When Jan and I worked in Eastern Europe, I was taught a lesson I will never forget. One Sunday, I was preaching in a former Communist nation. As worship began, I placed my bible on the floor under my chair. Immediately, an old man came to where I was sitting. He picked up my bible placed it on a cloth napkin and put it back on the floor. When he stood up he looked into my eyes with a sad expression on his face and returned to his seat. I will never forget the look in the old man’s eyes.
I could not believe how insensitive I was for something I should have cherished. I would like to blame it on jet lag, an unfamiliar language, or something else. It was none of those. I had become too casual about the physical presence of God’s word. What I witnessed was a man honoring God’s word in a tangible way because for so many years it was forbidden to possess such a book. It was precious to him.
After their return to Jerusalem from captivity and as the wall of the city was rebuilt, Scripture was read in front of the people. When the book was opened, it stirred their emotions. “Ezra stood on the platform in full view of all the people. When they saw him open the book, they all rose to their feet. Then Ezra praised the Lord, the great God, and all the people chanted, “Amen! Amen!” as they lifted their hands. Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground” (Nehemiah 8: 5-6).
Those who heard Ezra read God’s word are like the old man I met in Eastern Europe almost thirty years ago. They have something to teach us about our response to the presence and purpose of Scripture in our lives. A return to that kind of reverence will be an indicator that we take its message seriously.