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Monday, March 19, 2018

Here Comes the Taxman

It seems oddly appropriate to be looking at how Jesus called a taxman while my husband works on our taxes. But it's also odd to find that Jesus still didn't have twelve disciples, even this far into the story. Kind of changes my perspective a little. Anyway, I'm still enjoying working my way through the gospels, meeting the characters, and learning the lessons. I hope you are too. And here's our next study.

(16) What Sort of Believers?

Healing the paralytic (and getting the roof fixed), dealing with streets so crowded that no one can get to the door… it’s not surprising Jesus and his disciples move out of Peter’s house again and head for the open spaces/open countryside. Of course, to get there, they’ve got to pass through the city walls and confirm all their taxes have been paid. No surprise that Jesus meets a taxman there, but perhaps it’s a little surprising that the taxman follows him.
1.       Read Matthew 9:9-10 Most readers believe Matthew is Levi  (as will soon become clear!).
a.      What might have gone through Matthew’s mind before he saw Jesus?  And why doesn’t he tell us?
b.      What kind of things went through your mind before you committed to following Him?
2.       Read Mark 2:13-16 (same event, different view). Did Matthew/Levi leave his job straight away?
a.      What’s the difference between demons following and proclaiming Jesus’ name, and taxmen and fishermen taking time to ask questions before they follow?
b.      What sort of followers are we? Is it okay to ask questions and delay making decisions?
3.       Read Luke 5:27-30. Large (rich people’s) houses were often open to the street. A large event, such as a communal meal, would be held in the open courtyard where everyone could see in.
a.       Were the Pharisees listening to Jesus (as Matthew was) and trying to decide if they should follow?
b.      Were they eating with tax collectors? If not, why not?
c.       Who would you not expect to find Jesus eating with/answering prayers for/comforting?
4.       Read Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31-32, Matthew 9:12-13 What extra details does they give? (Read Hosea 6:6)
a.      How comfortable are you calling yourself unrighteous, sick and a sinner?
The Pharisees and their spies are busy now, perhaps because Jesus’ miracles (and his claiming to forgive sins without being zapped by lightning) just might indicate he’s the Messiah.
1.       Is it a good thing to have a questioning mind when it comes to spiritual issues? (Read 1 John 4:1)
2.       What’s the difference between a questioning mind (find out) and a disbelieving (find fault) mind?
3.       Read Matthew 9:14, Mark 2:18, Luke 5:33 How important do you think should fasting be? (And were these fasts Biblical or traditional? How important is tradition?
4.       Read Matthew 9:15-17, Mark 2:19-22, Luke 5:34-39
a.       When does Jesus say they shouldn’t fast? Read Luke 5:34
b.      When will they want to fast? Read Luke 5:35
c.       What has cloth got to do with it? Read Luke 5:36 Have you ever had a problem sewing a new patch onto an old garment?
d.      Why can’t you put new wine into old wineskins? Read Luke 5:37 Have you ever had a problem putting something new into an old container?
e.      So what are old wineskins good for? Read Luke 5:38
f.        And what is new wine good for? Read Luke 5:39
g.       How open to new praise music, Bible translations, forms of worship, prayer practices etc are you?
The disciples are about to be seen breaking another rule too. Not only don’t they fast, but they even pick grain on the Sabbath! And Jesus even heals on the Sabbath! And maybe we shouldn’t allow school sports, or shopping at the mall, or meetings of writers’ groups etc to take place on Sundays… Next week we’ll look at Jesus’ response.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Who Made that Hole in the Roof?

Moving on with our chronological study of the Gospels, we find Jesus with just a few disciples, setting up a ministry in Capernaum, driven out by the crowds, wandering the countryside and returning, probably to Simon Peter's house. Then people make a hole in the roof. Great crowds!

