Monthly Archives: April 2014

4.27.14 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 Discouraged and Disbelieving

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 24:18-27, 44-48

In his gospel’s last chapter, Luke twice wrote that the risen Jesus taught his disciples what the (Hebrew) Scriptures said about him. One of his parables said if people wouldn’t heed “Moses and the Prophets,” they wouldn’t be persuaded even if someone rose from the dead (cf. Luke 16:27-31). Jesus wanted his followers’ faith to have a firm Scriptural basis. This week we’ll study some of the Old Testament passages he likely referred to in his teaching.

TUESDAY
Psalm 16:7-11

In Psalm 16, the psalmist asked for God’s protection and guidance. In exuberant, even hyperbolic poetic words, the psalmist said God’s protection would see him through even life-threatening challenges. In Acts 2:25-28, Peter pointed to David’s tomb in Jerusalem, and said only the risen Jesus had fully received the divine promise of deliverance from the grave. (In Acts 13:35, Paul also used this Psalm to reinforce his preaching of Jesus.)

WEDNESDAY
Psalm 118:6-22

Psalm 118 praised God for his steadfast love. This was the last hallel (hymn of praise) Hebrews sang at Passover (cf. Mark 14:26) as they recalled God freeing Israel from slavery in Egypt. Jesus, just before his arrest and crucifixion, sang these words from the Psalm: “The Lord is for me—I won’t be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”; “The stone rejected by the builders is now the main foundation stone”; and “I won’t die—no, I will live.”

THURSDAY
Psalm 110:1-4

Scholars call Psalm 110 a “coronation psalm,” a hymn of blessing originally written to honor a king’s coronation day. Archaeologists have found similar coronation poems written among Israel’s neighbor nations. Jesus himself claimed the language of Psalm 110 to describe his reign in Luke 20:41-44, and the early Christians took their cue from him (cf. Acts 7:55–56; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12–13; 12:2; 1 Pet. 3:22).

FRIDAY
Psalm 22:1-22

Psalm 22 used violent images to express how totally helpless the psalmist felt. Surrounded by bulls, lions, wild dogs—no one on earth is strong enough to deal with such irresistible enemies. Jesus, his mind filled with the Scriptures, did not need to literally recite all 31 verses of Psalm 22 to show that the whole psalm, not just its first verse, framed his heart’s cry to God on the cross.

SATURDAY
Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Rabbis debated who Isaiah’s fourth “servant song” was about. The first Christians had no doubt—they quoted this song more than any other verses to describe Jesus’ redemptive suffering. The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology said, “Isaiah articulates a new and powerful vision of redemption in which violence is absorbed and transformed. In Isaiah 52–53 the heralding of Israel’s divine warrior returning to bring Zion’s deliverance (52:7–12), suddenly gives way to a description of a suffering servant of Yahweh (52:13–53:12).” Isaiah’s vision was that God does not increase the level of violence to win. In Jesus, the early Christians saw, God took violence onto himself and changed it into a redemptive force.

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 thank you for being the Suffering Servant who did not return violence with violence and yet who won eternal victory over sin and death. Teach us and strengthen us so we might be able to do likewise. Help us to reach beyond our suffering and instead be attentive to the suffering of others. In your holy name we pray, Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

How do the seemingly constant and rising political tensions in the world tend to affect you? Do they cause warlike emotions within you, or do they make you feel like withdrawing, refraining from being involved?

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 24:18-27, 44-48. Clearly, Christ’s resurrection was way, way beyond the personal experience of the people, even his own disciples. How willing are we to trust God, even if things occur that are far beyond our own personal experiences? Faith and trust are hazy subjects. How would you define “faith”? Which is more important to your relationship with God, faith or trust? Are the two subjects related and if so, how?

 Read Psalm 16:7-11. How confident are you that our mortal death is not “the end”? What did the psalmist mean by “you won’t abandon my life to the grave”? How does that affect your daily life? If we ask God to protect us, what are we asking for protection from? If, after we pray for his protection, something terrible happens to us or our family, friends or church, did God ignore or abandon us? What kinds of things, other than our physical well-being, might God protect for us?

 Read Psalm 118:6-22. Re-read verse 8. Using multiple endings, fill in the blank. “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than __________.” How do we go about taking refuge in the Lord when daily life seems to pull us toward taking refuge in so many “things”? Does our suffering mean God doesn’t care about us? Does our suffering mean that God isn’t protecting us? Why or why not? What has God done for you in and through your suffering?

 Read Psalm 110:1-4. Do kings, presidents of nations or wealthy captains of industry, by virtue of their positions, have God’s ear? What is our assurance that we have God’s ear? What comfort does this faith give you as you run life’s race? Do you accept the concept that Jesus was both fully human and fully God? What if anything makes this concept difficult for you? Is this idea in any way mysterious to you? Should God seem mysterious to us?

 Read Psalm 22:1-22. Is it always easy to reach out to God when we are in the most pain? What do we mean when we say that God is our strength? How have you ever felt like God had “forsaken” you? When you were suffering, did God ever shift your focus to the needs of others? How did this affect you? What is it that prevents others (and sometimes us) from seeing and acting upon the often immense needs of others?

 Read Isaiah 52:13-53:12. Who was this Old Testament “servant song” about? What makes you think so? Would Isaiah have answered the same way you do? What does Jesus’ way of defeating evil as the Suffering Servant tell you about the kind of God we serve? Do we have the capacity to use Jesus as an example and absorb suffering and violence without adding additional suffering and violence on our oppressors? If so, how do we find the kind of inner strength to do this?
From last week: After Easter week ended, did you make a special effort to infuse the meaning of the season in your day-to-day life? Did you find ways to daily increase your prayer time, extend love and kindnesses to others and seek peace and unity? In so doing, did the week become more special for you?

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Glen Shoup’s sermon, April 27, 2014:

Today we’re in the very last part of Luke and we’ll be thinking about what those earliest witnesses might have thought and felt immediately upon finding the tomb empty. And it might surprise you that Joy and Jubilation were NOT the initial responses, but rather they more likely experienced discouragement and disbelief….

