Genealogy of a Man: Matthew 1:1-17
Genealogy is the first emphasis in the Gospel of Matthew. When we think of Jesus, we must realize that we are dealing with a Man. The Person who came from heaven (John 1:1-2) was also fully human, and it is His heritage as a human being that Matthew wants us to first understand.
Sometimes we hesitate here. Somehow being human doesn't seem all that special. We picture humankind as sinful, and recall the vast distortions that sin has swept into our individual and societal experience. We even find ourselves ashamed of our humanity at times. How far this attitude is from Scripture!
At Creation, God made two striking affirmations. One, "Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness" (Genesis 1:26, kjv), tells us that our identity is not rooted in this world but in eternity. We bear the image-likeness of God: human nature can only be understood by reference to God, not to some supposed animal predecessor. Only man, of all creation, shares something of the likeness of God as a true Person.
The second affirmation, "Let them have dominion" (Genesis 1:26, kjv), affirms that human beings were created to rule! We were born to be kings.
Even the entry of sin, while it has warped our capacity to rule wisely over creation, and even to rule our own passions, has not changed this destiny. The Psalmist David caught a glimpse of our destiny and expressed his wonder in Psalm 8:
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of Your hands; You put everything under his feet.
God created human beings—for dominion.
Probably the strongest emphasis on this truth in the New Testament is found in Hebrews 2. There the writer quotes Psalm 8, and notes "in putting everything under him [man], God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because He suffered death" (Hebrews 2:8-9).
We may not be able to see the glory of that destiny to which God calls us. But we see Jesus glorified—and we realize that the pathway we too must take to dominion is marked by servanthood and suffering.
In Jesus we see our destiny realized
Jesus, the Man of Galilee, fulfilled the destiny of humanity by becoming King, and in doing so was "bringing many sons to glory" (Hebrews 2:10). Jesus in His death and resurrection was bringing you and me to the place where we could experience our destiny—where we can know the dominion God has always intended human beings to know. Jesus is King of kings. And we are the kings over whom, and with whom, He reigns. Just what the nature of that reign is, of His and of ours, is something we learn about in the Gospel of Matthew.
Old Testament expectations
God's Old Testament people had dimly realized that dominion was their destiny. But they tended to think of dominion in a national sense, as that prophesied time when the nation Israel, under the promised Jewish Messiah, would be exalted over all the nations on earth. Their sense of destiny was accurate. God did make such promises. But their sense of destiny was limited. God intended far more through the ministry of the Messiah than Israel expected.
So it was very important that Matthew, who wrote primarily to the Jews, establish the right of Jesus to the throne promised the Messiah. (This word, Messiah, refers to the Hebrew practice of anointing kings and others to office with oil. Messiah means "anointed one.")
Two genealogical elements were critical if Matthew was to demonstrate Jesus' right to reign. The first was a relationship with Abraham (Matthew 1:1). It was from Abraham that Israel's awareness of her destiny sprang. God called this man from Ur of the Chaldees, and sent him to Palestine. There God gave Abraham great and special promises. These included the promise of possession of the land of Palestine forever, a great people to live in it, a special relationship with God for Abraham's descendants, and ultimately a descendant (seed) through whom all the peoples of the earth would be blessed (see Genesis 12; Genesis 15; and Genesis 17).
These promises were given in the form of a covenant (a contract, or oath). They would be fulfilled through one Man, who must come from Abraham's line. The genealogy in Matthew proves that Jesus comes from the covenant line.
The second significant genealogical element is the relationship to David. Later in Israel's history God promised to David that the Messiah would come through his family line. The ultimate King would be born from the family of David, Israel's greatest king. In tracing the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham and from David, Matthew was demonstrating Jesus' right to rule. Jesus' genealogy not only established Him as a true Man, but also was the foundation of His claim to the throne of Israel as the promised Seed of David.
In this genealogical record, the focus of Matthew's Gospel becomes even more clear. We are invited to look into this great book, to see Jesus as King. Through Matthew's portrait of our Lord, you and I will learn what dominion involves—and how to realize in Jesus the destiny God holds out to humankind.
?? Link to Life 1: Youth / Adult
Set your group the challenge of explaining the difference between the genealogical list in Matthew and the one in Luke. Print the names side by side.
Your group may note that the line differs from David on, though both go back to David. Why? Jeremiah records a decisive rejection of Jehoiachin (Matthew 1:11): "No man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David and ruling anymore in Judah" (Jeremiah 22:30).
What scholars believe is that Matthew gave us the genealogy of Joseph "the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ" (Matthew 1:16). Luke gave us the genealogy of Mary. As Jesus was without human father, His claim to the throne of David was established through His mother, who came from a different branch of the Davidic line which had not been rejected by God!
The King? Matthew 1:18-25
One problem that Matthew faced in structuring his Gospel for the Hebrew reader was to show that Jesus really was the expected Messiah. Jesus did not seem to be the King the Jews pictured. He did not set out to crush the Roman Empire. He did not act to set up the expected earthly kingdom. He did not behave as the Jews thought their King should behave.
Theologically, then, Matthew had to answer several critical questions which the Jewish skeptic would naturally ask. Such questions as: "Is Jesus really the Messiah? Then why didn't He fulfill the prophecies about the kingdom? What has happened to the promised earthly kingdom of Israel? And, if the kingdom is not for now, what then is God's present purpose?" Each of these questions is answered in Matthew. And Matthew, very much aware of his readers' concerns, immediately tackled the first of these four critical questions.
One of Matthew's approaches to reaching Hebrew readers was to use extensive quotes from the Old Testament. In his 53 direct quotes and many allusions, Matthew draws from no less than 25 of the 39 Old Testament books! Clearly, Matthew was determined to bridge the gap between the Old and the New.
It's very significant to look at the contexts of the quotations used by Matthew in these first two chapters. When we return to them, we see that Matthew insisted his readers view Jesus as the expected King.
Matthew 2:6 quotes from Micah's prophecy that the coming Ruler will be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). In context that Old Testament prophecy speaks of the Messiah, whose origins lie hidden in eternity. He is to rule in Israel in the name of Yahweh, and to be great to the ends of the earth. It is through this Person that Israel is to find peace.
Matthew 2:2 alludes to Jeremiah 23:5. The promised Messiah of the Jews was to be God and man. He is called in this context "The Lord Our Righteousness" (Jeremiah 23:6), and was to be born of David's line. The prophet said that He will reign over a regathered people, who had been scattered over the world. This person is to reign as King, and in His days Judah and Israel will dwell safely.
Matthew 2:23 looks back to Hosea 11:1, and its prophecy that the Messiah will be called a Nazarene. The context emphasized Messiah's descent from David's line. It said that He will judge and rule with divine wisdom. His rule will bring destruction to the wicked. Gentiles as well as Jews will rally to Him, and in His day the earth will be filled with a knowledge of the Lord. Even the realm of nature is to know unheard of peace.
There are no less than 16 references to the Old Testament in these first two chapters of Matthew. It is clear that Matthew drew from prophecies which affirmed that the Jesus he described was indeed the Messiah Israel had been expecting. Jesus, the Man who lived so quietly, who raised no army, who taught and healed, and who was dragged unprotestingly to an agonizing death, truly is the expected King of glory.
Later the Jewish rabbis would try to explain the jolting contrast between the suffering Saviour and the expected King by postulating two Messiahs: one, Messiah ben David who was yet to come, and who would rule; and two, Messiah ben Joseph, who had perhaps fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies associated with messianic suffering. Yet who would have imagined before Jesus was born and lived His unique life that the pathway to glory led through suffering and self-emptying? Who would have dreamed that the concept of royalty and dominion contains an ingredient of brokenness? Certainly the Jews of Jesus' day, looking for the coming glory, did not see the majesty of suffering. And all too often, you and I miss this dimension as well!
Matthew did not miss it. Matthew made it plain that the Jesus about whom he spoke to us is the King of glory. And with this fact firmly established, Matthew went on to describe a King who served; a King whose majesty is enhanced by suffering. A King who shows us how to experience the dominion for which God has destined us—through a servanthood like His own.
?? Link to Life 2: Youth / Adult
Have your group members imagine themselves a rabbinical committee in Jesus' lifetime. Examine some of the passages to which Matthew referred in marshaling evidence that Jesus is the promised Messiah.
Look at the specific verses and their context as well. What points would you list in favor of accepting Jesus as the Messiah? What points would you list against so acknowledging Him?
Discuss: "Why would it have been hard for people of Jesus' time to immediately recognize Him as the Messiah? What would the evidence of Jesus' life and ministry have added to help you make this decision? Looking back, can you reconcile the apparent conflict in evidence? How?"
Again, point out that in your studies of Matthew, the Gospel writer's answers become more and more clear. But in referring to the Old Testament, Matthew wanted to be sure everyone understood that Jesus of Nazareth has come in fulfillment of the ancient prophecies.
?? Link to Life 3: Children
Junior-age boys and girls can sense both the unexpectedness of Jesus coming to be our Saviour, and the fact that God's inspired words come true in every detail.
Tell your class that a very special visitor is coming. Describe him or her as very important, very powerful, very rich. Tell the children you are going to draw a picture of this person too. Have them draw a picture of what they think this powerful, rich, and important person will look like.
As they draw their pictures you draw a picture too—of a small, quiet, woman (perhaps the Queen of England). Did their pictures look like yours? Talk about how easy it is when we know some things about a person, but not everything about him or her, to imagine he or she will be different than we expect.
The people of Jesus' day did not expect their promised King to be like Jesus. He used His power to heal rather than make war. He helped people, instead of making them obey Him. But everything the Bible says about Jesus is true, and will come true.
Work with your curriculum to help the Juniors find Bible verses that told about Jesus long before He was born.
Two Models: Matthew 2
It's striking. Matthew no sooner introduced us to Jesus, Son of Abraham, Son of David, Israel's destined King, than he introduced us to another ruler. "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of Herod the King" (Matthew 2:1). No two men could ever stand in starker contrast.
Herod the Great was the founder of a dynasty that played a key role in Gospel history. We meet four generations of Herods in the New Testament. It is the founder, who ruled from 47-4 b.c., who was then aged and nearing the end of his life, whom we meet in Matthew 2.
Herod's father had attached himself to Julius Caesar's party, been made a Roman citizen, and appointed procurator (ruler) of Judea. Herod and his brothers were given government roles, but a decade of battling followed before Herod was proclaimed king of Judea by Rome, and was able to enforce his rule. As king, Herod was both brutal and decisive, punishing or executing his enemies, and rewarding his friends. Rivals were murdered. When the decisive battle for the Roman Empire was fought between Anthony and Octavian (later to become "Augustus"), Herod gained the victor's friendship and was given control of additional lands.
While Herod's power was growing, his control over himself and his family was slipping. Herod had married 10 wives and had a number of sons. While these sons schemed to gain the throne, his wives hatched plots and counterplots. Herod became more and more suspicious and paranoid, even torturing his sons' friends to discover any plots against his own life. Herod's own character as a plotter who never hesitated to resort to murder was being reproduced in his family, and this led to the aging tyrant's own sense of terror and fear. Herod finally had the two sons of his favorite wife, Mariamne, executed by strangulation in the very city where he had married their mother 30 years earlier. Antipater, Herod's oldest son and designated heir, tried to poison his father and was put in chains.
