Metaphors in the Bible

Metaphors

Whether we realize it or not, we are all familiar with metaphors. A metaphor is a figure of speech that refers to one thing by giving an example that helps illustrate the deeper meaning. The Bible frequently uses metaphors to illustrate God’s lessons for us. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words!

There’s also a special form known as a simile that generally uses the word “like” to highlight the illustration. It’s important to note the obvious mistake in taking these illustrations too literally. Since nearly every single book of the Bible uses similes and metaphors we must understand how these important illustrations are used and not miss God’s lessons.

A couple of quick examples are in order: First, Solomon’s bride describes him as like a gazelle or a young stag (Song of Solomon 2:9). No one should mistakenly picture Solomon as a four-footed animal with antlers! Second, many of the voices that speak to John from heaven in his book of Revelation are described a like trumpets, like many waters, like loud thunder and like many harpists (cf. Revelation 14:2). Nothing in this should lead us to picture heaven as filled with actual trumpets, white-water rapids, thunder or harpists… unless we are deliberately missing the point of figures of speech.

All of this reminds us to read carefully and not miss the illustrated lessons of God. So let’s take a quick look at a few of the metaphors or word picture illustrations of the New Testament that are applied to us.

In John 10 Jesus uses the metaphor of a shepherd and sheep. He is the good shepherd that loves His sheep to the point that He will actually lay down His life for them (John 10:14-15). We are His sheep, called to follow Him, known by Him, protected by Him and obediently listening to Him (cf. John 10:27).

The lesson, of course, has nothing to do with us eating grass or being shorn for our wool. Rather it has everything to do with our relationship with our Savior.

Jesus call us both salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). Salt both enhances flavor and is one of the oldest known preservatives. The New Testament world was well acquainted with salted meats, fish and pickled items. Salt was commonly bought and sold and there were salt mines and salt “farming” (at the Dead Sea, for example) all over the region (and world-wide, in fact).

The illustration of Jesus to compare His people to salt is a perfect one since it relates to everyday life. By the way, Jesus’ comment about salt becoming “tasteless” is interesting when you realize that the only way for that to actually happen is for it to be either so contaminated with something else that the taste is lost, or else it must be chemically changed into something else. Either way, it becomes useless by being changed into something else!

Jesus’ second illustration here is also easily understandable and relatable. Light is only useful when it is on and shining where it can be seen. Interestingly for this illustration is the fact that in John’s Gospel Jesus specifically says that, while He is IN the world, He is the Light of the world (John 9:5).

When we put these two lessons of the Light of the World together, we see the responsibility that Jesus is putting on us as His family. Since He has returned to Heaven, we are called to BE HIM in this this world. Paul, of course, comments on this very illustration when he says, It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20). If Christ is alive in us, then we are responsible to BE HIS light in this world.

Putting God’s metaphors together makes a powerful lesson and helps us better appreciate our job, our responsibility in this world.

Next week we’ll look at a few more examples of these word pictures. In the meantime, may we as good sheep be good salt and good light for Jesus!

— Lester P. Bagley

Colossians 2a

 

Have you read your Bible today? Hopefully we are all spending some time in Paul’s letter to the Colossian church. And as we do so, remember that it is just as much a letter to our congregation as it is to any other church of God’s people.

JOIN THE SING-ALONG AT THE END.

Colossians 2a……………………

Have you ever wished you could have seen and heard Jesus in person? How about the Apostle Paul? Would our faith have been stronger? Would we have been less likely to ever fail?

Let’s explore that from the other side. If you had a grandchild that you’d not seen in person, would that be hard? Paul challenges us to see both of these lessons as he begins the second chapter.

Colossians 2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, [2] that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, [3] in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. [4] I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument.

[5] For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.

Just as Jesus really cared about all of us who would come to believe in Him and follow  Him without ever seeing Him in person (read John 17 and especially verses 20-23), so Paul struggled with the knowledge that countless of his readers would need extra encouragement in the faith for not having seen. Verses 1 and 2 of this chapter ought to always remind us of Jesus’ prayer in John 17, for that concern is the very exhibit of God’s care for us.

In the concern of both Jesus and Paul, never forget the vital lesson for us: Love like Jesus did! Jesus worded it like this: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another (John 13:34). And all the blessings, all the real understanding and knowledge of Christ is bound up in real love. If you would be really wise, smart and knowledgeable, love like Jesus did!

Colossians 2:6 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him,

[7] having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.

All the good and positive things are found in Jesus. All the good that we can ever be, is found in letting Him live in us. And those that really are in Christ will show it by their lives!

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. [9] For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, [10] and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; [11] and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; [12] having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. [13] When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, [14] having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Verses 8 through 14 we need to examine very carefully, for in them are essential lessons. Never let a hollow, half-truth (or, more often a no-truth-at-all), teaching of human beings supplant the reality of all truth in Christ! There are NO latter-day prophets, no hidden truths that no one but you has ever understood, no other way of salvation than that in Jesus. Peter preached that same message in Acts 4:12. We must keep preaching it today!

Verse 9 tells us where to find God. Indeed, EVERYTHING of any value is IN Christ Jesus! Nearly 100 times the words are used in the New Testament. In Him is God. In Him are all good things and blessings. In Him are His people and their salvation.

Is it any wonder then, that IN Jesus we are made complete? He is ruler and authority over all. No man has the right to overrule Him. The only people that speak for Him are His saved ones as they speak His words.

In verse 11 Paul extends the comparison of this priority by comparing it to circumcision. Under the Law of Moses, males could physically show that they belonged to God. But in Christ, ALL (male, female, slave, free, this earthly nationality or that) are to exhibit by their lives that they belong to God.

