"Buried Treasure? Unlocking God's Riches"
Bible Sunday - Sept.12, 2010 Ps.119:9-16
(adapted from materials provided by Canadian Bible Society for Bible Sunday)
ABOUT THAT PRICELESS HEIRLOOM...
Have you ever watched the Antiques Roadshow? What happens is that people take along a precious Ming vase which was left to them by their Great-Aunt Florence and then they try to look nonchalant when they find out that it was made at a factory in Vancouver in 1972. Or they show something that they picked up at a garage sale and it turns out to be a Fabergé Nose Hair Remover worth $20,000. What the Antiques Roadshow shows us is that sometimes we don't really know the true value of something.
B FOR BIBLE SUNDAY
We're going to look at Psalm 119. Not all of it though, since it's the longest psalm in the Bible, with 176 verses! We're exploring just one section: verses 9-16. The book of Psalms is really an anthology, a collection of poems. Psalm 119 is a particular type of poem called an acrostic. An acrostic is a poem where each line, or each section, begins with successive letters of the alphabet. You might have a poem where the first line begins with 'A' and the second with 'B' and the third with 'C' and so on. In this psalm, the alphabet they use is the Hebrew alphabet, and each section of the psalm is labelled with a different letter. The first section, verses 1-8, is the 'aleph' section, or A. The Scripture we are looking at is the second section (9-16) and it begins with the Hebrew letter 'beth--and that's the equivalent of our letter B, which is perfect -- because today is Bible Sunday!
In this psalm, the writer is talking about Scriptures -- his Bible. In the time when he was writing, they didn't have the Bible as we have it. They didn't have the New Testament because this psalm was written hundreds of years before the arrival of Jesus. [SHOW GREEK NEW TESTAMENT // HEBREW BIBLE, ORDER.] In fact, they didn't even have most of what we call the Old Testament. Probably the Bible for this writer would have been the first five books of the Bible: Genesis through to Deuteronomy. And he's very excited about it! Some of those first five books we might find very exciting-- all the wonderful stories of creation and Noah and the calling of Abraham and Joseph. And the story of the exodus, of how God rescued his people from slavery in Egypt. There are adventures and battles and miracles and loads of stuff to get excited about.
But that A-type adrenaline-pumping activity isn't necessarily what's really getting the writer of this psalm excited. He talks repeatedly about 'the laws' or the 'decrees' or the 'words'. He's talking about the commands and the promises that come from God. It's these things that make him feel as if he's discovered the most exciting treasure in the world!
B FOR BEHAVIOUR
I wonder which part of the Bible you get most excited about? I'd guess that it's not going to be Leviticus! But, to this writer, the promises and the commands he finds in his Bible are fantastic. We tend to think of 'the law' as being long lists of things to sacrifice. But that's not strictly-speaking the case. The law in the Old Testament was about how to live your life. The main Hebrew word for law is "Torah": the root meaning is "to throw"; hence, "to point out" (as by throwing out the hand), and so "to direct"; and torah is "direction." To the writer of this psalm, the law is not a list of 'do this and don't do that', but a way to live. It shows that God was with his people--that God was concerned about them. [EXAMPLE OF SPEED-LIMIT LAW VS MAP / GETTING LOST BY WRONG DIRECTIONS IN KITCHENER: HELPS TO KNOW HOW TO GET THERE...WHAT'S OUR DESIRED DESTINATION? EG v9 STAY PURE, v10 SEEK YOU / FIND GOD, V14 REJOICE, V16 DELIGHT]
The Hebrew canon (collection of Scripture) was commonly referred to as 'the law and the prophets'. The law was about religious ritual, but it was also about social justice. There are laws about how to look after poor people, about how to make sure people aren't cheated when they buy things. There are environmental laws about how to use the land. Did you know that the law even has instructions on where to dig your toilet? Now that's useful!
The Bible is about Behaviour. It's about how you live. 'How can a young man keep his way pure?' asks the psalmist at the beginning of this section. How can we live a life that is pleasing to God? 'By living according to your word.' The Bible is full of guidance and stories to help us. We sometimes think that it's a big book stuffed full of theory and that it's a book of theology, or doctrine, or philosophy. And of course all those things are there. But the Bible is relentlessly practical. It points you to discover how God wants you to live your life, and helps you to make changes so that can come about.
B FOR BEING
So how are we to do this? Well, that brings us to another B: Being. The psalmist has 'hidden God's Word in his heart'; he's made it the very core of his being. How many of us, I wonder, make God's commands the core of our being? How many hide them in our heart? [TODAY'S THEME - BURIED TREASURE: GOD'S TRUTH TO BE 'MINED' / UNEARTHED, BUT THEN TO BE BURIED AGAIN - THIS TIME PLANTED FIRMLY WITHIN US! OUT OF THE TREASURE CHEST INTO OUR CHEST, OUR INNARDS.]
Sometimes people have a special verse of the Bible or a promise that means a lot to them; other times you might have read a story from the Bible or heard something that you 'carry around' with you through the day. But this fellow (the Psalmist) goes a lot further. He's swallowed it all.
Some people take a lot of vitamins. They take vitamin B, C and D and E - a whole acrostic of vitamins, to guard against catching colds and illnesses. That's what the psalmist is doing here. He's taking the whole range of tablets -- all of God's teaching and advice -- he's not going to miss anything because he knows it's all good for him. He's "swallowing the tablets" as it were.
Much later on in this psalm, he talks about how the words of God are sweeter than honey. They're so good. They're like, well, maybe like chocolate. Why is this? He knows that the more he takes the Bible inside him, the more he thinks about it and mulls it over, the less likely he is to sin. Because the more you know what God is like, the more you know what he wants, and how supremely He loves you in Jesus His Son - the less likely you are to do what's against what He wants. We all sin and need forgiveness, we all have moments of weakness. But as we read the Bible, we can see what we ought to be like, we can taste God's goodness.
