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, Romans, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (May 26, 2019) Called to Be Transformed / Called To New Life In Christ Romans 12:1-8

Paul Turns the Corner From Theology to Praxis

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week we take a look at how God calls us to be transformed.  As we are called to new life in Christ we are required to make changes and alterations in our day to day living.  Students of theology call this change praxis.  It is the transformation from theory and thought to action in each of our lives.  That’s what chapter twelve is about as Paul turns the corner from the theology of chapters’ one through eleven.  Some of the ideas surrounding this week’s text include the terms: 

Sacrifice

Praxis

Cooperation

Background: 

Over the previous three weeks I’ve repeatedly discussed how Paul’s letter to the church at Rome is written approximately 57 Common Era.  That was important because it helped establish that Paul was writing to both Jewish and Gentile Christians.  They were different groups that had different practices, customs, and cultures.  That’s still important but less so in this twelfth chapter of Romans.  In this chapter Paul has switched from writing doctrinal statements that helped Jewish and Gentile Christians understand how to work together.  In this chapter he switches to writing more about the practical application of previous chapters.  So what is discussed in chapter twelve is addressed to the believers in Rome but it applies even more specifically to all believers. 

In this chapter, Paul begins to put it all together.  He begins to tell us how to live the Christian life.  Townsend Commentary reminds us of some of the doctrinal journey through Romans.  “They have been “justified through faith” in chapter 5, “set free from sin” in chapter 6,  “released from the law” in chapter 7, and made “alive” in Christ in chapter 8”. 

Some important words to consider in chapter twelve include:

Sacrifice

Gifts

Cooperation

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

Last week was the third of four lessons in Romans.  This week is the fourth lesson of Romans and the final lesson of the Spring quarter.  Last week’s study began at Romans 11:11.  Here Paul asks a question about his Israelite nation; “have they stumbled so as to fall”?  As he refers to the broader Jewish religion, He answers the question by saying “By no means”!  He explains that the Jewish religious nation has not fallen so far as to fall.  He is telling the Jewish Christians that “salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous”.   In verse thirteen he declares himself the Apostle to the Gentiles.  He 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.  Verse sixteen continues with a literary device using the first fruits of dough and the root of a tree as a metaphor.  These metaphors paint 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 use a different metaphor.  In these verses both Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are branches of an Olive tree.  Whereas the Jews were broken off branches, the Gentiles were branches grafted into the tree.

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”. 

In this week we consider practical application of Christian doctrine.  Paul is writing in this twelfth chapter about praxis.  It’s about how to live the Christian life.  Townsend and Boyd’s, Commentary title this week’s lesson Called To New Life in Christ.  Standard Commentary titles it Called to Be Transformed.  The Scripture text comes from Romans 12:1-8.

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

Paul begins by imploring, pleading with, urging, and what seems like even begging the believers at Rome to “offer their bodies as a living sacrifice”.  The imagery of a living sacrifice is placed against the imagery of customary Jewish animal sacrifices.  While Jesus Christ is the ultimate sacrifice for all humanity 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. 

Note also that Paul says “therefore”.  He begins chapter twelve this way because he made his case in the preceding chapters.  He laid the foundation of justification by grace, redemption, salvation, and other doctrine in chapters one through eleven and now he turns the corner by essentially saying “this is what we are supposed to do, THEREFORE… present your bodies a living sacrifice.      

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. 

Verse two tells us to not emulate or conform to the world but rather be transformed or changed.  It is this transformation that is the new life in Christ.  We are transformed by the renewing of our minds.  We are called to be transformed and we achieve transformation by following the Holy Spirit, not the ways of the world. 

Verse three is a gentle reminder and warning not to boast.  It’s a poor frog who doesn’t praise his own pond, yet, praising your own pond is entirely different from bragging about and holding yourself in too high esteem.  Paul encourages us to think soberly, not boastfully about ourselves.  This is no doubt wise advice for people in an environment of different cultures, customs, and practices who need to work together. 

In verses four and five, Paul uses the body as a metaphor for the church.  In the same way the body must work together with arms, legs, eyes, and ears; so must the church work together with different people doing different but necessary things to work together. 

Verses six through eight expound on the idea of working together by mentioning six different gifts.  Those gifts are:

Prophecy

Ministry

Teaching

Exhortation

Leading

Mercy

Note that various gifts are given to each of us by grace.  Paul mentions other spiritual gifts in I Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4.

Context:

God’s word is for our transformation and inspiration not just information.  That’s the point Paul is making in chapter twelve.  He has given a lot of doctrine in chapters one through eleven.  He begins in chapter twelve explaining how to put the doctrine to use.  For Christians today that means praxis.  Praxis is taking theory and thought to actual practice.  It is applying what is said to what should be done.  It’s taking what is heard in the pews to what should be done at home, at work, and in everyday life.  Praxis is moving from thinking about it to being about it.  When Paul says “therefore I urge you” it is almost as if he is begging us to do the work of living this Christian life.  It’s this kind of practical application that chapter twelve requires of us.  In short, Paul is asking at least five things of us in this chapter.  Those include: 

Be a living sacrifice

Renew our minds

Think soberly of ourselves

We belong to each other

Use our various gifts for Christ

If we can make these actions in our living and not theory or just thoughts we are certainly on our way to being transformed and called to new life in Christ.

