The Righteousness of a Saint

The very heart of the good news about Jesus is that God counts as righteous those who believe in Jesus Christ, His Son. In fact, God imputes to us the perfect righteousness of His Son Jesus (I Cor. 5:21). This is wonderfully pictured in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress where Christian explains this to another traveler. "By laws and ordinances you will not be saved since you came not in by the door. And as for this coat that is on my back, it was given to me by the Lord of the place whither I go; and that, as you say, to cover my nakedness with. And I take it as a token of His kindness to me, for I had nothing but rags before. And besides, thus I comfort myself as I go. Surely, think I, when I come to the gate of the city, the Lord thereof will know me for good, since I have His coat on my back: a coat that He gave me freely in the day that He stripped me of my rags." 

Jesus took our sin and gave us His righteousness, freely. It cost Him His life, but it comes to us as a gift by faith. But then what is our relationship with His righteousness practically, on a day-to-day basis? There is a practical righteousness that Jesus demands of a saint and over the next several weeks we will look into that. 

For this week, we will look at Jesus' clarifying words about the righteousness of a saint and His first application to our lives, which we actually looked at earlier in the year. So turn to the Sermon on the Mount and read Matthew 5:1-26. We will focus our attention on verses 17-20. 

1. Why do you think people listening to Jesus might begin to think that He had come to abolish the Law or the Prophets?

2. Quite to the contrary, Jesus said that He had come to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. In what ways did Jesus fulfill the Law and the Prophets? 
* In light of what follows in verses 21-48, what do you think Jesus had in mind when He said He had come to fulfill the Law and Prophets? 

3. What does this passage (vv. 17-20) reveal about Jesus' understanding of the Scriptures?

4. What does Jesus want to see in us in relationship to the Scriptures (v. 19)?

5. Not all of us are teachers, but in what way do all of us teach? 

6. Is there a commandment that you have "relaxed" (NIV "breaks") and teach others to do the same? Explain your answer.

7. The scribes and Pharisees were known for their righteous lives (consider Luke 18:9-12). What do you think Jesus means when He says that if we hope to enter heaven our righteousness must exceed or surpass that of the religious professionals of His day? How can that be? 
* See Matthew 23:1-28; Mark 7:1-13; 12:38-40; Luke 11:37-44. What was the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees like?
* What is the relationship between salvation and personal righteousness? (cf., Rom. 1:16-17; 3:19-26; 5:15-17; I John 2:28-29; 3:4-11)

8. In verses 21-48 Jesus illustrates what it looks like to have a righteousness that exceeds the scribes and Pharisees. We have looked at verses 21-26 earlier this year. How is Jesus "fulfilling" the commandment against murder in this passage?

9. How do you explain the change in verse 23? Jesus shifts from warning us about our attitudes and angry behavior to reconciling with someone we have offended. What is the connection? 

10. Does the Lord's message on murder, anger and reconciliation address you in any specific way? If so, how? 

11. How might Jesus' interpretation and application of the commandment not to murder be one of the expressions His light shining through us and of our good works that glorify our Father in heaven (5:14-16)? How is this behavior counter-cultural? 

12. What do you think the Lord would like you to take away from this meditation on His Word? 

Hope to see you on Sunday! God be with you,

Dan

The Influence of a Saint

Those who belong to Jesus and come under the gracious rule of God are changed and are called to purposely stand out from the world. David Garland relates a story about the Hall of Fame baseball player Mickey Mantle and a teammate Bobby Richardson (remember those guys?). For years Mickey Mantle had abused his body with alcohol, and when he was on the verge of dying his many friends gathered around his hospital bed to say their farewells. Bobby Richardson was one of them. Bobby was a follower of Jesus Christ and after retiring from baseball he became a minister of the Gospel. But while playing for the New York Yankees he had not joined the wild parties that marked the lives of Mantle and his teammates. In fact Mantle used to make fun of Bobby as "the milk drinker." But as his life ebbed away he most wanted to talk with Bobby Richardson. The testimony of Bobby's life in the midst of mockery and jeers had made a deep impact on Mickey. 

Jesus said that we are to have an influence for His Kingdom's sake by being salt and light in the world. Our meditation this week will be on another familiar portion of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the metaphors of salt and light. Read Matthew 5:1-16 and use the questions below to help you meditate on the influence of a saint in the world.

1. In the first metaphor Jesus gives is, "You are the salt of the earth." What is the role of salt in the world? More specifically, what do you know about the role of salt in Jesus' day?

2. If those who belong to Jesus are the salt of the earth, what is their role in the earth?

3. What does this suggest about the nature of the 'earth'? 

4. How do you think that followers of Jesus fulfill their role of being the salt of the earth? Can you think of any Scriptures?

5. What is the condition for having a positive influence in the earth? (v. 13)

6. How does one lose his or her saltiness and why does Jesus imply that it cannot be restored?

7. What do you think is our 'saltiness' and how can we maintain it? 

8. The second metaphor is, "You are the light of the world." In the Bible, what does light represent? (Consider Psa. 13:3; 19:8; 119:105; Jn. 3:20; Rom. 13:12; II Cor. 4:6; I Jn. 5:5f.; Isa. 42:6; Jn. 1:4-5; 8:12; 9:5) 

9. What is the point of Jesus' references to a city on a hill and a lamp on a lampstand? 
* Why are we inclined to hide our light?

10. How are we to make our light shine and to what end? 

11. What do both of these metaphors suggest about the nature of the world in which we live? 

12. What is the connection between what Jesus says about a saint's influence in the world and the beatitudes (vv. 3-12)? 

13. What did you take away from this meditation on being salt and light?

Hope to see you on Sunday! God be with you,

Dan

The Portrait of a Saint: Character, Part IV

In his thoughtful book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton made this keen observation: "The modern philosopher had told me again and again that I was in the right place, and I had still felt depressed even in acquiescence ... When I heard that I was in the wrong place ... my soul sang for joy, like a bird in spring.  I knew now ... why I could feel homesick at home."  Jesus' description of the Christian character underlines how alien we are becoming under His rule.  We don't fit; Christian character is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural, and as such it can get us into trouble!   

The last beatitude seems like anything but a blessing, but it is critical enough that Jesus provides additional comment on it.  Our focus will be on verses 10-12, but that will require a brief review of verses 2-9.  Read the entire section on the beatitudes, Matthew 5:1-12, and use the questions below to help you meditate on these challenging words from Jesus.

1.    In the beatitudes, Jesus has painted a comprehensive portrait of the character of  a saint, the one who has come under the gracious rule of God.  Take a moment and review verses 2-9 and write out a description of the person Jesus describes here.  In other words, how would you describe the person who is being changed by the grace  of God?

2.    How is the portrait Jesus paints of us so different from the values and standards common in the world around us?  How would you describe the person who has not been under the gracious rule of God in contrast to the beatitudes?  

3.    Apparently, followers of Jesus are not always warmly welcomed in the world and their efforts at peacemaking are not always successful.  The final beatitude addresses the subject of persecution (v. 10), and it gets extended attention from Jesus (vv. 11-12).  What is persecution and what does Jesus include in the category of persecution?

4.    The blessing belongs to "those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake."  What do you think that means?  You might consider one or several or all of the texts listed below:  
*    Matthew 10:16ff.
*    John 15:18-21; 16:1-4.
*    II Timothy 3:10-12
*    I Pet. 2:19-23; 3:13-17; 4:12-19

5.    How might you or I be persecuted today for the name of Jesus?  What has been your experience persecution?  

6.    How does Jesus tell us to respond to persecution, and why should we so respond? 7.    What is the promise to "those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake"        (v. 10)?  And what do you think Jesus means when He says "your reward is great in heaven" (v. 12)?  

