(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
The Miraculous Signs of Jesus
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
Many people in Jesus’ day thought the pool of Bethesda (or Bethsaida) had healing power. It hadn’t worked for the man Jesus met—he’d been there for 38 years! Jesus asked him, “Do you WANT to get well?” He healed him on the Sabbath, and his critics fussed about rule-breaking rather than celebrating the man’s healing. Jesus responded by declaring that his power and mission came from his divine Father—which only upset them more.
This section almost sounds as though Jesus was on trial—and, in one sense, he was. He said he had many witnesses to show that he was who he said: his works, John the Baptist, his Father, and Moses’ words in Scripture. Many people were positively impressed when Jesus fed them miraculously—but they wanted him to be a political king who changed their circumstances, not a spiritual king who changed their hearts
Jesus’ ministry grabbed the attention of many. If he were ministering today, you might expect the major news networks to be talking about his latest miracle or healing. But John sharply contrasted the people’s earthbound outlook and Jesus’ desire to share the truth of God’s eternal world. “Believe in him whom God sent,” he pleaded. “I am the bread of life.”
Jesus’ words in this section echoed his talk with the woman at the well (cf. John 4), but now he used the image of bread rather than of water. His vivid imagery about eating his flesh and drinking his blood made people squirm. Many turned away. But he was describing the spiritual reality we act out in the Lord’s Supper—taking Jesus in to nourish our eternal life. Some “got it”—the Twelve didn’t turn away. “Lord, where would we go?” Peter asked.
Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe in him (verse 5), the crowds had mixed views (verse 12), and Jewish leaders wanted to kill him (verse 1, 25). Jesus was inner-directed, and chose his own course under God. He clarified the true purpose of the Sabbath (verse 23). He spoke firmly of his heavenly origin and life-giving mission, saying “I haven’t come on my own. The one who sent me is true, and you don’t know him. I know him because I am from him and he sent me” (verse 28, 29).
Jesus’ enemies were bitterly frustrated when their own Temple guards wouldn’t arrest Jesus, and Nicodemus asked for a fair hearing. The story in John 8:1-11 wasn’t in that spot in the earliest manuscripts we have, but it fits well. The Pharisees set an ugly trap—they were okay with shaming, even killing, a woman they had probably lured into the act of adultery. (Where was her partner? You can’t commit adultery alone.) Jesus disarmed them and gave their victim a new start.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide
Heavenly Father, thank you for John’s gospel, which gives us different insights from the other gospels. We choose to live, not in this world of sin and death, but in the infinitely grander world of Jesus. Thank you for making yourself known to us in Christ and for embracing us as your children. Fill us with your bread of life. Help us to multiply the gifts we have received. In Jesus name, Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Do we see the world that same way(s) that our parents and grandparents saw it? Why would we see the world differently? How would we describe it differently? In what ways does that make our Christian faith different from theirs? How is it similar to theirs?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read John 5:1-30. Why did Jesus ask the crippled man whether he wanted to get well? How important is our desire to get well in recovering from ill health? How important is our desire to be healed to our spiritual salvation? Notice that in verse 24, Jesus used the present tense when he said “has eternal life…has passed from death into life.” What is this telling us? In what ways do Christians experience this miracle of “eternal life” before their physical death? Why were the Jewish leaders so critical of the man who was carrying his mat on the Sabbath? Have you ever seen situations where people criticized others, thinking that by doing so, no one would notice their own flaws?
Read John 5:31-6:15. Jesus told his critics that, although they had been reading the scriptures, they had been reading them in the wrong way. Why do you read the Bible? For what other reasons do people read the Bible? Jesus used a small thing like the food the boy carried, and transformed it into a miracle that led many to believe. What kinds of small things can we do that Jesus might turn into significant “miracles”? Can our individual gifts have power and meaning beyond the obvious? Do we always get to see the final results of our efforts to serve God?
Read John 6:16-40. What significance do you draw from the story of the disciples rowing on rough, stormy water, having Jesus enter their boat and immediately reaching the far shore? How might this give us hope when we face storms in life? How would you compare the miracle of Jesus walking on the water to the miracle of the gift of eternal life, offered even when we have failed him in this life? What is the “bread of God”? What kinds of things do we tend to long for in this life? How do we go about feeding our soul with the “bread of life” Jesus offers?
