Following our study of 1 Corinthians entitled “The Foolishness of God,” we now move to 2 Corinthians. A great deal has happened between these two letters to the church in Corinth. Paul’s ‘painful visit’ followed by his ‘sorrowful letter’ (cf., 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:4). The following overview of 2 Corinthians from The Bible Project summarizes those events that moved Paul to compose this final letter.
Last week we concluded the BEING section of Paul’s philosophy of ministry to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 2:14-3:18). We are the aroma of Christ (2:14-17). We are ministers of the new Covenant (3:1-11). We are being transformed into the image of Christ (3:12-18).
Now we address the HAVING part of our ministry in 2 Corinthians 4. We have this ministry by the mercy of God (4:1-6). We have this treasure in earthen vessels (4:7-12). We have the same Spirit of faith (4:13-18). This entire chapter is sandwiched by the statement, “We do not lose hope” (vss. 1 & 16). The reason we are able to live our lives with hope, no matter what we face, is not because of our ingenuity or intelligence or special talents. Our hope lies in the fact that God has taken up residence in our “earthen vessels” which I often describe as ‘cracked pots.’ God allows us to show His surpassing power to call attention to Him; not to us!
In this week’s lesson we focus upon the third aspect of BEING that to which God is bringing about in our lives. As we go about spreading the aroma of Christ through the ministry of the Spirit, God calls us to be transformed into the image of Christ (3:12-18). In this process, it is the Lord Himself who is transforming us from ‘one degree of glory to another’ as we gaze at Christ.
Who we are, what we do and who we are becoming are all under the care of God, Jesus Christ and The Holy Spirit.
In 2 Corinthians 2:14-6:2 Paul gives us his philosophy of ministry as he and his co-workers spread the gospel wherever they go. In last Sunday’s lesson, Paul instructs us in how we, too, accept the Lord’s challenge to be the aroma of Christ in all we do and say. For those who are receptive to the gospel message, Paul says we are “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved.” To those who reject Jesus’ invitation, however, the aroma has the stench of death (2 Cor. 2:15-16). To amplify this message, Paul notes the glory of God’s message through the temporary covenant law of condemnation and how it pointed towards the permanent glory of Christ. It is a ‘ministry of righteousness’ (2 Cor. 3:9).
For Paul, the proof of the superiority of the gospel is found in the ministry of the Spirit in their lives. It is God who has written the gospel message upon the hearts of the Corinthians. As ‘ministers of the new covenant,’ the glory of the gospel from God surpasses the glory of the old covenant and is permanent.
Paul spends the opening chapters of his letter to the church in Corinth (1:1-2:13) talking about his personal itinerary and how God’s promises sustained him against life-threatening odds.
At the end of chapter 2, however, Paul moves from the personal to address his philosophy of ministry beginning in 2 Cor. 2:14 and concluding in 2 Cor. 6:2. In this section of Paul’s letter we gain insights into his approach to mission work and, by his example, we learn how to think of our own, personal philosophies of ministry to the world around us. Lord willing, in the section we are studying we focus upon what we are called to be: i.e., the aroma of Christ.
Paul concludes this section by addressing how we are being ‘transformed’ into the image of Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit. We carry Christ’s presence with us wherever we go, with whomever we meet as we gaze into the glory of Christ, spreading his aroma as we transform into His image “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).
Lord willing, as we dig into 2 Corinthians, we will quickly review the lesson from two weeks ago and sharpen our focus upon Paul’s underlying message in chapters 1-2. That key message is that no matter what challenges Paul receives from his critics, the verification of his apostleship is in Christ. For, in Christ, all of God’s promises are “Yes!” (2 Cor. 1:20).
Furthermore, the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives as God’s down payment, “guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor. 1:22) verifies the truth of Paul’s life and message. Paul is not like those charlatans who say “Yes” to please their audience, when in fact their true message is “No!” With Paul, what you see is what you get and a good part of this final letter of Paul to Corinth will be focusing upon this truth as verification of his ministry to the world.
As we study his ministry in this letter, we will be able to draw important lessons in our own individual ministries in our families, among our friends and to the world around us.
With the closing of 1 Corinthians 16, Paul lays out his travel plans which includes a return visit to Corinth. However, his plans would change and the situation in Corinth would go through some significant challenges. By the time Paul writes 2 Corinthians the dust has finally settled and Paul brings healing and hope to strengthen the church.
