Monthly Archives: March 2014

3.30.14 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(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)

Prostitutes and Prodigals

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.

MONDAY
Luke 12:1-34

From the start of his ministry, Jesus’ message challenged his day’s religious and political leadership structures. He taught that faith and trust must flow from the inside out, and gave a wide-ranging set of warnings against a “mismatch between…hearts and lives.” Live authentic lives devoted to God, he told his followers. “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom.”

TUESDAY
Luke 12:35-13:9

At the start of this passage, Jesus compared his followers to servants. Good ones are ready to respond to their master’s commands and wishes at all times; bad ones get fired (or, in Roman times, even worse). Jesus was not endorsing those cruel practices, but making the point that choosing to serve God is a matter of eternal life or death. The section ended with a haunting parable—Jesus didn’t seem to give it an ending.

WEDNESDAY
Luke 13:10-13:35

Jesus ended eighteen years of disability for one woman “at once.” Since he did it on the Sabbath, that upset the synagogue leader. To him, her case was no crisis—she’d suffered for 18 years. But for Jesus, that made healing, now, even more vital (verse 16). Still making his way to Jerusalem (verse 22), he mourned over a spirit that loved rules above people. One commentary called verses 31-35 “Lament of the Rejected Lover.”

THURSDAY
Luke 14:1-35

The watching Pharisees surely weren’t shocked when Jesus again ignored their Sabbath healing rules. But Jesus shocked them in a different way. They loved to talk about the end-time feast for God’s people (verse 15). But in Jesus’ feast story, the chosen said “no,” and God called street people instead! Making him your Lord, Jesus said, is costly. Count the cost before you set out on the Journey.

FRIDAY
Luke 15:1-32

It was a familiar charge: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” With sinners and tax collectors gathering around to listen to him, Jesus could hardly deny it—and he didn’t want to. He embraced the “charge” with three vivid stories in which finding a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost boy set off big celebrations. To the last story, he pointedly added an older son who didn’t want to welcome the lost boy home.

SATURDAY
Luke 16:1-31

Jesus told of a swindler whose boss applauded him for his shrewdness in buying off “friends” to watch after him when he’d lost his job. He wasn’t endorsing financial fraud, but asking: if even a swindler can look down the road, wouldn’t you be wiser to use wealth for eternal purposes than for short-term earthly gain? Then Luke shared another “status inversion” story. A rich man ignored a poor beggar at his very gates. But the beggar got to enjoy heaven, while the rich man begged him to warn his brothers away from his hellish fate.

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Lord Jesus, deliver us from those “things” that try to draw us away from you, our true master. Help us to reach out to others who need your help. Thank you for welcoming us as guests at your table, while continuing to nurture and mold us so that we might yield fruit to your greater glory. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

Have you ever been approached by beggars for a “hand out”? How did you feel about that and how did you tend to react? How do you feel about begging in general?

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 Luke 12:1-34. Is God okay with a half-hearted faith? Why or why not? Describe a life that pleases God. Do you think God cares about each of us in as detailed a way as Jesus described? Jesus repeatedly said not to worry about anything. Really? Does he appreciate the pressures and demands of our everyday lives? If he does, how does he expect us not to worry about financial matters, our health, family troubles, etc.? What kinds of things do most people tend to treasure? How is Christians’ “treasure” supposed to be different?

 Read Luke 12:35-13:9. Jesus said his followers are servants. In what ways are Christians servants? How can we know when we are serving God and when we are not? Do the quality and quantity of our deeds adequately measure our godly service? Jesus is “the prince of peace” and yet he said he brought division among people. What did he mean? Have you experienced that division? The last parable in this reading is unfinished. How are you living out your own ending to it?

 Read Luke 13:10-13:35. Jewish leaders were constantly emphasizing their rules and regulations, rather than what Jesus said really mattered. How can Christians let abstract religious questions distract them from focusing on what matters most to God? What spiritual practices help you stay focused on what is most important to God? Why do some people seem to put off establishing a faithful relationship with God? What did Jesus say about that?

 Read Luke 14:1-35. In verse 11, Jesus said, “All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.” How do you interpret this verse? What was Jesus saying when he said the chosen guests wouldn’t be allowed to attend the banquet, but others would? In The Message, verse 14:26 reads, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple.” What does this mean to you?

 Read Luke 15:1-32. A basic, but crucial question: Why did Jesus welcome sinners? In the story of the prodigal son, who does the older son represent? How has some part of your life been like that of the prodigal son? What brought you “home”? How do you think the older son’s story might have ended?

 Read Luke 16:1-31. In what ways can each of us to be, in God’s eyes, “faithful with money”? How can we be sure that we are placing God above our concerns over money? What does the phrase “selling out” mean to you? What message did you receive in reading the story of the rich man and Lazarus? How much time have you spent in the Old Testament, reading messages from Moses and the prophets? Phillip Yancey called the Hebrew Scriptures “the Bible Jesus read,” and they are important, of course, to fully understanding the New Testament. Do you agree with Jesus that they could have taught the rich man, and his brothers, what they needed to know to live justly and compassionately?

From last week: Did you prayerfully consider how to overcome any self-righteousness in your own life? Did you become conscious of those times when you might otherwise react self-righteously toward others and work to change your attitude and your actions? Please share your experiences with your group.

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, March 30, 2014:

Luke loves to show the contrasts between the somebodies and the nobodies….Today’s story is another of those contrasts as Luke tells us about Jesus having supper at the home of a pious religious leader when a prostitute barges in to crash the party.

Let’s begin our study of this story with a word about Pharisees. Pharisees were a particular religious sect—like a denomination—within first century Judaism. There were not a lot of Pharisees—only 6,000 officially according to first century Jewish historian Josephus. But the Pharisees were respected by many, and their philosophy came to play a key role in later Judaism.

The Pharisees were somebodies—respected rabbis, lawyers and religious leaders. The word Pharisee comes from an Aramaic word we think means “separate” which, based upon what we know about them, seems to point towards their efforts at holiness. They were often zealous in their pursuit of the law, particularly the laws of purity. Ritual washing, avoiding contact with anything or anyone that would make you unclean, following the Sabbath laws to the nth degree, ritual washing of hands and body.