In case you were wondering what we come to be IN Christ, this passage makes it clear. The old us dies and is buried. But in this case, we are buried with Jesus in baptism. And we are, just like Jesus, raised up through faith. People often mistake getting wet with being baptized. Unless it is for the right reason, done looking to our God and Savior, it doesn’t mean a thing.

The picture of our baptism is underscored several times (like here and in Romans 6) but always to those already IN Christ. The point is NEVER to go back and try being baptized again and again to fully appreciate and understand what’s happening. No, the point is always to point us back to that incredible moment when we submitted ourselves to something of incredible power and meaning with simple faith in God.

Baptism is never portrayed in the New Testament as something we know all about and appreciate when it happens. Otherwise, there would be far more explanation of baptism to those before they were baptized in Acts. Instead, all the incredible meaning of all the change is reserved for those who have now passed out of the death in the water into life in Christ.

Just like an infant failed to see the meaning and import of his circumcision until he matured, so we only begin to appreciate all the wonder of meaning of baptism as we mature in Christ. And the ultimate gift of life comes with the removal of our sins.

In verse 14 Paul turns to some unique legal technicalities to make his point. The crushing debt and burden of sin requires some great power to remove on God’s part and some extra effort on our part to appreciate.

The certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, may well suggest that, just as the Lamb’s Book of Life (Psalm 69:28; Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27) keeps record of those that belong to God, so, too, does another book record the sins that are charged against us. So how to rid that “book” of those charges?

David appreciated this lesson, too, in Psalm 51:1-2 as he describes sin with three “dirty” words: transgression = crossing the boundary or getting on the wrong side; iniquity = distortion of the soul; and sin = missing the mark. Each required a unique method to cleanse or correct: blot out = as on clay tablets; wash = scrub, high detergent for deep dirt removal; and cleanse = ceremonial purification.

Paul joins in this extra work of forgiveness by combining terms of physical destruction (tearing up) of the legal document and nailing it to the cross. You may recall that the charges against Jesus were “nailed” on the cross with Him (John 19:19-22). In a sense, the very reason for Jesus’ death on that cross was our sins. He really did die for us!

Now that Paul has gone to such lengths to show the amazing forgiveness of our sins by Jesus, so He now uses a unique analogy to display both our Christ and His triumph.

Colossians 2:15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

To appreciate what Paul is picturing here requires us to travel back in time and see what the people of Paul’s day and time saw in these words. For this illustration, Paul shifts gears from the destructive power of the cross (to sin) and now portrays the great triumph.

In times past the tradition had been for a victorious Roman general to be awarded a triumphal procession. By the time of Paul, only the emperor could celebrate a triumph. So Paul’s first point is equating Jesus with the ultimate emperor.

To be honored with a triumph required an impressive victory against a major threatening enemy of Rome. Typically, the highest leaders of the enemy were defeated, disarmed and placed in cages like circus animals to be paraded through the streets of Rome itself. During the parade, Roman citizens both cheered their conquering, victorious, Caesar and booed, derided (and even threw things at, poked and prodded) and otherwise humiliated the defeated enemy as they followed the heroes in the parade. Finally, the procession ended at the Temple where the defeated enemy would be slaughtered as an offering to the gods.

This is the picture that Paul now paints for Christians. When Jesus won the victory over sin and death, He parades in triumph publicly. He makes a public display of them; literally a bold showing of disgrace of them as His triumph!

To the Christians reading this, they understand fully how it all ends. Satan and all his powers of sin and death are the ultimate losers. They deserve nothing more than for sport to be made of them as they are led to the presence of Almighty God, there to be sacrificed, put to death before Him!

It is important that we see what Paul is saying. Jesus the Christ, through His cross and sacrificial death has set everything in motion for victory!

NEVER let anyone or anything try to steal the reality of that victory from you! Don’t become the prize for some false doctrine loser. Our God holds the real power. His redemption of us and His choosing of us as His has placed us far above any one or anything that man or devil could ever offer.

Victory is in Jesus. Victory is Jesus. And we are called to be a part of His family and His eternal Kingdom. Don’t ever settle for anything less!

—Lester P. Bagley

 

Colossians 1b

It is ALWAYS a great day to read and study God’s word! Have you got anything better or more important to do than to spend time with God today? Don’t leave out the essential things and end up focused on the least significant ones.

Colossians 1b

Last time we were about ready to go into Colossians 1:15 but noted a bit of just who it is that Paul is about to describe. So let’s pick up with that thought…

Paul is about to go into a discussion of Jesus Christ (sometimes noted as Jesus the Christ for reasons soon to be evident). Jesus is from the Latin form of the name his parents called him (cf. Luke 2:21). In Hebrew the name is Yeshua or in English, Joshua, and it means: Yahweh (God’s formal name, sometimes rendered Jehovah) is Salvation. Christ is a title rather than a name (and thus sometimes spelled out as Jesus THE Christ) meaning anointed or chosen one. Such anointing and choosing was typically done of kings, emperors and similar rulers over great kingdoms. You may recall the events leading to David’s anointing as king in place of Saul. The Hebrew word is usually translated in English as Messiah and typically refers to those anointed or chosen by God.

It is important to take a moment to appreciate this term and you may wish to do a bit more study of Biblical usage of this idea. Specifically, how does it relates to us?  First, there are many Messiahs. David was selected by God and thus was, like many others of God’s Old Testament leaders, a Messiah.

Peter, in Acts 3:20, specifically designates Jesus as the Messiah appointed for you! In context Peter is speaking of Jesus and His new covenant now in effect. While Jesus lived on this earth, He was the Light of the world (read John 9:5). But that job was always to be passed on. In Matthew 5:14 Jesus calls His followers, disciples, the light of the world.

