Ready for Paul?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Who Made that Hole in the Roof?

Moving on with our chronological study of the Gospels, we find Jesus with just a few disciples, setting up a ministry in Capernaum, driven out by the crowds, wandering the countryside and returning, probably to Simon Peter's house. Then people make a hole in the roof. Great crowds!

(15) The Messianic Secret

Do you remember that Jesus wouldn’t let the demons speak (Mark 1:34)? Why might it have been important for Jesus to control who was spreading his good news? Why might it be important for churches to train leaders today, rather than just accepting anyone who claims to have been called? How does this feed into  denominations and traditions?
We left the story with Jesus and his followers (who have finally left their day-jobs) heading out into the countryside. What has driven them out of town? (Read Mark 1:33)
1.       Read Mark 1:40-45 Jesus is telling someone not to talk about him again. Why?
a.       What other types of “healing” were available to the people?
b.      Luke is a physician. Asclepius is a cultic god. And Jesus is the Messiah… Where should we look for healing, and what sort of healing should we expect?
2.       Read Luke 5:12-16 What does Luke add, and what does he leave out? Why might they choose these details?
3.       Read Matthew 8:1-4 Matthew places the story after the Sermon on the Mount. Why might he have included Jesus’ teaching before adding stories of specific healings?
a.       When might we want to include Jesus’ teaching before we talk about signs and wonders?
b.      When might we want to include Jesus’ teaching before we talk about his divinity?
Jesus clearly has a base of operations somewhere – a home to return to every once in a while. Some say it was in Cana; others that it was Peter’s home. The following story seems to happen when Jesus and the disciples (still not 12 of them – do you know who is missing still?) return to stay in Capernaum.
1.       Read Mark 2:1-12, Matthew 9:1-8, Luke 5:17-26. It’s a familiar story. Did anything surprise you, re-reading it in these three versions?  Why are the teachers there and where did they come from?
2.       What picture do you get of the crowds? What sort of events inspire this size of crowd today?
3.       Jesus saw the leper and was filled with compassion and healed him. Why doesn’t he heal the paralytic as quickly?
a.       Is Jesus “unwilling” to heal this time (Matthew 8:3, Mark 1:41, Luke 15:13)? Have you ever felt God was unwilling to give what you asked for? How did you respond?
b.      As a lay-person watching in the crowd, would you think healing paralysis or forgiving sins was easier?
                                                                           i.      If you were a legalistic observer, would believing that only God forgives sins change your opinion? How would you expect God to respond if Jesus were not the Messiah?
                                                                         ii.      Have you ever felt God wasn’t punishing someone when he should? How do you respond?
c.       Which is modern science better at, healing physical illness or healing mental illness with its accompanying guilts, sins, lack of forgiveness and self-forgiveness etc.?
4.       Do you think they mended the roof afterward?
5.       What Messianic “secret” does this reveal? How does this compare with demons revealing that Jesus is the Messiah or healed lepers shouting about what he has done?
In the Catholic and High Anglican churches, God allows priests and confessors to forgive sin. Read John 20:19-23m Matthew 18:18. We often gloss over these passages, but in the light of “only God has authority to forgive sins,” they’re huge. What does this tell us about the task of the church and of Jesus’ followers? Is the modern church known better for forgiveness or for condemnation?

Monday, March 5, 2018

How do you know where to stay and when to leave?

We left last week with Jesus heading for Galilee and being rejected by his hometown of Nazareth. I'm really quite enjoying reading the stories as they're pieced together in a chronology, even if no-one's sure what the real chronology is. I'm also enjoying finding where different stories fit into the ministry - we read these passages in isolation so often. So, where will Jesus stay when he reaches Capernaum?

