Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (September 22, 2019) Faithful Despite Unfaithfulness / God Hears Our Cry Numbers 13:1-2, 17a, 25-28a; 14:1-2, 5-10a

Faithful Despite Unfaithfulness / God Hears Our Cry – Numbers 13

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week’s lesson is titled “Faithful Despite Unfaithfulness” and “God Hears our Cry”.  God is faithful despite the Israelite’s unfaithfulness yet again.  A pattern is beginning to form for this newly freed nation.  Once again they cry out in the wilderness wishing they had died in the land of their captivity.  Just as God heard their cry, God hears our cry.  Prayerfully, we don’t have a pattern of unfaithfulness.  This week I review the beginning portion of this Israelite journey toward the Promised Land.  The old generation from Egypt can’t be trusted.  Now it’s up to the new generation to inherit the promise. 

We began last week with the Israelites just beginning their journey into the wilderness.  This week’s lesson continues that journey as they should be poised for conquest but instead cower in fear, rebellion against God, and faithlessness.  They are at the border of Canaan and spies have gone into Canaan to determine if the land is suitable for their conquest.  Last week after God delivers them from the hand of Pharaoh with mighty works and wonders and after only 45 days into their journey they complain bitterly to Moses because of their hunger.  This week after God has continued to sustain them with bread and meat from heaven they are still faithless and in effect reject God by their disbelief.  Of the twelve spies, only Joshua and Caleb return with a good report.  The faithless nation believes the ten and in effect rejects God.  They could see everything God had already done for them but could not see what God could do through them.  As we continue to understand how God is faithful, this week I focus on how God is faithful despite unfaithfulness in Israel.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Fidelity

Despair

Background: 

Numbers is the fourth book of the Old Testament.  Tradition has it that Moses is credited as its author.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that “the English title refers to the many numbers contained in the two census lists that form the central pillars of the book’s structure in chapters 1 and 26”.  So these censuses are central to the structure of the book, but the message of Numbers is the story of the old generation out of Egypt dying off as the new generation prepares to move into the Promised Land.  The NISB also explains that “the central narrative of Numbers is the spy story of chapters 13-14.  Those are the two chapters we’ll cover today.  These chapters narrate the theme of judgement and death for an old generation and the birth and hope of a new generation of God’s people”.  They tell the story of why the old generation lost the Promised Land and the new generation would receive it.  That theme is a result of the old generation failing time after time after time to trust God.  Their faithless acts of disobedience and rebellion ultimately led to their demise in the wilderness while a new generation would be prepared to trust and follow God.  So Numbers talks to judgement and death of the old generation, placed against the birth and hope of the new generation. 

Numbers covers the story of the Israelites in the wilderness.  This is a span of about 40 years.  It opens with the generation that came out of Egypt and the first census of 603,550 males.  This census is in preparation for the conquest of the Promised Land.  The second census of the new generation occurs in chapter twenty-six. 

This thirteenth and fourteenth chapter deals specifically with the twelve spies, one from each tribe, going into Canaan to survey the land and determine if it is ready for their conquest.  The twelve spies return forty days later with a mixed report.  They all report that the land flows with milk and honey but only Joshua and Caleb report that they should move immediately to take the land.  After hearing the faithless and exaggerated report of the ten spies the Israelites again cry out in despair.  Once again, they wish to return to the land of enslavement back in Egypt.  Some important words to consider form this text include:

Fidelity

Despair

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

Last week’s lesson was taken from Exodus 16 and opened with the Israelites having been already delivered from enslavement in Egypt.  They are now wandering in the wilderness at a place called Sin, between Elim and Sinai.  They have been on their journey from Egypt for only about 45 days. 

In verses two and three the whole congregation complained against Moses and Aaron.  They protest so severely that they imagined dying back in the land of their captivity.  They complained, “if only they had died by the hand of the Lord back in Egypt”.  I noted how these are a people who have given up.  There were no Egyptians around to enslave them.  There were no slave masters around to whip them.  There were no Egyptian solders around to slay them.  Yet, they desired to go back to the land of enslavement, back to whippings and beatings, and back to soldiers who could slay them.  They had given up, capitulated, and thrown in the towel because at least in Egypt they had food to eat.  I noted how they saw themselves in this foreign land, this wilderness, dying of hunger.  So then they blamed Moses and Aaron for their hunger.  I also quoted the “The New Interpreter’s Study Bible” explaining that “life as a slave in Egypt is better than the risk of freedom in the wilderness”.  

In verse four the LORD gives Moses a plan.  The LORD tells Moses how bread will be provided and how the people are to gather the bread from heaven.  But the LORD presents this as a test for the Israelites.  God will rain bread from heaven and the Israelites are to gather only enough for their daily needs.  In this way, God will know if they will follow God’s instruction.  Just as God gave the Israelites provision day by day, it is up to us to trust God for our daily bread. 

Verse five gave them instructions on how to gather in preparation for the Sabbath.  On the sixth day they are to gather twice as much in preparation for the seventh day of rest.  

In verses six and seven Moses and Aaron explain to the Israelites the plan the LORD has set forth for their provision.  They tell the people “in the evening you will know that it was the LORD that brought you out of Egypt.  And in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD”.  Moses and Aaron want them to know that they aren’t complaining to them but to God. 

In verse eight Moses makes it plain that the people aren’t complaining against him and Aaron; they are complaining against the LORD.  This won’t be the last time the Israelites complain.  They have seen the great plagues and experienced the great deliverance of God from their Egyptian enslavers.  Yet, a mere 45 days later they are completely defeated with no enemy soldiers in sight. 

The text skips to verses thirteen through fifteen.  Here, the LORD provides quail in the evening and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.  After the dew lifted there was a fine flaky substance on the ground.  They ask “what is it” and Moses explains “it is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat”. 

As we continue to study God’s faithfulness and responses to God’s faithfulness, this week we see faithfulness in the minority report of Joshua and Caleb.  Joshua and Caleb are faithful.  The others are not.  Not only are they faithless but their rebellion and ultimate rejection of God is the cause of the old generation being condemned to wander 40 years in the wilderness until almost all of them die out.  The lesson this week is entitled “Faithful Despite Unfaithfulness and God Hears Our Cry”.  The scripture text comes from Numbers 13:1-2, 17a, 25-28a; 14:1-2, 5-10a. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

The lesson opens at chapter thirteen verses one and two with the LORD speaking to Moses.  The LORD instructs Moses to send men into the land of Canaan.  The LORD specifies “the land which I am giving to the Israelites”.  This is the land that God promised Abraham.  The Promised Land and the nation of Israel were hundreds of years in the making but now the descendants of Abraham were on the verge of receiving the long awaited promise. 

The text skips to verse 17a where Moses sends the 12 spies into Canaan to explore the land and determine its suitability for the conquest.

At verse twenty-five the spies have returned from their 40 day reconnaissance.  The number forty is used quite often in the Bible.  We see later that the Israelites would wander in the wilderness for forty years.  Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights.  It rained for forty days and forty nights in the great flood.  In Exodus 24:18 Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai and in Acts 1:3 there are forty days between the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.  So the number forty occurs quite often and at significant times but we should not give this number any more significance than needed.  Merriam-Webster defines numerology as “the study of the occult significance of numbers”.  While numbers often symbolize something they should not to be given divine meaning unless specifically stated to have divine meaning from God.  Occult practices include numerology, astrology, witchcraft, tarot cards and others.

In verse twenty-six the spies assemble at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran to report their findings to Moses, Aaron, and the whole assembly.  The spies showed them the fruit of the land. 

In verse 27 the spies reveal that the land flows with milk and honey.  Not only do they tell of the goodness of the land but they bring back evidence of the bountiful harvests that await the other side. 

In verse 28 despite them seeing the bountiful blessing of the land; the spies report that the people are powerful and the cities are fortified and very large.  I should note that the first census reported over 600,000 men.  Historians report that this would have been an unusually large number of people because most nation states were not this large at that time.  So it seems that these spies see the blessings possible in the Promised Land, they see the powerful people, they see the large cities, but they do not see the fulfilled promise of God nor do they see themselves are powerful in God’s might. 

The text skips to chapter fourteen verses one and two where the entire congregation lifted up their voices and cried and the people wept that night.  They weep because they have believed the exaggerated report of the ten spies.  The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary explains that there are two versions of the spy’s negative report.  “In the first version the land flows with milk and honey.  In the second version verses 32-33 declare that the land itself is so bad that it eats its inhabitants”.  Additionally, “the spies warn of giant Anakites and of a mythological and semi-divine race of giants known as the Nephilim”.  The Israelites see these giants and once again fall into fear.  Instead of believing God, instead of believing they were powerful and strong and brave, instead of believing they were enough and that they had enough.  They choose instead to believe the report of these men instead of the command of God.  They are out of Egypt.  They have been delivered from enslavement by mighty works and wonders of God.  God has provided them with mana in the morning and meat in the evening.  God has turned bitter water to drinkable water.  Even with all these miraculous works they cannot see how God will give them this Promised Land.  Once again, they complain against Moses and Aaron.  Once again, they wish that they had died in the land of Egypt or in the wilderness.  As they wept that night, God heard their cry.  They cry out not in faith, but in unfaithfulness.  They don’t cry out in belief, but in unbelief.  Theirs is not a cry of hope, but hopelessness.  Although the old generation has seen the mighty works of God; this conquest is just a step too far for them to take. 

