David Jeremiah - The Written Word
Donald Jackson is one of the world's best and most well-known calligraphers. In fact, he is today the official scribe and calligrapher to the Crown Office of the United Kingdom, Great Britain, and Northern Ireland, the person responsible for creating all of the official state documents for Queen Elizabeth II. But his greatest accomplishment is a project that began as a childhood dream and took decades to complete. It's the creation of a handwritten, illuminated Bible. The project began in earnest in the early 1990s. While attending a retreat in New Mexico, he sketched out a concept of what a handwritten Bible might look like.
A few years later, he traveled to St. John's Abbey, presented the monks there with an idea about collaborating on a millennium-worthy project, which was officially commissioned in 1998. On March 8, 2000, Jackson penned the project's first words on a page of vellum. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God". Writing with quills made of goose, turkey, and swan feathers, dipped in 130-year-old Chinese ink, it took Jackson and his team of scribes another year to complete the gospels and the book of Acts. And for another decade after that, the team continued copying the rest of the nearly 775,000 words in the Bible, word for word.
Finally, in December of 2011, the project achieved completion when Jackson wrote the word, "Amen," on the final page of the book of Revelation. He said, "Now that I have inscribed the final Amen, I realize that over the long years of this task, a boyhood dream, I have gradually absorbed an enduring conviction of the pin-sharp relevance of these ancient Biblical Texts to the past, to the present, and to the future of our personal and public life and experience". These texts he wrote have a life of their own, and their life is a mirror of the human spirit and experience. Today, the St. John's Bible that he completed is on display at the Alcuin Library on the campus of St. John's University in Minnesota. It's bound in seven volumes.
The Bible contains 1,150 pages. It weighs 165 pounds, and it measure two feet tall by three feet wide when it's opened. The cost of the project came in at eight million dollars. And if you're interested in purchasing your own copy, be prepared to shell out 150 grand for a copy of the handwritten Bible. Hand writing the Bible is not anything new. In fact, I am told that an entire Bible transcribing movement has existed in South Korea since the 1980s. One woman I read about there has copied the entire Bible by hand 12 times in three languages: Korean, Japanese, and English. But the practice actually goes back thousands of years.
In the Old Testament, God's people had scribes whose job it was to pass on God's Word by making written copies. And throughout history, monks have transcribed the Bible, devoting their entire lives to studying and living out God's Word. But I think the best example of all of it is found in the book of Deuteronomy in the 17th chapter. And I want to tell you a little bit about what's going on in this chapter, so you'll understand. In this chapter, Moses is outlining the most important priorities for the future king of Israel. At this point in time, they do not have a king, but they're about to get one, and Moses is telling the people what will be expected of the king, what he is to do and what he is not to do.
In verses 14 through 16 of Deuteronomy 17, Moses lists five things that Israel's future king must not do. He shall not be a foreigner. He shall not multiply horses for himself. He shall not cause the people to return to Egypt. He shall not multiply wives to himself. And he shall not multiply silver and gold to himself. But when we come to the next verse, verse 17, Moses leaves the negative prohibition list behind, and he tells the king to do some very curious things. Here is Moses' positive instruction to the king of Israel. "It shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel".
That's a little wordy passage, but in this section of Scripture we discover that there are three commands and four blessings associated with God's Word. And let's look at each one of them, one at a time.
First of all, the king was commanded to copy God's Word. Verse 18 says, "It shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests and the Levites". Now, the law at that time were the first five books of the Bible, but that all was considered to be the law. In Deuteronomy 17:18, Moses commanded the king to make his own personal copy of that, and he was to put it in a book. And this was probably a tanned leather scroll made from some sheepskin or goatskin, and he was to do this in front of the Levitical priests, so they could make sure he didn't make any mistakes. In the Old Testament, the command to write out the text of Scripture was not isolated to the king. You'll find it in several places.
Here are a couple of illustrations. Here is one passage from Deuteronomy chapter 6, verses 4 through 9. "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children. You shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and shall be frontless between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates".
The people of Israel were told to write God's Word on the outside of their house. And toward the end of the book of Deuteronomy, as Israel was on the verge of going into the promised land, Moses said this: "It shall be, on the day when you cross over the Jordan to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, that you shall set up for yourselves large stones, and whitewash them with lime. And you shall write on them all the words of this law, when you have crossed over, that you may enter the land which the Lord your God is giving you, 'a land flowing with milk and honey,' just as the Lord God of your fathers promised you". The Israelites were to write the Word of God on the doorposts and gates of their houses and on large, whitewashed rocks or stones, a memorial. Now, we wouldn't do those things today. And I can honestly tell you I haven't done those things, but I have discovered the important benefit of writing things out, writing them down.
