First Words at Home
We have been looking at some firsts in Jesus' life over the last few weeks. Last week… Jesus’ first miracle.
This week… Jesus’ first words as a preacher in His home town.
Our focus today is on the Word of God, the Bible, and the influence, the authority, we give to it in our lives.
Our reading from Nehemiah sets the tone. It is set at a time when the people are returning from 70 years of captivity/exile in Babylon. They have returned to a ruined Jerusalem and a ruined Temple.
All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.
I love this… they told the priest what to do. “Bring out the Book of the Law” and because it was in line with the will of God… he did it. He probably heard the people had done a survey among themselves, much as we have recently done a survey among our people, the Reveal Survey by the Willow Creek Association.….listen to the survey results here
The result of the survey in the time of Nehemiah was: We want you to read us the Law.
The result of our survey was: We want AMC to be a place that:
Has Church leaders who model how to grow;
Provides compelling worship;
Challenges us to grow;
Helps us develop a personal relationship with Christ;
Inspires a sense of church ownership
These are your priorities, given to me, Ryan and Vernon, to the Society Stewards and to the Leaders of AMC. I wonder what we will do with your ‘commands’ to us as a leadership. What did Ezra do with the command he received from his congregation?
So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.
He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
From daybreak till noon; men, women and children… listening attentively to the Book of the Law.
They were hungry for… the Bible (the Book of the Law, the first 5 books of our Bible, the Torah, was the only compilation at that stage).
Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
The reading of the Bible brings about… worship.
Friends, I encourage you to read your Bible… for many reasons, but not least, this one… reading the Bible, whenever, wherever, leads to worship of the God who inspired its words.
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
Now we jump forward about 500 years, and Jesus, after His baptism (2 weeks ago), His first miracle (last week), is now ministering and teaching in the power of the Spirit in Galilee for the first time.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
On the Sabbath, He went to the Synagogue as was His custom. What a wonderful custom.
As a travelling preacher and miracle worker, the head of the synagogue gave Jesus the privilege of reading from the scroll.
This was, and still is, a huge privilege in the synagogue.
Even to this day in every synagogue, there are the scrolls, which aren't like a book with pages, but are rather a parchment on a roll. And by the time of Jesus, there were three sets of scrolls. The Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. And Jesus was given the privilege of reading from the Prophets on that day.
There were set readings for each Sabbath – it’s called a lectionary. On the first Sabbath of the new year the reading was from the beginning of each scroll. It was set for each Sabbath and it still is.
We know what was read in every synagogue around the world on the first Sabbath after Jan van Riebeek landed at the Cape (for my US readers that is the same as saying we know what was read in every synagogue around the world on the first Sabbath after Christopher Columbus landed in the New World)
We know what Scriptures were read in all Christian Churches as well, because the Church has kept, over 2000 years, to a lectionary as well – it has been revised over the years so that we now have the Revised Common Lectionary which works through the whole Bible in 3 years – 156 Sundays.
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Imagine the audacity of that claim.
Jesus says: “Today, right now, in your ears, in front of your eyes, this word has become flesh.” Not in some abstract way, but in a concrete, specific, fleshly way. I am the One, I am the Good News that you have been waiting for."
Three things for us to concentrate on, reflect on and perhaps commit to:
First: Regular Bible Reading
When we read the bible regularly (and there are many different programs to follow) we become amazed at how God speaks to us. Imagine the affirmation that Jesus felt when as He opened the scroll He found that reading before Him. Many of you have testimonies to share like this. This is one of the main ways that God guides us. And as we see how the Bible speaks to us as we read it regularly, we begin to realize that this book actually has authority in our lives. This book speaks about… marriage, about sex, about money, about gambling, about work ethic, about speeding on the roads, about drunk driving, about how to deal with fights in families and churches etc etc.
But of course we will only listen to the Bible if we believe it has authority in our lives.
Our Reveal Survey reveals that 61% of people at AMC do not believe in the authority of the Bible............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................Let us become a people who believe in and submit to the authority of the Word of God.
Secondly: Develop a personal Mission Statement, define your reason for being.
Here is Jesus' Mission Statement:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
“We need a mission statement” – say hospitals, corporations, schools, churches… and they can spend hours crafting cogent and concise sentences that express their purposes. Often we emerge with fine statements, but we don’t always manage to live out the mission that we so eloquently express.
Jesus doesn't bother to craft a new mission statement for Himself. He let’s God determine His mission statement.
Can I encourage you to let God determine your mission.
And in the next few days/week, in the set readings that you might be following, be sensitive to God defining your mission, your reason for being, at this particular season of your life.
Thirdly: Choose your words carefully.
Jesus said: I tell you that you will have to give account on the day of Judgement for every careless word you have spoken (Mt. 12:36). I came across this little poem by Emily Dichinson in my reading this week:
A word is dead
When it is said,
I say it just
Begins to live
This little poem expresses the Biblical understanding of the Word. The Word is a lively, active reality that enters the world and accomplishes its work. Words take on a life of their own; they shape our relationships and our reality. The amount of work that counselors have purely because of words that have been spoken… is huge......“You’re a stupid child… you’ll never amount to anything.”
Let us watch our words.
So we've looked at Jesus' ‘first words’ in His hometown as a preacher and hopefully we have been challenged to:
Read the word of God regularly.
Give the word of God authority in our lives to determine our reason for being.
Watch our own words.