Monday, March 28, 2016

The resurrection changes everything!

My Life Group lesson for March 27, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

What significant days in our lifetimes do you remember vividly?

Some might include the Challenger explosion in 1986, or the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2011.

Our parents and grandparents would remember include VE Day (May 8, 1945); John F. Kennedy’s assassination (Nov. 22, 1963);

Question - How many of you remember where you were when you received the news about one or more of these events?

Our Bible study today will focus on the greatest news of all, the most significant event in human history.

As we celebrate Easter today, we will look back at the events of that magnificent day, but we will also look into the present and celebrate the hope that we have because of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Acts 2:14-46; Luke 23:1—24:51

*** We've spent the past few weeks studying the book of Acts, which is written by Luke (a companion of Paul). We discussed Jesus' ascension, Pentecost and the early church.

*** For Easter we'll look at Luke's Gospel, and the resurrection. It’s only the central focus of our entire salvation.

*** I know many of you have been going to church since birth, so you've heard and read about the resurrection quite a bit. But studying the Word and the context opens your eyes to new things every time.

AN EMPTY TOMB (Luke 24:1-3)

1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came to the tomb, bringing the spices they had prepared. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. 3 They went in but did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.

*** The women come for Jesus.

--- The first day of the week was Sunday. Jesus was crucified on Friday and buried that same day so that it would be done before the Sabbath (which was Saturday).

--- The women watched Jesus die on the cross, saw him carried away and buried. In their grief they wanted to add their spices as a gift of love.

--- It was the normal thing to do. But God had other plans. Instead they were the first to hear the news of His resurrection!

*** Who were the women present at the empty tomb?

--- Matthew 27:56 - Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

--- Mark 16:1 – When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so they could go and anoint Him.

--- Luke 24:10 – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things.

--- John - Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. (v. 2 she says "we don't know where they put Him," so there were more.)

Mary Magdalene was from Magdala, a town on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. Mary became a follower of Jesus after He cast out seven demons that tormented her (Luke 8:2). Joanna was as “the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward” (Luke 8:3). She was one of many Galilean followers who provided monetary and material support to Jesus during His ministry. The second Mary was the mother of James. Luke added that other women were also present.

*** The stone was rolled away.

--- Jews preferred burial above ground in caves or tombs cut of rock. The body would have been on a slab of rock. Stones were kept in front of the entrance to keep animals and scavengers away. (After deterioration, the bones would be collected and stored in an ossuary (a container often made of stone) elsewhere in the burial chamber.)

--- So picture the scene: It’s just before dawn, this group of women come to what is essentially a graveyard, and think they’re witnessing a crime. Somebody stole the body of Jesus!

--- This is a FACT. Once this became known, everyone conceded that yes, the tomb was empty. Jesus’ disciples would declare Jesus was resurrected, and the unbelieving religious authorities would claim His body was stolen (Matt. 28:13).

--- If the enemies of the church wanted to stop Christianity in its infancy, producing the body of Jesus was all that would have been necessary. They could not, and the empty tomb provided evidence to affirm the declaration of Peter and the early disciples.

*** Question - How would a news reporter have described the scene that morning? How might you have responded if you had read a news story about this event?

FULL DISCLOSURE (Luke 24:4-8)

4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men stood by them in dazzling clothes. 5 So the women were terrified and bowed down to the ground. “Why are you looking for the living among the dead?” asked the men. 6 “He is not here, but He has been resurrected! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, 7 saying, ‘The Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and rise on the third day’?” 8 And they remembered His words.

*** Angels among us.

--- While the women scratched their heads, suddenly there were two angels among them.

Angels are important messengers in Luke’s Gospel. They appeared to Zechariah and predicted the birth of John the Baptist (1:13) and to Mary concerning the birth of Jesus (1:35). Angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem (2:10).

--- The women needed divine revelation to understand the resurrection.

--- The women are afraid, as is everyone else in the Bible when angels appear.

But they had also been courageous. While the disciples were in hiding, the women didn't know what they'd see when they arrived, with soldiers supposed to be there, and how they would roll the stone away to anoint Jesus' body.

--- The angels make it clear when they ask “why are you looking for the living among the dead” that Jesus wasn’t dead.

--- They reminded the women that Jesus had predicted He would be delivered into the hands of sinful men (Luke 9:44), crucified (9:22), and would rise on the third day (9:22).