If you came by a little study in my house, you would see a little pile of tablets. They're a special kind of tablet. I've gotta have exactly the right one. I drive my secretaries nuts trying to find them 'cause they're not easy to find. But when I'm going to read an important book, I get that tablet. And as I'm reading, I copy out of a book the things that are important to me. In fact, it's kind of embarrassing. I have a couple of tablets that are almost a reproduction of the book itself, because the book was so important. I do this because this helps me remember what is in that book. And I can honestly tell you, and I don't say this other than to illustrate this point, that when that process has happened, I hardly ever forget what's in that book, and sometimes I can even tell you where it is on the page and how to find it. Often, my first step in preparing messages to bring to you on the Lord's Day has included handwriting out the main passage, word for word, using pen and paper.
Notice, I have not yet used the word "computer". I've discovered that something wonderful happens when I take the time to slow down and write out a passage of Scripture word for word on a piece of paper. New details about familiar stories stick out. Phrases that I have skimmed over for years and thought I have read, I now discover truth that I missed. "New meaning, new questions, new connections in my mind," it says, "if the words I am copying flow from the paper through the ink and into my heart". When I copy God's Word, I have to slow down. How many of you can imagine? 'Cause you know me. That's a big deal for me to slow down. I was built more for speed than comfort. How about the rest of you? I don't have a low gear. I don't even have a second gear. I just have a high gear. But when I copy God's Word, I have to slow down.
This week, I read that people check their smart phones, on average, every 12 minutes during their waking hours. 71% percent of people with a smart phone never turn it off. And 41% say they check their phone within five minutes of waking up in the morning. Focusing on God's Word without distraction for a few minutes a day is a wonderful antidote to the frantic pace of a world that is centered on technology. Just put your electronic things away. Get basic. Get your pen and your Bible and get ready to do something that is life-changing. Slowing down and copying God's Word is good for your soul. It's also good for your mind. Did you know that science has shown that writing things down on a piece of paper actually encodes the information to a part of your brain that is easier to access and review.
So, if you want to remember what you read, write it down. I couldn't help, for all of us in my generation, to reflect back on some of my grade school days, when I would get in trouble, and the teacher would make me go sit down in a corner and tell me to write, "I will not talk in class," 100 times. Do you remember that? I thought, well, why would I do that? That's kind of a stupid thing. Well, the purpose was to impress you not to do that again. I'm sure it had some effect. Although, if you had to do it more than once, as I did, it didn't have a lasting effect, obviously.
So, the first thing that Moses said the new king had to do was he had to write a copy of the law, and it says for himself in a book. He obviously didn't need to do that so he would have access to the law, because the priests and the scribes were at his disposal. This wasn't for anyone else. It was for him. It was so that he could benefit from this discipline. Then the Bible says he was not only to copy God's Word, but he was to carry God's Word. Deuteronomy 17:19 says, "And it shall be with him". Everywhere the king went, he was to take his personal copy of the Word of God with him. He was encouraged to take that with him wherever he went. It was to be his lifelong companion and source of guidance and strength.
In his book, "Reading for Preaching," Cornelius Plantinga told a story about visiting death row in the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. He said that during his visit, he struck up a conversation with a smallish man whose wire-rimmed glasses and intelligent expression made him look a little professorial. Plantinga asked him how he spends his days. And the man picked up his Bible and held it up, and he said, "I spend a lot of time reading our book". Listen that, "reading our book". "I'm glad it's so big 'cause I'll never get to the bottom of it". And then he said something, Plantinga said he will never forget. He said, "You know, there are two billion of us Christians in the world, and everything today that any of us does that's any good has something to do with our book, and I have a copy of it right here in my cell".
Plantinga walked away from the conversation convicted that he had almost certainly been underestimating Bible. And if this very-decorated theologian could say that, I would say for all of us, we underestimate the Bible. We underestimate its potential and its power in our lives. The psalmist said, "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. You, through your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation".
I've always felt guilty when people said we should meditate on the Word of God. I don't consider myself a good meditator. But what we're going to tell you about today will be the closest thing to meditation most of us will probably ever do. In all those promises in the Bible, of benefits to people who meditate, they're just out there waiting, waiting for us to take hold of them. The king was to copy God's Word. He was to carry God's Word. And finally, he was to make a commitment to God's Word. He was to read it all the days of his life. The king was to read the Word daily, as long as he lived. Does that sound overwhelming?
