Just one verse for a text today, we will be looking at a number of Scriptures, but just one verse to begin - and my message is entitled this morning 'Firm Foundations for the New Year', firm foundations for the future year. Deuteronomy 31 and verse 8: "And the LORD, Jehovah, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed". Let us read that verse again please: 'And the LORD, Jehovah, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed'.
Most of us, from children, have been familiar with the story of the Lord Jesus Christ which He concludes the Sermon on the Mount with. In Matthew 5, 6 and 7, if you're familiar with the Sermon on the Mount, you have the great sayings of the Lord Jesus that even people in the world know: the beatitudes and so on, our responsibility to God and to our neighbour, as the Lord Jesus comes and fulfils the law of Moses in all its fulfilment and completion in His person. Then He ends that Sermon with the parable of the foolish man and the wise man. Of course, we have learnt the chorus that 'The wise man built his house upon the rock', and 'The foolish man built his house on the sand', and when the storm came the foolish man's house fell down, but the house that was built on the rock, the house of the wise man stood firm and it weathered the storm. But what we're perhaps less familiar with, is what that parable actually teaches - yes, we can take out of it the application, generally speaking, that it is talking about salvation. If your life is built on the rock, Christ Jesus, well when the storms of life and the storms of judgment come in, we will survive. But if we're not built on the one foundation which has been laid, Jesus Christ, well then we're in trouble - not just in the storms of life, but in the great storm of judgment that is to come upon this world in a day that is yet to be.
That is not the primary interpretation of that parable, because what the Lord is saying is this: the words that I have spoken, obedience to those words is like building your life on a rock. So if you want, the house that is built is obedience to the words of the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount; and if the house that is built is obedience, therefore the foundation that we must build on are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Now this should be a revelation to many Christians, because I feel and fear that many enter through the gate of salvation and their job is done. They don't realise that on this pilgrimage toward heaven, along the narrow way, that it's not all just about pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die, and the assurance of heaven in some later world - but we are to be building something for God along the way, we are to be doing something for God, we are to be building a building that will glorify Him, a building of obedience founded on the firm foundation of the words of our Lord Jesus.
Now, if you enter the gate, that means if you have been saved, can I make you very aware that you are irrevocably obliged to build a house. You can't get to heaven around a detour past the house, there's no ring-road round building a life to the glory of the Lord Jesus, and so I ask you this morning: do you feel condemned by the teaching of the Lord in that parable? What I mean is: is your house feeling shabby in relation to your obedience and how you glorify Christ and His teachings in your life? Maybe your house is worse than shabby, your house is derelict, you're ashamed of it. Will the life that you build this year be to Christ's glory? The apostle Paul said: 'Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God'. What about last year? Was it to the glory and honour of God? Even if last year you failed the Lord Jesus in your building of obedience upon the foundation of His words, will you say today: 'Though I have not apprehended, this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus'. 'I've failed this year past, but I'm determined that in the year that is ahead I will build a house of obedience upon the foundation of the words of Christ to the glory of God, whatever it costs'.
Now, all Scripture is profitable - we know that - all Scripture is profitable to build our life upon, not just the words of the Lord Jesus but all of the New Testament and indeed the Old Testament. But here this morning I want to give you a good foundation stone to build your New Year upon in the verse that we read together, Deuteronomy 31 verse 8. If you like, there are five layers to this foundation stone. Let me give you the background of when this verse was given: the children of Israel were a nation that had been promised in embryo to Abraham. You remember the promise he received, that the fruit of his loins would become a great nation and would bless all the world, and the fruit of his loins would be more than the sand on the seashore, more than the stars in the sky, and God would bless them above all nations. Later He promised that they would be given a land that would flow with milk and honey, the promised land of Canaan. Then Moses came along and God give the people a law, the ten commandments and the first five books of the Bible were given to Moses as the covenant between God, Jehovah the covenant God, and His people Israel. They were to heed that law on their way to the promised land, but we find there that their lack of obedience and their lack of faith, as they moved out of Egypt (bondage), towards the promised land and were given God's law, entered into covenant with Him - they did not enter the promised land for 40 years because of their unbelief. In other words, they saw the great obstacles that were preventing them getting into the land, and their faith failed them, and for 40 years they wandered around in the desert.