More and more, Jesus' followers came to see that He wasn't caught up in circumstances out of His control, but knew exactly what had to happen and submitted to God's plan for salvation.

--- It’s easy for us to be critical of the women and question why they didn’t remember or believe Jesus’ words concerning His resurrection. We are all guilty of forgetting (or ignoring) Jesus’ words to us.

The women came to the tomb with the task of anointing a decaying body, and they left praising God and telling others of the risen Savior.

*** Question - What would have frightened you most: the disrupted tomb, the men in white, or the missing body of Jesus?

COMPLETE AMAZEMENT (Luke 24:9-12)

9 Returning from the tomb, they reported all these things to the Eleven and to all the rest. 10 Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them were telling the apostles these things. 11 But these words seemed like nonsense to them, and they did not believe the women. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. When he stooped to look in, he saw only the linen cloths. So he went home, amazed at what had happened.

*** The women returned but were not believed at first.

--- It was now the apostles' turn to be amazed.

--- The women high-tailed it back to where the disciples had been staying to tell them the good news.

--- We think nothing today of the gender of these first witnesses. In the first century A.D., however, women were considered by some to be unreliable witnesses. The Bible contains no such prejudice against the reliable testimony of women. God’s Word honors them, and their testimony will always be remembered as the foundation for the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

*** Jesus’ most intimate followers doubted.

--- There’s not a single “I told you so” from the bunch.

--- These guys had been with Jesus for three years, supposedly heard most of what He said, but still weren't anticipating the resurrection. None of the disciples or Jesus’ followers understood or believed the prophecies He made about His resurrection.

--- Doubts are often present in the lives of believers. We have to remember that we do not always understand God or what He is doing.

--- Like the man in Mark 9:24, it is okay to cry out, “I do believe! Help my unbelief.”

*** Peter: The ancient Usain Bolt.

--- Peter sprinted like an Olympic champion to the tomb, where he saw the cloths folded neatly on the rock slab.

--- Three days earlier Peter denied being a disciple of Christ. But 50 days after the resurrection, Peter would stand before the crowds in Jerusalem and proclaim Jesus had risen from the dead. (Acts 2:14-36)

--- Jesus commended those who would believe in the resurrection by faith in the testimony of others (John 20:29). More than 3,000 people believed based on Peter’s testimony at Pentecost, and they became the first of multitudes who have believed that Jesus died for their sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day.

*** Question - How did the empty tomb change the lives of the people present that Sunday? How should our lives similarly change as believers?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

The resurrection isn't just a tacked-on feel-good ending to the story of Jesus, like movie directors do for bigger audiences.

The story is the same as all four Gospels share four core evidence of the resurrection: 1) The empty tomb; 2) Angelic messengers; 3) Women as the first witnesses; 4) Unbelief of the apostles.

The central focus of the story remains the same. Romans 10:9-10 makes it clear that to be saved you have to believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, and confess it with your mouth.

We as Christians are all witnesses of Jesus’ saving grace through His work on the cross that day.

Salvation is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, in whom we are redeemed.

*** Believers today are faced with similar decisions as those in the early church. How do you respond when you hear that Jesus lives?

*** The responsibility and privilege of every believer who has received Jesus Christ as Savior is to tell others.

*** As C. S. Lewis famously argued, a person can either respond by declaring that Jesus is a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord of the universe. If Jesus rose from the dead, it changes everything, including the purpose and trajectory of your life. Moreover, the church exists to point people to the Risen Jesus who is Lord over all.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Empowered for the Mission

My Life Group lesson for March 13, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

Can anyone here speak another language?

(I mean a different tongue, not like, “I am Southern, but I also understand people from Boston!”)

Who has been to a different country where it was beneficial to know some local lingo and language?

Why is it important to be able to communicate in the native language?

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

*** The title of today’s study is “Empowered for the Mission.”

*** Last week we began our study of Acts with the ascension of Jesus and a promise that the Holy Spirit would come to the apostles.

--- The disciples gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem and prayed in anticipation of the Spirit’s arrival.

*** This week we'll see how Jesus' promise was fulfilled at the feast of Pentecost.

*** This was also the time of the birth of the church.

*** Let’s take a look at how the Holy Spirit’s presence then with the apostles and now with us enables believers to fulfill God’s mission.

THE SPIRIT GIVEN (Acts 2:1-4)

1 When the day of Pentecost had arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like that of a violent rushing wind came from heaven, and it filled the whole house where they were staying. 3 And tongues, like flames of fire that were divided, appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them ability for speech.