As Christians, we are those called and chosen by God for this holy position. Peter expressed it like this:  Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble     (2 Peter 1:10).

What’s that word for the called, chosen, anointed by God for His service? Messiah! The ultimate Messiah of God has called us to be His representatives here on earth. Those baptized into Christ have put on Christ (cf. Romans 6:3-7). As such,  I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me (Galatians 2:20).

Jesus was called by God to bring salvation to the world. His family, Christians, are called to carry on that work here on earth until Jesus comes again. And all that brings us right back to the last half of Colossians chapter 1.

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Just who is this savior of ours, really?  Here’s Paul:

Colossians 1:15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. [16] For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him.

[17] He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. [18] He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. [19] For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, [20] and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

Did you catch all that? One of the dumbest things people have ever dreamed up is trying to separate Jesus from God. Yes, I know that the labels for Jesus, the Son, etc. point out Him here on earth even as the label, the Father, is in heaven. The prophet Isaiah says of the Son that was given, And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and Matthew (1:23) cites this very prophecy as referring to Jesus.

Even while here on earth Jesus pointed out their unique oneness (cf. John 10:30). And Paul now doubles down on what God has always been telling us. This is what God looks like if we could see Him as a human being!

The term firstborn of all creation trips many into imagining that Jesus was created by God. In legal terms, both Greek and Hebrew refer to the firstborn as the one deserving of extra honor, inheritance and authority. Psalm 89:27 uses this very concept in prophecy of Jesus as the one made or appointed as having the highest honor. None of this is to imply that Jesus is either created or less in authority than God, but rather He is creator of ALL things, just as John also said in John 1:3.

If ALL the fullness of God is IN Him then He, Jesus our Christ is both our God and our Savior. Note that this term is actually used by Paul in Titus 2:13 and by Peter in 2 Peter 1:1. Even greater than who Jesus is, is the fact that He Himself makes peace between us and God by His own bloodshed on that cross. Is it any wonder that Paul pours all this out in wonder and amazement?

We possess in Jesus both the greatest gift ever given, and the greatest job ever assigned! This is the one that calls and chooses US to take His Good News of Salvation to this world that is dying in sin! How are we realizing that great Commission?

Now that Paul has set the unimaginable parameters of our unlimitedly great God and Savior, he then returns to what He has done for us with all that greatness:

Colossians 1:21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, [22] yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach — [23] if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.

Remember that budding Gnosticism problem? The idea that God has called us to either extreme of sin without measure or avoid everything in life here on earth as sin, is dangerous. We are called, chosen by God for the very purpose of holiness! Yes, it is a constant struggle to keep holy but that NEVER is an excuse to settle for anything less.

How do we keep holy, blameless and beyond reproach? Well certainly NOT by failing to be faithful nor by moving away from the Gospel. God’s word and God’s way are the same. If we go searching anywhere else, then we are moving away from God.

As Paul challenges others to keep holy, he admits to both working in that direction with them and facing the same challenges:

Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

  • Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,
  • that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, [27] to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. [28] We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. [29] For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within

Just like grazing animals seem to always think that the grass on the other side of the fence is better, so do we often imagine how easy it is for others to be Christians while we have to struggle. God gives us all a burden and the help and strength to bear it. The hardest part for us to see, as God sees, is how much we really can bear.

When it comes to Christian burdens and Christian living, it’s really all about the Gospel. God has entrusted to us His precious promises. We are, in so very many ways, the world Bible. An old poem (and song from it) reminds us well of this:

  • Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today;
  • He has no feet but our feet to lead men in His way;
  • He has no tongues but our tongues to tell men how He died;
  • He has no help but our help to bring them to His side.
  • We are the only Bible the careless world will read;
  • We are the sinner’s Gospel, We are the scoffer’s creed;
  • We are the Lord’s last message, Given in deed and word.
  • What if the type is crooked? What if the print is blurred?
  • What if our hands are busy with work other than His?
  • What if our feet are walking where sin’s allurement is?
  • What if our tongues are speaking of things His lips would spurn?
  • How can we hope to help Him And hasten His return?

The message of salvation contains a great mystery that God’s people have longed to understand in ages past. God’s great mystery, however, is not a mystery any longer and it is certainly not some vague, unidentified, unknown thing that only crazy people can know. God’s great mystery is that salvation is in Christ for all.

Our job is to share that Good News, that Mystery of Old that is clearly seen and fulfilled in Christ’s church.

That takes us back a bit to Paul’s concept of his own work and that of all Christians in verses 24-25 and tied to verses 28-29. As strange as it may seem, our job of taking the Gospel into all the world is NOT about the lost!

Yes, we are calling the lost to Jesus but that is ever only the beginning of the job! The Great Commission (also echoed by Peter in 1 Peter 2:9) is all about bringing the lost into Christ’s church and keeping them there. Jesus did NOT make the Great Commission just going and baptizing, there’s more!

After Matthew 28:19 your Bible continues to verse 20: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).

We make a huge error in trying to separate our preaching, teaching and Christian living. They are NOT three things but, in God’s eyes, ONE.

Paul, the “preacher” to the Gentiles was really a servant, minister, deacon of the church and the Gospel (Colossians 1:23-25), as we all are. Our job is to fully preach the word to the church, the called-of-God, the being saved ones.

Where do we get the absurd idea that getting people baptized is a job we are called to do? Our job is to finish the job! It does no one any good to get wet or hear the Gospel if we don’t keep on teaching and encouraging them until the end. Christians are often good at starting the job but not finishing the job.

We are called to proclaim Him, admonishing every human being and teaching every human being with all wisdom, so that we may present every human being complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28). The job is not done until we cross the finish line.

