Gospel Reading Guide – November 14-20 2011

How do I use this guide?

Matthew 15:1-20

The law required faithful Jews to care for their parents in their old age, but oral tradition provided a way for selfish children to avoid this responsibility. By declaring all their property to be “corban”, given to God, they could tell their parents they had no money left to help them. Jesus placed His truust firmly on the biblical revelation and rejected the oral tradition which pious Jews believed was as binding as the law (Disciples Study Bible Notes).

What is the heart of the law? The law points us to how we love. Unless we’re motivated by love of God and neighbor, God is not interested.

Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus withdraws to an area foreign to him and the disciples. Tyre and Sidon were in Phonecia. Here we see a Canaanite woman from that region come out crying after Jesus.

Notice that Jesus tells the woman that he has only been sent to the lost sheep of Israel. Interestingly enough the woman is relentless in her quest to save her daughter from demonic oppression.

What is it about the Gentile Canaanite woman that makes Jesus decide to heal her daughter? What qualities go into somebody having saving faith? Jesus says the woman has great faith. What does great faith look like?

Matthew 15:29-39

What did the miracles lead the people to do? What does this passage say about Jesus? What does he provide? What motivates Jesus to want to feed them? What state does Jesus leave them in?

Matthew 16:1-12

It is important to note that Jesus only performed miracles for an urgent need, or if you had shown him faith, or he wanted to confirm your faith. What was at the heart of the Pharisees and Sadducees wanting a sign from Jesus? What is the sign of Jonah?

Jesus was very serious when he said beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Leaven was symbolic of sin in Jewish culture. What was at the heart of their teaching? What did they get wrong concerning Jesus?

Matthew 16:13-20

Once again Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man which is a reference to Daniel 7:13-14 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”

Here Jesus asks the question, “But who do you say that I am?” Who does Simon Peter reply that Jesus is? Who does Jesus say that revealed this to Simon Peter?

Why does Jesus name Simon Peter? What is the rock upon which Jesus will build his church?

This has been a hotly debated topic for centuries. The standard answer given here is that it is upon the confession of Peter that is the rock in which Jesus was speaking of. It is the confession that Jesus is the Messiah that is the foundation of what Jesus will build his church upon.

Matthew 16:21-28

Here Jesus is telling the disciples how he is going to to revealed as Messiah. How does Jesus walk in order to be revealed? What is Jesus’ expectation of his followers?

Verses 27-28 are linked to Daniel 7:13-14 which describes the coming of the Messianic kingdom. It is very closely linked with the Ascension of Jesus.

Luke 16:1-12

Why isn’t the master upset with the manager for giving away his possessions? Look at verses 11 and 12. What if it was the master’s intention to give his possessions all along? What does this story tell us if God is the master, we are the manager, and the king’s money is our worldly possessions? What does Jesus the master expect us to do with our possessions?

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Gospel Reading Guide – November 7-13, 2011

How do I use this guide?

Matthew 13:36-43

In Matthew 13:24-30 Jesus tells a short story or parable about a farmer who planted wheat in his field. That night, however, his enemy came and sowed weeds so that the weeds grew up among the wheat. The owner’s servants realized what happened and asked to pull the weeds, but the farmer refuses for fear of uprooting the good seed. The time for sorting the good from the bad will come at the harvest.

Jesus often told such stories to the crowds he preached to, but he explained them only to his disciples when they were alone. How does Jesus identify the farmer in the story? Note that “Son of Man” is a title taken from Daniel 7 is a title Jesus used for himself to assert that he was God himself (See Daniel 7:13-15). Who is the enemy? What is the harvest? Who are the weeds? Who are the wheat? What does this story tell us about the nature of a church? Should we expend energy trying to have a “pure church” today?

Matthew 13:44-52

Jesus continues to teach about the kingdom of God using four short parables (the kingdom of God is like …). What does the parable of the treasure in the field tell us about the value of Jesus’ message and the kingdom he came to establish? Notice that in the parable of the “pearl of great price” the kingdom is compared not the pearl, but to the merchant seeking the pearl. What does this tell us about the kingdom of God and the way of life Jesus gave us?