*** The Day of Pentecost.

--- Pentecost was one of three annual feasts, along with the Feast of Unleavened Bread and the Feast of Booths, during which every Israelite male hoped to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

--- Pentecost comes from a Greek word meaning “fifty” and came fifty days after Passover.

--- Sometimes called the “Festival of Harvest” (Ex. 23:16) or “the day of firstfruits” (Num. 28:26), it marked the beginning of the cutting and binding of the barley sheaves (Deut. 16:9). As a harvest celebration, Pentecost was a time of joy and thanksgiving for the recent crop.

--- By using a time when many were in Jerusalem, a large audience would hear the gospel preached for the first time, and souls would be harvested for the first church.

*** A divine wind.

--- Luke did not describe the group of believers who gathered to wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit. He referred to them simply with the plural pronoun they. We know that the group included the apostles (Acts 2:14) and probably a larger group of disciples numbering 120 (1:15). The larger group consisted of men and women who had believed in Jesus as Savior.

--- The coming of the Holy Spirit was unmistakable. A “violent” rushing wind blew through the home they were in, something they knew couldn’t have been natural.

--- The association of wind with the Holy Spirit is appropriate, since the Greek word for spirit (pneuma) can also mean “wind.” Wind sometimes accompanied God’s appearances in the Old Testament (1 Kings 19:11; Isa. 66:15), and the Hebrew word for spirit (ruach) can also mean “breath” or “wind.”

--- The description also says that "tongues, like flames of fire," came and "rested on each one of them."

The Greek word for tongue (glossa) can refer to the muscular organ of human anatomy and can also refer to language produced by speech. Fire in the shape of human tongues may have been figurative language referring to how fire moves about like a tongue.

--- The result was the supernatural ability to speak in languages previously unspoken by the believers. This could only come from the Holy Spirit.

*** Question - What is an example of another event in biblical history accompanied by miraculous signs? Why do you think God displayed miraculous signs at Pentecost?

(Had to make it obvious that the Spirit was coming, so that none would doubt.)

THE QUESTIONS ASKED (Acts 2:5-13)

5 There were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. 6 When this sound occurred, a crowd came together and was confused because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 And they were astounded and amazed, saying, “Look, aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 How is it that each of us can hear in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites; those who live in Mesopotamia, in Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking the magnificent acts of God in our own languages.” 12 They were all astounded and perplexed, saying to one another, “What could this be?” 13 But some sneered and said, “They’re full of new wine!”

*** Biblical Rosetta Stone.

--- The Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799 by French soldiers in Egypt. The inscription, going back to the second century B.C., was written in Greek, Demotic and hieroglyphics, which finally gave researchers the chance to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit allowed believers to crack the code, so to speak, of reaching Jews and Gentiles around the world.

--- A friend of mine, Jeremy, lives in Kenya where he works for Wycliffe Bible Translators. Their job is the same as started at Pentecost, spreading the Word of God through the languages of every person in the world. Even as connected as our planet is today, their website says that even today, up to 1,800 languages are still waiting for a Bible translation to begin.

** You speakin' my language?

--- Jesus told the disciples to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. Here we see that God equipped them to do so.

--- All the visitors to Jerusalem from different nations heard their language being spoken, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

These were Jews who had been scattered throughout the world in the course of history (see Jas. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1). They represented many different languages based on their nations of origin.

Luke did not suggest the reference, but some commentators have proposed that Pentecost was a reversal of the curse of confusion at Babel (Gen. 11:1-7). At Babel, God confused the languages of the people and forced them to disperse. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit overcame the differences in languages to proclaim the gospel. The different languages represented different nations and indicated the gospel was for everyone.

--- The homelands of the Jews who returned to Jerusalem described in verses 9-11 covered large areas. Parthians, Medes, and Elamites refer to people living in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iran and Iraq). Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia refer to areas in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Egypt, Libya, and Cyrene represented northern Africa. Rome represented the continent of Europe.

The mention of proselytes from Rome is significant. These were Gentile converts to Judaism and would have been present for the Pentecost celebration. Some believe they first took the gospel back to Rome and became the founders of the first Roman church. Cretans were residents of the island of Crete and Arabs were from the area that is modern-day Arabia.

*** Negative nellies.

--- Not everyone believed what was happening was true. Many who heard scoffed that the disciples were hitting the bottle early and often. (Because people often speak other languages fluidly when they're plastered?)