When nearly 70 years old, Herod was stricken with an incurable disease.
It was at this time, shortly before his death, that Herod heard of wise men who were seeking to worship the newborn King of the Jews. Herod summoned the wise men and made them promise to report the whereabouts of the child so he could "go and worship Him" (Matthew 2:8). The dying man still struggled to grasp the power that had brought him and his family only suspicion, hatred, and death!
God warned the wise men to return home another way. And God warned Joseph to flee with the Christ Child to Egypt. Herod, realizing that the wise men had returned to the East without reporting to him, had all the male children of Bethlehem two years old and under killed!
It was then only a few days before Herod's own death. Five days before he expired, Herod had his son Antipater executed. Then he called all the leading Jews of his territory to his palace. When they came, he imprisoned them, giving orders that they were all to be killed the moment he died. He wanted to ensure that there would be national mourning at his death, rather than rejoicing!
Herod's dream of power and glory had turned into a nightmare. The desperate king struggled to the last to maintain control over his kingdom, long after he had lost control over himself. And so he died.
As the hateful old man was living his last days in the splendor of a marble palace, a Child was born in a stable. There, surrounded by the warmth of the animals which shared His birthplace, Jesus entered our world and became a part of a family so poor that Mary had to offer two doves rather than the prescribed lamb as the sacrifice for her purification.
The Child would grow up in a small town far from the seat of power. He would become a carpenter, to live and labor in obscurity for 30 years. Finally, as a young Man, the Carpenter from Nazareth would stand on a riverbank to be recognized by John the Baptist as the Lamb of God, destined to take away the sin of the world. For three years Jesus would walk the roads of Palestine, teaching and healing. He would raise no army. He would seek no earthly glory. He would ultimately humble Himself and accept death at the hands of selfish men who saw Him as a threat to their place and their power.
And yet, through it all He would be a King.
King in whom you and I find, not only our redemption, but a pathway to the unique dominion over ourselves and our circumstances to which God has destined humankind.
?? Link to Life 4: Children
While Herod refused to worship Jesus, many welcomed Him and came to offer the Babe their love, their worship, and their gifts.
Let your class members imagine that they were following the wise men, looking for the newborn Saviour. Give each a Christmas card. On the outside back ask each to draw a picture of a gift he or she would have wanted to give to Jesus. On the inside, have each write to Jesus how he or she feels about Him.
How good it is this Christmas season to offer Jesus our love and our worship. And to express our thanks with tangible gifts.
In contrasting Herod and Jesus, Matthew implicitly presented his Jewish readers and us with a distinctive choice. We can see dominion in terms of outward power and splendor, as Herod did, or we can look beyond the external to distinguish the inner core of greatness.
There was nothing wrong with the picture the Jews had of the messianic kingdom. Later Matthew reported Jesus' own affirmation that an outward expression of the kingdom was still to come. Even after the Resurrection, the disciples could not shake their longing for the days of the coming glory. "Are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" they asked. Gently Jesus responded, "It is not for you to know the times or dates" (Acts 1:6-7). That kingdom will come, in God's own time.
But until then Jesus remains King. And dominion is ours—if we choose it in Him. If we can only shake the Herod dream, and see in Jesus' humility the key to greatness and true glory, you and I can find a distinctive freedom that the world around us, stumbling over the external, can never understand. It is a journey toward just this kind of inner freedom and power that we take as we trace the Messiah's steps with Matthew, the writer of this Gospel.
Jesus is King of kings.
In Him, we grasp our title deed to rule.
What do you expect from your relationship with Jesus? How often do you suppose Christians are as surprised about what faith brings into their lives as the Jewish people were surprised that their Messiah chose a path of suffering and servanthood?
1. Launch with a review of the genealogy in Matthew 1. Compare it with the genealogy in Luke, and explain their differences. Tell how the Jewish people used genealogies to establish family line and rights to position. If Jesus were the Messiah, He must come from David's line—and does!
2. Divide your group into teams, to serve as members of a rabbinical court of Jesus' day. Their task is to examine the prophecies which Matthew referred to as evidence that Jesus is the Messiah. They should follow the procedure outlined in "Link to Life 2".
For part of this activity you will draw on your group members' general knowledge of the life of Jesus. If your group is made up of new Christians, or those unfamiliar with the Bible, you may need to draw additional evidence that Jesus is the Messiah from His miracles, teaching, death, and resurrection, to present to them.
While we can understand the reasons why so many in Jesus' time failed to recognize the Messiah in the quiet Carpenter, there is no excuse for their failure to respond to this Person who was so clearly attested by miracle and word as sent by God.
1. Discuss: "Jesus' first coming did literally fulfill prophecy. But the people of His day did not realize it until later, because they had developed false expectations. How likely are we to be similarly mistaken about features of His second coming? Can we be sure that when Jesus returns He will do exactly what modern writers on prophecy say He will do? Why, or why not?"
2. Jesus is contrasted with Herod in Matthew 2. Each seems to have a very different view of what is involved in "dominion"—e.g., in power, authority, rule.
Have your group work together to brainstorm differences between Herod's and Jesus' views of dominion. For instance, Herod saw it as power over others. He saw it as something to be maintained by fear and murder. He saw it as outward glory. What does the life of Jesus suggest about Christ's view?
After developing as many contrasts as possible and listing them, see if your group can come up with a common definition of "dominion."
Ask each group member to identify one area in his or her life in which he is satisfied that his attitude is more like Jesus' than like Herod's. Pray quietly, as each asks the Lord to help him or her experience dominion over his or her own passions rather than over others.
The Authentic Saviour (Mark 1-5)
Mark's Gospel is the shortest of the four. In powerful prose, Mark tells story after story about Jesus.
Many of the stories bear the mark of eyewitness testimony. The early church believed that Mark, a close companion of Peter, reported what Peter had witnessed, and represents Peter's testimony to the life of his Lord.
Distinctives of Mark are explored in the introduction to this Gospel.
The Gospel can be simply outlined. After a brief introduction (Mark 1:2-13), Mark links together stories around simple, clear themes.
♦ Mark records a stream of healings in the opening chapters of his Gospel. Christians have often wondered, is there healing for us today? The Bible clearly indicates that God can heal. But in New Testament times God did not always heal even His most faithful servants (see 2 Cor. 12:7-10). When one of Paul's dearest friends was ill, the apostle did not "heal" him, but rather prayed and waited for God's answer (cf. Phil. 2:26-28). What Jesus' healings assure us of is that, whatever our need, God cares!
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke each carefully describe the miraculous birth of Jesus, and events associated with it. In Mark, Jesus bursts on the scene unexpectedly, as He must have appeared in His own land. We meet Jesus only as an adult, launching into His ministry in a flurry of vital activity. But Mark makes sure that we do understand who Jesus is.
Authenticated by God: Mark 1:1-13
Mark immediately stated that his Gospel was "about Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Quickly Mark went about marshaling his evidence.
There was a man named John who appeared, baptizing in a desert area in Judea. His message, foretold in the Old Testament, concerned a Person who was to appear. And, "at that time" Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized.
Mark reported that as Jesus was coming up out of the waters after being baptized, John saw heaven "torn open" and the Spirit of God descending on Jesus. And John heard a voice from heaven, saying, "You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased."
Jesus was first authenticated by God Himself. And John the Baptist was the witness to that authentication. With this beginning, Mark initiates chapters intended to authenticate Jesus as God's Son.
Authenticated by Power: Mark 1:14-39
Witnesses (Mark 1:14-20)
Mark first tells us that Jesus selected 12 disciples. This was important to his story, for the disciples would serve as witnesses to the acts which authenticated Jesus as Son of God.
The role of the disciples as witnesses was emphasized. After the resurrection of Jesus the eleven apostles gathered to select a replacement for Judas Iscariot. According to Peter, "it is necessary for us to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection" (Acts 1:21-22, italics added). The disciples, who accompanied Jesus at all times, would be able to give an eyewitness account of His whole life and ministry, firmly establishing the historical roots of the faith.
There was no room in early Christianity for myth and rumors. The story of Jesus was no hearsay account, based on what someone said that another person heard from a friend. What Jesus said and did was heard by thousands, but in particular there was a group of disciples who saw it all—and who in God's time not only traveled the world telling what they had seen and heard, but also saw to it that the story was written down accurately and carefully.
It is no wonder then that Mark notes the calling of the disciples at this point in his story. He wants us to know that witnesses who can authenticate everything he has to tell were actually there.
When we hear of scholars who search for the "historical Jesus," trying to separate strands of the Gospel report into what "really happened" and what was supposedly added later, we need to remember that Mark takes special care to assure us that the Jesus of the Gospels is the historical Jesus. What Mark and the other Gospel writers reported is what actually happened, and their accounts are supported by the eyewitness testimony of people who were there.
What was it that the witnesses saw as Jesus launched His ministry that authenticated Him as Son of God?
An evil spirit driven out (Mark 1:21-28)
It was Jesus' teaching that first amazed the crowds. Mark, typically, does not tell us what Jesus was teaching: simply that He did teach. And those who heard were amazed, because Jesus "taught them as One who had authority, not as the teachers of the Law" (Mark 1:22).
In Jesus' time anyone who wished to be recognized as a rabbi (teacher) went through a recognized process of training. He became a disciple of a rabbi, and from him learned the mass of oral traditions and interpretations which had grown up around the Law. It was common for a rabbi to refer to tradition; to discuss the notion of rabbi this and rabbi that. It was what the long dead had said that the living referred to when teaching. And then Jesus appeared. And when Jesus taught, He did not hedge His words by references to others. He spoke plainly, powerfully, as One who possessed authority on His own.
The word "amazed" here does not suggest belief. In fact, it suggests skepticism. But, Mark says, "just then" a man possessed with an evil spirit cried out. The spirit identified Jesus as "the Holy One of God!" And Jesus commanded the spirit to come out of him. Shrieking, the spirit obeyed.
News of this act spread. Jesus gave His "new teaching . . . with authority!" And He "even [gave] orders to evil spirits and they obeyed Him."
Even the evil spirits who hated Jesus testified to the fact that He is the Son of God. Jesus' disciples, and the people of Capernaum were witnesses.
Jesus heals (Mark 1:29-34)
The first healing Mark reported was of Peter's mother-in-law. But that evening, the ministry of healing was extended to the "whole town," which gathered at the door. This time Jesus' power over the sicknesses that bind humanity authenticated Him as the Son of God. And again the witnesses were, first the disciples, and then the "whole town."
Prayer (Mark 1:35-39)
What was the source of Jesus' power? The town did not know. But the disciples did. Mark tells us that "very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up . . . and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed." Christ's intimate personal relationship with the Father was the source of His power. This intimacy, witnessed by the disciples, also authenticated Christ as the Son of God.
From there, Mark concludes, Jesus traveled with His disciples to nearby villages, until He had traveled throughout Galilee. Everywhere He went Jesus preached, and His acts of power publicly authenticated Him as the Son of God.
?? Link to Life 2: Children
Mark's vivid stories are a favorite source of Sunday School lessons for boys and girls. In this passage we not only sense Jesus' power, but also His need for prayer. It was Jesus' closeness to God the Father that gave Him the strength to act as He did.