And the best way to cross the finish line is in working together with fellow saints and with Jesus. Let’s do it His way!

—Lester P. Bagley

 

When you don’t read your Bible…

 

From the Preacher’s Pen… Many have commented how much they missed the blessing of being together for worship. We need to pray that God will teach us the same lesson about reading our Bibles! Can you imagine NOT having access to God’s word for two months. Would you miss it? If you really care about God, then take time to read His word today!

When You Don’t Read Your Bible

Ignorance is really NOT bliss. When we are ignorant of something, we can easily be deceived into believing what is totally, perhaps even dangerously untrue. A few weeks back the President made a comment about wishing we could just take a disinfectant to combat the virus from inside our bodies. In their fervor to mock anything he says, the press reported that the President advised drinking liquid disinfectant. They then proceeded to have “experts” talk about how that could never work and was totally absurd. So there, Mr. Stupid President!

What many failed to notice (and a few of the real experts in the field comment on but were mostly ignored) is that what he proposed is actually a basic layman’s explanation of how many medicines work. For example, all chemotherapy essentially works that way and so do numerous other “medicines” for various illnesses. The point is, when ignorant people savagely criticize someone, they really want to justify what they believe or do and are NOT the least interested in the truth.

The same thing happens when people fail to read their Bible and yet profess to want to serve God. Without KNOWING God’s will, we are most likely going to invent some fanciful nonsense that has absolutely zero basis in fact.

The first example to consider is the “Sinners Prayer.” The idea that salvation comes by saying the words invented by a false teacher without regard to anything God says in the Bible, really doesn’t deserve any serious consideration.  Still, let’s check out God’s word and see what He says about the “Sinners Prayer.” Go ahead and check your Bible. I’ll wait….

….Have you found anything yet? Of course NOT! The “Sinners Prayer” is NEVER mentioned anywhere in the Bible.

Of course, if we recall how the Bible is designed, we know that the New Testament is the place to look for God’s plan of salvation for people today. We should also recall that the only book specifically dealing with the spread of the Gospel to non-Christians is the book of Acts. So that is the best place to go to learn how to be saved.

Those that are outside of Christ, so we learn from the book of Acts, are told to do several things that lead to salvation. The next to last step involves actually becoming a part of Christ and His church, also known as baptism or reenacting the death, burial and resurrection into a new, reborn state. The final step is that of remaining faithful to Jesus and His will for us as long as we live.

Yes, we many times oversimplify it to say (as Peter did in 1 Peter 3:21) that baptism saves us. But that’s just saying “take an internal disinfectant” as a super-simplified way of referring to an antibiotic, for example.

Every single saved person this side of the cross of Christ and establishment of His church on the first Pentecost after His death (cf. Acts 2) has done those things to be saved. NOTHING else works and nothing else is ever taught by God.

Let’s consider a second example of not really reading the Bible but nevertheless forming an opinion based entirely on ignorance. This one comes from a person posting on the internet their “proof” that the Bible is full of hate and error and that you won’t hear about the real Bible “nonsense” in church.

The verse that “proves” all this is Joshua 23:15 and it reads, It shall come about that just as all the good words which the Lord your God spoke to you have come upon you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the threats until He has destroyed you from off this good land which the Lord your God has given you.

There it is! The proof that God is hateful and that preachers lie to you by not telling you what God is really like! A single sentence ripped from the context and forced to say exactly the opposite of what God was saying is somehow “proof” that God is wrong.

Well, truthfully, we see the news media and internet doing just that on a daily basis. Are you impressed?

Hopefully, you went back and read Joshua 23 and saw what was actually going on. As Joshua has now brought peace to the Land and rest for God’s people, they are warned about becoming complacent and forgetting God.

Yes, God will bless them (and us) richly if we are faithful and do His will. But just as certain as God’s blessings are God’s curses for those that turn their backs on Him.

Joshua’s very next verse (Joshua 23:16 is actually the completion of his original statement) says: When you transgress the covenant of the Lord your God, which He commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, then the anger of the Lord will burn against you, and you will perish quickly from off the good land which He has given you.

When we don’t let God speak, when we don’t read our Bibles and get the whole picture when doing it, we are just as foolish as those that hate God. In reality, unless we are daily spending time in God’s word and in prayer, we are instead daily giving our allegiance to Satan and sin.

Yes, it IS that important!

~~ Lester P. Bagley

 

 

Worship

Have you read your Bible today? Several people have said that they’ve gotten ahead in their reading schedule with all this extra time at home. Is there really such a thing as spending too much time with someone you love? Most of us have loved ones that are no longer living and would dearly love a bit more time to talk with them again. Don’t let God ever be the one you miss like that! Keep reading and keep praying… always!

Worship

We use the word worship in a lot of ways. When we are assembled together to sing, pray and study God’s word, we call that worship.

But we also recognize that worship is how we live our daily lives for God. Worship can also involve our remembrance of our Savior in the Lord’s Supper or in our financial giving. And worship is certainly involved in sharing the Gospel with others.  How else can we truly honor our God and commitment to Him? The Bible has a lot to say about our worship, both the right kind and the wrong.

What we sometimes miss with our English language is that often God uses different words to speak of worship that help us see His lessons. Without a bit of extra study we may even miss God’s point and confuse ourselves. So let’s do a little digging and study about this word.

To begin with, we’re not going to get the whole point of worship in a brief study. The Old Testament uses some five different words (and 14 forms of those words) that are all commonly translated as something to do with “worship” over 100 times. So obviously there’s a great deal of study to be done there in preparing us for the New Testament. But let’s set that aside for a bit and move on to the New Testament.