--- It's a good reminder that not everyone will respond positively to our witness. Many will resist because they don't want to give up their sin. Others will mock Christians to justify their unbelief.

--- Pride is a major obstacle to believing in Jesus. Only those who humbly admit their sin and need for a Savior are saved.

--- What are we to do? To use the Holy Spirit to boldly speak of God's greatness.

--- Who knows? Some of those who first mocked the witness of the disciples may have believed at a later time. Our job is to sow the seeds of the gospel and allow God to bring the growth (1 Cor. 3:6 - "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.").

*** Question - What types of things does God use today to lead unbelievers to seek Him and His offer of salvation?

THE OPPORTUNITY SEIZED (Acts 2:14-15)

14 But Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them: “Men of Judah and all you residents of Jerusalem, let me explain this to you and pay attention to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it’s only nine in the morning.

*** Peter takes the lead.

--- During Jesus’ ministry Peter was frequently told that he would lead the ragtag bunch of disciples and believers when Jesus was gone.

Approximately three and a half years before his sermon at Pentecost, Peter was a fisherman. Jesus came along and called him to be a fisher of men (Matt. 4:19). Peter first correctly identified Jesus as the Christ of God, and Jesus said that he would be an important part of the founding of the church (Matt. 16:16-20).

Peter’s great failure occurred just 50 days before his triumph at Pentecost. He had proclaimed his loyalty and willingness to die with Christ (Matt. 26:33). Jesus then predicted that before the rooster crowed three times, Peter would deny him three times (Matt. 26:34). After a brief show of bravery in the garden when Jesus was arrested, Peter fled in fear with the other disciples into the night. Near the place where Jesus was being tried, Peter fulfilled that prophecy by denying Jesus three times (Luke 22:60-61). Peter fled and wept bitterly over his cowardice and denials of Jesus (Luke 22:62). John recorded the resurrection appearance of Jesus to His disciples at the Sea of Galilee (see John 21). There Jesus specifically restored Peter by asking three times if Peter loved Him.

--- During the morning of Pentecost, Peter took the leadership mantle and delivered his first sermon, telling the people of Jerusalem how significant this event really was.

--- He denied the allegation that they were drunk, noting the early morning hour (9 a.m.) as an unlikely time for people to be intoxicated.

--- Recognizing God was working in the moment, Peter used the opportunity to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations gathered in Jerusalem.

--- The boldness of Peter and the other disciples came from the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Our boldness in witness also comes from the power of the Holy Spirit within us.

*** Question – What does it mean as a church to be focused on Jesus?

What excuses do we sometimes voice about sharing our faith in Jesus? Why do you think we sometimes fail to seize opportunities to witness?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

With the heavy rain all week, think about how often our power goes out from storms, rain, or if zombies take over and no one is alive to keep the power on.

Think about how much we rely on power every day: Electricity for our homes, gas for our cars, propane for grilling, etc.

If you have to choose to live without one power source you currently rely on, which one would you not want to give up?

Spiritually, just as the early church needed help, as believers we depend on the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

*** 1) God filled the apostles with His power as promised. With the Spirit, the church was prepared for their mission.

*** 2) All believers are enabled by the Holy Spirit to fulfill their God-given mission.

*** 3) It is crucial that we seize every opportunity to share Jesus with others. When you recognize that God is working, take advantage of the opportunity and join Him!

The leader guide suggested that I ask during the lesson, “How does your attitude affect your activity as a witness? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you any attitudes that need to change and to fill you with power to share the love of Jesus this week.”

But that was for me. My witness was horrible, especially Wednesday and Thursday at work. I don’t know if it was working 19 hours Tuesday and didn’t get enough sleep, but I was bitter and critical of everything.

My mission is to be a witness for Christ, and that wasn’t happening.

So be aware of how you look to non-believers, and don’t trip up fellow believers.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Entrusted with a Mission

My Life Group lesson for March 6, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

Have you ever begun a vocation as an intern or understudy only to one day take on more responsibility in the company?

Have you ever been promoted to a position that you once worked under?

In those situations we often feel both prepared and scared.

Prepared because we knew that the day would come. Scared because the day had, in fact, come, and we wonder if we can actually do the job.

In a sense, this is what the disciples faced in this moment.

They had been prepared by Jesus, and now Jesus was handing the mission over to them.

But Jesus did not leave them alone. He provided the power to fulfill the mission.

