The Church’s Bible

Bible on the Stall

Bible Sunday –24th July 2022

Our lectionary sets aside the month of July as “Bible Month.” We are encouraged to use a Sunday in July to promote the Scriptures. I love this! I love Scriptures! I love the Bible!

Let’s get some practice handling the Bible as a book instead of looking at a screen. Where you are sitting, there is a bible near you. It may be in front of you, behind you, or perhaps even sitting next to you. Take that bible and turn them open to the book of Nehemiah, chapter 8. Don’t panic if you are not sure where that book is at in the bible. Your pages are numbered. Go to page #379.

Look down on the right hand column where there is a title in bolded letters that reads: Ezra Summons the People to Obey the Law. Now follow along as I read out loud that paragraph. For those of you familiar with the bible, we are reading Nehemiah 8:1-8.

When the seventh month came—the people of Israel being settled in their towns—all the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. The scribe Ezra stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hash-baddanah, Zechariah, and Meshullam on his left hand. And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen’, lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, the Levites, helped the people to understand the law, while the people remained in their places. So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.

In our text, Ezra reads the Bible in the presence of men, women, and children old enough to understand what they were hearing. The reading took place from early morning until midday. It wasn’t just the public reading of scriptures, however. We learn that it was a worship service where people were taught scriptures. There were other priests who helped the people understand what was being read. And we carry that practice on to this day! The Bible is read and then the Minister goes back through the text so that you can understand what you heard. That practice is the heart of Church Worship and has been since the beginning.

The most common way of handling scripture in a worship service today is to “expound” the text. By that we mean you go back through the bible reading and draw your points for the sermon based on thoughts from the text. This is called “expository preaching.” It has been the practice of bible preachers since the New Testament was written. It is a practice learned from Paul’s writings who would take an Old Testament text and comment on it a passage at a time. It was the practice of the Early Church Fathers that preceded our creeds. We are going to do the same thing with our passage today. We are going to see three things based on the Nehemiah reading:

  1. The people from verses 1 and 2
  2. The practice from verses 3 through 6
  3. The perception from verses 7 and 8.

The People

So let us begin with a look at the people. We read in verse 1 that “all the people gathered together”. Notice it was an intentional gathering. It wasn’t happenstance but planned. Now turn in your bibles over to the book of Hebrews, chapter 10. That is page #976. In the right hand column, look down toward the bottom and find verses 23-25. Verse 23 will be in the centre of the paragraph titled, “A Call to Persevere”. Now follow along as I read verses 23-25.

23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Here is a New Testament application of what we read in Nehemiah. God’s people are being encouraged to gather together. The text tells us why we come to church. 

  • We gather together as a means of confessing our hope.
  • We gather together as a testimony of God’s faithfulness.
  • We gather together to provoke one another to right living.
  • We gather together to encourage one another until Jesus returns.

Now that is an entirely different sermon! But you can see that God’s people gather together for a purpose. As a Church, St Johns is gathered together no differently than God’s people we read about in our Nehemiah text. In fact, let’s return there. Go back to Nehemiah chapter 8 (that is page 379).

We noted how it says in verse 1 that “all the people gathered together”. But before we move on, I want to point out to that the people included their children. Look at verse 2: “an all who could hear with understanding.” How do I know that includes the children? By comparing scripture with scripture. Go back to Joshua 8:35. That is page #175. It is on the left hand side toward the top.

There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the aliens who resided among them.

Do you see where it says, “little ones”? That is usually translated as “children”. What we learn is that when Moses spoke to Joshua in front of the assembly, it included children. Children were there to hear the instruction from God’s leader.

One of the things that marks Reformed Churches as different than independent churches is that, as a rule, children remain in the worship service. In the independent traditions, children have a separate worship service. In Presbyterian churches, we like to keep the children with us during worship, like we have today.

Children need to learn how to worship God. That requires guidance. Not as spectators but as participants. The best way to guide your child in sport is to encourage them as they play it.

Have you ever heard the story of the mother who wanted to teach her daughter a moral lesson She gave the little girl a one dollar gold coin and a five dollar note for church.“Put whichever one you want in the collection plate and keep the other for yourself,” she told the girl. When they were coming out of church, the mother asked her daughter which amount she had given. “Well,” said the little girl, “I was going to give the five dollar note, but just before the collection the man in the pulpit said that we should all be cheerful givers. I knew I’d be a lot more cheerful if I gave the one dollar coin, so I did.”

The Practice

Let us return to the sermon text in Nehemiah 8. (Hopefully by now you have that marked with your bulletin or something as you are learning in an expository sermon we are following the text.) That is page #379.

Having seen the people in verses 1 and 2, let us now look at the practice from verses 3-6. It starts off in verse 3 as saying, “He read from it.” Ezra was the minister on that day designated to read the text from the bible. Notice how he read “from early morning to midday.” Obviously he was doing more than just reading the text. There was an expounding of the text along the way. We will see in that in our last point of the sermon, shortly. But for now, note at the end of verse 3 how “the people were attentive to the book of law.” They were paying attention! Even though the church service was a couple hours long, they were enjoying the word of God being read and explained.

That reminds me of the story where Paul the Apostle was preaching in Troas on his farewell tour (Acts 20:7-12). The church met to break bread—what we would call a communion service. The service, however, kept going because Paul kept preaching and the people kept wanting to hear the word. However, a young person who was sitting in one of the windows fell asleep and fell out the window!

