After Israel received the Law at Mt. Saini, after they marched to the Promised Land but refused to enter, after 40 more years of wandering, after an entire generation died in the desert, they stood on the edge of the Jordan River ready to enter the land. The LORD spoke to Joshua before the river crossing for instructions, a pep talk, and a warning. The warning was:
“Never stop reciting these teachings. You must think about them night and day so that you will faithfully do everything written in them. Only then will you prosper and succeed.” (Joshua 1:8)
This lasted awhile. For the next 300 years, the primary leaders of Israel were “Judges.” Now that the people were independent in their own land, they needed oversight. However, they were without powerful prophets like Moses, and they had no king. After Joshua, the Judges reminded them of God’s word but the people often ignored them. By the time of the end of the Judges, people appeared to have forgotten God’s word to Joshua, and they turned to false gods. People forgot the Law and everyone did whatever they wanted. Moral chaos ensued. Civic and family life deteriorated. Everyone did what they thought was right, but nothing worked out. It all stemmed from not taking God seriously—not remembering or living out the words He had given them.
Now, 3000 years later, we have so much more revelation from God. In particular, we have the teachings of Jesus recorded in the gospels. At the last supper, Jesus had a talk with his disciples which sounds similar to what God had told Joshua 1000 years earlier:
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” (John 15:7-10; emphasis mine)
Have you ever tried to do the right thing but it went terribly wrong? People don’t do what’s obviously wrong in their opinion; they do what they think is right. But our ways are naïve and misguided. After 3000 years of progress we’re not any better than the people of Israel who did whatever they wanted when they forgot God’s words. Jesus point was to stick with his teaching—that’s where things work. But how do Jesus’ “words remain in us?” I think it means knowing what they are and taking them seriously. Like God telling Joshua, Jesus here combines the ideas of staying focused on the word of God and obeying the word of God. Know them, do them. Stay in that space. This is where people are fruitful, God’s love is found, and life works.