In verse five Moses and Aaron fall on their face before all of the assembly.  They realize what the Israelites are doing.  They realize this entire nation is choosing to reject God even after all God has done for them.

Verses six and seven show Joshua and Caleb as the faithful few who believe God can and will do what God said God would do.  They tear their clothes in frustration and declare again that the land they went through was an exceedingly good land. 

In verse eight they explain that if the LORD is pleased with them The LORD will give them this land that flows with milk and honey. 

In verses nine and ten they warn the Israelites not to rebel against the LORD and do not fear the people of the land.  Instead of heeding the warning of Joshua and Caleb, the whole congregation threatened to stone them.

Context:

Perhaps you have heard someone say “I’ll believe it when I see it”.  Seeing and believing seem to complement each other.  Yet sometimes it can be hard to believe what you see.  These Israelites saw the mighty works of God demonstrated in miraculous ways, yet they could not believe what God told them would come next.  Not only had they seen the mighty works of God but they also saw the evidence of a land flowing with milk and honey.  Instead of believing what God would do they choose instead to believe the exaggerations and lies about mythological giants.  The people in the land were real and they were no doubt powerful.  But God is all powerful.  The question for us today is whether we believe God or whether we believe myths.

Key Characters in the text:

Moses – The first great leader of the Hebrew people, regarded by some as the author of the first five books of the Old Testament.  Moses is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims for his daring leadership and diplomacy as well as his promulgation of the divine law (Townsend). 

Aaron – The brother of Moses and the first high priest of Israel.  Aaron was a descendant of Levi’s and a son of Amram and Jochebed’s (Exodus 6:20).  Born eighty-three years before the Exodus, he was three years older than Moses (Exodus 7:7) but younger than their sister, Miriam (Townsend). 

Joshua – The son of Nun, a member of the tribe of Ephraim, and Moses’ lieutenant and successor.  He was originally named Hoshea. 

Caleb – The son of Jephunneh of the tribe of Judah, and one of the twelve spies whom Moses commanded to observe the land of Canaan. 

Key Words: 

Fidelity – The quality or state of being faithful.  The fidelity of God is shown in God’s dependability, trustworthiness, and reliability. 

Despair – utter loss of hope.

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  I’ll believe it when I see it.    

2.  Just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.     

Questions

1.  The old generation of Israelites would not see the Promised Land.  Discuss why.             

2.  Joshua and Caleb are the minority with a good report.  Why is their report positive and the other ten spies report negative?      

Concluding Thought:

God promised Abraham that he would become the father of many nations.  God also promised him the land of Canaan for his descendants.  It was hundreds of years in the making but it came to pass.  God is faithful even when God’s people are not.  If God has promised you something, don’t give up.  Don’t give in.  Be encouraged and keep the faith.  God is Faithful.    

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week the lesson continues in the book of Numbers.  As we continue the God is faithful theme, we see God about to meet out the harshest of punishment against the nation of Israel.  Faithful Moses steps in to plead the case for the rebellious and faithless people and God changes God’s mind.  Instead of punishment God grants forgiveness.  The lesson is entitled God Forgives.      

religion, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (September 1, 2019) Faithful During Distress / Faith And Doubt Genesis 19:1, 15-26, 29

Faithful During Distress / Faith and Doubt Genesis 19

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week’s lesson is entitled “Faithful During Distress” and “Faith and Doubt”.  I take a look at how God is faithful during our distress and faith and doubt as it relates to God’s faithfulness.  Specifically, in this lesson, I show how God is faithful to Abraham.  Have you ever heard the saying “somebody prayed for me”?  That was Abraham on behalf of Lot.  If it were not for Abraham, Lot and his family would have perished along with everyone else in Sodom and Gomorrah.  In this lesson, God is faithful to Abraham and merciful and compassionate to Lot and his family.  In this lesson, I focus on how hospitality is an important and central theme in this text.  That’s really important because so many people focus on the homosexuality in this text.  Homosexuality isn’t the central issue.  Although Lot shows hospitality to the angels there is little else (in my view, nothing else) to give him credit for.  In fact, given Lot’s offer of his own daughters to the men of the city he was just as guilty of the same violence as the sodomites. 

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed because God heard the outcry of their collective violence and inhospitality and the violence with which they treated aliens in their midst.  Lot was saved not because of his own actions, but because Abraham intervened, interceded, and pleaded on his behalf.  I like how Townsends Commentary explains “with Lot’s rescue, the emphasis is on God’s compassion.  Lot acknowledged that he was saved because he had found favor in God’s sight.  This is also true for us.  If it had not been for the Lord who was on our side, where would we be”?  If you have or had praying parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, perhaps you too can identify with Lot.  If it had not been for God on our side, where would we be?

In this first lesson of the new school year our focus has transitioned from covenants to demonstrating how God is faithful.  The focus of this week’s lesson is faithful during distress and faith and doubt.  It is Abraham’s faith that is highlighted and we see Lot’s doubt as he hesitates to leave a city soon to be destroyed.   Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Faithfulness

Hospitality

Angels

Background: 

This first lesson of the Fall Quarter and the new Sunday School year comes from the book of Genesis.  Genesis is a book of beginnings.  It speaks to the creation of the world, the fall of humanity, the great floods and establishment of Nations. It is the first book of the Bible and the first of the five books known as the Pentateuch.  Townsend Commentary notes that “Genesis was written over a long period of time.  It was probably begun in the time of Moses, but later generations added other material and edited the books together.  The book probably reached its final form around the time of Solomon (970-930 BC)”.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible also notes that Genesis contains narratives from three authors or traditions (1) The Yawist, (2) the Elohist, and (3) the Priestly writer.  These distinct traditions were woven together in the way they appear today by a later editor or by the latest author, the priestly writer.  It’s important to note these writers because it’s important to understand both “the times in which they wrote and the times about which they wrote” (NISB). 

This nineteenth chapter falls within a larger narrative focused on the life of Abraham.  It’s as if the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is parenthetically interjected into the longer story of Abraham, Sarah, and the birth of Isaac. 

Lot is Abraham’s nephew.  The story of Sodom and Gomorrah begins in chapter eighteen.  As Abraham sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day, he looked up and saw three men standing near him.  After Abraham and Sarah show great hospitality to the men (one of whom appears to be the Lord), one of them said “I will surely return to you in due season and your wife Sarah shall have a son”.  When these men leave Abraham and Sarah they set out toward Sodom. 

At this point “The Lord said, shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him”?  After the Lord decides to reveal the plan, Abraham and the Lord engage in a philosophical discussion.  Abraham questions the Lord’s plan asking “will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?  Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it?  Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked!  Far be that from you!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?  Abraham pleads his case for the righteous in Sodom.  If there is any chance at all to save his nephew, Abraham is going to make the case and plead on his behalf.  This is a powerful plea to the Lord. 

When the Lord agrees that the city will not be destroyed if fifty righteous are found Abraham then asks “suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking”?  When The Lord agrees again, Abraham then asks suppose forty are found there.  When the Lord agrees, Abraham then asks suppose there are twenty.  When the Lord agrees he asks once more, suppose there are ten.  If there is any chance at all to save his nephew Abraham is going to go the distance with the Lord on behalf of his extended family.  It’s important to also note that the NIBOVC explains “God is gracious and merciful, forgiving and slow to anger, but God also does not simply “clear the guilty” without some consequences for their sin (Exod. 34:6-7) or, as here in Gen. 18, without some few righteous ones who will redeem the whole.  That’s an important principle to remember; “A few righteous ones who redeem the whole”.  If there are ten righteous in the city, God will stay God’s judgement.  But of course in this story ten cannot be found.  That principle applies to us through Jesus Christ.  Jesus is our righteousness.

This is where our lesson picks up.  The men who visited Abraham and Sarah are now described as two angels (messengers).  They arrive Sodom in the evening, with Lot sitting in the gateway of the city.  Lot greets them in the same way Abraham did in chapter eighteen and he offers them exceptional hospitality. 

Our lesson this week is entitled Faithful During Distress and Faith and Doubt.  It is a view into how Lot responded to God’s grace. Given the background I’ve just covered it is also a view into how God is faithful to Abraham’s plea for his nephew and family.  Some important words to consider from this text include:

Faithfulness

Hospitality

Angels

Review of Last Week.  

Last week’s lesson was titled Marriage: A Covenant of Mutual Love.  The lesson came from the fifth chapter of Ephesians verses twenty-one through thirty-three.  Verse twenty-one was the key verse in the text.  “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.  Or be subject to one another.  The Greek word for “subject” “is a military term meaning to line up under” (NISB).  I noted how that is a good expression to form the idea of working together.  We line up under each other to support each other and we line up under Jesus Christ to support the cause of Christ.

Verse twenty-two told us that wives ought to submit themselves to their own husbands as unto the Lord and I noted how I have personally witnessed how terribly this verse can be misused by a husband.  It’s important to know that this verse does not make a husband superior, greater, more authoritative, more respected or more valuable in any way, shape or form than his wife.  Nor does this verse put the husband above the wife in any way.  Men are not better than women, husbands are not better than wives. I also noted how much it bothers me that some women will accept being treated inferior as if that is somehow pleasing to God.  It’s not.  Women and wives ought to be full participants in the cause of Christ.   

