God's Everlasting Love

Notes for March 30-31
Romans 8:31-39    

Biblical Background

  • God is for His people:  Throughout the Old Testament, the writers often spoke of God being “for” or “with” His people (Ps. 56:9; Is 33;21; Ez 34:30).  God takes on the cause of those who are a part of His flock or nation.

  • Inherit all things:  Abraham was told that he would inherit the land – this was interpreted by the rabbis to mean that the descendants of Abraham would one day be given the entire earth or all things.  This idea of the people of God being given someday the entire earth or all things could refer to the new heaven and the new earth in which the elect are given the new earth to care for and subdue.

  • Day of Atonement:  In Judaism, the Day of Atonement is the day in which God foreshadowed the eventual atonement of sin in which He took on the sins of the world through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.  God the Father, out of His great love for us, gave His most treasured Son, to die for us. God has vindicated, justified and set us free by His own work on our behalf.

  • Hardship Lists and Martyrdom:  This was a common literary approach to demonstrate the trials and tribulations one had endured.  In this case, Paul is giving us a list of hardships and trials, stating that none of these things can separate us from God’s love whether it be persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or death by the sword.  In other words, even martyrdom would not separate us from God.

  • Powers of Evil:  Principalities, fallen angels or demons, ruling powers in this passage are the forces of evil which come against the believer.  None of these will keep God’s love from reaching us, as nothing can separate us from God’s love.

  • Height and Depth:  This could refer to the heavens and space (Heights) and the ocean and earth below (Depths) and is the image that we can never get far enough away that God’s love can’t reach us.

  • Chiasm in VV. 35-39:  Paul has put together a literary structure (poetic form) in these verses in which there are parallel verses with a midpoint:

v. 35a:  Who shall separate us from Christ’s love

v. 35b - 36: Shall tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, sword, killed, sheep to be slaughtered?

v. 37:  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors

 v. 38 – 39b:  For I’m certain, neither death, life, angels, rulers, things present or future, powers, height, depth

 v. 39b: none of this will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the questions being asked in this passage?  Write them out.

  2. Now what answers does Paul give to each of these questions?

  3. Why does Paul raise these questions and then answer them? What is he trying to communicate?

  4. How might the forces and hardships in vv. 38-39 try to interfere with our trust in God’s love for us?

  5. Give examples as to how these forces may have disrupted your trust in God or been used to cast doubt in other people’s lives about God’s love for them.

  6. How have you seen God at work in the midst of trials, and evil forces that have worked against you and your faith?

  7. How can our faith in God and His love for us grow when attacked or in the midst of hardships? Explain and Give Examples.

  8. What is Paul’s message to us from this passage?

  9. How can this message of God’s undying, all-pursuing, conquering love for us reach our hearts and minds?

  10. How does this message that nothing can separate you from Christ’s love impact the way that you pray, live, and share your faith?

  11. What does it mean to be “more than conquerors through Christ Jesus”?

  12. How might you communicate this message of God’s overpowering love for others to people in your family, neighborhood, church, and workplace?

  13. How has this passage encouraged you?

The Promise and Warning About Christ’s Return

Notes for March 23-24
Matthew 25:31-46    

Biblical Background

  • The Son of Man:  Daniel 7:13-14 states that “the Son of Man” will come to earth and have dominion over all things.  Here Jesus is stating that He is the Son of Man and He will come to judge and rule over all the earth. This is a strong Messianic title.

  • Sheep and Goats:  In biblical times sheep and goats would graze together during the day, however, the shepherds would separate the sheep and goats at night since the goats needed to be together to stay warm in an enclosure while the sheep preferred the open air.  Sheep were also more valuable than goats as their wool could be harvested as well as their meat and so they were cared for more carefully than goats. Thus the symbolism of the sheep and the goats being separated for judgment would not have been missed by the 1st century audience.

  • Right and Left Side:  In the Middle East, the right side is the place of honor at the table. As well, the right place is the side of the righteous and the left for those who are wicked when it comes to judgment. Jesus is always spoken of as sitting or standing on the right hand side of the Father as a sign of honor.

  • Righteous Deeds:  The acts of kindness and charity that Jesus describes are all parts of Jewish morality and religious life, although visiting those in prison wasn’t usually included.

  • Brothers and Sisters:  In the context of this passage in Matthew – the brothers and sisters are those who are followers of Jesus.  Thus there is a blessing that comes from caring for those who are Christians.

  • All Nations Judged: In the Old Testament, God is the judge of all nations, and sometimes nations are judged by the way they treat Israel.  In this case, people are judged by the way they treat followers of Jesus, those who make up the Church.

Discussion Questions

  1. Who is the “Son of Man”?  What is His role in this story?

  2. What are the six actions that Jesus uses to judge people?

  3. What type of actions are these and for whom are they done?

  4. How do these actions benefit the person being served? The person serving?

  5. How are the people who do the acts of service the same as those who don’t? How are they different?

  6. Who are “the least of these” in this story? Today in our society?

  7. What does this story teach us about our responsibilities as followers of Jesus?

  8. What are the judgments of the Son of Man in this story? Where do people end up?

  9. What are the warnings given in this passage?

  10. How would you summarize the teaching of Jesus in this passage?

  11. When you were in need – hungry, sick, in prison, etc… - was there anyone who reached out to you? If so, describe how you felt?

  12. What are the promises given in this passage?

  13. Where does out church meet the needs of people in these six areas mentioned by Jesus?

  14. Where do you feel called to serve the needs of others? Are there places that you’ve been avoiding to serve? If so, why?

The Promise and Warning about Unity and Oneness

Notes for March 16-17
Matthew 19:1-12    

Biblical Background

  • Deuteronomy 24:1-4:  This was the Old Testament passage debated by the Jewish teachers of the law regarding divorce. There were differing points of view. The school of Shammai argued that only on grounds of infidelity could a man divorce his wife.  The school of Hillel was on the opposite side of the pendulum and argued that a man could divorce a woman for nearly any reason including burning the toast! Another commentator suggested that you divorce your wife if you found a more attractive woman.

  • Proof texting:  In Jewish debate, one would find a biblical text to back your argument and then build a case of proof texts upon one another.  Jesus does this in his response by going back to Genesis 2:24 as the grounding for his answer.  This also showed Jesus’ trust in the authority of Scripture as God’s Word.

  • Concession:  Jewish law allowed for “concessions,” areas of law in which something could be done as a way to control and regulate life, even if it wasn’t the ideal.  Jesus uses this idea of “concession” in his statement regarding divorce.  Divorce is never the ideal, however, in certain cases, due to the hardness of men’s hearts and sin, it is allowed in certain situations. 

  • Jesus’ defense of women:  The teachers of the law made it very difficult for a woman to divorce her husband, whereas it had become very easy for a husband to divorce his wife.  Jesus’ position on divorce protects women from men who took divorce for granted and would easily divorce their wife and leave her destitute. His position puts men and women on equal grounding in these cases.

  • Arranged Marriages: Just as it is in many parts of the Middle East and India today, marriages in the biblical world were typically arranged by the parents.

  • Jesus on singleness:  In the biblical world, marriage was the norm, however, Jesus upholds the value of singleness.  He describes those who are born without sexual organs (eunuchs by birth), and also the practice that was abhorrent to the Jews, but used by other Middle Eastern cultures in which they would castrate a man to make him a eunuch so that they could be trusted in the courts around the kings’ harems. Jesus describes another type of singleness in which someone commits themselves to the work of the God’s kingdom and doesn’t marry in order to devote themselves to that work.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is this question something that people ask today? Why? What was the motive behind the Pharisee’s question to Jesus? 