I love that story because it encourages the practice of God’s people listening and learning about God’s word. Too often church pulpits today preach politics, scientific theories, and self-help principles void of God’s word and often in contradiction to it!

Today, we think knowledge is the currency that buys change. If we can just educate enough, if we can just get the message out, then we could change our community. We freely share our “wisdom” and “opinions,” rarely recognising the difference. And as we do, we mistakenly think that we are changing our world. Because knowledge is power. But by itself, knowledge is useless. It is a dormant instrument, an idle tool, until wielded by a willing workman. And when an instrument is used in an attempt to work on people, to change people’s hearts, this requires courage. Genius is not enough because knowledge is useless without the courage to love. Paul knew the power of genius. But he knew that it is wasted unless the person who holds it is willing to use it in a demonstration of courageous love: And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.(1 Corinthians 13:2)

Major Dalton

Looking back at our Nehemiah text, we see not only the practice of reading scripture but see in verse 4 the minister standing on a wooden platform built for that very purpose. And so we do the same to this day! Here I am today standing on a platform of wood reading and expounding God’s word!

What I want you to notice from verse 5 is how the people reverenced God’s word. Whenever the bible was opened, the people stood. We do that today by standing when the bible is carried into the service and when it is carried out. As a congregation, you stand. That is showing a respect for scripture and testifying it is divine. It is a Holy Book. It is the Holy Bible. It is the Word of God.

The last practice I want to point out to you is from verse 6. Notice how God’s people responded to God’s word. They said, “Amen” and worshipped. And so to this day, God’s people respond by saying, “Amen” during a church service. I think that is pretty cool how we are carrying out practices and traditions that cross generations. We will not take the time to look at the root of this practice, but it is found in Numbers and Deuteronomy. Moses taught God’s people to say, “Amen.”

Paul the Apostle taught the Corinthian Church how important it was for everyone to understand what is being said in a church service. In the context of different languages being spoken in the same service, he said that if there was no interpretation, God’s people wouldn’t know how to say, “Amen!” To say, “Amen!” Is to give a hearty approval of what is being said (1 Cor 14:16). That is the practice of God’s people at worship when they pray and praise the Lord.

The Perception

Finally, we come to verse 7 and 8 of our sermon text. This is the perception. I have used the letter “P” for each point in my sermon to make it easy for you to remember key themes:

  • Verses 1-2, The People
  • Verses 3-6, The Practice
  • Verses 8-9, The Perception

By perception, I mean what is perceived. We learn that the Church has ministers who help people “understand the law”. We discover that the bible is not just read, it is interpreted. Specifically, notice the end of verse 8 where it says, “They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” Giving the sense means the bible is not only read but also explained to ensure people grasp its meaning.

I was only a child when I was attracted to the power of the Bible’s truths. I grew up listening to the bible preached in church and taught in Sunday school. When I was only five years old, I remember a preacher handling the text from Luke 16. That is one of the passages where Jesus was teaching about the existence of hell. Now today in our modern bible’s they leave the word for hell untranslated and you will read hades. But for more than 300 years, no one questioned its meaning as place of torment for those who refused God’s gracious gift of eternal life.

At 5 years old, the preaching of the bible sparked something in my mind and heart. It was the took that opened my understanding. I realised then that I was something more than just a body. I had an enteral soul. The bible did that!

Paul noted about Timothy that it was scriptures that made Timothy wise unto salvation when Timothy was only a child (2 Tim 3:15).

Samuel was but a little boy when God’s word was heard and understood (1 Sam 3).

According to Titus, God manifests his word through its preaching (Tit 1:3). That is why we gather as God’s people with our practice of reverencing God’s word so that we can perceive its truths.

Application

I have expounded for you today Nehemiah 8:1-8. There is so much more that could be said, but the Lord has laid it on my heart to encourage you with these applications:

  1. You must go to church and hear God’s word be preached; it is not enough to read and study the bible on your own at home.
  2. You must be in church to receive the minister’s blessing and revere God’s word with God’s people with praise and prayer.
  3. You must submit to God’s word as the final and absolute authority in all matters of faith and practice.

And so I encourage you to keep reading your bibles and studying with others. I encourage you to come to church and hear it preached. I encourage you to live by the precepts you learn from Scripture.

There is a Gospel song I learned during my initial divinity studies in the deep South of America. It goes like this:

1 The Bible stands like a rock undaunted
‘Mid the raging storms of time;
Its pages burn with the truth eternal, 
And they glow with a light sublime.

Chorus:
The Bible stands tho’ the hills may tumble,
It will firmly stand when the earth shall crumble;
I will plant my feet on its firm foundation, 
For the Bible stands, 

2 The Bible stands like a mountain tow’ring 
Far above the works of man;
Its truth by none ever was refuted, 
And destroy it they never can. (Chorus)

3 The Bible stands and it will forever, 
When the world has passed away;
By inspiration it has been given,
All its precepts I will obey. (Chorus)

4 The Bible stands every test we give it,
For its Authour is divine;
By grace alone I will expect to live it,
And to prove it and make it mine. (Chorus)

Published by St Johns Papatoetoe

Presbyterian Church, Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe, Auckland, New Zealand belonging to Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ).

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