Today, we are beginning a brand new three week series called “Text”. In this series we are going to examine the living word of God. Why is this so important? Because so many people today simply do not understand God’s word. The Bible is much more than a book of stories and rules from the past. It’s rich with a relevant message that God has for us today. If you have your Bibles with you, let’s open them up to Hebrews, chapter four. Throughout history, it’s been common for people to actually stand during the reading of God’s word, and I would like to do something a little different today. In honor of the living word of God, would you all stand together as we read God’s word. Hebrews 4 verse 12 says: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
Scripture says that the truth in this book, is alive. It’s not just words on a page, but it’s living. It’s life transforming. It’s powerful. It’s active in every single way; and yet, even though it is alive, so many people neglect God’s word. For example, how many of you own a Bible? How many of you own two or more Bibles? How many of you this week did not read your Bible every single day? Be honest. What happened? Well, because we have God’s word so readily accessible, so many of us neglect it. Here’s what scripture says. Psalm 119:16, “I delight in your decrees. I will not neglect your word.” This word “neglect” here comes from the Hebrew word, “shakach” (pronounced shaw-kakh). We get our word “shockacon” from it. Okay. Just joking. Bad joke. This Hebrew word means: “to lay aside”. It means “to forget”. If you are taking notes, it means “to take for granted or to neglect”. This verse is saying: “I will delight in your decrees. I will not lay aside your word. I will not forget you word. I will not take for granted your word. I will not neglect your word.”
Why is it that so many people today neglect God’s word? It’s because so many people today don’t understand what it really is and what it took for us to hold God’s word in our hands. Today, we are going to study the history of the Bible. The history of how we received what is now in our hands today. Let’s talk about how God brought His word to us. It started thousands and thousands of years ago, somewhere between 1400 and 1500 BC, when God, Himself, wrote the Ten Commandments on stone and ascribed these very first words of God in an ancient form of Hebrew. God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai, and God began speaking His word to us. Years later, the very first scriptures were written. They were known as the Pentateuch, and they are now the first five books of the Bible. They include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. All of the Old Testament scriptures were written in Ancient Hebrew. These writing were passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years on scrolls made of animal skins, usually sheep, but sometimes deer or but never a pig. A pig would have been unclean, and that would have been totally inappropriate for God’s word.
What’s interesting is this: when the entire Pentateuch is found on a scroll, it’s called a Torah, and a Torah scroll, if it would be completely unraveled, would be over 150 feet in distance. The scroll was so long that it would often take an entire herd of sheep just to make one Torah scroll. The Jewish scribes who painstakingly produced each scroll were perfectionists. If they made even the slightest mistake in copying, such as allowing two letters of a word to touch, they destroyed that entire panel (the last three or four columns of text), and the panel before it, because it had touched the panel with a mistake! While most Christians today would consider this behavior fanatical and even idolatrous (worshiping the scripture, rather than the One who gave it to us), it nevertheless demonstrates the level of faithfulness to accuracy applied to the preservation of God’s Word throughout the first couple of thousand years of Biblical transmission.
By approximately 500 B.C., the thirty-nine books that we know today as the Old Testament were completed and continued to be preserved in Hebrew on scrolls. By the end of the First Century A.D., the New Testament was completed, and it was preserved in the Greek language on papyrus, a thin paper-like material made from crushed and flattened stalks of a reed-like plant. The word “Bible” comes from the same Greek root word as “papyrus”. The papyrus sheets were bound, or tied together in a configuration much more similar to modern books than to an elongated scroll. In the year 315 A.D., the Bishop of Alexandria, a guy by the name of Athanasius, wrote his Easter letter and in it, he listed all of the books that you read today in the New Testament. Then in the year 393 A.D., the African Synod of Hippo approved all of the books that you find listed as your New Testament today.
By the year 500 A.D., the Bible had been translated into over 500 different languages. People all over were so thankful, because they could read God’s word in their own language. But then, something very unusual happened. In just the next century, the next one hundred years, by the year 600 A.D. the Bible was only allowed in one language. Why is that? Well, the Catholic Church of Rome, at the time, was the only recognized church in the land, and they issued a decree that no Bible in any other language was allowed. If anyone found a Bible in any language besides Latin, that person holding that Bible could be executed on the spot. You may be wondering, “Why did this happen?” Well, unfortunately, the Catholic Church became very, very corrupt. The priests were the only one educated in the Latin language so that the common person could never, ever read God’s word. Well, that gave the priests ultimate power. They could teach what parts of the Bible they wanted to, and they could even throw in some things that weren’t in the Bible at all, and that was very common.
In fact, it was common for a person to go and to pay for indulgences. In a sense, they were paying for forgiveness. If they sinned, they’d pay a certain amount of money and the priest would say, “Well, because you’ve paid that, now you are forgiven.” The Catholic Church also taught about a place called purgatory, a word that’s not found in scripture, but they said if your relative dies, they go to purgatory, kind of a holding place, a place that you really don’t want to be, but for a certain amount of money, you can purchase the freedom for your relative from purgatory. In today’s world, it would kind of be like this: If your grandma dies, for $9,995 you can buy grandma a ticket out of purgatory. The priest used this forced ignorance, and between the years 400 A.D. and 1400 A.D. they deceived the masses during a 1,000-year period, which became known as the Dark Ages.