Well, let me tell you the story of one man's path to daily Bible reading? Jason Inman grew up as the seventh son of pastors, whose parents were also pastors. I mean, he'd heard the words, "Read the Bible," a lot during his life; but no one ever forced him to do it, so he didn't. and he went through life thinking, "You know what? I should read the Bible more". But he never did. Sound familiar? The next thing he knew, he was married, he had kids, he was in a career, and life seemed so hard. Jason struggled with decision-making. He had bad self-talk. He was often discouraged. And at the same time, he felt a nag to read the Bible more. And the more that he felt he should read the Bible more, the less he read; and the less he read, the more he felt he should read it more.
Then one day, he decided to download a Bible app to his phone. And when he subscribed to the verse of the day, something cool happened. Jason would have a negative thought about himself, and the verse of the day would encourage him. He would need to make a decision, and he'd remember yesterday's Proverb. He'd start to lose patience with his kids, and that day's verse would come to his mind and heart. Soon, Jason realized that he was coming alive, one verse at a time. Not too many years ago, Jason said, "I read the Bible here and there, mostly out of guilt. Today I read it every day because I need it, I like it, and sometimes I actually love it".
I want you to see that all of this has a purpose that is anchored in a blessing. These things that the king was told he must do, to copy it, to carry it with him, and commit to it, they weren't just giving him an agenda. They were precursors to the blessing of God that Almighty God was waiting to pour out upon him, and here are those blessings. Let's read the rest of the text. "Do these things, king of Israel, that you may learn to fear the Lord your God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel".
Now, that's a very powerful paragraph. So, let me ask you these questions. Do you want to grow in the fear of the Lord, so that all of your other fears will shrink and go away? Do you want to grow in humility and increase your love for your friends and family and even for your enemies? Do you want to grow in the confidence of a secure future and a lasting legacy? Commit yourself to the written Word. The Lord himself promised us that if we would do that, Joshua 1:8, "If you meditate in it day and night, you may observe to do according to all that is written in it, if you do that," listen carefully, "you will make your way prosperous, you will have good success".
Did you know that verse, as far as I know, is the only verse in the Bible where being prosperous and having good success are in the same verse? Do you want to be prosperous and have good success? I'm not talking about material success, although that could be a part of it. But success, when you hear God speak of it, is becoming everything God created you to be in total fulfillment of your person, being completely a part of God's purpose for your life, with no reservations. That's what it means to be successful and to be prosperous, according to God. And God said the way you do that is you meditate in this book, and you make it a part of your life. You make the Word of God a part of your life.
And I want to say to you today, men and women, that you can do that. We all can do that. No book has ever impacted the world like the Bible. It's the most popular and powerful book on earth, and its influence is growing stronger every day, no matter what you hear. Many people spurn it, many people ridicule it, and attack it, and trash it, and even burn it. And you would think, with all these generations of some people going out of the way to do it, there wouldn't be anything left of the Word of God. But now the Word of God is being translated into almost every language of the world.
There is a place now in Washington called The Museum of the Bible. If you go there, there's a special room in that Museum of the Bible, where you go, and you can get a visual picture of all of the languages of the world and which of them now have the Bible. They have it all organized. And little by little because of all of the ability that we now have to translate and to create languages for people that don't have them, the Word of God is being inculcated into the cultures and languages of the Bible. Within just a few years, there will not be any people groups that do not have the Word of God. It is on the march. It is still alive. It is still making a difference. The Word of God is God's wonderful gift to you, to help you be everything you've always wanted to be and everything God created you to be.
Let me just pause for a moment and just get really very real about all of this with all of us. For 40 years, I have been teaching the Word of God in this church. And you are all such wonderful students, and I have had so much joy doing that and continue to do it. But sometimes I wonder how much of the Word of God that I have taught has gotten in your heart. You know, it's possible to be a student of the Bible and the Bible isn't changing you at all. The Bible isn't meant for us to study so we can be smarter. The Bible is meant for us to study so we can be better. And if the Bible just gets into your head and it doesn't get into your heart, it doesn't have the opportunity to make the changes in your life that need to be made. This is not about my telling you anything. This is just about allowing the Bible to get into your system.
You say, "Well, there's parts of the Bible I don't understand". There's a whole lot of the Bible I don't understand, but I refuse to miss the part I do understand because I'm intimidated by the part I don't understand. So, I just keep studying and keep learning, and I promise you that if you will use this opportunity and this exercise to get the Word of God into your system, it will come into your heart; and all of a sudden, you will begin to notice something, and I'll let you discover it for yourself.
