(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)
Who Do You Say That I Am?
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.
Having set down Jesus’ prediction that he would rise after three days (cf. Matthew 16:21), we might expect Matthew to write words like, “On the third day the disciples gathered to greet the risen Lord.” Not even close! He wrote, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the tomb,” when no one in Matthew’s day would invent women as reliable witnesses. These very real women he wrote about felt “great fear and excitement,” a natural reaction to an unexpected encounter with the supernatural.
The disciples, crippled with shock and grief, were in hiding after Jesus’ death. They feared the Roman authorities would come for them next, and they thought Jesus’ mission had died with him on the cross. Then the resurrected Jesus appeared to them, and commissioned them to continue his work. Jesus encouraged all of his followers to believe in him even when they can’t physically see him.
It did not take centuries for Christians to begin speaking of Jesus as God. Philippians used a Christian hymn from the year 40 A.D. or so that called Jesus “Lord.” Surprisingly, that hymn quoted words from Isaiah 45:23-25 (where they were about Israel’s God). Scholar Larry Hurtado wrote, “In historical terms we may refer to a veritable ‘big bang,’ an explosively rapid and impressively substantial Christological development in the earliest stage of the Christian movement.”
The letter to the Colossians incorporated another early Christian hymn in praise of Jesus. Again, this is clearly a first-century document, not some later formulation by a church council. Like other first-century Christian writing, these verses did not seek to explain the mystery that Jesus was divine. They just stated it as the reality Paul and the early believers said was transforming their lives.
2 Peter 1:12-18
In Peter’s day, as in ours, skeptics said the stories about Jesus were made up. Peter directly refuted that idea, vowing that no one dreamed up the story of Jesus. Instead, he’d seen it! Scholar C. H. Dodd wrote, “The Resurrection of Jesus is not a belief that grew up within the church; it is the belief around which the church itself grew up, and the ‘given’ upon which its faith was based.”
When Jesus walked on earth, there were many opinions about him. The disciples’ answer to his question (“Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets”) was actually softened. They knew that some hated Jesus and bitterly opposed his message. Though holding it would be costly, Peter stated his conviction: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” We’ve read what first-century witnesses said. The question is now addressed to us in the twenty-first century.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord Jesus, as we live in a world of skepticism and materialism, help us grow in our capacity to believe you, obey you and tell others about you. Help us to immerse ourselves in the living water of your word. Fill us with your grace and power so that we might fully believe and trust your living presence in our lives. Amen.
CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)
Do you believe in the supernatural? Why or why not? Do you believe that supernatural events have and do happen in our lives?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
NOTE: We encourage study groups to have several different Bible translations available for these readings. Reading aloud from the Common English Bible or The Message may help to clarify the meaning of some passages.
• Read Matthew 28:1-15. Do you believe Jesus rose from the dead? Why or why not? If you had been there, would you, like the women, have been afraid? Would you have been excited? What could God do today that might make you afraid or excited? What role does the empty tomb play in this story? What role does it play in your faith? Why would the chief priests have paid the guards to lie rather than simply accepting the reality of a risen Messiah? What role does our ego play in our own misdeeds?
• Read John 20:19-29. In what way are the disciples our representatives in this story? Has the story of Thomas’ doubts helped you in any way with any struggles in your own faith? How does the story of Thomas help new believers today? Do you sense and believe that God is actively working in your life even though you can’t prove it? Thomas referred to Jesus as “My Lord and my God!” To you, is there any difference between these two words, or do you “lump them together”?
• Read Philippians 2:5-11. The Common English Version translates verse 6 by saying about Jesus, “Though he was in the form of God…” What does this mean to you? Jesus elected to give up his divine rights and powers. In your own words, what would you say God did for us in Jesus? Last week Pastor Hamilton reviewed views of the cross the stress Jesus as our substitute, taking our place; as our example, showing us how to live and love; and as the victor over the forces of evil and death. There are other images in Scripture, too (e.g. adoption into God’s family, ransoming us from what holds us captive). Which of those means the most to you as you think about what Jesus did for you on the cross? In these verses, do you sense any rivalry between the Father and the Son? What can this teach us and our world?
