Sunday School

Sunday School Lesson Overview For December 23rd 2018 Jesus: God’s Loving Promise / Love God for The Gift of Jesus Luke 1:26-31; 2:21-35

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week: 

Last week’s lesson was a psalm written by David that continued the theme of God’s amazing love for us.  It was a universal call for all of us to give thanks for God’s great mercy and grace.  Psalm 103 began with “Bless the Lord, O my soul”.  You may remember discussing the soul.  How the soul is not a part of a person, but the soul is the person.  Townsend commentary says it this way – “You do not have a soul; you are soul”.  So with everything that David is, with every fiber of his being, he declares bless the Lord O my soul and all that is within me.  David then lists some of the benefits of a close and personal relationship with God.  He recounts how God has given him forgiveness, healing, redemption, crowned him with loving-kindness and tender mercies, and how God has satisfied him with good things.  These were all reasons to give thanks to God.  But the more important point was how David helped us understand that God loves the sinner.

David continues this psalm by telling us of the character of God.  He reminds us that God works vindication and justice for the oppressed.  Additionally, he knows that if anyone deserves punishment for their sin it is him. 

Finally, David senses the ideas of eternity and transience in his own life.  And just as he began this psalm with an exhortation to bless the Lord, he closes in the same way.  Last week’s psalm connects to this week’s New Testament account of Mary’s encounter with the Holy Spirit by demonstrating God’s great love for us as God brings Jesus to humanity.  Through most of last quarter we discussed God’s covenant promise to Abraham.  With the advent of Jesus’ birth that promise will be fulfilled to all the world.  Townsend and Boyd’s title this week’s lesson “Jesus: God’s Loving Promise.  Standard titles it “Love God for the Gift of Jesus”.  The Scripture text comes from Luke 1:26-31, 2:22, 25-35.

Background: 

This week’s lesson comes from the Gospel according to Luke.  Luke was a Gentile physician so he is does not have Jewish heritage.  His perspective is unique.  “When compared to other NT Gospels, the Gospel of Luke is most noteworthy for its narrative of the birth of Jesus… and its unrelenting interest in the marginalized and the dispossessed” (NISB).  It is the longest book in the New Testament.  “Although the other Gospels report many of the same events, more than half of Luke contains information that is found nowhere else.  Without Luke certain periods of Christ’s life and ministry would be unknown to us.  Also, Luke mentions thirteen women not found in the other gospels” (Townsend Commentary).

It’s important to know how Luke tells his story.  “The real beginning of the story of Jesus lies not with Jesus’ birth but in the ancient past, God’s ancient plan to bless the nations” (NISB).   “Luke as a Gentile picks up the scriptural story from Abraham and brings the scripture forward to his present day.  The birth of John and Jesus is just the latest development in God’s plan” (NISB).                    

What takes place in this passage: 

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to Nazareth where Gabriel would foretell the birth of Jesus.  Gabriel greets Mary and calls her “highly favored”.  She is troubled by the angel’s words but Gabriel reassures and tells her “do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God”. 

The text skips to chapter two verse 22 where Jesus is presented in the temple.  Mary and Joseph follow in the ways of their ancestors, keeping the Jewish traditions and law by bringing Jesus to the Temple.  They meet Simeon, a just and devout man who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he met the Savior.  Simeon takes baby Jesus in his arms and blesses God.  He declares Jesus as “a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of the people Israel”.  Simeon is essentially announcing the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.  But he also acknowledges, Jesus will create a crisis in Israel when he says “this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against. 

Context:  

The author of the Gospel according to Luke is not named in the book.  But there are a number of clues in the book that help us understand the author as Luke.  This Gospel is likely written about 70AD while the announcement of the birth of Jesus likely takes place about 7BCE.  Additionally, Luke is a Gentile and not necessarily concerned with Jewish traditions.  Instead Luke is concerned with Gentiles.  Notice that Gabriel finds Mary in Nazareth of Galilee.  “This was Gentile territory and neatly coincides with Luke’s birth scene, where Jesus is born among the common people” (Boyd’s Commentary).  Furthermore, Luke ties the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to the Hebrew Scripture so that all may understand Jesus as the Savior of the world (not just Israel).  One scholar writes that Luke is the most socially minded of the gospels.  Jesus cares for the poor, the hungry, and those who weep.  For Luke, the story of Jesus is absolutely connected to God’s ultimate and ancient plan to save the world through Jesus.  He is telling us, this was God’s plan all along. 

Key Characters in the text:

The Angel Gabriel – One of only two named angels in the protestant Bible.  The other is Michael.  In the Gospel of Luke Gabriel twice announces the birth of a son; first for the arrival of John the Baptist and secondly to the virgin Mary. 

Mary – She is the young girl who conceives Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.  She is considered an ideal believer because she did not doubt the Holy Spirit’s announcement of the conception of Jesus, she is obedient, believing, and faithful.  She is betrothed to Joseph.

Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion)

Cognitive Dissonance – Psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously (Merriam Webster).    In other words, trying to hold in your mind, two opposing beliefs.  Perhaps you have believed something all of your life, only to discover it’s not the way you believed it.  In Mary’s case she would not have believed it possible to conceive a child without having sex with a man.     

Themes in this Lesson: 

  1. The promise of a Savior took centuries but God delivers in God’s time.
  2. Fear not, for you have found favor with God.

Questions:

1.  How did Joseph handle the news that Mary would birth the Savior?

2.  Among all the young women God could have chosen, it was Mary God favored.  Was there anything uniquely special about Mary?    

Concluding thought: 

As we consider the status of Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus, let us also be mindful of those who are around us.  Mary was an unwed teenage mother.  Joseph was taking care of a child that wasn’t his biological son.  They were common people and likely poor.  Regardless of social or economic status every person should be treated with dignity and respect. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week keeps us in the New Testament gospels.  From the Gospel of Matthew we continue with God’s love for us.  We will also consider the ideas of social justice and compassion for others.

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