Contrasts Between God’s People and The World Around Them
New Series Began Sunday, September 11, 2022.
Just like in first century Corinth, so Christians today face sharp contrasts between the world’s morals and values and those to which Christ calls us. At the beginning of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he makes it clear: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25, ESV).
Please Note: Several of our services were not able to connect online. This explains the gaps between posts below.
In this final chapter 16 of 1 Corinthians Paul takes care of business, anticipating a visit to Corinth to spend some time with the saints there. What a great way to let them know that he is very interested in how they are doing and that he intends to follow up to monitor their progress. When he arrives he plans to collect funds from them to support the church in Jerusalem which is still under persecution and enduring a famine. So, he begins by asking them to prepare for his visit by making collections regularly, even weekly, when they come together for worship.
We are approaching the final chapter of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. Lord willing, we will address 1 Corinthians 16 on the final Sunday of this month.
This coming Sunday, Dean intends take a moment to review and summarize our journey. So many of the lessons taught in this book are relevant to our own struggles in our world today. Lord willing, this Sunday we will review those lessons together and apply them to the lives of Christians in 21st century America.
At 58 verses, 1 Corinthians 15 is the longest chapter in this great book. Apparently, there were people among the brothers and sisters of Corinth stating that there is no such thing as a resurrection! This dramatic chapter is the apex of Paul’s correspondence as prepares to close his letter.
If there is one thing the Corinthians must understand, it is that Jesus rose from the dead. It is at the heart of the Gospel story and it is the centerpiece of our faith. It is our pillar of hope that leads us through times of suffering and loss.
Paul spends a lot of time here because without this one reality, our faith is worthless and we are to be among the most pitied in the world (1 Corinthians 15:19).
God gives the gifts of the Spirit to members of Christ’s church as He wills (1 Corinthians 12). But, if those gifts are exercised without love, they have no value (1 Corinthians 13).
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul shows us how love infuses the use of those gifts to accomplish specific objectives. First, the use of tongues is primarily used by individuals to commune with God (verses 2, 4) and to speak to the hearts of unbelievers (verse 22). Unless someone is present to interpret what is being said, they are not appropriate in a public gathering (verse 13).
Secondly, the ability to prophesy serves three purposes that all involve the entire church: to strengthen others by educating them about God’s word, to encourage others in their walk with Christ and to comfort those who are suffering or struggling (verse 3). This is why Paul places the greatest value on the gift of prophecy (verse 5).
Building up the body of Christ is among the most important tasks of God’s love, working among His people.
With all of the problems and challenges with which the church in Corinth was dealing, Paul’s admonition to love is more than an afterthought. It breaks right into the middle of the discussion of spiritual gifts to underline Paul’s point.
Following Christ is not about the things we do to distinguish ourselves from each other, elevating the importance of one gift over another. It is about the cross of Christ as the ultimate expression of God’s love and the transforming power it provides for those who exhibit those gifts. Remove the principle of love and those gifts become meaningless and, in fact, work against the very core of the gospel: God’s love expressed through His Son, Jesus Christ!
As we prepare for the Christmas Holidays we marvel at the miracle of the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior of mankind. Had it not been for God the Son, choosing to release His place in the glorified presence of His Father, God, to take on the form of a man, we would still be without hope and without God in the world. Dean Wolf will be presenting a lesson this Sunday celebrating the coming of the One Who was from the beginning to dwell among us (John 1:1-18), perfect in every way: fully God and fully human.
In Philippians 2, Paul encourages each of us to strive to have the same attitude of Christ as a humble servant, faithful to the very end, so that we, too, can share in the glory that was revealed in Christ’s example.
Every person who has been baptized into the body of Christ has been given the same Holy Spirit. Furthermore, through the Holy Spirit, God has gifted each member of the body of Christ by His Sovereign Choice. Paul tells us that “…in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” All of us! No one is excluded. No one!
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In 1 Corinthians 11 the apostle Paul addresses two issues that help distinguish the Corinthian Christians from the cultures out of which they came and in which they continue to live. The ‘traditions’ he implemented among them at the beginning have now become more a reflection of Corinthian culture than the Lord’s church.