8.    Why is this final beatitude fitting as the last touch on Jesus portrait of a saint's character and quality of life?   

9.    How did you hear the Lord's voice in His Word today?

God be with you and see you on Sunday!

Dan
   


 

The Portrait of a Saint - Character part 2

Christian character is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. Dee Jepson, who served as an assistant to her husband, Roger, a one-term U.S. Senator (R-Iowa, 1979-1985), witnessed this in a profound way in the midst of the power-hungry atmosphere of Washington, D.C. Political maneuvering and posturing to gain influence and power is the name of the game.  But one day she saw something deeply different. She wrote, "The unimportance of sophistication was brought home to me at a Capitol Hill luncheon for Mother Theresa... In came this tiny woman, even smaller than I had expected, wearing that familiar blue and white habit, over it a gray sweater that had seen many better days, which she wore again to the White House the next day. As that little woman walked into the room, her bare feet in worn sandals, I saw some of the most powerful leaders in this country stand to their feet with tears in their eyes just to be in her presence. As I listened that afternoon, I thought, 'Don't forget this, Dee. Here is this little woman, who doesn't want a thing, never asked for anything for herself, never demanded anything, or shook her fist in anger, here's real power.' It was a paradox. She has reached down into the gutter and loved and given. She has loved those the world sees as unlovable - the desolate, the dying - because they are created in the image of the God she serves. Ironically, seeking nothing for herself, she has been raised to the pinnacle of world recognition, received the Nobel Peace Prize, and is a figure known to most people, at least in the Western world, and revered by many. She has nothing, yet in a strange way, she has everything." 

At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sets forth a portrait of a Christian's character in what we know as the "Beatitudes." We are tempted to read the beatitudes simply as measures of godly character and strive to meet the standard. But as we saw last time, these beatitudes are not simply standards of Christian virtue; they are marks of grace that belong to those who have come under the gracious rule of God. We need to know that these are the marks of God's rule in our lives because when we come under the strong and powerful influence of His grace, our lives begin to take on a very counter-cultural character, a new nature that is deeply different. We need to know that being poor in spirit and mourning the loss of innocence and righteousness are marks of being blessed by God. Everyone who belongs to Jesus has each and every one of these attributes in varying degrees, and we are to grow in them as we submit to the rule of Jesus in our lives. So we will pick it up with where we left off last, with the third beatitude. 

Read Matthew 5:1-12 carefully, then use the questions below to help you meditate on three of these beatitudes. 

1.    Two weeks ago we looked at the third beatitude, "Blessed are the meek," but we did not get quite that far in the Sunday sermon. So let's refresh our memories on this counter-cultural disposition. How would you define or describe meekness? (Recall Numbers 12:1-16; Matthew 11:29?) 

2.    In the New Testament "meekness" is often translated as "gentleness." (Gal. 5:23; Eph. 4:1-3; Col. 3:12-13). What is the relationship between meekness and gentleness?

3.     (Psalm 37:10-11)

4.    What does the world say about meekness and what does Jesus promise the meek? 

5.    The fourth beatitude is "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied." What does it mean to hunger and thirst for something? What do people around you hunger and thirst for?
*    What do you hunger and thirst for?

6.    What do you think it looks like to hunger and thirst for righteousness? 
*    Do you see any connection with the previous three beatitudes?

7.    What do you imagine is the nature of Jesus' promise to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness?  Is it present? Is it future?  

8.    The fifth beatitude is "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (verse 7). What is mercy and how is it distinct from grace or love?

9.    What does mercy look like in Luke 10:25-37? What does it look like in Matthew 18:21-35?

10.    In what ways might mercy be a counter-cultural virtue? What does the world generally value?

11.    What does Jesus promise to the merciful? (Consider James 2:13). 
*    Do you think we merit God's mercy by being merciful? What does Jesus mean here? 

12.    In what way did the Lord address you from His Word? Are these marks of His grace found in your life? In what ways, would you like to grow under His gracious rule in these areas?

Hope to see you on Sunday! God be with you!

Dan

   
 

The Portrait of a Saint: Character, Part I

I was in a church recently and heard the pastor express his concern over the church in America  and her loss of distinctiveness from the world. Many of us share a similar unease about our conformity to the world around us.  Now what struck me about that was that the loudness of the music in the worship service was just like the loudness of the music we experienced at an amusement park the evening before. Our culture is loud and full of noise, and I found myself wondering if the pastor had thought about his message and the music. I do think he was right in saying that the church in America may be overrun by the culture and lose her distinctiveness. What do we offer a weary world if we are just like the world?
 
We are beginning a study of the Sermon on the Mount and it presents a portrait of a follower of Jesus, but it is a portrait that is thoroughly counter-cultural. John Stott wrote, "Thus the followers of Jesus are to be different - different from both the nominal church and the secular world, different from both the religious and the irreligious. The Sermon on the Mount is the most complete delineation anywhere of the Christian counter-culture. Here is a Christian value-system, ethical standard, religious devotion, attitude to money, ambition, life-style and network of relationships - all of which are totally at variance with those of the non-Christian world. And this Christian counter-culture is the life of the kingdom of God, a fully human life indeed but lived out under the divine rule." 

This week we will begin where Jesus begins: with Christian character. Read Matthew 5:1-12 carefully and twice. Then use the questions below to help you meditate on this familiar passage. 

1.    Jesus begins with what are commonly called "The Beatitudes." What is a beatitude and what do you think it means to be "blessed"?  
*    How many beatitudes does Jesus list here? 
*    Do you think there is a difference between having "blessings" and being "blessed"? Explain. 
*    Do these beatitudes describe different groups of people or are they qualities that are to characterize all followers of Jesus? What do you think? 
*    Are these beatitudes achievable in our own strength or are they supernaturally wrought in us?  
*    Finish this thought: "The world tells us we are blessed if we...."  

2.    The first beatitude is "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Think for a moment about being poor. What does it mean to be poor? 

3.    What do you think it means to be poor in spirit? Consider these texts: Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 57:15; 66:2; Matthew 9:12-13; Luke 18:9-14 and Revelation 3:17-18. What do you think? 

4.    What is the promise for those who are poor in spirit, and why do you think Jesus begins here with this beatitude? 

5.    What is the opposite of being poor in spirit? What is the message of the world?  

6.    The second beatitude is "Blessed are those who mourn." How would you describe mourning?  

7.    What kind of mourning do you think Jesus has in mind? Consider these texts: Psalm 119:136; Ezekiel 9; Daniel 9:1-6; I Corinthians 5:1-2; Philippians 3:18; James 4:8-10.  
*    Mourning often has to do with the deep sense of loss. What have we lost? 

8.    What does Jesus promise to those who mourn? What do you think that will be like?  

9.    In what way is this a counter-cultural virtue?  

10.    "Blessed are the meek" is the third beatitude. How would you define or describe meekness?  

11.    Consider these passages: Numbers 12:1-16; Matthew 11:29. What do you think meekness looks like? 

12.    The original word in the New Testament for "meekness" is often translated as "gentleness." See Galatians 5:23; Ephesians 4:1-3; Colossians 3:12-13. What do you think is the relationship between meekness and gentleness? 