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): 

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. 

Praxis – A term used in liberation theologies for a combination of action and reflection which seeks the transformation of oppressive situations and the social order.  It marks the beginning place for theological reflection and focuses on the dialectic of theory and practice. 

Gifts, Spiritual – Those abilities given by the Holy Spirit to persons in the church for the up-building of the church.  Examples are listed in Rom. 12:6-8; I Cor. 12:4-11; Eph. 4:11; and I Peter 4:11.

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

  1. Don’t talk about it, be about it.
  2. Ubuntu – I am who I am because of who we are.

Questions

1.  A living sacrifice is a contradiction.  What is Paul really telling us to do in this verse?

2.  Cooperation for the good of the whole seems to be an important point Paul is making.  How can we cooperate with fellow believers today?

Concluding thought:

Our call to new life in Christ requires transformation.  Our transformation is achieved though renewing our minds to become more like Jesus Christ.  That is an ongoing process that cannot be achieved with a single act or in a single week, month, or year.  We grow, we learn, we get better and sometimes we have to repeat the process when we sin and get it wrong.  Our call to be transformed is a call that takes practice.  It takes daily and sometimes moment by moment conscious effort.  As we renew our minds, sometimes we alter our life.  We alter choices and make decisions that don’t come naturally.  They are often decisions that benefit others more than ourselves.  That’s the way it is with new life in Christ.  A transformed life is a living sacrifice that does not have too high a regard for its own wants and desires but an humble life that realizes that we belong to each other.  It realizes that whatever spiritual gifts we have we should use them for the up-building of the work of Jesus Christ. 

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week is the first lesson of the summer quarter.  The summer quarter will focus on aspects of covenant.  The first nine lessons come from the New Testament so we will view covenant from a New Testament perspective before three lesson in the Old Testament that view it in a more general perspective. 

The June 2nd lesson comes from the Gospel According to Mark and Hebrews.  We will consider how Jesus institutes a new and better covenant made on better promises.

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, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (May 5, 2019) Called To Righteousness Romans 3:21-31

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and learners! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  This week we take a deep dive on ideas surrounding righteousness.  Significant themes include:

Atonement of Sin

Justification Through Grace

Redemption

Paul is writing to the church at Rome.  A church he has never visited.  At the time he writes this letter these Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are likely experiencing some tension with customs and cultures.  This letter will eventually end up playing a significant part of the doctrinal foundation of Christian faith

Background: 

This is the first week of a four week study in the book of Romans.  The author is Paul.  You may remember Paul was once a great persecutor of Christians.  And now this work is perhaps one of the most significant Christian texts in terms of explaining foundational Christian doctrine.  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that Paul writes Romans “near the conclusion of the third missionary journey to Asia Minor and Greece”. While Paul is the author of Romans, he “dictated it to Tertius (16:22) while he was in Corinth, probably in the spring of 57 CE”.

Townsend’s Commentary highlights some interesting history about the Roman Christians.  Townsend states “Christianity in Rome began among the Jews, yet because of the ongoing conflicts within the Jewish community, Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome.  In their absence, Christianity in Rome became predominantly Gentile”.  That’s interesting because it is yet another example of governmental persecution endured by our Jewish siblings.  The expulsion occurred in 49 CE.  “When Claudius died in 54 CE and the edict lapsed, Jews began returning to Rome.  These Jewish Christians returned to churches that had become increasingly Gentile which likely created considerable tension between them and Gentile Christians (NISB)”. 

Chapter three introduces a number of significant doctrinal terms.  Those include the ideas of:

Sin

Justification

Grace

Redemption

Salvation

The central focus of verses 21 through 31 is the idea of righteousness through the grace of faith in Jesus Christ. 

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

In last week’s lesson the resurrection of Jesus had just occurred and the eleven disciples were in Galilee.  After Jesus appearing to the eleven disciples some doubted.  After all they had heard, seen, and experienced some of the disciples still doubted.  When Jesus spoke to them saying “all power (or all authority) in heaven and on earth has been given to me” he was saying he had all the right, all the privilege, all the freedom and all the license to stand as God has given him victory over death.  Jesus then gave them instructions, telling them to go.  Not just to go, but to go and teach.  The Savior, who was once called teacher, sent his disciples to teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  This is the commission that Jesus gave the disciples and that commission applies to all who call the name of Jesus as their Savior.

The text then moved to Acts chapter one verse six.  In this scene the disciples are gathered together and they ask Jesus “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel”.  The disciples were envisioning Jesus on the throne in the same way King David reined on the throne about one thousand years earlier.

Jesus tells them “it is not for you to know the times or the dates the Father has set by his own authority”.  So in plain words, Jesus tells them you don’t need to know.  There are some things that we simply can’t know and some things we just don’t need to know.  There are some things that God is going to handle in God’s own good time. 