 Marriage is teamwork.  There are areas where my wife needs to lead.  When she leads, I line up under her and follow her leadership.  That’s one way mutual love is expressed. 

I also noted how life in this first century world revolved around patriarchy.  Every area of life in this first century world centered on a male authority system that oppressed and subordinated women through social, political, and economic institutions and practices.  For Paul to say that women and men should be subject to one another is a radical thought for his time.  Yet, given the oppression women faced in his time and the oppression women still face today I wish that he had gone further to tear down the ideology of patriarchy. 

Verse twenty-five reminded husbands to love their wives just as Christ loved the Church.  Christ’s love for the church was sacrificial.  There was literally nothing greater that Christ could have given other than his own life.

Verse twenty-seven goes even further helping us understand that because of this sacrificial love the church is presented in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle so that she may be holy and without blemish.  While the wife is called upon to submit to her husband, the husband is called upon to love his wife. 

Verses twenty-eight through thirty drive the point home for the husband.  In all of this teaching, “it is the husband who receives the longest instruction” in this household code (NISB).  Just as husbands love their own bodies, they should also love their wives.  Furthermore, “he who loves his wife loves himself”.  Perhaps this is a point that sometimes gets overlooked, but in verse twenty-nine Paul is saying the husband nourishes and tenderly cares for his body.  I see this as a part of our duty both to ourselves and to our wives.  And I noted how toxic masculinity kills men.  Men, it’s okay to get rest when you need it.  It’s okay to take care of yourselves.  It’s okay to take time off from work to see your doctor, your counselor, your psychiatrist, psychologist or any other medical professional.  We have to take care of ourselves or our wives may end up widows. 

Verse thirty-one reminded us of a familiar passage telling us “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother, be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  In this verse Paul reflects back to Genesis 2:24 where it says “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they two become one flesh.  So, a mutual love covenant is about teamwork, working together, supporting, and loving one another as we line up under one another as unto Jesus Christ. 

In verse thirty-two Paul admits that two becoming one flesh is a mystery.  The point for us to understand is that husbands and wives should work so closely together that they seem to be as one unit.  There should be no daylight between the husband and wife as they both seek to serve God’s purposes. 

This chapter closes with Paul reminding both the husband and the wife of their duties to one another.  The husband should love his wife and the wife should respect her husband. 

This week’s lesson deals with faith and doubt as Abraham pleads for the deliverance of his nephew Lot, and Lot’s family.  This lesson shows us how God is faithful and how Lot responded to God’s grace.  The lesson this week is entitled Faith and Doubt.  The scripture text comes from Genesis 19:1, 15-26, 29. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Verse one begins with two angels arriving Sodom in the evening.  When Lot sees them from the gates of Sodom he gets up to greet them.  Our lesson text then skips to verses four and five and then fifteen.  Verses two through fourteen are not particularly focused on the topic of faith and doubt but I’ll cover them as a way to more fully understand the entire story.

In verses two and three Lot invites these travelers to spend the night at his house where he shows them great hospitality by providing shelter and making them a feast.  Before they fall asleep all the men from the city, both young and old, surround Lots house and demand “bring them out to us so that we may know them”.  The NISB notes that “since know them is a veiled reference to sexual intercourse (4:1), the men of Sodom must be intent on homosexual relations with Lot’s guests”.  Additionally, the NISB also notes

“While Israelite law prohibited sexual relations between men (Lev 18:22, 20:13); the narrator appears more appalled by other aspects of the Sodomites’ behavior.  This story is particularly critical of their mistreatment of guests and disregard for the inviolable (unbreakable) codes of hospitality and of their mistreatment of an alien in their midst.  This is an instance of the social oppression identified as the cities chief sin (18:20-21)”.

  So this is a story focused on the punishment of Sodom because of inhospitality toward its guests as well as its violence toward aliens in their midst.  The men of Sodom were evidently seeking to gang rape these guests.  And for these transgressions God would destroy this city.  The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary notes that “The obligation to extend generous hospitality to vulnerable strangers is deeply rooted in Israelite law (Exod. 22:21; 23:9; Lev. 19:33; 23:22; Deut. 10:19; 24:17-21)”.  Additionally, it also notes their intention to have sexual relations with these strangers

Signals their intention to commit the violent act of male rape, a technique of humiliation and torture of vulnerable people (both men and women).  The wickedness of Sodom here is not homosexuality.  Sodom’s sin is the lack of hospitality and the threatened violence by heterosexual men against vulnerable people in the community, those considered aliens and strangers in their midst”. 

Again, this text is not primarily focused on homosexuality, but more so the violence and inhospitality.  Ezekiel 16:48 – 50 explains the sin of Sodom.

48 As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 49 This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it. 

Lot begs the men to not act so wickedly.  Then surprisingly he makes the horrible offer to give the men his two virgin daughters instead of the two guests.  Keep in mind that this was a patriarchal society.  Women were often if not always treated as property.  Women had little if any rights at all and were treated at best as second class citizens.  The men refuse Lots offer and then threaten that they will deal worse with Lot than with his guests.  The NISB notes that “this is a desperate act of a man trying to preserve both his life and the ancient codes of hospitality; but it also reveals the perilous place of women as second-class citizens in ancient society”. 

After these two guests rescue Lot by reaching out to bring him in the house and shut the door behind him they strike the men outside the door with blindness.  They question Lot whether he has any sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or anyone else in the city because they are about to destroy the city.  And that brings us up to verse fifteen.

When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot to take his wife and two daughters out of the city so they would not suffer the same punishment of the city.  But Lot lingered so the men took him, his wife, and two daughters by the hand and took them outside the city.  The text does not say why Lot lingered.  But given his choices thus far in the story, both good and bad, any speculation would be just that; pure speculation.

Verse seventeen tells us “When they brought them outside they said, flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the plain; flee to the hills or else you will be consumed”.  These guests are intent on sparing Lot and his family.  They made sure Lot and his family got out of the city and then gave him instructions to include not looking back, in order to avoid the coming destruction. 

Verses eighteen and nineteen show Lot’s gratefulness but they also show his doubt that he could make it to the hills.  Lot had already lingered coming out of the city, now he knows he must flee and cannot look back at the destruction that would rain down on the city in which he had lived. 

In verse twenty, Lot offers an alternative.  Instead of fleeing to the hills he asks to flee instead to a nearby small city.  Lot believes he can make it to this nearby city and there his life would be spared. 

In verse twenty-one the angel says to Lot “very well, I grant you this favor too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken”.  The angels have indeed been gracious to Lot.  Instead of destroying the city upon their arrival they lodged and ate a meal with Lot.  Then they protected Lot from the men of the city.  Then they seized Lot and brought him and his family outside the gates of the city. And now they grant him this additional favor to go to a small city nearby.  God’s compassion and mercy toward Lot has been on display throughout this story. 

In verses twenty-two and twenty-three the angel tells him to hurry because the angel can do nothing until Lot arrives. 

In verses twenty-four through twenty-six the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven and he overthrew those cities and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.  Because of their sins of inhospitality and the mistreatment of aliens in their midst God destroys these two cities, the plain surrounding the cites, all of its inhabitants, and all that grew on the ground therein. Additionally, the angels had warned Lot and his family not to look back.  Lot’s wife looked back and became a pillar of salt. 

Verse twenty-nine restates how God destroyed the cities of the Plain, but remembered Abraham.  Because God remembered Abraham, Lot and his two daughters were saved from the destruction of the cities.  It was Abraham’s faith that God would do justly that saved Lot.  “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is Just”?

Context:

The prayers of the righteous avail much.  It is the prayers of the righteous that are powerful and effective.  If you believe that prayer really changes things you have probably been the recipient of someone else’s powerful and effective praying.  I like Dorothy Norwood’s song Somebody Prayed for Me.  It captures the feeling of knowing that you didn’t make it to where you are on your own.  Many of us have had praying mothers, fathers, and grandmothers and grandfathers.  Without their prayers where would we be? 

Key Characters in the text:

Lot – isAbraham’s nephew.  He is the son of Haran, Abraham’s brother.  He migrates with Abraham and grandfather from Ur of the Chaldeans toward Canaan (Townsend). 

Angel – A scriptural term for heavenly beings who praise and serve God.  They are variously portrayed in Scripture as announcing a child’s birth and destiny (Gen 16:11; Luke 1:11-20), interceding with God (Gen 22:11), executing judgement (2 Sam. 24:16). 

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

Faithfulness – The characteristic of being steadfastly loyal to a person or to promises.  Theologically, it is a basic description of God who is perfectly faithful to all that God promises, in contrast to sinful humans who are unfaithful in their relationships and actions.     

Doubt, religious – Uncertainty, as opposed to denial, or religious truths. 

Hospitality – Biblical concept often used with the terms “guest”, “stranger” and “sojourner”.  It is useful to limit the meaning of “hospitality” to benevolence done to those outside ones normal circle of friends, as is implied in the literal meaning in the Greek word “love of strangers” (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible).