There are two inherent tendencies in religion that is focused on holiness: FOCUS ON RULES RATHER THAN PEOPLE AND GOD. This kind of faith tended to make religion all about rules, and pleasing God all about doing enough. The rules sucked the life and joy out of faith. In pursuit of the letter of the law, they often forgot the spirit of the law….

A second temptation for those whose religion is focused on holiness is: SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS. It becomes easy to judge everyone else in the light of your standards of holiness, or your interpretation of God’s standards. You end up seeing everyone else’s sins, looking down upon them or judging them, and seeing yourself as more holy than the other….

Luke 7:36, in the Greek, tells us that Jesus reclined at Simon’s table. This is a formal dinner or banquet and the guests are reclining on cushions in a U shaped configuration….While the meal was being eaten a woman walked into the Pharisee’s dining room, and she stood at Jesus feet. She’s learned that Jesus was there, and she’s come to see him. We know nothing of what had happened before this, but we can surmise that Jesus had offered her grace, or shown her some kindness, or healed her of some disease. Luke simply doesn’t tell us. But she’s come to bless him, bringing with her an alabaster flask with costly perfume. Mark and John, in a similar story, say the flask held nard. If so, it was worth about one year’s wages for an average day laborer….

Luke tells us she was a woman of the city who was a sinner. This is a euphemism, most scholars believe, for a prostitute. Can you see this—the self-righteous Pharisee who seeks to remain pure and holy, inviting his pious friends to dinner to hear from the rabbi everyone was talking about? How scandalous that this town prostitute sets foot in his home. Can you feel his discomfort and that of all of the other separated ones in the house? Here is this prostitute, an am ha-aretz, a sinner.

I want you to imagine the woman for a moment. No woman grows up hoping to be a prostitute. She had hopes and dreams at one time, first century equivalents of a white picket fence, a family, loved and being treasured by someone. Was she sold into slavery by her father as a girl? This happened at that time. Was she rejected by a man and left with no other source of income, financially required to sell herself? We don’t know how she came to be a prostitute. Was she addicted to alcohol?

I wonder if you can see this woman, trembling, as she walks into the room? Seeing Jesus, she looks down, refusing to look at the room full of rabbis whose eyes are all upon her. Perhaps some of them, too, were looking away. A friend of mine in Houston, Rudy Rasmus, before he became a Christian, and later a pastor, ran a motel that prostitutes rented by the hour. He noted that there were police officers, judges, doctors and lawyers and even a few preachers that would regularly rent rooms from him….

This woman wept. Seeing her tears on Jesus’ dusty feet, she let down her hair—something proper women wouldn’t do in a setting like this—and she knelt and dried his feet with her hair, kissing his feet, and then breaking open the flask of her alabaster jar, poured this beautifully scented oil on his feet. This is an amazing scene of great love, a year’s wages poured out on Jesus. The gratitude and love she demonstrated take your breath away—unless you are Simon. We read, “Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.’”

Jesus tells Simon a parable about two men who had both had their debts paid off—one owed two months wages, the other two years wages. He asks Simon, “Which will love the one who cancelled the debts more?” Simon said, “The one who had the greater debt.” “That’s right Simon.” Then Jesus turned towards the women and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?”

Some of you have heard me preach on this text before—I love this line. Simon could only see the woman’s sin. Jesus saw her as a person, as a child of God. He saw her as someone’s daughter. He saw her as someone who had made bad decisions, but who was still a sheep of God’s flock. He had compassion upon her and wanted her to return to God. This is what Jesus said he came for, “To seek and to save those who are lost.” Simon could only see her sin.

Jesus is telling us that God sees us. Even with all of our sin, he sees us. And how does he see us? He sees us as his children, as those he loves and longs to welcome home. He sees what we were meant to be….

What does our scripture story about the Pharisee and the Prostitute tell you about God? About what he wants and offers to you? What kind of church he would have us be? And between the Pharisee and the Prostitute, who ended up being the somebody, and who ended up being the nobody?
My invitation to you today is twofold: To receive God’s mercy, to come home to him. And to be the kind of church that shows up with welcome signs when lost sheep come home.

What is faithfulness?

You’re going to stand before God one day, and He will evaluate your faithfulness. He’s going to look at seven different aspects of your life to judge your faithfulness, and you should be highly interested in developing these areas of your life and leadership.

1. Do you possess the right values? A faithful person knows what’s important and what isn’t important in life. A faithful person knows how to invest his or her life. A faithful person makes their life count. A faithful person knows the significant from the trivial.

2. Do you care for the interests of others? The second way God is going to judge our faithfulness is our relationship to other people. Did we care about the relationships of others and not just our own relationships? Faithfulness swims against the stream of contemporary culture, which says, “What’s in it for me?

3. Do you live with integrity before an unbelieving world? In other words, a mark of faithfulness is the kind of testimony you have with unbelievers. The Bible teaches that a Christian is to be above reproach in the community and to have a good reputation, not with believers but with unbelievers. When God evaluates your faithfulness, He won’t be looking at your communication skills, but He will be examining the way in which you walked before those who are outside the faith.

4. Do you keep your promises? When God evaluates your faithfulness, He’s going to look at all the promises you made. Proverbs 20:25 says, “It is a trap to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows.” It’s easier to get into debt than to get out of debt—that’s making a promise to pay. It’s easier to get into a relationship than out of a relationship. It’s easier to fill up your schedule than it is to fulfill your schedule. The Bible is saying that faithfulness is a matter of “If you say it, you need to do it.” You keep your promises. The No. 1 cause of resentment is unfulfilled promises.

5. Do you develop your God-given gifts? There’s a tremendous emphasis in the Bible on using the gifts and the talents God has given you. God has made an investment in your life, and He expects a return on it. First Peter 4:10 says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” Notice it says that if you don’t use your spiritual gift, people are getting cheated. Faithfulness is based on what we do with what we have.

6. Do you obey God’s commands? In 1 Samuel 2:35, God says, “I will raise up a faithful priest who will serve me and do whatever I tell him to do” (LB). Circle “do whatever I tell him to do.” God defines faithfulness as “obedience to the commands of Christ.” We can be skilled leaders and communicators, but disobedience disqualifies us from being seen as faithful as God defines it. This is basic, but it’s essential.

7. Do you pass on what you learn? The Bible talks a lot about the transferring process of multiplication. You’re to give what you learn to faithful people, and those faithful people are to give it to others, and so on. None of us would be here today if there hadn’t been faithful men and women in the last 2,000 years of the church. We’re here today because some faithful men and women took time to write down the Scriptures, and others preserved the Scriptures, and others translated the Scriptures. We’re here because of the testimony of faithful people.