The first issue relates to head coverings of husbands and wives when the church comes together to worship in contrast to their Corinthian practices during idol worship. The second issue concerns class divisions during the common love feasts of the congregation.
More specifically, Paul insists that whenever the church comes together to celebrate the Lord’s supper, all social class distinctions become irrelevant. The distinction between the rich and the poor in the Corinthian culture have no place among God’s people.
All believers have a place at the Lord’s Table!
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In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul was concerned about those Christians who were offended by the eating of meats that had been sacrificed to idols. Paul protects the conscience of the ‘weaker’ Christians by encouraging the ‘stronger’ to be thoughtful about their influence. Why let meat or drink influence others to go against their conscience? It simply is not that important.
However, here in chapter 10, Paul takes a very different stance against those who are actually entering the pagan temples. Once they join the feasts and frenzied celebrations in front of idols, they open themselves to the temptations of demons, to sexual immorality and more. Paul states clearly, “I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Corinthians 10:20-21).
There are places in this world where Christians do not belong. “Flee from idolatry,” Paul exclaims (verse 14).
While he was in Corinth Paul supported himself as a tentmaker (Acts 18:1-3). Referring back to that time, Paul now shares with the Corinthians in chapter 9 that he intentionally supported himself while he preached the gospel there in Corinth. As an apostle, he could have insisted upon their financial support. He had that right! Nonetheless, he chose not to accept their money so that he could preach freely without anyone suggesting that he had a profit motive.
This one decision set him apart as someone with an important message that needed to be heard. This was because, in the end, he wanted to serve people in hopes of winning them for Christ so that they, too, could share in the Lord’s blessings.
Not Available: Facebook Live Post – Sunday November 13, 2022
Dean Wolf will be presenting this morning addressing caring for new Christians whose consciences are sensitive to eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols. For the more mature Christians, they know that meat is meat, no matter where it has been cooked. But those weaker believers whose consciences are sensitive as they learn how to discern between the world from which they have come and the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
If there is a risk that one weak Christian will question their own conscience, Paul says, I’ll never eat meat again! Our faith is all about helping each other through life to remain faithful to the end.
In 1 Corinthians 5 and 6 Paul condemns sexual immorality outside of marriage by upholding the commandments of the Law. Those who are sexually active outside of the boundaries of marriage “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:10).
In chapter 7, however, Paul sharpens the focus upon those Christians who are married, single, engaged, widowed and divorced to help them grasp Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels in the context of their own experience, their culture and the times (see Matthew 5:31-32, 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:17-18). The overriding principle Paul promotes is found in the heart of this chapter: “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches” and “So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God” (1 Cor. 7:17, 24).
The church in Corinth was in trouble. While undermining the authority of Paul’s apostleship (1 Cor. 4), condoning the sexual immorality of a brother (1 Cor. 5) and removing the boundaries for moral behavior (1 Cor. 6:12-20), brothers were taking brothers to court in the public square (1 Cor. 6:1-8).
In the process of his analysis of what is happening in the church in Corinth, Paul clearly makes a distinction between the community from which the church has come and brothers and sisters that are members of the church. There is a different standard that must be applied to God’s people as they begin transforming into faithful followers of Christ. Their calling lifts them up from the condemned corruption of the world around them and brings them into God’s moral code of behavior through the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 4 Paul takes those to task who would question his authority as an apostle of Jesus Christ. When a person questions the authority of God’s messenger, as they did with Jesus, that person is challenging the very sovereignty of God.
This is not a good place to be. This is because once you jettison God for your guiding principles, you become your own judge of what is right and wrong, eating from the tree of knowledge. The path that follows is very predictable as we see in 1 Corinthians 5:1-8 where what God has forbidden is embraced and welcomed. Today’s lesson will require some uncomfortable passages in God’s word in Genesis 1:27 and 2:24-25, Leviticus 18 and 20 and Deuteronomy 22. Better to listen to God by eating of the tree of life!
In 1 Corinthians 1-3, Paul addresses the divisiveness that it troubling the church as people gravitated to their favorites. The challenge is that elevating one person or group of people over others is wrong among God’s people. Paul’s encouragement is to keep Jesus at the center of their lives.
