Bring Us the Book!
April 29, 2014
How well do you know the Bible?
Let’s take a little quiz to find out. Here are ten questions taken from the Probe Ministries Bible Literacy Quiz:
- Who was thrown into a den of lions?
- What is the beginning of wisdom?
- Which angel appeared to Mary?
- Which two people walked on water?
- What was Christ’s first miracle?
- Who had a coat of many colors?
- How many books are there in the entire Bible?
- Whose tomb was Christ buried in?
- How many people were on Noah’s ark?
- What is the Golden Rule?
If you don’t know all the answers, don’t worry about it. I’ll give you the answers in just a moment. (If you’re feeling confident, you might enjoy going through all 100 questions on the quiz.)
People overestimate their knowledge
Several weeks ago the Barna Group released the results of a survey commissioned by the American Bible Society called The State of the Bible—Six Trends for 2014. The survey reveals that while most Americans still respect the Bible, few of us read it on a regular basis. Geof Morin, executive vice president of the society, put it this way:
“We know 88 percent of people say they have a Bible. They think: ‘I have a Bible. I have had one for a long time. I must know what’s in it.’ But people overestimate their knowledge.”
With that in mind, here are the answers to the quiz:
1. Daniel (Daniel 6) 2. The fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7) 3. Gabriel (Luke 1:26) 4. Jesus and Peter (Matthew 14:22-33) 5. Turning water into wine (John 2:1-12) 6. Joseph (Genesis 37:3) 7. 66 8. Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:57) 9. 8 (1 Peter 3:20) 10. “Do to others what you want them to do to you” (Matthew 7:12 NCV).
Doing well on a Bible quiz does not guarantee that you have a healthy Christian life. That said, most people agree that we live in an age of declining Bible literacy, even inside the church. On this front we face two dangers: First, we may begin to take the Bible for granted, as if owning a Bible is the same as knowing the Bible. Yet we all own books we rarely read. It’s quite possible for “People of the Book” to become bored with the Bible because we think we know it better than we do.
The second danger comes from a different direction. Because we live in a high-stress world, we are easily distracted. It’s hard for us to sit still even ten minutes without checking our smartphones. Often the good things of life—our work, our time with family, our hobbies, our social outings, and so on–squeeze out our time in God’s Word.
Does the Bible bore you?
So our Bibles gather dust.
We never mean it to be that way, but it happens. That’s one reason why we need to study Nehemiah 8. This is the story of what happens when God’s people rediscover the Bible. By way of background, you need to know that Nehemiah was the man God raised up to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. You can read the amazing story of how he accomplished that feat in Nehemiah 1-6. Nehemiah 8 tells of a great convocation that took place one week after the walls were finished. We can think of the book of Nehemiah this way:
The first half (chapters 1-6) tells about the rebuilding of the walls.
The second half (chapters 7-13) tells about the rebuilding of the people.
Taken together, the two halves teach us that the inside matters as much as the outside. Unless we build our lives on a solid foundation in God’s Word, no walls can protect us in the time of trouble. We certainly need this message today.
What happens when God’s people rediscover God’s Word? Nehemiah 8:1-12 offers six answers to that question.
First, there is . . .
1. A New Inclination
Verses 1-3 introduce us to the story:
And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And 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.
When the people cry out, “Bring us the Book,” they are asking Ezra to read from the “Book of the Law of Moses,” the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. What book is this?
We are too easily distracted
It is “the book,” the Book of God’s Word.
This is no new book. This is the old book that Moses wrote.
This marks a new beginning in the history of God’s people. Derek Kidner explains it this way:
“This day was to prove a turning-point. From now on, the Jews would be predominantly ‘a people of the book’” (Ezra and Nehemiah).
Lately I’ve heard several people talk about the need for a great revival in the church of Jesus Christ. Given the sad state of the world and the spiritual confusion of the church, I am inclined to agree with that assessment. We need a great revival from the Holy Spirit.
“I am so addicted to the Word”
Here in Nehemiah 8 we have one mark of true revival. Revival is upon us when God’s people once again hunger for God’s Word. When they say, “Bring us The Book,” we know that God’s Spirit has come in great power.
Verse 3 says they listened to the reading for at least six hours. That’s amazing! Evidently no one was watching the clock to make sure Ezra didn’t go overtime. They didn’t have a second service crowd to worry about. The text even says they listened attentively. I wonder how well any of us would do in a six-hour service? We’re so media-saturated that our minds start wandering after about 10 minutes. Or maybe a lot less than that. But these Jews were so hungry for God’s Word that they stayed the whole morning.