13.    What does Jesus promise the meek? (Psalm 37:10-11) 

14.    What does the world say about meekness? What does the world value? 

15.    When can we expect the "rewards" of these beatitudes, now or in the future?  

16.    What did the Lord impress on you from this meditation on the first three beatitudes? 
Hope to see you on Sunday, and God be with you,

Dan
 

The Sermon on the Mount - The Portrait of a Saint

It is not at all original with me, but someone once remarked that the Sermon on the Mount is an unparalleled portrait of a saint. Jesus' message is not creedal, but practical; that is, it is not a sermon on what we should believe, but a discourse on how we are to live. As Matthew Henry aptly described it, Jesus' purpose "is not to fill our heads with notions, but to guide and regulate our practice." It is the measure for what it means for us to follow Jesus. Augustine called it "the perfect standard of the Christian life." While wonderfully practical and filled with memorable images, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount is at times thorny and always a challenge to apply. 

Over the next several months we will give our attention to this most familiar and popular message of Jesus and ask Him to help us set our eyes upon Him, who He calls us to be and what He calls us to do. He is our very good and glorious King and our hearts' desire is to know and honor Him in all that we are and do. 

This week your assignment is simple. Read Matthew 5-7, outline its major divisions and write out a one or two sentence summary of the message of the Sermon on the Mount.  

Hope to see you on Sunday, and remember to prepare for the sacrament of Communion!

God be with you,

Dan

   

The Crowds and the Called

Recently the Session of Bear Creek Church decided to suspend the search for a new senior pastor and explore the possibility and feasibility of merging with another congregation. While the elders look intently into this option for BCC, I thought it would be valuable for us to remember who we are and what it is Jesus has called us to. So next week, Sunday, July 2, we will begin a series on the Sermon on the Mount, a precious portrait of those who belong to Jesus' kingdom.  

But before we get to that I would like us to give some thought to Jesus' calling of the Twelve whom  He would designate apostles and upon whom He would entrust the very future of His work in the world. 

In our Sunday school class on Mark we have already looked at this, but I would like us to take a second look, keeping in mind that just as Jesus called together some very diverse characters, He may be calling us to join with another congregation of characters as diverse as we are! If so, what will that mean for us and to what end would Jesus do this? 
So take a few minutes and carefully read Mark 3:7-19 and use the questions below to help you meditate on this passage.  

1.    Crowds are the context of Jesus' ministry. For example, in addition to our text, consider Mark 1:32-34; 2:1-4; 4:1.
*    How might crowds have presented Jesus with greater opportunities for ministry?  
*    How might crowds have been a real hindrance to Him and His work?  (Mark 1:40-45)  *    What do you think about large churches or mega churches? What are the opportunities available to larger churches?  What are the challenges?

2.    But it would not be to crowds that Jesus entrusted the future of His work and His kingdom on earth. It would be to twelve chosen but quite ordinary men. Who does the choosing and why is that significant (v. 13)?  Compare John 15:16

3.    According to verses 13-15, why did Jesus choose twelve men?
*    What will be their commission and what will be their training?
*    Here is a thought question:  what does their commission suggest to you about Jesus' priorities and about the world in which we live?  (see also Mark 1:39)     

4.    What do you know about these twelve men? List them and jot down what you know about them from the Scriptures and from church history.
*    As you reflect on these twelve men, is there a personal application for you?

5.    What do you think is the difference between being one of the crowd and one of the called? How do you see yourself? Are you one of the crowd who is following Jesus or are you one of those called to be with him? Explain.  

6.    What is your calling and commission? (Again, recall John 15:16)
*    Do you think it is possible for you to be with him (v. 14) and learn from him in much the same way as the disciples were? If so, how?    

7.    How do you think these men, who most likely were very different from one another, managed to stay together and stay committed to their commission?  
*    If the Lord were to lead BCC into a merger with another congregation, how do you think we would manage to stay together and stay committed to our commission?    

8.    How would you summarize Jesus' purpose and training of the twelve men He called to Himself? What is His big picture?  
*    What is the big picture for you and for BCC? 

9.    What caught your attention in this meditation on the calling of the Twelve?

May the Lord be with you, and I hope to see you on Sunday!

Dan

The Race Marked Out For Us

When we think about the pastor search over the past year or so, Bear Creek Church has had a difficult path to follow. There have been four potential candidates who have won the favor of the Pastor Search Committee, but for one reason or another did not believe the Lord was calling them to serve here as pastor. In each case each one has been something of a disappointing blow to the committee and the congregation, but the committee and the church have kept pressing on in hope and faith in the Lord of the Church, Jesus. Sometimes we wonder what we might do differently; sometimes we wish the Lord would make His plan more clear. 

When I hiked the Colorado Trail there were many times when I wasn't sure I was on the right trail or a trail at all! Sometimes the trail was buried deep beneath a couple of feet of snow and I either guessed which way it was going or I followed other footprints in the snow. But along the way there were "assurance markers" nailed to a tree or affixed to a post. I loved these things! They always let me breathe a little easier knowing I was where I was supposed to be, and wanted to be. 

In our "hike" with the Lord we would like a few more assurance markers, wouldn't we?  Such markers would be especially helpful during this time of searching for a pastor. But our walk with the Lord is different; the markers are not nailed to a tree or posted where we can all see them. We walk by faith, not sight. 

This week I want us to think about what it means for us "run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Heb. 12:1, NIV). Read Hebrews 12:1-3 and use the questions given below to help you meditate on the word picture of this passage.

1.    How is the Christian life portrayed in this passage of ours today?
*    What do you think is significant about that? (cf., I Cor. 9:24-27)

2.    Our text speaks of "a great crowd of witnesses," and it seems to be a reference to the grand list of saints described in chapter 11. Who are these witnesses? Do you have a favorite?
*    What is the common characteristic found in all of their lives? What does the author of Hebrews want us to learn from them? 
*    So, in a word, what are all these men and women witnesses of? ("witnesses" could be translated "examples")

3.    Given the reference to those described in Hebrews 11, what do you think "the race set before us" is? How is "the race set before us" like the race the "great clouds of witnesses" have run? (cf., Prov. 3:5-6; II Cor. 5:7)

4.    How would you define or describe endurance or perseverance? How does that fit your understanding of the Christian life?

5.    What do you think it means to "lay aside every weight"? What do you think the author has in mind when he speaks of "every weight"?
*    What sorts of things do you think weigh us down in the Christian life and keep us from running with endurance? 

6.    What are sins "which cling so closely" or sins "that so easily entangle" (NIV)? How do they affect our running the race set before us?

7.    Why do you think the author of Hebrews tells us to look to Jesus or fix our eyes on Jesus (NIV)? What difference will that make? 

8.    What do you learn about Jesus in this passage? 

9.    Put it all together: what is "the race that is set before us" and how are we to run it? 

10.    What is weighing you down or entangling you so that you cannot run the race well? What do you need to do? 

11.    Given the current situation at BCC in which she finds herself without a permanent senior pastor, what advice would you give her from this passage?

God be with you, and I hope to see you on Sunday!

Dan
   

Pray for God’s Grace

A lady once asked the great British preacher, evangelist and biblical scholar G. Campbell Morgan, “Do you think we ought to pray about even the little things in life?”  To which Dr. Morgan replied in his typical British manner, “Madam, can you think of anything in your life that is big to God?”  

We are taking some time this month to consider the remarkable realities of prayer and we have decided to center our meditations on the Lord’s Prayer.  We have given thought to “recollection” (Our Father in heaven) and to the first three petitions.  This week we will look at the last four petitions, and we will turn from our concern for God’s glory (His name, kingdom and will) to what concerns us and our need for God’s grace.  But we ought not hold these two “tablets” of prayer apart (The Ten Commandments are divided into two tablets as well – our duty to God and our duty to one another).  As someone wisely observed we need to pray for His grace that we might live for His glory.  