• Read Colossians 1:15-22. What actions and qualities of Jesus does this hymn name? Which of them mean the most to your spiritual journey? Which of them would you like to understand better? This passage said, “Once you were alienated from God and you were enemies with him in your minds, which was shown by your evil actions. But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through death.” Can you relate to and accept that you were willfully alienated from God as a result of your thoughts and deeds? In what ways has Jesus changed you, and drawn you closer to God?
• Read 2 Peter 1:12-18. These verses clearly suggest that skeptics were claiming the stories about Jesus were made up. Peter denied this saying that he and other disciples witnessed these supernatural things first hand. Are God and his supernatural ways too incredible for you to believe? What has shaped your view of the possibility of God acting in supernatural ways in our world? Is your mind open to all the miraculous events of Christ’s life? Why did Peter say, “I’m eager for you always to remember these things after my death”?
• Read Matthew 16:13-17. What do you make of Jesus referring to himself as “the Son of Man“(some recent translations use the term “the Human One”)? (After answering, you may want to read the material in the Additional Insights section, below.) Who do you say Jesus is? What makes you believe so?
From last week: Did you prayerfully consider how you could help others receive the peace of Christ’s saving grace? Did you do something like praying for them, or doing a kind deed for them? Were you careful not to be intrusive or off-putting? Please share any experiences you had.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, February 2, 2014:
Last week we studied Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus died on what we now call Good Friday….That should have been the end of the story of Jesus of Nazareth. The Romans crucified tens of thousands of Jews. In the 100 years surrounding the birth of Jesus there were more than a dozen would-be Messiah’s the Romans put to death. All of them stayed very dead. But in Jesus’ case, the gospels report that when Sunday morning came, several women went to the tomb and found the stone had been rolled away….
When someone tells me they struggle to believe the resurrection I remind them that they are in good company. The women did not believe until they saw Christ. The disciples did not believe the women when they said he was alive. Thomas didn’t believe the disciples when they told him this. Paul the apostle did not believe at first and went so far as to persecute and even sanction the death of Christians until one day when he had an encounter with the risen Jesus.
Let’s take just a moment to talk about the “case” for the resurrection of Christ:
1. The Empty Tomb. When the women and disciples came to the tomb on Sunday, the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. Something happened—Jesus’ body was missing. Either the disciples stole his body, someone came to desecrate his body, or he was raised. If he had not been raised, the easiest way to demonstrate that was for his opponents to produce his body.
2. The “Sightings” of Jesus. The disciples claimed to have seen Jesus alive, raised from the dead. They claimed to have seen him, touched him, eaten with him, spoken to him. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15, between the year 55 and 65, about the sightings of Jesus, saying, in effect, “Listen, there are hundreds of these folks who saw him—they live in Judea. I’ve spoken to them!”
3. The Impact On the Disciples. The fact that each of the disciples went on to preach that Christ was raised, even though this meant imprisonment, torture and in most cases death, is seen as evidence of their personal belief that Jesus was in fact raised. The birth of the church—the fact that within weeks of Jesus resurrection, the disciples were proclaiming Christ’s resurrection, and that Jesus was unlike any other messianic figure, and that there were even priests in Jerusalem who came to believe their testimony—is witness to the resurrection of Christ. Paul, the man who was arresting and persecuting Christians, became one himself after a vision in which he heard the voice of Jesus. He became a vocal proponent of Christ, convinced he had met the risen Lord. He would be persecuted, imprisoned, beaten, and finally beheaded for this faith.
4. The inherent logic of the resurrection. I came to believe in the resurrection by reading the gospels. I read Matthew, but when I came to the resurrection I did not believe it. I read Mark, and when I came to the empty tomb I thought, “I wish the story ended that way, but I don’t believe it.” Then I read Luke, and now I thought, “If God sent Jesus, and he came to proclaim God’s kingdom and to show the human race who God is and what God’s will is for us, how could this story end any other way?” If Christ had been tortured and killed and left in the tomb, it seemed to me, then evil, hate, sin and death had the final word. They won. The resurrection seemed to me to be God’s response—Christ is risen, victor over evil, hate, sin and even death.