Source: http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-leadership/ethics/20363-7-ways-god-will-evaluate-your-faithfulness (By Rick Warren)

Final application:

This week, prayerfully consider whether you are being a faithful steward of God’s gifts of faith. Review the seven items listed above and try to make any adjustments you think are needed. Next week, consider sharing any discoveries with your group.

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3.23.14 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(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 Demon Possessed

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.

MONDAY
Luke 8:22-56

The Sea of Galilee sat in a kind of geologic “bowl,” and was always subject to sudden, severe storms. Jesus calmed one of them and amazed his disciples. Yet he showed a different, even greater kind of power as he calmed the inner storms of an unstable man, healed a woman ailing for 12 years and gave life and hope back to a synagogue leader and his deathly ill child.

TUESDAY
Luke 9:1-27

Jesus sent the 12 out for what we might almost see as “serving practice.” He then had them help him feed 5,000 people. In answer to Jesus’ penetrating question, Peter said Jesus was the Christ (Greek for “anointed one”—equivalent to the Hebrew Messiah). Jesus did not dispute the identification—but he did say frankly that being the Christ meant suffering, not earthly power. And it meant that, not just for him, but for those who chose to follow him, too.

WEDNESDAY
Luke 9:28-50

Moses, Elijah, a flash of light, God’s voice—THAT looked like greatness to human eyes. For Peter, John, and James, seeing the greatness and glory of Jesus was so overwhelming it left them speechless. But true greatness in God’s kingdom wasn’t on a mountaintop. When they came down from that experience, Jesus defined greatness as having childlike trust in God, healing the sick and broken, serving people’s needs, and even suffering at human hands.

THURSDAY
Luke 9:51-10:24

From Luke 9:51 on, Jesus was purposefully going to Jerusalem. (He arrived there in Luke 19:28, on Palm Sunday.) Like the gospel of John, Luke wanted it to be clear that Jesus was not a victim who stumbled unknowingly into hostile Jerusalem (cf. John 10:17-18). Luke framed every event from 9:51 on in this light: Jesus was going to Jerusalem, where the cross awaited. Yet Satan was falling. This was a march to victory, not defeat.

FRIDAY
Luke 10:25-11:13

Part of what it meant for Jesus to “determine to go to Jerusalem” was the growing presence of legal experts and Pharisees testing him with questions that sought to trap him. He answered this one with a story showing in vivid human terms what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. He told his friend Martha it was vital to make him her first priority, and he taught his disciples how to pray—and why.

SATURDAY
Luke 11:14-54

People convinced that they were upright slandered Jesus—for setting people free from conditions caused by evil! Yet they fixated on washing for ritual purity (not for hygiene—remember, no one knew about germs in their day). Jesus strongly disputed their sense that outward rituals matter more than inner candor and openness. He was kind, but not a doormat, and he bluntly challenged their claims to have a corner on righteousness.

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Lord God, open the eyes of our hearts so that we might soak in the light of your love and grace. Help us to bring light to the lives of others. Provide us with your inner compass to guide our paths in righteousness and help us to seek the kind of greatness that you would want for us. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

Historians have found flaws, often big ones, in the lives of most of the greatest people in history. Does this disappoint you, or do you continue to admire these people for the good things they did? Who are some of the flawed historical figures you admire most?

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 Luke 8:22-56. As you read these stories about some of Jesus’ miracles, what do you learn about Jesus’ character and priorities? What do you think about the miracle of Jesus calming the storm and the water? What kind of “storms” do people encounter in their own lives? Can the power of Christ calm these storms? In what way or ways? What can be done to ensure that the calming power of Jesus enters our lives? Can Jesus’ confidence and calm be instilled in us?

 Read Luke 9:1-27. These verses showed Jesus’ power flowing through others, rather than directly meeting people’s needs. Does he still call us to be vehicles through whom his power flows? How did the story show our need to rely on Jesus’ power, not our own, to achieve God’s purposes? How do you understand Jesus’ question, “What advantage do people have if they gain the whole world for themselves yet perish or lose their lives?” How have you had to face that question in your own life? Do you find it difficult to make the “right choices” in your life?

 Read Luke 9:28-50. God the Father told Peter, James and John to listen to his son, Jesus. What does it mean for you to listen to Jesus? Are you willing to do that? What can make that difficult to do? How does this world tend to define greatness? How did Jesus define greatness? In what ways do these two definitions differ and how do they clash?

 Read Luke 9:51-10:24. Why was Jesus so determined to go to Jerusalem? What mission did he have to fulfill there? What did Jesus mean when he said he saw Satan fall from heaven? The disciples were elated because of the power Jesus had given them. How did Jesus respond? How should we feel about the gifts we’ve been given in Christ’s service? Verses 59-62 speak to the issues of our priorities and loyalties. Have you ever ranked your priorities and loyalties for your life? This is significant in any “life planning” process. How do things like job, family, country, friends, school, or anything else should rank in your life? Where does God come in?

 Read Luke 10:25-11:13. How does the story of the Samaritan tell us of God’s goodness toward us? How can our recognition of God’s generosity toward us affect out treatment of others? Re-read verses 9-10. Does Jesus guarantee that we will receive whatever we ask for? What do you understand the verses to mean? If God answers you by giving you peace, will you be grateful, or upset that you didn’t get what you asked for?

 Read Luke 11:14-54. Many of the people in these verses were “spiritually blind”. How would you define spiritual blindness? How guilty are we of condemning the acts of others without considering our own faults? How do you feel when historians expose flaws in otherwise good heroes of the past like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc.? Do you feel let down by their flaws, maintain your admiration for their goodness, or both? Have you ever wondered what historians who studied your life would report?

From last week: Did you prayerfully consider all the helpless, sick and disabled people of the world? Did you offer prayers for them to find relief and healing? Did you pray also for their emotional and spiritual peace? Did you try to visit any of these people who you personally know? Please share your experiences with your group.

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, March 23, 2014:

In first the first century world, afflictions that could not be explained otherwise, including depression, various forms of mental illness, epilepsy, muteness, and even unexplained fevers would be explained as the work of demons afflicting someone. In the early church demons were also understood to be the sources of temptation and the voices that seek to lure people from God.