Now, where we read this verse, Moses is now 120 years old. God said to the generation that received the law: 'None of you will get into the promised land because of your unbelief, except for Joshua, Caleb and Moses who is now 120 years old'. He's about, himself, to disappear from the scene, and the chapters that we're reading this morning are what has been called 'transition chapters' as Moses speaks his final words to his people, people that he has loved and served for many many years. Now he comes to pass on the baton to Joshua, and these are the final words that he speaks to his people - and he could well have spoken words of discouragement. Joshua and Caleb and the people would get into the land, but Moses would not - and we'll go into that a little bit later, why that is - but in the final word that Moses speaks in these transition chapters, he speaks words of encouragement. He challenges the people to be encouraged in the Lord as they face a new life in a new land with a new leader, as they face a new future to encourage themselves in the Lord - because, although they had failed God, Moses still believed, even as he failed God, that God would never fail them, that God would be with them as He promised right on to the end.
I want us to take this promise as the firm foundation for the future year, and build our lives upon it. Be encouraged in the Lord, no matter what's going on around us, no matter how much of a failure we feel in our lives, to reassert our faith before God in a covenant with Him, and rest ourselves and build this house to the glory of God in the year that lies ahead. Here's the first layer of that foundation stone in this verse, let's look at it together: 'And the LORD', that means 'Jehovah', whenever you see capital 'L-O-R-D' in the Old Testament it is the word 'Yahweh', which has been put into English, we don't really know how it should be pronounced, but we've got the name 'Jehovah' today, and we often use it. 'The LORD, he it is that doth go before thee', here's the first layer of the foundation stone: the Lord's name, the Lord's name, 'The LORD, it is he'. Now, specifically, this name conjured up in the minds of the Israelites the covenant God of Sinai, the God who entered into, specifically, a marriage bond with the children of Israel there and gave His law. This is the God who had covenanted Himself to His people, and that He would keep His covenant. My friend, that means that we too in the New Testament own the same God, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob - and although many of the specific promises to Israel we can't take and apply them literally to ourselves, but isn't it wonderful to know today that we have the same God. The LORD, He it is, Jehovah, that will go before us into this new year.
Look at Deuteronomy chapter 9, for there this God was revealed to them in verse 3: 'Understand therefore this day, that the LORD thy God is he which goeth over before thee', there's the same statement, God going before, 'as a consuming fire he shall destroy them, and he shall bring them down before thy face: so shalt thou drive them out, and destroy them quickly, as the LORD hath said unto thee'. This Jehovah God is described as going before the people into the promised land, clearing out all the enemies in this graphic way - as a consuming fire! Now people get uptight sometimes when we preach the Old Testament, we do have to be careful, but when we present a God of wrath and a God of anger, they say: 'Oh, that's not the New Testament God!' - but the New Testament God is the same God, for in Hebrews chapter 12 verse 29 we read there, the apostle says that our God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is still a consuming fire.
There are many names of God in the Old Testament and the New that we can take refuge in and comfort in. I don't have time to look at many of the things that are in my heart today, but one Psalm that I take special encouragement from even in the first two verses is Psalm 18 verse 2, you don't need to turn to it, but I will read verse 2 to you. Picture the imagery that is here: 'The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower'. I remember on one occasion, I'm not much of an artist, but trying to sit down and sketch these images: a rock, a buckler, like a shield, a strong tower, the horn of strength of our salvation. This is our God, and Proverbs 18 verse 10 says that 'the name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run in and are safe'. What I am exhorting you to do at the threshold of a new year is to run into the names of the LORD Jehovah, and take refuge and strength from them, because there's great sustenance to be found.
What a layer, the LORD's person, the LORD's person. Then the second layer of this firm foundation is the LORD's precedence. 'Precedence' gives us the sense of what I'm talking about, how the Lord precedes us. It's found in verse 8: 'And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee', the Lord's precedence, He goes before us. We see it also in verse 3, if you look at the beginning of the chapter: 'The LORD thy God, he will go over before thee, and he will destroy these nations from before thee, and thou shalt possess them: and Joshua, he shall go over before thee, as the LORD hath said'. He will go before us, and what God was saying through Moses to the people was: 'Why would you doubt this, because God has done this for you in the past! Israel, has not He always gone before thee?'.