  2. How did Jesus respond to their question? Did he answer it directly? Why not?

  3. What is the central point of the OT passages that Jesus quoted? Then what was Jesus’ answer to the Pharisee’s question?

  4. Based on the Pharisee’s follow-up to Jesus’ response, what do you think was their position on divorce?

  5. How would it have benefited the Pharisees to trick Jesus in to opposing Moses’ teaching?

  6. How did Jesus reveal Moses’ real intention for allowing divorce?

  7. What did Jesus mean in verse 9? Is divorce always adultery? What exception is given?

  8. What is Jesus’ position on divorce and remarriage?

  9. Should a divorced person be forgiven? Why or why not?

  10. What do you think the disciples meant by their response “Then no one should marry.”?

  11. Why should some renounce marriage for the kingdom of God? What does this mean?

  12. How does this passage apply to singleness, marriage, divorce & remarriage today?

  13. What is the warning in this passage?

  14. What is the promise in this passage?

The Promise and Warning about God’s Care

Notes for March 9-10
Matthew 6:25-34    

Biblical Background

  • Food, Clothing & Shelter: In the biblical world, most people lived in rural areas and didn’t have much beyond the basic necessities of life.  Thus, when famines, storms, military occupation, or other difficulties hit, one’s very existence was at stake.  Food, shelter and clothing were not taken for granted and there was much to stress about.

  • How much more: In Jewish teaching, one tool used was to compare and contrast with the expression, “how much more…”   If God cared for even the little flowers in the field, how much more would he be concerned about human beings. 

  • Perhaps purple flowers: Some have wondered if the flowers that would have matched the purple robe of Solomon and other royals would have been the purple anemones.

  • Hot summers: The beautiful flowers and green grasses of a Galilean spring time are quickly burned up by the hot summer sun in Israel.

  • The Gentiles seek after these things: Jesus is making a point in saying that the Gentiles (viewed as unclean by the Jews) sought after material things in contrast to the ways that people who know God shouldn’t have to worry about those things, but trust their God to provide.

  • Tomorrow: Following the days of Jesus, other Jewish writers used a similar expression about not worrying about tomorrow because today has enough troubles of its own. 

Discussion Questions

  1. What command does Jesus give to his disciples in this passage?

  2. Why would the people in Jesus’ day been anxious about having enough food, clothing or shelter?

  3. What do we worry about in our world today?

  4. What is the “why” that Jesus gives for not being anxious about things?

  5. Why is it important to know that God takes care of wild flowers?

  6. How valuable are human beings compared to the rest of creation?

  7. What does anxiety or worry demonstrate about us?

  8. What is our Heavenly Father’s character like? How does Jesus use this in his argument?

  9. How should we as Christians be different from the non-Christians in our world regarding worry? Is this the case? Why or why not?

  10. How much time do we spend worrying about stuff?

  11. What is the warning in this passage?

  12. What is the remedy to anxiety for the Christian?

  13. What does it mean to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness?

  14. How does this passage connect to the Lord’s Prayer?

  15. What is the promise in this passage?

  16. How can we live out Jesus’ command not to worry?

The Promise and Warning about Giving

Notes for March 2-3
Matthew 6:1-4    

Biblical Background

  • The Three components of Jewish Piety:  In 1st century Judaism, prayer, fasting and giving were the three foundational ways that one could express one’s pursuit of God and desire to serve others.  Jesus takes these three spiritual practices or habits and gets to the root of their motivation while at the same time encouraging his followers to continue practicing these important means of loving God and neighbor.

  • Rewards and Spiritual Habits:  Jesus confirms the teachings of the Old Testament that encourage prayer, fasting and giving to the poor – recognizing that the while God may reward these practices in both earthly and heavenly ways, the reward is not the reason for doing them.

  • Jewish vs. Greek giving:  In pagan Greek circles, giving wasn’t done for the purpose of charity or out of the idea of loving your neighbor, rather giving was done as a means for promoting one’s agenda politically, buying favors or getting in good with the gods. Thus, giving was done publicly in a way to call attention to one’s self.  This is in opposition to Jewish teaching which Jesus affirms and then takes to an even deeper level.

  •   Trumpets:  These were used in public parades and other ceremonies to call attention to the fact that a dignitary was arriving.  This image of calling attention to oneself is used by Jesus to magnify the issue.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does it mean to practice one’s righteousness?  Is this a good or bad thing? Why or why not?

  2. What is the key principle that Jesus is introducing in verse 1?

  3. Who is the person that sees our acts of righteousness and has the power to reward us for them?

  4. How does knowing that God sees all (both our sin and our acts of righteousness) impact the way in which we live our lives? 

  5. Why is it important to know the character and nature of God when discussing good deeds, righteousness and things like this?

  6. Notice that Jesus describes God as our Father in this passage.  What is important about that?

  7. What warning does Jesus give in regards to doing good deeds or “acts of righteousness”?

  8. What is a hypocrite?  Share some examples without attacking anyone.

  9. Why do we like to be praised for our good deeds and giving? 

  10. Why do some churches put up memorial plaques in people’s honor for giving money to the church?  Should they do this or not according to this passage of Scripture?

  11. What warning does Jesus give about giving?

  12. How do these warnings impact the way you think about your good deeds or giving to the poor? How do these warnings change the way that you practice good deeds and give?

  13. Where does our reward come from when we give in secret? How does this compare to the rewards we receive when giving publicly for others to see?

  14. Are there appropriate times to give publicly? If so, explain giving biblical precedent.

  15. Watch the video: “Rock Pointe: A Church Giving Beyond Its Resources” and discuss.

The Promise and Warning about Forgiveness

Notes for Feb. 23-24
John 8:1-11    

Biblical Background

  • Was this passage in the original manuscript of John?:  You will find a note in your Bible typically just before John 7:53 which states something like, “The earliest manuscripts do not include John 7:53 – 8:11”.  There is a scholarly discipline called “Textual Criticism,” in which “textual critics” compare the ancient copies that we have of the books of the Bible and seek to determine what was in the original manuscripts – in this case the Gospel written by the Apostle John.  Fortunately, we have more ancient copies of the New Testament books than any other piece of ancient literature.  This includes complete books, pieces of books, etc...  By comparing these copies side by side, over time scholars have been able to determine with a very high degree of certainty what the original handwritten Gospel of John and other books of the Bible actually contained.  Both liberal and conservative scholars agree that we can be certain of 99% of the original words of the Greek New Testament.  The 1% of words or phrases that may have multiple possibilities are very minor in importance, not affecting the doctrine of Scripture or the teachings of the apostles.  There are a few passages like this one in John 7:53 – 8:11 that are footnoted.  In our passage today, most of the copies of the Gospel of John contain this passage, however, the oldest manuscripts that are still in existence today do not contain this passage.  Thus, it is debated as to whether or not this passage was in the original manuscript written by John.  Most scholars believe that it is an authentic event and may have been in the original, but since the oldest manuscripts don’t have it, they add this textual note.

  • Mount of Olives:  This location is opposite on the mount/hill opposite the temple, just across the Kidron valley.  This is where the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus was located and other friends of Jesus lived there. One would only need to walk down from the Mt. of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane area and then back up to the temple mount area to arrive at the temple.