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  Entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2) 

2.  Somebody prayed for me. (Abraham pleading for Lot)

Questions

1.  Lot showed hospitality to the men when they arrived at the gates of Sodom.  Why is hospitality so important?       

2.  If the assault on the angels had succeeded, the result could only be described as gang rape, not a private act.  This presents the sins of Sodom more as social than individual, something that characterizes the entire city (Townsend).  Discuss the depth of Sodom’s inhospitality. 

Concluding Thought:

It was the prayers of Abraham that saved Lot and his family.  It can be argued that on his own merit, Lot was not worthy of the deliverance he received.  Having said that, it can likely be argued that I am not worthy of my deliverance either.  I am reminded of the African Bantu term Ubuntu.  It means “I am, because we are”.  In other words, I exist because we exist together.  Somebody prayed for me.  I am who I am because of the answered prayers of those who prayed for me.  In our praying, let’s remember to pray for others. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week the lesson comes from the book of 1 Samuel.  In this second lesson of five exploring how God is faithful, we see God granting Hanna the son she prayed for.  The lesson is entitled God Answers Prayer.    

Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (June 16, 2019) The New Covenant’s Sacrifice Hebrews 9:11-22

The New Covenants Sacrifice Hebrews 9:11-22

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I take a look at the ninth chapter of Hebrews as it explains the new covenant’s sacrifice.  Of course that sacrifice is the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  Everything the Old Testament required for redemption and restoration is fulfilled in the New Testament with Christ.  In the Old Agreement the high priest went into the tabernacle and the Holy Place to sprinkle blood for the redemption of the people.  In the New Testament Jesus symbolically goes into the Holy of Holies with his own blood.  In the Old Testament the high priest had to continually offer sacrifices for the people.  In the New Covenant, Jesus needs only go in once and it is for all humanity and for all eternity.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Tabernacle

Covenant

Testament

New Covenant / Agreement

Redemption

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Background: 

The focus of this week is the new covenant’s sacrifice.  Of course that sacrifice is Jesus Christ.  With that in mind I’ll provide some background on the book of Hebrews, a bit of background on the chapter preceding this weeks study, and then narrow the focus to this week’s study which is the ninth chapter of Hebrews. 

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that the book of Hebrews “is not really a letter, and certainly not written by Paul.  It does not begin like a letter, and in fact, is more of a sermon/treatise”. 

Hebrews is likely written about 65 Common Era.  Scholars date its composition before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (70 CE).  “It is extremely difficult to believe the author would not mention the destruction of the Temple if it had already occurred, since that would have been the validation of his entire argument concerning the outmoded character of the Old Testament sacrificial system” (NISB).  “One of the main emphases in Hebrews is the superiority of the new covenant to the old and its regimen of animal sacrifices” (NISB). 

The eighth chapter of Hebrews deals with the true high priest (Jesus) and the two covenants (old and new).  It naturally, takes a Christological interpretation of the Old Testament book of Jerimiah 31:31-34.  This is the longest quotation from the Old Testament in the New Testament (Townsend Commentary). 

The ninth chapter deals with the sacrifices of the Old Testament in verses 1-10. This was the first covenant.  It describes some of the protocol for priests entering into the Old Covenant tabernacle to atone for the sins of the people and to offer gifts.  Verses 11-22 of our study will contrast Jesus Christ with the Old Covenant as the one and only High Priest that fulfills the new covenant.  These verses deal with the “definitive nature of Christ’s work” (NISB).

Some important words to consider from this text include:

Covenant

Testament

New Covenant / Agreement

Redemption

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

Last week Mark 15:6 reminded us that it was customary for Pilate to release a prisoner during the Passover feast.  Barabbas was in prison with people who had committed murder during the insurrection.  So Barabbas was charged with murder whereas Jesus was charged with insurrection.  Yet the crowd cried out to release Barabbas instead of Jesus.

I also noted that “the Jewish council had the power to put offenders they condemned to death”.  If the Jewish high council wanted to put Jesus to death themselves they could have done so.  But remember that only a few days ago a great crowd welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem shouting Hosanna to the highest.  Perhaps the crowd was the same; perhaps it was a different crowd.  But the high priests didn’t want to order the death of Jesus so they turned Jesus over to the Roman government.    

I also noted the importance of the distinction between who was responsible for the murder of Jesus.  Ultimately, it was the Roman government that crucified Jesus not the Jewish council leaders.  That’s important because across the centuries people have used the crucifixion of Jesus to provoke anti-Jewish feelings in those who blame the Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion.  While it’s true the Jewish council turned Jesus over to Roman authorities, it cannot be said that the Jews crucified Jesus.

I also noted in verse 25 that the third hour was nine o’clock in the morning.  It was 9AM when they crucified him.  Verse 26 was the charge against him.  He was charged with being king in Caesar’s place. 

Verses 33 through 39 spoke to the death of Jesus.  The sixth hour was 12 o’clock noon.  The ninth hour was 3PM.  It was at 3PM when Jesus cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me”. 

In verse 37 Jesus breathed his last breath.  In verse 38 the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.   This tearing of the curtain was significant.  It symbolizes the new direct access to God through Jesus Christ.  Now the high priest no longer needs to enter into the holiest of holies on our behalf.  Now we have direct access through this New Covenant with Jesus Christ. 

Verse 39 closed the lesson with the centurion proclaiming “Truly this man was God’s Son”!  It was the Roman centurion that proclaimed Jesus as God’s son. 

This week’s lesson continues with the theme of a fulfilled new covenant through Jesus Christ.  We have returned to the book of Hebrews as Hebrews references the Old Testament extensively to prove the point that Jesus fulfills the new covenant.  It is through the righteousness of Jesus Christ and the grace of God that we now have a new covenant with God.   This would not be possible without the new covenant’s sacrifice.  That sacrifice is Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross.  Townsend, Boyd’s, and Standard Lesson Commentary all title this week’s lesson The New Covenant’s Sacrifice.  The scripture text comes from Hebrews 9:11-22. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Verse eleven describes Christ as a High Priest of the good things that have come.  These good things are the salvation, restoration, and redemption provided through Jesus Christ.  We have these good things now because of the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary’s cross. 

Verse twelve describes Jesus as entering once into the Holy Place.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that “this place is ideal and not an actual place, but pointing to the ultimate reality of Christ’s atoning work”.  In other words, Jesus symbolically entered into the Holy Place.  This Holy Place is what we have to look forward to.  It is what will ultimately become our reality.  Note also that Jesus did not enter with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood. 

Verses thirteen and fourteen explain that the blood of goats and calves and ashes only sanctifies the outward flesh.  It is Christ’s blood that purifies the conscience or inner person from the dead works of the Old Testament animal sacrifice system.

Verse fifteen explains that because Jesus replaces this old covenant, he is the mediator of the new covenant so that we may receive the promised eternal inheritance.  This is possible because his death redeems believers from transgressions under the old covenant. 

In verses sixteen and seventeen we see terminology dealing with the ideas of wills, testaments, and covenants.  The Greek word for covenant is interchangeable with testament.  It is the same term for which we get the phrase “last will and testament”.  The author makes a play on this term to highlight the double meaning of covenant and testament. 

In verse eighteen the author makes his point from the previous verses; “not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood”.  The author is trying to help us understand the importance of Christ’s shed blood.  A sacrifice had to be made for the new covenant to become effective.  But a sacrifice of goats and calves would never be sufficient.  It had to be the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ. 

Verses nineteen through twenty-two deal again with how the Old Testament required blood.  In verse nineteen the author reminds us of Moses sprinkling blood on the scroll and the people saying “This is the blood of the covenant that God has ordained for you”.  The remaining verses describe the other things Moses sprinkled blood on and closes by proclaiming “under the law, almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins”. 

Context:

The new covenant’s sacrifice is the shed blood of Jesus Christ on Calvary’s cross.  This was a gracious way for God to deal with our sin.  It was a once and for all eternity sacrifice that held the key for humanity’s salvation, restoration, and redemption back to God.  One of the central points the author of Hebrews makes is the importance of the shedding of blood.  It was required in the Old Testament.  Hebrews makes the point that Jesus fulfills that requirement with his own blood in the new covenant.  The blood of Christ is defined by Westminster’s Theological Dictionary as a theological symbol of his atoning death effecting a new covenant, reconciliation, and salvation.  It is the central point Hebrews makes in our lesson. 

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 was raised from the dead by the power of God. 

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

Tabernacle – The portable tent in which the Hebrews worshiped during the wilderness period of wandering.  The Jerusalem Temple replaced it.  In the Roman Catholic tradition, the “tabernacle” is the boxlike receptacle for the Eucharistic elements. 

Mediator – One who stands between parties in order to effect reconciliation.  The term is applies to Jesus Christ as the “one mediator between God and humankind” in I Timothy 2:5, who has effected reconciliation by overcoming sin. 

Sacrifice – Something of value offered as an act of worship or devotion to God.  Sacrifices were offered throughout the Old Testament, accompanied covenant making, and were of various types.   

Redemption – A financial metaphor that literally means “buying back”.  Used theologically to indicate atonement, reconciliation, or salvation wherein liberation from forms of bondage such as sin, death, law, or evil takes place through Christ. 

Covenant – A formal agreement or treaty between two parties that establishes a relationship and in which obligations and mutual responsibilities may be enacted.  Many biblical covenants are found, some providing only divine promises while others entail obligations. 

