Christianity, religion, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (April 7, 2019) Call and Mission / Called To Mission Matthew 10:1-15

Jesus Calls 12 Disciples and gives them a mission .

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and learners! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  In this week’s Lesson, Jesus calls his twelve disciples, gives them authority to do specific things and then tells them who to go to, where to go, and what to do when they get there.  These disciples have a MISSION!  They have purpose, focus, and intention.  These twelve followers of Jesus, these twelve disciples are now the twelve apostles.  They have been sent by the One who has authority and they carry with them the authority that Jesus gives.  This week we discuss their call and the idea of mission. 

Background – The Gospel according to Matthew: 

Matthew is also known as Levi the son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14).  Matthew is a tax collector when Jesus finds him sitting at a tax booth.  Jesus simply says “follow me” and Matthew got up and followed him.  Matthew’s immediate response is just like the two sets of brothers we studied last week.  As a tax collector, Matthew was likely despised by other Jews because he would have been seen as a collaborator with the Roman Empire.  Also, tax collectors were called unclean and often defrauded and cheated people by charging excessive taxes.  So Jews did not associate with tax collectors.  When Jesus calls a tax collector as his disciple, it is says something about the direction of Jesus’s ministry.  In other words, Matthew’s occupation didn’t matter to Jesus.  When Jesus called, Matthew followed, and that’s what mattered.  Additionally, keep in mind this text is likely written after 70 A.D.  The Jewish temple has been destroyed and this text is written to Jewish Christians.  The New Interpreters Bible Commentary writes that Matthew’s Gospel is written in part to show “God has intervened to reassert the rightful rule of “the kingdom of heaven” and to impart its blessings to the covenant people of Israel, and ultimately to all nations.  Matthew’s main audience is to the nation of Israel and Jewish Christians in particular.    

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

Last week we studied the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  After learning of the arrest of John the Baptist Jesus withdrew to Galilee and made Capernaum his home.  This was significant because it fulfills prophecy spoken by Isaiah.  After moving to Galilee Jesus begins to proclaim “repent for the Kingdom of heaven has come near”.  He then calls his first disciples.  Two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, as well as, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John.  In both cases, when Jesus called these disciples they were already busy at work and each of them immediately left their occupations as fishermen to follow Jesus. The text does not say whether they already knew who Jesus was but we can be sure they believed what Jesus was preaching.  Last week Jesus called his first disciples.  This week we continue with the theme of being called and add to it the idea of having a mission or purpose.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title this week’s lesson “Call and Mission”.  Standard Commentary titles it “Called to Mission”.  The Scripture text comes from Matthew 10:1-15.

What takes place in this passage: 

Matthew 10:1-15 is the answer to the problem exposed in Matthew 9:35-38.  The harvest is plenteous but the laborers are few.  The answer to the problem in chapter 9 is twelve empowered disciples that can preach Jesus’ message to the twelve tribes of Israel.  Additionally, there are 6 important facts that should not be overlooked in today’s passage.   

1)  In verse one; after Jesus selects his 12 disciples he gives them authority to perform specific tasks.  Specifically it was power or authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.  With this kind of authority people would know that Jesus was in fact who Jesus said he was.

2)  Verses two through four is the first time all twelve disciples are listed together.  See also, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:13-16, and Acts 1:13.  “Simon Peter is always listed first; Phillip is always listed fifth and James son of Alphaeus is always listed ninth” (Boyd’s Commentary).

3)  In verse five the disciples are told specifically not to go to the Gentiles or Samaritans. At this point, Jesus is focused specifically and exclusively on the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  After the death and resurrection of Jesus in Matthew 28, the disciples’ mission would be expanded to include all nations. 

4)  Verse seven tells us their message is to preach that the Kingdom of heaven is near.  In other words, God’s reign is near.  These were Jewish people looking for a Jewish savior to reign as an earthly king.  Luke 17:20-21 tells us that the kingdom of God was with Jesus. 

5)  Verses 9-10 tell us their mission is not about self-dependence.  Rather depend on others who will receive the message. 

6)  In verses 12 through 15 we see again the importance of hospitality.  If you are not received in a house or city, don’t carry that negativity forward with you. 