This week we begin a four week study in the book of Romans.  Over the next four weeks we will explore the spread of the Gospel.  We will consider the ideas of righteousness, life in the Spirit, the call of gentiles, and called to new life in Christ.  Townsend, Boyd’s, and Standard Commentary title this week’s lesson Called To Righteousness. The Scripture text comes from Romans 3:21-31.

What Takes Place in This Passage: 

In the New Revised Standard Version, verse 21 begins “But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets,”.  I like how this verse begins with “but now”.  But now, is placed against what was.  In other words, the righteousness of God is now not just through the law.  Now, there is another way to righteousness.  That’s important because righteousness deals with right relationships.  And it is our relationship with God that secures righteousness for the Christian.  We need a right relationship with God. 

Verses 22 and 23 says “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ[d] for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;”. In other words, this righteousness we so desperately need is available to anyone and can be received through faith in Jesus Christ.  Verse 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 gentiles 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.  Both Jews and gentiles have sinned and cannot receive God’s righteousness in their own efforts or by keeping the law.

Verse 24 says they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.  So, there are three significant theological terms in this one verse. 

Justified (justification)

Grace

Redemption

See below for the definitions for each of these terms but I want to highlight that our justification is freely given.  Paul is emphasizing this for the Jewish Christians.  They need to know there is no need for the sacrifices of the past.  God’s grace through the atonement of Jesus Christ is enough. 

In the King James Version Verse 25 introduces the term propitiation.  The NIV and NRSV use “sacrifice of atonement” for the same concept.  Here Paul is telling us the shed blood of Jesus Christ is the only acceptable sacrifice to be received by faith.  And again, Paul answers the question of why before it is asked.  Why is the shedding of Jesus’ blood necessary?  Verse 25b says “He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished”.

Verse 26 explains “he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at this present time”.  Paul is telling us here that God had and has a plan.  That plan includes those who will be justified by faith in Jesus Christ. 

Verse 27 reminds the Jewish Christians that they cannot boast of their heritage, or their works, because even the law requires faith.  And he takes it a step further in verse 28 when Paul says “a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law”. 

The lesson closes with 29-31 reminding us that God is God of both the Jews and Gentiles.  There is only one God who justifies the circumcision by faith and the uncircumcised through the same faith.  And finally, he essentially says it is by faith that we uphold the law. 

Context:

A good theological dictionary will list several definitions relating to the term righteousness.  There is civil righteousness, human righteousness, righteous indignation, original righteousness, righteousness of faith, and righteousness of God to name a few.  It is a term that encompasses many aspects of both Godly and human virtue.  But given all these terms, I’m inclined to simply define it as doing right by God and doing right by God’s people.  If the saints are doing what’s right, they’ll be alright.  I can think of no circumstance where God would be displeased with a saint doing what’s right.  We are called to righteousness.  We are called to do right. 

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. Moreover, his letters to various churches and individuals contain the most thorough and deliberate theological formulations of the New Testament (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible). 

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

Righteousness – Biblically the term embraces a number of dimensions relating to God’s actions in establishing and maintaining right relationships.  Ethically it is a state of moral purity or doing that which is right.       

Glory of God – The divine essence of God as absolutely resplendent and ultimately great (Rev 21:23).  The praise and honoring of God as the supreme Lord of all (I Cor. 10:31; Phil. 2:11)  

Justification – “A reckoning or counting as righteous”.  God’s declaring a sinful person to be “just” on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Rom 3:24-26; 4:25; 5:16-21).  The result is God’s peace (Rom. 5:1), God’s Spirit (8:4), and thus “salvation”.

Grace – Unmerited favor,  God’s grace is extended to sinful humanity in providing salvation and forgiveness through Jesus Christ that is not deserved, and withholding the judgement that is deserved (Rom 3:24; Eph. 1:7; Titus 2:11). 

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. 

Atonement – The death of Jesus Christ on the cross, which effects salvation as the reestablishment of the relationship between God and sinners. 

Propitiation – A theological term for making atonement for sin by making an acceptable sacrifice.  Some English translations us the term to describe the death of Christ.  Some theories of the atonement relate this to God’s wrath.  

Sin – Various Hebrew and Greek words are translated “sin” with many shades of meaning.  Theologically, sin is the human condition of separation from God that arises from opposition to God’s purposes.  It may be breaking God’s law, failing to do what God wills, or rebellion.  It needs forgiveness by God.  (The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms lists over 30 definitions related to sin.)

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

  1. Do The Right Thing (film by Spike Lee)
  2. Sin versus Grace

Questions

1) What is a right relationship with God?

2) All have fallen short of the glory of God.  How do we bring glory to God?         

Concluding thought:

There are a number of definitions related to the word righteousness.  Likewise there are at least 30 definitions related to the word sin.  Both words carry nuanced meaning and both can be explained in several ways.  What is most important with either is to remember the love of God.  It is that love that provides righteousness for a sinful people and again that love that forgives sinful people.  Choose love, do right, and you’ll be alright.  

So how do you show love when someone has sinned against you?         