The New Testament writers use seven different Greek words about 70 times that are all translated into English as something involving “worship.” So obviously there’s something going on here that we should dig into.

The first reference to worship in the New Testament comes from the Wise Men and it (proskuneo) refers to the kind of honor we usually see in a movie. This is the most used term for worship in the NT. It means to do reverence or homage by falling down and/or by kissing the hand. This is an overt act of recognizing someone else as your unreserved superior, as in your king.

In Matthew 2:2 this is the worship that the Wise Men have come to offer the “King of all the Jews.” But it’s also the word that Herod the Great uses (Matthew 2:8) to tell them to report back to him the location of this King that Herod might also go to, bow down and thus swear allegiance to the one greater than him. Of course we know that was not Herod’s intention at all, but that is what he said.

Interestingly, this is the very word next used by Satan as he comes to tempt Jesus (cf. Matthew 4:9-10). Satan is offering to give up to Jesus and turn everything over to Him if only Jesus will “fall down and worship.” Do you see what Jesus heard Satan demand? If Jesus completely surrenders and acknowledges Satan as His Lord and Master. If Jesus acknowledged Satan as His God, then Satan’s won!

Of course Jesus quickly reminds Satan that kind of allegiance and worship only belongs to God! Luke echoes this same important lesson in Luke 4:7-8. Evidently Satan does not deserve any honor, any allegiance from us, either!

John 4:20-24 also uses this word for worship. It begins with the Samaritan woman trying to trap Jesus into an argument that began with Sanballat and Nehemiah (Sanballat opposed rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls because God rejected the Samaritan false worshippers and he went on to institute the worship on Mount Gerizim). So the woman is claiming to truly honor God in a place God had forbidden (cf. 2 Chronicles 6:6 and Psalm 78:66-69). Is it any wonder that Jesus goes on to explain that TRUE worship is about really honoring God as God by doing what He says and with His Spirit in control?

The most frequent use of this word is in Revelation (cf. Revelation 4:10; 9:20; 11:1; 13:8, 12, 15; 14:7, 11; 15:4; 19:10; 22:8). You will notice that most of these verses are talking about how God is honored in heaven by His people. If we cannot acknowledge God as our one and only master here, we will never be allowed to worship Him there!

The next common word translated worship in the New Testament (sebo) means to stand in awe, to be devout, pious, to adore. The term is used of proselytes (Acts 13:43; 16:14; 18:7; 13:50; 17:4, 17), converts to Judaism from the Gentile world, in reference to their faithfulness. When you see what a Gentile had to give up to fully embrace the Law of Moses it certainly says something about their faith!

Interestingly, this is the word Jesus uses for His rebuke of supposedly religious people who teach human beliefs rather than Godly doctrine. Matthew 15:9 and Mark 7:7 both show Jesus citing them as fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of vain or useless worship.

The word is also used by Jews that rejected Jesus in an accusation against Paul (Acts 18:13) that he was persuading people to dishonor rather than honor God. Then in Acts 19:17 its used by the pagan silversmith Demetrius to accuse Paul of causing people to not worship the false goddess Artemis. Apparently, when you worship God in His way you will catch criticism from all sides for not pleasing them rather than God!

There’s one other word that’s used several times that we also need to look at. In Romans 12:1 Paul says, Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. The word (latreia) Paul uses is frequently translated as service or work. It is used to refer to both the duties, work of a slave and for the work of priests in offering sacrifices and other parts of a worship service. Paul is clearly saying that a part of our worship of God involves giving ourselves completely to God for His use.

The writer of Hebrews uses this word (Hebrews 9:6) to refer to the physical acts of worship of the Jewish Priests of the Temple, Now when these things have been so prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the divine worship. But there’s one other use that is important to appreciate, too.

One of the foolish things we are sometimes told by so-called Christians (those who have no wish to actually obey God), is that there really is NOT any pattern of worship in the

New Testament. It ought to be considered such a ridiculous argument that we immediately switch off even listening to it. But sadly, many do not do so.

So, is there really anything that God expects us to do as worship to Him? Or are we really free to make up anything we wish and claim it’s okay with God? As foolish as that seems to obviously be (God’s never, ever, suggested that people do as they please to serve Him), some will still claim that there are no regulations, no rules of how to worship God either in our assemblies or in our lives.

Well, as always, the most important voice to listen to is God. Read Hebrews 9. It begins with these words in verse 1: Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. The writers lesson is about the fact that regulations, rules of how to serve God are always a part of serving God. Now he’s going to talk about the specific work of Jesus, but he’s left us with a reminder that God has always had things that have to be done in the right way, at the right time.

In a very real sense, you are not worshiping God unless you give Him your all. It can never be a grudging; here I’ll follow You if that’s what I have to do. We must honor Him with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. And we have to follow his rules, obey Him rather than sin, self and Satan. Nothing less is true worship by God’s definition… and that is all that matters!

—Lester P. Bagley

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Focus on God

How’s your Bible reading going? Many people have said they are eating too much while basically confined to home. But has anyone ever read and studied too much of God’s word? Ever heard of anyone spending too much time with God? Now’s a perfect time to catch up with the one who loves you most!

Focus on God

Focus is something that is important to all of us. Recently the young man working on our air conditioner commented that he had to stop and put his glasses on so he could focus on and read the tiny print on the unit. Many of us appreciate the problem! The tiny print that I once could easily read is an illegible blur now. And if it’s something important to see, then we are willing to do whatever is necessary to actually be able to see and read it!

Hebrews 12:2 challenges us to fix our eyes on Jesus, that’s focus! Peter would echo the challenge (1 Peter 1:13) as he tells us, Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Without being focused completely on God here and now, we will never be ready to focus on Him when He comes again.

