(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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.