The parable of the fishing net repeats the same themes as the parable of the weeds (see yesterday’s notes). Who is it that gets caught up in the ‘nets’ of the kingdom of God? Do you think it is possible for someone to be involved in a church, serve even, and never become a true follower of Jesus? When and how will the true followers of Jesus be separated from the false ones?

In Jesus’ day, teachers of the law were a professional class whose job it was to study the Law of Moses and instruct the people in Israel as to the proper way to follow it. How is the kingdom of God consistent with the Old Testament Law? In what way is it something new?

Matthew 13:53-58

Why is Jesus rejected in his hometown? Consider this: Jesus was probably lived and worked as a carpenter in Nazareth for at least 15 years before he began his public ministry preaching the good news of the kingdom of God. Why does Jesus decide not to perform miracles? You might notice as you read the gospels that Jesus performed miracles as acts of compassion, or to confirm someone’s faith, but never to convince someone that he was God. He was to be glorified, not by acts of power, but by submitting himself to the cross and rising from the dead.

Matthew 14:1-12

Why had Herod decided to keep John the Baptist alive despite John’s public condemnation? What changes Herod’s mind? What motivates this guy? What fearful conclusion does Herod come to in verse 1 when hears reports of Jesus? Why? Think about similarities between John’s message and Jesus’ ministry (see Matthew chapter 3, especially verse 1).

Matthew 14:13-21

Jesus retreats to a solitary place upon hearing the news of John’s death. John was Jesus’ cousin after all. What does Jesus do for the crowds despite his grief? Why do you think Jesus puts his disciples on the spot by saying, “you give them something to eat.”? How do the disciples fail this simple test of faith?  What do we learn about Jesus through this miracle?

Matthew 14:22-36

As you read this story, consider the time frame. Jesus dismisses his disciples some time in the afternoon, but he does not rescue his disciples until the fourth watch of the night, that is the last quarter of the night before dawn. Why would Jesus deliberately allow his disciples to sail into a storm and why does Jesus wait so long? What is he doing while his disciples are sailing away to get caught in a storm? What do the disciples learn about themselves? What do they learn about Jesus?

One note on where Peter gets the crazy idea to get out of the boat. In the video Dust, Rob Bell points out that the aim of a Jewish rabbi (a religious teacher) was to teach his disciples  (students) not only what he knew, but to teach to them to do what he did. Peter is Jesus’ disciple, and so he takes this extraordinary step of faith and figures that he must learn walk on water as well. What causes Peter’s faith to fail?

Luke 14:12-24

Jesus turns the cultural expectations on throwing a party (a banquet) on its head. What motivates people to invite their friends, relatives and rich neighbors? Why should we invite the poor, crippled, lame, and the blind?

If you invite the A list, you’ve already been _________. If you invite those society rejects, you will be ________ in the future.

Consider this passage as you make plans for Thanksgiving this year.


New Testament Reading Guide – November 7-13, 2011

How do I use this reading guide?

Revelation 10:1-11

The opening of chapter 10 marks a change in John’s perspective of the vision. In chapter 4, John is invited into God’s heavenly throne room to see the world and world events from heaven’s perspective. Where is John’s new vantage point as chapter 10 opens?

A being called the “Angel of the LORD” appears at pivotal moments in the Old Testament stories. At times it is unclear whether the being is an angel or God himself. The same is true of the angelic being in Revelation 10. Based on what you read, what in the description of this being would lead you to believe that this person may be Christ himself? Compare the description of this being to the description of God in Revelation 4:2-5. Remember that number seven is symbolic of God’s perfection. Where have we seen rainbows before in the Bible? See Revelation 4:3-6 and Genesis 9:12-17. What does this angelic being announce?

Compare what happens to John to Ezekiel’s commissioning as a prophet in Ezekiel 3:1-15. Why is John asked to literally eat the words of God? How is this connected to his mission?

Revelation 11:1-19

God gives his commissioned prophet, John, the task of measuring the temple. The central question that needs to be answered is what is this temple that John measures (the measuring is symbolic of protection)?