Testament – A person’s last will to dispose of property.  Also, a covenant – as at Sinai.  Both senses are found in Gal 3:15-18.  The term is also used for the division of the Bible into Old and New Testaments (covenants). 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  The only acceptable sacrifice (Jesus Christ).

2.  The Old Covenant and the New You.

Questions

1.  We are no longer under the Old Testament system of animal sacrifices.  What sacrifice do we need for salvation today?   

2.  The Old Testament tabernacle was destroyed.  The Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed.  Is there a temple or tabernacle for Christians today?  (See verse 11)      

Concluding thought:

This week’s study of Hebrews compared and contrasted the Old Testament or Old Agreement with the New Testament or New Agreement.  What was needed to remit sins in the Old Testament is fulfilled once and for all in the new agreement or the new covenant with Jesus Christ.  The Old Testament required the shedding blood.  That requirement in the New Testament is fulfilled in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.      

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week we move to the book of Colossians.  As we understand the fulfilled covenant in Jesus Christ we will discuss the fullness of Jesus Christ in the Godhead and how to avoid false teaching.  Colossians will show us the importance of Heart’s united in love. 

Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (June 9, 2019) Jesus Seals The New Covenant Mark 15:6-15, 25-26, 33-39

Jesus Seals The New Covenant Mark 15:6-15

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week I take a look at how Jesus Seals The New Covenant.  In the forty-seven verses of this 15th chapter of Mark we see Jesus before Pilate, Pilate handing Jesus over to be crucified, the soldiers mocking Jesus, The crucifixion of Jesus, The death of Jesus, and the burial of Jesus.  In this text we see a crowd ask for Barabbas instead of Jesus.  Only a few days ago a great crowd had welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem shouting Hosanna to the highest.  Perhaps the crowd is the same; perhaps it’s a different crowd.  I think one point we can take away from this lesson is that crowds can’t be trusted.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Covenant

Son of God

Son of Man

Background: 

This week we continue to focus on how the New Covenant came to be.  With that in mind I’ll provide some background on Mark the person, a bit more on the book of Mark, and then a bit more on this week’s chapter of study. 

Who’s Who In The Bible notes that “the second century Christian writer Papias first recorded the tradition that this gospel was written by Mark”.  This Mark would have been a follower of Peter name Mark (I Peter 5:13).  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible adds that “Augustine seems not to have known this tradition, for he argued that the Gospel of Mark was merely an abbreviation of the Gospel of Matthew”.  Additionally, “Jerome, the translator of the Bible into Latin, believed that the author of Mark was John Mark of Acts 15:37-38 (NISB).  This is the same Mark who’s other name was John in Acts 12:12.  John would have been his Hebrew name and Mark would have been his Latin Name.  Having two names like this was a common practice for Hellenized Jews (WWITB).  This is the same Mark who accompanied his cousin Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey.  When Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem it displeased Paul because when Barnabas asked that Mark go with them on a second missionary journey Paul refused (WWITB).  Acts 15:39 tells us this refusal created a sharp contention between Paul and Barnabas.  The writer of this Gospel may also be associated with Peter who referred to him as “my son” in I Peter 5:13.  However, most modern scholars are hesitant to make this link (NISB).  With that in mind, “The Gospel of Mark, like the other canonical Gospels, probably originally circulated anonymously among Christian groups” (NISB).  In other words we cannot definitively know who the author is.

The book of Mark was likely written “in the decade of 65 to 75 Common Era when Nero’s persecutions of Christians in Rome was soon followed by the first Jewish-Roman war.  In this war Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the Romans” (NISB).  Most scholars agree that Mark is the first Gospel to be written.  It is written to suit the needs of Christians under persecution.  This Gospel does not mention the name of its author and it is not written as a letter to anyone in particular.  Mark intends to portray Jesus as a Servant Redeemer.  “Mark shows his Gentile readers how the Son of God – rejected by his own people – achieved ultimate victory through apparent defeat” (Nelson’s Bible Handbook).  

The forty-seven verses of this fifteenth chapter of Mark show us

Jesus before Pilate

Pilate handing Jesus over to be crucified

The soldiers mocking Jesus

The crucifixion of Jesus

The death of Jesus

And the burial of Jesus.

Our Scripture text is interspersed through most of this chapter.  Some important words to consider from these two texts include:

Son of God

Son of Man

King of the Jews

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

Last week our lesson came from two separate texts in the New Testament but the Hebrews text was really a long quote from the Old Testament.  We studied parts of Mark 14th chapter and Hebrews 8th chapter.  The text in Mark began with the 14th chapter 17th verse where Jesus and the twelve disciples were gathered together for the evening Passover meal.  As they ate the Passover meal Jesus told his disciples one of them would betray him.      

Distressed, upset, and sorrowful the disciples took turns asking “is it I”.  Jesus explained “it is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me”.  We mentioned how the NISB noted that “Dipping bread into the bowl emphasized the bond of hospitality and intimacy that was about to be broken by betrayal”. 

We discussed verses twenty-two through twenty-four where Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper otherwise known as Holy Communion.  We also discussed verse twenty-four where “He said to them, this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many”.  This was where Jesus mentioned the covenant that was the basis for the new and better covenant mentioned in the text in Hebrews.  That closed the discussion of Mark and then we skipped to Hebrews 8.

Hebrews 8:6 began by explaining that Jesus was the mediator of a better covenant with better promises.  We noted that verse seven explained if the first covenant had been faultless, there would be no need to look for a second one.  No one could keep all the rules and regulations of the Old Testament.  But more importantly, this new covenant would replace the practice of animal sacrifices.  Jesus was the one sacrifice for all eternity to absolve or release humanity of the consequences of sin and separation from God.     

This week’s lesson is the second lesson of the Summer quarter and the second lesson in the Gospel According To Mark.  We will return to Hebrews in the third week of the quarter.  The focus for each lesson remains on the idea of covenant and specifically the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ.  The aim of this week is to show us how Jesus Seals the New Covenant.  As the Nation of Israel rejects Jesus he is turned over to Pontius Pilate for crucifixion.  It is the sacrificial death of Jesus that seals the covenant and establishes our relationship with God.  Standard Lesson Commentary, Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary all title this week’s lesson Jesus Seals The New Covenant.  The scripture text comes from Mark 15:6-15, 25-26, and 33-39. 

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

This Gospel is probably written in the decade of 65 to 75 Common Era.  The events of this chapter take place thirty-five to forty-five years earlier.  Mark 15:6 begins by reminding us that it was customary for Pilate to release a prisoner.  This was customary during the Passover feast.  It could have been any prisoner.  Barabbas was in prison with people who had committed murder during the insurrection.  So Barabbas was likely charged with murder whereas Jesus was charged with insurrection.

It should be noted that “the Jewish council had the power to put offenders they condemned to death.  So this second trial on different charges before Roman authorities seems unnecessary” (NISB).  It also seems remarkable that this crowd would ask for Barabbas instead of Jesus.  Only a few days ago a great crowd welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem shouting Hosanna to the highest.  Perhaps the crowd is the same; perhaps it’s a different crowd.  I think one point for us to take away is that crowds can’t be trusted. 

It’s important to also note that ultimately it is the Roman government that crucifies Jesus not the Jewish council leaders.  That’s an important distinction.  Across the centuries people have used this event to provoke anti-Jewish feelings in those who blame the Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion.  While it’s true the Jewish council turned Jesus over to Roman authorities, it cannot be said that the Jews crucified Jesus.

Verse 25 identifies the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.  The third hour was nine o’clock in the morning.  It was 9AM when they crucified him.  Verse 26 was the charge against him.  Although it read “The King of the Jews” the crime was insurrection.  He was charged with being king in Caesar’s place. 

Verses 33 through 39 speak to the death of Jesus.  The sixth hour is 12 o’clock noon.  The ninth hour is 3PM.  It was at 3PM when Jesus cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me”.  In this text, these are the last words Jesus speaks before his death, burial, and resurrection.  When the some of the bystanders hear his cry they think he is calling for Elijah.  After someone filled a sponge with sour wine and gave it to him to drink they said “wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down”. 

In verse 37 Jesus breathes his last breath.  In verse 38 the text leads us to believe that the curtain of the temple was immediately torn in two from top to bottom.   This tearing of the curtain is significant.  It symbolizes the new direct access to God through Jesus Christ.  Now the high priest no longer needs to enter into the holiest of holies on our behalf.  Now we have direct access through this New Covenant with Jesus Christ. 

Verse 39 closes our lesson text with the centurion proclaiming “Truly this man was God’s Son”!  It is the Roman centurion that proclaims Jesus as God’s son.

Context:

Anti-Semitism is opposition to or hatred of Jews.  It may take the form of discrimination, arrest, or extermination.  Throughout Christian history anti-Semitism has been a real problem spread by the view that Jews crucified Jesus.  It’s important that all Christians prevent the spread of this false narrative.  Although rejected by his own people, It was the Roman government that crucified Jesus.  The good news is the crucifixion, the willing sacrifice of Jesus was part of God’s plan.  Through this sacrifice now all of humanity has direct access to God through Jesus Christ. 

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 was raised from the dead by the power of God. 

Barabbas – a man who had been arrested and sentenced to death by crucifixion for insurrection against Rome and murder.  He was freed by Pilate, instead of Jesus, at the request of the crowd during the Passover feast.