The degree of disbelief exhibited by the nominal bystanders wasn’t limited only to those who had no real connection to Jesus. In fact, if anything, the shock and disbelief Jesus’ followers felt was even more intense because their disbelief couldn’t help but be comingled with incredible discouragement. Think about it—none of the people personally affected by Jesus could have envisioned things would turn out this way. Everyone of them who had been touched by Jesus or healed by Jesus or heard his teachings and been drawn to him was at the very least confused and grieved that this One Who said the whole of the Law comes down to Loving God and Loving your neighbor as yourself—every one of them would have been stunned that his life was snuffed out so suddenly and with such an—apparent—hopeless ending. Think about those early followers we’ve met in Luke’s Gospel and how they would have felt–the 3rd shift shepherds who never in their life had been chosen for anything, captivated by an angelic announcement of His birth. The despised and rejected He seemed to go out of his way to heal—the disabled and the sick—lepers who were outcasts, paralyzed people carried to him on cots, blind-people who received their sight, a widow whose son He’d raised from the dead—even healing the house manager of a Roman Centurion. Or those who had been plagued by demons—(which was the 1st category used for the mentally ill and handicapped)—those people once thought crazy and possessed who were walking around fully functional and healed, now forever grateful and paying close attention to His ministry. Or the Tax Collectors and Prostitutes who were disdained and ignored by everybody except for when their services were desired—I wonder about the level of disappointment, discouragement and disbelief they felt when The Only One Who had ever treated them as human was killed….And then there was that small group closest to Jesus—the disciples, the small handful of women and followers who had been there when they took His body down off the cross, who’d gone with Joseph of Arimathea and the Roman guards and seen His body placed in the tomb. Now, early Sunday morning, when they’ve come back to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body with spices, they see the stone rolled away, two messengers telling them that Jesus isn’t there but that He’s been raised, and they run back to tell the remaining 11 apostles that Jesus isn’t there and angels have told them He’s been raised. But the disciples won’t believe them—in fact they just dismiss them as jabbering nonsense….

There it is—a picture of those closest to Jesus, on that First Easter Sunday, filled with disbelief, racked with discouragement….

You know what that’s about, don’t you? Things not going like they’re supposed to, and being disappointed God didn’t make them go differently, spiraling towards disbelief and discouragement? You know, that company you thought you’d retire from—decades of your life invested, all ending in a pink slip instead of a pension? That conversation where the Doctor’s face tells you the cancer is back before the words even come out of her mouth? That phone call that begins with “I’m sorry,” and before you hang up the phone you learn somebody you love is gone? Folks, part of what Luke wants us to see in the disbelief and discouragement of those closest to Jesus on that first Easter is ourselves. To see ourselves in the disciples when things don’t go like we think they should, when God disappoints us because He doesn’t force the outcome that we would have chosen. That’s why disbelief and discouragement were enveloping some of those closest to Jesus—because Jesus hadn’t forced the outcome they would have chosen. Luke wants us to see ourselves in the disciples….

Characteristically for Luke, the first people the Resurrected Jesus shows Himself to aren’t the 11 remaining apostles. No, Luke brings the full force of Easter’s truth to a couple of people who aren’t even mentioned anywhere else in the whole Bible—except in the middle of Luke chapter 24. One of them is named Cleopas and the other person doesn’t even get identified….It is to them—these two low profile followers of His, as they’re walking back (presumably home) to Emmaus, about 7 miles from Jerusalem, that Jesus first appears to them. He joins into their conversation, and takes the Hebrew scriptures, starting with Moses, goes all the way through the prophets and shows the prophecy and promises of the scriptures that said this is how things would be for the Messiah. By the time they get to Emmaus, these two low profile believers invite Jesus in to share a meal, and it is when they’re sitting around the table eating that they realize it’s Jesus they’ve been walking and talking with. The very same Jesus who hung beaten and bloodied on a Cross Friday afternoon—He was not only ALIVE, but he was sitting at their table breaking bread with them….In this Gospel of the Nobodies, the very first people the Risen and Living Jesus appears to are a couple of low-profile, ordinary followers who are feeling disbelief and discouragement—two people not mentioned anywhere else in the entire Bible and the sum total of what we know about them is that we know one of their names. Why? Why would Jesus chose a couple of relative Nobodies like these as the first folks He appeared to?…

Luke has a MUCH BIGGER reason why he made these all-but-anonymous two people the first that the Resurrected Jesus appeared to. You see, it wasn’t going to be the high profile few that were going to most broadly carry the message. The incredible expansion of Easter’s good news that spread like wildfire across all the known world didn’t go mostly on the backs of the 12 Apostles. That happened because everyday ordinary people saw the Living Presence of Jesus in low profile, everyday disciples. most of whom were never identified or named anywhere in scripture. That’s what Luke intends for you and me to see….
In these last verses of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus wants us to know that we now leave Luke’s Gospel and our lives, our love, our witness and our forgiveness—WE are to be the Gospel of the Nobodies. We’re called to convey to every Nobody that they are Somebody because of Easter’s Defining Story. YOU—says Jesus—are the witnesses, the conveyers, the carriers. But you know, we can’t carry this Defining Story, unless we first make Easter our Defining Story.

What is “righteousness”?

Definition: Righteousness is the state of moral perfection required by God to enter heaven.
However, the Bible clearly states that human beings cannot achieve righteousness through their own efforts: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Romans 3:20, NIV).
The law, or the Ten Commandments, shows us how far we fall short of God’s standards. The only solution to that dilemma is God’s plan of salvation.

People receive righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. Christ, the sinless Son of God, took humanity’s sin upon himself and became the willing, perfect sacrifice, suffering the punishment mankind deserved. God the Father accepted Jesus’ sacrifice, through which human beings can become justified.

In turn, believers receive righteousness from Christ. This doctrine is called imputation. Christ’s perfect righteousness is applied to imperfect humans.

The Old Testament tells us that because of the sin of Adam, we, his descendants, have inherited his sinful nature. God set up a system in Old Testament times where people sacrificed animals to atone for their sins. The shedding of blood was required.
When Jesus entered the world, things changed. His crucifixion and resurrection satisfied God’s justice. Christ’s shed blood covers our sins. No more sacrifices or works are required. The Apostle Paul explains how we receive righteousness through Christ in the book of Romans.

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:6, NIV
Salvation through this crediting of righteousness is a free gift, which is the doctrine of grace. Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus is the essence of Christianity. No other religion offers grace. They all require some type of works on behalf of the participant.
Source: http://christianity.about.com/od/glossary/a/Righteousness.htm

Righteousness is not a moral perfection that people achieve by their own efforts, but a right relationship with God that people enter into through faith and obedience. (Bridgeway Bible Dictionary)

Final application:

This week, prayerfully consider what it means to be “right with God”. As you go through your week, find ways to extend this relationship with the people you come in contact with. If you experience negativity from others, do your best to counteract it with a positive and kind response. Next week, share your experiences with your group.

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4.20.14 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 Worst Thing is Never the Last Thing

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 24:1-12

Even Jesus’ death didn’t dim the women’s loyalty. They returned to Jesus’ tomb “very early in the morning on the first day of the week.” They went to care for his body as soon as the Sabbath laws (which he had challenged) allowed. They didn’t find his body, but did find two men in gleaming clothes who said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He isn’t here, but has been raised.” They reported this to the eleven, but true to form for their day, “their words struck the apostles as nonsense, and they didn’t believe the women.”