Moreover, the success of the mission was ultimately dependent on the work of Christ, not on the disciple’s ingenuity.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Introduction to Acts

*** The author is Luke, who also wrote the gospel of Luke. After today’s lesson, the rest of Acts deals with the ministry of the church, especially Peter and Paul.

--- Luke was a Gentile, the only Gentile writer in the entire New Testament. He was a historian and a doctor, so he was well educated.

--- Luke was a friend and traveling companion of the apostle Paul.

*** Most Bible scholars place the date Acts was written about 60-65 A.D. One reason is that Acts makes no mention of the temple’s destruction in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

THE REMEMBERED PROMISE (Acts 1:1-5)

I wrote the first narrative, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day He was taken up, after He had given orders through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen. 3 After He had suffered, He also presented Himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God.

4 While He was together with them, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. “This,” He said, “is what you heard from Me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

*** Jesus is Lord: The Sequel.

A sequel usually takes up where a previous book left off and often features the same characters and setting.

Acts picks up where the Gospel of Luke ends, but with a more detailed conversation Jesus had with His disciples before the ascension.

*** Who is Theophilus?

--- We don’t know. But Luke addressed both of his books to him.

(His name means “Lover of God.” He could have been a prominent believer and had social standing, since Luke 1:3 calls him “most honorable.”)

*** Founded on a promise.

--- Luke begins Acts by reiterating the central and essential Truth that Jesus is Lord, that He was crucified, buried and rose from the dead.

--- Not only had Christ risen, He had instructed them on the kingdom of God.

--- There is much responsibility here, but it all rests on the work of Christ.

--- The disciples were instructed to wait on the promised Spirit.

THE RESURRECTION PROCLAIMED (Acts 1:6-8)

6 So when they had come together, they asked Him, “Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

*** By the power of …

Not Grayskull, but the Holy Spirit. We’re talking about a different He-Man and a real Master of the Universe!

--- The Holy Spirit was promised by Jesus and fulfilled 10 days later at Pentecost. The Spirit fills believers with His presence so that the Gospel can be proclaimed everywhere.

--- The apostles had to wait until the day of Pentecost, but since then all believers are baptized with the Holy Spirit.

--- Paul made it clear that only those who have the Spirit have eternal life. (Romans 8:9-11)

--- This is Luke’s version of the Great Commission.

Matthew 28 memorably phrases it as “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

*** Not through force, but restoration.

--- The disciples knew something very important was about to happen, but they did not yet have a clear understanding of what it would be.

--- The apostles were still expecting that Jesus was going to usher in His kingdom right then through military force. But the kingdom of God doesn’t operate like the kingdoms of this world.

--- Jesus reminds the apostles that He wasn’t restoring the kingdom of Israel, but the eternal kingdom of God.

THE RETURN PORTRAYED (Acts 1:9-11)

9 After He had said this, He was taken up as they were watching, and a cloud took Him out of their sight. 10 While He was going, they were gazing into heaven, and suddenly two men in white clothes stood by them. 11 They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven.”

*** The mission, should you choose to accept it …

(Is not an “impossible” mission!)

--- The church is sent on mission by Jesus.

As prominent Southern Baptist church planter Ed Stetzer says: “It's not that the church has a mission, but rather that the mission has a church.”

*** The ascension.

--- The disciples watched as Jesus ascended into the presence of God, to Jesus’ rightful place at the Father’s right hand.

--- The two men in white robes reminded them that Jesus will return. Therefore, there is no time to waste.

--- The disciples had a crisis moment as they stared into the heavens, realizing that the mission was left to them. Jesus, their leader, was gone. The mission now rested on them.

--- Awaiting the Spirit, they had to decide to believe Jesus and take His gospel to the ends of the earth.

--- The fact that Jesus would return should give us encouragement and power for today.

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

We are often guilty of looking around, up, or away instead of following Jesus’ command to “be My witnesses.”

With that said, let’s take a chance to clear the air in regards to how this 2016 election season could be messing with our mission.

*** Pray that the Holy Spirit that dwells within you will help you develop the fruits of the spirit and speak through you to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

*** Think about your mission. Your own Jerusalem could be our own homes and neighborhoods. Our own Judea could be Millington and this area. Our own Samaria is surely rough-and-tumble Memphis, and to the ends of the earth.

*** Jesus will return personally, bodily, visibly and victoriously. Now live like you believe it.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Access Granted

My Life Group lesson for Feb. 28, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

I always enjoyed TV theme songs on shows growing up, including all the syndicated shows that our parents watched. Nowadays many shows barely even have music, but in the old days the themes told the story.