It is important to remember that the book of Revelation is not a photograph of the future, but a God-inspired dream filled with Biblical images and symbols.  In chapter 11, there are several Biblical symbols that refer to God’s people, the church:

  • The temple. A temple is simply the place where God’s presence is concentrated. In the Old Testament the temple was the Tabernacle (a tent), and later the Temple in Jerusalem. With the coming of Jesus, the temple was Jesus himself (see John 2:19). After Christ ascended into heaven, the new place where God dwelled was in the hearts of Jesus’ followers (see Acts 2:1-4).
  • The two witnesses. John was commissioned to be God’s witness in chapter 10. Remember the scene where he ate God’s scroll in yesterday’s reading? John’s commissioning is one that has been given to all us. Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
  • The two olive trees and two lampstands. We’ve seen lampstands in the book of Revelation as symbols representing the church (see Revelation 1:20). The olive trees supply the oil for the lamps. See Zechariah chapter 4 to see an example of how these go two together.

There are some numeric symbols that refer to a periods of time.

  • 3 ½ years = 42 months = 1260 days. Throughout the Bible, 3 ½ is used to describe a signficant period of trouble. Verses five and six contain two references to the prophet Elijah: the fire that consumed his enemies and the drought that Elijah initiated through his prayers (see 2 Kings 17:1-4 and 2 Kings 1:1-5). That drought lasted 3 and ½ years (see James 5:17-18).

 Based on your understanding of the symbols in this vision, what message of hope does God promise John and the churches that faced persecution under the Romans? What does God promise to do for his church, symbolized by the temple, the witnesses, and the lampstand and olive trees? What will happen to the church even when their enemies finally triumph over them?

What hope do we have in the end, despite whatever suffering we might endure today?

If there is a central message to the church it is this: It will be a difficult life for the church serving as witnesses to Jesus Christ, but God will preserve you until the end. One day we will see the culmination of all our hopes and dreams:

Revelation 11:15 “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our LORD and of his Christ.”

Revelation 12:1-12

The scene shifts again and John sees a new vision that depicts human history. There are three central characters that must be identified: the woman giving birth, the child, and the dragon.

The woman. Compare John’s vision of the woman to Joseph’s dream recorded in Genesis 37:9-11. What images are present in both dreams? How did Joseph’s father, Jacob, interpret the images in his son’s dream? How does that shed light on the identity of the woman in Revelation 12? Based on the parallels between the two dreams and the details of the story that unfolds in chapter 12, we will identify the woman with God’s people. She is Israel before the coming of Jesus and the church after his coming.

The child. In the background of John’s dream is the promise God made to Adam and Eve. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your [the serpent – identified with the dragon in Revelation 12] offspring and hers; he [the child] will crush your head and you will strike his head.” (Genesis 3:15) Who is this offspring? None other than Jesus Christ, who will destroy the dragon and rule as king forever.

The dragon. The dragon throughout the Bible represents the kingdoms that opposed God’s people, but most importantly the power behind these kingdoms, Satan. John and his readers would have identified the dragon with Rome and the power behind Rome, the Devil.

What does the dragon attempt to do to the child when he is born? What event in Jesus’ life do you think this is referring to? When was Jesus snatched up into heaven? What happens to woman after the birth of the child?

Compare the 1260 days to the 1260 days that the witnesses are protected in chapter 11? What is God promising to do for his faithful people (Israel, the church) during this 3 ½ years of trouble (1260 days)? How would this give hope and courage to John and the seven churches receiving this revelation?

The name ‘Satan’ is actually a title meaning “prosecutor or accuser.” Before the coming of Christ where was Satan? Where is he now? Who has taken the prosecutor’s place (see Romans 8:31-34)? The opponents of the early Christians would have attributed their suffering to the fact that they had abandoned the gods of their ancestors. How does God explain the church’s present suffering? How is there hope despite the heartache they are experiencing?