You may be wondering, “How did the church break free from this long season of dark and horrible corruption?” Well, the answer is simple. Once the Bible, the truth of God’s word, got in the hands of enough people and the right people, God used His truth through people to bring about the very necessary reformation of the church. Here’s how it happened. In the year 563 A.D., there was a guy named Columba. You may have seen his television show. You know the scruffy looking cop played by Peter Falk? Oh, that’s Columbo. We are talking about Columba. Sorry. Columba was a guy who started a secret Bible society, or a Bible school, where they could faithfully teach God’s word, and this group of people became the remnant on earth where God’s word was taught faithfully century after century after century. The students were known as the Culdee’s. It’s a term that means “certain stranger”. They were strangers of this world, but for around 700 years (500-1300 AD), the Culdee’s’s would disciple one another and they faithfully studied God’s word. In fact, it was out of this group that God raised up the right people to bring about the reformation.
In the late 1300’s, the secret society of Culdee’s chose John Wycliffe to lead the world out of the Dark Ages. He was a man that God used to do tremendous things. He was the very first guy to translate the Bible into the English language. This happened in 1380 AD. When he did so, all of a sudden, all these people who before couldn’t read scripture were now able to do so. At this time, some say that it would take about ten months to translate one single Bible – ten months people would work to get the Bible translated into this language. Well, he was faithful in spreading God’s word, but unfortunately, he was called a heretic, and the pope was so disgusted by this guy that forty-four years after his death, the pope ordered Wycliffe’s bones to be dug up, to be destroyed, and then to be spread across the river. Some people say that Wycliffe was actually the morning star of the reformation. He was the one that God used to start the ball rolling in the very necessary reformation of the church. Wycliffe also had a disciple, or another student, whose name was John Hus, and Hus was equally passionate about getting God’s word into as many hands of people as possible. Well, unfortunately, Hus too, was called a heretic and was actually burned at the stake in 1415. But get this. What do you think they used to start the fire around Hus as they burned him at the stake? They used his teacher, Wycliffe’s, Bibles. They spread Bibles all around him and then lit the Bibles on fire to burn Hus at the stake, but it was Hus’ final words that became known as a prophecy that helped direct the future of the church. At the stake before he was burned, the last words of John Hus were these. He said, “In the next one hundred years, God will raise up a man whose call for reform cannot be suppressed.” And that’s exactly what God did.
In the year 1517, God raised up the man named Martin Luther, who was fed up with all of the corruption in the church and he believed that God was calling him to help reform the church. In fact, it was on All Hallows Eve that Martin Luther took what became known as his ninety-five theses. It was a document with ninety-five claims of heresy, and he took his ninety-five theses, and he went and he nailed it to the door of the Wittenberg church. People now describe that event as the knock that was heard around the world. God used those accusations of heresy to spark what’s become known as the reformation of the protestant church. God also used Martin Luther to take the Bible and to translate it into the German language. He then took the recent invention called the printing press, the invention of Gutenberg, and used it to now get the Bible into the hands of the masses. Of course, Luther was called a heretic. People wanted to kill him, and he had to spend much of his life on the run, but God used him to spark major changes in the church and to get the word of God into the hands of the masses.
About that same time, there was another guy, an Oxford professor. His name was John Colet, and he translated the Bible into English for his Oxford students. He also taught the Bible in the English language at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London for, believe it or not, over 20,000 people would pack themselves into this cathedral simply to hear the word of God in a language that they could understand. Not only were 20,000 people in the building, but it said that as many people would be outside the building waiting for their turn to get in. Why? Because they were hungry, desperate. They would do anything to simply hear the word of God. What’s sad is that beautiful historic cathedral still exists today, but instead of over 20,000 people a weekend, they minister to about 200 people a weekend, and most of these are simply tourists.
In the year 1526, there was a guy named William Tyndale, who befriended Martin Luther, and God used William Tyndale to print the very first English Bible. That’s the good news. The bad news is, anyone who was caught with this illegal Bible would be executed immediately. You could only imagine what demand there would be for people that read English and wanted to read God’s word in the language that they could understand. They would do almost anything to get God’s word into their hands. These people, they were incredibly creative and would often smuggle Bibles into England, using all sorts of different means. Occasionally, they put Bibles in bales of cotton to smuggle them in, or other times, they’d put Bibles into bags full of flour. Ironically, the biggest buyers of Tyndale’s Bibles were actually the king’s men. That’s right, the king’s men would buy up as many English Bibles as they could, not because they wanted to read them, but instead, because they wanted to burn and destroy all of Tyndale’s Bibles. Well, Tyndale, he was a good businessman, and he would simply take the profits of all of these Bibles the king’s men would buy and he would use the money to print even more Bibles to get the word of God out. Unfortunately, because what he was doing was considered illegal, Tyndale was on the run for eleven years of his life.
Imagine waking up every single morning, knowing that people were hunting you down, wanting to kill you simply because you wanted to help other people experience the word of God. That’s what Tyndale experienced. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, he was on the run, running for his life because people wanted to execute him. Sadly, they eventually caught up to him and incarcerated him for about five hundred days before they finally decided in the year 1536 to burn him at the stake. His last words, though, were a prayer to God, which people will remember forever. He prayed, “Oh, Lord, open the eyes of the King of England,” and three years later in 1539, God answered that prayer. Not only did the King of England allow the printing of the Bible in the English language, but he actually helped to fund it, setting the word of God free. Think about this. Remember all the people who died, gave their lives fighting with everything in them to help God’s living and active word be available to you, and sadly, so many people today, they neglect God’s living word.
Sadly, so many people today neglect God’s word. They take it for granted. It is so, so important to engage in God’s word and to interact with the scriptures. Why? Because this is the word of God. It is living. It is active. Scripture says that in the beginning there was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God, and the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. This is Jesus, the word, becoming flesh. To know Him, to serve Him, to follow Him, we must feed on His word; and yet, so many people neglect it. A few questions to consider this morning: (1) What causes you to neglect God’s word? (2) What will you do to ensure that God’s word leads you daily?
Let’s conclude with this Scripture: Psalm 119:16 which says: “I delight in your decrees, and I will not neglect Your word.”