promise to Abraham.
        3. The Bible says that forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ can be preached to all people on earth because God's promise to Abraham.
        4. The Bible says that you and I can be forgiven of our sins because of the promise that God made to Abraham.
        5. The Bible says that God made perfect atonement for every evil a Christian commits because of God's promise to Abraham.
      4. That promise was part of the covenant, and the God who cannot lie made that covenant with Abraham--the promise had to be kept.
        1. Abraham entered that covenant agreement with God.
        2. Abraham accepted the responsibility of that covenant agreement.
        3. Abraham had a basic understanding of the covenant, and the covenant determined how Abraham used his life.
    3. Let me try to put this together in a way that you can put it in your understanding and take it home.
      1. God offered Abraham a covenant agreement, and Abraham accepted it.
        1. The symbol that verified the covenant existed between God and Abraham was physical circumcision.
        2. That covenant agreement included all of Abraham's descendants through Isaac who would be circumcised and keep the covenant.
        3. Hundreds of years later God ended Israel's slavery in Egypt to keep and honor the covenant with Abraham.
        4. Every year, throughout their generations, Israel remembered God's act of covenant through keeping the Passover.
        5. Then God made an additional covenant with the nation of Israel at Sinai.
          1. He gave them the ten commandments.
          2. They accepted the ten commandments.
          3. Those commandments stressed two things:
            1. "This is how you treat God."
            2. "This is how you treat people."
      2. The New Testament emphasizes that all Christians are included in the covenant God made with Abraham.
        1. The symbol of the covenant is the circumcised heart which occurs when we are baptized (Colossians 2:11,12).
        2. When you and I accept that covenant agreement with God, God ends our slavery to sin.
        3. Every week we remember that God ended our slavery by Jesus' death through observing the Lord's Supper.
        4. God makes every Christian a part of his spiritual kingdom or nation.
          1. In this spiritual nation, Jesus' teachings tell us how to live.
          2. "This is how you are to treat God."
          3. "This is how you are to treat people."
      3. That is what happened in Acts 2 when the first people became Christians.
        1. In Acts 2, Jewish believers understood God was keeping His promise to Abraham, therefore his promise to the nation of Israel.
        2. They understood that God made Jesus Lord and Christ, and they believed and repented.
        3. They were baptized to allow God to use His forgiveness to circumcise the heart.
        4. They immediately began treating God differently--every day they went to the temple with new hearts; every day they praised God.
        5. They immediately began to treat people differently--they even sold property to help those in need.

  4. Is your response, "boring!" or indifference ("why couldn't you talk about something interesting this morning?") or rejection ("David, I don't need to understand that stuff!")?
    1. In very direct, simple terms, this is why you need to understand "this stuff."
      1. I am just talking facts; I am not trying to be morbid.
      2. Everyone of us will die; none of us will live in this physical body indefinitely.
      3. Everyone of us will stand in front of Jesus Christ--without exception, we all will keep that appointment.
    2. When that moment comes, understanding God's covenant will be the most important thing you ever learned, and living in that covenant will be the most important thing you ever did.

[Prayer: God, help us understand how wonderful Your covenant promises are, and help us understand how certain your covenant promises are. Teach us to trust Your promises. Help us find the desire to live in Your covenant.]

"David, I figured out this religion thing a long time ago. All that is necessary is to do three things." (1) "Get" baptized. (2) Show up "at church" with some regularity. (3) Just do not do any of "the bad stuff."

That was Israel's approach, and they were 100% wrong. That is why Israel would not listen to Isaiah and Jeremiah. That is what brought catastrophe.

Let me talk just to church members for a moment. Do you think it is important for a person to be baptized? "Oh, yes!!!" It is just as important to understand baptism as it is to be baptized. Baptism has meaning and significance when a person understands the meaning and significance of his or her baptism.

Let me tell you a simple way to tell if you understand your baptism. Look at what you love. Look at how you behave. What you love and how you behave tells you if you understand your baptism.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 16 July 2000

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