TUESDAY
Luke 24:13-24

Just as Luke shared details about Jesus’ birth that no other gospel included, his research found this unique story about the resurrection day. Jesus, unrecognized, walked with two disciples discussing recent events. They were disillusioned (“we had hoped”), sad about the crucifixion, and stunned that some women said Jesus’ body was not in the tomb. Note that these two followers gave no sign that they believed the report—just that it puzzled them.

WEDNESDAY
Luke 24:25-32

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus interpreted for his discouraged followers “the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.” As he broke and blessed bread for them, they recognized him in a flash of insight and memory. His transformed body disappeared, but they joyfully realized that their hearts were “on fire” as Jesus made the Bible clear.

THURSDAY
Luke 24:33-49

After meeting the risen Christ at Emmaus, the two disciples rushed back to share the news with the others. As they were speaking, Jesus himself appeared. Luke reported in detail that he was no ghost, but physically alive. Jesus again explained the Scriptures to the disciples, and commissioned them to share his message of repentance and forgiveness of sins. “You are witnesses,” he said, promising that God’s power would help them spread his message.

FRIDAY
Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:1-8

From the gospel of Luke, Jesus’ story continued directly into “volume 2,” the book of Acts. Before leaving earth, Jesus charged his followers to witness to him, but not based on their own courage or cleverness. Instead, they were to wait for the Holy Spirit’s power. Some have even suggested that instead of “Acts of the Apostles,” we might better call Luke’s second volume something like “the Acts of Jesus through the apostles.”

SATURDAY
Acts 1:9-14

Luke wanted Theophilus (and all other readers) to know Jesus’ story didn’t end in Jerusalem with the cross and the resurrection, or even the ascension. The risen Jesus told his followers that the saving work he had begun would go on through the rest of human history and into eternity. The risen Lord left earth, but two men in white told them this was not the end of Jesus’ story—he would return. His followers devoted themselves to prayer to prepare for the huge task that now lay before them.

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, King of our hearts, Isaiah said you would be “the prince of peace.” Through your Holy Spirit’s great power, enable and empower us to bring about your vision, your plan for this world. Help us, as members of your diverse, worldwide family of believers, to live out the spirit of love, unity and peace that your Spirit brought about in the first group of believers. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

Have the shootings and senseless murders in your area or other areas of America dampened your Easter celebrations? In what ways so these kinds of tragic incidents affect your feelings about Easter? Do you feel more like a member of Christ’s family when you celebrate the risen Christ, even in the face of tragedy?

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 24:1-12. How important is the resurrection of Jesus Christ to you personally? To the Christian faith? Why wouldn’t the apostles believe the women? When he saw the empty tomb, what might have gone through Peter’s mind? How significant is it that Jesus told the disciples in advance that he would rise after dying?

 Read Luke 24:13-24. Based on these verses, how widespread was the awareness of Jesus’ suffering and death in Jerusalem? Why might this have had a significant impact on the spread of Christianity? Why didn’t the two disciples recognize Jesus? What preconceived ideas might Cleopas have had about a messiah? What kinds of preconceived ideas can affect how we understand and live our Christian faith? Do we fully understand everything about the Bible? Do we trust the Bible even if our understanding might be flawed? Has God ever changed your understanding of some passages in the Bible? What factors brought about this new insight?

 Read Luke 24:25-32. How would you feel if Jesus, in person, explained the scriptures to you? How would these disciples feel after Jesus appeared to them, having not believed in the resurrection? How must they have reacted when he disappeared? What spiritual “aha” moments have you had in your walk of faith? The disciples urged Jesus to stay. How do we, as Christians, go about doing that? How have you learned to recognize his presence in the midst of everyday life?

 Read Luke 24:33-49. In verse 48, who was Jesus speaking to? What does being a witness mean? How can we be witnesses for Christ? What kind of “testimony” does God seek? In what ways has your faith in Jesus changed your life? How is your life better as a result of your faith? What makes you believe Jesus has the authority and power to forgive sin?

 Read Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:1-8. What was the key notion of the “strategic plan” Christ laid out for his followers? When will the plan be completed? What responsibility does each of us have to continue working on that plan? Do we, like the disciples of that time, have the Holy Spirit to help us carry out Christ’s plan? Might some of us, perhaps unconsciously, tend to “go it alone? What are the risks associated with that? How do we prevent it?

 Read Acts 1:9-14. You have now read and discussed Luke’s story of the risen Christ. Is that story over? Is Jesus’ plan for the world over? What will signal the culmination of his plan? If asked, could you tell someone else the story of the Christ – his life, suffering, death and resurrection? Could you recount the story of his love and saving grace? Are you willing to tell the story if the opportunity arises? Christ preached unity and love. Do you feel united with your fellow men and women, regardless of their race, color, ethnicity, gender, color and background?

From last week: Did you begin each day in prayer, remembering that this was Easter week? Did you seek during the week to reflect all that Christ is, all that he has done for us and all that he has and is teaching us? Was the week special for you?

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, April 20, 2014:

My plan this week was to focus on Mary Magdalene and the women, the first to arrive on Easter morning to find that Christ was risen. Last Sunday afternoon I received word that three people had been shot…ten minutes later I learned that two of these were members of our church….Dr. Bill Corporon and his grandson 14-year-old grandson, Reat, died at the Jewish Community Center. Reat was confirmed here last year and was a volunteer in our Sunday night children’s program. Bill and his wife Melinda joined earlier this year….Terri LaManno is the aunt of Resurrection West staff member Kevin Euston. My Easter sermon will blend parts of the sermon I had intended to preach with ideas from the sermon I preached at Bill and Reat’s service on Friday.

Tragedies like this week’s elicit one of two responses about faith in God from people. Some see tragedies and say, “This shows that there is no God. If there is a God he is a monster, or impotent, or both.” Sometimes what they’ve heard from Christians leads them to this conclusion. It is common to hear Christians say, in the face of tragedy, things like, “Everything happens for a reason.”

We’ve likely all said this. But it is good for us to question this idea. The phrase “Everything happens for a reason” implies that God has a plan we cannot see, and this tragedy was a part of his plan. What we often don’t think about is that this implies that God actually intended the tragedy to take place. We call what happened last Sunday a hate crime committed by a warped personality who will be tried for murder. How could we believe God intended for this to happen? I remember one of you telling me once that after your child died someone told them, “This must have been the will of God.” The woman turned away from God for years, believing any God who would will the death of her six year old was not a God she would wish to worship.

