This article is based on the Bible readings for January 23, 2022 and The Living Word Bible Study for January 23
There’s an idea around, and it’s heard in churches as well as outside, that God’s word is not really reliable as an authority. God’s word is not our yardstick to live by, our source of guidance. After all, the idea goes, the Bible reflects a viewpoint of the first century or before, and — it is suggested — we are of greater sophistication. We have moved on from that. Or have we?
The Bible’s own commentary can be summed up like this:
For the word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all He does.
Psalm 33:4 NIV
This reminds us that God to be indivisible from His word. He speaks through His word. His word is both eternal, and up-to-date, speaking to us now.
Jesus is described in John’s gospel as the Word, meaning the very essence of God who appeared as God incarnate. The same phrase used to mean His very essence and being, and also His eternal record, ties these ideas together. Jesus quoted the word, believed the word, relied on the word — and proclaimed the word.
To say that we have ‘moved on’ from what Jesus lived and taught — and emphasised again in His message to the churches at the beginning of Revelation — is surely arrogant.
It also has the effect of disabling the mighty effect of the word that God has given us to use — as a catalyst for change.
The Bible repeatedly tells us to be humble and to believe. Not to be led into the temptation of thinking we know better.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.
James 1:5-7 NIV
Here’s an excerpt from Psalm 19 that gives us a much better position to start from:
The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.
Psalm 19 19:7-9
This trust of God and His word — not as God’s rules, but God’s rule or order that makes sense of life — is key to how we walk with Him.
Or walk independently from Him, with consequences, as the prophets repeatedly warned the Jewish nation. There were good kings as well as bad, but good reforms soon seemed to be forgotten and in a perfect storm of harsh leadership, persecution of God’s spokespeople, the prophets, and an abdication of faith and worship, the city was lost to Babylon in a siege and those that weren’t killed were taken into captivity and slavery.
Two generations later, as the prophets had said would happen, Nehemiah is sent back as governor with Ezra, a faithful priest to help.
So now we are about 500 years before Christ’s ministry, and Nehemiah and Ezra gather the distraught people, who have been working day and night to rebuild the walls and make the city safe. Now they must rebuild what is even more important — their trust and sense of purpose as the people of God. It was their forebears who were responsible for the disaster, but they are the ones who need a new relationship with God, now.
Here’s an excerpt from Nehemiah 8
All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate…
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…
…They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep…
…Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
From Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Most of those hearing this account — about their tribal father Abraham, Joseph, the years in Egypt, Moses and the miraculous deliverance through the Red Sea, the desert wandering, the promised land, the renowned kingdom of David and Solomon and the decline in faithfulness that led to the downfall — had been brought up in exile. They were hearing it fresh, and they were convicted. God’s word, itself unchanged, was acting as a catalyst for change in them.
But Nehemiah and Ezra, who knew the mercy and forgiveness of God, told them not to be stuck in grieving over the past. Be joyful, they urged them, so that they could experience God in a new relationship. God is the God of the second chance.
Now we move forward to the time of Jesus, and the word He is sharing in the synagogue where He grew up is like a headline to the ministry that was already news across the Galilee countryside.
This excerpt from Luke’s gospel picks up the story:
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through the whole countryside…
…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 favour.”
…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.”
From Luke 4:14-21
Two things are happening here. One is quite apparent and the other is unseen, but important.
The apparent one is that the word He is sharing is beginning to be a catalyst for change in the people — their eyes were fastened on Him. They were being stirred up spiritually.
The other significant thing is the spiritual connection that is being made as Jesus publicly owns the ministry and mission He has been given. This is following the further impartation of the Holy Spirit at His baptism, and the devil’s unsuccessful attempts to trick Him out of His call in the desert.
He is declaring, before heaven and before people, that His mission is to free those who are bound up and enable those both physically and spiritually blind to see. He is starting to proclaim God’s favour and good news for all who will turn to Him. This is the power of God’s word to be a catalyst for change — being turned on.
That is like your bank account. It has money in it which is yours to use, and the bank has just sent you a new secure debit card which you can use to pay people, locally, all over the world and online. It is all in order, approved, with the right name and account number and new dates. But on the back, there is an annoying sticky label and a phone number you have to call. You have to tell someone you have received the card, for it to be initialised.
Faith is a bit like that. Faith rises in us, but it connects as we speak it out, as we agree with the word we have been given. This happens when we become Christians:
Faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.
Romans 10:17 NLT
That’s God’s Word becoming a catalyst for change, for salvation and new life in us. It’s a big decision, to ask Jesus into our life and trust Him for His direction of it. We will find out it’s the best decision we ever made, but we need to share it with those who have been part of the journey. This is not just to make them feel good (it will!) but it is also us publicly declaring where we stand with God. As we tell someone “I have asked Jesus into my life and become a Christian” we are making that faith connection. We are initialising our card!
And that is like Jesus publicly declaring — heard by heaven and on earth — that He is the very person mentioned in Isaiah 61 and He is going to be proclaiming God’s good news and seeing people set free.
There are lots of ways of sharing God’s good news, in words and also in actions. There is a diversity of spiritual gifts given to believers to use in the power of the spirit to bless other people. And as well as different gifts there are different kinds of ministry — pioneers and church planters, those who lead with vision, those especially gifted in telling others about Jesus, shepherds who lead and build up the fellowship, and teachers who can make what seems complicated straightforward. This excerpt from 1 Corinthians 12 gives a picture of all this diversity working together for the kingdom of God.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free… the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body…
…If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?
But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be…
…The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!…
…But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other…
…Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
From 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
This is all about God’s word. It might come as a chapter and verse quotation, or it might be the more instant sense of what God is saying now, always rooted what He has already said.
God is good, utterly faithful, and He can be trusted completely. So therefore His word is also trustworthy. And not just trustworthy, but as we have seen, it has divine power beyond its natural persuasiveness to bring His good change to others.
Nehemiah and Ezra trusted God’s word. They knew that was where they needed to start, to help others back into good relationship with Him.
Jesus, reading the scroll, shared a word that everybody knew which Isaiah prophesied long before, and applied it to Himself in front of all the people He had grown up with. It was going to cause a storm, but it was also the key to releasing a tide of God’s goodness through Him to bless others who were in need. That tide became a ministry that continued through disciples, and spread all over the world. Now in our day we are doing the spreading.
If we’re not seeing the life and the growth — if we are worried about budget and the giving — the remedy could be right here in this teaching. Are we confident in God’s word and sharing it through the gifts in the church?
God’s word is a catalyst for change — but we have to believe it, to love it and receive it as we love and receive God Himself. And in this way God’s kingdom comes.