Read Matthew 6:5-15 once again, and use the questions listed below to help you meditate on how Jesus teaches us to pray.

1.    In review, what does Jesus want us to do when we begin our prayer with “our Father in heaven” (v. 9)?  

2.    And what is at the heart of the first three petitions (vv. 9-10)?  What are we asking our heavenly Father for when we pray these petitions about His name, kingdom and will?

3.    What are the next four petitions (vv. 11-13)?

4.    When we pray the fourth petition, “Give us this day our daily bread,” what are we asking from our heavenly Father?  Are we asking for literal food or something more?  
•    Why is it significant that we pray for daily bread?
•    Do the rich and the poor pray this prayer in the same way?  What do you think?

5.    What is the fifth petition and why is this an indispensable request we must make of our heavenly Father (v. 11)?

6.    What does Jesus teach us about how we are to ask God to forgive us?  
•    Do you think it is true that we want God to forgive us like we forgive others?  Is it true of you?

7.    Jesus seems to see forgiveness as a critical issue when it comes to prayer; it is the only subject in the prayer itself to which He returns after teaching us how to prayer.  How do you understand verses 14-15?  (Consider Mark 11:25; see footnote on v. 26 which is not in most texts).  

8.    What are we praying for when we ask our heavenly Father to not lead us into temptation?  Does God ever lead us into temptation (Jas. 13-15)?  Are we ever free from temptation? 
•    Consider I Corinthians 10:13.  How does this verse shed light on our sixth petition?  

9.    The seventh and final petition is often connected with the sixth into one request.  What realities lie behind the seventh petition?  And what are we asking God to do?

10.    Put these four petitions in your own words.  

11.    What do you think it would look like for God to answer these four petitions for you?

12.    Finally, here is a thought question.  Jesus tells us to pray “our Father in heaven.”  Why not
“my” Father in heaven?  Why do you think it important to keep in mind the “our” Jesus tell us to use?  How does that affect all of our prayers?

I hope this has been helpful!  And I hope to see you on Sunday!

God be with you,

Dan

Pray for Gods Glory

Perhaps you are familiar with George Mueller (1805-1898). Though a native of Germany, he lived most of his 92 years in Bristol, England, where he pastored the same church for 66 years. In 1834 he founded The Scripture Knowledge Institute for Home and Abroad, which was a missions enterprise with five divisions: 1) Schools for children and adults to teach Bible knowledge, 2) Bible distribution, 3) missionary support, 4) tract and book distribution, and 5) "to board, clothe and scripturally educate destitute children who have lost both parents by death." 

All five divisions were significantly fruitful, but the one for which Mueller is best known was his ministry to orphans. In the course of his life, he built five large orphan houses and cared for over 10,000 orphans. As you may have heard, in the last 68 years of his ministry he never took a salary and never asked for donations for his orphan houses; rather, he trusted God to move the hearts of people to send him what he and his orphans needed. Neither he nor his orphans ever went hungry.

What you may not be aware of is that George Mueller's primary purpose in establishing orphan homes was not to care for orphans, but to put on display the reality and faithfulness of God. His ambition was two-fold: to demonstrate to unbelievers that there is a God in heaven and to encourage the saints to trust Him. Here is what he said glorifying God:

"It seemed to me best done, by the establishing of an Orphan-House. It needed to be something which could be seen, even by the natural eye. Now, if I, a poor man, simply by prayer and faith, obtained, without asking any individual, the means for establishing and carrying on an Orphan-House: there would be something which, with the Lord's blessing, might be instrumental in strengthening the faith of the children of God besides being a testimony to the consciences of the unconverted, of the reality of the things of God. This, then, was the primary reason, for establishing the Orphan-House. . . The first and primary object of the work was, (and still is) that God might be magnified by the fact, that the orphans under my care are provided, with all they need, only by prayer and faith, without any one being asked by me or my fellow-laborers, whereby it may be seen, that God is FAITHFUL STILL, and HEARS PRAYER STILL."

George Mueller magnified the glory of God, and that is the focus of our meditation this week. Jesus tells us to pray for the glory of God.

Read Matthew 5:5-15 and use the questions given below to help you think through the remarkable realities of this prayer.

1.    Briefly as a review, what is lies behind the beginning of this way of praying, "Our Father in heaven"?

2.    We will consider the first three petitions in this prayer that Jesus sets before us. What are they (vv. 9-10)?

3.    "Hallowed" is not a word we use very often in common discourse. Take a moment and look it up in a dictionary. What does it mean?

    * What, then, does Jesus have in mind when He tells us to make this petition?

4.    The second petition is "Your kingdom come." What and where is God's Kingdom?

    * What, then, do you think we are praying for when we pray that our heavenly Father's kingdom come?  

5.    What does Jesus want us to pray about when He gives us the third petition, "Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven"?

    * Put on your sanctified imagination: How is God's will done in heaven?

6.    Grammatically, the last phrase, "on earth as it is in heaven," might also apply to the first two petitions as well. How might that add to our understanding of those first two petitions?

7.    How would you summarize these three petitions in a sentence or two? What are we praying for?

8.    What do you think it would look like if we prayed these petitions and God answered them?

9.    Why do you think Jesus puts these three petitions before the next four which seem to be requests for help?

10.    In what ways might these three petitions be prayers of personal surrender?

11.    How do you think George Mueller's life and ministry might have followed the point of these three petitions?

12.    What did you take away from this time in the Word? How would you like to see your prayers change?

God be with you and see you on Sunday!

Dan 

 

   

Gideons: God's Word for the World

This week we will have the great privilege of hearing from The Gideons International, a remarkable ministry which has faithfully distributed the Word of God throughout the world for over 100 years!  Here are some highlight from their website:   

Founded in 1899, The Gideons International serves as an extended missionary arm of the church and is the oldest Association of Christian business and professional men in the United States of America.     

In the autumn of 1898, John H. Nicholson of Janesville, Wisconsin, arrived at the Central Hotel at Boscobel, Wisconsin, for the night. The hotel was crowded, but he was offered a bed in a double room with Samuel E. Hill of Beloit, Wisconsin. The two men soon discovered they shared a common belief in Christ, and they decided to have their evening devotions together. During their prayer time, both felt the call to begin developing an Association.  
On May 31, 1899, the two men met again at Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, where they decided the purpose of their Association would be to band Christian commercial travelers together for mutual recognition, personal evangelism, and united service for the Lord. They decided to call a meeting in Janesville, Wisconsin, on July 1, 1899, in the Y.M.C.A. 

Only three men were present at the meeting in Janesville: John H. Nicholson, Samuel E. Hill, and Will J. Knights. They organized with Hill as president, Knights as vice president, and Nicholson as secretary and treasurer. When it came time to decide the name of the Association, the men held a special prayer time to ask that God might lead them to select the proper name. After, Mr. Knights arose from his knees and said simply, "We shall be called Gideons." He then proceeded to read the story of Gideon from the sixth and seventh chapters of Judges. 

In light of the fact that nearly all of the Gideons in the early years of the Association were traveling men, the question naturally arose as to how they might be more effective witnesses in hotels. One trustee went so far as to suggest that The Gideons supply a Bible for each bedroom of the hotels in the United States. He commented, "In my opinion, this would not only stimulate the activities of the rank and file of the membership, but would be a gracious act, wholly in keeping with the divine mission of the Gideon Association." This plan, which they called "The Bible Project" was adopted at Louisville, Kentucky, in 1908.  
The Gideons International began distributing the Word of God in 1908. Today, there are more than 270,000 Gideons and Auxiliary - and an untold number of supporters - in 200 countries, territories, and possessions across the globe. These dedicated individuals have given their time and money to make it possible for others to learn about the love of God by giving them access to His Word. We have placed and distributed more than 2 billion Bibles and New Testaments around the world. 
 