I so appreciated Mindy, Reat’s mom and Bill’s daughter. As she was interviewed throughout the week, she said over and over, “We do not believe this was the will of God.” Methodists believe God is just, loving and merciful. The Bible is the story, from Genesis 2 to Revelation 18, of how human beings reject the will of God and misuse their freedom. This brings pain and brokenness and in Milton’s words, paradise is lost.

I spent Monday listening to past interviews with the man who committed this crime. He believed people of Anglo-Saxon descent were victims of oppression by Jews. He told himself this story day after day, year after year. He found friends who believed the story and would tell it to each other. That became his defining story. It ultimately filled his heart with hatred and warped his soul.

For Christians, our defining story is that there is a God who created all things, whose nature is love. He came to us in Jesus Christ to show us the way, the truth and the life. He called us to love our neighbor and our enemies. He called us to forgive. He commanded us to show compassion for, and to help the weak, the vulnerable, the hungry and thirsty. He ultimately died as a king for his people, and from the cross he cried out to God, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” On the third day he rose from the dead, demonstrating God’s power over evil, sin and death. This story shapes our lives, our understanding of the world and our place in it, and is meant to lead us to love and compassion and hope….
Early Sunday morning Mary Magdalene went to Jesus’ tomb. She was a very important disciple. She exemplifies, in Luke’s gospel, a nobody who became a somebody. Mary was from the town of Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. She was single, with no children. Luke tells us that Jesus cast seven demons out of her. In the first century demons were considered the cause of any unexplained medical condition or mental illness. Maybe she suffered from depression, or was bi-polar. Whatever her demons, Jesus set her free. And she’d begun to follow Jesus and the disciples, hanging on every word Jesus said.
In the first century women, while valued and loved, were also viewed as less than men. A line from a common prayer dating around that century used by Jewish men said, “God I thank you that I am not a woman.” Josephus, the first century Jewish historian wrote, “The woman, says the Law, is in all things inferior to the man.” Rabbi Eleazar ben Hurcanus, who lived shortly after Jesus wrote, “Let the Law be burned rather than entrusted to a woman.” Men could divorce their wives for no reason. They were often left poor if their husbands divorced them or if their husbands died, the property being passed on to the male heirs. And it would be nearly impossible to imagine a prominent rabbi counting women among his disciples.

But Jesus did. Luke in particular tells us Jesus regularly stopped what he was doing to minister to women who were sick or in need. Luke tells us that at least six women travelled with the disciples, maybe more, and only Luke tells us they provided much of the funds for the work of Jesus and the disciples. And Mary Magdalene, likely rejected and discarded by her own people, became chief among these female disciples. She loved Jesus and demonstrated remarkable courage in standing at the cross as the male disciples hid. And on Easter morning as they were still in hiding she went to the tomb, finding the stone rolled away. And then, as she wept in the garden, the risen Christ spoke to her….

One of the texts I preached from at the service on Friday was Paul’s words in Romans 12: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This is precisely what we are called to do as Easter people. We serve a crucified and resurrected Messiah. Therefore we remain steadfast, not afraid in the face of evil, and we give ourselves to the work of the Lord. There were over 6,000 people who were here in person or joined us on line for the funeral. And we spoke about overcoming the evil that led to Bill and Reat’s death by practicing love. We challenged those present to honor them by choosing to stand up for the others, to let no evil talk come out of our mouths, as Paul says, but only what is useful for building up. As Easter people we are Christ’s agents and instruments to bring good from evil, to bring love where there is hate, and to bring hope where there is despair….

In Buechner’s famous words, Easter means the worst thing is never the last thing. We can and will survive the tragedies that happen in life. Christ promises that this life is not the end, only the beginning. As people whose defining story is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we’re called to overcome evil with good and to be Christ’s instruments to bring hope to our world.

And that leads me to these concluding words. For the last 24 years, I have ended my sermon with the same words. People ask me from time to time, “Do you really believe this story that Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty, that Jesus rose from the dead, that evil and death will not have the final words—that the worst thing is never the last thing?” My response is always the same: “I not only believe it, I’m counting on it.” Reat and Bill’s families are counting on it. I invite you to count on it too.

Easter Traditions from Around the World
Kids in the U.S. expect eggs and candy from the Easter bunny. German immigrants who brought the practice to this country in the 1700s believed that rabbits and eggs symbolize fertility and rebirth. Other cultures have their own, unique Easter customs.
Children in Finland go begging in the streets with sooty faces and scarves around their heads, carrying broomsticks, coffeepots and bunches of willow twigs. In some parts of Western Finland, people burn bonfires stemming from the belief that the flames ward off witches who fly around on brooms between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
Pouring water on one another is a Polish Easter tradition called Smingus-Dyngus. On Easter Monday, boys try to drench other people with buckets of water, squirt guns or anything they can get their hands on. Legend says girls who get soaked will marry within the year. The refreshing tradition has its origins in the baptism of Polish Prince Mieszko on Easter Monday in 966 AD.

Don’t forget a fork if you’re in the French town of Haux on Easter Monday. Each year a giant omelet is served up in the town’s main square. Napoleon and his army stopped in a small town and ate omelets. Napoleon liked his so much that he ordered the townspeople to gather their eggs and make a giant omelet for his army the next day.
On the Greek island of Corfu, people throw pots, pans and other earthenware out of their windows, smashing them on the street. Some believe the throwing of the pots welcomes spring, symbolizing the new crops that will be gathered in the new pots.
Easter is such a popular time for Norwegians to read crime novels that publishers actually come out with special “Easter Thrillers.” It started in 1923 when a book publisher promoted a new crime novel on the front pages of newspapers.

On Good Friday in Rome, the Pope commemorates the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) at the Colosseum: A huge cross with burning torches illuminates the sky. On Sunday, thousands congregate in St. Peter’s Square to await the Pope’s blessing.
In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, men spank women with handmade willow whips decorated with ribbons. The branches are supposed to transfer the tree’s vitality and fertility to the women. This playful spanking is in good fun and isn’t meant to cause pain.
On Holy Thursday in the Medieval town of Verges, Spain, the traditional “dansa de la mort” or “death dance” is performed. To reenact scenes from The Passion, everyone dresses in skeleton costumes and parades through the streets.

“Sprinkling,” a popular Hungarian Easter tradition, is observed which is also known as “Ducking Monday.” Boys playfully sprinkle perfumed water on girls and ask for a kiss. People used to believe that water had a cleaning, healing and fertility-inducing effect.
Source: http://www.womansday.com/life/easter-traditions-from-around-the-world-105074

Final application:

Easter week is over, but our Easter experience shouldn’t be. Make a special effort to infuse the meaning of Easter in your day-to-day life. Find ways to daily increase your prayer time, extend love and kindnesses to others and seek peace and unity. Next week, share your experiences with your group.