Boys and girls too need to be close to God to find strength to do what is good and right. Prayer can bring them close to God, as it kept Jesus close to His Father.
How can you demonstrate to children the importance of prayer? Point a flashlight at a sheet of paper held up across the room. The light will show, but dimly. Gradually bring the paper closer to the light, and note how the light seems stronger and stronger.
Prayer brings us closer and closer to God, the Source of our strength. The closer we are, the stronger His light will shine in our lives.
Authenticated by Compassion: Mark 1:40-3:12
The first set of stories Mark told focused on the emotion of amazement aroused by Jesus' acts of power. Now, in another series, Mark focused on the emotions which moved Jesus, and on the impact of His interventions on the lives of individuals. In this series we realize that Jesus truly was God in the flesh, for He showed God's own concern for individuals who live in bondage.
The healing touch (Mark 1:40-45)
Mark had spoken of the crowds. Now he spoke of individuals. The first person Mark mentioned was a leper who came to Jesus, begging Him on his knees.
Leprosy was especially terrible to a Jew. More than what we call leprosy (Hanson's disease) was designated by this name in Bible times. The word was used of any chronic or infectious skin disease. Leprosy was serious in Israel not only because it caused physical pain, but because it made a Jew ceremonially "unclean" (see Leviticus 14). Such a Jew could not participate in worship and was to be isolated from others in the Hebrew community.
The leper who approached Jesus had very probably not known the touch of another's hand for years, as all around him were repelled by his disease.
No wonder he was hesitant as he came to Christ and said, "If You are willing, You can make me clean" (Mark 1:40). The leper did not question Jesus' power. But he did question Jesus' willingness to act for him, an outcast.
Mark tells us that Jesus was "filled with compassion." The Greek word used here makes it clear that he was deeply moved. Jesus reached out His hand and actually touched the man! He said, "I am willing," and with a word cured the incurable disease.
With that touch Jesus answered for all time the doubts of those who wonder if God really cares. Jesus not only met the physical need. He understood the loneliness and psychological pain this man must have experienced, and with His touch dealt directly with that inner pain.
A paralytic healed and forgiven (Mark 2:1-12)
The next story also focused on an individual. The man was a paralytic, brought to Jesus by friends. Confident that Jesus did care and could heal, the friends actually dug through the roof of a home where Jesus was teaching in order to bring the man to Him.
Jesus, in response to this faith, announced not only healing but also the forgiveness of the man's sins! This was too much for some of the "teachers of the Law" who were now listed by Mark as among the observers. These teachers were "thinking to themselves" that Jesus words about forgiveness of sins were blasphemy, because "who can forgive sins but God alone?"
They were right, of course. Only God can forgive sin. But Jesus is God the Son!
Jesus answered their unspoken objection in a graphic way. Which is easier: to tell a paralyzed man that he is forgiven, or to heal him? The answer is clear. It is far easier to speak of forgiveness. Who could possibly look into a man's heart to see if he was forgiven? It's easy to say, "You're forgiven," because who could really tell? How different to say, "Take up your bed and walk." Everyone can see, then, if the speaker has authority!
Not waiting for an answer, Jesus told the paralyzed man to get up, and walk home. "In full view of them all," the paralyzed man got up and walked away! Jesus' authority as God the Son to forgive sin was authenticated by a healing that took place not just in front of Christ's followers, but in front of His enemies as well!
Levi called (Mark 2:13-17)
But is it true that there is no public evidence of Christ's inner work in a human life? Mark focuses our attention on yet another individual. The man was Levi, a tax collector. Tax collectors in New Testament times collaborated with the Romans and often profited by what they extorted from their fellow-countrymen. They were linked by all with other "sinners" from various outcast classes, like prostitutes.
Jesus not only called Levi to become one of His disciples, but even went to his home. There, at a party in His honor, Jesus mixed comfortably with the "sinners" of society.
The Pharisees, witnessing this, were scandalized. In response Jesus simply said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17).
What is significant about this story is, of course, the fact that the man called "Levi" here is elsewhere called Matthew! He was not only 1 of the 12 disciples, but wrote the Gospel identified by his name!
Jesus' power as Son of God was authenticated not only by healing sickness and disease, but by healing the sin which infects every human being. Jesus came to call sinners. And when His touch is felt on a human life, the sinner responds by becoming a new and righteous man.
Lord of Sabbath (Mark 2:18-3:6)
In each of the stories in Mark 2, Pharisees or teachers of the Law have a prominent part. Why?
The people of Israel were truly zealous for God. But their zeal had been misdirected. They thought that God would be pleased if they rigorously kept the details of His Law. In their focus on the details, they missed the real meaning and purpose of God's ancient commands. Our saying, "They couldn't see the forest for the trees," was doubly true of the Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus' time.
This theme is introduced as Jesus is asked His view on fasting. The disciples of the Pharisees and John the Baptist fasted. What about Jesus' disciples? Did they fast too? Jesus dismissed the question, pointing out that His new wine (His "new teaching") could not be poured into old wineskins. The patterns of thought and religion which characterized Israel were out of harmony with the message Jesus had to share.
Two incidents demonstrate Jesus' focus. Christ's disciples plucked some heads of grain as they followed Him through a grainfield. This was allowed in the Old Testament Law: a hungry person could eat from another's field as he passed by, but could not carry anything away. But this was the Sabbath. And to the Pharisees, who classified the act as "work," the act seemed a violation of the Sabbath Day.
Jesus dismissed their complaint. He did not point out that this interpretation was not found in Scripture but in mere human tradition. Instead, Jesus went back to the Old Testament and noted that even David, when hungry, ate of the shewbread located in God's tabernacle. Though this bread was supposed to be eaten by the priests alone, David was not charged with a sin because he had acted out of real need.
So, Jesus explained, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." In other words, God was not angered when real need drove a human being to violate a ceremonial aspect of Old Testament Law. People are more important to God than ritual observances. And this, Jesus said, He now established as One who is "Lord of the Sabbath."
At another time Jesus found a man with a shriveled hand when He entered a synagogue. The Pharisees had apparently planted him there, intending, if Christ should heal him, to accuse Jesus as a Sabbath-breaker. Jesus confronted them. He asked, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" The Pharisees had no answer—but they were unmoved.
Deeply angered by the stubborn heartlessness of these men, Jesus restored the cripple.
And the Pharisees "went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus" (Mark 3:6).
Mark concluded with another of his typical summary paragraphs. Jesus traveled, taught, healed, and expelled evil spirits who continued to cry out, "You are the Son of God."
What is the significance of this sequence in Mark's story of Jesus? Mark wanted his readers to realize that Jesus is authenticated as the Son of God by His demonstration of God's deep compassion for human beings. He heals our diseases. He forgives our sins. And He shows us that what God desires is not a legalistic relationship with human beings but a relationship marked by loving concern. The love which infused the Law at its giving had been lost sight of as God's people thought of it as rules to follow in order to please God rather than as guidelines showing them how to love Him and one another.
And the Pharisees? They were witnesses of the authenticating marks of Jesus' compassion. And by their reaction they demonstrated to all that their approach to religion was devoid of the love that marks the character of God.
?? Link to Life 2: Children
Stories in this section also are children's favorites. Here's a review activity focusing on the compassion they show, and the example they give of how we can please God. On a paper plate divided into quarters, print: Touch (Mark 1:40-45); Forgive (Mark 2:1-12); Be friends (Mark 2:13-17); Help (Mark 3:1-12). Cut a picture from your curriculum to illustrate each Bible story, and paste it in the appropriate quarter. Attach a cardboard arrow with a brad, so it can be spun to point to any quarter.
You are now ready to play the "We Care!" game with your boys and girls.
Remind the boys and girls of the Bible stories. Let them take turns spinning. Each is to make up a story about a person who needs to be touched, forgiven, have friends, or be helped, and tell how a child might care for that person.
Authenticated by Personal Authority: Mark 3:13-5:43
Mark began this new section with a list of those Jesus appointed as His official apostles (sent ones). He then launched into a series of stories which demonstrate that the Son of God's personal authority is absolutely unlimited. There is only one possible explanation for His acts and His words.
The excitement had grown in Galilee, until Jesus was constantly surrounded by crowds. Shouting, shoving people pressed so close that Christ and His disciples could not even find an opportunity to sit down and eat! These people did not try to explain Jesus: they simply mobbed this new celebrity.
When His family heard, they rushed to Him. "He is out of His mind," was their theory. What had happened to this quiet, hard-working carpenter Son and Brother, to make Him run around the country drawing crowds! It seemed so unlike Him!
The "teachers of the Law" who came down from Jerusalem to check out this phenomenon had another theory. "He's demon-possessed!" They tried to explain Jesus' supernatural powers by saying that they were from Satan rather than God.
Jesus exposed the ridiculous theory by pointing out that His powers had been used against Satan's minions. What ruler would start warfare between his own subjects? Only if a strong homeowner had been rendered powerless could another carry away his possessions. Jesus' works were done in the power of the Holy Spirit, not of Satan.
Only one conclusion fit the facts. Jesus is the Son of God: His personal authority as God's Son is the only explanation for all He said and did.
Authoritative teaching (Mark 4:1-34)
Now Mark gave a sample of Jesus' teaching.
The word Jesus spoke was like seed scattered by a farmer. When the word took root in "good soil" it produced much fruit. Those who hear Jesus are likened to various soils. Some are like stony ground, on which the seed initially sprouts but cannot grow because there is no place for it to take root. Any trouble or persecution brings rejection of the Word. Others allow concern for the affairs of this life to choke out the spiritual. But on those who are "good soil" (responsive to the Word) it produces a rich crop.
This longer parable is followed by a series of enigmatic statements. Lamps are to be put on stands, not covered with a bowl. The kingdom of God grows gradually, like a planted seed. Taking in the crop awaits harvesttime. The tiniest of seeds can grow into a large garden plant.
Jesus' parables were not explained to the crowds, but "when He was alone with His disciples, He explained everything" (Mark 4:34). The truths hidden in the parables of Jesus were understood by the disciples, and those that relate to the church are woven into the teaching of the Epistles.
Personal authority demonstrated (Mark 4:35-5:43)
Now, in his report of a series of miracles, Mark showed us in their ascending significance the full extent of Christ's personal power.
Asleep at sea, Jesus was aroused by His terrified disciples when a "furious squall" struck their fishing boat. He rebuked the storm . . . and suddenly the waters were completely calm! Jesus has power over nature.
?? Link to Life 3: Children
Have your boys and girls draw a picture of the favorite part of this Bible story, and talk about why they like that part. (Most will choose a dramatic storm scene.)
Then ask how the disciples must have felt before Jesus awoke. How did they feel after He stilled the storm?
Ask each to draw another picture: of a time when they are glad that Jesus is with them as He was with the disciples in the boat. Have each tell about his picture, and thank God together that Jesus is present when they are afraid.
In the next story in this sequence Mark told how Jesus cast many demons out of a man, sending them into a herd of pigs. Jesus has power over evil spiritual beings and forces.
Then Jesus was urged to go to help a dying daughter. On the way He was touched by a woman who had suffered from chronic bleeding for 12 years. She was healed simply by touching Jesus' clothes, and confessed the faith that brought her to Jesus. Even the physical illnesses which bind us and are one of the most obvious results of the Fall submit to Jesus.