They listened for six hours!
Recently we received a note from a prisoner in Texas who had read my book An Anchor for the Soul and wrote to tell us his story. He had decided to kill himself when the Holy Spirit convicted him on the spot and caused him to cry out to Jesus for mercy. Here’s what happened next:
The next morning, a fellow inmate, whom I had never spoken with, came to me and asked me if I wanted a Bible—go figure, huh? I of course said yes please, and I have not stopped reading and praying over God’s Word since.
Then he adds:
I am so addicted to the Word. Every day I read about 3-4 hours a day. I have no interest in TV at all.
Going to prison is not “good” in the usual sense of the term, but it is truly good to go to prison if you meet Jesus there. And it is good to be “addicted to the Word.” That’s the kind of addiction we all need.
2. Genuine Appreciation
We see this clearly in verses 4-6:
Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose. . . . Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
See how simple and unadorned this is. No pomp, no ceremony, no choir, no gold, no silver, no sacrifice, no offering. Just a platform with Ezra reading from the scrolls while the people listened intently.
They stand out of respect for the Word of God, they lift up their hands, and then they bow down with their faces to the ground. Sometimes in our evangelical churches, we tend to think of “worship” as music. It’s what we do when we sing or when the choir sings or when the worship team leads us or when we listen to a solo. I’ve been to many services where they sang (a lot), prayed (a little), and preached (a long time), but they didn’t spend any time reading the Bible. Something always seems out of kilter in a service like that. Standing, lifting of hands, and bowing to the ground are all ways of saying, “The reading of God’s Word is very important. It matters to us.”
When God’s Word is read in worship, it is no small thing.
You are worshiping God when you listen to God’s Word.
They stood to hear God’s message
Certainly they didn’t stand to hear Ezra’s opinion. They stood to hear God’s message. That ought to say something to us. Unless we honor God’s Word, we will hardly read it, rarely understand it, and never be moved to tears. We used to sing “Holy Bible, Book divine, precious treasure, thou art mine.” Even today our children learn this little chorus:
Yes, that’s the book for me.
I stand alone on the Word of God,
There’s a world of truth in those simple words.
May God grant us a genuine appreciation for his Word!
3. Clear Explanation
That’s verses 7-8:
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. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
Do you see those 13 unpronounceable names in verse 7?
Those were the Levites who assisted Ezra.
We don’t know exactly how this worked. Perhaps the 13 stood on the platform with Ezra or perhaps they circulated throughout the crowd. In part this was necessary because the Torah was written in Hebrew but some of the people spoke Aramaic. So someone had to make the sense of the words clear to them.
Verse 8 offers us perhaps the clearest definition of preaching in the Bible:
This is what preachers do. They read the Bible and they explain it clearly so that people understand what it says. That’s what we sometimes call expository preaching. You take a text from the Bible and you explain it so that the hearers understand what it means. This method has produced the greatest preachers in Christian history: Chrysostom, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Matthew Henry, Charles Simeon, Charles Spurgeon, G. Campbell Morgan, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and a host of great preachers in our own generation.
This is the best kind of preaching
This is the noblest and finest method of preaching.
This is the preaching that builds strong churches.
Why is this method the best?
Because it simply explains the Bible to people,
Because it reveals eternal truth,
Because it starts with what God has said, and
Because it meets the deepest needs of the human heart.
Ezra wanted to make sure that all the Jews understood what God was saying. That’s why he had 13 men helping him with the interpretation and the application. That’s where all good preaching must end. I have listened to sermons where I heard the preacher wax eloquent and go down deep, but when I left I didn’t know any more about what God had said than when I came in. That’s not good preaching. We should preach so that even the children can understand what God is saying. Many years ago I ran across a column called “What They Didn’t Tell You at Seminary Graduation.” Among the humorous aphorisms was this gem:
“Fifty-one Sundays of the year, preach so that the youngest child in your congregation can understand you. The fifty-second Sunday, preach so that the Ph.D., the Th.D., the Ed.D., and the M.D. are bewildered, awestruck, or filled with wonderment.”
That sounds about right to me, especially the first part.
4. Personal Application
We see this in verse 9:
And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.
Why did they weep? Because when they finally heard and understood the Word of God, the Holy Spirit brought its truth home to their hearts. As the Word hit home, they saw their true condition. If we don’t weep nowadays, it may not be because we are better off. It may simply be that we have never let God’s Word come close to us.
Why don’t we weep?