4.13.14 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 Thief on the Cross

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 17:1-37

Jesus had bad news—the Temple, the place where Jews met with God, would be destroyed. Still more, great hardship and persecution would follow the Temple’s destruction. Jesus’ shocking words about the Jerusalem Temple came true in 70 A.D. Despite the dire facts of this life, Jesus urged his listeners to keep faith through the hardship. His central message was, “Don’t be alarmed…raise your heads, because your redemption is near.”

TUESDAY
Luke 18:1-30

The annual Passover meal (part of the weeklong Festival of Unleavened Bread) reminded Hebrews of God’s great act rescuing them from Egypt (cf. Exodus 12:1-18). It was their defining story. When Jesus and his disciples shared the Passover meal, with the cross just ahead, Jesus added meaning to the meal. He said that, from that time on, the bread and wine would point to his even greater act of deliverance in dying and rising again.

WEDNESDAY
Luke 18:31-19:10

“Lord,” Peter said, “I’m ready to go with you, both to prison and to death!” Ancient Christian tradition said Peter was crucified in Rome around 64 A.D., but when he spoke these words, he wasn’t, in fact, “ready” for that. Jesus knew him better than he knew himself. Jesus was arrested, and when bystanders said he must have been with Jesus, Peter denied it three times. Then a rooster crowed, and Peter “went out and cried uncontrollably.”

THURSDAY
Luke 19:11-28

Throughout most of his public ministry, Jesus’ enemies had dogged his footsteps, claiming that he was a false teacher, perhaps even demonic (cf. Luke 11:14-16). But when they had him in their power, the contrast was striking. Jesus remained calm and in control of himself. The leaders, who claimed great “righteousness,” were frenzied, unfair and cruel, showing a spirit tragically filled with hatred and evil.

FRIDAY
Luke 19:29-20:19

Three times (verse 22) Pilate asked Jesus’ accusers why they were so insistent on his death. He got no coherent answers, yet “their voices won out” (verse 23). Jesus was nailed to a cross by a public road. He asked God to forgive his executioners, promised a crucified thief eternal life, and prayed Psalm 31:5 as he died. On that bad Friday, Jesus absorbed and transformed human evil into God’s central saving act, and turned the day into “Good Friday.”

SATURDAY
Luke 20:20-21:4

Luke reported two unexpected acts after Jesus died. The Roman centurion, after directing the crucifixion, “praised God, saying, ‘It’s really true: this man was righteous.’” That testimony might have been especially telling to a person like Theophilus (cf. Luke 1:1-4). The Romans meant crucifixion to create humiliation and fear, so they often left crucified corpses in the open. Belatedly, Joseph of Arimathea, a council member and silent dissenter at Jesus’ mock trial, went public to give the body a decent burial. No one expected the resurrection, but Joseph’s act unwittingly made Easter more powerful, because Jesus’ friends knew just where his body was.

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, you willingly offered yourself to ridicule, torture and death for our sake and even for those who did these things to you. You knew your purpose and calmly walked the path of righteousness for our sake. Thank you for bringing salvation and light into the darkness of our lives. Thank you for being our blessed Savior. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

Do you respond more positively or negatively to the ways we celebrate Easter? Does it this holiday seem to support your faith? How would you compare Easter to our celebration of Christmas?

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 21:5-38. Jesus warned his listeners that very hard times were coming, but told them to keep their faith. Think about hard times you have faced. How did your faith help you to get through them? What made it hard to keep your faith in the midst of these hardships? What kinds of things tend to test your faith on a day to day basis? For you, have other people been a model of living with patient faith? Can you do the same for others?

 Read Luke 22:1-30. Do you believe betrayal and plotting against Jesus still occurs in the world? How do we, as Christ’s followers, ensure that we don’t betray his vision for humankind, even in small ways? With these Passover events, Jesus introduced the practice of Holy Communion. How can taking part in Communion reinforce your faith? How can we intentionally prepare our hearts to get the most out of Easter?

 Read Luke 22:31-62. What kinds of pressures can lead us to be ashamed of and to hide our allegiance to Christ? Was there anything Peter might have done that would have helped him to avoid disavowing Jesus? In what ways can prayer help us to overcome temptations? How can our failures somehow result in a growth in our faith?

 Read Luke 22:63-23:12. In comparison to criminal proceedings of today, in what ways was the “trial” of Jesus unfair? How would you describe Christ’s demeanor while he was being beaten and berated? How would you describe the demeanor of the “righteous” people who were Jesus’ accusers? How can we strengthen our ability to remain calm and in control of ourselves when we face the adversities of life and faith? Why could it be said that it wasn’t Jesus who was on trial, but rather the people who accused him?

 Read Luke 23:13-46. Why did Pilate, a powerful man, bow to the pressure of the people, knowing it wasn’t right? Why do we call the day Christ was crucified and died “Good Friday”? Have you ever had to choose whether to do the right thing if, by doing so, others would be very upset with you? In these circumstances, how do we choose what to do? What do you think about the criminal’s last minute appeal to Jesus? What is the significance of the temple curtain being torn in two?

 Read Luke 23:47-56. What was Luke trying to tell us by listing all the people who witnessed Christ’s crucifixion and death? When Romans usually left bodies on display on the crosses, why would Pilate have allowed Joseph to remove the body for burial? Why did Luke make sure to tell us that people witnessed Christ’s body being put into the tomb?

From last week: Did you consider the health of your own prayer life? Did you find ways throughout your daily life to incorporate your interaction with God by thinking of him often? Did you lay your needs before him and never tire of inviting him to participate in your day-to-day activities? Please consider sharing your experience with your group (was this rewarding or an interruption?).

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Adam Hamilton’s sermon, April 13, 2014:

Today we come to the climax of the gospel, where Jesus is crucified by the powerful Romans at the urging of the religious elite. Everything is turned upside down here. Jesus is God’s messianic King, the Son of God, yet he is crucified between two criminals. Jesus becomes a nobody, worse even than a nobody, identifying with the nobodies, even dying for the nobodies. Yet it is precisely here that we see his greatness.

In our scripture passage we find three of the last words or statements of Jesus as he is dying on the cross. These particular statements occur only in Luke’s gospel, and each reveals something profound to us about God’s heart, character and will….

I. Father Forgive Them…
Despite his teaching about forgiveness, and his willingness to forgive prostitutes and drunks and adulterers and tax collectors, it is still a shock as you hear this story that, while Jesus hangs on the cross, in excruciating pain, while those who put him there stand by mocking, that Jesus would offer this prayer: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” This is one of the most remarkable lines in the entire Bible. In this prayer Jesus’ show us the meaning of the cross. It is the essence of mercy and grace. This prayer articulates the very thing Christians have understood his death to proclaim— forgiveness….