Incantations, prayers and odd treatments were used in exorcisms. For example, things like burning a rotting fish were supposed to drive away demons. Ordinary priests and physicians saw casting out these demons as a part of their healing work. Most of what they treated, I think, were physical or psychiatric disorders, but I have heard enough stories of encounters with demons that I don’t discount the reality of such spirits either….
Luke 8:27 says, “As [Jesus] stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.” And verse 29b says, “Many times [the demon] had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.”

Can you picture him, stark naked, stark raving mad, his long untamed hair and beard, broken shackles around his hands and feet, dirty and the look of a mad man in his eyes? The townspeople were so afraid of him the only place he could live was among the tombs. I love this—Jesus traveled by boat for hours through a storm in order to meet this one man at the tombs, a man who was worse than a nobody. He was an outcast who was not in his right mind.

Remember, Luke writes his gospel so that you might know who Jesus is, and what he stands for, and through him, that you might know who God is. What do these stories of Jesus concern for the demon possessed tell us about God’s concern for the mentally and spiritually afflicted? And what do they tell us about the power of God?
Let’s see what happens next. “When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.’ Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He said, ‘Legion’; for many demons had entered him.”

I want you to notice that this man had many demons. The demon calls itself “Legion.” A legion was the basic military unit of the Roman army. A legion included about 5,600 of Rome’s finest soldiers, Rome’s marines….There is some irony in this story that first century readers would not have missed. The name of the demon just happens to be the name of Rome’s finest, most powerful military units. Not long before Luke wrote this gospel the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by four Roman legions, the V, X, XII and XVth—and in the process they put one million Jews to death. I can’t help but think that there is a political commentary in this story—the legions being likened to demons, the pawns of the Devil himself?
So we have a man with a slew of demons, a legion of them, which would make him very powerful. The townspeople had chained him and tried to subdue him, but they could not. But when the man sees Jesus, before Jesus says a word, he falls at his feet, acknowledges that Jesus is the “Son of the Most High,” then begs Jesus for mercy! The demons surrender, quaking in fear.

Let’s see what happens next: “[The demons] begged [Jesus] not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these.” Even the demons hate hell and don’t want to go back! Notice that the demons begin trying to negotiate with Jesus. “Please, don’t send us back to the Abyss. There are some pigs over there. Maybe we could go into them? Yeah, send us into the pigs!” The demons may have thought they could put one over on Jesus. “Send us to the pigs”—then, when Jesus leaves they go back to tormenting this man.

Here’s an important point: demons like to negotiate. You’ve no doubt heard them. They try to lead us to hurt ourselves or others, to make us slaves to things that destroy us, or to keep us from God’s path for us. They rationalize, justify, and do all they can to lure, or persuade us to do what will enslave us, or discredit us, or sap the life out of us. If we struggle with resentment, the demons encourage us to focus on the wrong done to us. If we struggle with alcohol, it is a whisper telling us one little drink won’t matter. When we’re depressed the demons tell us, “It’s always going to be like this,” or worse, “Everyone would be better off without you.”

Don’t negotiate with the demons. They will outsmart you. But Jesus outsmarted them….Let’s talk about our experience of demons today. For most of us the word “demon” could be synonymous with the voice we hear in our heads telling us the exact opposite of what scripture and the Holy Spirit call us to do. This voice seems bent on neutralizing our impact for God, on robbing us of joy and life, of enslaving us to things that promise life but deliver death. These voices may keep us afraid and filled with anxiety, or lead us to self-destructive behavior. Some hear these voices telling them that there is no other way out than suicide. Or that life will always be as bleak as it is today, that there is no hope. For some it is bitterness and hate they hear whispered in their heart day after day, week after week. For some it leads us to addiction, for others to saying and doing things that will discredit you and hurt others.

They control those who welcome these demonic thoughts and entertain them over a long period of time.

Are these literal unclean spirits, or just the darkness in our own hearts? Probably some of both. I’ve heard enough stories of people’s experiences of demons that I can’t discount the idea that there are such creatures, but I also believe that most often our experiences are experiences of our own dark side.

In either case this story is meant to show us that Christ is infinitely more powerful than the demons! 5,600 demons in a man, and when Jesus shows up he falls and begs at Jesus feet for mercy. It is not even a fair fight. Jesus has power over the demons. We turn to him and trust him. We trust his words. We can invoke his name, and the demons quake. We don’t have to be afraid of the demons. We don’t need to give in to them. They shake at the thought of Christ.

Luke’s gospel – how is it different?
The Gospel of Luke is unique or different from other two synoptic gospels. He is the only non-Jew writer in the New Testament. He was probably a Greek. Only this gospel has a sequel – the Acts – in the New Testament. Luke is the longest gospel, and covers nearly twenty-five percent of the entire New Testament.

One of the big and controversial differences it has is the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Luke seems to have followed the lineage of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The disparity between Matthew and Luke suggests that Luke might have interviewed Mary to write down about the supernatural virgin birth and inserted her lineage into the genealogy which is quite unusual in the Jewish culture in Jesus’ time. He also makes references to women and their stories forty-five times in his Gospel. The birth narratives of Jesus and John the Baptist are told from the women’s perspective – Mary and Elizabeth respectively (chapters 1-2). Women received special attention in Luke’s Gospel.

Luke’s presentation of Jesus is largely focused on his humanity and compassion for the outcasts of society. Jesus in the Gospel of Luke is the one who has entered into the world as the Savior of all mankind (not just the Jews).

Worship is the central point in the hymns Luke records in the Gospel. Mary’s song of praise is one of them (1:46-55). Luke also sheds some light on Jesus’ private prayer life. So it is more like a gospel of prayer.

Luke features marginalized people over and over in the story. Only Luke has the parable of the Good Samaritan (10:25-37) and the story of ten lepers being cured and cleansed, but only the Samaritan leper returning to Jesus to thank him (17:11-19). Luke also consists of 18 unique parables that are only found in the Luke: the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep, and the Prodigal Son are only found in the book of Luke (Luke 10:25-37, 15:4-7, 15:11-32).
Luke also takes some time to show special interest in poor, crippled, and shepherds. Jesus heals them, and some of his teachings have strongly emphasized love and care for the poor, weak, and crippled who are overlooked by their families, friends, and society. The outcasts – the Samaritans, tax-collectors, and women – are seated in the place of honor.

