September 4, 2019

"How to..." teach - Joshua 8:30-35

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Theme: How to teach

Joshua 8:30-35 At that time Joshua built an altar on Mount Ebal to the LORD, the God of Israel, 31 just as Moses the LORD's servant had commanded the Israelites. He built it according to what is written in the book of the law of Moses: an altar of uncut stones on which no iron tool has been used. Then they offered burnt offerings to the LORD and sacrificed fellowship offerings on it. 32 There on the stones, Joshua copied the law of Moses, which he had written in the presence of the Israelites. 33 All Israel, foreigner and citizen alike, with their elders, officers, and judges, stood on either side of the ark of the LORD's covenant facing the Levitical priests who carried it. As Moses the LORD's servant had commanded earlier, half of them were in front of Mount Gerizim and half in front of Mount Ebal, to bless the people of Israel. 34 Afterward, Joshua read aloud all the words of the law-- the blessings as well as the curses-- according to all that is written in the book of the law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded that Joshua did not read before the entire assembly of Israel, including the women, the little children, and the foreigners who were with them.  

With the beginning of school upon us we are reminded of several different subjects that occupy the focus of students in the year ahead. One such study is history. One of the interesting aspects of history is combining the past with the present. One way this is done is by considering present day historical sites that have a special meaning in the past. There’s something about location that lends meaning and context to certain events. Some famous historical sites that students will undoubtedly learn about are: 
  • ·       Roman colosseum.
  • ·       Gettysburg battlefield.
  • ·       Independence hall in Pennsylvania
  • ·       Reflection pool at ground zero in NYC.

The importance of these locations is not so much about where they are but more about what happened there. Every special historical site was once a common place at some point. That changed with the significance of whatever event occurred there.

The Bible mentions plenty of special historical sites too. Many Christians travel annually to these locations. For some, it is a deeply religious experience – the term “pilgrimage” has been coined. For our purposes, however, we seek to learn about what made these locations special; for we are reminded that it’s not about one given spot, but about the God who chose to act in several ways that made those spots significant.

One such location of importance in the Bible is Shechem. Shechem was a tiny plot of ground in a valley between the two mountains listed in our text – Mount Ebal in the north and Mount Gerizim in the south. According to our text, shortly after the Israelites entered Canaan by crossing the Jordan river and defeating the cities of Jericho and Ai, they stopped at Shechem, built an altar to God and rededicated themselves to His Law. It was actually Moses who commanded that they do this once they finally returned to their homeland. This event alone was significant in its own right, but consider some of the other events that happened on the same plot of land.

Shechem was where Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, settled when he entered Canaan. He, too, built an altar there to God. Shechem was also where Jacob settled after returning from Laban’s home. He built another altar there and his famous well. Joseph was buried in Shechem, after his body was transported back to Israel. Shechem was where the kingdom of Israel was divided after the reigns of David and Solomon, separating the people into ten northern tribes and two southern tribes. And in the New Testament, Shechem was where Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, Jacob’s well in fact. There He explained to her what true worship of God was really about, not location per se, but instead what God Himself does for His people.   

For the Jewish people, and even more so for their Samaritan neighbors, Shechem was an extremely significant place. By looking at this history a bit, hopefully you can gain some understanding on why and also why the Jews and Samaritans were at odds with each other. The significance of Shechem was diminished over time as the attention of God’s people was directed south near Jerusalem. This created strife between Jews and Samaritans. It’s also is not lost on us that the region of Galilee, where our Savior did so much of His work on earth, was north of Shechem. In many ways, and most importantly by the forgiveness of sins, Jesus sought to re-unite these two fractured sides, all around what Joshua and the people of Israel originally committed to here – the Word of God.

We gain some insight into the significance of Shechem today, but more so we understand what we should be focused on as we teach others about the significance of what God has done. As we seek to memorialize those people and places that are influential in our lives, especially in our faith-lives, and as we seek to continue living in that which our Lord has done for us – we pay attention to this account.

The main lesson we see is that in order to teach, we need to care about the subject matter. One of the underlying reasons why Israel struggled to stay with the Lord throughout so much of their history is that they stopped caring about Him and His Word.

The prophet Zechariah captured this type of scene well, one which played out time and time again: Zechariah 7:11-12 “But they refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear. 12 Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the LORD of hosts.”

Jesus encountered the same struggle in His time: Matthew 13:15 For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.