Context:

In this text we see where Jesus has called his twelve disciples, given them authority, told them where to go, who to go to, how to go, what to say, and what to do.  They have a mission.  Staying on task, being on-purpose, choosing what is most important and deciding to achieve what is needed are all ways to accomplish the mission.  The twelve disciples didn’t sit at the feet of Jesus just for pleasure.  They had a purpose, a mission.  You have a purpose, a mission.  Jesus gave his disciples instructions but it was their responsibility to do what Jesus said, the way Jesus said do it. 

Christians today face this same challenge.  As we follow Christ as disciples how do we best live the Christian life.  How do we best witness in our homes, churches, and communities?  When Jesus told the disciples not to go to the Gentiles and Samaritans, he was focused first on the lost sheep of the House of Israel.  Think of it this way, Jesus is trying to get his own house in order first.  That was their initial mission.  Later the scope of their mission would expand.  But starting in our own homes is a good start.  As we remain focused, choosing what is most important and deciding what to achieve for Christ in our own homes we should know that God is pleased.  But when the time comes for the mission to expand we must also be ready. 

Key Characters in the text:

Jesus Christ – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  He was crucified on a cross and raised from the dead by the power of God (Acts 3:15; 13:30).  His followers (Christians) worship him and seek to obey his will.

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

Disciple – One who follows and learns from another as a pupil.  Old Testament prophets had disciples (Isa 8:16), as did John the Baptist and the Pharisees (Matt 9:14).  It is used specifically for those who follow Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:1, Luke 6:13, Acts 11:26) 

Apostle – One sent to act on the authority of another.  It refers to the earliest, closest followers of Jesus (Matthew 10:2-4). 

Missionary – One who is sent on a mission, usually by the church, with a focus on sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in some way. 

Witness – One who testifies of what is known to be true, especially in relation to the Christian gospel.  The image is an important one for those who are “witnesses” to Jesus Christ (John 1:7) and the Christian faith (Acts 1:8; 2:32).       

Kingdom of Heaven – An equivalent term for “Kingdom of God” found in Matthew’s Gospel.

 Kingdom of God – God’s sovereign reign and rule.  God’s reign was the major focus of Jesus’ teaching.  Its fullness is in the future and yet it has also come in Jesus himself (Luke 10:9, 17:21). 

Themes, topics, discussion, or sermon preparation ideas: 

  1. Your mission, should you choose to accept it…   
  2. God is a sending God (see vs 12).
  3. Shake off the dust – Don’t carry negativity with you (vs 14).

Questions

1)  Ezekiel 16:49 tells us the people of Sodom were condemned for their lack of hospitality.  Jesus instructed his disciples to be hospitable and reminds us that those who reject his message will suffer a worse fate than Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgement.  In what ways can we demonstrate hospitality in our homes, churches, communities, and nation? 

2)  There were twelve tribes of Israel and Jesus chose twelve disciples.  Do you think this was coincidence or intentional? 

3)  A disciple is one who learns, an apostle is one who is sent.  Discuss differences and similarities between the two.    

Concluding thought:

Decades ago several truly amazing young men and women and I were commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the United States Army.  We swore the oath of office to support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  That commissioning oath was our fundamental baseline purpose.  Everything we would do over the next years and decades would be tied to that oath.  Likewise, when we are called and commissioned by Jesus everything we do should be tied to the words of Christ.  The words of Jesus are our guide and fundamental baseline instructions.  Some of us served a few years then went back to civilian life.  Others are still serving.  The point is to remain diligent, faithful, and prepared for God to expand your mission. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week marks the third week in the Gospel According to Matthew.  As Jesus moves closer to his triumphal entry into Jerusalem we will view a woman who at great expense does her best to bless Jesus.  But as is often the case, people misunderstood her good intentions and complained about her good deed.  Next week Jesus will show us how important is it to remember the good.  I wonder has your good deeds ever been misunderstood?  In the coming week, try to remember the good deeds others have done for you.  It may be time to jot a note or send an encouraging email or call just to say hello, I’m thinking about you. 

Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson Overview (March 31, 2019) Matthew 4:12-22 Called To Discipleship / Called To Follow

In this week’s Lesson, Jesus begins his earthly ministry after learning of the arrest of his cousin John the Baptist.  The lesson is taken from Matthew 4:12-22.  Here Jesus withdraws from Nazareth to Galilee, calls four of his disciples, and they immediately drop what they are doing to follow him.  These two sets of brothers have an intense response to Jesus.  Whatever Jesus told them they immediately believed and instantly responded.  Yet none of them fully knew all that response would entail.  This week we look at four fishermen called to discipleship and how they were called to follow Jesus.

