They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Sittin’ in the Pew

As I was studying the construction and function of the tabernacle in Exodus 25, I began to think about the way we fuss when the music or invitation at the church is too long and we have to stand on our feet longer than we want to. When God designed the tabernacle and then the Temple, there were no seats!! You stood while you were in God’s presence and there was no sitting down at all! Even in the synagogue, which came much later, there were only a few seats for the chief priest and elders. The rest of the congregation stood while the service was going on and especially while the word of God was being read. In Nehemiah 8, when the Jews, returning from exile, met at the old Jerusalem Temple, they found a copy of the scroll of Isaiah. The Bible says the congregations stood from morning till evening as the word was read. God’s word is powerful-they are his “very words” to us! We should be glad to stand in his presence as a way of showing our love and respect for him and his word. To add a punctuation mark to this thought, look at the Luke 4 synagogue story and also Luke 5:1 and you will see that Jesus, himself, always stood when the very words of God were being read. He only set down when he began to teach! When you read and learn this, it kind of makes you feel ashamed that you were mumbling to yourself about having to stand too long in the service! Bless God and his very words to us!

Jesus Knew the Text!

In Matthew 18:21-22, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered,” I tell you, not seven times, but seventy seven times.” Was that just and arbitrary number, or by using double sevens, was he trying to say, infinitely? Or, what about this possibility- was Jesus perhaps quoting the text so that Peter would recognize it?

Look at Genesis 4:13-24. Cain, the first murderer in the Bible, killed Abel, but God prevented anyone from taking revenge on Cain by promising to punish seven times over, anyone who killed Cain.  Cain then had a son, Lamech, who was the father of wickedness. He vowed to revenge himself seventy seven times if anyone tried to kill him.  Cain and Abel were viewed by the Jews as polar opposites-Cain as evil, Abel as good.

Jesus was saying to Peter, through the Hebrew Scriptures, if Cain’s side, being evil, would take revenge seventy seven times, then you musts take Abel’s side and forgive seventy seven times. If evil gets revenge seventy seven times, then you have to forgive seventy seven times.

There are a thousand examples in the New Testament where we think Jesus is coming up with these new sayings, and in reality, he is just quoting the text. Our problem is that we don’t know the text well enough to realize that that’s what Jesus is doing. He was the greatest teacher to have ever lived, not only in the spiritual sense, but as a fully human being that studied and memorized the word just like we have to. He knew his text inside and out and could quote it and use it better than anyone else who has ever lived. Everything in his life was taken out of the book. Start looking for these when you read Jesus speaking and see if you can find them in the Hebrew testament. Stories like these make you want to be a better student of the text.

“This is the Day”

The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone;

the LORD has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

This is the day the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
— Psalm 118:22-24

Let’s take a look at an often quoted, old favorite scripture that is possibly one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible. Psalm 118:22-24 is almost always used to say, “This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it”, with the emphasis on the fact that God made this day and that we should be glad and rejoice in today. I’m sure that God wants us to be glad about each day but that is not the meaning of this verse.  Back up and read verse 22. The day that we are to be excited about is the day that God made Jesus the chief cornerstone or capstone. We are to be glad and rejoice in “Him”, not “It”. If you will read in the gospels (Matt 21:42, Mark 12:10-11, Luke 20:17), Jesus is speaking and he tells a parable about an owner and a vineyard. Through the telling of the parable, he tells the leaders of the Jews that since they have rejected His message, it is now being given to the Gentiles. Then Jesus quotes this verse in Psalms and basically says that He is that cornerstone that the builders rejected. Paul, in Ephesians 2:20, says that Jesus is the chief cornerstone talked about prophetically in Psalms. Peter, also, in 1 Peter 2:7, says the same thing, that Jesus is that “head of the corner”, the chief cornerstone that was foretold in scripture. Once you know this from scripture, then the passage in Psalms takes on a whole different meaning. The day that we are to rejoice in is the day that God made his son Jesus the head of the corner and the chief cornerstone! That was accomplished when Jesus completed his work on earth and rose to be at the right hand of the father. We are to rejoice in Him who has become the “Head of the Corner” everyday! We will rejoice and be glad in that fact!

Amen and Amen-which in Hebrew means, “May it be so”!

Reclaiming the Importance of Scripture

When the seventh month came and the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the scribe to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded for Israel.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. Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion….

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. 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…

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”…

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
Nehemiah 8:1-12

Background of this text: The Israelites had been taken captive to Babylon where they were mainly used as slaves. They had been prisoners in a strange land for nearly 100 years. During this time period, they weren’t allowed to practice their religion freely and were allowed few or no religious articles to practice with. There were few or no copies of the Torah scrolls available. There was certainly not a temple to YHVH to worship at. Their religion was being forgotten and many Jews were adopting the culture of the pagans they lived among. Very few talked of the old ways. However, some had a tremendous longing to worship YHVH back in the land that God had given them. They convinced the pagan king to let a remnant return to Israel to start rebuilding the old country. When the remnant got back to Israel and were settled in the land, they began to want to start the worship of YHVH anew. Ezra the scribe, and Nehemiah assembled the people together in Jerusalem. Ezra had found some of the old Torah scrolls and he began reading them aloud to the people. It had been a long time since many of them had even heard about YHVH and some had never heard his word being read.

As they heard God’s word being read, they began to be convicted of their sin and of God’s greatness. They began lifting their hands in worship and falling prostrate on the ground as the holy scriptures meanings were made known to them. They began to weep for forgiveness and then joy. They enthusiastically stood and listened to God’s Word being read from daybreak till dawn!

Oh, that America would come back to the holy scriptures of God! We are so comfortable in our pagan lifestyle! We haven’t heard or understood God’s word in a long time. There needs to be a reverence and a longing for the scriptures again. Only a remnant of the captives wanted to get back to God and his holy words. The rest were comfortable in their lifestyle because their material needs were being met. Sound familiar?

Can’t you picture the people standing from daybreak till noon while the scriptures were being read? We don’t like to stand too long for the song service, much less the reading of God’s Word!

Also, note in the story that the word,”Amen” is a Hebrew word that means, “May it be so”! May it be just as you’ve said”!

Won’t it be a great day when we hear the words of the Lord read and we spontaneously fall before Him in worship? Won’t it be great when we hear the Word read and all the people will be taught and understand what the Word means? America, I am afraid, hasn’t heard for a long time. We need to reclaim an importance for scripture and say “Amen” to it’s claims on our lives.