  • Adultery:  The Jewish law required the death penalty for cases of adultery (the breaking of one of the Ten Commandments) and the execution of this sin was stoning.  (Leviticus 20:10-11).   This may seem harsh to us today, but the Levitical law of the Old Testament was far more gracious and lenient than the laws of the surrounding cultures which were far crueler and lacked a sense of balance in the justice being measured out.  The sin of adultery tore apart the fabric of families and is also the analogy that God uses for the nation of Israel when they are unfaithful to him.  Of course, God shows mercy to the adulteress (Israel) throughout the Old Testament, most strikingly in the book of Hosea. Jesus is representing his Father’s mercy and ethos in dealing with sinners, like those in the nation of Israel and in the church today.

  • Witnesses and Stoning:  Witnesses were typically the first to throw stones at the convicted, however, false witnesses were served notice that if their testimony was found to be false that they could receive the same punishment that they were about to inflict (See Deuteronomy 17:7; 19;9).

  • What did Jesus write in the sand?:  There has been much speculation about what Jesus wrote in the sand – whatever it was, it made an impact on the men in the crowd as they were confronted with their own sin.  God wrote the Ten Commandments with His finger, so Jesus, being fully God and fully man is writing with His finger – a subtle sign of His deity. 

  • Jesus doesn’t condone sin:  Jesus demonstrates forgiveness of sin to the woman, but also is clear to her, “go and from now on, sin no more.”  He calls her sin and the sin of the man a sin, but he offers a new path of freedom and grace.

Discussion Questions

  1. Where does this event take place?  Why is this significant?

  2. What is Jesus doing when the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law bring the woman to him? Why is this significant?

  3. What is the purpose of the question of the Pharisees to Jesus?

  4. Describe the trap that the Pharisees have set for Jesus. What would be the consequences of what appears to be two choices for Jesus?

  5. Read Leviticus 20:10-11.  Does the law say that only the woman should be stoned for adultery?  What does the law say?

  6. Why would the sin of adultery be such an egregious sin against God and against the community?

  7. How do we view adultery today in our culture? In the church?

  8. What do you think the woman was feeling in this situation?

  9. What was Jesus writing in the sand in response to the men’s question? What impact did it have on the men accusing the woman?

  10. Who also in Scripture wrote word with His finger?  Why is this significant? (Clue- The Ten Commandments)

  11. What did Jesus say to the crowd?  Why did it have such power? Who gave Jesus the authority to say something like this?

  12. What is the warning that Jesus gives the crowd?

  13. What are the promise and the warning that Jesus gives to the woman?

  14. What can we learn for ourselves from this story? For our church?

  15. How does knowing Jesus help us when we are caught in sin?

  16. How can we help those who are caught in sin?

The Promise and Warning about the Holy Spirit

Notes for Feb. 9-10
John 14:15-26     

Biblical Background

  • Holy Spirit in the Old Testament:  Jesus’ disciples, with an understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures would have seen the Spirit of God at work in the creation (Genesis 1:2); in empowering leaders (Judges 3:10); inspiring artists (Exodus 35:31); and inspiring prophets (Numbers 11:29; Micah 3:8).  Joel prophesied that the Spirit would be poured out on all people someday (Joel 2:28-32); and anoint the Messiah (Isaiah 11:2; 42:1).  The Spirit is also mentioned in the Psalm 51:11. 

  • Spirit of Truth: The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Jewish Essene community just prior to Jesus’s days on earth contrasted the Spirit of truth vs. the spirit of error.

  • Orphans in Bible times:  Orphans were always at risk in Bible times as without family members, they would be forced to fend for themselves.  Families were the key to getting one’s basic needs met. 

  • Judas, not Iscariot:  Judas was a common name in the 1st century (coming from the tribe of Judah).  This Judas was also known as Thaddeus in Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18.  It was common for people to be called by different names as it is today.  Peter the apostle was also known as Simon.

  • Israel and the commandments:  Israel had been given a special revelation from God and had the Law -  the commandments by which to live.  However, without the power of the Spirit of God it is impossible to obey the commandments.

  • Love and Obedience:  If we love Jesus will obey Him, through the power of the Spirit – the Helper.

Discussion Questions

  1. How can we best demonstrate our love for Jesus Christ?

  2. Why do you think this idea is repeated numerous times in this passage?

  3. Why does obedience to Jesus’s commands demonstrate our love for him?  Explain

  4. In what way does the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) reflect the connection between love and obedience?

  5. What can we assume if people who call themselves Christians are willfully disobeying Jesus’ teaching and living in counter to His commands?

  6. What warnings are in this passage?  How do they change the way you think about your own life, the lives of others?

  7. What promises are in this passage?  How do they change the way you think about your own life, the lives of others?

  8. How does Jesus set an example for us in obedience and love?

  9. What do we learn about the Holy Spirit in this passage? List His roles and attributes found in this passage.

  10. Knowing the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives, how does this encourage you?

  11. What is the relationship between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit as seen in this passage?

  12. What is the difference between the way God gives peace and the world views peace?

  13. Who is the prince of the world?  What power does he have over Jesus according to this passage?  Why is this important to know as a believer?

  14. What hope do you get from this passage?  What practical application does it have for your life today?

  15. How can you share this hope with others this week?

The Promise and Warning about Heaven

Notes for January 26-27
John 14:1-14   

Biblical Background

  • “Do not fear:  Jesus echoes the command heard throughout the Old Testament – Don’t be afraid, (don’t let your hearts be troubled) but rather believe in God.

  • Believe in me:  Jesus is clearly claiming to be God with this statement.

  • Homes in Israel:  In the biblical world, families often lived in a multi-generational situation.  When a child got married, the father would build another set of rooms around the courtyard of the family compound so that his children and grandchildren would have a place to live near him. This may be the background to Jesus’ statements that, “In My Father’s House there are many rooms… I go to prepare a place for you.”

  • I will come again: Jesus will ascend after the resurrection and prepare a place for His disciples. Then He will return and bring them all into his heavenly home.

  • Thomas the apostle:  The Gospel of John mentions Thomas often in various stories, whereas in the other Gospels, he is only mentioned as one of the Twelve. Thomas was the disciple who was always asking for clarification and is the one who got the moniker in church history as “doubting Thomas.”  In many ways, this is unfair, as once Thomas believed, he went on to share the Gospel with many and is renowned as the person who took the Gospel to India.

  • Philip:  Philip was from Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee and knew the region well. This apostle, is a different Philip from the one mentioned in Acts who was a deacon in the early church.

  • Disciples asked questions of rabbis for clarification: Jewish teaching uses questions both from the rabbi and the disciples to clarify and learn.  The mind is more active when asking question than when just listening without any interaction.  Jesus encourages questions and uses them as a teaching tool.

  • The Way, The Truth and The Life: Jesus affirms that He is the only way to God.  The exclusivity of Jesus’ claim puts him in a position different from all other religious leaders.  This is a central tenet of Christian faith and also the reason that it is so important to share the Good News of Christ with others – there is no other way by which they may be saved.

Discussion Questions

  1. Jesus has just told the disciples that He will be leaving them.  What does Jesus tell them to do in response to his upcoming departure?

  2. What is Jesus saying about Himself when He says, “Believe in God; believe in me.”?  What are the implications for you as you read this?