Jesus commented on the negative side, the failure to focus on God, by reminding us of Isaiah’s prophecy, This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men. (Matthew 15:8-9 quoting Isaiah 29:13) If we fail to focus on God and honor Him with our all, then we are nothing more than bad actors (cf. Matthew 15:7).

Have you ever noticed that when you are focused on one thing you cannot really focus on something else? The same is true of God. When we focus on Him, we cannot be focused on things that don’t matter!

The Psalmist (Psalm 46:10) tells us that God says, Cease striving [be still] and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth (Psalm 46:10). The word we translate as cease striving or be still is the word for surrender, to give up and Jewish commentary (Targum) renders it as cease from war [with God]. Do you see the Psalmist’s picture? God wants us to stop fighting Him, arguing with Him and just focus on Him, put our trust in Him.

And when we do it God’s way, here’s the result: Because he has focused [KJV, set] his love on me, I will deliver him. I will protect him because he knows my name. When he calls out to me, I will answer him. I will be with him in his distress. I will deliver him, and I will honor him. (Psalm 91:14-15)

When we are focused on God, They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the LORD (Psalm 112:7). And we can say, My heart is confident in you, O God; my heart is confident. No wonder I can sing your praises! (Psalm 57:7)

Paul offers this challenge for us as Christians, Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking [set your heart on, keep focusing on] the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on [focus on] the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4) Our focus has to be kept on Christ, on things above or we miss being who we are called to be.

Focus is something we repeatedly have to do. Every time we get distracted, look somewhere else, we must refocus to return to the important task at hand. Paul also understood that. We have not arrived! We must consciously, consistently return to the job. Paul says it like this: Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do [focus on]: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to [focusing on] what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).

When we are not focused on God, we make mistakes. Peter warns, Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. (1 Peter 5:8-9)

Satan is always focused on us. If we take our focus off of Jesus then we can no longer resist, our faith is in danger! That’s why the Hebrew writer keeps pointing us to Jesus as superior in every way, including faithfulness (focus!): Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, partners in a heavenly calling, keep your focus on Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession (Hebrews 3:1).

Focus is vital to us all and spiritual focus is eternally important. When we keep our focus on our God and Savior we do more than just survive. With the correct focus, we are completely victorious super-conquerors (cf. Romans 8:37). Indeed, we can do all things through him [Christ Jesus] who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13).

Never take your eyes, your faith, your hope, your focus off Jesus!

—Lester P. Bagley

Hearing and Obeying

 

Jesus declared that the greatest commandment of all is: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:29-30) If we truly love our Lord, then how can we not spend time with Him in prayer and reading His words to us?

Hearing and Obeying

Language is a funny thing. If I say the word bank without any context what do you think of? Did you think of the place for money or the side of a river? Sometimes words give us a clue about their meaning by changing their spelling (like to, too and two) but you can’t see spelling in spoken language so, again, the context of what is said will tell you the meaning. These rules of language are challenging to anyone learning a language and that explains a lot of the early time spent in school. Until we know and use the language properly, we cannot really communicate with others.

Even when you know the words of a language, it can be a challenge sometimes because of different cultures. Saying something polite and proper in Southern USA English might well be insulting or derogatory in Northern USA English. And the American language in general can be far different from English as spoken elsewhere in this world!

The next challenge then comes in using more than one language. A word that means one thing to you, might well mean something totally different to someone speaking another language. An example would be the word gift. While it sounds like something you would want to give someone in English, in the German language it means poison. Perhaps not the best thing to impress a pretty girl with!

All this brings up the subject of translation. How do we convey the actual original meaning of a word or thought from one person to another? And taking all this into account we begin to realize the problem with translating the Bible!

What God is telling us through His word, the Bible, is important to our lives here and to our eternal lives. So getting these words and meanings right is essential! And it’s for that reason we spend much time in both reading and studying God’s word.

By now you must be wondering what all this has to do with the title. Simply this, in the Old Testament Hebrew, the word for hearing and the word for obedience are exactly the same word. If you hear or listen to (even in reading) what God says, then you are expected to obey Him.

Perhaps you’ve used similar terminology to someone else (or had it used to you). As a person is doing the wrong thing, you ask the question: Didn’t you hear what I said? What you are really asking is, Why aren’t you doing what you were told?

The Hebrew word for hearing AND for obeying is shama. You never really hear or know what God is telling you unless you obey Him!

This lesson begins with Adam and Eve. After they chose to sin and disobey God, They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:8). This is the very first (of over 1000 occurrences of this word) use of shama in the Hebrew Bible. A short time later Adam responds to God, He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10). It was hearing the sound of God that they had failed to obey that caused the entire problem! And Moses in writing the account carefully links this all together.

Just as Genesis tells of the beginnings of things, so it begins the travesty of, We heard you, God, but we didn’t obey you!

As the story continues in Genesis 3:17 God tells Adam, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. Think for a moment about that. Did Adam sin by simply hearing what Eve said? Did Eve sin simply by virtue of Satan saying something? Or was the sin in obeying, in doing what they knew was wrong?

Whenever you see the words related to hearing, listening, understanding or obeying in the Old Testament you need to realize that it is the same word and the same lesson! If we hear God and fail to understand, fail to obey Him, then we might just as well have never heard Him at all!

The Psalmists would use this same word over 70 times and its most frequent use is in the request of God to hear a prayer or request or to praise God for having heard. For God to hear our prayers is for God to act, to answer our prayers.

So true is this that we even get the reminder in the New Testament that everyone knows that God does NOT hear the prayer of sinners, those unwilling to obey Him (cf. John 9:31). By the way, this understanding also gives us the insight to recognize why God heard the prayers of Cornelius since his prayer was from one who would obey God when he understood or heard what God required him to do.