The Bible tell us lots of things about God and Jesus. But the important thing is not merely to know lots of stuff about Jesus, but to be more like him. The words of the Bible have to enter, not only our brains, but our hearts. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly," says Paul in Colossians. When we plant God's promises and guidance in our hearts, then it's like a seed that grows inside us. And it bears fruit: patience, kindness, forgiveness, love. We are all called to be fruit trees. Even if occasionally, other people think we're nuts!
V11 says, "I have hidden Your word in my heart." Part of that must involve memorization with our head; but our heart deals with will (resolve, purpose) and emotions more than the head - determination and desire.
Determination, the will - Scripture's view of the heart is that it is the source of energy and direction. In other words, the psalmist urges us to keep God's law in our heart so that it becomes the centre of our being, the driving force which shapes all our thoughts, actions and behaviour.
Desire, the emotions - To say to someone sincerely, "You're very dear to me," has to be done with the heart rather than the head. So 'to hide (something) in your heart' must mean it's dear to you. Here's a key truth in this psalm: God is the supreme treasure. In spite of all the references to law (eight synonyms repeated some 22 times), it is never law as such which is the supreme subject, but the relationship with the lawgiver - God himself. The law is in no way a substitute for God, but is His amazing gift and an expression of God himself. There are many ways in which this relational / personal emphasis is maintained. Two key ones are: (a) the direct engagement with God - almost all the psalm deals with God in the second person not the third (i.e.'your law', not 'the law' [as in something remote and objective], or even 'the law of the Lord'). The second (b) is in the warmth of expressions found here: 'I will praise you', 'I delight in following …', 'the wonderful truths', 'I will keep it with all my heart', 'Show me how much you love me', 'they are the joy of my heart', etc. This is warm, almost overboard, exaggerating love language: emphatic because the writer cares so much. You can hear in the undertone how dearly He loves God, giver of this wonderful word.
God's law is not some tiresome set of regulations designed to limit our freedoms. Instead, it is divine insight for living joyfully as people in relationship to God. Once we grasp this rich and wide-ranging idea of 'law', it is no great jump to think of Jesus as the new law of God - "the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:6) - the one who helps us understand the ways of God for people and who, by sacrificing Himself for sin in our place and offering us a positive and dynamic relationship with him, enables us to live godly lives. So for Christians, Jesus is an even greater treasure - not only law, he is sacrifice too - providing the solution we need when we've failed to keep the law and have messed up!
B FOR BOUNTY
It's treasure to tuck into our heart; but we don't just keep these things trapped inside. The psalmist doesn't lock this treasure up inside him and keep it all to himself. No, he tells other people about it. He's so excited that he tells people about everything.
When we plant the Bible at our core, when we plant what it says inside of us, when it starts to transform our behaviour -- other people will notice. We can share with them this gift and bless them with the love of God. And the point of these laws is that they bring the psalmist such joy. He feels as though he's won the lottery! He rejoices more in having God's promises and commands than if he had a gigantic bank account. He's not wealthy in worldly terms -- but he has this wonderful treasure. He has this bountiful gift.
Do we really think about the Bible like that? Is it really like a treasure? We own Bibles; some of us own many different versions of Bibles. But do we treasure them?
"Share the bounty" - one way to spread the wealth is by living out the truth of the Bible in our actions. What does it mean to 'keep your way pure' (v9)? Consider how the apostle Paul in Colossians 3 distinguishes between pure Christian living and impurity: "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[God's AGAINST impurity - His wrath is aimed at such things.]...But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its [impure] practices and have put on the new [pure] self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator...As God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other...Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love...And be thankful.[THAT'S PURE CHARACTER! NOW HERE'S THE TIE-IN WITH PSALM 199, HIDING GOD'S WORD IN OUR HEART SO HIS PURITY SATURATES US: v16] Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom..." (Col 3:5-16)
So we can share the bounty of Biblical treasure by pure Christlike actions. Another way to 'share the bounty' is by making more Bibles available, through agencies such as the Canadian Bible Society, the Gideons, and the Bible League. Throughout the world, the fact is that millions of Christians are desperate to get their hands on this book! To them, Bibles are like gold dust; they are desperate to read about God for themselves. They want to experience what this poet writes about in his acrostic poem. They want the A-Z guide to the Alpha and Omega. They want it to guide their behaviour, to make this teaching the core of their being. They understand how important this book is and they want to share it. [EG JAMAICANS LEADING SIDEWALK SUNDAY SCHOOL: BETTER THAN GUNS, DRUGS, AND GANGS]
The Bible is a storehouse of treasure but sometimes we treat it more like costume jewellery: Good to flash around on the appropriate occasions, but not really important to us. "The Book we dust and trust." Or maybe it's of sentimental value only; maybe it's a family heirloom that sits on the shelf. [FAMILY BIBLE - IMPRESSIVE SIZE BUT NOT VERY USEFUL] We don't want to lose it, but we don't use it much. So we are faced with two challenges today. The first is to treasure the Bible ourselves. Maybe that means reading it more regularly, maybe that means taking it more seriously -- letting God's voice speak to us and shape our lives. And the second challenge is to share that treasure with others. What better news can we pass on to our world than the resources and relationship God offers in the Bible for shaping a worthwhile life?
Today is Bible Sunday, a day when we think about providing Bibles for those who are desperately seeking the treasure that, too often, we take for granted. That's the challenge of this psalm. As we recognize the Bible for what it is, as we take God's words and promises down inside us, as we let Him change our behaviour and lead us to become more like Christ - then we will truly treasure His Word and allow its value, through the Holy Spirit's influence, to cause US to appreciate in value and worth, too! Let's pray.