Ready for Paul?

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Do hidden followers hide in a hidden year?

Some authors believe Jesus' ministry lasted three years, starting with the hidden year, then the public year, then the troubled year leading to the Passion. That first year would coincide with the time our Coffee Break group has been studying, starting with Jesus' baptism and temptation (recorded in Matthew, Mark and Luke), followed by the calling of the first few disciples (Andrew, Simon, John, Philip and Bartholomew, as recorded in John), the wedding feast at Cana, various unrecorded miracles, cleansing the Temple, and now...

...and now we move on to meet two people who don't become disciples: Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman.

(12) Conversations with the rich and the poor

Still following John’s gospel, Jesus goes on to have two interesting conversations, one with a Jew and one with a Samaritan. The first occurs near Jerusalem, probably at a camp by the River Jordan where Jesus (or just his followers) may have been baptizing people, just as John was. The second probably occurs on the road from Jerusalem to Galilee.
1.       Before reading on, what comes to mind when you think of Nicodemus?
a.       What sort of man/what sort of character do you imagine him to be?
b.      What would your first question be if you met Jesus face to face?
2.       Read John 3:1-2, 7:50-52, 19:38-39 Did you learn anything more about him?
a.       Can he be called a follower of Jesus if he wasn’t actively following throughout Jesus’ ministry?
b.      Are there times when we keep quiet about our faith?
c.       Looking at the rest of Nicodemus’ story, is keeping quiet necessarily a bad thing?
3.       Read John 3:3-5 How do we react when we hear something about our faith that feels wrong or counter-intuitive?
a.       Does Jesus mind being asked questions? Does God mind when we ask questions?
4.       Read John 3:7-8 Does this mean we have to use the phrase “born again” to be Christian?
5.       Read John 3:9-17 Is the emphasis on proving Nicodemus wrong, proving Jesus right, or pointing to God’s love? Which matters more to you when you speak with unbelievers?
6.       Read John 3:18-21 So… who is condemned, how and why?
7.       Does the idea that this story takes place in a forest, near a place of baptism, at night, by a campfire, with the wind blowing through the trees, change your view of the conversation?
John is still baptizing people nearby, though he has already declared that Jesus is the one. Read John 3:25-26,30. How willing are we to decrease?
Then Jesus finally heads North to Galilee again, via Samaria.
1.       Read John 4:1-3 Why might John think it important to point out that Jesus didn’t baptize? (Note, older translations say the Lord/Father knew; meanwhile the Spirit is given in baptism… Is John prefiguring the Trinity?)
2.       Read John 4:4-6, Genesis 33:18-20  Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions associate the well with faith and Jacob. But the woman is going to draw ordinary water there, and Jesus still plans to drink. Is it okay to mix sacred and secular?
3.       Read John 4:7-9 Who do we have no dealings with? Who would we be nervous of having dealings with? Why?
4.       Read John 4:10-15. Does this read like a lecture, a theological discussion, or a strange conversation? Do we expect God to lecture us, or to converse with us?
5.       Read John 4:16-18 How do you feel, knowing God knows all about you, sins and all? How do you feel, knowing Jesus chose to die for you, sins and all?
6.       Read John 4:19-24. Jesus mentions the Spirit again, just as he did to Nicodemus, but he doesn’t mention baptism. How important is the Spirit in your worship? In your life?
7.       Read John 4:25-26. Why might John choose to tell this story near the beginning of his Gospel?
a.       Why might John have placed the stories of Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman so close together?
b.      Which do you identify with more, Nicodemus or the Samaritan woman?

Monday, February 12, 2018

Feast and Fast

We're back in John's gospel for the next steps in our study of the New Testament. Jesus has returned from the desert (temptation) and recruited a few of John's disciples--namely Andrew, Simon, John, maybe James, Philip and Nathaniel/Bartholomew. As he heads North to a wedding, it's not clear which disciples travel with him and which continue to their fishing boats in Galilee. But John's probably still here, since he tells the story... And you're still here, since you're reading the study...