  3. Where is Jesus going?  What is the purpose for His imminent departure from the disciples?

  4. What do we learn about heaven – the place that Jesus is going – from this passage?

  5. What is Thomas asking Jesus? Put it in your own words

  6. What is Jesus’ answer? Put it in your own words.

  7. What is Jesus’ warning inherent in his answer to Thomas? How does this affect my life today

  8. What is the promise in Jesus’ answer inherent in his answer to Thomas? How does this affect the way I live?

  9. What is Philip’s question? Put it in your own words.

  10. What is Jesus’ point about His relationship with the Father? Why is this important?

  11. What evidence does Jesus give for His claims?

  12. What are the promises in vv. 12-14 that Jesus makes to His disciples – you and me?

  13. What would be your response to a colleague or neighbor who made the statement, “There are many ways to God.”  Or “All religions lead to God.”

  14. Knowing that putting one’s trust in Jesus is the only way to get to heaven, how does this change the way in which you live your life? Share the truth of the Gospel with others?

  15. Pray that the Lord would give you an opportunity to tell someone this week about Jesus and His claim to be the way, the truth and the life.

The Promise and Warning About Fruitful Living

Notes for January 26-27
John 15:1-17   

Biblical Background

  • “Abide”:  This word in the Greek is the verb form of “dwelling place.” In the Old Testament God promises to dwell with His people – the people who are obedient to the covenant (Ex. 25:8; Ezekiel 37:27-28)

  • Israel/Jesus’ Disciples as a Vineyard or Vine:  The imagery of God’s people as a vineyard or vine can be seen in the Old Testament (Hosea 10:1; Psalm 80:8).  The clear meaning of this picture is that Jesus’ disciples (the branches) are dependent for their strength, nourishment and life from Jesus (the Vine).

  • Dead Branches:  A good farmer or gardener removes the dead branches from the plants and burns them.  This is a graphic reminder that those who choose not to trust Jesus with their life will lose it. There is a punishment for turning away from God – eternal separation in hell.

  • Joy:  Joy comes from obeying and following God’s commandments as a response to God’s love for us.  The world tells us otherwise, but God’s ways bring true fulfillment and joy in life.

  • Greek and Roman Stories:  Greek and Roman literature viewed the act of dying for one’s friend as heroic and was the greatest act of friendship. An example is story in which Pythias offered to be killed in place of his friend Damon, or the story in which Achilles goes into battle to avenge the death of his best friend Patroclus.  These heroic friendship stories would have been known by many within the Hellenistic Jewish community.

  • Friendship in Roman times:  The Greeks and Romans valued friendship and emphasized an equality of standing and ability to share intimately with others. Loyalty was the primary attribute of friendship in this culture. Servants were not considered on the same level as a friend.

  • Friends of God:  In the Old Testament, Abraham and Moses were called, “friends of God,” attesting to their intimate relationship with God.

  • Jewish rabbis didn’t choose their disciples – Jesus did:  In 1st century Judaism, disciples would choose the rabbi that they wanted to follow.  In Jesus’ case, however, he chose his disciples – he took the initiative.

  • Chosen by God:  Judaism emphasized the idea that the Jewish people were the “chosen people,” those chosen by God to represent God to the world.

Discussion Questions

  1. In the analogy of the Vinedresser, the Vine and the Branches, identify who Jesus is talking about. Then take time to discuss the role of each person in this analogy?

  2. What does it mean for a disciple of Jesus to bear fruit? What does this look like?

  3. How do we abide in Jesus Christ?

  4. Why would God cut off those who do not abide in Jesus Christ?

  5. What warning is being given here to those who decide not to follow Christ? How is this message perceived in our culture today?

  6. How are you responding to this warning?

  7. What is the blessing that can come from abiding in Jesus?  What does this look like?

  8. What is Jesus’ commandment to his disciples?

  9. How did Jesus love his disciples? Give examples

  10. What can we learn from Jesus’ love for his disciples?

  11. How can you and I lay down our lives for our friends on a daily basis?

  12. What does it mean to you to be a friend of Jesus? How does this affect your everyday life?

  13. How does it make you feel to know that Jesus chose you rather than the other way around?

  14. Why would Jesus tell us to ask the Father for things?  How did Jesus model this?

  15. Share examples in which you have seen people lay down their lives for others as Christ commanded.

The Promise and Warning About Eternal Life

Notes for January 19-20
John 3:16-21  

Biblical Background

  • Only Son (Only Begotten Son): the Greek words mean “special, beloved,” and were often refer in Jewish literature to Isaac in regards to Abraham’s willingness to offer up his “special, and beloved” son.

  • Eternal Life: The Greek can be literally translated, “the life of the world to come.”

    Present Tense of “Have Eternal Life”: This indicates that the person who trusts Jesus Christ immediately is in a state of eternal life – it is immediately applied to the present.

  • God’s Sacrifice of His Son: There is nothing that can compare to the sacrifice which God has made on behalf of humankind through Jesus Christ. His love is immeasurable and infinite as expressed in a number of passages in the Hebrew Scriptures including: (Ex. 34:6-7; Hosea 11:1-4).

  • Light and Darkness: Jewish literature often contrasted the darkness of evil with the light of God. The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Essene Community in the 1st Century BC reflect this concept.

  • He who is from above: All human beings originate from earth –God comes from above.

  • Signet Rings: In 1st Century times, men would officially testify to something by pouring hot wax on a document and then pressing their signet ring into the wax – making their mark and authenticating their witness to the document.

  • He Who Gives the Spirit without measure: Only God has unlimited authority to give the Spirit of God

  • The Son as Judge: The Son has authority to judge and to send people to heaven or hell. Jesus is an awesome Person to be reckoned with.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you learn about the character of God from verses 16-18?

  2. What does God want to do?

  3. How is a person condemned? What does it mean to be condemned?

  4. Why is important to know about the possibility of condemnation for a human being before Almighty God?

  5. Why are people today, even in the church sometimes, shy about talking about the judgment of God?

  6. What is the condition for being saved from condemnation? How does one do this?

  7. What does it mean that Light has come into the world?

  8. Why do people love darkness and doing evil? Have you ever loved doing evil? Why or Why not?

  9. What is the indication that a person has trusted Jesus Christ? 

  10. How can we discern whether or not a person has given their lives to Jesus Christ? What should we see? What if we don’t see signs of the Light in the actions of a person?

  11. In verse 31, who is the one who comes from above?

  12. What power and authority has Jesus been given on earth?

  13. When you think of Jesus do you think of Him as the all-powerful, judge over all the earth? Why is it important to understand this role of Jesus?

  14. How does this passage impact the way in which you talk with others about Jesus?

  15. What are you doing about sharing the Gospel, when knowing the wrath of God remains on many of your friends and neighbors?

The Death of Jesus

Notes for December 15-16, 2018
Matthew 27:27-31   

Biblical Background

  • Pilate, Governor: Just recently, one of Pilate’s rings was identified from an archaeological dig of “The Herodian,” one of Herod’s palaces outside of Jerusalem.  The ring has the inscription of Pilate’s name on it and is just one more piece of evidence which backs up the historical accuracy of the biblical text.

  • Governor’s HQ: Pilate, the Roman governor of the time would have stayed in Herod the Great’s former palace which was a lavish, spacious residence in Jerusalem. 

  • Roman soldiers: The duty of executing punishments fell to the Roman soldiers, many of whom were from other parts of the Roman Empire. Their cruel ways, mockery, and the way in which they went about the lashings and eventual crucifixion reflect the sinful nature of mankind.  There were around 600 of them stationed around Pilate’s HQ.