Complete the lyric, name the show:

“Let me tell you a story about a man named Jeb …” (The Beverly Hillbillies)
“Just sit right down and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip...” (Gilligan’s Island)
“A horse is a horse, of course, of course, and no one can talk to a horse, of course…” (Mr. Ed)
“Here’s the story, of a lovely lady, who was bringing up three very lovely girls…” (The Brady Bunch)
“Love, exciting and new, come aboard, we’re expecting you …” (The Love Boat)
“Making your way in the world today, takes everything you’ve got …” (Cheers)
“Now this is the story all about how, my life got flipped, turned upside down …” (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air)
“Who lives in a pineapple under the sea …” (SpongeBob SquarePants)
“Sunny day, sweeping the clouds away …” (Sesame Street)
“If you like to talk to tomatoes, if a squash can make you smile …” (Veggie Tales)

Theme songs and their stories help us to remember and connect the dots from week to week to remember it better.

Jesus was a master storyteller. He used illustrations as a major part of His teaching and preaching.

This week we’re going to take a look at one of His parables in Matthew chapter 13.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Matthew 13:1-58

*** The Gospel of Matthew alternates between Jesus teaching and Jesus doing. Matthew opens with Jesus being born and preparing for ministry (ch. 1-4), followed by teaching the Sermon on the Mount (ch. 5-7), miracle work (ch. 8-9) and then Jesus starts teaching the disciples their mission instructions (ch. 10-13).

*** Opposition to Jesus was also increasing from those indifferent to His message and from religious leaders.

*** The disciples, though, were responding in faith to Jesus' message, believing Him to be the Messiah He claimed to be.

A CROWD (Matt. 13:1-3a)

1 On that day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. 2 Such large crowds gathered around Him that He got into a boat and sat down, while the whole crowd stood on the shore. 3a Then He told them many things in parables, saying:

*** Speaking to the masses.

--- The crowds are still following Jesus, so many that if He was trying to do so, Jesus couldn’t kick back by the Sea of Galilee and relax.

He had to get in a boat to separate Himself enough so that He could talk to them without being crushed. (Mark chapter 4 and Luke chapter 8 tell it the same way.)

*** A useful analogy.

--- In Greek "parable" means "to lay something beside something else for the purpose of comparison."

Jesus is comparing something common to the audience and to God's Kingdom in order to drive home a point and reveal the larger truth.

--- In the Gospels it can refer to a brief rhetorical question such as: “How can Satan drive out Satan?” (Mark 3:23); “Can the blind guide the blind? Won’t they both fall into a pit?” (Luke 6:39). The term also refers to more detailed stories, like the parable of the sower, the good Samaritan, or the prodigal son.

--- Jesus used everyday objects around them to make comparisons, things like mustard seeds, bread, wheat and weeds, fishing nets, etc.

(I don't think Jesus would have used TV theme songs as an analogy to His parables, but He didn't have the option back then, either!)

A PARABLE (Matt. 13:3b-9)

3b “Consider the sower who went out to sow. 4 As he was sowing, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Others fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much soil, and they sprang up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep. 6 But when the sun came up they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered. 7 Others fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them. 8 Still others fell on good ground and produced a crop: some 100, some 60, and some 30 times what was sown. 9 Anyone who has ears should listen!”

*** Where is your seed?

--- The parable of the sower is about how people hear and receive the Word of God, rather than a parable of how they come to Christ.

The audience was clear that God is the sower in this parable, using farming language they would understand.

Old Testament prophets frequently referred to God as a sower (Jer. 31:27-28; Hos. 2:23). Isaiah 55:10-11 compares a seed that germinates and sprouts to God’s word “that comes from My mouth” and “will not return to Me empty.”

*** There are four types of soil in which the seeds fall:

(1) Along the path (v. 4) - Jesus explains in Luke 8:12 that "the seed along the path are those who have heard and then the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved."

Jesus wasn't doing any focus groups to determine the exact demographic he was trying to reach. He was teaching to anyone and everyone, sowing seeds all over the place. Some of of the people heard the message but didn't understand it or didn't take it to heart.

(2) Rocky ground (v. 5-6) - Since there isn't much soil, the seeds spring up quickly but there's no depth to take root, and thus when the sun got super hot the seedlings were scorched and withered away.