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week is our second week in Romans.  We will look at the idea of being called to life in the Spirit.  Just as we covered sin this week we look at the burden of sin in the life of the saint and how that burden is lifted through the Spirit of God.  The Holy Spirit plays a significant role in the life of every believer. 

Christianity, religion, Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (April 28, 2019) Call and Commissioning / Called To Make Disciples Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 1:6-8

Call and Commissioning / Called To Make Disciples

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and learners! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  In this week’s Lesson, we continue in Matthew where we left off last week and then transition to the Acts of the Apostles. Jesus has been resurrected, he has left the women along the road who were going to tell the disciples to meet him in Galilee and Jesus and the disciples are now in Galilee.  While in Galilee, Jesus appears to the eleven disciples and after all they have seen, heard, and experienced some still doubt.  Jesus gives the great commission to the disciples essentially telling them that the Gospel message is not just for Israel, but for all the world.  When the lesson transitions to Acts, the disciples want to know if Jesus will now restore the kingdom to Israel.  Again, He points them not to a worldly kingdom but to be witnesses to all the world.  Stay tuned to learn about our call and commissioning and how we are called to make disciples.    

Background for today’s text begins with The Gospel according to Matthew and then transitions to The Acts of The Apostles: 

The Cross

This is the fifth week we’ve studied the Gospel According to Matthew.  This week I’ll simply reinforce a few of the central themes to remember and then cover the background of Acts.  Matthew is written about 70 A.D. after the fall of the temple.  It is written to Jewish Christians who are struggling with their own identity. They are not accepted in the mainstream Jewish community because they believe in the divinity of Jesus.  Matthew writes to reassure them of God’s plan and God’s place in their lives.  While writing to this group of Jewish Christians, Matthew provides sacred hope and guidance to a marginalized community that is every bit relevant today as it was when written. 

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that The Acts of the Apostles “is a sequel to the Gospel of Luke and continues the narrative account of the early church”.  The author is the same and Acts is written with similar theological themes, and style.  Whereas Matthew is written primarily to Jewish Christians, Acts is written “to a mixed community of predominantly Gentile Christians about 80 and 85 A.D. shortly after the Gospel of Luke”.  Additionally, “Luke, presumably a Gentile Christian, helps his readers to know how to remain faithful to tradition while reinterpreting it for their new circumstances”.  So the book of Acts continues in this theme.  Acts helps these mostly Gentile believers to both understand Jewish customs but also to know that they are not Jewish.  Nor are they beholden to Jewish customs and tradition. 

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

Last week two women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, went to see the sepulcher where Jesus was supposed to be.  We discussed that perhaps Matthew was trying to tell us that:

1.  It is women who first acted on the belief of the resurrection.

2.  It was women who first saw the risen savior.

3.  It is women who first proclaim that Jesus was raised from the dead. 

You may also recall that there was a great earthquake, the earth shook.  And the Angel of the Lord certainly delivered earth shaking news.  The angle rolled back the stone of the sepulcher and told the women “Don’t be afraid; I know that you’re looking for Jesus who was crucified.  And then the angel delivers perhaps the greatest news of all time.  “He’s not here; for he has been raised, as he said”.  Then the Angel tells them to “go quickly and tell the disciples that he is risen from the dead; he will meet you in Galilee”.  The women leave to proclaim the resurrection and as they went to tell his disciples, Jesus met them along the way.  Jesus tells them again “go tell my brethren to go to Galilee and there they shall see me”.  We noted how Jesus calls the disciples his brethren.  He calls them brethren even after they have denied, rejected and fled from him in his time of trouble. 

Finally, the text describes how the priests attempt to cover up the resurrection of Jesus by bribing the guards to say his disciples stole the body while they slept.  We discussed the two different messages that left the tomb.  Boyd’s Commentary mentioned “The women with a message of hope and victory for the disciples, and the guards with a message of confusion and failure for the chief priests”.  Then the women go forth proclaiming the victory of Jesus.  He lives!  This week we pick up where we left off in Matthew and continue into Acts 1.  We explore the ideas of Call and Commissioning in Townsend Commentary and Boyd’s Commentary and Called to Make Disciples in Standard Commentary.  The Scripture text comes from Matthew 28:16-20 and Acts 1:6-8.

What Takes Place in This Passage: 


Verse 16 The text begins in Matthew exactly where it ended last week.  The resurrection of Jesus has just occurred and now the eleven disciples have gone away to Galilee.  The scene begins with Jesus now in Galilee after the resurrection.  Verse 17 tells us when they saw Jesus they worshipped him but some doubted.  After all they had heard, seen, and experienced some of the disciples still doubted.  I suppose that can be said of many people today.  After all God has done in and with and through, and for us, some still doubt. 

Verse 18 tells us Jesus spoke to them saying “all power (or all authority) in heaven and on earth has been given to me”.  Townsend Commentary explains this term from power or authority means “the power of influence and the right of privilege”.  In other words, Jesus has all the right, all the privilege, all the freedom and all the license to stand as God has given him victory over death.  After his announcement Jesus gives them instructions.  He begins by telling the disciples to go.  And let me just interject here that God is a sending God.  He tells the disciples to go.   But not just to go, but to go and teach.  The Savior, who was once called teacher, now sends his disciples to teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. 