  • Scarlet Robe: The color of scarlet was the color of royalty and was made from the murex sea snail, an expensive dye. The robe was put on Jesus as a way of mocking the idea that he was a king.

  • Crown of Thorns: There are a number of thorny plants in the Jerusalem area that could have been used to make this cruel crown that would have pierced Jesus’ head and caused severe pain. Again it is used to make a mockery of Jesus’ kingship.

  • Via Dolorosa – The Way of Suffering: Jesus walked a path from the Governor’s palace that eventually led to his crucifixion on Golgotha. Christians around the world memorialize this painful walk of redemptive suffering by Jesus through the “stations of the cross.” Part of this tradition are from Scripture and others are from church tradition. 

  • Crucifixion: This was the most painful and shameful means for a person to be executed in the Roman world. Jesus was stripped naked (shaming him in front of all), he would be put on display for all to see, unable to control his bodily functions, his body already in extreme pain from the beatings and torture, and eventually he would die from asphyxiation, unable to pull himself up to breathe. In some cases, the person would be on the cross for 2-3 days in agony.In the case of Jesus’ death, he went on his own timing, having died from the weight of the sin of the world.The other criminals crucified on Jesus’ left and right had their death’s hastened by the breaking of their legs which made it impossible for them to continue to raise themselves up for air.

Discussion Questions

  1. Read Matthew 27:11-26 to get the background of the scene.  Who are the players in this tragedy? What roles do they play?

  2. Who is responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion?

  3. Now read our passage, Matthew 27:27-31.

  4. Why were the Roman soldiers given the job of crucifying Jesus?

  5. What is the meaning of their antics? Giving Jesus a scarlet robe, a crown of thorns, etc…?

  6. Who did the Roman soldiers think of Jesus? How did they reflect the crowd’s animosity?

  7. What feelings do you have after picturing this scene?  Describe

  8. In what ways is Jesus mocked today in the world?

  9. Why is it important to reflect upon the death of Jesus during the Advent season?

  10. What do we know from the birth narratives of Jesus that would point to His eventual atoning sacrifice for us on the cross?

  11. Herod the Great played a role in trying to kill Jesus as a baby.  How does the fact that Pilate made the decision to turn over Jesus to the Jewish leaders in Herod’s former palace fit in the story?

  12. As you think about the birth of Jesus this Christmas, take time to thank Jesus for His obedience to His calling which included the pain and suffering of the cross.

  13. How might you share the good news of Jesus and His sacrificial love for them during the Christmas season?Share some ideas and then intentionally do them.

The Life of Jesus

Notes for December 8-9, 2018
Luke 4:16-30   

Biblical Background

  • Nazareth: Jesus was born in Bethlehem (House of Bread), fled to Egypt as a toddler with his parents, and once Herod was dead, his parents moved back to their home town of Nazareth. It is in the north of Israel to the West of the Sea of Galilee. It is estimated that it had between 1,600 – 2,000 people and so was a small town in which Jesus would have been known as one of the boys who had grown up there to be a man.

  • Reading of Scriptures: Since Jesus had grown up in Nazareth, people knew that he could read and he had most likely read before. One read the Torah Scroll standing up, but would sit down to teach (sitting in the seat of Moses). Often readers would read in Hebrew and then paraphrase it in Aramaic so that all could understand.

  • Torah Scroll: Synagogues had a special scroll that was kept in a box or closet for safe keeping. It was brought out for the reading of the Torah and often would be opened up to a passage for that day to read. So, it may be that Jesus just read the passage assigned or chose the passage from Isaiah. The scroll would be rolled open to a particular passage – thus one couldn’t flip to pages of another book very quickly as in our books.

  • Isaiah 61:1-2: the future of Israel is described as a Year of Jubilee, a concept developed in Leviticus 25. This was a year in which debts were forgiven, land given back, etc… It was a year to celebrate and start fresh again.

  • Fulfilled in your hearing: Jesus is stating clearly that He has is the fulfillment of this prophecy that had been written approximately 700 years prior to this reading. Imagine waiting that long for something to happen – you’d be surprised too!

  • Isn’t this Joseph’s son?: In Judaism, one was known by one’s father. They are surprised that a local boy, would make such a claim, after all, they had known him all of his life. How could he be so special?

  • Israel rejects its prophets: Israel had a history of rejecting and mistreating its prophets i.e. Jeremiah.

  • The marginalized of society: Jesus mentions the widows, sick, and even the non-Jews – the dirty Gentiles from Sidon and Syria.

  • Anger of the masses: Crowd rage takes over and they seek to throw him off a cliff or stone him. This wasn’t legal, but rage took over.

  • Jesus unharmed: Jesus is protected supernaturally by the Lord.

Discussion Questions

  1. Read Luke 4:14-15 to get the context of Jesus’ reading of the Torah.  What change takes place from the way he is treated prior to returning to Nazareth versus the way he is treated in his home town?  Why do you think this happens?

  2. What is significant about Jesus reading from Isaiah 61:1-2?  What is Jesus stating after he finishes the reading from the Torah scroll?

  3. What is the 5-fold mission of Jesus according to this passage in Isaiah that he reads?

  4. How does Jesus fulfill this mission during his time on earth?  Now?

  5. How did the people respond to Jesus’ statement that He had fulfilled the prophecy in Isaiah 61?

  6. What do the proverbs that Jesus states in vv. 23 mean? 

  7. Have you ever noted that people are treated differently in their home town than in a new place? Why is this?

  8. Why do the people go from amazement to anger?

  9. Who are the Gentiles?  Why were they despised by the Jews?

  10. What can we learn from this story about Jesus’ view of people?

  11. How are we to carry on Jesus’ 5-fold mission?

  12. How can we carry out Jesus’ 5-fold mission in Greater Washington, the US and the world?

The Birth of Jesus

Notes for December 1-2, 2018
Luke 2:1-7 

Biblical Background

  • Censuses:  The Romans took censuses every 14 years to keep track of the populace and more importantly to be sure that they were receiving their tax revenue.

  • Caesar:  There is a contrast between the great earthly Roman “King” or “Caesar” and the “King of Kings” who comes to earth by humbling Himself to become a fetus in the womb of Mary and eventually be born – taking on human flesh.

  • Date for the birth of Christ:  Our current Western calendar was based on the birth of Christ – B.C. – “Before Christ” and A.D. – “Anno Domini” Latin for “the year of our Lord”.  However, scholars are not sure of the exact date for Christ’s birth – putting it somewhere between 4 B.C. and 6 A.D.  However the names of Caesar and also Quirinius, Governor of Syria and Herod the Great place the birth within the historical context of this time period.  Christianity is different from some religions in that historical context and time and place are important since they show the consistent work of God throughout history – as God’s plan for the redemption of the world unfolds.  It adds credibility to the historicity of Jesus Christ – something no reputable scholar would question.  It is clear that Jesus is not a legend or folklore hero made up by people.  He was born into this world and lived during this time period.

  • Bethlehem, the home of David’s line:  the name means “House of Bread.” It was the home of David the shepherd boy who became the king of Israel.  Joseph was a descendant of David and while he lived in Nazareth in Galilee where he met Mary, his ancestral home was Bethlehem.  As well, he probably had some kind of family property in Bethlehem (land, house, etc…) since the Romans would base their taxes in part on this property.  Of course, the Messiah was to come from the line of David, so Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and the fact that both Joseph and his mother, Mary descended from the tribe of Judah and from the family line of David is important for the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies.