In chapter 4, however, Paul moves to address those Christians who have started questioning his authority as Christ’s apostle. This must be resolved before he begins to address the list of problems that have emerged in a church that is striving to live for Christ in sharp contrast to the lifestyles of the cosmopolitan world around them.
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It is becoming increasingly obvious that we are presently in a time of cultural transition and change at a level we have never experienced before. Just as Paul was being challenged in the community of ancient Corinth, so, also he endured challenges to his authority from within the very churches that he had personally planted (see 1 Corinthians 4, next week). How does this happen and how should followers of Christ proceed when the culture around them is in such sharp contrast to their faith?
Not Available: Facebook Live Post – Sunday, October 2, 2022
How do God’s people deal with the diversity of the body of Christ? In the world, what people think and believe often serves to divide and separate, inspiring conflict over differences of opinion. This can be true in the church of Christ as well. So, we must be vigilant keep our focus upon Christ. As Paul says, “21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23, ESV).
Among us believers in Christ there is a supernatural connection between God, His Holy Spirit and our spirits. The wisdom that this connection inspires does not make sense to the non-believer until they come to know and to believe in the Lord of all creation, Jesus Christ.
After spending a year and a half evangelizing Corinth, Paul moves on to take the gospel to other parts of Asia Minor. Towards the end of three years later in Ephesus he receives news of trouble in the church in Corinth. The new Christians there are struggling with whom to believe: the apostle Paul himself or those who are trying to bring the church into mainstream Corinthian society. Now, as then, this is the real challenge of the church.
We begin setting the stage for Corinth in order to apply Paul’s teaching to our own struggles today.
Studies in the Prophets Who Still Speak to Today’s World
For many, prophet means fortune-teller. For the prophets of the Bible, this was only a part of their task. In fact, perhaps a better title would be truth-tellers.
Truth about the past, truth about the present and truth about what is yet to come. Truth anchored in the coming new kingdom that is to be ushered in by Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Truth is all about the absolutes of a universe governed by The Creator and the way He leads us to live our lives. We discover His truths by observing His creation, learning from His Scriptures and living out His moral principles in our daily lives.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
This series began Sunday, April 24, 2022. Our objective is to challenge each other to read the books of the prophets and to hear their message to us, today, in the light of the cross (2 Peter 3:1-2, ESV).
Today we conclude our study of the prophets of Israel and Judah with Malachi. Among the final Old Testament prophetic writers, Micah is addressing people who have been going through the motions but have lost their zeal for the Lord. The book answers a series of cynical questions for Malachi that the people have been contemplating and God addresses them one by one.
1) Where is any evidence that God really loves us?
2) What do you mean, Malachi, when you accuse us of despising God’s name?
3) How have we defiled the Lord?
4) How have we wearied the Lord?
5) What do you mean when you tell us to return to the Lord?
6) What do you mean when you say we have been robbing God?
7) What do you mean we have spoken against God?
Familiar strains to the Christian community almost 2000 years later. When the time is right God fulfilled his promise in Malachi to send His Messenger to prepare the way for the Lord, Jesus Christ!
The book of Zechariah contains more prophecies about the life and work of Jesus than any other of the minor prophets, combined. It is no wonder that there are so many references to this book in the New Testament Gospels and letters of John, Paul and Peter.
Written over 400 years before the time of Jesus, this book is a grand witness to Jesus, Who said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). This will be our focus this morning.
The Jews had heard the warnings of Jeremiah at the beginning of their 70-year exile to Babylon. They tolerated the preaching and visions of Ezekiel while they were there as Daniel served in the king’s court in Babylon. Eventually, the Persian Empire enveloped Babylon and was ruled by Cyrus who would give permission to the Jews to return to Jerusalem.
Years later, Ezra would come to Jerusalem to restore the priesthood, and its sacrifices and offerings. However, the forces working against the reconstruction of the temple and its sacrificial system were working in the background throughout the Jewish return to their homeland.
Soon afterwards, Haggai came to Jerusalem to encourage the residents to resume the rebuilding the temple. It was time to get to work.
God’s judgement of His people had begun with the first invasion of Jerusalem by Babylon. In the end Jerusalem would be completely destroyed. While the Jews were in exile God appears to Ezekiel to commission him to speak directly to His people: “Your job is to speak to them. Whether they listen is not your concern,” (Ezekiel 2:7, MSG) What a job description!