This is the great commission.  This is the commission that Jesus gives the disciples and that commission applies to all who call the name of Jesus as their Savior. Townsend Commentary tells us that it is “after the death and resurrection of Jesus that the limitation of the Gospel to Israel is removed.  In other words, the good news is not just for Israel anymore.  The direct commission is given to take the message of Jesus to all nations.  Only Matthew records the command of Jesus for them to baptize”. 

It’s also interesting to note that entire denominations have been started based on whether people baptize in the name of the Holy Ghost.  Sometimes we can make mountains out of mole hills. Trinity   I also want to highlight the fact that verse 19 is one of the few places in scripture where we see mentioned the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost in the same place.  While you won’t find this term in the protestant Bible, the doctrine of the Trinity refers to these three distinct personalities as the same person.

Verse 20 closes with Jesus reassuring the disciples that “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”  That is perhaps the second greatest news of all time.  Knowing that Jesus is present with us in good times and not so good times helps us to bear the burdens and trials and tribulations of life. 

Our text then moves to Acts chapter one verse six.  In this scene the disciples are gathered together and they ask Jesus “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel”.  The disciples are envisioning Jesus on the throne much like King David reined on the throne about one thousand years earlier.

Jesus tells them in verse seven, “it is not for you to know the times or the dates the Father has set by his own authority”.  So Jesus plainly tells them you don’t need to know.  There are some things that we simply can’t know and some things we just don’t need to know.  There are some things that God is going to handle in God’s own good time. 

But Jesus doesn’t leave them there.  In verse eight he tells them “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.  And you will be witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.  Again, in the book of Acts we see Jesus is a sending God.  He sends his disciples into the entire world to become witnesses of who Jesus was and what Jesus means to the world.  Again, this is our mission today, to be witnesses for Jesus Christ in our everyday living. 

Context:

LTC Alexander with wife and mother

A few weeks ago I mentioned how a few decades ago several truly amazing young men and women and I were commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the United States Army.  We swore the oath of office to support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  That commissioning oath was our fundamental baseline purpose.  Everything we would do over the next years and decades would be tied to that oath.  The last time I took the oath of office was for my promotion to Lieutenant Colonel.  I’ve been retired over a decade now, but hearing the words of the oath still holds special meaning to me.  In today’s text, Jesus gives his great commission to the disciples.  He empowers them and he empowers us to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  This is our great commission and the words of the commission should hold special meaning to every Christian today. 

Key Characters in the text:

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

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

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

Trinity, Doctrine of the – The Christian church’s belief that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three Persons in one Godhead.  They share the same essence or substance.  Yet they are three “persons”.  God is this way within the Godhead and as known in Christian experience. 

The Great Commission – The command of Jesus to his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel, as recorded in Matthew 28:19-20.  While some scholars dispute its authenticity as being Jesus’ own utterance, the passage has served as a warrant for the church to spread the gospel and for Christian evangelism. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

  1. God is a sending God
  2. When God sends you, God is with you

Questions

1) Does the great commission apply to all Christians today?    

2) Some of the disciples doubted after Jesus appeared to them in Galilee.  Discuss why they might have doubted.         

Concluding thought:

The great commission is a charge to every Christian to make disciples.  One does not have to be a preacher to do this.  In fact, many fathers and mothers have discipled their children and children’s friends for Jesus Christ.  The points is, we all should go forth into our own communities and make disciples for Jesus.  It is our job to teach and train the words of Christ.  It is the Holy Spirits job to do the rest.         

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week we begin a four week study in the book of Romans.  Jesus has now been resurrected and he has given us the great commission.  Over the next four weeks we will explore the spread of the Gospel in relation to our own calling.  We will hear a very familiar passage in Romans 3 verse 23.  “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”.          

Christianity, religion, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (April 21, 2019) Called To Proclaim The Resurrection / Called To Believe The Resurrection Matthew 28:1-15

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and learners! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  In this week’s Lesson, two women rise early in the morning to see the tomb of Jesus.  They arrive at the tomb only to find an Angel who gives them what is perhaps the greatest news of all time

“He is not here: for he is risen, as he said”. 

Certainly these women had heard Jesus talk about his resurrection on the third day.  Perhaps Matthew is trying to tell us that:

1.  It is women who first acted on the belief of the resurrection.

2.  It was women who first saw the risen savior.

3.  It is women who first proclaim that Jesus was raised from the dead. 

After receiving instruction from the Angel to go tell the disciples, the women leave but meet Jesus on the way.  The first Easter morning is certainly an exciting one for these women, who first received the message to go and tell that the Savior is risen.  Stay tuned to learn how we are called to proclaim the Resurrection and called to believe the resurrection. 