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

Last week Jesus passed through Jericho on his final trip to Jerusalem.  There were great crowds lining the street which prevented Zacchaeus from seeing him.  He climbs a tree and when Jesus passes by he notices Zacchaeus who is most likely a corrupt tax collector.  Some key points from last week included:

1)  The crowd knows exactly who Zacchaeus is and immediately begins to murmur that Jesus is the guest of a sinner. 

2)  Moved by his encounter with Jesus, Zacchaeus declares he will give half his possessions to the poor and pay back anyone he has defrauded four times.

3)  Impressed by Zacchaeus’ repentance and offer of restitution, Jesus reconciles him calling him a son of Abraham.

4)  In this text we saw repentance, restitution, and reconciliation.  Zacchaeus provides an example of reparations. 

Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title this week’s lesson “Called To Discipleship”.  Standard Commentary titles it “Called to Follow”.  The Scripture text comes from Matthew 4:12-22.

Background for Matthew: 

According to the New Interpreter’s Study Bible no one knows exactly who named the Gospel according to Matthew.  Matthew’s name begins to be associated with it about 100 years after it was written.  “Perhaps the name Matthew meaning “gift of God” summarizes the gospel’s teaching” (NISB).  Additionally, many scholars see it as addressing followers of Jesus who were involved in inter-Jewish debates after the traumatic defeat of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. (NISB).  In other words, scholars believe the primary audience of Matthew’s Gospel is for Jewish Christians.  After defeat in Jerusalem Jewish Christians are struggling find their place in God’s will and understand God’s plan. 

In this fourth chapter, Jesus begins his earthly ministry.  Key points include:

1)  The arrest of his cousin, John the Baptist.  , Jesus withdraws to Galilee.  This marks the start of His earthly ministry.  (His ministry will last about 3.5 years.)

2)  Prophecy spoken by Isaiah is fulfilled. 

3)  At this time Jesus began to proclaim “repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near”. 

4)  Jesus Calls his first disciples.          

What takes place in this passage: 

Matthew 4:12-22 describes the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  After learning of the arrest of John the Baptist Jesus withdraws to Galilee and makes Capernaum his home.  This is significant because it fulfills prophecy spoken by Isaiah.  From this time Jesus begins to proclaim “repent for the Kingdom of heaven has come near”.  Jesus then calls his first disciples.  Two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, as well as, James the son of Zebedee and his brother John.  In both cases, when Jesus called these disciples they were already busy at work and each of them immediately left their occupations as fishermen to follow Jesus. The text does not say whether they already knew who Jesus was but we can be sure they believed what Jesus was preaching.  Note also that these disciples left their families who likely depended on them for help in the family business.    

Context:

This passage is focused on describing the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  It speaks to:

1) Jesus’ connection to his forerunner John the Baptist.

2)  Fulfilling prophecy (Isaiah).

3)  What Jesus said (repent).

4)  Who Jesus chose (fishermen already at work).

5)  The response to his call (immediate).

A disciple is “one who follows and learns from another as a pupil”.  Jesus calls everyone to become his disciple.  These four disciples left everything behind and immediately and instantly begin to follow Jesus.  Their commitment was so intense they left their family, the family business, and likely many other connections to their friends and community.  Although our calling from God may not be as intense as these disciples, we can certainly learn from these four brothers what it means to dedicate oneself to Jesus.  When God calls we should answer immediately and where God leads we should instantly follow.   

Key Characters in the text:

Jesus Christ – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  He was crucified on a cross and raised from the dead by the power of God (Acts 3:15; 13:30).  His followers (Christians) worship him and seek to obey his will.

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

Repentance – The act of expressing contrition and penitence for sin.  Its linguistic roots point to its theological meaning of a change of mind and life direction as a beginning step of expressing Christian faith.  

Preaching – The act of proclaiming, and in the Christian context, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ or the Word of God.       

Kingdom of Heaven – An equivalent term for “Kingdom of God” found in Matthew’s Gospel.

 Kingdom of God – God’s sovereign reign and rule.  God’s reign was the major focus of Jesus’ teaching.  Its fullness is in the future and yet it has also come in Jesus himself (Luke 10:9, 17:21). 

