Ready for Paul?

Monday, January 15, 2018

What about those rights and rites?

Last week our Coffee Break group looked at stories of Jesus' childhood. This week we move onto more familiar territory with the beginning of his adult ministry, by which time Jesus is... how old? I'm quite enjoying the shorter studies we're doing now. I hope you are too.

(7) Baptism

The first thing we know about the adult Jesus is that John the Baptist baptizes him. All four Gospels tell (at least part of) the story, and all four set the scene by describing the ministry of John.

Read Matthew 3:1-3, Mark 1;1-3, Luke 3:1-6, Isaiah 40:3-5, Malachi 3:1

1.       How famous was Isaiah?

2.       How old was Jesus when John began his ministry? (Read Luke 3:23. Tiberius reigned for two years together with Augustus, so this could be AD 26 or 28. Pilate was procurator from AD 26 to 36, Caiaphas was high priest from AD 18 to 36.)

3.       How old was John?

4.       What did John look like? What did he eat? Where do you think he lived and worked? Read Matthew 3:4-6, Mark 1:4-6, John 1:28

5.       Baptism was not that uncommon, and baptizers would gather supporters in camps near rivers (running water being purer than water held in vessels). Baptism would be a kind of initiation ceremony for members of the “cult,” and a symbol of agreement from others. What did those being baptized by John have to agree to?

John gathers quite a following, then attracts the attention of the “wrong sort”—in this case church leaders.  Are there other faithful uprisings that have struggled after pointing out flaws in established churches?

Read Matthew 3:7-10, Luke 3:7-9 – such a well-remembered statement it had to be repeated.
1.       Do we or our churches ever make similar arguments (about our rites, or rightness…)?

2.       Read Luke 3:10-14. Does this remind you of someone else’s teaching (See Isaiah 58:7, Luke 12:33, Matthew 5:39-41, Luke 18:8-10)? Does it surprise you to find Jesus, Isaiah and John teaching similar things?

As John’s fame spreads, people begin to hope in the absolute fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy . But John disappoints them. Read Matthew 3:11,12, Mark 1:7, Luke 3:15-17, John 1:19-27

Then Jesus is baptized. What do you remember of the story before rereading it? Read Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:29-34

1.       How do you picture Jesus’ baptism reading this? Is water sprinkled on his head, is he dunked in a pool, or is he immersed in running water? Who sees what? Who hears what?

2.       What extra information does Matthew give?

3.       What’s different in John’s story?

4.       What’s so special about doves? (Read Genesis 8:11. In Rabbinic literature, the dove represents a preference for God’s will rather than man’s—bitter olive branch (at the ark) rather than sweeter leaves. The Talmud views God’s creative spirit hovering over the waters as being like a dove. And other sources view the dove as representing the soul.)


Matthew, Mark and Luke go straight from baptism to temptation while John, having skipped baptism, skips the temptation too and moves straight into the calling of disciples. Why might John not describe these two events? How important are Jesus’ baptism and his temptation to your faith?

Monday, January 8, 2018

From Bethlehem to Nazareth

Christmas is over... maybe. I believe in some traditions the Christmas celebration takes place on Jan 6th, so the season can hardly be over there. And in my tradition, I'm too lazy to take all the decorations down yet. They look pretty, and I've other stuff to do (like washing and cleaning).

But January Coffee Break restarts tomorrow, so here is our next study from the Gospels, appropriately (for just after Christmas) looking at the childhood of Christ. Enjoy!