The abundance of food is also portrayed in the Luke. Some of Jesus’ parables are set at banquets and feasts. He makes nineteen references to food or meals altogether, and thirteen of them are exclusive to his gospel. The number of references also shows the significance of gathering together and having meals together. Jesus is disclosing his divine identity—that he is the only source of both spiritual and physical life.

And also a portrayal of community can be found in this gospel. In other words, community (church) is the key aspect of the Kingdom of God.

Luke has presented Jesus in a very distinctive way, making him a verifiable historic person. Some of the historical figures Luke recorded and the events can be corroborated even today.
Source: http://cafn.us/2011/01/11/the-gospel-of-luke-different-yet-similar-to-other-two-synotic-gospels/

Final application:

This week, prayerfully consider how to overcome any self-righteousness in your own life. Become conscious of those times when you might otherwise react self-righteously toward others and work to change your attitude and your actions. Next week, consider sharing your experiences with your group.

3.16.14 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(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 Good Doctor

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.

MONDAY

Luke 4:14-44

In Nazareth, Jesus defined his mission by claiming that God was fulfilling the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 through Jesus’ healing, liberating actions. There he met rejection and anger. In Capernaum, on the other hand, the townspeople wanted him to stay there and be their local healer (verse 42). But Jesus steadfastly followed a course that he and God chose. He did not allow either human popularity or rejection to govern his actions.

TUESDAY

Luke 5:1-32

Luke (probably Paul’s companion called “the dearly loved physician” in Colossians 4:14) catalogued many different ills Jesus healed. No wonder people were “filled with awe” (verse 26)—clearly an awe-inspiring spiritual power was at work in Jesus. And it’s important to know that in Jesus’ day, illness was not just physical—many people thought it was a sign of God’s curse. Jesus’ healing acts bore powerful witness to God’s forgiveness and love, as well as God’s power.

WEDNESDAY

Luke 5:33-6:16

Jesus was challenging the status quo, and he used a parable to do so. (The word “parable” occurs 26 times in Luke—5:36 is the first time.) Goatskins often held wine and other fluids in Palestine, but new wine would burst a rigid old skin. Through Jesus, God was establishing new ways of working in the world that would burst old cultural norms. The response to Jesus’ Sabbath healing showed that his message could burst old, rigid spirituality, too.

THURSDAY

Luke 6:17-6:49

After choosing the Twelve, Jesus laid out his “platform,” to use a modern political analogy. These are the principles of life in his Kingdom. Luke used much (but not all) of the material from “The Sermon on the Mount” (cf. Matthew 5-7) in this passage. That is not a conflict, however—most scholars believe these ideas were likely the core of most of Jesus’ sermons as he proclaimed “the good news of the Kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43).

FRIDAY

Luke 7:1-35

A Roman commander trusted Jesus’ implicitly, and Jesus healed his valued servant. Jesus brought a widow’s dead son back to life, and the people of Nain said, “God has come to help his people.” But in prison (Luke 3:20), stalwart John the Baptist began to wonder. When was Jesus going to “clear his threshing floor,” “burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17)? Was he “the one,” as John had preached? He sent the question to Jesus.

SATURDAY

Luke 7:36-8:21

A religious leader invited Jesus to eat at his house, but he seems to have treated Jesus quite rudely (Luke 7:44-46). A “woman from the city, a sinner” found Jesus there, and poured out her love in tears and perfume. Jesus told a story that taught that he sowed the seed of God’s love and grace everywhere. Human eyes can’t always tell where it will find fertile ground in which to grow, and where it will land on rocky ground that causes it to wither away.

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Lord God, please shape us into people with rich and productive “soil” in our hearts as you sow the seeds of your message in us. May we always overflow with a harvest of the fruit of your Spirit. Strengthen our foundation of faith so that we might weather life’s storms. Nourish our spirits so that we might be disciplined followers of yours. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

“March madness”—can any significant “life lessons” be learned from participating in or simply watching college games? Do you watch with the attitude of “it’s only a game” or with unbridled passion over the outcome?

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 Luke 4:14-44. What were the people thinking when they said, “This is Joseph’s son, isn’t it?” What was it that made them angry (verse 28)? Why did Jesus address both physical and spiritual issues? What reason did Luke give for Jesus silencing the demons? What made it important, in verse 42, for Jesus to go to “a deserted place”? What drawbacks does constant attention seem to have? When do you need “alone time”? How important is it? How do you carve out that time?

 Read Luke 5:1-32. Healing often involves the physical, emotional and spiritual. Did Jesus involve himself in all three areas of healing? In Christ’s time (and today), did many people view illness as merely physical? When Christ healed someone’s physical ailments, do you think that healing was limited to the physical? Jesus was often followed by people whose intent was to criticize. What was their motive? Are ministers, teachers and doctors immune from this kind of criticism? Why do some people seem intent to criticize others regardless of the good works being done?

 Read Luke 5:33-6:16. Using parables, Jesus was introducing new ways of thinking that would burst old cultural norms. Do we have cultural norms today that need to be re-thought? Is America a single-culture society? Is your church a single-culture church? How can a mixture of cultures be a positive? Has God transformed you from old ways of living to new ways? Jesus chose his apostles only after an entire night of prayer. Is prayer important to you when you face significant decisions? Why?

 Read Luke 6:17-6:49. These passages are often considered to be much of the “core” of Christ’s message. Which parts of his sermon most challenge our culture’s wisdom on how to “succeed”? Which of Jesus’ promises in this sermon mean the most to you? Who can you think of in history and among Christ’s followers who have stood with the poor and the oppressed? Do we do enough to live as Christ has instructed us? How can we train ourselves to follow his teaching more closely? How important is it that we do this – and why?

 Read Luke 7:1-35. Jesus was born a Jew. What evidence do we have that his message of salvation was for gentiles as well as for Jews? Why was Jesus so impressed with the Roman centurion’s attitude? Why did Jesus have so much compassion for the widow whose only son had died? How did Christ’s response in verses 22-23 point clearly for John to the fact that Jesus was indeed the Messiah? When speaking of John the Baptist, what did Jesus mean when he said, “Yet whoever is least in God’s kingdom is greater than he”?