Not long ago a woman said to me, “I simply can’t believe God would forgive me. Not for what I’ve done.” I asked her, “Do you remember what he prayed for those who drove the spikes into his wrists and feet, nailing him to the cross; those who continued to hurl insults at him and even gambled for his clothing?” She nodded her head. I asked, “If Jesus prayed for their forgiveness, why in the world do you believe he would not wish the same for you?” Nothing you’ve done was as horrible as what the Romans and religious leaders did that day, yet even for them he desired mercy.

I’d love for you to write down these words on your GPS: Jesus prayed for my forgiveness. I am forgiven. I’d like to take a moment now to invite you to confess to the Lord those things, or that one big thing, that you would like to know he has forgiven today. Bow your head, and let’s take 30 seconds whisper that to God. Jesus prayed for you, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Amen. Listen, God is the God of the second chance. God declares that, “As far as the east is from the west, so far shall I remove their sins from them.” In the name of Jesus Christ we are forgiven.

Jesus is doing something more here as he prays this prayer. He is teaching us from the cross. He is showing us the way. It is one thing to tell people to forgive. It is another to hang from a cross, forgiving. But Jesus knew this is the only way. Resentment, bitterness, hatred, and retribution are killing us, individually and as a human race. They literally shorten our lifespan, negatively affect our health and diminish our joy in life….

I’d like to invite you to pause for a moment to think about that person or persons to whom you bear resentment. They disappointed you, hurt you, maybe never apologized to you. I’d like you to pray now, “Lord, help me to let it go. Help me to forgive as you have forgiven me.” Invite God to help you to love your enemies and to do good to those who have harmed you.

II. Today You Will be with me in Paradise
All four gospels tell us two criminals were crucified with Jesus….Luke alone calls these criminals KAKORGOUS from the Greek words kaka, which means evil or bad, and ergous, meaning workers of. These men were crucified because they had done evil things. One of these criminals joins the crowd hurling insults at Jesus, mocking him. Why would someone on a cross, crucified for doing evil, himself about to die by crucifixion, join in the taunts of those who crucified Jesus? Why do any of us mock or tease others? Because it makes us feel like we are just a bit better than the other. This man is three feet from Jesus. He can look him in the eyes. He is himself dying and his only chance at hope is on the cross next to him, but he’s spiritually blind and cannot see it.

Then the other kakorgous speaks to this first criminal: “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Of all the priests and religious leaders around the cross, only this evildoer proclaims Jesus’ innocence.

Then he turns to Jesus and says: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This thief did not know the Apostles Creed. He did not have a certain view of scripture. He had no idea that Jesus was fully God and fully human. He’d never heard of the doctrine of the Trinity. He was dying, and in that moment offered a request to Jesus that reflected an insight, and a simple faith: “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”
To this simple request Jesus replies: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”…I love the fact that Jesus refers to the afterlife as Paradise. The word Paradise comes from the Persian word paradeisos. It originally meant “the King’s garden.” This garden was a combination zoo and arboretum, set apart and maintained for the King and his friends. I’ve reminded people who were nearing death of these words of Jesus. Picture the most beautiful and wonderful place you’ve ever been, and even it is only a dim reflection of the King’s gardens.

Perhaps what I love the most in this scene is that, to the very end, Jesus is seeking to save those who are lost. He is telling one more nobody that he’s somebody. In the midst of the insults and the derision and the mocking, he is still focused on this mission. I love that being saved by Jesus was as simple as the criminal saying, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”

III. “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
That brings us to the third and final saying of Jesus before he dies in Luke’s gospel. This saying is, once more, a prayer. He prays Psalm 31:5. Barclay notes that this is a psalm Jewish mothers taught their children to pray at bedtime, a bit like our “Now I lay me down to sleep…” It is a prayer of absolute trust in God: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”…
It is with these simple words, this prayer of Jesus, that I want to end the message today, and with this invitation: that Jesus’ final words from the cross would be a regular part of our life of prayer. I want to invite you, not only today, but every day this week to pray: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

The derivation of the word “Easter” – confusion and controversy

Version 1 – Old English Eōstre continues into modern English as Easter and derives from Proto-Germanic *austrōn meaning ‘dawn’, a descendent of the Proto-Indo-European root *aus-, meaning ‘to shine’ (modern “east” also derives from this root).

Version 2 – Only two languages use the term “Easter” or its equivalent to denote the day that Jesus resurrected: English and German (Ostern). All other languages use a derivation of the word Pascha (Greek for Pesach, which is Passover in Hebrew), or a translation of the words, Resurrection Day or Great Day. Here are some examples:

The English use of the word “Easter” came from German word “Oster.” When Martin Luther translated the Bible into German (New Testament in 1522), he chose the word Oster to refer to the Passover (Pascha). Oster means “rising from the east” or “sunrise,” and it is also an old German word for resurrection.

Before Luther, the Latin Vulgate used Pascha (same as the Greek spelling) and left the word untranslated. Wycliffe (1382), who was the first to publish an English translation of the Latin New Testament, used the word Pask, from the word Pascha.
William Tyndale was the first to translate the Bible into English from the Greek and Hebrew. His New Testament (1525) uses the word Ester to refer to the Pascha. He was a contemporary of Luther and influenced by Luther.

When the King James Version was created, it used the word “Passover.”

Version 3 – According to St. Bede (d. 735), the great historian of the Middle Ages, the title Easter seems to originate in English around the eighth century A.D. The word Easter is derived from the word <Eoster>, the name of the Teutonic goddess of the rising light of day and Spring, and the annual sacrifices associated with her. If this is the origin of our word Easter, then the Church “baptized” the name, using it to denote that first Easter Sunday morning when Christ, our Light, rose from the grave and when the women found the tomb empty just as dawn was breaking.

Another possibility which arises from more recent research suggests the early Church referred to Easter week as <hebdomada alba> (“white week”), from the white garments worn by the newly baptized. Some mistranslated the word to mean “the shining light of day” or “the shining dawn,” and therefore used the Teutonic root <eostarun>, the Old German plural for “dawn”, as the basis for the German <Ostern> and for the English equivalent “Easter”. In early English translations of the Bible made by Tyndale and Coverdale, the word “Easter” was substituted for the word “Passover,” in some verses.

Even though the etymological root of “Easter” may be linked to the name of a pagan goddess or pagan ceremonies, the feast which the word describes is Christian without question. Exactly why the English language did not utilize the Hebrew-Greek-Latin root is a mystery. Unlike Christmas which was set on December 25 and “baptized” the former Roman pagan Feast of the Sun, Easter is a unique celebration. Any confusion, therefore, rests with etymology, not theology.
Sources: various

Final application:

This week, begin each day in prayer and in remembrance that we are celebrating Easter week. Make a special effort during the week to be a reflection of all that Christ is, all that he has done for us and all that he has and is teaching us. Next week, share with your group any special events and thoughts that came into your life.