Now here's one incidence I want to draw your attention to in Exodus 13, quickly, Exodus 13 verse 21. Again we see the people being told: 'And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people'. By day a pillar of cloud went before them, God leading them; by night a pillar of fire, God leading them - morning, noon and night God would not fail them. You notice that the pillar goes before them, God's precedence, God paving the way - and so we're seeing here that this was their experience in the past. God had always gone before them, why would He not go before them on this new territory? I challenge you today to conjure up in your mind the times in the past where God has been good to you, where God has proved His good providence. Does it not engender faith in your heart to believe that, as God in times past, forbids me to think that in the future, in trouble at last, He'll allow me to sink? Each sweet Ebenezer I have in review confirms His good pleasure to bring me right through!
Remember the times when He went before you and you could even see that, where He made straight the way of His anointed? The point that is being made here is that God is eternal, God lives in an eternal now, and I don't have time to go into the theological implications of that - but it simply means this: God doesn't know anything about past, or future, He lives in the present. That means that our past and our future are in His present, but that means practically to us that He has already covered the ground that we will cover this year - more than that, He has sprinkled that ground with all the grace we will need to get through, whatever is ahead! It is He, the LORD, that goeth before thee - isn't that wonderful?
The LORD's person, and the LORD's precedence, then the third layer is the LORD's presence - look at verse 8: 'And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee'. In Exodus 33 God told Moses that He would be with him. Exodus 33, this great encounter of Moses with God on the Mount, verse 13: 'Now therefore', Moses said, 'I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, show me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people. And God said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest. And Moses said unto him, If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence', but God did promise him that His presence would go with him. Now Moses is handing the gauntlet over to Joshua, he's about to die and Joshua will take the people into the promised land, and when we turn to Joshua chapter 1 - even though the personnel changes, if you turn with me to it, from Moses to Joshua - you find in verse 5 that the same promise is given: 'There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee', and verse 9 too: 'Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest'.
'As I was with Moses, I will be with thee', and although God changes His workers, His work continues and His presence goes with those who will do His work. Even when David, you remember he was told 'You're not allowed to build the temple for Me', the Lord said, 'You've been involved in too much war, but your son, the seed of your loins will build that temple'. In 1 Chronicles 28:20 it says 'David said to Solomon his son, Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed: for the LORD God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the LORD'. God would be with Joshua, just as God was with Moses; God would be with Solomon, just as God was with David; and friend God will be with you this year, just as He has been with every one of His saints before you.
Now you might be asking the question that I alluded to at the beginning: why Moses wasn't allowed into the promised land? Well, if you know your Bible, you'll know that in Numbers 20 and in Deuteronomy 3 he sinned against God in Meribah. You can look at that portion and find out a wee more about it, and for that sin he was forbidden to go into the land. But apart from that, in the representation of Old Testament Scriptures showing us in type what is to come in the New Testament, we see that Canaan land, the promised land is a type of the rest that we have - Hebrews talks about that, the rest and the peace that we enjoy in the kingdom of God as Christians today. We have rest in Christ. Now Moses was the lawgiver, the one who gave the ten commandments, and the law can never bring us into rest - that, if you like, is one secondary reason why Moses could not take the people into the land of promise, because he was the lawgiver, and it is only the conqueror Joshua, the one who conquerors our enemies that can take us into that land. Praise God today, if you know Christ as Saviour, we have a heavenly Joshua - and 'Joshua' is the Hebrew word for 'Jesus', 'Yeshua' - and He has conquered the land for us, He has gone before us into death and tasted death for every man. He has gone into the grave and brought victory over the grave, He has risen from the grave and ascended to heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father on high, in glory interceding and representing us. He has gone before us, the true Son of David, a greater than Solomon, He has built His temple, and is building His temple today, the church of the living God, because He finished the work that God give Him to do.
He has brought God's presence to us, and you may find it hard to believe but even in a greater sense than Moses, Joshua, David or Solomon knew God's presence, you know it this very day through Jesus Christ our Lord. Does His presence not encourage you? He is with us - what does Romans 8 and verse 31 say? 'If God be for us, who can stand against us?' - who can be against us? - 'He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect?'. That means we're standing in the court, and we are personally guilty as sinners, but there is no charge brought to us - why? Because Christ has taken, on the cross, our charge as His own - no charge! 'It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?', the judge is the one who condemns, but there is no judge because the Judge is God the Father who sent the Son to be our substitute, and the Son has taken the guilt and sin that we deserve to be punished for. 'Yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?' - no charge, no judge, no jailer. No one is going to come and put chains on us and take us away from the presence of God, it cannot be done for we are in Christ! Isn't that wonderful?