 Read Luke 7:36-8:21. Human eyes can’t always tell where seeds will find the most fertile ground in which to grow. Jesus was describing the “human soil” in which the seeds of the “good news” would land. Among the four kinds of soil Jesus described, which kind best characterized the Pharisee? Which characterized the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet? What can we do to ensure that our own “soil” is rich and productive? Was Jesus also teaching that he sowed his seeds of love and grace everywhere in the world? What does this mean to you?

From last week: Did you prayerfully consider all the “invisible people”, many of whom do thankless but essential work for our benefit? Did you make a special effort to extend your thanks and kindness to all of those who do this work and who may seldom receive any recognition? Please share your experiences with your group.

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Scott Chrostek’s sermon, March 16, 2014:

By Luke 4, Jesus, after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness, finally goes back home to Nazareth. In Luke 4, Jesus goes to his home church, the Synagogue in Nazareth. While there he surrounds himself with his friends and family. The only thing is, when he begins teaching in the synagogue people are astounded; they take offense. Luke states that, “All in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” (Luke 4:28-30)

“Who does this guy think he is? Isn’t he Mary and Joseph’s boy?” “Don’t we know his sisters and brothers?” “He doesn’t have any real power, why does he feel that he can speak to us like that?”

What is going on here? I’m always amazed by this story, because by the time we finally get to the part of Luke’s story that we might expect, that part when we meet up with the somebodies, Jesus’ family and friends, we get this totally unexpected response. Jesus goes home to Nazareth and is rejected. All these “somebodies” could see was a “nobody,” the son of a lowly carpenter….

One of my favorite hymns in the church has shaped my thinking on this, that has changed the way that I see things, is the hymn “Open My Eyes that I May See.” We used to sing it every month in the hopes that it would help us to remember that we are called to live a life with eyes that see the presence of God-sized possibilities wherever we went. It serves as a soundtrack to my life as I walk from place to place. I walk singing or thinking to myself:

“Open my eyes that I may see,

glimpses of truth thou hast for me;

place in my hands the wonderful key

that shall unclasp and set me free.

Silently now I wait for thee,

Ready my God, thy will to see.

Open my eyes, illumine me,

Spirit Divine!”

As the gospel continues, through Jesus we learn that God sees possibilities even when others do not….Lepers were kicked out, humiliated, and forced to out themselves or demean themselves wherever they went….In Luke 5, Jesus meets one of these people. This is what we read: “When he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, ‘I do choose. Be made clean.’ Immediately the leprosy left him. And he ordered him to tell no one. ‘Go’, he said, ‘and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.’ But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases.” (Luke 5:12-15)….

All through the gospel of Luke, the unexpected nobodies are able to see possibilities where the rest of the world sees nothing. What’s more is that seeing Jesus for who he is compels them to place their illness, their burdens, all that they have and all that they are at his feet. When the leper declares his faith in Jesus’ healing power and asks Jesus to heal him, Jesus responds saying, “I do choose. Be made clean.” (Luke 5:13) Jesus moved with compassion heals this man….

Leprosy wasn’t just a medical condition, it was a social disease. It extended beyond just an ailment. It was repulsive. It was mysterious, feared and little understood. Often leprosy was a natural symbol for sin.

What I find interesting about this story specifically is that when Jesus makes the leper clean, the term he uses to heal him is the Greek term katharizo, which could mean “forgiveness” as well as “healing.” Katharizo was often used to signify freedom from the defilement of sin, to purify from wickedness or even to free from guilt of sin….

This story is about Jesus touching upon something in us that evokes repulsion, namely our sin, our shame, those things that cast us out, hold us back or isolate us in the darkness and he takes it upon himself. This story is the Gospel in miniature. Jesus becomes like us, so that we might become like him. The Apostle Paul says it this way, Jesus “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but [instead] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave (a servant), being born in human likeness and being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-11)

Jesus came to free us from all that cripples, binds, and enslaves. He didn’t come to support religious orthodoxy, ritual cleanliness or rule following. His only concern was that we might have life and have it abundantly, and that is rooted in our ability to love God with everything we have and all that we are…and to love one another in the same way.

What Are People Around the World Searching For in the Bible?

Visitors to BibleGateway.com come from 92% of the world: 242 countries or territories out of a possible 263, including Vatican City, Israel, Palestine, China, Vietnam, Cuba, and North Korea. These visitors spent more than 76 million hours last year searching, reading, studying, comparing, and sharing the Bible in their own languages.

But what, exactly, were they looking for in the Bible? And do Bible readers in different parts of the world gravitate toward different sections of the Bible?

Here’s a breakdown, taken from the data, of the most popular (or most often read online) Bible passages in the ten most populous countries:

China

Matthew 1

John 1

Psalm 23

1 Corinthians 13

Genesis 2

India

Psalm 23

Genesis 1

John 3:16

Psalm 1

Proverbs 1

Bangladesh

Psalm 91

Psalm 89

Genesis 1

Psalm 23

1 Corinthians 13

Nigeria

Psalm 23

Psalm 51

Psalm 121

Genesis 1

Psalm 27

USA

Psalm 23

1 Corinthians 13

Genesis 1

John 3:16

Jeremiah 29:11

Indonesia

Genesis 1

John 3:16

1 Corinthians 13

Ecclesiastes 3

Psalm 1

Russia

1 Corinthians 13

Matthew 1

Psalm 23

John 1

Matthew 5

Japan

Genesis 1

Psalm 23

John 1

Psalm 91

1 Corinthians 13

Brazil

Genesis 1

Psalm 23

1 Corinthians 13

John 3:16

John 1

Pakistan

Psalm 23

Psalm 91

Genesis 1

Proverbs 1

Psalm 89

What conclusions can we draw from this? We’ll leave that up to you, but as the list shows, people in the ten most populous countries in the world are reading Psalms, Genesis, the Gospels, and 1 Corinthians 13.

Source: http://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2014/02/what-are-people-around-the-world-searching-for-in-the-bible/

Final application:

This week, prayerfully consider all the helpless, sick and disabled people of the world. Offer prayers for them to find relief and healing. Pray also for their emotional and spiritual peace. If possible, try to visit any of these people who you personally know. Next week, consider sharing your experiences with your group.

3.9.14 Weekly Small Groups GPS Guide

(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 Night Shift Workers

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.

