(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.
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.
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.)
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.”
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).
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.