So we know, this year, that His presence will go with us - but this is the question: do we practise the presence of God in our life? Do we practise it? Jacqueline was an elderly woman who lived to take care of her daughter who was wheelchair-bound. When her daughter died, Jacqueline not only lost her purpose for living, but she lost her only living companion. In her little cottage in the country she seemed empty as the cottage, and occasionally a friend would call or a note would drop through the front door, but she felt so alone. She spent those oppressive long days in ongoing solitude, and her health didn't allow her to circulate very much, and her best friends - most of them - were all now in heaven. There she was, and one day Jacqueline's Bible opened, as she was practised to read it, at Philippians 4 and verse 5 - four words struck her forcibly: 'the Lord is near'. She thought to herself: 'Well, He doesn't feel very near. It must be, if He is near, that I should be more aware of His nearness'. So she prayed to the Lord: 'Lord, I'm going to pretend that You're here all the time. No, forgive me for using that word 'pretend', there's no pretending to be done, I'm going to think of how very present You really are. Help me to ever remind myself of the reality of Your nearness'. That evening she retired to bed, and she said to the Lord: 'I'm going to bed now, Lord, will You please watch over me as I sleep'. Next morning she awakened: 'Good morning, Lord, this is the day You have made'. She sat down before her hot tea, she read through Philippians again, underlining verse 5: 'The Lord is near'. Then she prayed aloud for a very long time, and at noon she prayed to God: 'Now Lord, let's watch the news on television so You can show me things in this world that I can pray for'. She accounts that she and the Lord watched the news together, and then she prayed for flood victims in the delta, a newly installed president in an African country, for a man sentenced to life imprisonment; and then at supper at the end of the evening, she bowed her head and thanked the Lord for food - but she didn't feel her prayers were travelling up to heaven, in fact she testified instead that she felt she was talking to someone sitting across the table from her. Gradually her attitude was transformed, the loneliness lessened, her joy increased, fears diminished, and she never afterwards felt that she was alone in the house. Why? Because she was learning the presence of God.
A. W. Tozer put it like this: 'The practice of God's presence consists of not projecting an imaginary object from within one's own mind and then seeking to realise its presence'. Don't take that out of Jacqueline's story, rather Tozer says 'it is to recognise the real presence of the One whom all sound theology declares to be already there'. If we are not knowing enough of God's presence it's not because God isn't present, it's because you aren't practising His presence, you aren't recognising in holy awe that He is here!
The Lord's presence is the third layer of your foundation stone for the year that lies ahead. Here's the fourth: the LORD's promise. 'He will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee'. My mind went to that passage that I love, I'm sure you do too, in Isaiah 43 verses 1 to 3: 'But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the LORD thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour'. What a foundation! That the Lord's promise is this: that He will never fail us, He will never forsake us. Can we not say with the hymnwriter:
'How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?
Another verse of that hymn goes like this:
'The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavour to shake,
I'll never, no never, no never forsake'.
Hallelujah! The promise of God stands sure, in fact in the light of contemporary events today can we not say with more understanding: 'Though heaven and earth pass away, my word shall never pass away'. He has said, as Hebrews 13:5 says: 'I will never leave thee nor forsake thee'. Do you know how the Amplified Version translates it, bringing out the Greek? 'He, God Himself, has said: 'I will not in any way fail you, nor give you up, nor leave you without support'' - now listen to this - ''I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless, nor forsake, nor let you down from or relax my hold on you - assuredly not!''. Can you get any more definite and emphatic than that? David Livingstone, the great pioneer missionary to Africa, put it like this, I quote: 'I was enabled to go on because I had the word of a perfect gentleman, never known to break a promise, that He would be with me always'. The LORD's promise.