Read John 6:41-71. Jesus’ imagery about eating his flesh and drinking his blood made people squirm, and many turned away. What was Jesus really referring to? How would you describe the act of receiving Holy Communion? We also use the term Eucharist which stems from the Greek word eucharistia, meaning “thanksgiving.” In receiving the elements of communion, what is the meaning or significance of “thanksgiving”? Do you think partaking of the Lord’s Supper mysteriously nourishes your soul and spiritual growth, or is it merely a ritual?
Read John 7:1-30. Jesus used the term “world” to mean an inner, spiritual orientation that turns away from God. How does “the world” try to draw us into its values and way of life today? How are our lives better when we live in the world of Christ, rather than being absorbed by the world that avoids and rejects him and his teaching? How often do we actually take notice of when and how “the world” tries to destroy our faith and our godly efforts? Should we try to be more aware of these threats? If so, how could we do this?
Read John 7:31-8:11. Why didn’t the Temple guards arrest Jesus? Why didn’t Jesus look at the woman’s accusers, instead choosing to look down and write on the ground? Did Jesus choose to confront the accusers directly and as a group, or to allow each accuser to confront his own, inner self? Do you ever hear Jesus as he challenges you to confront your inner motives?
From last week: Did you focus on this season of Lent? During Lent, many Christians prepare for Easter through fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ, his life, suffering, and sacrifice, his death, burial and resurrection. Did you do this? Share with the group how these practices affected your week.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Hamilton’s sermon, March 3, 2013:
When you read a story in John, part of what makes it interesting and even fun is asking, is there more to the story than meets the eye? Does this or that detail mean something? There are always two levels at which each story can be read: There is the straightforward level in which water is changed into wine, or the eyes of a blind man are opened. But often there is a deeper level which is answering the questions, “Who is this man Jesus? How does he affect our lives? And what is required of us?”…
Jewish wedding banquets in the first century period often lasted seven days. Like weddings and wedding receptions today, they were one of the great moments in the life of a family, and one of the most joyful times in any community. It’s for this reason that the Bible often associates heaven with a wedding banquet. Remember, there is always a deeper meaning to John’s stories. This story is not only about Jesus providing wine for a wedding, but about the life he offers to each of us.
At this particular wedding, the wine gives out. This is very embarrassing for the host. Jesus’ mother tells him the wine has given out. Then she tells the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” We don’t know that Mary is expecting a miracle at this point, only that Jesus will solve the wine problem. But this phrase is important and John includes it for a reason. Today, who are the servants of Christ? We are, of course. With that in mind, let’s read verse five together once again: “His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’” Part of the key to having the abundant life Jesus offers is found in doing whatever he tells you to do.
What happens next? “Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification.” I’ll point out a couple of things. Why does John say these jars are used for Jewish rites of purification? He could have just said, “There were six stone jars there.” He’s wants you to understand the deeper meaning. This story is not just about Jesus changing water into wine, but about how life in Christ is richer and more joyful than the ritualistic religion of first century Judaism….
Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem, and see a blind beggar. The disciples ask: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The Jewish mindset for many was that if something bad happened to you it was a punishment for something you did wrong. This is a major assumption in much of the Old Testament—adversity is a punishment for sin. Yet Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that Gods works might be revealed in him.” I love this. Jesus is clear that this man’s blindness is not a punishment from God, but instead it is an opportunity for the work of God to be revealed….
John devotes so much time to this story because the blind beggar represents each of us. Our eyes are opened as we hear his voice, trust him and do as he commands. Our washing—our baptisms—are a part of our journey, whether they happen as small children when our parents pledge to raise us to walk in the light of Christ, or if we come to Christ when we’re older….