In preparation for the ministry of the Gideons this Sunday, let's reflect on the marvelous gift of God's Word.   

1.    Let's begin in the very beginning!  Read Genesis 1:24-31.  How is man created differently that all other creatures and in what ways is man's relationship with God unique among all the creatures of the earth? 

2.    What do the texts listed below tell us about our relationship to the Word of God? 
*    Deuteronomy 8:4
*    Deuteronomy 32:44-47
*    Matthew 7:24-27
*    John 8:31; 17:16-17
*    II Timothy 3:16-17
*    II Peter 1:3-4

3.    What do the following texts teach us about God's Word? 
*    Deuteronomy 4:2, 6-8
*    Deuteronomy 6:4-9
*    Joshua 1:8
*    Psalm 1
*    Psalm 19:7-11
*    Psalm 119:44-45, 105, 165 (every verse in this psalm is about the Word of God!) 
*    Isaiah 40:6-8
*    Isaiah 55:10-11
*    Jeremiah 23:28-29
*    Luke 24:27, 44-47
*    Gal. 1:6-9; II Thess. 2:13-15 (II Pet. 3:16) 
*    I Peter 1:23
*    Hebrews 4:12

4.    After looking at all these texts of Scripture, why do you think the Gideons are so eager to see that people throughout the world have a copy in their own language?  

5.    There is so much more we could ponder about the Word of God, but let's stop here.  What do you take away from this survey of texts on the Bible?  What should our response be to this Book and what do we do with it?

Hope to see you on Sunday!  God be with you,

Dan
 

Slow Hearts, Burning Hearts

We celebrate our hope in Jesus at Easter, but what keeps hope alive after the lilies die?     
Some time ago I came across this story in a sermon: In the 1920's Joseph Stalin was extending his chokehold over all of what would become the Soviet Union. He sent political speakers out to Russian towns and villages to press upon the people what they must believe: Marxism and the Russian form of Communism were to replace the teaching of the Christian faith. The Church was no longer to be active.    

One large crowd of peasants listened to a commissar harangue them for three hours, trying to convert them to Marxism and convince them of the glories of Communism. When he finished he was exhausted, but he was sure he had turned the crowd to embrace this God-less worldview. He allowed a few minutes for questions and then as he was wrapping up a Russian Orthodox priest stood up at the back of the hall and said: "I just have one thing to say to you. Christ is risen!" Instantly the entire crowd responded, "Christ is risen indeed!" The truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ would still shape their worldview. The Communists overlooked the fact that the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be rubbed out of peoples' souls that easily! We should note that those who made such a confession of faith in Christ risked imprisonment.     

But what keeps such hope alive, especially in a world hostile to Christ and characterized by despair? This week we will look at Luke 24:13-35, an important text on keeping hope alive. Use the questions below to help you meditate on this very relevant text.    

1.    When and where does this encounter with Jesus take place?    

2.    What do you know about Emmaus and Cleopas and his/her traveling companion?   

3.    What were Cleopas and the other disciple talking about and what was the state of their souls (vv. 14-17)?

4.    Why do you suppose Jesus kept these two disciples from recognizing Him right away (v. 16)?

5.    Jesus pressed them to tell Him about "the things that have happened [in Jerusalem] in these days," and they recounted the ministry, betrayal, death and resurrection of Jesus to Him. In the middle of all that is their confession, "But we had hoped" (v. 21). What had they hoped for and what happened to their hope?

6.    How does Jesus respond to their tale of the loss of their hope (vv. 25-27)?

7.    What happened in the home of the disciples (vv. 28-32)?

8.    Why do you suppose Jesus vanished so suddenly (v. 31)?

9.    How did the disciples recount their encounter with Jesus and what happened to them (vv. 32-35)?

10.    How would you describe the change the disciples underwent in the course of this encounter with Jesus?

11.    What are slow hearts (v. 25)? What are burning hearts (v. 32)? What makes the difference between the two?

12.    What is the lesson in this story? What does the Lord want you to know in light of this text and meditation?

Hope to see you on Sunday! May God be with you,

Dan

For They Were Afraid

"Oh, you're real, you're real! Oh, Aslan!" cried Lucy and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses.   "But what does it all mean?" asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

"It means," said Aslan, "that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time.  But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."  

No one witnessed the resurrection of Jesus, except perhaps angels. And resurrection is not something we have an experiential category for, and yet, coupled with the cross, it is the irremovable heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If there is no resurrection, there is no Gospel, there is no hope of salvation and there is no Church. The resurrection of Jesus is the glorious vindication of Jesus' life and death and it is the life of the Church. It would seem that such a victorious event would be attended with joyful celebration and glad  proclamation. But the account of the resurrection by the gospel writer Mark is surprising and awkward, unresolved and uncomfortable. His resurrection report is only eight verses long and it end with four dismal words:  "For they were afraid" (16:8). What are we to make of that?  How can that be a fitting end to his "gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (1:1)? What is his point? 

Read, Mark 16:1-8 carefully and twice, and use the questions given below to help you meditate on this intriguing resurrection text.  

1.    Take a moment and read Mark 8:31; 9:31 and 10:33-34. What had Jesus taught his disciples about what would happen to him in Jerusalem? What should they have known and expected?

2.    What were the assumptions and expectations of the three ladies who went to the tomb on the morning of the first day of the week (vv. 1-2)?  

3.    What did these ladies find when they arrived and entered the tomb? Why were they alarmed (v. 5)?
*     What does the context (vv. 5-7) suggest about the identity of this young man?  

4.    Just for a moment, what if the ladies had found exactly what they expected, namely, Jesus' body in the otherwise empty tomb? How would the world be different now? How would your life be different?

5.    What was the message of this 'young man' dressed in a white robe (vv. 6-7)?  

6.    What if there had been no angel announcing Jesus' resurrection, only an empty tomb? Where would we be then?

7.    What was the assignment this 'young man' gave to these ladies?  (c.f., Mark 14:28)

8.    Why do you think the 'young man' singled out Peter when he gave these women their assignment (v. 7)?

9.    Pause for a moment and place yourself in the tomb with these women. What would you be thinking and feeling?  

10.    How do you envision what happened in verse 8?

11.    Why do you think these devoted ladies were afraid? What were they afraid of?
*    As a reader of this story and as an outside observer, how do you respond to their fear?  
*    If you could have entered that story what would you have said to or done for those women?  
12.    Verse 8 is the original ending of Mark's gospel. Why do you think Mark ends his gospel on this note:  "for they were afraid"?
*    How might that be relevant to the first century church, and to us?

13.    Assuming that Mark was intentional about ending his gospel at verse 8, what does he want you, the reader, to do?   

May the risen Lord bless you in the Truth of His Resurrection!

See you on Sunday!

Dan
  
 

An Odd Parade for a Misunderstood King

Jesus' life and ministry were so contrary to what Israel expected and what we might expect.  But C.S. Lewis makes the keen observation that unexpectedness is really what we should expect!  "Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd.  It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect.  For instance, when you have grasped that the earth and the other planets all go round the sun, you would naturally expect that all the planets were made to match - all at equal distances from each other, say, or distances that regularly increased, or all the same size, or else getting bigger or smaller as you go farther from the sun.  In fact, you find no rhyme or reason (that we can see) about either the sizes or the distances; and some of them have one moon, one has four, one has two, some have none, and one has a ring.  Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed.  That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity.  It is a religion you could not have guessed."  