When Jesus arrived at the home of Jairus, the man who had begged Him to come to his daughter's aid, she had died. Entering the house with the parents and the disciples, Jesus took her by the hand—and restored her to life! Jesus had power not only over sickness, but over death itself.
Jesus does have personal authority. All that Jesus said and did authenticated Him as the Son of God.
Those who first read Mark's Gospel, as we who read it today, must have been convinced. Jesus is just who Mark claimed Him to be in his first words. What we have read truly is about "Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mark 1:1).
Read Mark 1-5 through quickly. What are your major impressions of Jesus?
2. Explain that Mark, like the other Gospel writers, reported what really did happen, but may sequence events to support a particular emphasis. Chronological sequence isn't the only valid way to organize material.
Then outline the organizing principle of authentication as it functions in these chapters. Jesus was:
Together work through the first of these sections, pointing out the nature of the authentication and the importance of witnesses.
1. Break into teams to examine the other three "authenticating" segments. Each team is to look at the nature of the authenticating words, guided by the section titles. Each is also to note the witnesses. Finally each team should try to explain just how the incidents reported are linked to each other.
Do not follow up these studies by having each team report its findings to the others.
2. Have each group member select one incident from these chapters as his or her favorite. Each is then to read and reread his or her incident, and write down two or three "lessons for living" that can be learned through it.
Form teams of four. Each person should share the "lesson for living" that he or she drew from a Mark incident that is most important to him or her personally, and explain why this lesson has personal value.
Rebirth of Hope (Luke 1:1-3:22)
Luke's Gospel provides many details about events associated with the birth of Jesus. In these first chapters we find:
In providing all these details Luke showed us how important it is to establish for his Gentile readers that Christ was no ordinary man. The Gospel itself hinges on the fact that Jesus is the virgin-born Son of God.
♦ The Old Testament closes with the promise that God will "send you the Prophet Elijah" before "the Lord comes" (Malachi 4:5). Luke reported that an angel told Zechariah, John's father, that the son to be born to him will "go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah" (Luke 1:17). John's call and ministry authenticated Jesus as the Christ.
Had there been newspapers in the Roman Empire almost 2,000 years ago, some of the headlines that month might have been:
KING ARTAXUS NEAR DEATH
GRAIN SHIPS DOCK, ROME RIOTS END
NINE PIRATE SHIPS SUNK BY SIXTH FLEET
ATHENS STUDENTS CLASH WITH POLICE
OLYMPIC WRESTLER STILL IN COMA
REPORT ANGELS SIGHTED IN JUDEA
Such headlines look very much like the headlines in our newspapers today. For the world of the New Testament was a world very much like ours.
There were wars.
There was sickness.
There was poverty and injustice.
There were people who struggled to keep on living, living by habit long after they had lost any sense of purpose, meaning, or goal.
It was a world like ours, populated with people like ours. But God had made preparations. God was about to burst into this world of men. Jesus was about to be born, and after His birth our world, despite all its poverty and injustice, wars and terrorists, has never been the same.
The world that was
God has never desired the kind of world men have made. The Bible tells us that God worked carefully with men. Yet when "He looked for justice, [He] saw bloodshed; for righteousness, [He] heard cries of distress" (Isaiah 5:7). Even the people of Israel, who had been given God's laws and had been sent prophets to guide them, twisted life out of shape. The people of Israel were brothers, but in the passion of selfishness they too cheated one another, lied, and tried to use each other. Yet, the more life fell under the control of sin, the emptier life seemed, and the more frustrated people became (cf. Isaiah 59).
So God judged the sin of His people. History records a series of defeats and years of foreign captivity. And then, though living in their own land, God's people were crushed under the weight of the Roman Empire. That empire extended over the whole of the Western world. Rome had brought world peace—but with peace came heavy taxes, armies of mercenaries stationed in every land, Roman culture and values, the gladiatorial games, slavery—and misery.
There were still wars.
There was still poverty and injustice.
People still struggled to live, and kept on living by habit long after they had lost all sense of purpose or meaning in life. Not all the power of Rome, nor the progress of our modern technology, have been able to satisfy the basic need all people share to find life's meaning. Neither Rome nor computers have been able to break the bondage of sin that constantly expresses itself in individual life and society.
But something unique was about to happen in an insignificant province in Rome's wide-spread empire. The birth of a Baby would do what no authority or invention of man could. One day that Babe, full grown, would say, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10).
In the birth of Jesus, God acted decisively to bring new life to individuals and transformation to human cultures. In the person of Jesus, God has extended humanity an invitation to new life.
To every person who lives by habit, without direction or meaning or real hope—to you and me—Jesus' birth offers a fresh newness, a life turned around and transformed by the power of God.
This is what the Gospel of Luke is all about: a transformed life. In Luke Jesus is presented as the transformer, with a message of new life for all the world, and with a special message of newness for believers. As we study this exciting book, we and your group members will discover more and more of what it means to really live. You will learn and teach the how of that full life Jesus promises, and show how that promise can be fulfilled in our daily experiences.
And this is something we all need to learn. Desperately.
?? Link to Life 1: Youth / Adult
The "headlines" at the beginning of this study guide reflect actual events that took place about the time Jesus was born. Share them. Then distribute the day's newspaper and ask group members to find similar modern headlines. Read these; then discuss: "What difference has the birth of Jesus made to society? Why did Jesus say, 'I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full'?"
Then have each person write down three things that he or she associates with a "full life." Promise that during this study of Luke's Gospel you will find help to experience the fullness of life that Jesus came to give to you and me.
Responses to God's Involvement: Luke 1
The Old Testament foretold the coming of a day when God would step into this world of darkness to bring light and hope. A Child would be born, a Son given (Isaiah 9:6), and that One would bear the name Immanuel, "With us is God!"
But the announcement that the time was at hand was met with varied reactions.
Zechariah (Luke 1:5-25)
Zechariah was a priest who lived in a little hillside town in Judea, except for the two weeks a year when his shift was on duty at the Jerusalem temple. It was during one of these weeks of duty that he was chosen by lot to enter the temple to burn the evening incense. Entering, Zechariah was jolted to see an angel of the Lord standing beside the incense altar! Quieting Zechariah's fears, the angel told him that his prayers had been answered, and his childless wife would have a son to be named John.
Zechariah's response to this announcement was one of hesitation and doubt. "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." Zechariah's doubt was based on his understanding of nature! He had failed to take God into account!
How often we hesitate to believe for the same reason. Answer my prayer? "Well, the way things normally work out. . . ." How wonderful that our God is not restricted to the usual, or bound by the merely natural. Our God is a God of the unusual, and the sooner we see God as He is, the more quickly our lives will be transformed.
Certainly Zechariah should have seen the unusual in the angel's appearance. Not only was John's birth announcement supernatural, everything said about the baby marked him off from others.
* John's person.
John was to be one of God's great men, filled with the Holy Spirit and set apart from birth.
* John's ministry.
John was to turn many of his countrymen to God. The angel's reference to the "spirit of Elijah" made it perfectly clear to anyone familiar with the Scriptures that this babe was to be the forerunner of the Messiah. John's birth announcement was at the same time an announcement that God was at last ready to act—God was about to intervene in the world of men!
* John's significance.
There was such a need for John's ministry! To prepare Israel for the Messiah he would be used by God to "turn the hearts of . . . the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous" (Luke 1:17). How greatly such a ministry was needed is illustrated in John's later preaching (cf. Luke 3:1-20). There were many "disobedient" in John's day, as in ours. Many were uncaring, defrauding others. Many used violence or brutality to extort, and lied for one another in court (cf. Luke 3:12-14). John was to face this world of sin, and to prepare the hearts of men for the forgiveness and the transformation that Jesus, who came after him, would bring.
Knowing all this from the angel's announcement, Zechariah still hesitated. He still doubted. And because of his hesitation, the Angel Gabriel (Luke 1:19-20) announced that he would be unable to speak until the day of John's birth.
After the months of silence, the day came. John was born. Zechariah's tongue was loosed, and he praised God.
Mary (Luke 1:26-56)
The Angel Gabriel had another announcement to make. Some months after he had spoken with Zechariah, Gabriel was sent to Nazareth, and there appeared to a young engaged woman named Mary.
Like Zechariah, Mary was startled and upset at the angel's appearance and his greeting. But, reassuring Mary of God's love, the angel told her she would have a Son. This Child would be the "Son of the Most High." He would be of the Davidic line, and would be King over Israel, fulfilling the Old Testament covenant promises. In this one Person, Deity and humanity would be perfectly blended. In this one Person, all the promises of God and all the purposes of God for humankind would be fulfilled.
Like Zechariah, Mary too blurted out a question. "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34) The angel's response echoed another Old Testament prophecy: "A virgin shall bear a child, and you will call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14). There was to be no human father. The power of the Holy Spirit was to supernaturally invest an ovum with the germ of life, and the Child to be born would be God the Son (Luke 1:35).
To this explanation Mary had only one response. "I belong to the Lord, body and soul, let it happen as you say" (Luke 1:38, ph).
What a beautiful faith! Zechariah, godly and mature (Luke 1:5-6), had doubted the possibility of birth because of his age. This young girl, certainly still in her teens, never hesitated or doubted a supernatural birth, though she was single!
There is a blessing for those of us who learn to believe in spite of doubt. There is blessing for those of us who respond as Mary did with perfect, childlike trust.
?? Link to Life 2: Youth / Adult
Have your group members read Luke 1 silently to decide which person, Zechariah or Mary, each feels he or she is more like. Then go around the circle, asking each to tell which person he or she chose, and what characteristic made him or her feel like the one chosen.
You can continue this study by putting a T-shaped chart on the board, and listing comparisons and contrasts between Zechariah and Mary. Then summarize: "What do we learn from each person's experience about our own walk with God?"
Mary's faith-response is even more striking when we realize that, according to Old Testament Law, her pregnancy while still single might well be dealt with by stoning! And certainly her fiancé, who would know the child was not his, would hardly go through with the marriage. Yet all these things Mary was willing to trust God to work out!
Instead of worry, joy filled Mary's heart. And her praise song, known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), was filled with praise for God and with a vivid awareness of His greatness and love. What was Mary's vision of God?
[He] has done great things (Luke 1:49).
Holy is His name (Luke 1:49).
His mercy extends to those who fear Him (Luke 1:50).
He has performed mighty deeds (Luke 1:51).
[He] has lifted up the humble (Luke 1:52).
He has filled the hungry (Luke 1:53).
Mary knew God as a God of power and a God of concern, the One who cares enough for the humble and the hungry to reach down and to meet human need.
Perhaps this helps to explain Mary's response to the Lord. She had a clear vision of who God is. She knew Him as a God who cares . . . who cares enough to act. May we each know God so well!
?? Link to Life 3: Youth / Adult
Ask each group member to jot down three images that he or she has of what God is like. Then read Mary's Magnificat, and jot down her images of what God is like. Compare: How are the two visions of God alike? How do they differ?
The Birth of Hope: Luke 2
Mary's faith was not misplaced. God sent His angel to Joseph too (Matthew 1:19-21), and that good man determined to complete the marriage contract. The two wed, but the marriage was not consummated until the birth of Jesus.