4.6.14 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 Homeless Beggers

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 17:1-37

Jesus amazed his disciples, saying they should forgive “Even if someone sins against you seven times in one day.” (We more often hear the “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22) version.) “Increase our faith!” the disciples said. But Jesus said faith isn’t a matter of quantity. He healed ten lepers who showed just a little faith. Only one (a Samaritan) bothered to say “thank you.” When Pharisees asked when (in the future) God’s Kingdom would come, Jesus’ answer focused mainly on the need for his hearers’ to recognize and trust God daily.

TUESDAY
Luke 18:1-30

Jesus contrasted God with an unjust human judge. The real issue, he said, was not if we can trust God, but if God can trust us: “Will the Human One (or, Son of Man) find faithfulness on earth?” Jesus’ culture devalued tax collectors and children. Jesus said those “nobodies” were more likely to receive God’s favor than a self-satisfied Pharisee or a ruler who loved things more than God. “Who then can be saved?” his startled hearers asked. Jesus replied, “What is impossible for humans is possible for God.”

WEDNESDAY
Luke 18:31-19:10

“We are going up to Jerusalem,” Jesus said again at the start of this passage—and he was nearly there. These stories happened in Jericho. You can see Jericho and Jerusalem marked on this map near each other at the north end of the Dead Sea (click here). The disciples still failed to understand Jesus, but at Jesus’ touch a physically blind man and a spiritually blind tax collector both began to see.

THURSDAY
Luke 19:11-28

Jesus used a bold story about a king and his servants to teach a lesson about faithful service. This story (told a bit differently in Matthew 25) praised the servants who went all out to serve their master—the master even rewarded them with more responsibilities. This story also cautioned against playing it too safe, as it told of the king rebuking the “worthless servant” who was too afraid to risk anything.

FRIDAY
Luke 19:29-20:19

The long journey that began in Luke 9:51 ended, and Jesus entered Jerusalem. He very deliberately entered in a way that echoed history (cf. 1 Kings 1:32-39) and prophecy (Zechariah 9:9-10), and made a clear claim to peaceful kingship. But he wept over the city, tears that tell us he loved the city’s people. Yet their heedless leaders did not love him. As they plotted his death, Jesus told a story that exposed the murder in their hearts.

SATURDAY
Luke 20:20-21:4

Jesus’ enemies, “somebodies” all, tried urgently to create a cause for his death. They tried to get him to criticize paying Roman taxes, or to agree with them that faith in a resurrection was absurd. But neither their trick questions nor their great outward show of piety fooled Jesus. For him, greatness lay not in earthly rank, but in people like the humble widow, whose tiny gift only he noticed.

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, fill us with the insight you shared with your disciples and with confidence in eternal resurrection. Help us to make room for you in our hearts and to serve you every day. Help us to use our gifts faithfully and boldly. Grant that we might see your purpose for our lives and that we might be satisfied. Amen.

CONNECT (5-10 minute discussion, at most)

What are some of the ways that people find themselves homeless? Did they “do this to themselves”? Should we feel less sympathy if they were the cause of their own homelessness? How close are we, our family and friends to homelessness?

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 17:1-37. Why didn’t the nine lepers say “thank you”? What were they thinking? What does this say about humankind and our relationship to God? How much do Christians take for granted? What kinds of things do we take for granted? Are we proud of ourselves for things when we should be thanking God? Luke used the Greek words entōs humōn, which could mean either that God’s kingdom is “among you” or “within you” (or, perhaps, both). What does this comment by Jesus mean to you?

 Read Luke 18:1-30. “Jesus told his disciples…that they should always pray and not give up.” What does this mean to you and how might it affect your prayer life? What is the message of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector? What does verse 17 mean? Do we own our possessions, or do our possessions tend to own us?

 Read Luke 18:31-19:10. What is the significance of Jesus restoring the sight of the blind man? Why did Jesus ask, “What do you want me to do for you?” when that must have been obvious? Is Jesus asking the same question of us every day? Why does he ask if he already knows our needs? Do we tend to answer from a worldly or spiritual point of view? Has God ever changed any part of your life quickly or dramatically?

 Read Luke 19:11-28. In what ways are we called to “risk” something as followers of our master, Jesus Christ? How do our God-given gifts point to the tasks God has given us? How are we tempted to hide or bury our gifts, rather than using them? Did Jesus, our example, play it safe, even though he knew what was going to happen in Jerusalem? What kinds of risks do we sometimes have to take for Christ?

 Read Luke 19:29-20:19. Why did Jesus weep for Jerusalem? Why did the priests and teachers want to kill Jesus? How would we feel and react if today some preacher other than our own were to walk into our church and begin preaching? What did the parable of the tenants mean at that time? Does it have implications today?

 Read Luke 20:20-21:4. How can we avoid being like those Jesus spoke of in verses 46-47, like those who walk around in “flowing robes”? Instead, how should we, even as believers, see ourselves in our heart of hearts? Why was it so important for Jesus to assure us that death was not the end, neither for him nor for us? How can this belief change our day-to-day lives?

From last week: Did you prayerfully consider whether you are being a faithful steward of God’s gifts of faith? Did you review the seven items listed last week and try to make any adjustments you thought were needed? Please share any discoveries with your group.

FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT

From Pastor Scott Chrostek’s sermon, April 6, 2014:

Have you ever had a moment where you are immersed in something ordinary and simple, only to have something about that specific encounter heighten your awareness of the divine, something bigger, something so full that it causes you to wonder, could this be? Might this be? Is this heaven?

Celtic tradition calls these kinds of moments ‘thin spaces.’ These are the moments in time, here and now, where the space between heaven and earth feels paper thin, almost transparent. These are moments where we experience the fullness of God here on earth, where we experience eternal life here and now, even in the most ordinary encounters this life has to offer….

In Luke 10, we meet a young attorney seeking this kind of experience. This young attorney, this “legal expert” (probably in the Pharisees’ religious laws), approaches Jesus asking, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25) What must I do to experience this, to be assured of your presence, to taste and see and know of your salvation?

This Pharisee wanted to experience life, to feel it, inherit it. So he asks Jesus, what must I do, meaning clearly that he’s missing something, lacking something. Even though he’s spent his whole life studying the law of Moses, pouring over God’s promises and commandments, he was lacking something…and he needed to know, what must I do to inherit eternal life…to experience your kingdom come here on earth just as it is in heaven?