When we stop caring, we stop growing in our faith; not because it’s up to us to build ourselves up, but because we end up shutting our eyes and ears to God. Make no mistake, it is God who does the work of saving and strengthening – in every aspect. You don’t have to be a scholar, or theologian, not even a pastor or teacher to be effective. Throughout the history of God’s Church, the best educators have been parents teaching their kids in the fear of God and the simplicity of His grace. God does the work – all of it. But if you don’t care it will show.   

How do you show that you care? It’s simple – people will see it by looking at the place God occupies in your life, especially in light of your other priorities. What you choose to spend time on is often dictated by how important the activity is to you. The literal hours of the week need not be dominated by church or Bible activities – but it should be clear that God is your priority in all things. You don’t need to invest a ton of hours to make God important and to teach that message to others. Very often, it will be easy to tell how important God is, even if a person doesn’t know the exact number of hours you put into it.

We see examples of this in Scripture, like in Colossians 3:17: And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Our Gospel lesson is another example – more pointed in fact. What a contrast between the Pharisee and the tax collector! We didn’t need an entire biography and breakdown of each man’s life to see it. Their priority as it concerned their faith in God was manifested in one simple attitude. People will see the same thing in your life – especially as you teach others and witness to what God has done for you.

We see this in our text, too, in what Joshua and the Israelites did at Shechem. They built an altar. They made sacrifices. They carved the Law back into stone. They gathered the entire assembly together – young and old alike – and listened to the Word as it was read. And they reaffirmed their belief and confession in the LORD. They stopped their daily activities and took the time to do these things in order to show how important they were. Observances like these make a difference in how people learn about their faith. If what they did sounds familiar, it should, because in each of its parts it’s very similar to what we do each Sunday. We take time to listen to God. We deliberately stop all other things we are doing, and we make this a priority. We offer Him the sacrifices of time and money. We train ourselves to focus so that we can listen to His Word – all of it. These practices are powerful factors in the way we teach others. If you want your witness to be effective, you need to care about it.

Ultimately, though, what we teach is more important that how we teach. No matter how caring we are, Christian education is about much more than just our efforts and intentions. If we’re not bringing people to God, we’re not helping them at all. We also see this at Shechem. The practices that Moses commanded Joshua and the people to do were not rituals void of meaning. Each activity was aimed at honoring and praising God for His gift of deliverance. The structure was designed to help the people of Israel understand and remember this.

A couple of important details come to the surface. First, Joshua read the whole word – blessings and curses. Joshua didn’t sugar-coat the Word. He didn’t share the parts that he knew the people would enjoy and avoid the more unpopular portions. He delivered the entire Word to them. We know that today as law and gospel – law being the message of God’s judgment over our sins and the gospel being the free and complete forgiveness we have in Christ. Joshua taught it all to them because he wanted the people to see not only what God does in His love, but also the great wickedness and tragedy of our sins that He had redeemed them from. The various rituals that followed – the altar construction, the sacrifices, the etching of the law, the responsive shouting back and forth were there to help the people learn of God’s great work and respond in thankful praise.    

The importance of the content is also shown in the fact that Joshua spoke to the entire assembly. It was important that all people hear this – men, women, children, and even foreigners who were in the camp. All who diligently teach of God today continue in the same fashion – declaring the whole Word and proclaiming it to all – with the singular goal that the grace of Christ shines forth clearly.

We see then, that the content of God’s Word – the whole message of law and gospel, is really what leads us to care about sharing it with others. If you find yourself unmotivated or uncertain about teaching others – go back to the Word. Return to the same source that Joshua used and to which he directed the focus of His people. This is how we become caring Christians – we see, learn, and understand what God has done for us. At some point in your life people took the time to teach you about this. They shared the stories of God’s Word, they helped you learn what God has done for you. They gave you rituals and practices to help you worship God and continue growing in your faith. And you’ve been abundantly blessed because they taught you all of this. The faith that was established by the Holy Spirit in your heart, and which has continued to flourish there has sustained you on life’s weary journey. It comforts you when you are afflicted by evil and wickedness in the world. It reassures and renews you when you fall from God’s grace in sin and unrighteousness. It gives you peace when you face life’s unknowns, with full confidence that Jesus is leading the way. What a blessing you have and what a critically necessary education you’ve been given!

Now in your life, you have the ability to give the same. You can teach others – not out of your skills or because of your credentials, but simply because you have been forgiveness and redeemed also. Go forward in confidence in your task of Christian education. Show everyone around you how much you care and how important it is. Leave no one behind and let no Word of God go unspoken or unheard in your life. And most of all – tell them about Jesus – your Savior and their Savior. Let all be done to His glory. Amen.

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