(14) Where to Stay and When to Leave

Jesus arrives in Capernaum, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It’s unclear whether he headed straight there from Jerusalem when John was imprisoned, or if he moved on from Nazareth/Cana, but it’s likely that trouble surrounding John is part of what prompted Jesus to go North, to the hometown of those earliest disciples. What sort of thing has God used to prompt you to take action?
1.       Read Matthew 4:12-17, Mark 1:14-15, Isaiah 9:1-2 Why does Matthew quote Isaiah?
2.       How were people in Galilee viewed by the religious authorities? Are there people we view that way?
3.       Read Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20 What extra detail does Mark give?
4.       If someone says “Follow me,” do you immediately assume they want you to quit your job? Could they have believed Jesus was just saying “Follow me to the synagogue”? (Fishermen didn’t always attend synagogue—like shepherds, sometimes they had to work instead.)
5.       When has Jesus asked you to “Follow me”? When might he ask?
Perhaps, having heard of Jesus’ problems in Nazareth, the disciples expect to protect him at the synagogue. Do you think Jesus needed protection? Does he need our protection (from questions, misinterpretations, doubts etc) today?
1.       Read Mark 1:21-22, Luke 4:31-32 How would you recognize someone as teaching with authority?
2.       Read Mark 1:23-28, Luke 4:33-37 Do you believe in demons? Does it surprise you to find a demon in a synagogue? Would it surprise you to find someone inspired by Satan in a church?
3.       Do the demons know who Jesus is, or does the demon-possessed man know who he is?
4.       Who does Jesus rebuke and why?
5.       What new teaching is Jesus presenting? How might that still be a new teaching today?
Jesus’ fame spreads throughout the region, which is great. But where will he sleep tonight?
1.       Read Mark 1:29-31, Luke 4:38-39, Matthew 8:14-15 (What did we skip over in Matthew?) Many translations say Jesus rebuked the fever. How might fevers and demons be connected?
2.       Simon’s mother promptly gets up and serves Jesus and his company. Does this mean Jesus healed her just because he wanted his dinner?
3.       Read Mark 1:32-34, Luke 4:40-41, Matthew 8:16-17
a.       What is different about Matthew’s version? Read Isaiah53:4
b.      What is different about Luke’s version? Why might Jesus not want demons to proclaim him Messiah?
c.       If you or a friend were uncomfortable with the concept of demons, how would you present this story to bring someone closer to Jesus (and to reading the Bible) rather than driving them away?
d.      What would truly convince people then, and convince us now, that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God?
Jesus isn’t going to stay in Capernaum for long.
1.       Read Matthew 4:23-25 Did Jesus stick to Jewish territories?
2.       Read Mark 1:35-39, Luke 4:42-44 How did Jesus decide to move on? If Jesus needed to pray first, how much more do you think we should pray before major decisions?
3.       Read Luke 5:1-11 What might have persuaded the disciples to quit their jobs? Does God want our instant obedience, or our prayerful obedience?

Monday, February 26, 2018

Never Going Home?

We're still trying to follow Jesus through the Gospels, just reaching the point where he enters Galilee. Whether this is in his first or second year of ministry is kind of debatable, as most things that far back in history would be. It's the differences in the stories that make it so hard to imagine they were made up.

When Jesus is rejected in his home town, my immigrant self almost smiles. We change. The world changes behind us. And we really can't go home because that home we remember no longer exists. But Jesus points toward a home that won't change, where we will be changed through him to make us welcome.

(13) On To Galilee

Jesus is heading North through Samaria with a few disciples – probably John, Philip and Bartholomew (Nathaniel); maybe Andrew and Simon. His ministry, as described in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, is just about to begin. (Some say the second year of his ministry, following a “year of obscurity” in southern Judea, is about to begin).
1.       Read John 4:27. What kind of people Jesus will minister to? What kind of  people are we willing to minister to?
2.       Read John 4:28-30,39-42. What kind kind of people will hear and believe? What made you hear and believe?
3.       Read John 4:31-33. What kind of followers Jesus does choose? What kind of follower are you?
4.       Read John 4:34-38. You probably remember Jesus talking about fields ripe for harvest. Did you remember at what point in his ministry the story occurred. Why do you think John includes it here?
5.       How does John 4:38 apply to our “labor”?
The road through Samaria from Jerusalem to Galilee would take Jesus to many small towns close to Cana and past Nazareth. Read John 4:43-44, Luke 4:14-16,24
1.       Matthew and Mark don’t mention what happened in Nazareth. Why do you suppose Luke might be the only one telling the story? (Which disciples and/or family members do you think are there to witness it?)
2.       What might be described as Jesus’ “own country” now? Does either of these passages refer to national boundaries? To faith boundaries? To denominational boundaries?
3.       In what sense might Jesus be being rejected in his own country today?
Jesus’ ministry in Nazareth starts well enough but goes badly. How do we feel when things start out well, as if we’re really doing God’s work, then end badly? Does it help to know Jesus must have felt the same?
1.       Read Luke 4:17-21, Isaiah 61:1-2. If we did not know who Jesus was, how would his statement that “this is being fulfilled” sound to us? To what extent should his reputation and miracles have persuaded them? Do signs and wonders convince us when other denominations display them?
2.       We’ve already heard that Jesus performed miracles in Jerusalem, in Cana, and in Galilee (Some readers assume he’s already started work in Galilee; others that he’s on his way there, and this counts as on the edge of Galilee, though Luke will suggest he’s already been to Capernaum in verse 23). What might people be expecting of Jesus when he arrives in the synagogue in his home town? What do we expect of Jesus?
3.       Read Luke 4:22 How do we react if we don’t get what we expect from God? How do we respond to unanswered prayer, to events that seem unfair, to our broken world?
4.       Read Luke 4:23-27. How do you imagine the scene? (Physician heal yourself was a fairly well-known proverb—probably particularly well-known to Luke.)
a.       What has Jesus done or not done to provoke the people?
b.      Which widow did Elijah help? (Read 1 Kings 17:7-9,14-17,22) Was she an Israelite? What might this tell us about who Jesus helps?
c.       Which leper was healed? (Read 2 Kings 5:1,15) What might this tell us?
5.       Read Luke 4:28-30. Nazareth really does stand at the top of a steep hillside.
a.       Why are the people angry?
b.      Have you ever felt angry with God? How did God resolve it?
At this point Jesus goes to Capernaum (Read Luke 4:31, Mark 1:21, Matthew 4:12-13) and begins to preach and heal.