Tuesday, September 16, 2008

God's Word: Handled and Hidden

Jesus answered, “It is written . . .” (Luke 4:4, 8, 12)

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it he found the place where it is written . . . (Luke 4:17)

. . . You’ve gotten a call that you need to come to the emergency room. No details. You just need to come. On the way every light you hit is red . . . and eternal.

. . . 2 a.m. - You wake up in a hotel room far from home. Stressed and wound tight, very alone. It’s too late to call home. There’s the TV. And a menu of movies to distract you in any way you wish. Just push the buttons and pay the charge.

. . . The party your friends threw for you is over. The good-byes have been said more than once, promises to visit soon and stay in touch. There’s not much left to say. Your earthly belongings are in a truck somewhere, and with the car loaded down you drive beyond the city limits of the place you’ve called home, wondering if you made the right decision.

The Psalmist spoke of having God’s word hidden in the heart (Psalm 119:11). There are moments, like the ones just described, when the word you’ve hidden in your heart is the only word you have. You can’t reach for a Bible and comb through the concordance looking for just the right word of hope and strength and assurance. The mind grapples for a life-giving word the way a drowning man flails about for a rope. It reaches to your heart for the hidden word.

Jesus had obviously hidden God’s word in his heart. Psalm 119 was composed with memorization in mind, and Jesus no doubt knew verse 11. But Luke 4 shows us something more than Jesus quoting the hidden word. We also see Jesus handling the written text of scripture.

In the Nazareth synagogue – his hometown place of worship – Jesus was invited to teach one Sabbath day. They handed him the scroll of Isaiah. He opened it and found the exact chapter and verse of the prophetic writing that spoke to his own identity as the Lord’s anointed. Jesus knew how to handle the scroll. He knew his way around the text.

But in the wilderness there was no scroll. The wilderness was a place of struggle, a place of temptation, the place where seeds of doubt could be planted and flourish. In the wilderness you can’t reach for chapter and verse. The desert moments demand that we look to the word hidden away in the heart.

Those who handle the written word are more likely to have that word hidden away when the day of testing comes.

It is true that you can read the Bible and not memorize it. But if you never read it, you’ll never have the word you need when the hospital calls, when you’re alone late at night, when you’re moving toward the unknown. Those who handle the word may find some of those words hidden in the heart.

Desert moments will eventually come and test us, but the word of God sustains us in those barren places. Handle the word today so that you’ll find it hidden away when the desert days come.

Your word, O Lord, is a lamp to my feet and light to my path. Teach me to handle your word in the light of day, to read it and ponder it at peace, so that when darkness falls I may still hear those words and follow you through the wilderness places. Amen.

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