Pilate – The Roman governor of Judea from about 26 to 37 Common Era.  Pontius Pilate presided over the trial of Jesus and ordered his execution. 

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

Son of God – An individual who stands in a special relationship with God is a son or child of God (Gal 4:6-7).  The concept is used in the Old Testament for Israel as a nation, David, and kings.  In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is God unique Son.

Son of Man – A Hebrew or Aramaic expression that may be a synonym for humankind or refer to an apocalyptic figure who will judge the righteous and unrighteous at the end time.  It is also used as a title for Jesus in each sense. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

1.  What shall I do with him?  (see vs 12)

2.  The Centurion called Him Son of God.  What do you call Him?

Questions

1.  The title of our lesson is Jesus Seals The New Covenant.  What is the seal?

2.  Mark 15:10 identifies the chief priests as the ones who handed Jesus over to Pilate but it was the Romans that crucified Jesus.  Why should Christians refuse to entertain the idea that the Jews crucified Jesus?

Concluding thought:

We’ve been focused on how the New Covenant came into existence.  The short answer is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ in Calvary’s cross.  But just as important is the fact that this New Covenant brings reconciliation.  We are reconciled to God through the grace of Christ on Calvary.  If God would go this far for our reconciliation, shouldn’t we also do the work of reconciliation with our family members, friends, and acquaintances?   

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week we return to the book of Hebrews.  As we focus on how the New Covenant came to be I will bring the New Covenant’s sacrifice into view.  That sacrifice is the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  It’s this same sacrifice that gives us hope to look forward.  I Corinthians 15:17 reminds us “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins”.  The good news is that Christ is risen and we have salvation through his sacrifice. 

Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (June 2, 2019) Jesus Institutes The New Covenant Mark 14:17-24, Hebrews 8:6-7, 10-12

Jesus Institutes The New Covenant – Mark 14:17-24

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week we take a look at how Jesus institutes the New Covenant at the Passover meal and how Hebrews shows the new covenant was foretold in the Old Testament.  There are several covenants throughout Scripture but this New Covenant is the one covenant available to all humanity for salvation throughout eternity.  The old covenant had its purpose but the new covenant fulfills the requirement for righteousness through Jesus Christ and for all eternity.  Hebrews will tell us that now; there is no need for the Jewish practice of animal sacrifice.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Testament

Covenant

Holy Communion

Background: 

This week’s lesson is focused on how the New Covenant came into existence.  Jesus plainly institutes the New Covenant in Mark and this section of Hebrews reflects back to how the New Covenant was foretold in the book of Jerimiah.  But before we go any further, it’s important to understand what we’re really talking about when we use the term New Covenant.  So I’ll define covenant, New Covenant, and then take a look at the backgrounds of Mark and Hebrews. 

The term covenant and testament are used interchangeably.  We have the Old Testament and the New Testament.  The Old Testament can be called the Old Covenant and the New Testament can be called the New Covenant.  It is an Old Agreement and a New Agreement. 

Covenant = Testament

Old Covenant = Old Testament

New Covenant = New Testament

Covenant is defined as a formal agreement or treaty between two parties that establishes a relationship and in which obligations and mutual responsibilities may be enacted.  Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms defines New Covenant as the anticipated action of God in establishing a personal relationship with people (this was foretold in Jeremiah 31:31-34).  Christians see this New Covenant as fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  The term New Covenant is used by Jesus in relation to his death (Luke 22:20; I Cor 11:25) and elsewhere in the New Testament for the effects Jesus Christ brings.  New Covenant is also, a term for the New Testament. 

So the main point is there is an old covenant or an old agreement.  I should also note that there are at least seven covenants in Scripture.  In a general sense when we are talking about covenants; Protestant Christians recognize the Old Covenant as the 39 books of the Old Testament.  There is a New Covenant, and Protestant Christians recognize this New Covenant as the 27 books of the New Testament. 

So with that in mind, I’ll take a look at the background of Mark and Hebrews as they both help us understand this New Covenant. 

 The Gospel of Mark does not mention the name of its author.  “Biblical scholars have tended to date the composition of the Gospel to the decade of 65 Common Era to 75 Common Era” (New Interpreter’s Study Bible).  “Mark was believed to have written the Gospel after Peter’s death in Rome during Nero’s persecutions (NISB)”.  Nelson’s Bible Handbook notes that Mark’s theme is to portray Jesus as a Servant and as the Redeemer of men. 

In the fourteenth chapter of Mark Jesus is at the Passover meal.  Christians recognize this as The Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion.  It is here that Jesus institutes the New Covenant.  It is a new agreement that is a better agreement.

Now, for some background on Hebrews.  The book of Hebrews is one of eight general epistles or letters that are not addressed to a specific church.  The author is not known and Hebrews is more of a sermon/treatise than a letter (NISB).  One of the main emphases in Hebrews is the superiority of the new covenant to the old and the old covenant’s practice of animal sacrifices (NISB). 

The eighth chapter of Hebrews deals with the true high priest (Jesus) and the two covenants (old and new).  It naturally, takes a Christological interpretation of the Old Testament book of Jerimiah 31:31-34.  This is the longest quotation from the Old Testament in the New Testament (Townsend Commentary).

Some important words to consider from these two texts include:

Covenant

Testament

New Covenant / Agreement

Holy Communion

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

Last week we discussed how Paul began Romans 8 by imploring, pleading with, urging, and what seemed like begging the believers at Rome to “offer their bodies as a living sacrifice”.  We discussed how Jesus Christ is the ultimate sacrifice for all humanity and that we should bring our entire life, all of who we are, our entire bodies as a living, breathing, thinking, sacrifice in service to Jesus Christ. 

We also talked about the different translations of the end of verse one.  The King James Version ends verse one saying “this is your reasonable service”.  The New Revised Standard Version says “this is your spiritual worship” and the New International Version translates it as “your true and proper worship”.  The idea is the same in either translation; we are expected to offer our complete selves holy to God. 

We discussed how verse two tells us to not emulate or conform to the world but rather be transformed or changed and how it is this transformation that is the new life in Christ.  We are transformed by the renewing of our minds.  We discussed how verse three is a gentle reminder and warning not to boast.  This was not doubt wise advice for both the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians coming from different cultures, customs, and practices who needed to work together. 

We also listed the six spiritual gifts that Paul mentions in verses six through eight.  Those are gifts are prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, leading, and mercy.  Those various gifts are given to each of us by grace.  Paul mentions other spiritual gifts in I Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4.

This week’s lesson is the first lesson of the Summer quarter.  The theme for this week and this quarter will focus on ideas surrounding covenant.  In particular we will try to understand how the New Covenant came to be, how Jesus is the embodiment of the New Covenant and what that means in our day to day living.  Standard Lesson Commentary, Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary all title this week’s lesson Jesus Institutes The New Covenant.  The scripture text comes from Mark 14:17-24, and Hebrews 8:6-7, 10-12.

What Takes Place in These Passages: 

Mark 14:17 begins with Jesus and the twelve disciples gathered together for the evening Passover meal.  As they eat the Passover meal Jesus tells his disciples one of them will betray him.  They all knew betrayal would mean a cruel and painful death.  They also knew that betrayal would likely put them in danger as well.  Can you imagine sitting at the dinner table with friends and someone says one of you will have me killed?  Just knowing that someone close to you is capable of this kind of betrayal is astonishing.    

Distressed, upset, and sorrowful the disciples take turns asking “is it I”.  Jesus explains “it is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me”.  The NISB notes that “Dipping bread into the bowl emphasizes the bond of hospitality and intimacy that is about to be broken by betrayal”. 

In verses twenty-two through twenty-four Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper otherwise known as Holy Communion.  Note especially verse twenty-four.  “He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many”.  Here Jesus mentions the covenant that is the basis for the new and better covenant Hebrews mentions. 

Hebrews 8:6 begins by explaining that Jesus is the mediator of a better covenant with better promises.  Note that verse seven explains if the first covenant had been faultless, there would be no need to look for a second one.  No one could keep all the rules and regulations of the Old Testament.  But more importantly, this new covenant would replace the practice of animal sacrifices.  Jesus was the one sacrifice for all eternity to absolve or release humanity of the consequences of sin and separation from God.      

Context:

Jesus institutes the New Covenant.  When I think about the New Covenant I am also reminded of new life in Christ.  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (II Cor. 5:17).  We have taken off the old and put on the new.  The old ways, the old habits, the old routines that created problems, caused sin, and produced confusion in our lives should be put to rest.  We have a new covenant, a new agreement, a new testament that is created in Jesus Christ.  This new covenant is based on righteousness, but its Christ’s righteousness, not ours.  We live in an age of grace and it is that grace that finds us in the newness of Christ’s covenant. 

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 was raised from the dead by the power of God.   

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

Covenant – A formal agreement or treaty between two parties that establishes a relationship and in which obligations and mutual responsibilities may be enacted.  Many biblical covenants are found, some providing only divine promises while others entail obligations. 

Covenant of grace – The relationship into which God entered to provide, by grace, the promise of salvation to sinful humanity.  It extends throughout the Old Testament by means of various covenants to its final fulfillment in Jesus Christ.    

Testament – A person’s last will to dispose of property.  Also, a covenant – as at Sinai.  Both senses are found in Gal 3:15-18.  The term is also used for the division of the Bible into Old and New Testaments (covenants). 