MONDAY

Luke 1:1-38

From now through Saturday, April 26, the GPS will lead the Resurrection family in reading the entire gospel of Luke. Luke described how carefully he had studied Jesus’ story. He emphasized that he (as well as earlier gospel writers) relied on eyewitness testimony. Luke may have spoken with some additional witnesses, because his gospel was the only one that began with an angel announcing that aged Elizabeth would bear Jesus’ forerunner, while young Mary would give birth to the Savior himself.

 

TUESDAY

Luke 1:39-66

In Elizabeth and Mary’s culture, women were second-class citizens. No male leader of her day (let alone an angel) would have greeted this woman of almost no status by saying, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” So Mary sang that God lifts up the lowly. She and Elizabeth were living examples—a childless older woman and a single teen from a backwater town, both given key roles in God’s saving plan.

 

WEDNESDAY

Luke 1:67-2:20

Zechariah’s song praised God for raising up the mighty Savior John would herald. Then the “mighty Savior” arrived—as a poor infant announced to night-shift shepherds, and laid in a manger. Pastor Hamilton noted in The Journey: A Season of Reflections that the shepherds were sent to find the newborn king “in a parking garage (that’s what a first-century stable was), lying on a bed of straw where the animals ate.”

 

THURSDAY

Luke 2:21-52

Luke described Simeon and Anna, two elderly servants of God who recognized in the infant Jesus the hope for which they had been waiting. Simeon warned Mary that her life would hold pain as well as joy. Then Luke told about Jesus’ first Passover, at which he showed a precocious insight into the things of God, while Mary and Joseph experienced a foretaste of the pain and puzzlement they would face at times as their extraordinary son grew up.

 

FRIDAY

Luke 3:1-22

Nearly four hundred years had gone by with no clear prophetic voice in Israel. When John the Baptist began preaching, forcefully and urgently calling people to change their lives, he drew crowds hungry for a word from God. He baptized people as a symbol of cleansing and change. Faithful to his life mission, he pointed beyond himself, and had the privilege of baptizing the Savior whose way he’d prepared.

 

SATURDAY

Luke 3:23-4:13

For readers today, the “genealogies” (lists of names and relationships) are probably the most “so what?” parts of the Bible. But Luke made a key point with his genealogy, seen if we put it side by side with the list in Matthew 1. Matthew started Jesus’ lineage with Abraham, the father of the Hebrew nation. Luke came (verse 34) to Jacob, Isaac, Abraham—but went right on, all the way to “the son of Adam, the son of God.” The genealogy highlighted the sense of identity Jesus carried into his temptations. By saying “IF you are the Son of God,” the tempter asked, in effect, “Do you know who you are?” Because Jesus knew, he refused the temptation to try to prove his identity in self-serving ways.

 

To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.

 

SUGGESTED PRAYER

Lord Jesus, we pray that your will might become our will and that the temptations we face will be overcome by the strength you give us and the firmness of the foundation of our faith. Fill us with courage and commitment and grant that we might be sensitive to your guidance. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

Have you ever worked a night shift? How was it different from working days? Did you like working nights? Why or why not? Does the world seem the same at night, or is it somehow different?

 

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 Luke 1:1-38. Seldom if ever do angels appear to us as they did in these stories. Do you listen for God’s voice? Do you believe that God speaks to us? In what way does he speak? Do you recognize it when it happens and do you accept it as God’s voice? Are there ways for us to confirm it? Is God calling you to do anything during this season of Lent? The Scriptures repeatedly say, “Don’t be afraid”. Does God help us to face and deal constructively with our fears?

 Read Luke 1:39-66. Why would God have chosen an older, childless woman and a single teen as key players in his saving plan for humankind? Before this happened to them, would either woman have imagined her role would be so important? Can any of you imagine what God’s plan is for you? Are you ready for whatever God sends your way? How can we best prepare ourselves for any plan God has for us? Re-read verse 58. Do you have supportive people around you who would help you when you feel challenged? Are you willing to support others in a similar way?

 Read Luke 1:67-2:20. Does it seem strange to you that God would choose a poor family to protect and provide for his only son? Why wouldn’t he have chosen a rich family? Why would God choose to alert lowly shepherds to the birth of this miraculous child? Why do God’s values seem so different from society’s values? Are our own, personal values more in sync with those of God or of our culture? God imparted a “revelation” to the shepherds. Would you be trusting if God were to similarly impart a revelation to you? Would God want us to apply our powers of thought and analysis to that revelation?

 Read Luke 2:21-52. What was it that Simeon and Anna saw in the infant Jesus that others couldn’t see? What allowed them this insight? What might have made raising Jesus difficult for his parents? How did Jesus try to make it less difficult for them? Did being the parents of Jesus require them to make adjustments to their thinking and their lives? What kind of adjustments does Jesus ask of us? Is it worth it for us to make those adjustments? Why?

 Read Luke 3:1-22. John felt a sense of urgency in baptizing repentant people before Jesus began his ministry. Do you feel any sense of urgency to strengthen and act upon your faith? What steps can be taken to keep us on that path of faith? Were John’s baptisms ends in themselves? What was his purpose in baptizing? What can we do to prepare the way for Jesus Christ and the completion of his mission?

 Read Luke 3:23-4:13. Despite the power of the temptations, Jesus refused to bow to the human tendency to serve ourselves. Instead, he did what he had to do to serve God only. How are we similarly tempted in our own lives? Who do we tend to serve with our actions and attitudes? What can we do to counteract those tendencies to serve ourselves? Do you have any suggestions that might help others who face powerful temptations?

 

From last week: Lent is a time for us to remember the sacrifice Jesus made by giving His life for us and dying for our sins and the season in which we prepare for Jesus’ death and resurrection. During this last week, did you prayerfully consider what you might sacrificially offer in recognition of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us? What did you experience in this process?

 

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, March 2, 2014:

We’re going to spend the next 40 days retracing the life of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, starting today with his birth and ending on Easter with his resurrection. For Lent I’m going to invite you to set a goal of reading through this gospel. Each year as a congregation we read a gospel together. The GPS will be your guide, taking you through the entire Gospel of Luke.

In so many ways the Gospel of Luke is the Gospel of the Nobodies. Jews in the time of Jesus had a name for such people: they were called AM HA’ARETZ—the people of the land. This was a derogatory term for people who were considered ignorant, unclean, or sinners who did not appropriately fulfill the Law. They were outsiders, and often poor and marginalized. There was clearly a stigma attached to them. One of the major themes of Luke’s Gospel is God’s concern for the people of the land: the poor, those of low social status, and those whom pious Jews considered sinners. It was this portrait of Jesus befriending such people that drew me to wish to follow him….

