Author: Ron Graham
About 400 years before Christ, when Persia was a world super power, the kings of Persia had respect for God. Cyrus decreed that Jerusalem and its temple should be rebuilt, which the Chaldeans before them had destroyed. Other Persian kings supported and promulgated that decree.
When the building program was well advanced, and many exiles had returned to dwell in the city’s environs, all the people gathered one day in the city square, and asked that the word of God be read to them. So Ezra the scribe, and several other teachers, brought out the book of the law of God, the law of Moses (Nehemiah 8:8-12).
When Ezra opened the book, all the people stood up. Ezra lifted up his voice to heaven, and blessed God. When his prayer was ended, all the people said, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed low in worship to God. Over the next few days, Ezra read from the book to the people. The teachers translated and explained the readings, so that all the people, men, women, and children of reasonable age, would understand the sense. As the people listened, they wept, seeing how far men had strayed from the good law of God. However, the teachers encouraged them not to weep, but to rejoice in their revival, and to celebate the occasion.
It is the sense of occasion that strikes us in that story. A comparable sense of occasion ought to be found among us, as we meet today.
A striking parallel occurred in the same city, Jerusalem, some 400 years later. In the days that followed our Lord’s resurrection, his disciples gathered in their thousands to hear the apostles read explain and translate the scriptures. Like those who had listened to Ezra and the scribes centuries before, these also were devoted to the word, rejoiced in the word, and felt a sense of occasion (Acts 2:36-47). Is that kind of emotion manifest in us today?
We may firstly observe the people’s desire. Ezra did not summon them to the city square; they came of their own accord. The early Christians were likewise of one accord and under no compulsion. These movements were from the people’s hearts. They felt as their Lord felt, when he said, "With desire I have desired..." (Luke 22:15). Jesus said, when people flocked to hear him, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6). Do we have that deep desire as we assemble?
We may secondly observe the decorum, the conduct suitable to the occasion. The attentiveness, the standing in respect for the book, bowing down for prayer, the people all saying, "Amen! Amen!" Whilst customs change, the fact remains that people in an assembly for worship and teaching can deport themselves appropriately or inappropriately.
Decorum differs from one church to another. One has noisy clapping and shouting. Another has rigid austerity. Another has quietness and simplicity. Another has pomp and spendour. I remember watching a world-wide religious telecast in which the scriptures were read most solemnly and beautifully. However the sense of occasion turned into a sense of the ridiculous when attention turned from the book of God to the Pope’s hat. It was placed upon his head, and taken off his head, several times, with much ceremony, over-doing decorum. But under-doing decorum can be just as bad. Let there be appropriate decorum (1Corinthians 14:40), to encourage a sense of occasion when we gather,
We may finally observe the doctrine. There was a quality of teaching. The people came hungry, and asking for a spiritual loaf, they were not given a stone. In the day of Ezra, and in the day of Christ’s apostles, we know the teaching was excellent. No drivel, no endless regurgitations of the same old hobby. A sense of occasion does not come from knowing you are going to church to hear guff. That produces rather a sense of frustration. When we go to church, we need to hear doctrine that is doctrine indeed.
I leave you with this thought: Jesus says, "Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20). That is an awesome thing. Does our desire, our decorum, and our doctrine, cause the wonder to be felt?