Prophecy – Speaking on behalf of God to communicate God’s will for a situation.  In the New Testament it is a Gift of the Spirit.  It is also used for the prediction or declaration of what will come to pass in the future. 

Themes, topics, discussion, or sermon preparation ideas: 

  1. From this time. 
  2. Changing course when Jesus calls.
  3. Follow me.

Questions: 

1)  Since these disciples immediately stopped what they were doing and left their business and families to follow Jesus does that mean we should do the same today?    

2)  Zebedee was the father of James and John.  They left their father to follow Jesus.  Discuss whether Zebedee supported them as they accepted the call to follow Jesus. 

3)  Jesus says “Repent for the kingdom of God is near”.  Discuss what Jesus means by the kingdom of God. 

Concluding thought:

The call of Jesus is extended to everyone.  In many churches today, after a sermon is preached the minister will extend the call to discipleship.  Some preachers or pastors will conclude their sermon by “opening the doors of the church”.  Whether they say the doors of the church are open or we extend the call to discipleship or some other saying its meaning is the same.  It is a clarion call to make a conclusive decision to follow Jesus.  It is the most important decision a person can make.     

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week we continue in the Gospel according to Matthew.  As we march toward Easter or Resurrection Sunday, Jesus will have his twelve disciples and He gives them specific instructions regarding Gentiles, and the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  After calling the disciples, Jesus gives them a mission.  Has anyone ever given you a mission; a boss or supervisor, a parent or coach?  When we accept a mission we do it to succeed.   Prayerfully, we will see ourselves as a part of the continuing mission of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry.  So next week, your mission should you choose to accept it, is to think about ways your missions in life have been successful.


Christianity, religion, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson Overview (March 24, 2019) Calling To Salvation / Called To Repent Luke 19:1-10

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

Last week was an excellent picture of restoration.  A father restored his prodigal son with a great deal of grace and mercy.  Central points of the parable included:

1)  A son essentially betrays his father by asking for his inheritance before his father’s death. 

Jesus and Zacchaeus, Repentance – Restitution – Reconciliation

2)  The son went far away to live a wild and immoral life.  He squanders all that he has. And then, life came at him fast.  A severe famine occurred.  A situation for which he had no control and he could not change. 

3)  While he contemplates eating what the pigs are eating, he realizes his father’s servants have bread to spare.  Feeling defeated and broken, he returns home to humbly ask to work as a hired hand. 

4)  His father runs to meet him and restores him as a son with a great celebration.  The father does this because his son “was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”.    

This week we continue with the idea of restoration and add to it the ideas of restitution and reconciliation.  In this parable Jesus notices Zacchaeus; a man who is likely despised by other Jews and decides to abide at his house.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title this week’s lesson “Calling To Salvation”.  Standard Commentary titles it “Called to Repent”.  The Scripture text comes from Luke 19:1-10.

Background: 

Luke 19:28 begins the final days of Jesus’ life.  Today’s text is another parable mentioning the lost and found theme discussed in last week’s lesson.  There were lost and found sheep, coins, and people.  In the big picture Jesus is helping us understand how God loves God’s people. 

1) When the sheep was lost, the shepherd diligently searched for the lost sheep.  2)  When the coin was lost the woman diligently searched for the lost coin. 

3)  When the prodigal son was lost the father ran to meet him even while he was a great distance away. 

The point to remember is that God’s love for us is gracious, powerful, and all encompassing.  As discussed last week Luke’s gospel is likely written shortly after 70 C.E.  Nelson’s Bible Handbook says “He is an educated Gentile with a better command of Greek than any of the other New Testament writers.  He portrays Jesus as a man with compassion for all people and he is the most socially minded of the gospels.     

What takes place in this passage: 

Jesus is passing through Jericho on his final trip to Jerusalem.  There are great crowds lining the street as people try to see him pass by.  Zacchaeus, a short man can’t see so he quickly devises a plan.  He is likely a rich tax collector also.  He wants to see for himself who this man named Jesus is.  The crowd is so great that he can’t see, so he climbs a tree in hopes of seeing him.  When Jesus passes by he notices Zacchaeus and tells him to quickly come down because “I must stay at your house today”.   