Matthew doesn’t mention Nazareth as Mary’s home town. Why does Luke tell us this detail? Because he wants us to see just how low Mary was. You’ll remember that when Jesus was grown, and Nathaniel was told by Andrew, “We have met the Messiah, he is Jesus of Nazareth,” Nathaniel’s response was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

The angel Gabriel comes to Nazareth and tells Mary that she is highly favored by God. When she goes to visit her cousin or aunt, Elizabeth and tells her what has happened, Elizabeth says that she is blessed among all women. This news that she is going to have a child and that this child will be the long awaited Messiah is a blessing and a sign that God has favored her. But bear in mind what this means. People will whisper about her untimely pregnancy. Her fiancé might break off the engagement. Her very life could be in danger. She will face the danger of giving birth, potentially the challenge of being a single mom, and though she does not know it, she will see her son put to death at the hands of the Romans at the age of 33. It hardly seems she is blessed or favored by God.

I’ve shared with you before that wonderful quote from William Barclay concerning the blessings and favor of God: “The piercing truth is that God does not choose a person for ease and comfort and selfish joy but for a task that will take all that head and heart and hand can bring to it.” Such is the blessing and favor of God….

Let’s return to this story. You are meant to see God’s heart and character when you hear this story. God could have chosen any young woman in all Israel to give birth to the Messiah. He chose Mary of Nazareth. Mary does not miss this. In her famous prayer, the Magnificat, she tells us what all of this means. Listen to a portion of her song: “And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant…he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.’” This theme of God choosing and using the disgraced, the scorned, the nobodies, is all over these opening pages of Luke. This is who God is: he chooses and uses the low, the humble, the marginalized….

Only Luke tells us of Jesus being born in a stable because there was no room. Matthew does not mention this. Only Luke tells us that Jesus slept in a manger—an animal’s feeding trough–often carved out of blocks of stone. Remember, there are few trees in the Holy Land, but lots of soft limestone. Across the valley from where Jesus was born was a magnificent palace that King Herod had built for himself. He had a mountain made for himself, then had a fortress and palace built atop his man-made mountain. And as King Herod slept in his fabulous bed one night, Mary gave birth in a stable, and laid the King of Kings to sleep in the animal’s feeding trough.

This is our King. This is where he was born. What is Luke trying to tell us by describing this story? He is describing the humility of God, and God’s son, and God’s kingdom. This king born in a stable would tell his disciples, “The greatest among you will be your servant.” This is our king….

You invite the people you really care about to be there to celebrate the birth of your child.

I want to give you a sense of who these shepherds were. In the first century, shepherds were considered untrustworthy, unclean, and the lowest rung in society. And the lowest of the lowest rung were the shepherds responsible for protecting the sheep at night….these are the people God invited to be there when his Son was born of Mary in that stable 2,000 years ago.

As a church, and as individual Christians, Luke wants us to know that to be a follower of Christ is to honor the nobodies, to lift up the lowly, to humble yourself in the sight of the Lord. It is in humbling ourselves, and in lifting up the lowly, that we become most like God, and guard our hearts against the most deadly sin of all. I’d end with this call from Holy Scripture: “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord and in due time he will lift you up.”

 

Baptism – history and purpose

The immersion or dipping of a believer in water symbolizing the complete renewal and change in the believer’s life and testifying to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the way of salvation.

Jewish Background: As with most Christian practices and beliefs, the background of baptism lies in practices of the Jewish community. The Greek word baptizo , “immerse, dip, submerge” is used metaphorically in Isaiah 21:4 to mean, “go down, perish” and in 2 Kings 5:14 for Naaman’s dipping in the Jordan River seven times for cleansing from his skin disease. The radical Qumran sect who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls attempted to cleanse Judaism. The sect laid great emphasis on purity and purifying rites. These rites normally involved immersion, though the term baptizo does not seem to appear in their writings. It is quite possible that such a rite was used to initiate members into the community. Along with the rite, the Essenes at Qumran emphasized repentance and submission to God’s will.

Close to the time of Jesus, Judaism began a heavy emphasis on ritual washings to cleanse from impurity. This goes back to priestly baths prior to offering sacrifices (Leviticus 16:4, 16:24). Probably shortly prior to the time of Jesus or contemporary with Him, Jews began baptizing Gentile converts, though circumcision still remained the primary entrance rite into Judaism.

John’s Baptism: John the Baptist immersed repentant sinners: those who had a change of mind and heart (John 1:6, 1:11). John’s baptism—for Jews and Gentiles—involved the same elements later interpreted in Christian baptism: repentance, confession, evidence of changed lives, coming judgment, and the coming of the kingdom of God through the Messiah, who would baptize with the Spirit and with fire (Matthew 3:11). John thus formed a purified community waiting for God’s great salvation.

Jesus’ Baptism: John also baptized Jesus, who never sinned (Matthew 3:13-17; John 1:13-16). Jesus said that His own baptism was to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). Thus Jesus acknowledged that the standard of life John demanded was correct for Himself and for His followers. In this way He was able to identify with sinful mankind and to be a model for others to follow. In this way Jesus affirmed John and his message. The coming of the Spirit and the voice from heaven showed that Jesus represented another point in God’s revelation of Himself and formed the connection between baptism and Christ’s act of redemption.

Christian Baptism: John’s baptism prepared repentant sinners to receive Jesus’ baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire. (Note that Jesus did not do the water baptizing; His disciples did—John 4:1-2.) Jesus’ baptism and the baptizing by His disciples thus connected baptism closely with the Holy Spirit. When Jesus comes into a life, the Holy Spirit comes with His saturating presence and purifies. He empowers and cleanses the believer in a spiritual baptism. The main differences between John’s baptism and Jesus’ baptism lie in the personal commitment to Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ baptism (John 1:33).

Source: http://www.studylight.org/dic/hbd/view.cgi?n=676 (Holman Bible Dictionary)

 

Final application:

This week, prayerfully consider all the “invisible people”, many of whom do thankless but essential work for our benefit. Make a special effort to extend your thanks and kindness to all of those who do this work and who may seldom receive any recognition. Next week, share your experiences with your group.