Weeping is a positive sign, like getting sore after you get a flu shot. It means the medicine is taking effect. Hebrews 4:12-13 reminds us that the Word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword and lays bare the thoughts of the heart. That’s why these people wept as they considered their own condition in the eyes of the Lord.
5. Compassionate Demonstration
“Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord” (v. 10).
Nehemiah and Ezra and the other leaders told the people to stop weeping and to start celebrating. Then they said, “And when you do, send gifts to the poor so that they can celebrate with you.” Verse 12 says that’s exactly what the people did. In the midst of their grand celebration, they didn’t forget the poor in their midst. This is the inevitable result of God’s Word working in your life. Anytime we rediscover the Bible, we will eventually come to “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.” (Proverbs 19:17).
The possiblities are endless
Perhaps you will volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center.
Perhaps you will take in foster children.
Perhaps you will tutor at your local elementary school.
Perhaps you will adopt a child.
Perhaps you will volunteer for prison ministry.
Perhaps you will build a house for a poor family in Haiti.
Perhaps you will lead a Backyard Bible Club in a needy neighborhood.
The possibilities are endless. As James 1:27 reminds us, the religion that God approves means visiting the widows and the orphans in their affliction. Someday we will be judged for we have done to demonstrate our faith before a watching world.
6. Holy Celebration
We see this in verses 11-12:
So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
Notice the progression in Nehemiah 8:1-12:
Teaching . . . hearing . . . understanding . . . applying . . . demonstrating . . . joy. But this is not by chance. The end of verse 10 contains a phrase we’ve all heard before: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” This doesn’t happen automatically. I know Christians who never find joy because they skip part of the plan. They never hear the Word, they never apply it, they never obey it, and so they never find joy. On the other hand I know many who live in continual joy (sometimes amid great trials) because they follow God’s order. When you take God’s Word seriously, you will find that his joy truly is your strength.
Holiness is not gloomy!
C. S. Lewis has a good word at this point:
How little people know who think that holiness is dull. When one meets the real thing . . . it is irresistible. If even ten percent of the world’s population had it, would not the whole world be converted and happy before a year’s end? (Letters to an American Lady)
He’s right, of course. People who think holiness is dull don’t understand what it really means. When you meet a truly holy person, you feel drawn to them because they are so much like God. We’ve all known at least one person like that—someone whose life radiates God in such a way that you were drawn to them. Such people are filled with contagious joy. This ought to the usual experience of those know Jesus. Holy people have holy joy.
God did not stutter
Nehemiah 8 shows us what happens when God’s people rediscover God’s Word. Look at the end of verse 12. All of this happened “because they had understood the words that were declared to them.”
God’s message has come to us in words we can understand. We have a message based in fact and grounded in history, a message which may be understood. The Bible is revealed truth!
What has God said?
Read the Bible and find out!
If the inner walls are not solid, the outer walls will not hold
There is a warning in all of this that we must not miss. Outward success is never the final measure of any church or any Christian. We’re not safe just because we are busy. We must have good programs, we need a place to meet, we want uplifting music, and we need gifted leaders to guide us. But just as in the days of Nehemiah, it is not enough to build the outward walls to protect ourselves against attack. The inner commitment to the Word of God is just as important. And if that is not there, the outer walls will not protect us.
We need spiritual resources to fight spiritual battles.
That’s why we need the Word of God.
Many of our problems stem from basic mistakes in the Christian life—and one of the most basic is ignoring God’s Word.
It’s time for all of us to rediscover the Bible.
“There is a Book”
Several months ago Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis debated Bill Nye “the Science Guy” at the Creation Museum in Kentucky. The debate revolved around creation and evolution. At one point, Ken Ham said to Bill Nye, “There is a book,” referring to the Bible. Many post-debate articles highlighted that one statement.
There is a book.
“There is a book”
That’s a startling and amazing thing to say in this anything-goes world of ours. Christians believe something the people of the world find astounding. We believe that there is a God, that he has spoken, and that he has not stuttered.
There is a book.
It is that book that reveals God to us, that shows us our true condition, that tells us the way of salvation through Jesus Christ, and that leads us all the way from earth to heaven.
“Bring us the book,” for in it we find the words that lead to eternal life.
O preachers, “bring us the book” when you stand up and preach.
O teachers, “bring us the book” when you stand up to teach.
“Bring us the book,” and our churches will be strong.
“Bring us the book” so that we might have the Bread of Life.
“Bring us the book,” and we will be satisfied.
Perhaps to make this personal, you should stop reading this sermon and simply say, “Bring me the book!”