 Zacchaeus hurries down and gladly receives Jesus.  The crowd knows exactly who Zacchaeus is and immediately begins to murmur that Jesus is the guest of a sinner.  They despise him because tax collectors were often corrupt and Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector.  Moved by this encounter with Jesus declares he will give half his possessions to the poor and pay back anyone he has defrauded four times.  Impressed by Zacchaeus’ repentance and offer of restitution, Jesus reconciles Zacchaeus calling him a son of Abraham.  Jesus closes this parable with a familiar refrain.  “For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost”.  

Context:

There are several ways to contextualize this passage.  We could look at the ideas of:

1)  Salvation – Zacchaeus is restored by Jesus when He declares him as a Son of Abraham.

2)  Repentance – Zacchaeus repents of his actions and declares he will give half his goods to the poor and repay four times anyone he has defrauded.

3)  Reparations – Zacchaeus provides an example of reparations as he seeks to repair what he has harmed.

4)  Restitution – Zacchaeus desires to restore all he has harmed.

American descendants of slavery have a unique claim against the federal government for reparations.  Enslavement of Africans is the foundation of American wealth.  That enslavement transitioned to racial caste, Jim Crow laws, then Federal government endorsed redlining, mass incarceration and other acts that intentionally disenfranchised the descendants of slavery.  Reparations are about repairing or restoring what has been harmed.  Zacchaeus knew he needed to make right what he had wronged.  He repented of his sins, declared he would restore those he had harmed, and then Jesus reconciled him by calling him a son of Abraham.   Repentance, restoration, and then reconciliation, that’s the Zacchaeus model.   

Key Characters in the text:

Jesus Christ – Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  He was crucified on a cross and raised from the dead by the power of God (Acts 3:15; 13:30).  His followers (Christians) worship him and seek to obey his will.

Zacchaeus – He is mentioned only in the Protestant scripture in the gospel of Luke.  He is a rich tax collector for the Roman government and has other tax collectors working beneath him.  His four fold repayment was the Old Testament repayment for theft. 

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

Acceptance – the act of accepting something or someone: the fact of being accepted: APPROVAL – Zacchaeus was not accepted in the Israelite community because of his occupation as a tax collector.  He was likely despised.

Repentance – The act of expressing contrition and penitence for sin.  It’s linguistic roots point to its theological meaning of a change of mind and life direction as a beginning step of expressing Christian faith.     

Reparation – The action of making amends for past offenses.  It describes Christ’s death in that it restored the divine-human relationship.  In some Roman Catholic communities, the term describes good works or acts of penitence for sins against another person.   

Sin – Various Hebrew and Greek words are translated “sin” with many shades of meaning.  Theologically, sin is the human condition of separation from God that arises from opposition to God’s purposes.  It may be breaking God’s law, failing to do God’s wills, or rebellion.  It needs forgiveness by God.  

Salvation – God’s activities in bringing humans into a right relationship with God and with one another through Jesus Christ.  They are saved from the consequences of their sin and given eternal life.  Biblical images of salvation vary widely. 

Themes, topics, discussion, or sermon preparation ideas: 

  1. Repentance, Restitution, and Reconciliation.
  2. Little man with a big problem.
  3. Reparations – Making right what was wrong.

Questions: 

1)  Has anyone ever borrowed something from you and didn’t return it or returned it in worse condition than when you lent it?  Discuss the attitude of both the borrower and the lender. 

2)  Zacchaeus was likely despised by the Israelites because of his occupation.  Are their people you know who despise others because of what they do for a living?

3)  The crowd murmured when Jesus went to went to stay with Zacchaeus.  Have you faced situations when others talked badly about you for associating with people they didn’t like?

Concluding thought:

The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms lists at least 22 variations of the word “sin”.  Sin is what Zacchaeus repented of and sought to provide restitution for.  He was a collaborator with the Roman government, likely cheated many people out of their money, and was despised by the Jewish people.  The good news is Jesus provides salvation for people like Zacchaeus.  His life was changed when he encountered Jesus.  And that’s the way encounters with Jesus should be for all of us – life changing.   

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week the Gospel according to Matthew brings into focus hearing the call of Jesus.  We return to Jesus’ call of some of the disciples and the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  In this lesson, we will explore what the call of Jesus means to us personally.

religion, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson Overview (March 17, 2019) Calling The Lost / Called To Return Luke 15:11-24

Jesus teaches the parable of the prodigal son. Luke 15:11-24

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

The call to discipleship remains the focus of this week’s lesson.  Last week the lesson came from Mark 1 and Luke 14. The passage in Mark reminded us of how Jesus chose four disciples.  The passage in Luke helped us understand the cost of discipleship for those disciples and how being a disciple of Jesus today will necessarily cost us today.  Key points of the lesson included: 

1)  Jesus called disciples that were already busy when Jesus called them to a higher purpose.