Jesus' arrival at Jerusalem is not at all a quiet, inconspicuous affair.  What is surprising and so uncharacteristic of Jesus is that he orchestrates a very public and noisy entrance into the city of Jerusalem that can only set the stage for confrontation with the Jewish leaders.  "Jesus makes sure that his arrival is noticed."   But what does Jesus want people to know about him as he comes into Jerusalem in this way?    

Read Mark 11:1-11 and use the questions below to help you meditate on this Palm Sunday passage.

1.    Take a moment and read Mark 8:31; 9:31; and 10:33-34.  What did Jesus say would happen to him when He and His disciples arrived in Jerusalem?  
*    In light of this, how might you have expected Jesus to approach and enter the city?
*    And what do you think the disciples expected to happen when they arrived in Jerusalem?  

2.    How do you understand Jesus' acquiring a donkey colt?  Was the owner of the colt among those who were with Jesus at the time?  Did he have friends in Bethphage or Bethany who would know him as "Lord" (Simon the Leper, Mark 14:3; Lazarus, John 11:1-3; Jesus returned to Bethany that evening, v. 11)?  Had he made previous plans with someone in one of these places?  Or was it entirely a supernatural event orchestrated by the Holy Spirit (Exodus 12:35-36)?  What do you think?  

3.    Why does Jesus note that the colt he wants has never been ridden?  (Numbers 19:2; Deuteronomy 21:3; I Samuel 6:7; also, compare Luke 2:26-34; 23:50-53; parallels in Matthew)
*    There seems to be a disproportionate amount of attention given to untying a donkey's colt.  Consider Genesis 49:10-12.  What might Mark be telling us?
*    What is the prophetic promise given to Judah in Genesis 49:10-12 that relates to Jesus and his coming?

4.    The events of our passage today are unmistakably predicted in Zechariah 9:9-10; take a moment to read that text.
*    Who and what is promised in this passage?
*    What statement is Jesus consciously making as he mounts this colt and rides into Jerusalem?
*    What is strikingly unusual about someone riding a colt of a donkey, especially one who claims to be a king?  

5.    Before we unpack the particulars of this parade into Jerusalem, how would you describe this crowd?  What is the atmosphere?  

6.    Why do many people throw their cloaks on the road before Jesus while others thrown down branches cut from the fields?  What is symbolized by this?  (cf. II Kings 9:12-13)

7.    As they begin to make their way into Jerusalem (Bethany was two miles away and Bethphage was even closer to the city), what do the people shout and what does this reveal about their hopes? (consider Psalm 118) 
*    How was Jesus' kingdom different from the popular understanding of "the coming kingdom of our father David"? 
*    Can you imagine yourself in that excited crowd?  What do you imagine it would be like to be one of those accompanying Jesus into Jerusalem?

8.    Up to this point in Mark's gospel, Jesus has deliberately concealed his identity.  He silences demons who clearly know who he is (1:24-25, 34; 3:12); He often tells those He has healed to not tell anyone (1:44; 5:43; 8:26); and He even commands the Twelve not to divulge their knowledge that He is the Christ (8:30).  Why do you think Jesus now deliberately makes a public statement about His identity and welcomes the excited anticipation that He was in fact the promised king, the Son of David who would usher in a new era of Israel's sovereign independence?
*    What did Jesus intend to communicate by his dramatic entry into Jerusalem?
*    What would be missing in the Gospel if Jesus did not enter Jerusalem in this way?

9.    In what way is Jesus' arrival at Jerusalem a corrective to the popular notions of a conquering king and Son of David?  How will Jesus fulfill the prophecies about ruling the nations (Genesis 49:10) and bringing an end to war and speaking peace to the nations (Zechariah 9:10; compare Isaiah 9:1-7)?  

10.    How was Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem so unexpected and what does that tell you about Him and His rule as King in your life?   
May the Lord deepen your love for Him in view of His suffering for us!  And I hope to see you on Sunday!

Dan
____________
1 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York:  Simon & Schuster, 1996) p. 48.   
2 R.T. France, The New International Greek Testament Commentary:  The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002) p. 428.
  

Psalm of the Cross

Joy Davidman in Smoke on the Mountain made this keen observation: "Our generation has never seen a man crucified except in sugary religious art; but it was not a sweet sight, and few of us would dare to have a real picture of a crucifixion on our bedroom walls. A crucified slave beside the Roman road screamed until his voice died and then hung, a filthy, festering clot of flies, sometimes for days - a living man whose hands and feet were swollen masses of gangrenous meat. That is what our Lord took upon Himself." And He did so for us! Such is the love of Christ!  

Rembrandt's famous "Raising the Cross" may fit that category of "sugary religious art", but there is something else here. You will notice a man at the foot of the cross with a painter's beret. It seems that Rembrandt saw himself as someone personally in
volved in the crucifixion of Jesus. What do you think he meant by this?   

Psalm 22 will be our meditation this week, and while it is titled "A Psalm of David," anyone who is remotely familiar with the crucifixion of Jesus will soon realize that this is more than a simply another psalm of David: it is the Psalm of the Cross! As we do this meditation, we will want to keep in mind the accounts of Jesus' Passion as recorded in the Gospels. Read this Psalm carefully, but then also read at least one of the Passion narratives found in Matthew (26:47-27:61), Mark (14:43-15:47), or Luke (22:47-23:56). Use the questions below to help you meditate on these most sacred texts.

1.    The very first verse of Psalm 22 takes us to the cross, doesn't it (Matt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34)? List all the connections you can find between Psalm 22 and the Passion narrative in the Gospels.  

2.    The fact that Jesus quotes the first verse of this Psalm while on the cross not only expresses His experience of God-forsakenness, but also suggests that He may have had the entire Psalm on His heart as He endured unimaginable suffering on the cross. If that is the case, what do verses 1-11 tell us about what might have been going on in Jesus' soul as He was crucified? What did He long for?   

3.    According to the Gospels, who mocked Jesus and wagged their heads at Him (Psalm 22:7-8)? 

4.    In verses 12-18 the perpetrators and spectators of Jesus' suffering are described in images of animals. Who do you think these people are in light of the Gospel narratives? 
*    With these animal images in mind, how do you envision Golgotha as Jesus was crucified?   

5.    The Gospel narratives do not describe crucifixion at all, but we have something of a description here in Psalm 22. How do verses 14-17 depict some of the grim realities of crucifixion?   
*    What stands out to you? 

6.    What does the Savior plead for in verses 19-21? 

7.    The entire tone of the psalm changes in verse 22. What is the tone and why has it changed (vv. 22-24)? 

8.    According to verses 27-31, what are the results of Jesus' suffering?   

9.    What is the triumphant note at the very end of this Psalm? And what do you think it means? (cf., John 19:30) 

10.    Do you hear the Good News of Jesus in this Psalm? If so, how so? 

11.    Is there a lesson here for you about suffering? If so, what is it?  

12.    What did you learn about your Savior from this meditation on Psalm 22 and the Passion narratives in the Gospels?

May the Lord deepen your love for Him in view of His suffering for us! And I hope to see you on Sunday!

Dan

Songs of the Servant: It Was the Will of the Lord to Crush Him

Recently a friend of mine sent me this blog post: "Christianity has never lacked for critics  and cynics. During the past decade its critics have returned to an argument almost as old as Christianity itself. Dr. Sam Harris, a cognitive scientist, argues that Christianity is a cult of human sacrifice, a companion criticism to that made by the late Christopher Hitchens. How can educated, intelligent people make such preposterous claims? I'm afraid their criticisms arise from what they hear. 