Passover Meal – The commemorative Jewish meal recalling the deliverance of the nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt through the exodus event. 

Lord’s Supper – The sacrament of Communion, or the Eucharist. (Baptist believers use the term ordinance, not sacrament)  It celebrates the death of Christ, his presence with the church, and his future kingdom (reign).  It was instituted by Jesus (I Cor. 11:23-26) at the Last Supper, the last meal which Jesus shared with his disciples before his crucifixion.  

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

  1. A better way
  2. A new agreement.  (Compare and contrast agreement with contract, bond, indenture, testament, etc.)

Questions

1.  What does it mean when Hebrews 8:7 says “For if the first covenant had been faultless”?  Does this mean there was an error in the Old Testament?

2.  There are several covenants throughout Scripture.  Jesus established the New Covenant.  Does that mean we are bound by the old covenants? 

Concluding thought:

Jesus institutes the New Covenant.  The old covenant required the shedding of blood from animals for the remission of sins.  This New Covenant is established by the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary’s cross.  His sacrifice was once and for all humanity because Jesus lived a sinless life. 

It’s now up to us.  We will never be sinless, but that should be the goal we strive for.  Jesus has established the new covenant and that agreement requires each of us to follow the teachings and example of Jesus.  

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week we continue in the Gospel according to Mark.  The aim of next week is to show us how Jesus Seals the New Covenant.  As the Nation of Israel rejects Jesus he is turned over to Pontius Pilate for crucifixion.  We will look at what it means to be in relationship with one another, Jesus Christ, and God.  These relationships are made possible by the unselfish sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary. 

Christianity, religion, Romans, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (May 19, 2019) Called to Mutual Acceptance / The Call Of The Gentiles Romans 11:11-24

Called to Mutual Acceptance / The Call of the Gentiles – Romans 11:11-24

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week we take a look at the importance of working together as one body.  Paul writes to the Jewish and Gentile Christians at Rome and encourages mutual acceptance as he acknowledges the full authority and call of the Gentile Christians.  They were different people from different backgrounds but serving the same God.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Apostle

Metaphor

Acceptance

There are a number of ways we experience acceptance.  Self-acceptance, social acceptance, and expressed acceptance are just a few.  The Gentile and Jewish Christians at Rome needed each of these to work together in their time.  That much certainly has not changed for Christians today. 

Background: 

Paul’s letter to the church at Rome is written approximately 57 Common Era. When this letter is written, the Jewish Christians had been expelled from Rome about eight years earlier by Emperor Claudius (New Interpreters Study Bible).  When Emperor Claudius died in 54 CE the edict lapsed and Jewish Christians began returning to Rome.  They returned to a different and mostly Gentile church.  In this letter Paul is writing to Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians who have different religious practices.  Some of the central points he writes about are righteousness, justification, grace, sin, and the Holy Spirit.  It is his longest letter and considered foundational to Christian doctrine today. 

In this eleventh chapter keep in mind that Paul is an Israelite.  He does not reject his Jewish religion yet he understands and supports the growth and development of Gentile Christians who would have different religious practices.  Part of chapter eleven deals with Paul calling the Gentile and Jewish Christians toward mutual acceptance.  While he accepts the Gentile Christians as full partners in the Christian faith, he also acknowledges the centrality of Judaism as its origin.  Even still, many Israelites have rejected Jesus and Paul’s hope and desire is that they will be won to Christ. 

Some important words to consider in this chapter include:

Gentile

Apostle

Pharisee

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

Last week was the second of four lessons in Romans.  The text came from Romans eight and focused on the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian.  The lesson began with a rejection of condemnation for Christians who walk after the Spirit.  In other words there is no condemnation for Christians who walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh.  Chapter eight answered the question of how to deal with the inadequacy of the Law. 

We were reminded in Verse three of the weakness of the law and the flesh.  In other words, no one can keep all of the rules of the Law.  We need a righteous savior and the answer to that need is Jesus Christ.  God sent Jesus in the likeness of sinful flesh as the eternal answer for a fallen and sinful humanity.

Verse four reminded us that righteousness is required, yet the requirement is fulfilled in those who walk after the Spirit.  So then, the law is a guide to righteousness but a guide that no one could perfectly follow.  Verse five reinforced the point that the flesh is concerned about the things of the flesh and the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 

Verses six through eight dealt with the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit.  We were reminded that Christians should be governed by the Holy Spirit, not by our own lustful, self-serving desires.  In fact, Paul writes that being governed by the flesh is death but being governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 

Verses ten and eleven helped us understand that it is the Spirit of God that brings life through righteousness.  Paul begins to wrap-up his thoughts on life in the Spirit beginning in verse twelve.  He reminds us that we have an obligation to live according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh.  “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God”.  

This week we consider how Paul encouraged unity between the Jewish and Gentile Christians as well as the call of the Gentiles.  Townsend and Boyd’s, Commentary title this week’s lesson The Call of the Gentiles.  Standard Commentary titles it Called to Mutual Acceptance.  The Scripture text comes from Romans 11:11-24.

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

This chapter begins with Paul writing directly to the Jewish Christians.  They are a minority group in the Roman church.  This first part of chapter eleven is sympathetic to their plight and he writes using Israelite history that will resonate with them.  Paul mentions Elijah and how God had reserved a remnant of 7,000 when Elijah thought he was alone.  These Jewish Christians in Rome could identify themselves as a remnant also.  These words are no doubt comforting to the Jewish Christians.  They are a minority in their own religious family.  For the Jewish Christians in Rome that included being a minority in their Christian faith as well as a minority from the broader Jewish faith. 

Our text picks up at verse eleven.  Here Paul continues by asking “have they (his Israelite nation) stumbled so as to fall”?  Paul is referring to the broader Jewish religion.  He continues “By no means”!  Paul tells the Jewish Christians that “salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous”. 

Paul switches to address the Gentiles in verse thirteen.  He declares himself the Apostle to the Gentiles and writes “I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them”.  Here, Paul hopes to use jealousy of the Christian’s salvation to win some of his Israelite nation to faith in Jesus Christ.  If jealousy works, if envy works, then Paul is prepared to use it.  I am reminded of Paul’s writing in I Corinthians 9:22: “To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people that I might by all means save some”.

Verse fifteen repeats the idea of Israel stumbling but offers hope that acceptance will be life from the dead.  Verse sixteen continues with a literary device using the first fruits of dough and the root of a tree as a metaphor.  This metaphor paints a mental picture that shows how both the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are Holy through their connection to the Jewish religion which was God’s first covenantal family. 

Verses seventeen through twenty-four uses a different metaphor.  In these verses both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are branches.  Whereas the Jews were broken off, the Gentiles were grafted in to the tree.  In verses eighteen through twenty Paul asks the Gentile Christians not to boast that they have been grafted in.  Rather, they should recognize that the Israelites were broken off because of their unbelief.  After Paul notes the kindness and severity of God he closes this metaphor with a note of hope that the “natural branches would be grafted back into their own olive tree”.  

Context:

A metaphor is “a figure of speech by which one thing is spoken of in terms of another”.  For example Paul uses the metaphor of a part of dough to explain how the Jewish Christians at Rome are a remnant that can make the entire lump of dough holy.  Metaphors are used in everyday language to help paint a mental picture and often to emphasize a point.  It’s raining cats and dogs, she’s sharp as a tack, or these instructions are Greek to me.  These are all metaphors that people understand are not literal but figurative. 

In the text today, Paul uses figurative language to make his point.  The broader Jewish community had rejected faith in Jesus Christ as savior.  Paul writes in Chapter ten that his “hearts desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved”.  Paul is writing to the Jewish and Gentile Christians at Rome but He wants all of Israel to be saved along with the Gentiles.  Although this writing is figurative, it gets the point across in ways the Jews and Gentiles understood then and in ways we still understand today.        

Key Characters in the text:

Paul – Originally known as Saul of Tarsus before his conversion to Christianity.  He was the most influential leader in the early days of the Christian church.  Paul was a primary instrument in the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles.  His letters to various churches and individuals contain the most thorough and deliberate theological formulations of the New Testament (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible). 

Gentile – A term used by Jews for one who is not Jewish by racial origin.  In the Old Testament, “the nations” is used.    

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

Apostle – One sent to act on the authority of anther.  Refers to the earliest, closest followers of Jesus. 

Pharisee – A Jewish party during Jesus’ time that obeyed the written law of Moss and its unwritten law of Moses and its unwritten interpretations, known as the tradition of the elders (Mark 7:3).  They focused on holiness (Lev 19:2).  Some were hostile (John 7:32), others were helpful to Jesus (Luke 13:31).

Israel – The nation of Israel as descended from Jacob (Gen 32:28), after whose twelve sons the twelve tribes of Israel were named.    

Judaic – Pertaining to Judaism or the Jewish people.    

Judaism – The religion and culture of the Jewish people.   

Jew – A term for one who is of Hebrew descent or who adheres to the Jewish faith, or both.     

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

  1. Teamwork makes the dream work.
  2. Ubuntu – I am who I am because of who we are.

Question

Metaphors can help get the point across in easily understandable and sometimes humorous ways.  List some commonly used metaphors.    

