Remembrance Day (Nov. 11) is coming up, and Iíve been eager to hear stories about what it was like for the women who served in World War 2. Iíve been thinking that itís important for the younger generation to hear these stories, while those who lived them can still tell them. I think that a similar situation may have led to the writing of the Gospels. The first gospel to be written was probably Markís. There is an old church tradition that Mark was the apostle Peterís assistant, and that in his Gospel Mark wrote down what he remembered Peter saying about Jesus; I think this is probably true. The scholars generally agree that the Gospel of Mark was written during a time of persecution, persecution during which both Peter and Paul died. I think that when this happened, Mark felt the need to write down the stories that he had heard about Jesus. Of course Iím not saying that Godís hand wasnít in all this; we can be sure that it was. But I suggest that what Iíve described are the immediate, earthly circumstances that led to the writing of the Gospel of Mark.

The Old Testament: Godís Word and His Ways

Itís not surprising, then, that all this has led me to think abut remembering. What should we remember, and why is it important that we remember? Remembering is an important theme in the Bible, especially the Old Testament. Over and over again the people of Israel are told to remember. The many verses that mention remembering fall into two categories. First, Godís people are told to remember Godís law. In the book of Numbers God tells Moses,

    Speak to the Israelites, and tell them to make fringes on the corners of their garments
    throughout their generations, and to put a blue cord on the fringe at each corner. You
    have the fringe so that, when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of
    the Lord, and do them, and not follow the lust of your own heart and your own eyes.
    So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and you shall be holy to your God. (Num. 15:38-40)

In other words, the Israelites were to put a fringe on the hem of their garments, and to tie the fringe into a tassel with a blue cord, at each corner. This would be a visible reminder of Godís commandments, so that they wouldnít forget them. Weíll come back to this below. And in Deut. 4:23 Moses tells his people, ďBe careful not to forget the covenant that the Lord your God made with you...Ē Similarly Ps. 119, the longest one of all, deals with the joys of knowing and obeying Godís law. More than that: not only should Godís people remember Godís law, they should teach it to their children, so that the next generation can also remember. The Psalmist says,

We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done. He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. (Ps. 78:4-7)

In the second category are verses in which Godís people are told to remember Godís deeds. Interestingly, there are a lot more verses in this category than in the first one. On the day of Israelís exodus, Moses says to the Israelites, ďRemember this day, on which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, because the Lord brought you out by strength of hand...Ē (Exod. 13:3). Moses then goes on to tell the people how they must celebrate this occasion with the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread. These festivals were to be a reminder of what had happened. Again, Godís instructions provide for a concrete reminder of what he has done. And weíll see this yet again. And in the middle of 1 Chronicles the Chronicler quotes what appears to be a psalm of David. David says, ďRemember the wonderful works he [the Lord] has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered...Ē (1 Chron. 16:14).

In view of all this, perhaps itís not surprising that several of the Psalms tell about what God has done. In Ps. 40, which is one of my favourites, the speaker begins by talking about what God has done for him. Getting personal and remembering how God helped him in a past crisis allows him to be confident that God will help him now that heís in trouble again. Similarly in Ps. 77 the psalmist turns from his problems to say, ďI will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old. I will meditate on your work, and muse on your mighty deedsĒ (verses 11-12). In Ps. 44 the speaker recounts Godís deeds for Israel (verses 1-8), which leads him to ask for Godís help in another time of national trouble (verses 9-26). Israelite history also figures prominently in Pss. 105, 106, 135, and 137. In Pss. 8 and 104 the Psalmist turns his attention to the work of God in creation and nature. In Ps. 99 Moses, Aaron and Samuel are held up as examples of men who called on God, and he heard them. The implication is that if we call on God as Moses, Aaron, and Samuel did, God will hear us just as he heard Moses, Aaron, and Samuel.

Obviously, then, remembering is important. But why should we remember what God wants us to remember? Weíve already had a few hints as to this. We should know Godís law so that we can obey it. Obviously we canít obey what we donít know. And Ps. 119 tells us that obeying Godís law is good for us. It gives us wisdom, strength, and confidence for every need. And remembering what God did in the past makes it easier for us to believe that he will act on our behalf in the future. Ps. 40 and the Psalms that talk about Israelís history show that this is true on both a private and a public level. Itís also whatís behind the first few verses of the book of Joshua. At the beginning of chapter 1 God tells Joshua flatly, ďMy servant Moses is dead. Now proceed to cross the Jordan, you and all this people...Ē I wonder what Joshua feels at this moment? For more than 40 years he has been Mosesí assistant as Moses has led the people of Israel out of Egypt and through the desert. Now suddenly Moses is gone, and Joshua finds himself expected to fill some rather big sandals. Heís probably very frightened, and feels weak and not up to the job. That would explain why God keeps telling him to be strong and courageous. And thereís something else that God says which is important for our purposes: ďAs I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake youĒ (Josh. 1:5). Is this a good time for Joshua to remember what God has done for Moses and for Israel? Iíd say so. If Joshua remembers what God has done in the past, that will give him assurance that God will act for him in the current situation.

The New Testament: ďUntil He ComesĒ

There are instructions to remember in the New Testament as well as the Old. When he instituted the Lordís Supper, Jesus said, ďDo this in remembrance of me.Ē And Paul, writing to Christians in Corinth, says, ďAs often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lordís death until he comesĒ (1 Cor. 11:26). In other words, the Lordís Supper is a tangible reminder of what Jesus has done for us by his death.