Rather than offering an answer right away, Jesus extends the conversation and responds with a question of his own, a question that should be a slam dunk for this attorney. Jesus asks this expert of the law, “Well, what does it say in the law?”

Without any hesitation, this faithful Pharisee answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27) Jesus replies, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” Another translation says, “Do this and you shall have life,” meaning you’ll have the life you’re looking for. Do this and you’ll experience eternal life, thy kingdom come here on earth just as it is in heaven….

When I read this story, I find myself thinking that this conversation should be over here. The attorney had a question, he answered his own question, Jesus confirmed that he was correct….What’s crazy to me is that this conversation doesn’t end here, it continues. This young attorney, this Pharisee, wasn’t satisfied. Something was missing. He needed more.
From what I can guess, this Pharisee is the kind of person who knows the right things to say. He’s the kind of person who knows the answers to all the teacher’s questions. He knows the pathway toward spiritual freedom. He knows the law backward and forward. He knows all the religious equations. He was an expert, he knew it all and yet something was still missing….He was suffering from what most every other Pharisee was struggling with, maybe even what most of us struggle with as well. He had trouble pushing beyond his head knowledge of God’s commandments or Scripture to how that works into our experience in the world. He knew of God’s law, but wanted to experience God’s heart, he wanted to experience the fullness of God’s love, to inherit eternal life. He wanted to bridge the divide between his head and his heart, between knowing and loving or experiencing.
So the story continues…“Wanting to justify himself”…wanting to be assured that he was understanding everything correctly, this young attorney presses Jesus a little further asking, “Okay, Jesus, who exactly is my neighbor?”

And that’s when Jesus launches into the story of the Good Samaritan. If you want to experience eternal life, if you want to taste and see the kingdom of heaven, if you want to live fully, to have life, if you want to step into a thin space…listen up…

There was this man, sitting on the side of the road, the same exact road you travel down every day of your life. This man was beaten, bruised and begging for help, for an act of mercy, for anything. As he lies there, people pass him by continually. First one of your priests passes him by, then a Levite, one of your worship leaders. Finally, a Samaritan, a nobody maybe even your enemy, comes down the road. This Samaritan stops to help out in the most extravagant ways. He picks him up, dusts him off, bandages his wounds and throws him on a donkey. He takes him to an inn, pays the innkeeper a crazy wage and then sees fit to ensure his safety for the unforeseeable future. This Samaritan, when everybody passed him by, stopped to help out in the most merciful way.

Jesus finishes this story by asking the attorney a second question: “Which one of these was his neighbor?” Again, knowing the right answer, the attorney replied without hesitation, “The one who showed him mercy.” That’s who my neighbor is…a nobody…my enemy, who offers mercy to those around him, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.

If you want to experience eternal life, if you want to live fully, if you want to taste and see the extraordinary power and presence of God, Jesus says, if you want to experience heaven here and now, then be like the Good Samaritan…be like this nobody, your enemy and show mercy to those around you wherever you go. Go and do likewise and experience the life you’re looking for.

What I love about this parable is that it points us toward an understanding of eternal life, that doesn’t limit it as something we need to wait for at some time in the future. It assures us that we can experience it here and now….It’s not that Jesus is saying that we need to perform works of mercy in order to make it into heaven, but rather that when we love our neighbors as the Good Samaritan loved the man on the side of the road, we can experience heaven here and now, we can inherit eternal life.

Jesus reminds us as he describes the kingdom of heaven this way, saying, whatever you do to the least of these you do unto me. For there I am and there you’ll meet me. This is how you can experience eternal life, have those pregnant moments in the most ordinary of circumstances…Have you ever experienced one of those moments? When’s the last time you showed mercy to someone on your journey from here to wherever it is that you are going?…
In the Gospel of the Nobodies, Jesus shows us that we find life whenever we show mercy those in need. God gives us opportunities all the time, wherever we go, to be useful…God gives us opportunities to do unbelievable things in the simplest ways, that we might together build the kingdom of God here and now.

Luke 18:1 – We should always pray and not give up? How should we understand this?
Note: Read in the context of Luke 18:1-8.

Barnes’ Notes on the Bible: Always – At all times. That is, we must not neglect regular stated seasons of prayer; we must seize on occasions of remarkable providences as afflictions or signal blessings to seek God in prayer we must “always” maintain a spirit of prayer, or be in a proper frame to lift up our hearts to God for his blessing, and we must not grow weary though our prayer seems not to be answered.

Not to faint – Not to grow weary or give over. The parable is designed to teach us that, though our prayers should long appear to be unanswered, we should persevere, and not grow weary in supplication to God.

Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible: Men ought always to pray – Therefore the plain meaning and moral of the parable are evident; viz. that as afflictions and desolations were coming on the land, and they should have need of much patience and continual fortitude, and the constant influence and protection of the Almighty, therefore they should be instant in prayer. It states, farther, that men should never cease praying for that the necessity of which God has given them to feel, till they receive a full answer to their prayers. No other meaning need be searched for in this parable: St. Luke, who perfectly knew his Master’s meaning, has explained it as above.

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible: …that men ought always to pray. This is opposed to them, who pray not at all, or have left off prayer before God, or who pray only in distress; and suggests, that a man should pray as often as he has an opportunity; should be constant and assiduous at the throne of grace, and continue putting up his requests to God, though he does not presently return an answer: and not to faint; by reason of afflictions, temptations, desertions, and delays in answering prayer; and prayer itself is an admirable antidote against fainting under afflictive providences. This is not to be understood, that a man should be always actually engaged in the work of prayer; that he should be continually either in his closet, in private devotion to God, or attending exercises of more public prayer, with the saints; for there are other religious exercises to be performed, besides prayer; and besides, there are many civil affairs of life, it is every man’s indispensable duty to regard: nor does our Lord mean in the least to break in upon, or interrupt the natural and civil duties of life; but his meaning is, that a man should persevere in prayer, and not leave off, or be dejected, because he has not an immediate answer.

People’s New Testament: People ought always to pray. Prayer is a privilege and a duty. Persistence in prayer is requisite to making it effectual. Augustine says: “God reserves for thee that which he is slow to give thee, that thou mayest learn to entertain a supreme desire and longing for it.”

CEB Study Bible: to pray continuously and not to be discouraged: Don’t quit praying if what you want doesn’t always happen.

Source: http://biblehub.com/commentaries/luke/18-1.htm and CEB Study Bible (available at The Well)

Final application:

This week, consider the health of your own prayer life. Find ways throughout your daily life to incorporate your interaction with God by thinking of him often. Be sure to lay your needs before him and never tire of inviting him to participate in your day-to-day activities. Next week, consider sharing your experience with your group (was this rewarding or an interruption?).