2)  We are not called to hate our relatives.  And certainly not in the way we understand the word “hate” today.  Hate was more of a behavior than an emotion. 

3)  The true cost of discipleship is placing the spirit and teachings of Jesus ahead of our own desires.

This week we consider the ideas of restoration, how we are restored to God, and how we should be guided by love as we restore others.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title this week’s lesson “Calling the Lost”.  Standard Commentary titles it “Called to Return”.  The Scripture text comes from Luke 15:11-24.

Background: 

Luke the companion of Paul is credited with writing both The Gospel according to Luke and The Acts of the Apostles.  Luke’s gospel is likely written shortly after 70 C.E.  Nelson’s Bible Handbook says “He is an educated Gentile with a better command of Greek than any of the other New Testament writers.  He portrays Jesus as a man with compassion for all people and he is the most socially minded of the gospels.  This 15th chapter records events of Jesus while on his final trip to Jerusalem.  In this chapter Jesus teaches three parables concerning the lost and found.  There is the lost sheep, whom the shepherd abandons the ninety-nine to find the one that is lost.  There is the woman who loses one of ten coins and calls her friends to celebrate when it is found.  And then there is today’s passage, the lost son who is eventually found and celebrated.  

What takes place in this passage: 

Most people refer to this passage as the parable of the prodigal son.  But the full story is really about the prodigal and his brother.  Jesus tells this parable to reinforce (for the third time) the idea of God’s love for the lost. 

This parable runs the spectrum of emotion.  A son essentially betrays his father by asking for his inheritance before his father’s death.  The father divides his property between the brothers and soon the younger brother departs with all he has to a faraway country.  The younger brother while living a wild and immoral life squanders all he has. When he spent all he had, life came at him fast.  A severe famine came.  A situation for which he had no control and he could not change.  When he spends all his money he hires himself out to work.  It is in this situation that he realizes he would gladly eat what the pigs are eating that he comes to himself.  He is hungry, far from home, and now living worse than his father’s servants.  While he contemplates eating what the pigs are eating, he realizes his father’s servants have bread to spare.  No doubt feeling defeated and broken, he decides to return home and humbly ask to work as a hired hand. 

He is still a long way off when his father saw him coming.  Filled with compassion the father runs to meet the repentant son.  The father orders his slaves to bring the best robe for his son, a ring for his finger, and sandals for his feet, and a fatted calf to eat.  The father does this because his son “was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found”.                             

Context:

YOLO! You only live once.  Maybe that’s what the prodigal son was thinking when he asked for his inheritance.  While it is certainly a true statement, it does not account for the surprising, unexpected, and unforeseen situations that so often throw us off track.  One could argue the prodigal didn’t intend to end up hungry, broken, and defeated.  No one does.  But sometimes that’s exactly what happens when bad choices are made.  Choices have consequences.  The prodigal’s choices brought him to the pigs before he came to himself and realized there was a better way.

When the prodigal left home he was free from the moral gaze of his family and community.  He could live any way he wanted.  But sometimes life comes at you fast.  In these situations you face circumstances you can’t control (famine) and problems for which you have no solution (money spent and hungry).  Even after all of his failures the prodigal was wise to humble himself and go back home.  But what should not be overlooked is that he knew he could go back.  Here’s the point.  It’s okay to leave home.  But leave in a way that you know you will be able to return if you need to.  

Key Characters in the text:

Jesus Christ:  Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and according to the Christian church the incarnate second Person of the Trinity.  He was crucified on a cross and raised from the dead by the power of God (Acts 3:15; 13:30).  His followers (Christians) worship him and seek to obey his will.

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

Call (calling) – God’s summons to salvation or to a particular work of service, implying a divine selection.  God called Moses (Ex 3:4) and prophets (Jer. 1:5).  Jesus called apostles (Matt 4:21) Rom 1:1) and others (Matt 9:13); 22:14).

Call, general – A term used by John Calvin to indicate the invitation God extends to all people to have faith in Jesus Christ. 