"Consider one variety of popular Christian theology-it goes something like this. Human sin has made God very angry. So angry in fact that His righteous wrath judged humans worthy of hell. Fortunately for us, God's own Son stood in for humanity and, by dying on the cross, Jesus took the punishment we deserve. Because of Jesus' death, divine anger has been appeased. Believers in Jesus are saved from God's wrath and headed for heaven.

"Sound familiar? Well, you won't find that formula in the Bible." Oh really? He goes on to write, "The Bible does not describe God as an angry cosmic despot who must be placated by human blood. He is not the perpetrator of cosmic child abuse, as critics claim. The Bible portrays God as a loving, generous provider. Jesus taught God should be addressed as heavenly Father. The apostle Paul encouraged Christians to speak to Him as daddy!

"Jesus did indeed die on the cross for the sin of the world. That includes your sin and mine. But the Bible claims Jesus' crucifixion expressed God's deep, deep love for humanity, not His wrath. The cross achieved something big, something we urgently needed, something that could not be achieved any other way." Unfortunately, the writer does not tell us what the cross actually achieved. What does the Bible teach? Has our sin placed us under God's wrath? And is God's wrath turned away at the cross? Was His justice as well as His love expressed at the cross?

Someone once said that the fourth Song of the Servant could have been written at the foot of the cross on Golgotha. Give careful thought to this Song and then evaluate the blog post cited above.

The fourth and final of Isaiah's Songs of the Servant is probably familiar to you, nevertheless read it a couple of times carefully. It is found in Isaiah 52:13-53:12.

1.    There are five stanzas in this song, each with three verses - 52:13-15, 53:1-3, 53:4-6, 53:7-9, and 53:10-12. The first stanza is something of a prologue, setting the stage for the rest of the song. What themes do you see expressed in this prologue?

2.    The second stanza (53:1-3) is an amazing description of the Servant of the Lord, Jesus. What do you learn about Him in these lines? And what stands out to you the most in this portrait of Jesus?
o    How do you think these lines were fulfilled in Jesus' life?

3. The third stanza (53:4-6) tells us the meaning of the Servant's suffering. How do these three verses describe what happened the Servant of the Lord?
o    What did it all mean? What is the central truth here about Jesus' suffering? 
o    What strikes you the most in this stanza?
4. Stanza four (53:7-9) recounts more of the events of Jesus' Passion. What happened to Him and how do we see that recorded in the four Gospels?
o    If you were to pick a word that captures the nature of what happened to Jesus as recorded in this stanza what would it be? Explain your answer.

5. The last stanza (53:10-12) returns to the meaning of what happened to Jesus. What was the purpose of Jesus' dying, and what will the outcome be?
 
6. What do you think is at the very heart of this fourth Song? Can you put that in one sentence?
o    Some say that the central theme of this Song is a view of the atonement which is called "penal substitution," that is, that Jesus suffered the punishment or penalty for our sin. What think ye? (Consider verses 4-6, 8, 11, 12) 

7. Having meditated on this Song, how would you reply to the blog post quoted earlier in this meditation? (Consider Rom. 1:18ff., 3:21-26; Eph. 2:1-10; if time allows, look up the word "propitiation"; it is the word used in Rom. 3:25).
 
8. Henri Blocher makes this encouraging application for us: "As children, some of us were taught to make a personal paraphrase of the whole passage; to read it aloud, replacing 'we', 'us', 'ours', with 'I', 'me', 'my' or with our own name. Instead of 'he', 'the servant', we were taught to say 'Jesus'. This childlike blending of interpretation and application embodies a Christian's spontaneous attitude to the Song. God forbid that we should blush if we are too contented with such simplicity."[1] Before you end your meditation with prayer take a few minutes to do this very thing.
 
Hope to see you on Sunday! God be with you,
 
Dan

________________________________________
[1] Henri Blocher, The Songs of the Servant (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1975) p. 59.
 

Songs of the Servant: "My Face Like a Flint"

Nate Saint was a missionary pilot to Ecuador in the 1950’s and one of the five missionaries who were killed by the Auca Indians in their attempt to reach the Huaroni people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He and the others were killed on January 8, 1956.  He once wrote that his life did not really change until he had come to grips with the idea that “obedience is not a momentary option… it is a die-cast decision made beforehand.”   I suspect that experience and axiom are true for all of us.  Certainly our Savior had made such a die-cast decision to be obedient to His Father when He came here.  And He calls us to do the same.  And as we well know, unreserved obedience to the Lord can and often does lead to suffering for His name’s sake.  Jesus’ absolute obedience to His Father led to the cross.  

This week we will look at the third of Isaiah’s four Songs of the Servant and once again we hear the voice of the Servant, Jesus.  This Song is the most autobiographical of the four and as one old scholar put it, “The Servant of Jehovah affords us a deep insight into His hidden life.”  There is a heart-inspiring picture of Jesus here, but there is also one that is heart-rending.  And both images are dramatically fulfilled in Jesus’ life as recorded in the Gospels.  The die-cast obedience of Jesus led to suffering among men, but vindication by God.  And what becomes abundantly clear in this Song is that a man’s eternal destiny is determined by how he responds to this obedient, but suffering Servant of the Lord. 

Read Isaiah 50:4-11 twice and carefully.  The questions below are designed to help you meditate on this Song of the Servant.   

1.    As you listen to Jesus reveal Himself in verses 4-5, how would you describe Him?  What is He like?  
•    Can you think of examples from the Gospels in which Jesus sustained the weary with a word (v. 4)?  Recall Isaiah 42:3?
•    Why did Jesus have to hear from the Lord morning by morning?  (Mark 1:35-39; John 5:19; 8:28; 12:49; 17:8)    

2.    Where did the Servant’s obedience to the Lord lead Him according to verse 6?  
•    Was Jesus a passive victim to suffering or was He in control?  What do you think?
•    Can you find accounts in the Gospels in which we read about these things happening to Jesus?
•    Why did Jesus suffer so?  

3.    How would you describe Jesus’ attitude in the midst of suffering (v. 7)?
•    What do you think it meant for Jesus to “set my face like a flint”?  (cf. Luke 9:51)
•    How does this apply to your life?

4.    Verses 8-9 employ legal language, the kind of language we would hear in a courtroom.  How do you picture what is going on here?  (Consider John 8:46)
•    What is the solid rock upon which Jesus stands in verse 8 and 9?  
•    There is an interesting parallel for us in Romans 8:31-34.  What do you think about that? 
•    What happens to Jesus’ adversaries (v. 9)?   

5.    Look closely at verses 10-11.  What is Jesus saying to us here?  What does light represent (v. 10), and what do fire and torches stand for (v. 11)?  (Remember John 8:12 and 12:35-36)
•    What does these verses tell us about the destiny of every person?  

6.    What did you learn about Jesus in this Song, and what stood out to you the most about Him? 
•    In what way would you like to be more like Him?

7.    Did you find any comfort or encouragement in this Song?  If so, what?  If not, why not? 

May God be with you, 

Dan

Songs of the Servant: "My Mission"

Most men are not satisfied with the permanent output of their lives. Nothing can wholly satisfy the life of Christ within his followers except the adoption of Christ's purpose toward the world he came to redeem. Fame, pleasure and riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfillment of his eternal plans. The men who are putting everything into Christ's undertaking are getting out of life its sweetest and most priceless rewards" (J. Campbell White, Secretary of the Laymen's Missionary Movement, 1909). Someone once said that if we are not fishing for men, we are not following Jesus (see Mark 1:16-20). Jesus came into the world to call the world to Himself and He has given us that same mission.   