Concluding thought:

Israel, Israeli, Judean, Judaic, Judaism, and Jewish are all terms used in various degrees to describe the Hebrew people, their religion, their descendants or their nationality.  Sometimes the same term is used to describe ethnicity while at other times nationality or religion of a person or group of persons.  An article that explains some of these differences can be found here.  It’s important to use the right term because they are not synonymous although many people use them synonymously simply because they don’t know the difference.  There is also the risk of being misunderstood as anti-Semitic when using the wrong term.

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week is our final lesson this month on the book of Romans and the final lesson for the Spring quarter.  We study the twelfth chapter of Romans where Paul “turns the corner” from the doctrinal portion of writing to practical application.  Last week Paul used metaphor as a literary device.  This week he returns to a paradox as he begins to explain how we are called to new life in Christ and called to be transformed.

Christianity, religion, Romans, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (May 12, 2019) Called To Life in The Spirit Romans 8:1-14

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week we take a close look at how we are called to life in the Spirit.  Several ideas surrounding this call are discussed in our text this week.  Those include: 

The Law

Sin

The Requirement for Righteousness

Life in the Spirit

This life in the Spirit is indeed a paradox.  In as much as we are sinful beings we are separated from God.  Yet through the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit we are no longer condemned but made righteous through Jesus Christ. 

Background: 

Paul’s letter to the church at Rome is written approximately 57 Common Era.  It is written to a church that likely has cultural tensions.  The Jewish Christians likely wanted to maintain their Jewish customs and culture.  The Gentile Christians would have practiced religion in different ways.  At this point, the Roman Church was primarily a gentile church.  When this letter is written, the Jewish Christians had been expelled from Rome about eight years earlier by Emperor Claudius (New Interpreters Study Bible).  After Emperor Claudius died in 54 Common Era the edict lapsed and Jewish Christians began to return to a different and mostly Gentile church.  Romans is written to both Jews and Gentiles to let the Jews know they cannot boast of their Jewish heritage and to let the Gentiles know that righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ is all they need for salvation.  Its central focus is salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. 

Chapter eight deals with the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of Christians.  It is the Holy Spirit that indwells and, in fact, must indwell every believer.  Paul makes a resolute stand in verse nine that anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  Thus, we clearly see the importance of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian.  Additionally, other important themes in this chapter include:

Law

Sin

Grace

Carnality

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

Last week we began a study in Romans, Paul’s longest letter. At the time he writes this letter to Jewish and Gentile Christians, they are likely experiencing some tension with religious customs and cultures in Rome.  We discussed how the righteousness of God is now not just through the law.  Now, there is another way to righteousness and that new way was through Jesus Christ.  That’s important because righteousness deals with right relationships.  And it is our relationship with God that secures righteousness for the Christian.  We also mentioned how Romans 3:23 stands as a perpetual reminder that no one is perfect (except Jesus Christ).  We all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. 

Paul is writing this letter to both gentile and Jewish Christians who likely still practice the tenets of the Torah.  He reminds both groups that neither is perfect, that all have sinned, and that God’s righteousness is received through faith in Jesus Christ.  Paul is essentially answering the question before it gets asked.  Why is this righteousness necessary?  The answer is because all have sinned. 

 Finally, we were reminded in verse 27 that the Jewish Christians could not boast of their heritage, or their works, because even the law requires faith.  And it closed reminding us that God is God of both Jews and Gentiles.  There is only one God who justifies the circumcision by faith and the uncircumcised through the same faith.

This week we consider the work of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8.  Townsend, Boyd’s, and Standard Commentary title this week’s lesson Called To Life in The Spirit.  The Scripture text comes from Romans 8:1-14.

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Verse one begins by rejecting condemnation for Christians who walk after the Spirit.  While this verse seems to indicate the qualification that one must not walk after the flesh; it can be understood that if you are a Christian you are no longer controlled by the flesh.  An even more pressing question is who was doing the condemning?  Chapter seven holds the answer.  Chapter seven dealt with the law and sin.  Chapter eight answers the question of how to deal with the inadequacy of the Law.  We deal with it as verse two says through – “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus [who] has set you free from the law of sin and of death” ( that was the condemnation) (NRSV).  Note also that “no condemnation does not mean believers are free from the struggle against sin, but that we are free from the sentence of death and judgement on the last day” (NISB). 

Verse three reminds us of the weakness of the law and the flesh.  In other words, no one can keep all of the rules of the Law.  We need a righteous savior and the answer to that need is Jesus Christ.  God sent Jesus in the likeness of sinful flesh as the eternal answer for a fallen and sinful humanity.

Verse four takes it a step further.  It reminds us that righteousness is required, yet the requirement is fulfilled in those who walk after the Spirit.  Again, notice the importance of the Holy Spirit.  So then, the law is a guide to righteousness but a guide that no one could perfectly follow.  In fact, in Chapter seven, Paul takes issue with the Law (7:5-6).

Verse five reinforces the point that the flesh is concerned about the things of the flesh and the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 

Verses six through eight deal with the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit.  The King James Version uses the term “carnally minded” in verse six.  Carnal is defined as “that which relates to the body, usually associated with desires such as sensuality, lust, and indulgence”.  The New Revised Standard Version uses the phrase “to set the mind on the flesh”.  The idea is Christians should be governed by the Holy Spirit, not by our own lustful, self-serving desires.  In fact, Paul writes that being governed by the flesh is death but being governed by the Spirit is life and peace.  That’s because the carnal or flesh governed mind is hostile to God.  Note also that verse eight says “those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God”.  Conversely, Hebrews 11:6 reminds us that “without faith it is impossible to please God”.  So again, we see the importance of faith and the Holy Spirit.  If we are in the flesh, we cannot meet the requirement for righteousness.  Verse nine reassures us.  We are not in the flesh if the Spirit of God dwells in us.  But note also Paul’s warning.  “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ”.

Verses ten and eleven help us understand that it is the Spirit of God that brings life through righteousness.  In fact, it is this same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead that indwells the Christian and will give life to our mortal bodies also. 

Paul begins to wrap this thought up beginning in verse twelve.  He reminds us that we have an obligation to live according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh.  “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God”. 

Context:

A paradox is a true statement that appears to be contradictory.  Some paradoxical Christian affirmations are:  God as “one God in three Persons,” Jesus as “fully divine and fully human,” and the believer as “righteous yet a sinner”.  We see elements of this definition in these verses.  In fact, in my opinion, it is paradoxical that the Holy Spirit indwells humans.  In as much as we rebel against the will of God we are sinful beings.  Our text tells us the Law condemns, but the Spirit liberates.  II Corinthians 3:6 reminds us that God “has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”.  Where the law condemns us, the Spirit liberates us.  We need a righteousness that cannot be attained through the law.  King David writes in Psalm 51:5 “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me”.  Yet, through acceptance of Jesus Christ as our Savior we have the privilege of being indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  We are called to life in the spirit.       

Key Characters in the text:

Paul – Originally known as Saul of Tarsus before his conversion to Christianity.  He was the most influential leader in the early days of the Christian church.  Paul was a primary instrument in the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles.  His letters to various churches and individuals contain the most thorough and deliberate theological formulations of the New Testament (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible). 

Holy Spirit – The third Person of the Trinity.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit constitute the eternal Godhead.  The Spirit inspired biblical writers, makes known the saving work of Jesus Christ, and is God as present in and with the church.  The Spirit acts to incorporate all things into the life of the triune God. 

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

Carnal – that which relates to the body, usually associated with desires such as sensuality, lust, and indulgence.

Paradox – A true statement that appears to be contradictory.  Some paradoxical Christian affirmations are:  God as “one God in three Persons,” Jesus as “fully divine and fully human,” the believer as “righteous yet a sinner”. 

Law – That which is prescribed to regulate behavior.  The Old Testament law includes the Ten Commandments and various ritual prescriptions found in the Pentateuch or the books of the Law (Torah).  Theologically, law expresses the will of God and is to be valued (Ps 119). 

Law and Grace – Two differing ways or forms of God’s relating to humanity.  A number of theological views as to the regulation of the two terms have emerged (John 1:17; Rom 4:16; 5:20; 6:14, 15).

Law of Nature – The universal moral law, believed by some theologians to be given by God to all persons or accessible to them through the use of their reason in relation to the order found in nature. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

  1. What the Law can’t do.
  2. The Law versus the Spirit.

Questions

1) We were created in the image of God, yet, born in iniquity.  Explain this paradox. 

2) The text tells us we must be governed by the Spirit.  How are we governed by the Spirit on a day to day basis?           

Concluding thought:

We need righteousness and that righteousness is only found in Jesus Christ.  In John chapter 14 beginning at verse 15, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit (the Comforter).  It is the Holy Spirit who comforts, secures, and empowers us.  The importance of this gift cannot be stressed enough.  Our good works aren’t enough to secure righteousness.  The Christian Jews Paul included in this letter could not claim their heritage or their customs keeping the law as acceptable righteousness.  It is though the work of Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives that this desperately needed righteousness is secured. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week we will look at the call of the gentiles.  In Romans chapter eleven Paul, a Judean himself, speaks directly to the Gentile Christians as the Apostle to the Gentiles.  He does so in hopes of saving some of his Judean people.  But he also admonishes the Gentile Christians to not be arrogant.