Background: The Gospel According to Matthew: 

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible explains that “although the name Matthew is linked with this Gospel about 100 years after it was written, it is not known who the real author is, when the text was originally written, or why this work is named Matthew”.  An illustrated biographical dictionary explains that “although Mark is the shortest Gospel, Matthew and Luke substantially use the same text as Mark but supplement it with additional writings”.  In this 28th chapter, Matthew is writing to Jewish Christians after the fall of the Temple.  They need to be reassured of God’s plan for them.  They have been in conflict with their Jewish siblings about the teachings and divinity of Jesus.  The Jewish Temple is destroyed and they are a distinct people of God separate from the Jews with a completely separate mission.  Their mission is to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. “Matthew 28:19-20)”.  And that’s what Matthew does so well.  He takes a marginalized people, a people who are oppressed by the government and even their own brothers and sisters in the faith and he reassures them of God’s plan and points them toward a mission to save the world.

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

Last week we began with Jesus in Bethany about two miles from Jerusalem.  He was at the home of Simon the Leper when an unnamed woman anointed him with very expensive ointment for his burial.  His disciples are indignant that such expensive perfume has been used when it could have been sold and the money given to the poor.  While this was happening the Jewish leaders were plotting to kill Jesus.  Jesus once again has to plainly tell his disciples that he will be crucified and this act of love and devotion from the unnamed woman was because of his upcoming crucifixion.  Because of this unnamed woman’s great devotion and love, Jesus proclaims that she will be remembered wherever his story is told.  

On a separate note, last week was Holy Week for us.  Holy Week started Sunday, April 14, 2019 and ended Saturday, April 20, 2019. In Holy Week we celebrated Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  It is the last week in Lent, commemorating the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. It begins with Palm Sunday and ends on Holy Saturday, prior to Easter.  This week we continue with the theme of being called.  This week our call is to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus and believe the resurrection of Jesus in our day to day living.  Townsend and Boyd’s commentary title this week’s lesson Called To Proclaim The Resurrection.  Standard Commentary titles it Called to Believe The Resurrection.  The Scripture text comes from Matthew 28:1-15.

What takes place in this passage: 

This text begins with two women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, walking to see the sepulcher where Jesus was supposed to be.  Significant for many Christians is that this was the dawn of the first day of the week.  Many Christians worship on Sunday because of the numerous accounts of important events on the first day of the week.  Most important of which is the resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week.  I think it is also significant that women are the first to seek and to see Jesus.  Matthew records that the women came to “see”.  Mark records that the women brought spices to anoint the body of Jesus.  Certainly these women had heard Jesus talk about his resurrection on the third day.  Perhaps Matthew is trying to tell us that:

1.  It is women who first acted on the belief of the resurrection

2.  It was women who first saw the risen savior.

3.  It is women who first proclaim that Jesus was raised from the dead. 

There was a great earthquake, the earth shook.  And this is certainly earth shaking news.  The angle of the Lord rolls back the stone of the sepulcher and tells the women “Don’t be afraid; I know that you’re looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He’s not here; for he has been raised, as he said”.   Note that the Angle of the Lord ignores the guards and speaks directly to the women.  Mary Magdalene and the other Mary have arrived at the burial place of Jesus and find an angel instead of the body of Jesus.  And this angel of the Lord announces perhaps the greatest news of all time

“He is not here: for he is risen, as he said”.

Furthermore, the Angle of the Lord gives these women instructions for the disciples to follow.  The Angel tells them to “go quickly and tell the disciples that he is risen from the dead; he will meet you in Galilee”.  The women leave to proclaim the resurrection and as they went to tell his disciples, Jesus met them along the way.  They women hold him by the feet.  By holding his feet perhaps they are saying “we won’t lose you again”.  But Jesus reassures them by saying “don’t be afraid; go tell my brethren to go to Galilee and there they shall see me”.  This is twice now the women have been told about meeting in Galilee so it’s significance should not be overlooked.  Matthew 4:13 tells us Jesus made his home in Capernaum.  Capernaum is a part of Galilee and Jesus would go back to his home district to meet the disciples after his resurrection.  Note also that Jesus calls the disciples his brethren.  He calls them brethren even after they have denied, rejected and fled from him in his time of trouble. 

Finally, the text describes how the priests attempt to cover up the resurrection of Jesus by bribing the guards to say his disciples stole the body while they slept.  Boyd’s Commentary describes two groups leaving the tomb.  “The women have a message of hope and victory for the disciples, while the guards have a message of confusion and failure for the chief priests”.  The Roman Empire has crucified Jesus.  They thought they had solved their problem.  The Jewish religious leaders conspired and plotted to kill him.  They thought they had won.  Yet these women go forth proclaiming the victory of Jesus.  He lives!

Context:

I’m a witness.  A witness is “one who testifies of what is known to be true, especially in relation to the Christian gospel”.  Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were the first witnesses of the risen Savior.  We should be witnesses to the truth of God in each of our own lives.  As witnesses we should proclaim that truth also and then “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  The good news is that Jesus is with us.  He is risen and lives in and with us through the Holy Spirit.  The Angel of the Lord told the women to go and tell the disciples.  Our task today is to go and tell our neighbors, friends and acquaintances the good news of Jesus. 