The birth (Luke 2:1-7)
As the time of Jesus' birth approached, Caesar Augustus had declared an empire-wide census. So all the people of Palestine went to the towns of their births to be registered. This brought Joseph and Mary, both of whom were of Davidic lineage, to Bethlehem. Though in the late stages of her pregnancy, Mary probably rode a donkey along the dusty roads and waited in weariness as Joseph tried to find accommodations when they reached their destination.
The inns were filled, but Joseph found a sheltered stable, possibly a cave behind an inn. There, in the most common of circumstances, to the simple sounds of animals shifting their weight and munching their straw and contentedly swishing their tails, Jesus was born.
It was a strange unobtrusive birth. No doctors crowded around, no gilt couch held the laboring mother, no fine linens covered the Infant. In simplicity the Baby was born, the quiet was broken by His cries, and His exhausted mother, her labors ceased, wrapped Him in a cloth and lay back to sleep, resting Him beside her where He could sense her warmth and be comforted by it.
We sometimes yearn for great and startling evidences of God's presence. "Oh," we think, "if only I could see miracles now, as in Bible days. If only something great would happen to me!" How we long for the sensational.
And how much we have to learn.
For the greatest miracle of all, God's greatest work, was done in quietness and in the simplicity of daily life common to millions of men. A look at the stable, and we may well wonder: Do the great things God wants to do in us and for us bear the same stamp? The stamp and seal of commonness . . . of God's mighty, yet unobtrusive, work in the lives of women and of men?
Shepherds and angels (Luke 2:8-20)
While the manger was silent, the hills outside Bethlehem resounded with shouts of joy. Far away, where it would not be observed by the crowds, a heavenly celebration was taking place. Choirs of angels shook the air with joyful shout and song, and as though unable to contain the good news, an angel appeared in a brilliant ball of light to shepherds in those fields, crying, "Good news. . . . Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you. . . . Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11).
But why to shepherds?
Perhaps because shepherds would understand. The Saviour, now lying in the quiet manger, was to be the Lamb of God. And as the Lamb, He was destined to die for the sins of the world, to die for these very shepherds as their Saviour. So perhaps shepherds, who cared for the young lambs, who sat through cold dark nights in the fields to guard and protect their flocks, might understand the shepherd's heart of God the Father—might glimpse what it meant for Him to give His one Lamb for all.
So as the hills throbbed and echoed with the remembered songs of joy, the shepherds left their sheep and hurried off to view God's Lamb.
They found Him. And they told Mary and Joseph about the angelic visitation. Leaving, they told everyone who would listen what the angels had said about this Child.
Dedicated at the temple (Luke 2:21-38)
Once more, before the years of silence during which Jesus would grow to adulthood in Nazareth, God gave the parents a special sign.
On the eighth day of Jesus' life on earth, the time for circumcision, Jesus was brought to the temple to be presented to the Lord. Every firstborn son was to be so presented, dedicated to God and to His service. And then the son was to be redeemed (purchased back) with a blood sacrifice. The Law commanded a young bull or a lamb for parents who could afford such an offering. But the poor were allowed to bring two young birds. Joseph and Mary offered only the sacrifice of the poor.
But as they moved toward the altar they were met by Simeon, a man who had eagerly looked forward to the coming of the Saviour, and who had been shown by the Holy Spirit that this Child was the One! Simeon took the Baby Jesus in his arms and praised God.
His praise was echoed by Anna, an 84-year-old woman who had served the Lord in the temple with prayer and praise, and who now told everyone in Jerusalem about Jesus, assuring them that the Saviour had been born.
Jesus' childhood (Luke 2:39-52)
Only Luke mentioned Jesus' childhood. He simply said that the child grew and became strong; He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God.
At age 12 Jesus went up to the temple, where He amazed the teachers of the Law by His understanding. But the most striking note is that afterward, Jesus "went down to Nazareth with [His parents] and was obedient to them" (Luke 2:51). Though the Son of God, and far beyond His parents in understanding even as a Child, Jesus fulfilled the commandment that ordained, "Honor your father and your mother." And so Jesus grew physically and in wisdom, being appreciated by God and by others.
All this Mary stored up in her heart. She must have watched her Son as He grew. She watched as He learned the carpenter's trade from Joseph, His earthly father. She watched as He moved in anonymity around the obscure town where the family was settled. She watched, and wondered. And waited.
?? Link to Life 4: Children
Let your boys and girls think of times when children think they know better than their parents, and tell what they might say. (For instance, "It's bedtime"—"But I'm not sleepy!" "Do your homework first"—"I want to watch this TV show first." "Eat your vegetables"—"I want dessert." Etc.)
Let them discuss: "How often are parents right? How often are children right? What should boys and girls do when they are sure they are right and parents wrong?"
Then tell the story of Jesus, who as the Son of God was wiser than His parents, but obeyed them because He wanted to please God and keep God's Word. How important for us to follow Jesus' example, and honor our moms and dads.
The Baptist's Ministry: Luke 3:1-22
Then the days of obscurity came to an end.
It began with John, who broke out of the desert like an old-time prophet, boldly announcing God's Word an challenging his hearers to a complete change of heart.
John's words were straightforward, and pierced to the heart of his hearers. He called them a brood of snakes. He warned them not to keep on trusting in their ancestry; their own hearts must be right with God. When they cried out, asking what they should do, John told them plainly, and in telling them John revealed the ways that they hated and hurt one another.
John's message was simple. There must be a change in your hearts. God is about to act; judgment is coming. And you must have a new life!
There must be forgiveness first, for there has always been sin. There must be baptism next, as a public sign of a choice to turn from sin (Luke 3:3). And then there must be a whole new lifestyle—a new life that is lived in harmony with God and with holiness, a new life that breaks completely with sin.
And John had one other message.
The Saviour-Messiah was coming. The One who would make all this possible was approaching. He would be here soon (Luke 3:16).
And then Jesus did come. He stood in the waters and, by baptism, identified Himself with the people and with the stand for righteousness that this act symbolized. As He came up, God's voice was heard from heaven: "You are My Son, whom I love; with You I am well pleased."
And, being about 30 years old, Jesus began the work that was to bring the possibility of a truly new life to you and to me.
?? Link to Life 5: Youth / Adult
Return to the headlines from modern newspapers you may have looked at earlier. Now compare them with the needs and problems reflected in John's preaching (Luke 3:1-20).
Jesus seeks to deal with them not by new legislation, but by bringing inner transformation and change.
Pray now that during this series of studies in Luke your group members will experience more of the new life Jesus came to bring.
1. Share the New Testament "headlines" given at the beginning of this study guide. Let group members find similar headlines in today's papers. Discuss: "What difference has Jesus' coming really made?" Raise the question about "full life," for individuals suggested in "Link to Life 1".
2. Or look at the reactions of Zechariah and Mary to angelic announcements. Have your group members identify as "more like" one or the other of the two. Go on to explore what we can learn from the experience of each. See "Link to Life 2".
1. The concept that we have of who God is will be one key to our responsiveness to Him. Ask your group members to jot down three images that come to mind when someone speaks about "God." Then together study Mary's Magnificat to find her images of the Lord. Discuss: "How are the images each jotted down like or unlike Mary's? What about Mary's view of God helped her to be so responsive to Him?"
2. Or examine the content of John the Baptist's preaching (Luke 3:1-20). Compare it with articles in one of today's newspapers. Then examine what John presents as the solution (e.g., an inner change of heart, repentance, linked to the coming Messiah who will baptize with the Holy Spirit).
There may be little we can do about injustice in the world at large. But we can act now to let Jesus change our hearts and lives, and so purify our own corner of His world.
The Book of Luke is about new life. Ask each to share what "new life" means to him or her. Each can share either what he or she has experienced, or what he or she expects to experience through relationship with Jesus.
The Deity of Jesus (John 1:1-18)
The Gospel of John speaks more clearly than any other of the deity of Christ. There can be no doubt: the Bible does teach that Jesus of Nazareth was fully God as well as truly man.
This teaching does not, of course, rest only on what we find in John's Gospel. There are many other passages that affirm Jesus' deity. Among the most powerful are:
Jesus who expresses the invisible God was Himself the Creator of all things, and has priority over all.
Jesus is the "exact representation" of God's being, and sustains all things by His own powerful word. He is, as God, above all created beings, including the angels who are so superior to mortal man.
Jesus, though "in very nature God" voluntarily surrendered the prerogatives of Deity to become a true human being. Now that He has been resurrected He has been exalted again, and in the future every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
It is this Jesus, God from before the beginning, whom John wants to show us in his Gospel. And from this Gospel John wants to teach us how to respond, from the heart, to Him as Saviour and Lord.
♦ "Grace" reveals both God and man. It shows human beings as helpless, trapped in sin. And it shows God willing and able to meet our deepest needs.
The last of the apostles laid down his pen. His fingers brushed away one of the tears that still came so easily when he thought about the death and resurrection of his beloved Jesus. Even after all these years, he could still feel the same sorrow and joy he had felt so intently then.
John had been bewildered when Jesus died, and amazed by His resurrection. It had taken John and the others so long to understand, so long to really know who Jesus was . . . no, is.
John remembered those days just after the Resurrection when Jesus again walked with and taught His disciples. Taking up his pen again, the apostle bent over his manuscript to add: "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:30-31).
John, the last of the apostles to die, gave us in his Gospel one of four portraits of Jesus written in the decades after Christ's death and resurrection. John's Gospel is unique in a number of ways. It was written long after the others, possibly some 40 years after the end of Jesus' life on earth. Unlike the other Gospels, which were written to present Jesus to different cultural groups, John was written as a universal Gospel. It is to all people of all times, and particularly to the church. John's purpose is to unveil the Man, Jesus, and to reveal Him as God.
Of course, the other Gospels present the deity of Jesus, but the central message and focus of John's Gospel is Jesus' deity. John's many years of ministry had taught him the importance of believers coming to know Jesus as God. John wrote his book for this purpose: "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God" (italics added).
But why is this so important? And why is the present tense so important: that Jesus is the Christ. Not was. Is!
It's important because when we recognize Jesus as the God who lives now, we also discover that we "may have life" now through His name.
John was making no retreat from the facts of the Christian faith. John's failure to speak of Christ's birth does not deny the historic events that actually took place in space and time. It does not imply that these are unimportant. It is simply that John's goal was to help you and me see, through the historic Person, the living Christ who is present with us even now. John wanted us to understand not only who Jesus was, but who Jesus is. John wanted us to grasp the fact that in our personal relationship with the living Jesus we can experience new life as a present reality.
So, in the Gospel of John, the writer selected and organized historical events in order to unveil the living Jesus of today. As we see His glory, we will find in Him the vital source of a new life of our own.
Why is it so important that Jesus be unveiled? Recently I talked with a girl in her junior year in college, who wondered about her future. Should she continue in her church ministry major? Or take a course in some specialty that will prepare her for a job? How can she look ahead and know what is best for her to do?
Yesterday I spoke with a friend whose wife has asked him to move out. He knows that much of the pain both feel right now has been his fault: they are each struggling with deep hurts and even deeper uncertainties about their futures. Whatever choices they make now will shape the future for their children as well as for themselves.