This week I sat with a member of our congregation who is dying. What I loved was her hope, her smile, her ability to laugh. She did not want to die, but knowing she was going to die she said, “I can’t wait to see what is on the other side.” She not only believes in the resurrection, she’s counting on it—which is far different from someone in her same circumstances who lives without hope.
It is impossible to prove the resurrection. I can show reasons to believe in this unbelievable event, but we each must decide whether we trust it or not. If you struggle to accept the resurrection literally, perhaps you can see it as others who struggled finally accepted it—a vision of the risen Christ, an awareness that his life, his message, his kingdom, did not end with his death, but continues. As for me, I believe the tomb was empty, and Jesus was literally raised. I not only believe it, I’m counting on it.
This leads me to another question often asked about Jesus: Was he divine? That is, was he God come in human flesh, what does that mean and why does it matter? The official orthodox Christian position is that Jesus was, according to the Nicene Creed of AD 325, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.”…
The New Testament was written 225 to 275 years before the Council of Nicea, just decades after the death of Jesus. Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians sometime between 52 and 62, and said: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.”…In Colossians, Paul, or a later follower of Paul, wrote: “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” This picks up the same idea–that Jesus embodied the fullness of God, the essence, the character, the heart and will of God. Throughout the gospels and letters we find phrases used in the Old Testament concerning God applied to Jesus. The Gospel of John begins with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” (John 1:1, 14).
I value the creeds, but sometimes wonder if our quest for precise formulations has led us to say more than we humans can know about the mystery of the incarnation. The older I get the more convinced I am that God does not give us certainty, but asks us to trust in mystery. Here’s what I know and believe: That Jesus’ mission was to draw people to God, to heal and redeem this world and to call people to the good news of the Kingdom of God. He embodied and put flesh on God’s heart, compassion, will, character and love. He is the clearest picture of who God is and what God is like. He is Emmanuel, God with us….
I love this man Jesus. I don’t fully understand him. But I believe in him and seek to follow him. The best part of my life has come as a result of my decision to trust and follow him. I speak to him each day. I read his story and his teachings and try to live them. I trust that his mercy on the cross was to save me from my sin and from myself. I count on the hope of the resurrection. His story is my defining story. We started this church 24 years ago to invite others to become his followers. Today, I invite you to become his follower. It is very simple. Christ invites you, “Will you be my disciple? Will you trust me as your Savior? Will you follow me as your Lord?” The decision to become a Christian is covered in one three letter word, “Yes.” I wonder if you might say yes to him today?
“What does it mean that Jesus is the Son of Man?”
Jesus is referred to as the “Son of Man” 88 times in the New Testament. A first meaning of the phrase “Son of Man” is as a reference to the prophecy of Daniel 7:13-14, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” The description “Son of Man” was a Messianic title. Jesus is the One who was given dominion and glory and a kingdom. When Jesus used this phrase, He was assigning the Son of Man prophecy to Himself. The Jews of that era would have been intimately familiar with the phrase and to whom it referred. Jesus was proclaiming Himself as the Messiah.
A second meaning of the phrase “Son of Man” is that Jesus was truly a human being. God called the prophet Ezekiel “son of man” 93 times. God was simply calling Ezekiel a human being. A son of a man is a man. Jesus was fully God (John 1:1), but He was also a human being (John 1:14). First John 4:2 tells us, “This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” Yes, Jesus was the Son of God—He was in His essence God. Yes, Jesus was also the Son of Man—He was in His essence a human being. In summary, the phrase “Son of Man” indicates that Jesus is the Messiah and that He is truly a human being.
To read about why the Common English Bible translated the Greek title “Son of Man” as “the Human One,” (hint: it was NOT to deny Jesus’ divinity!), go to:
This week prayerfully consider how you can live your life more like Jesus. Search for Bible verses that describe his nature, his attitudes and his words. Do your best to think and act more like him. Next week, share with the group whatever you experienced and whether anyone seemed to notice without your saying anything.