Parable of Jesus – The stories told by Jesus throughout the synoptic gospels as a way of teaching.  They convey meaning, particularly about the major subject of the reign (kingdom) of God (See Matt. 13).

Prodigal – characterized by profuse or wasteful expenditure: LAVISH

Grace – Unmerited favor.  God’s grace is extended to sinful humanity in providing salvation and forgiveness through Jesus Christ that is not deserved, and withholding the judgement that is deserved (Rom 3:24, Eph. 1:17; Titus 2:11)

Themes, topics, discussion, or sermon preparation ideas: 

  1. Life comes at you fast.
  2. You only live once – YOLO!
  3. Wildin out

Question:  This week’s lesson revolves around restoring what was lost and God’s radical grace toward us.  In what ways, have you had to show grace or even radical grace?       

Concluding thought:

The good news is that God chooses love.  That’s the point Jesus is making in this parable.  This parable is a picture of God’s love for us.  Even when we are lost, God patiently and lovingly awaits our return.  And upon our return God treats us to radical grace; a grace that forgives, a grace that loves and a grace that restores.

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week we continue in Luke.  As Jesus continues the march to Jerusalem he dines with a chief publican.  A rich man named Zacchaeus.  This caused the crowd to murmur but Jesus calls Zacchaeus a son of Abraham.  In this lesson we will again see the theme of restoring what was lost.

Christianity, religion, Religion, Psalms, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson Overview for Feburary 17, 2019 Praising God’s Mighty Works / Our Mighty God Psalm 66:1-9, 16-20

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

Last week focused on a specific yet magnificent place called Zion.  But importantly, we noted that today, we should be the magnificent place that God indwells.  The psalmist associated God’s presence with the location of mount Zion.  The psalmist also proclaimed Zion as the place where God dwelled and described God as her fortress or refuge.  So we as individual Christians are the temple in which God dwells today. 

We also focused attention on Psalm 48:13-14 where the psalmist told us to walk about Zion, observe all of Zion’s greatness, “that you may tell of them to the next generation”.  The point of focusing here was to acknowledge if God has done something for you, you ought to tell somebody.  And even more so you ought to tell the next generation.  The lesson closed with a reminder from the psalmist that “This God is our God”.  This God is the God who enabled building the great Zion.  The point for Christians today is to remember that this God is the God who lives, loves, and inhabits each of us.

Last week’s lesson was the first in a series of love songs.  This second love song week keeps us in the Old Testament book of Psalms.  We remain in the second book of Psalms at Psalm 66.  The focus in this week’s love song is praise for God’s mighty works in our lives.  God’s work leads to praise and praise reinforces our love.  Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title this week’s lesson “Praising Gods Mighty Works”.  Standard Commentary titles it “Our Mighty God”.  The Scripture text comes from Psalm 66:1-9, 16-20.

Background: 

There are 150 Psalms.  This collection of 150 Psalms is further divided into five books.  The first book includes Psalms 1-41, book two includes 42-72, book three is comprised of Psalms 73-89, the fourth book has 90-106 and book 5 is composed of 107-150.  “Seventy-three are associated with David; twelve with the Asaphites, eleven with the Ko’rahites, three with Jeduthun, two with Solomon, two with Ezrahites, and one with Moses” (New Interpreters Study Bible).  The Psalms include a broad range of prayers, praises, songs of love, poems, thanksgivings and devotions.   “Some are prayers and praises that soar to the heights of spiritual devotion, while others arise from deep pain and distress displaying the depths of human misery, anger, and frustration” (New Interpreter’s Study Bible (NISB).  Psalm 66 is included in the second book (Psalms 42 – 72).  Most of the Psalms in this second book are written by David and Korah.  There is no indication of who the author is.  Its superscription simply says “Praise for God’s Goodness to Israel.  To the leader. A Song. A Psalm”.  Nelson’s Bible Handbook describes Psalm 66 as an individual thanksgiving Psalm.  The writer “publicly acknowledges God’s activity on their behalf.  It thanks God for something God has already done or expresses confidence in what God will yet do”.  Townsend commentary describes it as an “all-purpose psalm and probably not composed for any particular special occasion”.  That’s significant because we don’t need special occasions or significant events in our life to give thanks to God. 