This week we will look at the second of Isaiah's four Songs of the Servant and the heartbeat of this song is the global mission of God's Servant. As we mentioned before these poetic prophecies were composed some 750 years before Jesus and they spectacularly portray His life and ministry. What is strikingly unique in this Song is that we actually hear the voice of the Servant of God, who is none other than Jesus Himself.  And in this Song we get a new look into the relationship between the Father and His Son Jesus and Jesus' mission in the world. 
The second Song of the Servant is found in Isaiah 49:1-13.  Read it through a couple of times and then use the questions listed below to help you meditate on this wonderful song about Jesus.

1.    In view of the entire song, verses 1-13, what do you learn about the relationship between God the Father and His Servant? 

2.    This Song of the Servant reveals much about the mission of the Servant. Again, looking at the song as a whole (vv. 1-13), what do you learn about the scope or extent of the Servant's mission?

3.    What does verse 2 tell you about the nature of the Servant's mission? What will He be like and what will He do?

4.    In verse 4, what is the Servant's complaint and how would you reconcile that with what we saw last week in the first Song of the Servant (Isa. 42:4)?
*    How does the Servant balance his complaint in this verse? What is His assurance?

5.     How does God respond to His Servant's complaint in verses 5-6?

6.    Verse 7 gives us another hint into the of nature Jesus' mission. What do you see in this verse?

7.    Verses 8-12 give us a grand view of the purpose and design of the Servant's mission.  What will God's Servant do? 
*    Here is a thought question: Do you sense another biblical event or image behind the description of the Servant's mission in these 5 verses? 

8.    How does the song end (v. 13), and what is the lesson in that ending?

9.    What do you learn about God's heart in this Song?

10.    What do you learn about Jesus in this Song? 

11.    In light of what you see of God's heart and of His Servant Jesus in this Song, what do you think the Lord would have you do differently as a follower of Jesus?  
I hope to see you on Sunday! And God be with you, 

Dan

Songs of the Servant: "My Beloved"

Napoleon led a roaring and destructive career. He was at times brutal and without compassion. It is reported that after a certain victory over the Russian and Prussian armies he walked through the battlefield, turning over the dead bodies of French soldiers. "Small change," he said, "small change. One Parisian night will soon adjust these losses." Such brute callousness! But after being defeated at Waterloo in 1815, he was exiled to the island of St. Helena. There God gave him six years to reflect on his life. In his Memorial he wrote these words:  "Everything in Christ astonishes me. His spirit overawes me, His will confounds me.  Between Him and whomever else in the world, there is no possible term of comparison.  Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I myself have found empires; but upon what do these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love; and to this very day millions would die for Him." He went on to say this about Jesus:  "The nearer I approach, the more carefully I examine, everything is above - everything remains grand, of a grandeur which overpowers." 

Don't you want to see Jesus that way? To see in Him a grandeur that overpowers? The Church season of Lent began this week and as we observe this time of meditation and reflection on the cross of Christ in preparation for the celebration of the resurrection, we will be looking into several Old Testament texts that reveal wonderful and grand truths about Jesus. Over the next five weeks we will meditate on Isaiah's four Songs of the Servant and then David's Psalm 22. 
 
This week we will consider the first of the Servant Songs. These prophetic songs amazingly describe our Savior nearly 750 years before He came! We have the advantage of looking back upon the life and work of Jesus, and perhaps as we reflect on this song today, we will see in Jesus a majesty and beauty that overpowers! 
Read Isaiah 42:1-9 and use the questions below to help you meditate on this Song of the Servant.  

1.    According to verse 1, what does the Lord say about "my servant"?  How does He describe Him?
      * How would you describe the Lord's feelings for His servant (v. 1)?
      * Can you think of an event in Jesus' life and ministry that echoes verse 1?

2.    Still in verse 1, what will the servant do and what do you think that means?    

3.    In verses 2-3 what does God say about how the Lord's Servant will accomplish His mission?  
      * What do you think a "bruised reed" and a "faintly burning wick" represent?
      * What does this tell you about the Lord's Servant?  What kind of man is He?
      * How do we see these qualities in the life and ministry of Jesus as recorded in the gospels?
      * Read Matthew 12:15-21. Does this add to your understanding of how the Lord's Servant accomplished His mission?

4.    Verse 3 again mentions the Servant's mission. What is it?

5.    What do you learn about the Lord's Servant and His mission in verse 4?

6.    What does God say about His Servant in verses 5-9? What will God do? What will His servant do?

7.    What is the important but unpopular lesson in verse 8? How might you put that in your own words?

8.    Think for a few moments about Jesus. How do you think He fulfilled this prophetic song written about Him? And how did He establish justice in the world?

9.    What stands out to you about what the Lord reveals in this passage about Jesus?

10.   Does this passage help you have a more grand view of Jesus? If so, how? If not, why not?

May the Lord meet you in a special way this Lenten season! And I hope to see you on Sunday!

Dan  
 

Caring Enough to Confront

Most of us are somewhat familiar with what Jesus said about addressing another brother or sister when he or she sins against us (Matthew 18:15-20), and we ought to give that a fresh look. But this week I would like us to consider our responsibility toward one another beyond simply the process of discipline outlined by Jesus. One of the hardest things for us to do as Christians is address the sin we may see in the life of another; at least, it is one of the hardest things for me to do! But love demands that we care enough to confront sin in one another. 

Use the texts and questions given below to help you meditate on this hard but important matter of the Christian sojourn.

1.    What has been your experience with being confronted about sin or confronting someone about his or her sin? 

2.    Let's begin with that familiar text that is far easier to quote that to practice, Matthew 18:15-17. 

a.    What specifically is the situation that Jesus is addressing in verse 15?

b.    Jesus said, "If your brother sins against you..." What is sin and why is it important to think in terms of sin?

c.    What is the process Jesus outlines here and what is the purpose of the process? Is it revenge, self-justification, self-gratification or something else?

d.    What do you think it means to treat someone who has not repented of sin as "a Gentile and a tax collector"? (v. 17) 

3.    Let's back up for a moment and look at a few passages that provide some preventative prescriptions. Read Hebrews 3:12-14. 

a.    What is the danger addressed in this text? In other words, what does sin do to us?

b.    What is the prescribed remedy?

c.    How do you think you could apply this text to your walk with Jesus?

4.    Turn over a few pages to Hebrews 10:24-25. 

a.    What does the Lord exhort us to do in this passage? What does He warn us not to do?

b.    How might this "one another" practice help us address sin in our lives?

5.    One more preventative prescription, James 5:16. 

a.    What does James tell us to do and how might that help us deal with sin in our lives?

b.    Here's an extra credit thought question: What light does I John 1:5-10 shed on James 5:16?

6.    Now let's take a look at how we might address sin in one another's lives. Read Galatians 6:1-2.

a.    What do you think it means for someone to be "caught in any transgression"? Is this a slip or a habit? Is it actual sin or a personality issue? 

b.    What does it mean to be someone who is "spiritual"? 

c.    How are we told to restore a person caught in any transgression? 

d.    Put this all in personal practical terms. What does the Lord expect of you?

7.    Look up Ephesians 4:15 and Philippians 2:3-4. How do these passages shape how we might address the sin we see in a brother or sister in Christ? 

8.    What does Matthew 7:1-5 add to your understanding about addressing someone who is caught in sin? 

9.    What did you learn about addressing sin in one another's lives? What do you think the Lord would have you do in light of this meditation? 

Hope to see you on Sunday!

Dan

PS: If you have time, here are some sobering passages to ponder. 

a.    I Corinthians 5:1-13 (cf., 15:33)
b.    II Thessalonians 3:6-15
c.    I Timothy 1:19-20
d.    Titus 3:10-11