Coupled with his message, however, is his promise of a day when He will remove their hearts of stone with hearts of flesh that will yearn for God (Ezekiel 36:26). Welcome to God’s promises to His people realized through His Son, Jesus Christ!
Complaining to God about the moral decay of God’s chosen people, Habakkuk has a debate with God that is timely for us today. His answer stands at the center point of the history of mankind, on a cross and in an empty tomb.
Paul tells us that this is “foolishness to those who are perishing,” (1 Corinthians 1:18, NIV). But, to those who put their faith and trust in Christ, who choose to obey Him as Lord of their lives, God’s answer becomes real even when the world around them is collapsing.
Trusting in God was Habakkuk’s conclusion, even though he was mystified by God’s methods. Even as he hears the hoofbeats of the invading Babylonian army and his legs become weak, he closes his book with these words: “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:19).
By every modern understanding of fame and success, Jeremiah was a miserable failure. Yet, he was faithful to his calling in the midst of a people who had lost their way. Meanwhile, God was preparing the Babylonian kingdom to completely destroy Jerusalem and carry off the Jews to Babylon for 70 years.
It is in the midst of total devastation that Jeremiah speaks about the New Covenant God will keep with His people.
The Northern Kingdom of Israel was gone. Assyria had conquered most of the Southern Kingdom of Judah until the angel of the Lord slayed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers (see 2 Kings 19 and 2 Chronicles 32). This happened during the reign of Hezekiah.
Unfortunately, this had not stemmed the tide of idol worship until the time of Josiah, Hezekiah’s great grandson (2 Kings 22-23 and 2 Chronicles 34-35). While Josiah’s reforms had been significant, they were not enough to stay God’s hand of judgement. Zephaniah’s message announced both God’s judgement as well as God’s promise of hope during a very dark time in Judah as the ruthless Babylonians began to rise in power.
At this time in the history of the Jewish people they had forgotten or ignored God’s exclusive claim upon them (see Exodus 20:1-7). Now they saw God as one among many other deities necessitating the unleashing of their holy God’s judgement and wrath.
Zephaniah makes it clear that God is weighing all nations by His Own Divine Sovereignty. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when He asked the question, “…when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).
Time is up for the northern kingdom of Israel. Judgement Day is coming and there will be no turning back.
Living in a time of great prosperity and wealth, the nations of Israel and Judah had become arrogant, believing that their good fortune was because of who they were.
The problem was that they forgot that they were who they were because of God’s sovereign choice, not their genetic heritage. God being sovereign means just as He can choose to bless a nation, so also He can destroy a nation. Israel had come to a point of total devastation and Judah was not far behind. Hosea’s story makes God’s sorrow over His decision more human and real to us as it should have to the people then.
While Amos is primarily focused upon God’s judgement upon both the northern (Israel) and southern (Judah) kingdoms of the Jews, God’s perspective is much broader. This is also addressed in Amos’s prophetic preaching and writings.
Whether or not a nation is made up of God’s chosen people, God discerns when a country arrives at a point of moral failure from which it cannot recover. Indeed, all of the nations of the middle-eastern region surrounding Israel and Judah have achieved moral bankruptcy and are on God’s chopping block. A repeating refrain, “Because of the three great sins of _____________ —make that four—….” Amos drives home the point that the time is up on God’s calendar. “Prepare to meet your God,” Amos says to Israel.
Joel details how God’s people had undergone a horrible plague of locusts that had devoured everything in sight. For most people this is a terrible event of starvation, death and destruction that leads everyone to wonder about the cause. Climatologists analyze the weather conditions. Entomologists analyze the life-cycles of the locust. Agriculturalists study the produce to discern any correlations between food crops and insect infestation. For the followers of God, however, they recognize such catastrophic events as opportunities for remembering our absolute and total dependence upon God for everything we are, all that we have and everything that we do.
Devastation is an opportunity to return to our God, to recognize our brokenness before Him and to realign our lives with His glory and grace. For all people everywhere, at all times it is always appropriate to repent. This was the message of John the Baptist. Jesus began His ministry proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). When the disciples announced the coming of the kingdom to the crowds of Pentecost, Peter answered the people’s question, “What are we to do?” saying “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” in Acts 2:38.
