"When the Church Reads"
There is far more to study than just my preaching. The Old Testament has several examples and directives for public reading of Scripture to the assembly. The New Testament also practiced public reading, and Timothy was commanded to "devote himself to the public reading of scripture."
When The Church Reads
A. For 70 years the people of Israel had been in captivity. For 70 years they had been without their beloved city of Jerusalem and the temple. For 70 years they had been as aliens in a foreign land trying to sing a song of joy, but no words came from their lips. But the time was changing. Ezra had led by a group of Israelites home. Nehemiah was bringing more with him and the paperwork that allowed the walls to be rebuilt.
B. There was a new energy in the congregation of Israel. There was a new zeal. The leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah was dynamic. They pushed the people to grow, do, and become what their forefathers had failed to be.
C. Together they rebuilt the walls. Together the rebuilt their homes. Together they worshiped God. They gathered like we are today and Ezra brought out the Law of Moses and began to read. Ezra started reading at dawn and read until lunch. Let’s just say about 6 hours. If we were to have a six hour worship where we simply had good readers speak forth the words of God would you get excited?
D. We read that the people gathered and listen attentively. These people wanted to know what God said. They desired to hear and to apply it to their lives. The Bible is not a magical book that changes people, it changes people who want to hear it and believe in its precepts and promises. For those people, the Bible is the book that will change you continually.
E. Neh. 8:5-6. Ezra praised God, before the reading began. When he was done praising God, the people shouted their agreement, “Amen!” Then they bowed down in worship to God. They stand to respect him and shout their amen of praise, but worship humbled them and the bowed to the ground. This is not formula worship – this is heart worship.
F. verse 8 – Ezra reads and the Levites go around making sure the people could understand what was read. The Bible is not intended to be confusing, it is nice to have someone who understands it a little better shed some light on the meaning.
I. When The Church Reads
A. I love movies. One that I watched as a teenager was Back to the Future. If I had a time machine and could pick different points in time I wanted to experience, I would want to meet Jesus. But if that was not possible, I would love to see what the church was like in those early days. We get only glimpse of worship
B. One of those glimpses is found in Acts 20:7. I want you to see that while they may have met frequently, there was something special about the gather that took place on the first day of the week. Paul was wanting to get to Jerusalem, but he was willing to wait a week, just so he could worship with them. When they did come together, the Lord’s Supper was drew them as a church family. But we also see how Paul also took the time that was probably done with the scripture reading and taught them from God’s word until late into the night.
C. Paul disciple Timothy in how to be a minister of God in the local churches. 1 Tim. 4:11-13 gives us some of that teaching. Paul said that Timothy was to “devote himself to the public reading of scripture.” Reading the Bible was important, probably for several reasons. First, we don’t read of located preachers very often in the NT. We have Philip the Evangelist that settles in Caesarea, but really, outside of him and Paul staying 3 years in Ephesus, we don’t have much for located preachers. Public reading of scripture allowed for all the believers to hear God’s word for themselves and not simply be influenced by a speaker. Yet, with the gifts of prophesy we know that some sound teaching and understanding could be given from the public reading.
D. Dr. N.R. Needham’s 2,000 Years of Christ’s Power, Vol. 1: Age of the Early Church Fathers tells us about church life in the second century. A typical worship service in the years 101-200 AD would last about 3 hours. During that time many churches had public readings done. The first extended reading would be from the Old Testament, then singing (or chanting) of a hymn, then reading from a New Testament passage, more singing, then a sermon from the bishop of the church. Dr. Needham says that records tell us that after the sermon those who were not baptized where dismissed from the worship. Then you would have some intercessory prayer time and also the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper with just the believers present.
II. The Power of the Word
A. I want to close by helping you to realize the power of reading scripture. Listen to this from 1 Pet. 2:1-3. When you think about those Jews in the days of Ezra, their joy came, not from hearing the bible read, or in our case reading it for ourselves, but in the understanding of what was read. This was like an all-day revival with a great preacher who can hold your interest. You get caught up in this revival. You want it more than anything else. You feel it at work within you.
B. The Hebrew writer says (Heb. 4:12). God is at work in and through his word. The Holy Spirit is at work in us and we know the work the Spirit by knowing the Word of God. You don’t get one without the other. God’s word is powerful. The words found in scripture lead us to Jesus who saves us and brings us into a covenant relationship with God. You won’t find a save person who does not first get convicted by the Word of God.
A. God is calling us to His Word. He is calling us to fill ourselves of the mana of life. It can change even the vilest of sinners or the most tender hearted. It may cause you to shout praises or to fall down in humility. God’s word wants to come into you and fill you.
B. Jesus talks about those who hunger and thirst after righteousness – they will be filled. He calls upon us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness all the other things will fall into place. The word of God is a doubled edged sword and cuts to the heart and soul of mankind who will receive it with an open heart.
C. The reason you are here today is first because God called you. Second, because you listened to that calling. Now you must decide what you are going to do about it? I believe the challenge is for you and me to get deep into the Word of God and live it. If we can help you live it by praying for you or spiritually encouraging you, then come forward as we stand and sing.