Revelation 14:1-13

Throughout the book of Revelation the message has been clear, despite the present suffering, God will preserve his people and they will emerge victorious in the end. As chapter 14 opens we see a vision of our future hope. What symbol refers to Jesus? How is Jesus’ people, his church described? How is God’s ownership and protection of his people symbolized? Why are they singing and how did they learn the song? Who joins the singing? From last week you might remember that the 4 living creatures represents creation which reflects God’s glory and the elders, God’s people who have died and are now in the presence of the Lord.

(14:6-13) What role do the three angels play? What is their message to the unbelieving world? What is their message to the church? Think about John and his readers, think about all the Christians who suffer persecution. This is the central message of the book. Persevere today. Stay faithful today. God’s salvation is coming tomorrow.

Revelation 15:1-8

Chapter 15 starts a new vision and in this vision we see the familiar pattern: God judges the world (15:1, 15:5-8), God’s people are saved (15:2-4). The classic story of judgment and salvation echoes the Exodus story (see Exodus 7 – 15) where God rescued his people from slavery by bringing plagues and judgment on their oppressors, Egypt. Why do those who were victorious over the beast (Revelation 15:3) sing the same song that Moses and the Jews sang on the shores of the Red Sea (see Exodus 14-15)?

Revelation 17:1-14

It was Tolkien who said that evil cannot create, it can only mock the beauty that God has created. In chapter 14, we saw God’s people depicted as a woman. The woman in chapter 17, the whore of Babylon, is a mockery of the bride of Christ, the church. The beast, Satan,mocks the Lamb of God.

How does the life trajectory of the beast in verse 8 mock the life story of Jesus, the Lamb of God? What is the woman’s relationship with the kings of the earth and to the beast? What are the kings relationship to the beast? Is the woman wealthy or poor? What is she drunk on? Who is seduced by the beast?

Who will the kings of the earth, the woman, and the beast make war against? How is John and the seven churches who originally received the book of Revelation already feeling the effects of this war?

Acts 24:10-21

While Jesus was with the apostles he gave them this promise:

Matthew 10:18 On my [Jesus’] account you will be brought before governors and kings and be witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

This is Paul’s moment to see Jesus’ promise fulfilled. Arrested in Jerusalem. Falsely accused by the Jews of starting a riot by bringing an uncircumcised Gentile into the temple, Paul has been brought before Governor Felix and after the Jewish authorities made their case, Paul is summoned to make his defense.

What word does Paul use to describe the Christian faith in verse 14? Why is this significant for us?

How does Paul connect his new faith in Jesus Christ to the faith of his birth, Judaism? How does Paul view the Jewish Scriptures (the Law and the Prophets)? Is his hope the same or different from the hope of Judaism? How does Paul explain the charges that have been brought against him?


Old Testament Reading Guide – November 7-13, 2011

How do I use this reading guide?

Read our own homegrown commentary on Ezra and Nehemiah. 

Nehemiah 6:1-19 

Evidently Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem the Arab must have thought Nehemiah was a moron for they tried to lure him to Ono which is somewhere outside of Jerusalem. It would never have occurred to Nehemiah that there might be something amiss meeting with three of his enemies. These people could not defeat Nehemiah with a frontal assault so they tried a more subtle approach.

What new approaches does Sanballat take to sabotage the rebuilding of Jerusalem? What qualities Nehemiah possess, as a leader and a man of God? Is he merely a nice man, or is there something more to him?

As the pressure from Sanballat intensifies, how does Nehemiah respond? Where does Nehemiah’s courage originate?

What happens to Israel’s enemies, once the walls of Jerusalem were completed?

Nehemiah 12:27-47 

What do you notice about the way the Jews celebrate the completion of the wall? The Levites, or many of them, had taken to live outside the walls of Jerusalem; most of these people were the singers.  Centuries before David had appointed that an important faction of the Levites would be those appointed to sing and to tend to the music (see 1 Chronicles 25).

What practices are reinstated once the celebration is over?