Worried about the events that are transpiring in our world today? There is one thing that all can do anytime, anywhere: repent!
God’s plans will not be detoured, changed or canceled by man. Knowing of the open hearts of the Ninevites in Assyria, God commissioned Jonah to preach about the need to repent and turn to God before it is too late.
Obadiah was among the earliest of the writing prophets and his book is the smallest of the Old Testament. The descendants of Esau were known as the Edomites and their history with the descendants of his brother, Jacob, were never good. For example, see Numbers 20:14-21.
Years later, Obadiah has one message for Edom: “You thought you were so great, perched high among the rocks, king of the mountain, thinking to yourself, ‘Nobody can get to me! Nobody can touch me!’ Think again. Even if, like an eagle, you hang out on a high cliff-face, even if you build your nest in the stars, I’ll bring you down to earth.” God’s sure Word.” (Obadiah 2-4, MSG).
For those who think they are invincible, rejoicing at the calamity of others, God promises Edom and the nations at large, ““The day is near when I, the Lord, will judge all godless nations!” (Obadiah 15, MSG).
Justice is coming, Jesus promised (Luke 18:7-8). These words of warning are good for all who take comfort in their ‘secure’ place in the world. Our security is not in this world’s kingdoms. Our security is in God and His purposes!
The book of Isaiah stretches over the longest period of time in the prophets. The first half of Isaiah (chapters 1-39) address both Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom) punctuated in the middle by the Exile. The Exile was the time when Jerusalem was destroyed and Judah’s captives were taken to Babylon for 70 years before their return.
The second half of Isaiah (chapters 40-66) picks up the story of Judah after the Exile and points to the time of Jesus to the end of time. Our focus will be on the moral and ethical teaching Isaiah gave to Israel and Judah in order to make application of his teachings to us, today. Our primary focus will be on a grand summary of God’s message in Isaiah 58-59 using the Message translation.
Speaking for God to a world that had lost its way, the prophets have striven to convict people of their need to return to the light of God’s love before it is too late. The prophets would convict people of their sin and call them to repentance.
At the same time they would shine a light of hope upon a new age through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Frequently, Jesus and His apostles would refer to the writings of Moses, the Law and the prophets to explain the advent of the Kingdom of God. A common theme to which God has always called His people to is to be a light to the people around them (Isaiah 42:6). Today, we call His command, The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
Join our Shepherd, Dean Wolf, as he guides us into a Bible study of the people who were transformed because they knew Jesus. Lord willing, our study will begin on Sunday, April 3 and continue through Easter Sunday, April 17.
So far, Dean has focused upon how Jesus transformed the great men of faith: the apostles Peter and Paul. This Easter Sunday, Dean will conclude this series to bring home for us God’s plan to transform all who gaze upon His Son with humble, obedient faith.
As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”
Wherever Jesus went, people had to make decisions about Him. Refusing to believe in His divine nature, most people presumed him to be an everyday human. So, as a regular person, they concluded that He was a liar, making stuff up to deceive His followers. Others thought He was a lunatic who saw Himself as a legend in His own mind. However, for those who believed in Jesus as fully divine and fully Human they could not remain the same; they became transformed.
The Apostle Paul was one of those who was not only transformed himself by an encounter with Jesus; but, he taught others that they, too, could be transformed. This principle is true today, as well. Whomever comes to know Jesus cannot remain the same as they were; they begin the process of transformation into His image.
Jesus transforms people into His image when they couple their faith in Him with obedience. This is a process of growth and maturation as can be seen by men like Peter and Paul who changed over time as they walked with Christ with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Their transformation was a process that began with Jesus’ promise of eternal life.
Dean Wolf will be leading us through this study over the next few weeks, concluding on Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022. This lesson focuses upon Peter. The next lesson will look at the life of the apostle Paul.
In the first verse of 1 Peter chapter 1, Peter begins with the greeting: “To those who are elect exiles….” For Christians who may lose their home, their family or their very lives for the sake of Christ it is best to live according to the reality that ‘this world is not my home, I’m just passing through.”
In the end, when Jesus returns to bring everyone before God’s judgement there will be a great many things that will no longer matter to us. Our cars and houses, our jobs and paychecks, our schedules and our plans…none of these things will matter anymore.
In the end, what will really matter? Perhaps Peter’s final words in his final letter can instruct us.