  • Betrothed:  The Jewish betrothal was a very serious engagement period in which a couple and their families prepared for marriage.  Sexual intercourse was forbidden during this period as the first act of sexual intimacy was reserved for the wedding night. Thus, the fact that Mary was pregnant was scandalous.  Joseph, knowing that he had not had sexual relations with Mary, had to be told in a dream that Mary had been impregnated by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18-25).  This gave Joseph the courage and fortitude to travel with Mary and remain committed to her during the betrothal period.

  • Swaddling clothes:  These were clothes that were wrapped tightly around a baby to keep him snug and secure. 

  • Manger and cave:  This was a feeding trough used by animals.  This indicates that Mary gave birth in a stable – probably a rock cave carved into the hillside – common in Bethlehem.  The stable is a humble place for the King of Kings to be born into this world – another image of the humility of Jesus.

  • “Inn”:  The Greek word used here refers to a guest room rather than to a hotel or “inn” as we think of it in the Christmas pageants.  Normally Mary and Joseph would have stayed with relatives, but it appears in this case that due to the census, there was no room for them to stay, even with relatives – except in the stable. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is it important that Luke includes the mention Caesar Augustus and Quirinius, Governor of Syria, in this story?

  2. What was the purpose of a Roman census?

  3. Why did Joseph and Mary leave Galilee and go to Bethlehem?

  4. What is Bethlehem known for in the Old Testament? What do we know about Bethlehem?

  5. Why is the fact that Joseph belongs to the line of King David important to the story?

  6. What was the cultural perspective on a young woman being pregnant before her marriage?

  7. Why do you think Joseph was willing to remain committed to the pregnant Mary, knowing that he was not responsible for her pregnancy?

  8. How is Mary’s pregnancy different from any other pregnancy in history? How is it the same as any other pregnancy?

  9. Describe the scene of Jesus’ birth based on this passage in Luke.

  10. Read Malachi 5:1-6:  How is this Old Testament prophecy fulfilled through the birth of Jesus Christ?

  11. Read Psalm 2:  How is this Old Testament prophecy fulfilled through the birth of Jesus Christ?

  12. How does the understanding of the many prophetic fulfillments through the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ impact your faith?

  13. Familiar passages like this one which is read every Advent season can often become “old hat.” What have you learned or been inspired by as you’ve looked at this passage again?

  14. Pray for ways to share your faith in the “King of Kings” with your non-Christian colleagues and neighbors during this season of Advent.

The Conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus

Notes for November 24-25, 2018
John 3:1-16

Biblical Background

  • Nicodemus: Nicodemus was a wealthy and prominent Pharisee in Jerusalem. Thus, he was well educated in the Jewish law.

  • Comes at night: Nicodemus comes at night – in part John seems to be pointing this out as the themes of light and darkness end this section in vv. 17-19. As well, it may have been a practical thing as many Pharisees worked jobs during the day and studied at night. As well, it may be that Nicodemus was being cautious and didn’t want others to see him coming to Jesus for advice.

  • Born from above: This was a Jewish way of saying, “born from God.”

  • Reborn: Jewish writers spoke of Gentiles as being “newborns” in the faith, but wouldn’t have considered the need for a Jewish person to be reborn in the faith as they were already in. A Jew wouldn’t have had to convert. Thus, Nicodemus struggles at first with Jesus’ imagery – wondering if Jesus means a literal physical re-birth in which someone would have to climb back into his/her mother’s womb.

  • Gentile converts were baptized, born of water: Gentiles who converted to Judaism were baptized in order to remove the impurities of their Gentile-ness. Gentiles were seen as unclean. Someone “born of water,” were converts – went through a conversion process.

  • Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV): Jesus may be referring to this passage of the Old Testament in this passage as it is now fulfilled through the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

  • Ezekiel 37: This Old Testament passage refers to the Spirit as wind.

  • Nicodemus seems clueless: Not only was Nicodemus having a hard time initially understanding Jesus, but it is also a good literary technique, and one that was used in the day to help the reader follow the argument as Nicodemus helps bring clarity to Jesus’ words through his questions.

  • Jesus is an eyewitness to heaven: In Jewish law, only an eyewitness has the credibility to prove a point. So, in this case, only Jesus is able to speak about things in heaven since He had descended from heaven and come to earth.

  • “Lifting up”: In the Old Testament, Moses lifts up the serpent to bring healing (Numbers 21:4-9). In a future moment, Jesus is lifted up on the cross to bring our healing from sin, (John 12:32-33).

  • “Only begotten”: The literal translation from the Greek of this expression is, “special, beloved.” The translation in English also makes it clear that Jesus was not created as other humans are created by God since He is the Eternal God, who took on human flesh.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do we know about Nicodemus from these verses?

  2. Why do you think he came at night to see Jesus?

  3. How would you describe Jesus’ approach to answering Nicodemus’ questions? Why do you think he handled Nicodemus in this way?

  4. When Jesus talks about being born again in this passage what does Nicodemus think he means? Why do you think he misunderstands Jesus on this?

  5. What does Jesus mean by the expression, “born again”?

  6. What is “the water and the Spirit”?

  7. How does Jesus describe the work of the Spirit?

  8. Where else in Scripture is the Spirit involved in something being born or created?

  9. Why is Jesus alone able to talk about “heavenly things”?

  10. What is Jesus saying about Himself to Nicodemus?

  11. How is the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – involved in this passage? Why is it important to understand the Trinity’s work in this passage?

  12. Would you describe yourself as “born again”? Why or why not?

  13. Why did Jesus come into this world? How does knowing His purpose for coming into the world impact your feelings about Jesus?

Centurion of Great Faith

Notes for November 17-18, 2018
Matthew 8:5-12

Biblical Background

  • Gospel of Matthew: The Gospel of Matthew is written primarily to a Jewish audience, thus the large number of quotations to the Hebrew Scriptures and prophetic fulfillments mentioned.  In this case, Matthew is throwing off his readers and showing Jesus’ lack of partiality as He finds faith in an “unclean Gentile,” who even worse, is a Roman soldier – one of the occupiers of the land of Israel.

  • Capernaum: This was a crossroads city and thus would have had Roman soldiers stationed there to keep the peace and enforce Roman law.

  • Centurion: The centurion commanded between 60-80 troops – a “century”.  He was like the Sergeant Major of today’s army and enforced discipline among the troops.  Roman soldiers didn’t marry, but often had servants in their homes to take care of household chores while they were carrying out their duties. Roman soldiers were very disciplined and followed strict regimens.

  • “I will come and heal him”: Jesus breaks cultural norms by his willingness to come into an unclean Gentile’s home.  Devout Jewish people would not do this.

  • Great Faith of the Centurion: The centurion’s understanding of the power of authority and command/control structures is carried over from the natural world into the realm of the supernatural as he has the faith to believe that Jesus has authority in the supernatural world to command things to happen just as the centurion has authority to command his troops to do things.

  • Most Gentiles: to find faith in an unclean Gentile was a surprise to the Jewish people – there were not many Gentiles who followed their one God, although there were a few “God-fearers” around. Most Gentiles would have been pagans who worshipped many different gods including Caesar himself.

  • Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: These are the fathers of Israel. If you were descended from them, one assumed you would be at the future banquet in heaven.  However, Jesus dispels this idea stating that it is for those of faith, not just physical birth into the nation of Israel that leads to salvation.

  • Outer Darkness: This is the picture of separation from God and having fellowship with him.  The gnashing of teeth may reference Psalm 112:10.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you know about Roman centurions?