From your own life, or the lives of members of your class or group, you can add other illustrations. You can point to incident after incident which bring home the fact that we must live in the constant company of uncertainty, and with the possibility of loss. For each of us, the future is hidden behind a veil. We are forced to make our choices blindly, hoping but never sure that what we do will turn out for the best, and hoping as well that the things we fear will never happen.
No wonder it was so important for John to unveil Jesus. We cannot know our personal futures. But we can be free to live with joy when we strip away the veil of history, and see there a Jesus who is the Son of God, and who brings us new life, now.
?? Link to Life 1: Youth / Adult
Have your group members work in pairs to list "things I can't control." Then combine to write a group list on the chalk-board. Let members add new things as they think of them. And be sure that, along with the weather, terrorism, and other international or universal things, your group members include what happens to them tomorrow, the outcome of their choices, etc.
Discuss: "Which of these areas make you most uncomfortable or anxious?"
Lead into the study of John's Gospel by pointing out that John presented a Jesus who is God—living today, and able to bring us a new life as well as to exercise His own control over those things which are beyond ours.
Eternity Unveiled: John 1:1-5
With the first words of the Gospel of John we see that John's task is to unveil. The other Gospels begin with the birth of Jesus or with an account of His human ancestry. Matthew and Luke emphasized that a man, a human being, was actually born in the normal way to a young woman named Mary in the ancient land of Judea at the time Herod the Great was living out his last days. John, on the other hand, tells us immediately the Child born then was the eternal God! His origin was not at His physical conception, but, as Micah said, his "origins are from of old, from ancient times" (Micah 5:2). And Isaiah called Him "Mighty God, Everlasting Father" (Isaiah 9:6).
John's way of taking us back to eternity was to identify Jesus as "the Word" who was "in the beginning." Moreover, this Word "was with God, and the Word was God." Finally John said plainly that "the Word became flesh and lived for a while among us" (John 1:14).
The Bible gives many titles or names to Jesus. When He is called "the Word," we are reminded of His role in the Godhead from the very beginning. Human speech has the capacity to unveil thoughts, feelings, and emotions; to reveal the person behind the words. Jesus is God expressing Himself through Jesus.
When Philip asked Jesus to show the disciples the Father, Christ answered in gentle rebuke. "Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). Another time Jesus explained to His disciples, "No one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him" (Luke 10:22).
This title, "the Word," teaches that Jesus is now, and always has been, the One through whom God expresses Himself. But how did God express Himself in history past, even before the Incarnation? Obviously God was known before Jesus' birth.
In Creation (John 1:3)
Paul wrote that "what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the Creation of the world God's invisible qualities . . . have been clearly seen" (Romans 1:19-20). The material universe itself speaks of a Maker, loudly shouting His handiwork:
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
This Word of Creation is the word of Jesus before the Incarnation. "Through Him all things were made," John said. "Without Him nothing was made that has been made." From the very beginning Jesus has expressed God to humankind.
In life (John 1:4)
But it was not just in the creation of inanimate matter that Jesus communicated God. On the spinning sphere hung in the emptiness of space, the Creator placed living creatures. These living creatures are different from dead matter; they moved, ate, responded to stimuli, and reproduced themselves. The creation of life was a voice testifying to God.
Only One who was a living Being Himself could be the source of other life. Dead matter does not generate life now, nor has it ever.
And then, among all the living things, the Creator planted another kind of life that was made "in Our image, in Our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). Not just life, but self-conscious life, came into being. This life that came from Jesus the Creator remains deeply rooted in Him. Our very awareness that we are different from all other living creatures is another wordless testimony to the existence of the God whose likeness we bear. Jesus gave us life itself, and by that life He expressed God to us.
In light (John 1:5)
This final term introduces one other way in which God has expressed Himself through the preincarnate work of Jesus. In John's writings the terms light and darkness are often moral terms. Light represents moral purity, holiness, righteousness, good. In contrast, darkness as a moral term represents evil, all those warped and twisted ways in which sin had perverted the good in man, and brought pain to individuals and society. "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood [or, extinguished] it."
The moral light is one of the most powerful and pervasive evidences of God's existence. Paul described pagans who have never known God's Old Testament revelation of morality, yet they "show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them" (Romans 2:15). There is a moral awareness planted deep in the personality of every person. Different societies may develop different rules to govern, for instance, sexual behavior. These rules may be glaringly different from the pattern set in Scripture. Still, in every culture, there is the awareness that sexual behavior is a moral issue, and that no individual can simply have any other person he or she wants, at any time or in any way.
The deep-seated conviction that there is a moral order to things is present in every human society. But society is in darkness; even though some sense of moral order and rightness exists, people in every society choose to do what they themselves believe is wrong. So conscience struggles, and individuals accuse themselves (or perhaps try to excuse as "adult" behavior they know is wrong).
Moral awareness in a world running madly after darkness is another testimony to us that light comes from the preexistent Word. Light, like creation and life itself, shouts out the presence of God behind the world we see.
Then, finally, the Word took unique expression in space and time. "The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14).
?? Link to Life 2: Children
Boys and girls, like adults, have difficulty understanding how one God can exist three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Many analogies have been suggested, none of which can capture the reality of the Trinity. Simply put, this as other things concerning the nature of God, are simply beyond human understanding.
Still, it's helpful for children to use analogies. They are inadequate, but they do at least help. What are some of the better analogies? An egg, while it has shell, white, and yoke, is one egg. A poorer analogy notes that water, a single chemical substance, can be found as liquid, water vapor, and ice. Another poorer analogy notes that one person can be a husband, a father, and an employee.
We will never penetrate the mystery, for nothing in our universe partakes of the triune nature of God. How wonderful that we can trust the Word, which unveils reality even though we cannot yet grasp the reality revealed.
?? Link to Life 3: Youth / Adult
What does the Bible say about Jesus, who existed as the Word long before Creation? Take one or two approaches:
(2) Or the Bible shows that the three Persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) have different roles or tasks. One passage which speaks of this is Ephes. 1:3-14. Work together as a group with this passage, identifying the works of each Person.
Then discuss: "In what ways were the tasks assigned to Jesus an unveiling, or revealing, of the grace of God?"
Grace and Truth: John 1:6-18
totally new level of communication begins with the Incarnation. We catch a glimpse of this fact in the ministry of John the Baptist. John, the Bible says, was sent "to testify concerning that light."
What a strange expression. John was sent to identify the light! Why? What was there about Jesus as the Light that demanded identification? When we examine the Baptist's message in the other Gospels, we see that John focused his preaching on twin ideas: (1) the promised King of Old Testament prophecy was about to appear, and (2) His coming demanded a moral renewal.
John rebuked sin in ruler and common man alike. His tongue lashed the religious. "You brood of vipers!" he cried scornfully. "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance" (Luke 3:7-8).
The Baptist's prescriptions were clear, simple reflections of Old Testament Law. "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same," John told the people. "Don't collect . . . more [taxes] than you are required to," John told the tax collectors. "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely—be content with your pay," John told the soldiers (John 1:11-14).
The moral light shed in the Old Testament shone through the Baptist's message. His words pointing to the Person about to appear promised a kingdom in which moral light would not be lost in the darkness, but instead, darkness would be exiled by light. "The true Light," the Gospel writer said, "was coming into the world." And John the Baptist's mission was to make it clear to all that that Man is the Light.
But still, why? Why must John announce Jesus? Why did a people who already had the light of the written Law need to have light—an expression of true morality and reality—identified for them? The Gospel writer explained it to us with another term: grace. When the Word became flesh, we were given new light—a revelation that the divine morality is "grace and truth."
It is important to understand that all revelations of God before Jesus came were true, but incomplete. Creation spoke of God's existence and power, but not of His essential character. Life testified to God's personhood, but told nothing of His deepest emotions or plans. Light, as awareness of morality, reflected God's holiness, but somehow His heart remained hidden. Even the Law of the Old Testament, which defined holiness and morality more fully and gave a glimpse of God as One who cares about people, still did not communicate God's heart.
There were still some questions left unanswered. What does God truly want with us? How does He react when we fail to meet His standards? "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son." It is the Son who is "the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being" (Hebrews 1:1-3). In Jesus, the Word is spoken! And what do we hear when the final revelation comes? "Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). In Jesus we see a morality that goes beyond law and can only be identified as grace.
How is grace portrayed in John 1:9-13 of this chapter? The Creator entered the world He had made. He came to His own people, to whom He had given life. But His own people would not receive Him. He was rejected, scorned, and ultimately crucified. In spite of this, He reached out to individuals who would receive Him, and He gave them the right to become the children of God.
The human race did not seek out a family relationship with God. The reaching out was God's, and His alone. In spite of mankind's failure, God drew men and women to Himself and lifted them up, adopting them as His children and heirs. In this act of pure grace, a glorious light bursts into history. In Jesus Christ, the eternal Word, we discover that God's ultimate morality is one of love and of grace.
At first it is hard to realize that the God who spoke in the past is the same God unveiled in Jesus. We had never grasped the full extent of His glory. But John the Baptist was a witness to that light, and testified that He is the same. The splendor of God seen in the Son goes so far beyond the glimpses of glory that shine through the Law. Now, we must learn to live in grace's new relationship with the Lord, so that we can share His glory.
And so the theme of Jesus, the Living Word, unveiling God, dominates the Gospel of John. Jesus, full of grace and truth, unveiled now the relationship which God the Father had always yearned to have with humankind. And we, as His sons and daughters, must learn a way of life guided by the splendor of grace rather than by the flickering candle of Law.
For this, we must know Jesus. We must see Jesus as He is, God's ultimate Word of revelation. We must hear His Word, come to understand, and believe in Him. When we trust ourselves to Jesus, forever, and daily, we will learn what it means to "have eternal life in Him.
Look at a verse-by-verse commentary, such as the Bible Knowledge Commentary.
1. Jesus was the "Word" (that is, the revealer of God) even before the Incarnation. Three concepts in John's introduction to his Gospel express how.
Give a minilecture on Jesus' roles in Creation, as life, and as light, and how each of these unveil God to human beings. Afterward discuss: "How much do we know about God from each source? What important knowledge is still lacking?"
2. The author suggested that John wanted us to realize fully that Jesus is God, and that this is vitally important to our Christian experience.
Use the launching activity found in "Link to Life 1", to help your group members sense how important it is for us, who can control so little in our lives, to trust the living Jesus who controls all.
1. John was called to "bear witness to" (identify!) Jesus as the Light. This was linked to the fact that Israel thought of God's revelation in terms of the Law that came through Moses, while "grace and truth" came (were unveiled) through Jesus.
Discuss: "How did people who received all their moral light from the Law pictured God? How might Jesus, who emphasized God's grace, have changed that image?"
2. Or look at parallel passages that deal with the full deity of Jesus, as outlined in "Link to Life 3".
Have each person share: "What is one evidence of God's grace through Jesus that you have experienced since becoming a believer?"
The Adventure Begins (Acts 1-4)
The "New Testament church" has fascinated Christians through the ages. The excitement, the vitality, the depth of fellowship portrayed in early Acts has attracted us. Many have sought to recapture those days: some by a reemphasis on the Spirit, others by restructuring the church as an institution.
No one can duplicate any moment in history. Yet as we study these first chapters of Acts we do discover principles which will vitalize Christian experience. We probably will not need to abandon our old. But we will need to make a fresh commitment to the God who worked so powerfully in the men and women of the early church. He lives today, and He is fully able to work just as powerfully in us.