Nehemiah 13:1-22 

Eliashib was, unfortunately, related to Tobiah – unfortunate for Eliashib that is.  Perhaps now that Nehemiah has returned to Susa to see the king Tobiah will be able to execute his master plan.  You may recall that Tobiah, along with Sanballat and some Arab (Geshem by name) had conspired to bring down all activity in Jerusalem.  Tobiah took this opportunity and his close relational connection to Eliashib to move his quarters into the temple itself.

What reforms begin to erode in Nehemiah’s absence? Why were these problems significant? How does Nehemiah, God’s great leader, attack the problems he encounters?

The exclusion of the Ammonites and Moabites from the temple may sound ethnocentric to us, even racist. But notice the reason. These peoples had opposed the people of God from the very beginning. They tried to obstruct them as they entered the Promised Land and Tobiah, the Ammonite, opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple from the very beginning.

Ezra 7:1-26 

This chapter begins with the introduction of Ezra and it recounts his rather impressive genealogy which numbers among it such heroes as Hilkiah (the chief priest during the time of Josiah – who held Judah together during Josiah’s minority – see 2 Kings 22), Phinehas the son Eleazar who received honorable mention from God as being instrumental in staying the LORD’s plague against Israel (in Numbers 25), and perhaps most notably, Aaron the brother of Moses.  Let’s just say that Ezra comes from good stock.  Like so many before him, Ezra enjoyed the LORD’s favor.

Why is Ezra’s background and the role he will play in Jerusalem vital to the rebuilding efforts? How does Artaxerxes, the King of Persia, serve God’s purpose and pave the way for Ezra’s mission? It was believed that a defeated people pointed to a defeated God. How does God prove once again that he is still God even when his people are in exile? 

Artaxerxes’ reason for such generosity is purely self-serving: he wants to get on the LORD’s good side: “What ever is decreed by the God of heaven, let it be done in full for the house of the God of heaven, lest his wrath be against the realm of the king and his sons.” (Ezra 7:23 ESV emphasis added)

Ezra 7:27-28; 8:21-36

How does Ezra explain the favor and blessings he has received from the king? Why does Ezra refuse the king’s offer of an armed escort for their journey to Jerusalem? How do they “provide” for their own defense? What do the exiles do upon arriving in Jerusalem?

It is not insignificant that the 12 bulls for all Israel are offered but yet only three tribes are represented here (Levites, Judah, and Benjamin). There was always a kinship among all the tribes of Israel particularly when it came to worship. (You may remember that the first king of the Northern Tribe [Israel] Jeroboam I set up the golden bulls – one in the north at Dan and the other in the south at Bethel – just so that the people would not have to go to Jerusalem to worship and thus limit defection to Judah.)

Verse 36 tells us that once Ezra delivered the edict to the king’s satraps (like governors) and governors in “the province Beyond the River, they aided the people and the house of God.” (Ezra 8:36 ESV)

Ezra 9:1-15 

“When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you … and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them and show no mercy to them, then you must devote them to complete destruction.  You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.  Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. (Deuteronomy 7:1-4 ESV emphasis added)  [Well, maybe not so quickly. – j.t.]

From at least the time of Solomon, intermarriage with non-Israelites had been at the root of all of the evils that had pervaded the land. As indicated above in Deuteronomy, the infection results in idolatry. Because Ezra can read, he must have familiarized himself with the relative recent history of Israel (from the time of the tearing of the kingdom until the Babylonian Captivity). Prophet after prophet had proclaimed the word of the LORD regarding the national sin of idolatry which they linked to the intermarriage of the people with the heathen. Solomon, the wisest of the kings, was ensnared by idolatry.

Was nothing learned by the dispersion and the captivity? The Northern Tribes were dispersed and managed to lose their tribal identity. The prophets had continually warned both Israel and Judah that the LORD would cast them out of his sight because of idolatry. I wish I had Ezra’s sensitivity about my own sin as he had for his people.

Why does Ezra respond the way he does to the news of widespread intermarriage between the Jews and the neighboring peoples? 

Romans 8:34 Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us?

How does Ezra the priest play the role of Jesus the High Priest for the remnant of Israel?

Ezra 10:1-17

How does Ezra’s repentance inspire the people around him? How does the repentant hearts of the people move them to take action?