  2. What is significant about a centurion coming to Jesus for help?

  3. How would Jesus’ Jewish audience respond to the idea of Jesus talking with and helping a centurion?

  4. Who are the “unclean” people that we encounter in our world who are outside of the church? How does our church respond to them? How do we respond to them?

  5. What do you think the relationship was like between the centurion and his servant?

  6. What is the request of the centurion to Jesus?

  7. How does Jesus respond initially to the centurion’s request? What would be unique about his response in a Jewish context?

  8. When have you stepped into a stranger’s home recently, especially someone from a different cultural background? What did it feel like? What happened?

  9. Why did the centurion have such trust and faith in the authority and power of Jesus’ words to heal from a distance?

  10. What lessons are there in the faith of the centurion for us today?

  11. How does Jesus commend the centurion and his faith?

  12. Why is it that some Jewish people did not pick up on Jesus’ authority and power?

  13. What are the implications from Jesus’ word that people from the East and West will enter the Kingdom of Heaven and partake in the feast of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

  14. What are the implications in Jesus’ words that some will not enter the kingdom of heaven but be thrown into the darkness?

  15. Why is the truth of heaven and hell important to communicate to people today? After all, Jesus spoke of hell more than any other person in the Bible.

  16. How might you grow in faith? Discuss.

Mary of Bethany

Notes for Nov. 10-11, 2018
John 12:1-8

Biblical Background

  • Bethany: This small village is near Jerusalem on the other side of the Mount of Olives and would be a place for pilgrims to Jerusalem during the major festivals to stay.

  • Reclining at meals: People ate while reclining in the 1st century, laying on their left side, propped up on their left elbow and eating with their right hand.  One would never eat with the left hand as that was used for unclean activities.

  • Traveling teachers: Rabbis would travel as Jesus did and often be asked to be the guest of honor in return for giving a teaching for the guests.

  • A Pound of Ointment: The size of this ointment would be around 12 oz of expensive perfume. A flask of perfume normally carried about 1 oz. so this is an extravagant amount of ointment/perfume being poured out.

  • Value of the oil: This perfume was probably worth about a year’s worth of wages for a common laborere.  Thus, this was a very expensive gift to Jesus in monetary terms.  This represents a major sacrifice on Mary’s part and displays her love for Jesus – valuing Him above all others.

  • Treatment of Feet: It was a common practice to provide water for people to wash their feet upon entering a home as people would be traveling on dirty, dusty roads.  However, the washing of feet with oil that was normally used for the anointing of one’s head would be unique.

  • Oil for anointing the head: A symbol of honor would be to anoint a guest with a drop of oil on their head to freshen them up.

  • Judas and the Finances: Rabbis would need money to finance their teaching and school.   These funds would be entrusted to a trustworth person to manage. Judas’ character is exposed here as he is described as a thief.

  • Anointing of dead bodies: The anointing of a dead body with oil was meant to do two things:  1) show dignity and honor to the body (all physical bodies are created by God and thus are not to be desecrated) and 2) provice some sanitary and hygenic purpose by cleaning the body as once it began to decompose in the tomb it would begin to smell.

  • Poor always with us: Jesus is alluding to Deuteronomy 15:11 and is not condemning generosity to the poor, but rather pointing out the importance of what Mary is doing to him by anointing him with oil as a symbol of his upcoming death and burial.

Discussion Questions

  1. What do we know about this scene? Who is Lazarus, Mary and Martha? Where is Bethany? What is the Passover?

  2. Why do you think a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor?

  3. What was Martha doing during the dinner? Why is this an important role to play?

  4. What was Lazarus doing? What was his role in the dinner?

  5. Knowing the value of the perfume that Mary pulled out and then poured out on Jesus’ feet, how would you have responded if you’d seen this during the dinner?

  6. What do you think Mary’s motivation behind this extravagant act was? What is she expressing to Jesus?

  7. What senses are being used to take in this entire experience? Why is this important?

  8. What is Judas’ response to this extravagant act? Why did he respond this way?

  9. Why did John as the author of this Gospel share more about Judas and his character in this story?

  10. What is Jesus’ response to Judas’ critique of this extravagant act of Mary?

  11. How is this act of pouring perfume/oil on Jesus’ feet symbolic of his eventual burial?

  12. How might the wise men’s gift of myrrh, another expensive perfume foreshadow this story?

  13. Why is this act of love important for us to know about?

  14. In what ways can we express our love for Jesus in extravagant ways?

The Rich Young Ruler

Notes for November 3-4, 2018
Matthew 19:16-29

Biblical Background

  • Good: Judaism described one of God’s primary attributes as goodness and even used “Good” as a title for God. Thus, Jesus is pointing out that only God is ultimately – “Good.”

  • The Human-directed commandments: Jesus begins by asking the young man if he has kept the commands directed toward human to human relationship to which the young man responds affirmatively.  It is possible that the young man felt that he had kept these human directed commandments in an outward fashion.

  • God-directed commandments: Here Jesus is honing in on the heart of the young man as it is God who reads the heart and can determine one’s obedience to the commandments to follow God above all other idols.

  • Jesus’ demand to sell all, give to the poor and come follow me: Jesus’ request is radical and beyond that of any demands put on Jewish people for the cause of charity.  It is also rare in Greek teaching for a teacher to demand this kind of asceticism.  Jesus is clearly getting to the heart of the man’s ultimate love and loyalty.

  • Young Man’s response: the young man expects as many comfortable, wealthy young men would – not willing to give up their comfortable life and turn his life over to God.

  • Camel going through the Eye of a needle: While there is a gate in the old city wall of Jerusalem by which a camel would need to kneel down to go through – “the camel’s gate,” that gate dates to the 2nd century AD after the time of Jesus.  This legend of the “camel’s gate” doesn’t work for this passage. Jesus is referring to an actual “needle” used in sewing.  The Babylonian Talmud speaks of the impossibility of an elephant going through the eye of a needle, even in a dream. Archaeology has discovered some 1st century needles which were used for sewing and used for carpet thread and were tiny. The contrast is between one of the largest animals in the Middle East and one of the smallest openings one could see which points to the near impossibility of the proposition.

  • Hyperbole: Jesus is using the communication technique of hyperbole (extreme contrast) to get his point across.  God demands all of us, not just our things and few are willing to give it all to place under God’s control.

  • God’s reward: Jesus makes it clear that the reward for giving everything up to follow Him is greater than anything that we could ever keep on this earth.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the nature of the young man’s question to Jesus? What do you think is the reason for his question?

  2. What do you think was the young man’s view on how one obtained eternal life?

  3. Which commands does Jesus first ask the man about in verses 18 and 19? What do these commands have in common?

  4. Have you obeyed these commands for the most part in your life? Could you justify the following of these commands as did the young man? How do you think most people would answer concerning the obedience to these commands in our culture today?

  5. What is going on in the young man’s mind when he asks, “What do I still lack?”

  6. What is Jesus’ demand upon the young man’s life? Go through this demand line by line and reflect upon it – what is Jesus asking him to do?

  7. Rather than rationalize this demand of Jesus away in applying it to our own situation as wealthy Americans (Most Americans are among the world’s top 10% wealthiest in the world – if you’re even lower middle class), reflect upon how you might respond to this demand if Jesus were to ask it of you today.

  8. What does the young man’s response to Jesus’ demand show about his heart – what is going on inside his inner self?

  9. What does Jesus mean when he states that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven? Discuss

  10. Is Jesus’ statement still true today? Why or why not? Discuss.

  11. What is the response of the disciples to this exchange between the rich young man and Jesus? How might we respond if we were to witness this exchange today?