♦ The events at Pentecost have been the focus of much theological debate. The text says the Holy Spirit filled the followers of Jesus. Specific signs were associated with that particular filling. There was a rushing, violent wind. Visible tongues of fire rested on each person. And when a crowd gathered each foreigner heard Jesus' followers "speaking in his own native language" (Acts 2:8). To understand the works of the Spirit it is important not to identify the Spirit's "filling," or the Spirit's "baptism," with any one of these signs. "Filling" is not itself tongues, or visible fire.
remember very clearly walking with five-year-old Paul the day he started kindergarten in Dallas, Texas. Paul was proud and excited—his first day at school! How grown-up he felt, and how grown-up and confident he looked. He was taking an important step into life's great adventure.
Each of us has times like this. For parent and child such moments are a strange mixture of excitement and loss. A whole phase of life is being left behind. We move on, sad, and yet somehow happy to meet the unknown.
It must have been very much like this for both Jesus and the disciples after Christ's resurrection. Their years together were past. The agony of the cross was history, swallowed up in the joy of Resurrection. During the 40 days after Christ rose, as Jesus still met with the disciples, both the Lord and the 11 must have been torn. Both knew the disciples would soon be launched on the greatest adventure the world has ever known, stepping out into the unknown to share Jesus with their whole world. They may have desperately wanted Jesus to remain with them. Yet, deep inside, the disciples must have known that they had been prepared for just this mission. They stood poised, hesitating, and yet eager to move on.
A New Focus
While the faith of Israel served as a foundation for the new faith about to break on a world unaware, what would happen during the months and years ahead was unknown to the disciples. This must have been hard for them. Usually we're most comfortable in familiar surroundings and situations.
We can see this in the disciples. For 40 days Jesus spoke with them about His Father's intention to build His own kingdom in man's world. Jesus also encouraged His disciples: "Wait for the gift My Father promised. . . . In a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:4-5). Jesus did not push His followers unprepared into an adventure too great for them; He reminded them that He had promised them power. Even so, the disciples still looked longingly at the old patterns of thought and life. "Lord," they asked, "are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6)
This was a revealing and an important question. The Old Testament had foretold Jesus' coming, but the dominant impression the Jews had received was of His coming to be their King. They had visions of the Messiah rescuing them from Gentile dominion and giving them the exalted political and military position promised by the Old Testament prophets. Jesus' death had been doubly shocking to His followers. Not only had they loved Him, but they had also firmly expected Him to crush Rome's political and military power and to establish Israel as the dominant world power.
The believing Jews in Old Testament times knew that God rules over the whole world of men. Therefore, His sovereignty over history itself was recognized. But the Old Testament saint longed for the day when the hidden authority of Yahweh would be revealed to all, when the Lord's Messiah would rule visibly over the world of men. So even the Twelve who were closest to Jesus were disappointed as He continued to teach and preach and heal instead of confronting the Roman Empire.
Jesus had gently taught His followers that the Old Testament also spoke of the Messiah suffering and dying for men's sins. Christ's ministry was leading Him to a cross rather than a crown. But up to the very end, the disciples still had visions of their Camelot: a New Jerusalem, with Jesus (and themselves) ruling the world. The death of Jesus had crushed that hope momentarily. But when Jesus arose, the vision of power and glory again caught and held their imaginations. "Are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" clearly reflects their longing for the life they had dreamed of so long.
Jesus' answer was gentle (Acts 1:7-8). First He pointed out that the prophesied kingdom would come, but that its coming was distant rather than "at this time." God will keep His promises, and this world will know Jesus' rule. But for now life is to have a different focus for Jesus' followers. That focus, stated in utmost simplicity, is this: "You will be My witnesses."
Jesus Himself is the focus, the center of the believer's life. The meaning of our lives, the reason that our time on earth can be a great adventure, is summed up in the fact that Jesus is real, and that our every action can be a clear demonstration of the vital impact of the living God on human experience.
This was something that the disciples had not yet grasped, but soon would. Jesus, living within them, would Himself transform their experience. Then everything they were as individuals and as a community would witness to His presence.
These words, "You will be My witnesses," were the last ones Jesus spoke to the 11. As a silent crowd of disciples watched, Jesus rose up, soaring away until the clouds hid Him from sight. Two angelic messengers completed Christ's answer to the earlier question.
"This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). This present time, during which the focus of our lives and the heart of our adventure with God is summed up in Jesus, will come to an end. As Old Testament days came to an end in the cross, our age will come to an end when Jesus returns—to establish the kingdom promised in the Old.
Yes, that day will come. But for then the disciples had to turn away from the Mount of Ascension and return to Jerusalem to see what new thing God had in store. There they waited, gathering for prayer. Waiting for a challenge, and a joy, that they could not yet imagine!
?? Link to Life 1: Youth / Adult
As you deal with the disciples' question about Jesus' intention to restore the kingdom "now," you may wish to copy and distribute the following chart which summarizes the basic relationships between the Old Testament and New.
Chart: Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments
?? Link to Life 2: Children
Jesus told the disciples what He wanted them to do. They were to be witnesses "in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Each Christian can witness to Jesus. To help boys and girls think about how they too can show love for Jesus, draw four concentric circles. Label the inner one Jerusalem, the next Judea, the next Samaria, and the last "Ends of the earth." Explain that Jerusalem was home to the disciples (relabel the inner circle "home"). Relabel the next circles too: Judea is neighbors, Samaria strangers, and "Ends of the earth" other countries.
Help your boys and girls think how they can show Jesus' love in their homes, to neighbors, to strangers, and to people in foreign countries. List their ideas on the chalkboard.
You may want to have boys and girls make a "witnesses" booklet, with a "home" first page, on through "other countries." Each can draw a picture of himself or herself doing one thing from the list of ways to show others we love Jesus.
?? Link to Life 3: Children
A simple project can serve as a reminder to young children that Jesus who went to heaven will return. Give each a piece of construction paper. Punch and reinforce two holes, one at the top and the other at the bottom. Let the children decorate with a crayoned hillside at the bottom, and clouds at the top. Place a loop of yarn through the holes. Tape or staple a picture of Jesus to the yarn. By pulling on the back of the loop, the figure will move up from the hill to the clouds, or down from the clouds. Your children can print "Jesus will come back (Acts 1:11)" on their projects as a reminder of Christ's promised return.
The Day: Acts 2:1-21
The days of waiting passed (Acts 1:12-26). The little company of believers, numbering about 120, met daily. On one of these days, they chose Matthias to take the office which Judas had abandoned by his betrayal of Jesus. Judas, overcome with remorse and yet unwilling to turn to Jesus for pardon, had thrown the 30 pieces of silver for which he betrayed the Lord down on the temple floor and, rushing out, had hanged himself.
Now another must take his office as an apostle. Searching among those who had been with Jesus since the beginning of His ministry and who had also been witnesses to the Resurrection, the little company found two candidates. Following an Old Testament practice, they then let God choose between the two by casting lots (much like our drawing of straws).
The company of the Apostles was thus returned to its original number of 12.
The word apostle means "one sent out." In secular Greek it often referred to a ship or naval force sent on an expedition, seldom to an individual. Yet the word was chosen by Jewish translators of the Old Testament to reflect a Hebrew word that referred to one acting as another's representative.
In the New Testament the word is found 10 times in the Gospels, 28 times in Acts, and 38 times in the epistles, usually referring to men appointed by Christ for a special function in the church. While these men are primarily the Twelve and Paul, others are also called apostles.
There is no doubt that the apostles were given special authority and power. Not only were they witnesses to the events of Jesus' life, but they were also authoritative interpreters of those events. As the body of apostolic teaching grew, it became clear that the church was being "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets" (Ephes. 2:20).
There is no indication in Scripture that the loyal apostles were replaced by others as they died (cf. Acts 12:2). As witnesses and interpreters of the purposes of God in the early days of the church, the apostles stand unique. But as witnesses to the reality of Jesus, the apostles were about to enter into an adventure which they share with all Jesus' followers of every age. And then the day arrived.
Pentecost (Acts 2:1)
The Feast of Pentecost was one of the three annual Old Testament celebrations during which the men of Israel came to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. It was a time when Jews from around the world gathered in their ancient homeland and offered sacrifice to the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
Pentecost was a harvest festival, coming at the time of the grain harvest, just 50 days after Passover. Each year the firstfruits of the harvest were offered with joy and thanksgiving, accompanied by the recitation of Deut. 26:3-10 by the worshiper.
Pentecost was clearly God's choice time for the initiation of Jesus' followers into their great adventure. Just 50 days before, Jesus Himself had been crucified—and raised again. Now, as an indication of the great harvest of everlasting life that Jesus' death had won, the 120 believers were about to be touched by the Spirit of God. They were to be the first of a vast multitude, the first of millions upon millions who would follow them into a unique relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
The choice of Pentecost was also an indication of the meaning of that new relationship for believers. The first words the Old Testament worshiper uttered at the Pentecost service were these:
I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our forefathers to give us.
declare that I have entered in! This is just what Pentecost meant to the first disciples, and what it should mean to us. Through Jesus, we have entered into everything the Promised Land foreshadowed; we are now free to experience the fullness of all the good things the Lord our God has chosen to give men.
And God's first gift was the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2-21)
The Bible speaks of the Holy Spirit as a Person, an individual distinct from and yet One with the Father and the Son. As God, the Holy Spirit had various relationships with men in Old Testament times. But the Old Testament also spoke of a coming day when God would enter into a new and special relationship with those who believe. Jesus had spoken often of this. Christ looked forward to a day when He would be back with the Father, and the Spirit "whom those who believed in Him were later to receive," would be given (John 7:39). The promised Spirit was to teach and guide believers (John 14:16) and, according to Jesus' final promise, to bring power for that new kind of life which bears witness to Jesus' reality (Acts 1:8). In that day, Jesus had said, the Spirit would not simply be "with" the disciples, but "in" them! (John 14:17)
And Pentecost was the promised day!
The Bible tells us that the Spirit's coming into believers was unmistakably marked. A mighty wind seemed to rush through the room where the 120 gathered; flames of fire flickered over each head; and as the Spirit filled them, individuals began to speak in languages they did not know.
This drew a great crowd of the men who had come to Jerusalem for the Pentecost festival. Each person heard the disciples speaking in the language of the land where he was presently living. "How is it," wondered the visitors, "that each of us hears them in his own native language? . . . We hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" (Acts 2:8; Acts 2:11) Perplexed and amazed, they asked each other, "What does this mean?" (Acts 2:12)
All too often that same question is asked today—without listening to Peter's response to those first questioners. All too often the answer given is designed to argue for or against the existence of what has been called "the gift of tongues" in our day. Whatever our opinion might be as to whether God still gives believers this gift, the important point underlined by Pentecost is that now, at last, the Holy Spirit is given!
And this was Peter's response to those who demanded an explanation of the disciples: "This is what was spoken by the Prophet Joel:
"In the last days," God says, "I will pour out My Spirit on all people."
That great gift which God had reserved till the last days was being poured out freely now. All were to know the touch of the Spirit of God; both daughters and sons would be empowered by Him. Most significant of all, in that day on which the Spirit of God would flow out to touch and fill God's own, "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Acts 2:21).