What takes place in this passage:

Verse one begins with a familiar refrain – “Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands:” The New Revised Standard Version says, “Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;” This Psalm begins with great praise.  The psalmist is excited and enthusiastic not simply about praise, but about praise of God.  In its very beginning the psalmist is not only excited but tells us how we ought to praise.  The psalmist is saying we ought to shout for joy!  I especially like part b of the second verse – “make God’s praise glorious”.  The psalmist is telling us our praise ought to be magnificent, celebratory, and wonderful.  We are commended, encouraged, exhorted, to make God’s praise glorious.  The adulation and exaltation continues in verses three and four.    

Verse five begins a section where the psalmist transitions to remembering what God has done for the nation of Israel.  We are reminded how God turned the sea into dry land and the people passed through the waters on foot. Verse seven gives us another reason to praise God.  God’s power is unmatched.  Although there may be rebellious factions in every generation, and rebellious times in our life, we should know that there is none greater than our God.  Verses eight and nine return to adulation, exaltation, and praise with a reminder that God preserved the Israelites lives. 

Verses 16 through 20 close the lesson with praise for God’s deliverance.  But this is a personal reflection.  The psalmist is writing about his own experience with a God who delivers, a God who hears, and a God who understands.  Verse 16 says “let me tell you what God has done for me”.  This is powerful.  Telling your own testimony is authentic.  Genuineness, authenticity, and being true are characteristics that have great impact on others.  The psalmist testifies in verse 18 that “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened”.  This should remind us that faithfulness to God is what God desires from us. 

Context:

This is a psalm about praise and thanksgiving.  Perhaps you have heard the song “Glorious (Make The Praise)” by Karen Clark Sheard.  If you have time before or during class consider playing it.  As you think of making God’s praise glorious remember the words of this song – “I was created to make God’s praise glorious”.  That’s an individual response.  A collective response could be with a choir.  A response from nature could be the beauty of a clear blue sky or the majesty of a mountain reaching into the sky.  Whether individually, collectively or through nature, we are all God’s creation and as such God deserves our thanksgiving and praise.  We don’t need a special occasion to praise God.  We sometimes take mundane things for granted.  For example, we may rush through saying grace before a meal and then hurriedly eat and move on.  Yet, there are those who have food to eat but have no appetite.  God deserves our praise and thanksgiving when we are delivered from great peril and in the mundane things of life we sometimes take for granted.  Perfect praise is contingent upon a pure heart, a heart that does not cherish sin.  Even if our present circumstances are not perfect or joyous, we can remember what God has done in the past and praise God for that.   

Key Characters in the textNone mentioned

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

Psalm – A hymn, sacred song, or poem. The book of Psalms (the Psalter) is composed of 150 religious poems of prayer and praise of ancient Israel, arranged in five books. 

Praise – (from Lat. Pretium, “worth”) Honor and adoration given to God as a celebration of God’s being and worth.  It is a constant biblical ascription and injunction that creatures should praise God as the Lord. 

Thanksgiving – An expression of gratitude.  A type of prayer in which, both publicly and privately, believers offer their gratitude to God for all blessings and goodness received. 

Gratitude – The response to God and God’s blessings that is an expression of praise and devotion.  In the Christian context, believers respond in gratitude for the “indescribable gift” (II Cor. 9:15) of Jesus Christ, who is the supreme expression of God’s grace. 

Themes / Topics in this Lesson: 

  1. Created to praise God.
  2. Let everything praise God
  3. Perfect praise

Questions:

1.  God is the creator of the earth and all that dwells therein.  How does the earth praise God?    

2.  Name something worthy of praise for what God has done, for what God is doing and for what God will do in your life. 

3.  Since this is also Black History Month, despite America’s horrible history of enslavement, Jim Crow laws, mass incarceration and other immoral actions what or how should Black Americans thank God for as Americans?      

Concluding thought:

Although they are very similar, there is a difference between praise and thanksgiving.  Praise requires concentration on a thing, person, or deity that is being praised whereas thanksgiving is focused on what a person has received (Townsend).  We should be grateful for what God has done, is doing and shall do.  With our steadfast faith in God we give thanks and praise.  For all of these lived experiences, good and bad, and for all of the possibilities of what is yet to come we are grateful and give thanks. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week’s lesson is the third in a series of love songs in Psalms.  We remain in the second book of Psalms at Psalm 91.  Here the psalmist looks to God for protection as life delivers trials, tribulations and hardship.  We will be reminded that God has delivered in the past so we can trust that God will deliver in the future.