All of this comes together to teach us one more lesson. While a lot of people today imagine that salvation comes by the simplistic act of reciting Jesus’ name or acceptance of the facts of the existence or even the work of Jesus, that is never true. Belief in Jesus requires hearing (in God’s terminology) God’s word, believing it involves obeying it… all of it or else you really haven’t listened to God at all.

Whenever the New Testament talks about hearing, believing and obeying it is talking about, from God’s perspective, exactly the same thing!

When we read our Bibles, we are reading God’s word. Unless we understand, accept and obey His word we might just as well have ignored Him to begin with. God has made that lesson plain from the very beginning of His word to the very end. In Revelation 12:17 Satan is enraged and makes war on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. A short while later God says that those who stand out as the faithful are, the holy ones who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus (Revelation 14:12).

From beginning to end, from first to last we must be those that hear and obey God’s word. Keep reading and keep obeying!

—Lester P. Bagley

4/26/20 ~ A Child is Born

A new year begins with resolutions and hopes of doing better. But those resolutions often see a precipitous decline as other things crowd our time. This year we have been blessed by God with extra time to acknowledge Him, read His word and go to Him in prayer. How are we using that blessing?

A Child is Born

While December 25th is perhaps one of the least likely times for the birth of our Savior, many other times have drawn speculation as appropriate times for such a momentous occasion. One of those times is around this time of year. At Bethlehem the fields would have been filled with newborn lambs as preparations for Passover were underway. Wouldn’t it be interesting if God chose to bring the Lamb of God into the world at the same time? That would put Joseph and Mary at the Temple near Passover to offer thanks to God for their first-born child.

It is, of course, a futile speculation. However, in spite of us NOT knowing His birthday, we do know that God and His faithful people anticipated that momentous day for centuries before it finally came. And in that promise and hope there is an important lesson for us.

It began with a world that had just lost its hope, its reason for life. Adam and Eve had just brought sin into the world and in so doing destroyed their relationship with God. Even as God pronounced sentence on them for their sin, He gave a promise of a child being born that would change everything (cf. Genesis 3:15).

In the centuries to come God’s people repeatedly looked forward to a child being born. Abraham was a century into his life before his son of promise was born. Amram and Jochebed would see a son born at a dangerous time who would survive to lead God’s people. That son would prophecy shortly before his own death that God would one day bring another into this world that would supplant Moses as the great lawgiver.

Under Moses God’s people would be brought to the land promised as the home for that ultimate Son of God. As the people of God moved in and filled the land, they wavered between worshipping the true God and forgetting all His promises. In the coming years a child would be born that would lead God’s people as an exceptional king and his son would rule in an extraordinary time of peace. Solomon would build and dedicate a Temple to God that would be filled with praises and the promise of a coming child. But the time was not yet.

Following Solomon’s death the nation split and dark days reigned for the northern kingdom as they were led for the most part by unfaithful kings. The southern kingdom wavered between faithful and unfaithful kings as they watched their northern brethren approach their destruction. It was in those darkest days that a child would be born and grow up to be the great prophet… Isaiah.

Isaiah would, under God’s direction, write of the dark days and the hope to come:

But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them. You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; They will be glad in Your presence As with the gladness of harvest, As men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, The rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian. For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. (Isaiah 9:1-5)

And then, even in the midst of dark days would come a child:

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

A child is born, but not just any child. This one would be so much more than just one of us. For this would be God Himself coming to live and ultimately die for us, to reconcile us all to God, for our salvation. Consider a song that highlights this moment in time:

When A Child Is Born

  • A ray of hope flickers in the sky
  • A tiny star lights up way up high
  • All across the land dawns a brand new morn
  • This comes to pass when a child is born
  • A silent wish sails the seven seas
  • The winds of change whisper in the trees
  • And the walls of doubt crumble tossed and torn
  • This comes to pass, when a child is born
  • A rosy hue settles all around
  • You got the feel, you’re on solid ground
  • For a spell or two no one seems forlorn
  • This comes to pass, when a child is born 

And all of this happens, because the world is waiting. Waiting for one child; Black-white-yellow, no one knows…But a child that will grow up and turn tears to laughter, Hate to love, war to peace and everyone to everyone’s neighbor, And misery and suffering will be words to be forgotten forever.

  • It’s all a dream and illusion now,
  • It must come true sometime soon somehow,
  • All across the land dawns a brand new morn,
  • This comes to pass when a child is born.

With all of our failures and sin, of all the lessons that God shares with us, one of the most stunning, the most precious, is hope.

There is never a time when God has forgotten us. He always remembers and His promise always stands. For He is the author of hope.

We have so often turned away from God. We have imagined that there was not time enough in our lives for God. We have forgotten He is the author of hope.

So whether you are filled with joy and doing well, or you are struggling and miserable, remember the promise of God. For that child was born. He came to be your savior, to die for you. He came that you might one day go home with Him forever. He came that you might always have hope!

—Lester P. Bagley

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1/19/20 ~ The Choice of Spiritual Blindness

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Have you ever closed your eyes and tried to walk around without seeing? If you do it for very long it becomes a great way to stub a toe, bash a shin or ever trip and fall over something.

Apparently, there’s a good reason that God gave us the ability to see. Jesus commented about a blind man leading another blind man in Luke 6:39. His conclusion was that they would both fall into a pit. And the lesson is even more important when it comes to spiritual matters!