I love to read business books, and one of my favorite writers is Greg McKeown. He's got a new book out called "Effortless". I didn't buy that. Somebody gave it to me. I think it will encourage you and give you a strategy for making progress, because the book is about how we make things really hard 'cause we've bought into the idea that if you don't die in the process of doing it, you won't get it. No pain, no gain, you know, the whole deal. But he wrote to say that oftentimes we don't get where we want to go because we're obsessive-compulsive people. So, he tells this story. He said, "In the midst of the great age of exploration, in the early years of the 20th century, the most sought-after goal in the world was to reach the South Pole. It had never been done before in all of recorded human history.
So, in November of 1911, two rivals for the Pole aimed to be the first to achieve this elusive goal. Captain Robert Falcon Scott from Great Britain and Roald Amundsen from Norway. They began within days of each other a 1,500-mile race against time, a race of life and death. One team would return victorious, and the other team would not return at all. To read their journals, however, you would never guess that the two teams made the exact same journey under the same conditions. On the good weather days, Scott would drive his team to exhaustion, and then on the bad weather days he would hunker down in his tent and lodge his complaints in his journal". He wrote, "I doubt if any party could travel in such weather". But one party could. On a day of similar blizzard, Amundsen recorded in his journal, "It's been an unpleasant day, storm, drift, and frostbite, but we have advanced 13 miles closer to our goal".
On December 12, 1911, the plot thickened. Amundsen and his team got within 45 miles of the South Pole, closer than anyone who had ever tried before, and they had traveled some 650 grueling miles. They were on the verge of winning the race of their lives, and the icing on the cake, the weather that day was working in their favor. There on the polar plateau, they had the ideal condition to ski and sled their way to the South Pole. Within one big push, they could be there in a single day. Instead, it took three days. Why? From the very start of their journey, Amundsen had insisted that his party advance exactly 15 miles each day, no more, no less, and the final leg would be no different.
While Scott allowed his team to rest on those days, when it froze and pushed his team to the point of inhuman exertion, on the days when it thawed, Amundsen insisted on plenty of rest, kept a steady pace for the duration of the trip to the South Pole. This one simple difference between their approaches can explain why Amundsen's team made it to the top, while Scott's team perished. Setting a steady, consistent, sustainable pace was ultimately what allowed the party from Norway to reach their destination without particular effort.
So, here are my final words of encouragement about this little project. Pace yourself. It's better to copy five verses a day and enjoy it, than 20 verses a day and dread it. The book of Romans has 433 verses. So, if you copy just five verses a day, you'll finish it in under three months. You will have copied out, in your own hand, one of the key books in the Bible. If you take it one day and one verse at a time, I think you will reach your destination, and it might even feel like you did it without particular effort. And whatever you do, remember, the main reason for studying the written Word is so that you get to know the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. This book is nothing if it is not the revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ to us. We read this book so that we can know God better. We know God better because he has revealed himself through his Son, Jesus Christ. So, when we read this book, we learn about God, we learn about Jesus Christ, and the Living Word is revealed to us in the written Word. If you get lost in the written Word and forget why you're doing it, it can be a very tedious process. Don't get so caught up in the written Word that you forget it's just a means for you to know the Living Word better.
Many years ago, one of England's leading actors was asked to recite, for the pleasure of his fellow guests, and he consented and asked if there was anything special that his audience would like to hear. After a moment's pause, an old pastor present said, "Could you, sir, recite for us the Shepherd's Psalm, the 23rd Psalm"? A strange look came over the actor's face. He paused for a moment, and then he said, "I can and I will, with one condition: that when I am finished, when I have recited it, you, my friend, will do the same thing". "I"? said the clergyman in surprise. "But I am not an elocutionist. But if you wish, I will do it". Impressively, the great actor began the Psalm. His voice and his intonation were perfect. He held his audience spellbound. And when he finished, a great burst of applause broke in upon the guests.
Then as it died away, the old clergyman arose and began the Psalm. His voice was not remarkable. His intonation was not faultless. When he had finished, no sound of applause broke the silence, but there was not a dry eye in the room, and many heads were bowed. Then the actor rose to his feet again. His voice shook as he laid his hand upon the shoulder of the old pastor, and he said, "I reached your eyes and your ears, my friends. He reached your heart. The difference is just this: I know the 23rd Psalm. He knows the Shepherd". And men and women, I don't want you just to know the 23rd Psalm. I want you to know the Shepherd. This is how you get to know the Shepherd. And I pray that you will push through your times of discouragement and wondering if this is doing any good, and allow yourself the opportunity to discover what the written Word can do for your heart.