Are you growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”? How horrifying it would be to hear Him say, “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:22-23).
Know Jesus! There is nothing in this world that is more important than this.
In Peter’s first letter his focus is on strengthening the faith of those followers of Christ who have already begun to suffer persecution from their governments and neighbors. They must stand strong in their faith in the face of losing their possessions, their health and freedoms and, even, their very lives.
When Peter writes his second letter his focus is upon those within the fellowship of Christians who are taking advantage of the love and trust that they share for each other. Lord willing, our lesson will begin by summarizing the internal threats to the early church in 2 Peter chapter 2 in order to sharpen our focus upon chapters 1 and, next Sunday, chapter 3. It is in these chapters (1 and 3) that Peter’s encouraging words about the certainty of our faith are expressed with majestic confidence and assurance.
In troubled times, being certain of the promises of God through His word, Peter’s words offer confirmation of our belief in Christ and hope for the future beyond the grave as he points to a new heaven and a new earth “where righteousness dwells.”
The Apostle Peter encourages the elders of the churches in Asia minor as ‘a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ.” He tells them to shepherd the flock of God willingly and eagerly, being examples to their people. These leaders, who have been shaped by the suffering example of Christ, guide their younger members to humbly listen to them.
The quality of humility is the universal attitude that is to characterize God’s people; humility towards God and towards one another.
After warning his audience that “The end of all things is at hand,” Peter talks to a persecuted church about rejoicing when sharing in Christ’s sufferings.
When happiness is a person’s goal in life this phrase makes no sense. Living for the present moment we want to do things that make us happy. So, rejoicing in times of suffering sounds insane!
The radical difference is found in Christ and in Christ alone. In Christ, suffering has meaning and purpose! So, Peter says, be prepared to make a defense of why you are joyful in the midst of suffering. Our suffering, like Christ’s suffering, is God’s megaphone to the world!
Peter begins his letter by affirming those known as “the elect exiles of the dispersion…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.” Christians are living examples of the unfolding of God’s plan, foreseen by the prophets and guaranteed by the very blood of Jesus Christ.
With chapter 2 Peter turns to those Christ followers to ‘grow up into salvation’ as living stones of God’s spiritual house; priests who are called to be holy. As such, they are called to live consistently with their calling in regard to 1) human institutions and the emperor, 2) slaves their masters, 3) wives and their husbands, and 4) brothers and sisters in Christ as they address each other and their persecutors.
Why? “Because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer.”
Peter’s teachings were likely the primary source for Mark’s gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Written to a persecuted church, therefore, Mark’s account lends itself to examine the apostle Peter’s writings towards the end of his life, known today in our Bibles as first and second Peter. After concluding our study of the gospel of Mark with the abrupt ending of Mark 16:8 we are left with the question, “Do you believe?” If, indeed, Mark was writing to a persecuted church then this urgent plea insists upon an answer because it will be severely tested very soon under Emperor Nero’s reign.
It was during this time that Peter was likely executed as Jesus had been, by crucifixion. So, Peter’s letters take on special significance for encouraging us all to stand strong in our living hope in Christ.
This is especially true after considering Dean’s summary of Peter’s role while he was with Christ and, as Peter approached the end of his own life, as he appealed to those early Christians to prepare for persecution for their faith.
Preparing for our study in First and Second Peter, we are reminded of the importance of living out our Christian lives every day. This is especially true when our faith is challenged, even to the point of being persecuted.
Dean summarizes Peter’s role while he was with Christ. As Peter approached the end of his own life, as he appealed to those early Christians to prepare for persecution for their faith. His encouragements and example speak to us today as we strive to stand strong in the Lord Jesus Christ.
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In keeping with our primary objective “to lift up Jesus Christ” we will walk through The Gospel of Mark beginning Sunday, September 12, 2021.
The opening sentence of Mark’s account is a bold announcement. It proclaims to be “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1, ESV).
The word “gospel” is literally translated as “good news.” The name “Jesus” was a common Jewish name in the first century.
However, the name “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew title, “Messiah” or “Anointed One.” He is, Mark declares, “the Son of God.” Indeed, a voice from heaven will announce this in Mark 1:11.