Matthew 15:12-14 tells of another occasion when Jesus made this same point: Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?” But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

False teachers and unbelievers have become “offended” at something that God said. Jesus does NOT apologize or take back the truth! Instead He bluntly condemns the sinner for choosing to sin and plainly states that God will make certain that such people will be destroyed.

False teachers today still try to claim that the fact that “God is love” means He will ignorantly accept anything from us as acceptable. In believing such nonsense they show themselves to be heirs of those Jesus condemned.

Zephaniah the Prophet of God warned about the coming great day of the Lord (1:14) and warned that those who have sinned against the Lord would be made to walk like the blind and would have their blood be poured out like dust.

Peter echoes that lesson in 2 Peter 3 when he says: Above all you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come with scoffing, following their own lusts. And Jude shares the same point in Jude 17-19: But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.

Did you catch Jude’s last sentence there? Those that choose spiritual blindness (ignorance that mocks the truth of God’s word) are the ones who cause divisions, they are the worldly-minded ones and they are lacking God’s Holy Spirit! NEVER let Satan and his followers try to shift the blame! Those that disobey the Lord are entirely at fault, are entirely to blame for their error!

There is one more passage that we need to see before we finish this lesson. In 2 Corinthians chapter 3 Paul is speaking of the Jews who have closed their minds and eyes to Jesus and compares it to the veil that hid the face of Moses after he had been in the presence of God (verse 14). For those that close their minds to Christ the ONLY hope is still Christ!

Only in Christ is the blindness, the veil taken away (2 Corinthians 3:14). And, just to make the point even more plain, Paul says in verse 16: yet whenever one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.

Spiritual blindness is a choice. When we make the choice to deny God, to not obey His will, we make a foolish choice. But the choice to see is still open to us! When we listen to and obey the Lord, sight is restored.

Choose wisely, choose well. What choice will you make?

— Lester P. Bagley

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12/1/19 ~ Understanding God’s Word

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From the Preacher’s Pen… Do you read your Bible regularly? When you read do you look up words you don’t understand? Do you check references and compare what you are reading to other verses that say similar things or sound contradictory to what you just read? These are just some of the things involved in real Bible study that leads to…

Understanding God’s Word

Jesus said, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). Many people have their own idea of what constitutes right and fair. But the New Testament uses this word in a very particular way to refer, not to human standards, but to the ideal of God’s standard for justification.

By God’s standard, the unrighteous are fully deserving of His wrath. As Peter puts it, And if the righteous are barely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner? (1 Peter 4:18) On the other hand, those recognized as righteous by God are glorified by God’s gracious gift of forgiveness in Christ. Paul says it like this: For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory (2 Corinthians 3:9).

To return to Jesus’ statement, God’s promised blessing of being fully filled or satisfied belongs to those whose deepest desire (hunger and thirst) is for God’s standard of righteousness. With that thought in mind, let’s look at the events of Nehemiah 8. Following the seventy years of Babylonian captivity, a remnant of God’s people has returned to the Land of Israel to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. They have paid an awful price for forsaking the Lord and are attempting to repent and return to Him.

With the people gathered and prepared to return to the Lord, there was still much to do. God had condemned His people’s lack of knowledge (Isaiah 5:13; Hosea 4:6) of Him and His word as the very things that led up to their loss. So now they stood before the Lord to hear His word that they might know the will of God.

Nehemiah set the stage this way: Then all the people gathered as a single body into the plaza that was before the Water Gate. They said to Ezra the scribe, “Bring out the scroll of Moses that ADONAI had commanded Israel.” (Nehemiah 8:1) Notice in this more literal translation what Nehemiah actually said. The Pentateuch, the Law of Moses was not just given to them, but literally commanded to them. Such is still true of God’s word of Salvation in Christ. These are not God’s suggestions, opinions or ideas, but His commands to us!

Nehemiah continued: Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which included men and women and all who could understand what they heard. This happened on the first day of the seventh month. So he read from it before the plaza in front of the Water Gate from first light until midday, in the presence of the men and women, and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the book of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:2-3)

Did you notice that? Do you see the connections? These people hungered and thirsted for the knowledge of God’s word. They listened to the reading of Scripture from first light until midday!

Notice how the people then responded to hearing God’s word: Ezra opened the scroll in the sight of all the people for he was above all the people. When he opened it, all the people stood up. Ezra blessed ADONAI, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, amen!” as they lifted up of their hands. Then they bowed down and worshiped ADONAI with their faces to the ground. (Nehemiah 8:5-6)

The story of that great day continues: Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the Priest-scribe, and the Levites who were teaching the people said to all the people, “Today is Holy to ADONAI your God. Do not mourn or weep!” For all the people had been weeping when they heard the words of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:9)

The Levites got the people to understand that this was a day of joy, a day filled with the holiness of feeding their hunger and quenching their thirst for knowing and understanding God’s word. And when they understood God’s word they celebrated! Nehemiah concluded the events of this day like this: Then the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Hush! For today is Holy. Do not grieve.” So all the people departed to eat and drink, to send portions and to celebrate with great joy because they came to understand the words that were explained to them. (Nehemiah 8:11-12)

So, how about us? Can we, like God’s people before the Captivity, be so frivolous that we cannot spend serious time in God’s word? Can we treat understanding, real knowledge of His will with contempt and thus fail to truly hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness?

Do we realize the seriousness of Bible study, of spending time digging into God’s word that we might understand? Do we not answer that question with our attendance at Bible study opportunities? Can we imagine how God would have felt toward someone suggesting that they would only listen to Nehemiah speak and not to Ezra?

To put it bluntly, how much do we really hunger and thirst for God’s definition of righteousness? Would we spurn the serious knowledge of God’s word?

Our answers are not what we claim but in what God actually sees in our actions.

— Lester P. Bagley

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