Key Characters in the text:

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

Mary Magdalene – She is named in all four Gospels as a witness to the crucifixion of Jesus.  She accompanied Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem and is from Magdala, a town located on the Sea of Galilee.  She had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities.  Mary Magdalene stood by Jesus as he was dying on the cross, saw him buried, and came to the empty tomb. 

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

Crucifixion – Method of execution used by the Romans and to which Jesus Christ was subjected.  It was regarded as shameful and was extremely brutal.   

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. 

Gospel – The central message of the Christian church to the world, centered on God’s provision of salvation for the world in Jesus Christ.  Also Gospel, one of the first four books in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. 

Sepulcher – A term used in the KJV for graves or tombs.  Most prominently it denotes that of Joseph of Arimathea in which the body of Jesus was placed after the crucifixion and which was empty on Easter morning. 

Easter – The yearly Christian festival celebrating the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead three days after his crucifixion.  It is preceded by Good Friday.  Easter is the first Sunday following the full moon that occurs on or after March 21.  The date varies between March 22 and April 25.  Theologically it celebrates the victory of Christ over death and evil as well as Christian hope. 

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas: 

  1. Be a witness / I’m a witness
  2. Believe the women
  3. Go tell that

Questions: 

1) What does the significance of women as the first to see Jesus and proclaim his resurrection mean to you? 

2) Even after the disciples denied Jesus and fled from his crucifixion Jesus calls them his brethren.  Why?      

Concluding thought:

The resurrection of Jesus brings hope to a world that seems filled with evil.  When evil is present in the world we have hope that because Jesus arose; one day justice will arise also.   Even though our present challenges may be tough and even if obstacles may seem insurmountable, there is always hope in a resurrecting Jesus.       

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week we close this study of Matthew’s Gospel and move into The Acts of the Apostles.  Before moving into Acts we study the final pericope of the final chapter of Matthew with a focus on the call and commissioning of the disciples.   

Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (April 14, 2019) Called to Remember Matthew 26:1-3

An Unnamed Woman Anoints Jesus, the Disciples are Indignant

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and learners! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  In this week’s Lesson, Jesus is two miles from Jerusalem in Bethany.  He is at the house of Simon the leper when an unnamed woman appears and anoints him with some very expensive perfume.  In fact, it’s so expensive it costs about a year’s wages.  The gospel according to Matthew records how Jesus was anointed by an unnamed woman, the Jewish religious leaders plotting to kill Jesus, how the disciples are indignant at how this woman chose to bless Jesus and Jesus once again plainly telling his disciples that he will soon be crucified.  Stay tuned to see how the story unfolds and why it’s important to remember.    

Background: The Gospel according to Matthew: 

Matthew, also known as Levi the son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14) is a tax collector.  Tax collectors were despised by the Jews because they were seen as collaborators with the Roman Empire.  In today’s text we see Jesus associating with Simon the Leper.  Lepers were another category of shunned or rejected people that Jesus associated with.  Just as Matthew’s occupation didn’t matter to Jesus, neither did Simon’s illness.  Keep in mind that this text is written to Jewish Christians about 70 A.D. after the destruction of the Temple.  The New Interpreters Bible Commentary writes that Matthew’s Gospel is written in part to show “God has intervened to reassert the rightful rule of “the kingdom of heaven” and to impart its blessings to the covenant people of Israel, and ultimately to all nations.      

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

Last week we discussed the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  He had called his twelve disciples, given them a specific mission, and commissioned them as Apostles to go forth proclaiming the “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.  Jesus told them what to do and reminded them to depend on others.  In other words their mission was not about gaining anything for themselves but more so a dependence on the hospitality of those who would receive the message.  We discussed six important facts.  Those included the ideas of authority, the first appearance of all twelve disciples listed together, Who NOT to go to, what to say, dependence on others, and leave the negativity behind (kick the dust off).  This week we continue with the theme of being called.  However today does not mention a specific ministry.  Instead, it is a general call to action that everyone should participate in.  It is a call to remember; to remember the good deeds of others and hopefully it’s an encouragement for all of us to remember to do good deeds ourselves.  Townsend, Boyd’s, and Standard Commentary title this week’s lesson “Called to Remember”.  The Scripture text comes from Matthew 26:1-13.

What takes place in this passage: 