As Jesus explained to the disciples later, this represents people who hear the word, receive it with joy, but fall away in the face of trials. In a time of "pressure or persecution," (v. 21) they stumble and turn away from the Kingdom.

No doubt we've seen this, experienced it, and probably not blamed someone for not making it through the persecution. How many would be in our worship service if they knew that they and their families could lose their jobs and property for doing so? Or even be arrested or killed on the way out?

Kristen's cousin Katy’s team left Vietnam and one of her teammates blogged about rules in government-run churches:

1.) There is to be no clapping, during the songs; 2.) Traditional Bibles are only to be used; 3.) No speakers should be used in the church, due to complaints of it being loud; 4.) A church can be built if over 200 people come; 5.)Songs that are sung should only be from a hymn book; 6.) Don't greet people around you.

(3) Fell among thorns (v. 7) - There was no growth in these seeds because they were choked out.

Jesus interpreted them as “the worries of this age and the seduction of wealth” (v. 22).

Jesus warned of the temptation of greed frequently, telling believers “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth. […] For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19,21). He added: “No one can be a slave of two masters. […] You cannot be slaves of God and of money” (v. 24).

If you are seduced by the desire for materialism, the chance that you'll produce spiritual fruit is low. If you thought becoming a follower of Jesus meant you'd be automatically prosperous, you've been misled. You'll be strangled in your commitment to God. (4) Fell on good ground (v. 8) - The good news is that some seeds will indeed end up in good soil and produce a bumper crop of souls to be harvested for eternity.

Jesus interpreted the good soil as “one who hears and understands the word” (v. 23).

These are Christians of genuine faith and discipleship, everything we are supposed to be or at least striving to be.

*** Listen!

--- Jesus ends the parable by telling us to pay attention to His teaching.

--- The focus of the parable is not on the sower or the seed, but the soil. Although Jesus gives us four scenarios, really there are only two types of soil: Those that produce fruit and those that do not.

*** Question – How do you respond to Jesus’ use of parables? What can you take away from this parable?

A REASON (Matt. 13:10-13)

10 Then the disciples came up and asked Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered them, “Because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know, but it has not been given to them. 12 For whoever has, more will be given to him, and he will have more than enough. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 For this reason I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand.”

*** The secret word is: “Password.”

--- How many of you have a password that is “12345” or “password” because you are tired of coming up with a new one for everything?

--- What do you use when coming up with a password? Birthdays? Addresses? Anniversaries? Why do you keep the password a secret? What would make you share it with someone?

*** Vague, much?

--- Until this chapter Jesus spoke clearly and without parables. But now when the people weren’t responding to His message, Jesus began using parables that they didn’t understand. But to those who believed, He explained every detail.

--- The disciples asked Jesus why He spoke to the crowd in parables, and Jesus responded: “Because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know.”

Why did Jesus utilize a method of instruction that would conceal the truth from the crowds? Or was He concealing anything from them?

Jesus clarified the comment with the principle that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Only those with a right relationship to Jesus can understand fully. Those who are willing to hear with faith will receive more faith and will grow in their understanding. Those unwilling to hear with faith will continue to wallow in their unbelief, their blindness ever increasing.

The disciples many times seemed to be slow to grasp the point of Jesus’ ministry, but they had responded to Jesus’ call in faith, so the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven was revealed to them.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, refused to see Jesus’ miraculous deeds as the work of God. They refused to hear His teaching with faith. The result was that their blindness and deafness only increased.

--- In verse 13 Jesus quoted Isaiah 6:9-10 to provide a scriptural basis for His response:

Go! Say to these people: Keep listening, but do not understand; keep looking, but do not perceive. Dull the minds of these people; deafen their ears and blind their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their minds, turn back, and be healed.

As in the days of Jesus, the leadership in Isaiah’s day had shut their eyes to the Truth, and had rejected God and His Word, so God had turned from them.

*** Question – Why are there so many who hear the Word of God but do not understand it, or let it make a difference in their lives?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

People can hear the same song and come up with different lyrics, themes and meanings to it.

Jesus frequently spoke in a way that could be interpreted different ways, depending on our relationship with God.

He wasn’t trying to exclude any listeners. He was trying to reveal the secrets of His kingdom to His followers.

*** What type of soil are you? Are you poor soil bearing no fruit? Where’s the spiritual fruit in your life?

*** Who around you needs a relationship with Jesus in order to have an understanding of His parables?