(15) The Messianic Secret

Do you remember that Jesus wouldn’t let the demons speak (Mark 1:34)? Why might it have been important for Jesus to control who was spreading his good news? Why might it be important for churches to train leaders today, rather than just accepting anyone who claims to have been called? How does this feed into  denominations and traditions?
We left the story with Jesus and his followers (who have finally left their day-jobs) heading out into the countryside. What has driven them out of town? (Read Mark 1:33)
1.       Read Mark 1:40-45 Jesus is telling someone not to talk about him again. Why?
a.       What other types of “healing” were available to the people?
b.      Luke is a physician. Asclepius is a cultic god. And Jesus is the Messiah… Where should we look for healing, and what sort of healing should we expect?
2.       Read Luke 5:12-16 What does Luke add, and what does he leave out? Why might they choose these details?
3.       Read Matthew 8:1-4 Matthew places the story after the Sermon on the Mount. Why might he have included Jesus’ teaching before adding stories of specific healings?
a.       When might we want to include Jesus’ teaching before we talk about signs and wonders?
b.      When might we want to include Jesus’ teaching before we talk about his divinity?
Jesus clearly has a base of operations somewhere – a home to return to every once in a while. Some say it was in Cana; others that it was Peter’s home. The following story seems to happen when Jesus and the disciples (still not 12 of them – do you know who is missing still?) return to stay in Capernaum.
1.       Read Mark 2:1-12, Matthew 9:1-8, Luke 5:17-26. It’s a familiar story. Did anything surprise you, re-reading it in these three versions?  Why are the teachers there and where did they come from?
2.       What picture do you get of the crowds? What sort of events inspire this size of crowd today?
3.       Jesus saw the leper and was filled with compassion and healed him. Why doesn’t he heal the paralytic as quickly?
a.       Is Jesus “unwilling” to heal this time (Matthew 8:3, Mark 1:41, Luke 15:13)? Have you ever felt God was unwilling to give what you asked for? How did you respond?
b.      As a lay-person watching in the crowd, would you think healing paralysis or forgiving sins was easier?
                                                                           i.      If you were a legalistic observer, would believing that only God forgives sins change your opinion? How would you expect God to respond if Jesus were not the Messiah?
                                                                         ii.      Have you ever felt God wasn’t punishing someone when he should? How do you respond?
c.       Which is modern science better at, healing physical illness or healing mental illness with its accompanying guilts, sins, lack of forgiveness and self-forgiveness etc.?
4.       Do you think they mended the roof afterward?
5.       What Messianic “secret” does this reveal? How does this compare with demons revealing that Jesus is the Messiah or healed lepers shouting about what he has done?
In the Catholic and High Anglican churches, God allows priests and confessors to forgive sin. Read John 20:19-23m Matthew 18:18. We often gloss over these passages, but in the light of “only God has authority to forgive sins,” they’re huge. What does this tell us about the task of the church and of Jesus’ followers? Is the modern church known better for forgiveness or for condemnation?

Monday, March 5, 2018

How do you know where to stay and when to leave?

We left last week with Jesus heading for Galilee and being rejected by his hometown of Nazareth. I'm really quite enjoying reading the stories as they're pieced together in a chronology, even if no-one's sure what the real chronology is. I'm also enjoying finding where different stories fit into the ministry - we read these passages in isolation so often. So, where will Jesus stay when he reaches Capernaum?

(14) Where to Stay and When to Leave

Jesus arrives in Capernaum, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It’s unclear whether he headed straight there from Jerusalem when John was imprisoned, or if he moved on from Nazareth/Cana, but it’s likely that trouble surrounding John is part of what prompted Jesus to go North, to the hometown of those earliest disciples. What sort of thing has God used to prompt you to take action?
1.       Read Matthew 4:12-17, Mark 1:14-15, Isaiah 9:1-2 Why does Matthew quote Isaiah?
2.       How were people in Galilee viewed by the religious authorities? Are there people we view that way?
3.       Read Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20 What extra detail does Mark give?
4.       If someone says “Follow me,” do you immediately assume they want you to quit your job? Could they have believed Jesus was just saying “Follow me to the synagogue”? (Fishermen didn’t always attend synagogue—like shepherds, sometimes they had to work instead.)
5.       When has Jesus asked you to “Follow me”? When might he ask?
Perhaps, having heard of Jesus’ problems in Nazareth, the disciples expect to protect him at the synagogue. Do you think Jesus needed protection? Does he need our protection (from questions, misinterpretations, doubts etc) today?
1.       Read Mark 1:21-22, Luke 4:31-32 How would you recognize someone as teaching with authority?
2.       Read Mark 1:23-28, Luke 4:33-37 Do you believe in demons? Does it surprise you to find a demon in a synagogue? Would it surprise you to find someone inspired by Satan in a church?
3.       Do the demons know who Jesus is, or does the demon-possessed man know who he is?
4.       Who does Jesus rebuke and why?
5.       What new teaching is Jesus presenting? How might that still be a new teaching today?
Jesus’ fame spreads throughout the region, which is great. But where will he sleep tonight?
1.       Read Mark 1:29-31, Luke 4:38-39, Matthew 8:14-15 (What did we skip over in Matthew?) Many translations say Jesus rebuked the fever. How might fevers and demons be connected?
2.       Simon’s mother promptly gets up and serves Jesus and his company. Does this mean Jesus healed her just because he wanted his dinner?
3.       Read Mark 1:32-34, Luke 4:40-41, Matthew 8:16-17
a.       What is different about Matthew’s version? Read Isaiah53:4
b.      What is different about Luke’s version? Why might Jesus not want demons to proclaim him Messiah?
c.       If you or a friend were uncomfortable with the concept of demons, how would you present this story to bring someone closer to Jesus (and to reading the Bible) rather than driving them away?
d.      What would truly convince people then, and convince us now, that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of God?
Jesus isn’t going to stay in Capernaum for long.
1.       Read Matthew 4:23-25 Did Jesus stick to Jewish territories?
2.       Read Mark 1:35-39, Luke 4:42-44 How did Jesus decide to move on? If Jesus needed to pray first, how much more do you think we should pray before major decisions?
3.       Read Luke 5:1-11 What might have persuaded the disciples to quit their jobs? Does God want our instant obedience, or our prayerful obedience?