In this text, there are several sections that could be entire lessons.  I’ll briefly mention some of those ideas but focus on the idea of remembrance.  The text begins by saying “when Jesus had finished saying all these things”.  The things Jesus was saying was focused on Jesus’ end-times teachings in Matthew 24 and 25.  As Jesus talks to his disciples he reminds them that the feast of the Passover is approaching and He will be crucified in two days.  Note that he is called the Son of Man in verse 2.  Matthew’s Gospel then records how the chief priests and the scribes, and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest Caiaphas.  There they plotted to kill Jesus.  Which begs the question, why?  What did Jesus represent that warranted death?  Was it an ideology? Was it his real power?  Or was he a threat to their political power?  Note also that they plot to take Jesus secretly and kill him.  But they feared the crowds might riot.  The gospel writer then changes the scene to Bethany where Jesus is in the house of Simon the leper.  Bethany is about two miles from Jerusalem.  Note that lepers were made to live separately from uninfected people.  Yet, here Jesus is at the house of a leper only days before his crucifixion.  Perhaps Simon has been healed of leprosy.  But regardless of whether or not he had been healed it shows how Jesus treated people.  It didn’t matter to Jesus that Simon was a leper; he stayed with Simon in spite of and despite his leprosy.  In this lepers house an unnamed woman with very expensive perfume appears and anoints Jesus’ head.  The disciples were indignant because they saw this as wasteful.  The disciples thought it could have been sold and the money given to the poor.  Townsend Commentary writes the perfume “could easily represent a year’s wage for an unskilled laborer”.  So it was indeed expensive and could have done a lot of good.  In one way, this is to their credit.  It shows they were thinking about others and not just themselves.  When Jesus understood they were upset he explains “the poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me”.  I like the New Interpreters Study Bible commentary on this verse.  It explains that “Jesus’ statement does not mean the poor should not receive help.  Rather Jesus recognizes that poverty always accompanies imperial rule and will do so until God’s empire is established”.  After the unnamed woman anoints Jesus and the disciples complain about her good deed, Jesus then plainly tells them “she did it to prepare me for burial”.  I wonder if the woman already knew about his impending crucifixion.  I wonder if she understood the danger; if she understood who Caiaphas and those who were gathering to plot against Jesus was.  I wonder if she understood that danger better than the disciples.  This unnamed woman, at great expense, demonstrates her love for Jesus perhaps because she already knew better than the disciples what the next few days would entail.    

So let’s give the text some Context:

Maya Angelou wrote “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.  The unnamed woman in today’s text clearly had strong feelings for Jesus.  Somehow Jesus made her feel something that prompted her to spend a year’s wages on a single act of love and devotion.  Perhaps she remembered what Jesus did for her.  Perhaps she remembered what Jesus did for one of her loved ones.  At any rate she remembered.  She remembered Jesus and this was her attempt to recognize, acknowledge, and demonstrate her love to the Savior.  She remembered Jesus in a very special way and as a result, Jesus proclaimed that she too would be remembered.  It’s been said many times that only what you do for Christ will last.  So do it for Jesus.  You should remember others throughout the year but especially during Holy Week as we move toward Good Friday and then Easter or resurrection Sunday.  Remember others in special ways for Jesus.  And remember what others have done for you.  It may be time to jot a note or send an encouraging email or just call someone to say hello, I remembered you today.    

Key Characters in the text:

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

Son of Man – A Hebrew or Aramaic expression that may be a synonym for humankind (Ezek. 2:1; “mortal” in NRSV) or refer to an apocalyptic figure who will judge the righteous and unrighteous at the end time (Dan. 7:13-14, KJV).  It is also used as a title for Jesus (Mark 2:10; 8:38) in each sense. 

Simon the Leper – Some scholars propose this is the father of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary. 

The Unnamed Woman – Each of the gospels include this story of a woman who either washed the feet of Jesus or anointed him with expensive perfume.  In Matthew, Mark, and John it takes place in Bethany just days before the crucifixion of Jesus.  John identifies her as Mary of Bethany.  This takes place at the home she shared with her brother Lazarus, and her sister Martha. 

Caiaphas – As high priest, he presided over the first trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin Jewish court. 

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

Passover – The Jewish commemoration of the “passing over” of the angel of death prior to the exodus from Egypt (Ex 12:13, 23). The festival begins on the 14th day of Nisan and is eight days in duration. 

Passover, Christian – A term for Easter and the celebration of Christ’s victory over sin and death as the Jewish Passover had celebrated the exodus and liberation of Israel from slavery (See I Cor. 5:6-8). 

Palm Sunday – The Sunday prior to Easter, commemorating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to the shouts of “Hosanna” and the waving of palms (John 12:13).  It is the first day of the Holy Week.

Themes, topics, discussion, or sermon preparation ideas: 

  1. Remember Me
  2. When money doesn’t matter (see vss. 8, 9).
  3. An unnamed woman with a well-known purpose.
  4. When organized religion goes wrong (see vss. 3, 4) 

Questions

1) List ways we can honor the idea of remembering Jesus and others.

2) The unnamed woman spent a year’s wages in a single act of love and devotion to Jesus.  In what ways can we show our love and devotion to Jesus?    

Concluding thought:

As we approach Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week we should make effort to remember both what Jesus has done for us and what others have done for us.  Remembering how we have been blessed is a way to count our blessings.  Even though our challenges may be tough and even if obstacles may seem insurmountable, there is always hope in a resurrecting Jesus.  Although Jesus faces crucifixion on Friday, he arises with all power on Sunday.   

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week Matthew’s Gospel will tell us of the events immediately following the burial of Jesus.  Two women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary will go to the burial place of Jesus only to find an angel instead of the body of Jesus.  The angel announces perhaps the greatest news of all time – “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said”.  The women leave to proclaim the resurrection and this same proclamation is ours today.