(11) Early Signs and Early Days

John, according to John, was one of the first disciples. If he followed Jesus from the start, he might have been witness to early events that the other disciples missed out on. This might explain the early events in John’s gospel which don’t appear, or appear much later in other accounts. Also, John was probably the last to write a gospel. He may have reordered events to give a consistent telling of Jesus’ purpose, rather than just a newspaper account of His life.
1.       How much does it worry you when people disagree about the order of events in the gospels?
2.       How much does it worry you when they disagree about the interpretation of events—supernatural vs natural power, miracles can only occur for teaching vs miracles occur because Jesus loves us, etc…?
3.       If you were telling someone the story of Jesus, which bits would you be sure to put in the early pages? Why?
We left off in John where Nathaniel, from Cana, had just been brought to Jesus by Philip. Now Jesus goes to Cana to attend a family wedding—possibly even Nathaniel’s wedding. Jesus’ mother and brothers are there, so the families might be related. At the very least, in a world of small towns and villages, they probably knew each other.
1.       There are lots of theories about where Cana might be, and lots of arguments about whether the miracle is real or symbolic—John calls it “the first sign” which might refer to a lost book of signs, to part two of John’s gospel, (prolog, signs, exaltation & epilogue), to some tradition of Messianic signs, or to the first public miracle. Read John 2:1-11. What details make it sound real? What details make it sound like an eye-witness account?
2.       Jesus sounds like he’s refusing to perform a miracle, then performs it anyway. Are there other times, e.g. in the Old Testament, where someone argues with God and gets what they want? Have you ever argued with God?
3.       Some Christian traditions revere Mary, the mother of Jesus. Others try to ignore her. What do we learn from Mary in this passage? And what do we learn about her?
4.       What might “My time has not yet come” mean? (Read Matthew 26:18)
5.       What do we learn about the running of Galilean households and weddings in Jesus’ time? The details agree with ancient traditions, accounts and archeology. What details are important in modern weddings, and why?
6.       What do we learn about Jesus? Does this story encourage you to bring your everyday concerns to him?
7.       What might John want us to learn about Jesus’ ministry? Or about the sort of concerns we can bring to Jesus?
Read John 2:12. The story ends with Jesus and his family heading for Capernaum, though Jesus is soon back in Jerusalem for Passover, where he “cleanses the Temple.” Why might cleansing the Temple be a good story to give readers straight after  the “saving the best till last” one that we’ve just read?
Read John 2:13-21 The other gospels tell a story of Jesus cleaning the Temple during his final visit to Jerusalem. But it’s more than possible that Jesus has returned, early in his ministry, with just a few disciples. Simon and Andrew have been left fishing perhaps, awaiting a later recall to service. In this case Jesus may have cleansed the Temple twice. How might cleansing the Temple at the start of His ministry have influenced how the authorities viewed Jesus?
1.       The Temple details ring true, as does the making of the whip. Read verse 16-17. How do you show zeal for God’s house? What sort of “whip” might you use?
2.       Verse 18 refers to a sign again. What will that sign be? How willing are you to wait for “signs”?
3.       Read verse 19-20. Herod began building the Temple around 20BC, so this happens around 26/7AD, and the people’s misunderstanding makes sense. That said, if you’ve spent a long time doing something “for God,” how willing are you to give it up “to God”?
4.       Read John 2:23-25 Do you see Jesus as surrounded by disciples here, or just surrounded by curious onlookers? How can you make sure you’re a disciple, not just an onlooker? What might Jesus see “in you”?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Are you a zealot?

We got up to five, maybe six disciples last week. And then I got distracted. I know we're trying to follow the New Testament stories sequentially, but I want to know who the other six/seven disciples were and where they came from. Otherwise I'm going to keep imagining they're all there when half of them are missing. So we're taking a detour to satisfy curiosity in our Bible study this week. We're going to look at some rebels, tax-collectors and party-goers, as well as fishermen and students... Which might you identify with?

(10)Rebels, Tax-Collectors and Partygoers

The Jewish Gospels are much more concerned with organizing stories by content than by timing, but it’s hard not to wonder where the other disciples came from after reading John’s account of Jesus near Jerusalem. So far we have John, maybe James, Andrew and Simon, and Philip and Nathaniel. What type of people are they? How long would you expect them to stick around Jerusalem?
The next events in John’s Gospel are:
1.       The Wedding Feast at Cana (Galilee, probably between Nazareth and Capernaum)
2.       Cleansing the Temple (back in Jerusalem)
3.       Meeting Nicodemus (not one of the twelve, but still a follower, Jerusalem)
4.       Meeting a Samaritan woman (also not one of the twelve, on the road from Jerusalem to Nazareth)
Meanwhile Matthew, Mark and Luke jump straight into Jesus’ public ministry in Galilee (leaving the Temple story until the end of Jesus’ ministry). We’ll read all these stories soon, but first…
1.       How would you connect these stories, into one storyline? Would you guess that the order might be for emphasis rather than for timing? Does it matter that we can’t be sure what happened when?
2.       Why might it be good to read the stories of Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman one after the other?
3.       Why might it be good to read about the wedding feast and the ruined Temple at the same place in the book?
4.       How does the story of Jesus’ cleansing the Temple read differently if we imagine it at the start or the end of his ministry?
We’ll start looking at these stories next week, but first, what about those other six disciples? Can you think of their names? Are their names even consistent across the gospels? (Read Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-16)
If you’re like me, you’re probably being very non-Western at this point and wondering where those other named disciples came from. So let’s take a brief digression through names, times and places.
1.       At some point, Jesus has to go through Samaria, heading for Galilee from Jerusalem. He meets a Samaritan woman, as told in John. He might also meet some rather rough bandits and zealots. One of Jesus’ disciples is called Simon the Zealot. Read Luke 6:12-16. What are you zealous for?
2.       Another possible bandit is Judas Iscariot, though he might have been sent by Jewish authorities to spy on Jesus. Why might Jesus choose someone who was going to betray him? Have you ever betrayed Him?
3.       Meanwhile those first four/five disciples have travelled back to Galilee, perhaps attending the wedding of one of Nathaniel’s relatives on the way. Read John 21:2. How easily do you invite Jesus to your family events?
4.       Read Matthew 4:18-22. How quickly do we stop what we’re doing and follow God’s plan?
5.       Entering or leaving Capernaum, Jesus sees a tax collector called Matthew (son of Alphaeus) going about his business (checking imports, exports, paid and unpaid bills at the city gates). Read Matthew 9:9-13, Mark 2:14. How important are rules, taxes, and a well-regulated society to you?
6.       Read Mark 3:13-19. When the disciples are gathered at Jesus’ feet for the Sermon on the Mount, one is named James son of Alphaeus. Could he be Matthew/Levi’s brother? How many sets of siblings does that make (and we haven’t even looked at Thomas yet)? Does a call have to come straight from God, or can others call us to service?
7.       Judas/Thaddeus is remembered as the son/brother of James (Read Jude 1) which might make him Matthew/Levi’s brother/nephew. Which family members are you praying for, that they too might follow Him?

8.       Thomas is called the Twin (Read John 11:16). Some traditions suggest one of Jesus’ female followers was Thomas’ twin, unnamed because the women weren’t initially named. One tradition even says he’s the twin of us all because he doubted. Which leads to today’s final question: Which disciple do you most identify with? Why?