(6) Childhood Tales

The holy family flees to Egypt, fulfilling prophecy (Read Hosea 11:1). Who else “fled” to Egypt in the Old Testament?
1.       Read Matthew 2:13-15 Why Egypt? Where in Egypt? And what kind of support might they have found there?
2.       Read Matthew 2:19-23 Why Nazareth? (Read Luke 1:26, Luke 2:39-40) What kind of support might they have found there?
3.       Why not Bethlehem? Or even, why Bethlehem in the first place? Why didn’t they go straight home after Jesus was born? (And why doesn’t Luke mention the flight into Egypt?)
4.       Read Matthew 2:16-18, Jeremiah 31:15 (Ramah is mentioned early in the Bible… Judges 19:13,22, 1 Samuel  8:4… It becomes a fortified place, and the exiles were gathered there before being taken to Babylon – Jeremiah 40:1.) Why does Matthew quote Jeremiah? How big would this event have been in history?
This is all we know about Jesus’ childhood from the Bible, until he gets lost in the Temple at age 12 – a story that’s only told in Luke. Various authors (including me) have written about Jesus as a child, trying to imagine what he was like. Just out of interest, have you ever tried to imagine him at age 2, 5, 9…? Do you imagine him like any other child, asking “Why?” all the time, perhaps a little more obedient than most… or do you imagine a know-it-all telling everyone else what to do… or a miracle-worker healing his friends’ cuts and bruises while raising birds and animals from the dead…?
1.       Why didn’t the Gospel writers write about Jesus’ childhood?
2.       Why didn’t early Christians – people reading the Epistles perhaps – argue about Jesus’ childhood?
3.       Why didn’t the Christian church accept the non-Biblical “gospels” of Jesus’ childhood?
4.       What “childhood” stories have you heard, from what sources?
Non-Biblical sources give some interesting, not necessarily believable stories and timelines. What might encourage you to believe or not believe the following stories?
1.       Able to talk to his mother from birth (First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus, 2nd century)
2.       Foreskin preserved after circumcision became the ointment used before Jesus’ death (First Gospel again)
3.       Swaddling clothes didn’t burn (Zoroastran) and had healing power, as did bathwater (First Gospel)
4.       Cave dragons bowed down to him on way to Egypt (Psuedo-Matthew, around 650AD)
5.       Robbers in Egypt became robbers at the cross (First Gospel)
6.       Back to Nazareth (Urantia, 1924: age 3)
7.       Indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Urantia: age 4)
8.       Starts asking questions about his destiny (Urantia: age 6)
9.       Little Judas tried to bite little Jesus. Little Simon and little James healed of snakebites. Boy falls off roof and is healed (First Gospel)
10.   Makes clay animals that come to life (First Gospel , Thomas’ Infancy Gospel, and Urantia)
11.   Leader of the lads (Urantia)
12.   Told off for making artistic images, then learns to keep quiet about what he can do (Urantia: age 9)
13.   Follows Joseph’s advice and separates from Mary (Urantia: age 10 – Protoevangelion says Joseph much older than Mary – also says Jesus born in a cave). Opposing teachers fall dead (First Gospel)
14.   Harmonizes convictions and obligations (Urantia: age 12) then hides miracles till age 30 (First Gospel)
The one Biblical story of Jesus’ childhood takes place just as he becomes a man at age 12. Read Luke 2:41-51
1.       Is Jesus a child prodigy in this story? Is he being careless about family relationships?
2.       Were his parents careless to lose him?

3.       What might be important about three days? 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Who live in a HOUSE in Bethlehem?

Kings seemed conspicuous by their absence in that last study, but  we usually find them somewhere in our manger scenes, so here's their story...

(5) The First Two Years

Lots of manger scenes (and Christmas carols) include three kings. Before reading this study, what do you believe about the wise men? Read Matthew 2:1-16
1.       Let’s look at the men first:
a.       Are they wise men, astrologers, or kings? How many are there of them? And why does tradition say  3?
b.      If the men are astrologers, they’re probably Babylonian. Why might they be interested in Judaism?
c.       Do they find the baby in a stable?
d.      Does it worry you that there might be differences between interpretation, tradition and what the Bible says? How would you try to resolve these differences?
2.       Now let’s look at the star:
a.       Why did the wise men go West when they saw a star in the East?
                                                                                       i.       Some people say that’s okay because the star moved (verse 9).
                                                                                     ii.       Others point out that the words translated “in the East” can also be translated “as it arose” (like the sun rising in the East).
                                                                                    iii.      Others say the words refer to a star that’s only visible briefly just before the sun rises. Do you have a problem with any of these explanations?
b.      Did the star guide the direction the wise men traveled, or did it tell them when to travel?
c.       What explanations have you heard for the star? If someone were to discover a definitive answer, would that enhance or inhibit faith? Here are some reasonably familiar conjectures:
                                                                                       i.       It’s a shooting star (because it moved). But it also stayed still.
                                                                                     ii.       It’s a planetary conjunction (because it didn’t move). These happen about every 140 years and result in very bright stars, of significance to ancient astronomers. In 6BC there would be been conjunctions in May (time for the wise men to set off West), September (time to arrive at Herod’s palace) and December (time to visit Bethlehem). These wouldn’t have all been in the same part of the sky. (Why are they delighted in v10?)
                                                                                    iii.       It’s a supernova. One is mentioned in Chinese records occurring around 5BC, but if it was really so bright, why wasn’t Herod’s court aware of it? (A well-known author wrote a science fiction story where a spaceman finds the distant civilization destroyed by the Bethlehem supernova. In his story, the spaceman loses his faith.)
                                                                                   iv.       It’s Halley’s Comet (because it points, like a comet with a tail), but that would date Christ’s birth at around 12BC. Another comet would have been visible around 5BC, but wouldn’t have been very spectacular or rare, suggesting Babylonian astrologers wouldn’t have been very interested.
d.      The wise men stop at Herod’s palace. Why? Does this scene remind you of any Old Testament scenes?
e.      What kind of position did priests and scribes hold at Herod’s court? What scriptures are they searching? Read Micah 5:2. What kind of position might the wise men have held in their home countries?
f.        How long might the wise men have taken to reach Jerusalem?
g.       Why does Herod kill two-year-olds?
3.       Now we get to the “stable scene.”  How old do you suppose Jesus was at this point? And was he still in a stable?

Were there any surprises for you in rereading the Christmas story? If the Christmas story covers two years instead of one night, will that change how we imagine the events? Have you ever tried imagining Jesus as a two-year-old?