The LORD's person, the LORD's precedence, the LORD's presence, the LORD's promise, and fifthly and finally: the LORD's peace. At the end of the verse: 'He will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed'. Can I turn you quickly to Deuteronomy 20, Deuteronomy 20, where it is reiterated again how we ought not to fear - the children of Israel in their circumstance, and we too today - verse 1 of chapter 20: 'When thou goest out to battle against thine enemies, and seest horses, and chariots, and a people more than thou, be not afraid of them: for the LORD thy God is with thee, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt'. Verse 3: 'And shall say unto them, Hear, O Israel, ye approach this day unto battle against your enemies: let not your hearts faint, fear not, and do not tremble, neither be ye terrified because of them; For the LORD your God is he that goeth with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you' - do not be afraid! The Psalmist in Psalm 27:1 said: 'The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid'.
'What are you to be afraid of', as one old Christian said, 'if you fear God?'. If you fear God, you will fear nothing else. The God who said in Isaiah: 'I, even I, am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass'. Isaiah 41: 'I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee. Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel'. The Lord Jesus said to His disciples: 'Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom'.
'Fear not', we saw that there are 366, one for each day, one for a leap year - and do you know what that's all about? If we think about these promises of God, if we build our life on the foundation of God's word, and think on these things, as Paul has said, the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep our hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Think on these things...the LORD's peace.
As I close, can I just shoot an arrow of caution across your bow? Don't think for one moment that because the children of Israel received this promise that everything was going to go well for Moses and for Joshua and Caleb and the rest of the people - do you know why? In verses 14 to 30 of Deuteronomy 31 God summonsed Moses and Joshua to the tabernacle, and He told them that even though they were getting this promise to give to the people, the people would still rebel, the people would still turn away from God's law. Isn't it remarkable, when Moses knew that it wouldn't turn out and everything wouldn't be as rosy as he would have liked for Israel, he still encouraged himself in his Lord - why? How can a man be so encouraged in the Lord? Because he built his house on the foundation stone of God and His word, and not what people would do or be.
I don't know whether you've ever heard of the missionary John Paton. He was deeply influenced by his father, he never forgot his father's deeply ingrained habits of daily devotion - and I do hope that you have it. There are some resources provided for you in the foyer, and if you want some of them, we're not selling them on the Lord's Day, but you can put your name down for them and get them later on in the week - we would encourage you to do that. John Paton's father, day by day, was heard to pray, pray and cry unto God, praying in the next room of a little cottage where they lived. Even as a boy of six, John Paton says that he noticed the bright countenance of his father that he perpetually wore because he had been in the presence of God. He said later on his life that while outside in the world no one would have understood what was his father's strength, he says, 'We knew, as his children, that it was a reflection of the divine presence in which his life was lived'. Paton recalls: 'Never in temple or cathedral, or on mountain or in glen, can I hope to feel that the Lord God is more near, more visibly walking and talking with men, than under the humble cottage roof of thatch and oak and wattles. Though everything else in religion were, by some unthinkable catastrophe, to be swept out of memory; my soul would wander back to those early scenes, and would shut itself up once again in that sanctuary closet, hearing still the echoes of those cries to God, would hurl back all doubt and vicious appeal - he walked with God!', John Paton says. This is what he ends that quote with: 'He walked with God, why may not I?'. Later, Paton experienced great difficulties and breathtaking dangers as a missionary in the South Pacific, and he says this, almost at the end of his life: 'Without the abiding consciousness of the presence and power of my Lord and Saviour, nothing in the world could have preserved me from losing my reason and perishing miserably. His words 'Lo I am with you always, even unto the end', became to me so real that it would not have startled me to behold Him, as Stephen did, gazing down upon the scene. It is the sober truth that I have had my nearest and most intimate glimpses of the presence of my Lord in those dread moments when musket, club or spear was being levelled at my life'.
Can I put that into one statement? As God's presence had been with John Paton's father, God's presence was with him, and is with you this year and evermore.
Lord, may we all take this word as a firm foundation for this year, to build lives to Thy glory: that the LORD, He it is that doth go before us, He will be with us, He will not fail us, neither forsake us. May we therefore fear not, neither be dismayed; that the soul, though all hell should endeavour to shake, He'll never, no never, no never forsake. Lord, if there are any who have never fled to Christ for the refuge of salvation, may this morning they do such - but may all of us find our habitation in Thee this year and evermore, until the Saviour comes, or until He calls us home. Amen.
Preach The Word.
The following message was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape titled "Firm Foundations For The New Year" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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