Itís probably no accident, by the way, that when Jesus instituted the Lordís Supper, he and his disciples were celebrating the Passover. Both the Passover and the Lordís Supper are concrete reminders of what God has done. We can also say that just as the Passover reminded the Israelites of how God had freed them from slavery to the Egyptians, so also the Lordís Supper reminds us as Christians that by his death Jesus has freed us from slavery to sin, which is a worse slavery than slavery to any human enemy. And these reminders are intended to be as permanent as they are tangible. Just as the Israelites are to celebrate the Passover ďthroughout their generations,Ē i.e. as long as there are Jews, so also Christians are to ďproclaim the Lordís deathĒ in the Lordís Supper ďuntil he comes.Ē

Perhaps thereís a connection between the idea that Godís people are to remember Godís deeds and what seems to be a digression in the book of Hebrews. Having spent the first ten chapters talking about what God has done in Jesus, the writer unexpectedly shifts gears. Chapter 11 is an honour roll of men and women of faith, as the author lists some of the things that outstanding men and women of God have accomplished by faith. The writer seems to have gone off on a tangent. But has he? Perhaps the point is that just as God worked through Jesus, so also he worked through these men and women of faith to accomplish his purposes. This leads us to why we should remember these people of faith. Their example should encourage us to greater faith. This is why the writer of Hebrews begins chapter 12 with, ďTherefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles us, and run with perseverance the race marked out for us.Ē In some churches such people of faith are honoured as saints, and even prayed to. Indeed in these churches a day is set aside to honour these people: All Saints Day, or All Hallows Day, Nov. 1. Far more commonly celebrated is the previous day: All Hallows Eve, better known as Halloweíen. Iím not saying that we should pray to saints. But we can honour these men and women as people whom God used because of their faith, and their lives can provide us with an example for our own, to build up our own faith.

When We Don't Remember

Another way of asking why we should remember is to ask what happens when we donít remember. Ps. 78 begins by mentioning what God has done for Israel, then turns to what happened when they forgot what God had done.

They did not keep in mind his [Godís] power, or the day when he redeemed them from the foeÖWhen God heard, he was full of wrath, and he utterly rejected Israel. He abandoned his dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where he dwelt among mortals, and delivered his power to captivity, his glory to the power of the foe. He gave his people to the sword, and vented his wrath on his heritage (verses 42, 59-61).

If Godís people forget his law and his deeds, the consequences can be disastrous; the loss of his presence, defeat by evil and even death. This is why God asks us to remember, and why he has given us concrete reminders to help us remember. Itís also why the Old Testament contains so many stories about the sins and mistakes of individuals and of Israel as a nation. As Paul tells the Church of Corinth, ďThese things happened as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did...These things happened to them to serve as an example to us, and they were written down to instruct us.Ē (1 Cor. 10:6, 11).

More than that: if trouble comes on us as a result of our sins or wrong choices, we ought not to blame God for our problems, only ourselves. As Ezekiel puts it, ďThus says the Lord God: Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, therefore bear the consequencesĒ (Ezek. 23:35). And Paul says, ďAlthough they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkenedĒ (Rom. 1:21). Now Iím not saying that any time something bad happens in our lives itís our fault or that God is punishing us. What I am saying is that if we forget Godís laws and make wrong choices as a result, we can expect to suffer the consequences. But remembering Godís law will help us avoid disaster. The Psalmist says, ďYour Word I have hidden in my heart, so that I might not sin against youĒ (Ps. 119:11). This verse is from Ps. 119, which, as Iíve already said, deals with the joys of knowing and following Godís law. It gives us a good reason for memorising Scripture: getting Godís Word into us is the best way of making sure we donít fall into the trap and bondage of sin. You could say that Godís word is like a fence. But itís not put there to restrict us or hold us back in any way. Rather itís there to keep us away from anything that would prevent us from having the full, abundant, productive lives that God wants for us. This is where the world has a wrong idea about Godís law, and thatís because it has a wrong idea about God. God loves us, and wants good things for us. So his law is for our good. If he wants us to stay away from something itís because that something is not good for us. Iím reminded of Scottish comedian Billy Conolly, who said to an audience in Scotland, ďThe church is always saying, ĎThou shalt not.í But this is Scotland, where the men wear skirts, and yes we shall!Ē In an inverted kind of way, he has a point. Because Christianity isnít really about ďThou shalt not.Ē Itís not about rules, itís about having a relationship with God, through Jesus.

Letís sum up here. In taking a look at remembering weíve seen that God wants us to remember his law and his deeds. There are good reasons for remembering each of these things. God wants us to remember his law because remembering Godís law protects us from things that would hold us back from having the abundant lives he wants for us. And knowing and obeying Godís law is good for us. God also wants us to remember his deeds. Remembering what God has done for us and for others gives us assurance that he will act on our behalf in the future. The human characters of the Bible also provide us with examples for our own livesóboth positive examples that we can imitate, and negative examples that show us what to avoid. Thatís why itís important for us to read their stories. Weíve also seen that the consequences of not remembering can be disastrous. This is why God has always provided concrete reminders to help his people remember: the fringe and tassels, the festivals of Passover and Unleavened Bread, and the Lordís Supper.

In fact we can say that to remember Godís Word and his deeds is to remember God. But thereís something else that has to be said: in order to remember God we first have to know him. Do you know him? The way to know God is to have a relationship with him through his Son Jesus, by making Jesus your personal Lord and Saviour. If you havenít done this, I hope youíll consider doing it. To those who already know God I say: Letís be careful to remember his Word and his deeds. We read the Bible to hear Godís Word, and to learn about his deeds in the past. Remembering what God has done gives us assurance that heíll act to help us in our current need. And remembering his Word is also a safeguard, which keeps us from getting into trouble. God knows how important it is that we remember, which is why he has always given his people concrete ways to help them remember. The Jews wore tassels and a fringe on their garments; the Church has the Lordís Supper, instituted by Jesus just before he died. Letís do all we can to remember, lest we forget.