God was moving out beyond the boundaries of Israel to offer to all people that relationship with Himself which is at the heart of eternal life.
The disciples themselves did not understand just then all that the Spirit's coming meant. They didn't see Pentecost as the beginning of the church, as it later came to be understood. They did not realize that the Holy Spirit, living in each believer, would Himself constitute a living link binding each individual to other believers, to form a vital, loving community.
But they did know that God's new day was now! They did know that the Holy Spirit had filled them with Jesus' promised power. And they did begin immediately to explain the striking witness that the rushing wind and the flames and the tongues had given to every observer of the reality of God's presence in these set-apart men.
?? Link to Life 4: Youth / Adult
In a minilecture explain the Old Testament Day of Pentecost, reading Deut. 26:3-10. Then ask your group members to read Acts 2:1-21 to discover (1) how Peter explained the events of this particular Pentecost, and (2) the implications of the event that are spelled out by the Prophet Joel.
If you have questions about specific verses and phrases, see the Bible Knowledge Commentary.
The Message: Acts 2:22-3:26
Jesus' last instructions had been to focus on Himself: "You will be My witnesses" (Acts 1:8). Acts 2-3 shows how clearly the early disciples maintained that focus. The two sermons of Peter recorded here give us a clear picture of the apostolic message and the very heart of the Gospel.
What were the basic elements of the apostolic preaching?
1. Jesus, the historical Person
In each sermon Peter began by confronting his hearers with the Person who had lived among them; who was born, lived, performed His wonders, and taught in our space and time, "as you yourselves know" (Acts 2:22). This was no mythical person, no invention of disciples parlaying the ignorance of gullible crowds into the beginnings of a new religion. Everyone knew Jesus. He had been a public figure, a chief topic of conversation for at least three years. Just 50 days before, He had been executed at the insistence of the Jewish leaders, with crowds of the common people shouting for His blood. Peter's words, "As you yourselves know," made it very clear. The Gospel is firmly rooted in historical reality.
And all Peter's hearers knew perfectly well who the historical Jesus was.
A second element of the apostolic preaching involved confronting the hearers with the crucifixion of Jesus, and even confronting them with their own guilt: "You . . . put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross" (Acts 2:23).
A third element also involved the statement of historical fact: Jesus was loosed from death's bonds and raised up by God, and "we are all witnesses of the fact" (Acts 2:32).
4. Correspondence with Old Testament prophecy
Peter then went on to point out that each of these historical events happened as God had foretold in the Old Testament. Rather than being a threat to the integrity of God's Word, Jesus and the events of His life and death and resurrection are foretold there. What Peter proclaimed was in fullest harmony with God's total revelation.
5. The promised Messiah
Peter then went on to interpret the facts he had laid out for his hearers. "Be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36).
The conclusion is so clearly correct that his hearers were "cut to the heart" and begged the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37) This question led into the last element of the apostolic preaching.
6. Repentance and faith
The word repent is a military term meaning make an about-face. The men to whom Peter spoke had refused to accept Jesus as Lord and Messiah. They had hesitated, then passively participated in His execution. Now they were asked to make a clear-cut commitment and symbolize their response of faith by public baptism. And if they did? Then everything that Jesus' death and resurrection promised would become theirs: full forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The God they had scorned would welcome even them and, entering their lives, fill them with power to launch out new lives.
So, "Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day" (Acts 2:41).
How vital and contemporary these messages are even today. You and I have been invited by God to enter a living relationship with the historical Jesus. The Son of God lived and died and was raised again, all in accordance with the Scripture, that He might today bring forgiveness and power for a new life to all who respond to Him as Lord and Christ. He will be with us, as He was with the first disciples, charging us with the power we need to witness to Him.
?? Link to Life 5: Youth / Adult
The author lists six elements found in apostolic preaching of the Gospel. List the six elements on the chalkboard. Have pairs work with Acts 2-3 to record phrases from each sermon by element.
When completed, develop a group list. Then discuss: "Which element seems most important for contemporary presentations of the Gospel? Why? How can we best communicate it to others today?"
Community: Acts 4
When Frank accepted Christ as his Saviour, his parents saw his conversion as a denial of their family religion. At first they argued and ridiculed. Then, as they sensed the depth of their teen's experience with Jesus, they increased the pressure. They offered Frank that set of expensive drums he'd wanted, if only he'd give up this nonsense! Finally, the Leparises locked their son out of the house. If he would not remain true to the family faith, he would be cut off.
The first exciting days of the church saw many experiences similar to Frank's. There was change and growth. And there was opposition. The contagious enthusiasm of those who believed in Jesus threatened the secure foundations of many people's religious convictions, and uneasy tolerance gave way to hostility. It was then that the little company of believers began to realize that the church was a new community, a community of men and women who could be closer than any family, and who could provide the kind of loving support that believers then—and believers now, like Frank—would always need.
Opposition to the message of a living Christ formed quickly. Peter's sermon, stimulated by the healing of the lame man (Acts 3), was only one instance of the disciples "teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead" (Acts 4:2). Soon some 5,000 men had joined the company of the committed. An annoyed clique of rulers and elders acted. They arrested Peter and John.
The confrontation (Acts 4:5-22)
Called before the ruling body of Judaism, the apostles were questioned about the miracle of healing which Peter had performed. Boldly, Peter responded. The miracle had been performed "by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead" (Acts 4:10). Only in Jesus, Peter went on to affirm, could salvation be found; there is no other name or way.
Such boldness from uneducated and common men stunned the elite group. Setting the apostles outside, the council conferred. There was no way to deny the public healing. Compromising, the rulers called Peter and John back and commanded them to stop all this talk about Jesus. Again speaking boldly, the two believers insisted that they would obey God rather than men. The frustrated rulers, unable to justify to the people any punishment of Peter and John, threatened them and let them go.
The fellowship of prayer (Acts 4:23-31)
At this point in time we are introduced to one of the most significant dimensions of the new community's life. Peter and John immediately "went back to their own people and reported" (Acts 4:23). In the brotherhood of the church, Peter and John found others who cared and with whom they could share. Immediately the whole company accepted the burden of the two as their own, and went to God in prayer.
Frank had many burdens to share with us too. There was tremendous pain for him, and often that pain brought tears. But he had Christian friends who cared—friends who would listen, who would encourage, and who joined with him in prayer. Frank discovered as a young Christian what the early church learned in its first adventurous days. A Christian is never alone! Not only has the risen Christ sent the Holy Spirit to be with us, but He has also knit us together in a community of fellowship and love.
This is one of the most important things we can learn as we begin our exploration of the New Testament. In the Scriptures we see portrayed a church in which those touched by Christ discover a new capacity to love and to care for one another. The church is more than a group of people who agree in their beliefs. The church is a family of brothers and sisters who experience the reality of Jesus' presence in and through their growing love for one another (cf. John 13:33-34). While some today have not tasted of that reality, this is a real and vital dimension of Christian experience. And God invites each one of us to reach out and know this touch of fellowship.
The text of Acts reports that as they prayed together "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly" (Acts 4:31). In the fellowship of prayer, God's power is poured again into our lives.
With one accord (Acts 4:32-37)
This is a passage that has captured the imagination of Christians across the ages. "All the believers were one in heart and mind" (Acts 4:32). Growing together, the early church experienced a unique unity. Possessions were sold by the rich, and the proceeds were distributed to the poor. The sense of oneness was so great that no selfish hesitation kept anyone from reaching out to meet another's need. Because concern for the brothers outweighed the value of material possessions, love's expression was both practical and free. "There were no needy persons among them" (Acts 4:34).
This early evidence of the reality of Christian community is not necessarily a standard for the church today. But it is not as unusual as we may think. In our own local church just this kind of expression of love often takes place. Yet, the impact of the passage is not to promote some form of "Christian communism," but rather to highlight the truth of the writer's statement, "All the believers were one in heart and mind."
We are called to oneness in our shared faith. Oneness with our brothers and sisters frees us to share ourselves as well as each other, to support each other in prayer, and to express love in many vital and practical ways.
?? Link to Life 6: Children
How do people in your local church show love for others by helping meet their needs? Many churches have a food pantry stocked for the poor. Others have "deacon's funds" to meet emergency needs. Still others collect clothing or make up food baskets for special times of the year. Why not see if your boys and girls can take part in one of your congregation's projects. Perhaps they can help stack food in the pantry, go along to help deliver baskets, etc. It is never too early to give boys and girls the chance to experience what it means to reach out in practical love to others who have needs.
Homothumadon: One Accord
A unique Greek word, used 10 of its 11 New Testament occurrences in the Book of Acts, helps us understand the uniqueness of Christian community. Homothumadon is a compound of two words meaning to "rush along" and "in unison." The image is almost musical; a number of notes are sounded which, while different, harmonize in pitch and tone. As the instruments of a great orchestra blend under the direction of a concertmaster, so the Holy Spirit blends together the lives of members of Christ's church.
The first use of homothumadon is found in Acts 1:14. There, in the Upper Room, the 11 disciples and a few women were united in prayer. Earlier strife and jealousies that marred their relationships were gone; the disciples were one, waiting for the Spirit's promised coming. Then in Acts 2:1 we see 120 believers gathered, focusing together on the Lord as they sensed the Spirit's first dynamic touch. The next occurrence is Acts 2:46, as the community (then some 3,000), "continuing daily with one accord [homothumadon] in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart" (kjv). Again in Acts 4:24 we see the whole company, moved by Peter and John's report, as they "lifted up their voice to God with one accord" (kjv). As those who are Jesus' own make Him the common focus of their lives and seek to help each other find the Holy Spirit's freedom in their lives, homothumadon becomes the mark of Christian community.
Sometimes we look back on these early chapters of Acts as though they picture a church that has been lost—as though unity and love and the experience of Jesus' presence are things that cannot really be ours today. Let's not make this mistake. God's Spirit is still a present reality. Homothumadon is still possible in today's shattered and impersonal world. If we look for a reason for emptiness in our own experience, let's look first to our hesitancy to share ourselves with our brothers and sisters. Or look to our failure to let others pick up the burdens of our lives, and bring them in confident prayer to God.
The church, the new community Christ formed, is here today. We are the church. And God, the Spirit, is able to take our 11s, and our 120s and our 3,000s and, as we joyfully focus our shared life on Jesus, to orchestrate our lives to His wondrous "one accord.
What goals does the early Acts picture of the church suggest you should set, and pray about, for your group and your own congregation?
1. Brainstorm with your group: "What would we expect to find in an ideal church?"
Compare what they suggest with the "ideal church" description the group has just brainstormed.
Then break into groups of five to discuss: "How do the two lists differ? How are they similar? What should we emphasize in our own relationships for our congregation to be as vital as that of the early church?"
1. Raise the question of how the early Jerusalem church became the kind of congregation described here. Divide into teams to explore the following themes and passages. Each team is to report to the group specific "to do" suggestions to strengthen the spiritual life of your group or congregation. The themes and passages are:
2. Or use any of the "link-to-life" teaching suggestions to focus on a theme of special concern to your own group. See "Link to Life 1", "Link to Life 4", and "Link to Life 5".
Have each person in your group share their completion of this sentence: "I am glad that our congregation is like the New Testament church in that it. . . ."