  12. What is the response of Peter to Jesus’ demand? Does Peter follow through on this throughout his life?

  13. What rewards are there for those who give up all to follow Jesus?

  14. Share examples of people that you know who you think have given up all to follow Jesus.

  15. Reflect upon this question: Are you willing to give up all to follow Jesus? Read the quote by C.S. Lewis and Jim Elliot and for more insight.

Come to Me, Rest

Notes for Oct. 27-28, 2018
Matthew 11:25-30

Biblical Background

  • The wise and understanding vs. the little children: Jesus is echoing the Old Testament teaching on wisdom which begins with “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7) and “the beginning of wisdom,” (Psalm 111:10). It is not those who have become wise in their own eyes, but those to whom God has revealed His truth that have wisdom. Thus, one must approach God as a little child does his parents in order to learn knowledge and gain wisdom.

  • Rest to the weary: Jesus offers a rest beyond anything other teachers could promise. He provides the kind of refreshment described in Isaiah 40:28-31. True Sabbath rest which restores the soul and rejuvenates a weary.

  • The yoke: The yoke was a symbol of obedience in Judaism to the law of God. It was a heavy load which ultimately no one could carry. In contrast, Jesus offers a yoke that is easy to carry (through his grace). Jesus’ teaching is in contrast to the heavy-handedness of the Pharisees who through legalism weighed the people down.

  • Gentle and lowly in heart: Meekness is the ability to know one’s self, yet remain in a position of humility with strength – much like a powerful stallion who is able to control his power to carry a child.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is the good news of Jesus Christ hidden from those with “wisdom and understanding”?

  2. Why does God reveal things to “children”? What does this mean?

  3. What can hinder us from understanding God’s wisdom and understanding today?

  4. Who are the “wise and understanding” in our world today that people turn to who may not understand the things of God?

  5. What does it mean that it was “God’s good pleasure,” to do something?

  6. What is the relationship between God the Father and God the Son? Describe it in detail.

  7. Why is it important to understand this relationship in the Trinity?

  8. What does it mean to be weary, burdened and heavy laden in this context?

  9. Who was laying burdens upon the people?

  10. Who places heavy burdens on you to carry?

  11. What does Jesus mean when He tells us to take up His yoke?

  12. How does a yoke work? How could it be made easy and light?

  13. How does a yoke uniting two animals together work to make the work easier? How might this apply to Christian discipleship?

  14. What does it mean that Jesus is gentle and lowly in heart? Why would this be a good thing for you?

That They May Be One

Notes for Oct. 6, 2018
John 17:20-26

Biblical Background

  • Unity of God the Father and God the Son: The unity of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is an essential aspect of God’s character. Thus, God’s people are to reflect this same character of unity or oneness as they worship the same Trinitarian God. As God’s people are united in purpose and worship they demonstrate that they are part of God’s family and become witnesses to the world of God’s goodness and loving character.

  • So that the world may believe: When Christians are united in true unity through their common faith in Jesus Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life, the only way to reconciliation with God, they give the world a reason to believe. Christians as well will always be a minority in the world as a whole, yet it is their love for one another that will attract others to the faith.

  • Before the foundation of the world: Jesus, as part of the Trinity, was not created as we are or as our world was created. Rather, Jesus created the world and has existed for eternity. It is for this reason that we use the word “begotten” when describing Jesus the Son of God. Begotten points to his everlasting existence before the foundation or creation of the world as we know it.

Discussion Questions

  1. Who is Jesus praying for in this prayer?

  2. How can we as believers join in Jesus’ prayer for those who will believe?

  3. What is the goal of Jesus’ prayer?

  4. What does it mean for Christian’s to be united?

  5. Watch the Youtube video to get J.I. Packer’s understanding of Christian unity. What comments do you have after watching his short commentary?

  6. Whose example of unity are we to follow?

  7. How do God the Father and God the Son reflect unity and love for one another?

  8. What is needed for authentic, true Christian unity? What does it look like in our world today?

  9. What does false unity in Christian circles look like? Share some examples.

  10. How does authentic Christian unity point others to faith in Jesus Christ? Why and how is it attractive?

  11. Share specific times or moments when you have experienced Christian unity in your life. What made these moments stand apart?

  12. What are some specific ways this week that you can display authentic Christian unity in your workplace? Home? Neighborhood?

  13. Take some time to pray for unity in our church, the church of Greater Washington, D.C., the global church.

Link to Sermons

The Prayer of Jesus

Notes for Sept. 30, 2018
John 17:1-19 

Biblical Background

  • Prayer Posture: “He lifted up his eyes to heaven,” - this posture in prayer is spoken of in other Jewish literature, especially in the intertestamental books of the Apocrypha. Our physical posture does play a role in our prayers and may vary on the situation. In the Bible we find people praying standing up, with arms raised, prostrate on the ground, and in other positions of prayer as well.

  • Jesus’ Relationship with the Father: Jesus is unique and receives glory from and gives glory to the Father. The Father has also given Jesus all authority to grant eternal life. These are clearly signs of Jesus’ deity and position in the Trinity.

  • Glory: The Old Testament states in Isaiah 42:8 and 48:11 that God does not give His glory to another. Jesus’ claim to share in the Father’s glory is a clear statement about His deity.

  • Manifested the Name of God: In the Old Testament, the name of God, “I am,” which is the essence of being is holy and displayed through His character and actions. Jesus through his word and deed displays God – reveals God – manifests God.

  • Jesus’ Prayer for His Disciples: this prayer describes the battle Jesus’ disciples will be in against the world. The Qumran community that was the source of the “Dead Sea Scrolls” wrote of the battle between the children of God (light) and the children of darkness. This spiritual idea is given more meaning through Jesus’ prayer.

  • “Son of destruction”: The expression “son of …” is an idiom that associates a person with a particular quality or trait. Thus the “son of destruction,” in v. 12 may be a reference to Judas, also seen in a reference in John 13:18. This may also be an allusion to Psalm 41:9 which dealt with apostates.

  • Being Sanctified: This word means to be “set apart,” for righteousness. The children of Israel had been set apart from the other nations for God and now Jesus is asking that His disciples be set apart or sanctified as they are identified in contrast to the people of darkness in the world.

Discussion Questions

  1. What posture was Jesus in when he prayed in this passage? Why is this important?

  2. What postures do you use when you pray? Describe why you pray in various postures.

  3. What is the relationship between Jesus and the Father? Describe

  4. What kind of authority does Jesus have? Why is this important to know? How does this impact the way you live your life? Do you view Jesus more as a friend or a person with the ultimate authority?

  5. What does it mean to glorify someone? How do Jesus and the Father glorify one another?

  6. How do you glorify your Heavenly Father? Describe

  7. Who gave the disciples to Jesus? What are the implications for us in understanding this idea?

  8. Who is Jesus praying for? Knowing that you are a disciple of Jesus, what do you think Jesus is doing now for you? How does this impact the way you live your life?

  9. What is Jesus’ prayer for His disciples? You?

  10. What does it mean to be in the world?

  11. How can we be protected by Jesus from the world? Describe

  12. What does it mean to be “sanctified”?

  13. How can we be “sanctified” and what does it look like?

  14. How can you join Jesus in praying for His disciples today?

  15. Take time to pray for everyone in your group using the prayer of Jesus.