Now what happens next is what I want you to notice. The once blind man who now can see creates quite a stir. It seems that Jesus healed him on the Sabbath, and the ritual Judaism of the day forbade healing the sick on the Sabbath (unless their life was in danger). This man had been blind since birth; his life was not in danger. The religious leaders demanded an explanation. When he told them that Jesus had healed him, they said Jesus was a sinner because he’d done this on the Sabbath. One of my favorite verses in this story is verse 25, where we read: “He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’” The religious leaders drove him out of the synagogue.
The chapter paints a powerful contrast between the blind man who listened to Jesus voice, trusted him, obeyed his commands and thus came to see, and the religious leaders who refused to listen to Jesus and condemned him as a sinner, who are shown to be the truly blind ones. The chapter asks its readers, are you blind, or can you see? Jesus opens our eyes as we trust in him and seek to do what he asks, just as in our first story we learned that he fills us with the best wine when we trust and obey. Both stories ultimately point to the same message: Christ offers life. His life is richer, more meaningful than the life Bacchus offers. Christ is the light of the world. As you trust him and do as he asks, your eyes are opened to see life as it is and to see God as he is.
Which leads me to the story of John Newton, who was a sailor working in the slave trade in the mid 1700’s. His story is well- known. You may not know that he was upbraided by his captain for being even more profane than the other sailors in his language, his drinking, his character. But he began reading books on the life of Christ, and after a storm that nearly killed the entire crew of his ship at sea, he put his trust in Christ. Over the years he laid aside his profanity, his drunkenness, and then the slave trade. He eventually became a pastor. As he pondered the plight of the slaves, he joined William Wilberforce in seeking an end to the slave trade in the British Empire. He wrote a pamphlet that was sent to every member of Parliament and was reproduced in the tens of thousands and he lived long enough to see the official end of the trade in 1807.
In 1779 he penned a poem, a prayer that he invited his congregation to recite with him at the end of his sermon one Sunday. The words described the change that comes when we trust in Christ and obey his words. They were later set to music. Join me in reciting these words you likely know by heart: AMAZING GRACE! HOW SWEET THE SOUND, THAT SAVED A WRETCH LIKE ME. I ONCE WAS LOST BUT NOW AM FOUND; WAS BLIND, BUT NOW I SEE.
Our task is to trust Christ, to believe in him, and to do what he asks us to do. As we do this we walk in the light of his love.
What is Eucharist?
The Eucharist, also called Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord’s Supper, and other names, is a Christian sacrament or ordinance. It is reenacted in accordance with Jesus’ instruction at the Last Supper as recorded in several books of the New Testament, that his followers do in remembrance of Him as when he gave his disciples bread, saying, “This is my body,” and gave them wine, saying: “This is my blood.”
There are different interpretations of the significance of the Eucharist, but according to the Encyclopedia Britannica “there is more of a consensus among Christians about the meaning of the Eucharist than would appear from the confessional debates over the sacramental presence, the effects of the Eucharist, and the proper auspices under which it may be celebrated.” The term eucharist may refer not only to the rite but also to the consecrated bread (leavened or unleavened) and wine (or unfermented grape juice in some Protestant denominations, water in the LDS Church’s sacrament) used in the rite. In this sense, communicants (that is, those who partake of the communion elements) may speak of “receiving the Eucharist”, as well as “celebrating the Eucharist.”
The Greek noun εὐχαριστία (eucharistia), meaning “thanksgiving,” is not used in the New Testament as a name for the rite. It is the term by which the rite is referred to by the Didache (late 1st or early 2nd century), Ignatius of Antioch (who died between 98 and 117) and Justin Martyr (writing between 147 and 167). Today, “the Eucharist” is the name still used by the Eastern Orthodox, the Oriental Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Reformed/Presbyterian, United Methodists, and Lutherans. Other Protestant traditions rarely use this term, preferring either “Communion”, “the Lord’s Supper”, or “the Breaking of Bread”. The Lord’s Supper is a name used in the early 50s of the first century as witnessed by the First Epistle to the Corinthians (11:20-21).
More at the source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eucharist
Again this week focus on this season of Lent. During Lent, many Christians prepare for Easter through fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ, his life, suffering, and sacrifice, his death, burial and resurrection. Do this and next week share with the group how these practices affected your week.