With this, the first words of Jesus appear only a few sentences later. He says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15, ESV). Therein lies the challenge to the reader: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, The Son of God? The pages that follow will challenge us to personally answer this question, right up to the final paragraph.
Consider the following introduction to the book of Mark by The Bible Project. Lord willing, below, we will post our sermon series as each week’s lesson unfolds.
As we read through the gospel of Mark we perceive the crescendo of the gathering storm around Jesus and His disciples.
Throughout Mark’s account we see a Jesus who moves into the lives of people with authority, assurance and compassion for those who are hungry for truth, who are sick and broken and who are possessed by demons. Whether it is in the storm on the Sea of Galilee or standing in front of the poisonous stares of the religious rulers, Jesus commands authority, love, respect and so much more. “Let the Scriptures be fulfilled,” Jesus says to the mob that followed Judas to the Mount of Olives (14:49).
With our reading today, Jesus humbly, obediently, drinks the cup of suffering that he has been predicting all along. When we finally reach chapters 15 and 16, the story of Jesus reaches its climax with a cross and an empty tomb and a simple question: do you believe? And so, every time we gather to break the bread and drink the cup we cry out from our hearts, “We Believe! Thank You, Jesus!” This will be the focus of our lesson today.
Jesus had repeatedly predicted the passion events that would begin to unfold on the eve of the Passover meal. He was prepared for Peter’s denial, for Judas’s betrayal, for the desertion of all of His disciples, for His suffering at the hands of their own religious rulers, knowing that Peter would spend the night weeping over His denial of Jesus, Himself.
Knowing His fate, Jesus broke bread with Peter, Judas and His disciples with love and compassion, He spoke to His betrayer with pity, He spoke honestly to Peter, he addressed his disciples with hope and promise, He spoke to His Father with meek submission. Reaching out to His sleeping friends He gave them warning while understanding their exhaustion. Confronted by the religious rulers He spoke clearly with kingly authority, meaning and purpose. The chapter closes with Peter, a shattered man confronted by his own failure.
Each person Jesus encountered had their own cup of suffering, challenge and opportunity…and they all failed. In the end there was only One who would obediently, faithfully, drink His cup completely and stand victorious! Praise God! Thank You Jesus!
At least three times Jesus predicted His impending death, burial and resurrection to His disciples (Mark 8:31; 9:30-31; 10:33-34). Each time they failed to understand and respond appropriately: Peter rebukes Jesus, the disciples are afraid to ask Him about it and James and John ask if they can sit on His right and left hand.
Finally, Mark brings us to two days before the Jewish celebration of Passover. After telling us of the religious rulers who were seeking to kill Jesus, Mark finally introduces us to a woman who had listened to what Jesus said, believed Him and took appropriate action. As Jesus is reclining for a meal with friends, a woman approaches Him with a bottle of expensive perfume known as nard. Imported from India, nard was a favorite oily, expensive perfume that was sealed in containers opened only for special occasions.
As she breaks open the vessel and pours the perfume onto His head, Jesus tells everyone, “She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial” (Mark 14:8).
I wonder, if, every once in a while—perhaps when the crown of thorns was placed upon His head or the whip was raked across His back or as He struggled for breath on the cross—He would smell the aroma left behind by the woman who did what she could for Him…and smile. Smile, yes, for her; but, also for His covenant people who would hear His words, believe in Him, and gather to remember His sacrifice for them.
Dean Wolf brings today’s lesson about Mark 13. This is perhaps one of the most challenging chapters in Mark’s gospel account.
In this chapter Jesus refers to the total destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple that would occur in 70 A.D. (Mark 13:1-2). Jesus also refers His second coming at the end of the age (Mark 13:26-27, 31-37).
There are parts of the chapter, however, that are difficult to distinguish between one or the other. Over almost 2,000 years of analysis of this chapter there are a number of interpretations that have been offered. So many people have been drawn into the ongoing debate, some actually predicting Jesus’ second coming in spite of His warning that “…no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows” (Mark 13:32).
This obsession holds the potential of casting a shadow over the saving message of Jesus, Himself!
With all of this, then, what is to be our focus when it comes to Jesus’ return?
The attacks of the religious rulers are growing as, at the same time, the crowds are now gladly listening to Jesus’ teachings, marveling (Mark 12:17, 37). Paying taxes, the resurrection, the greatest commandments, paying lip-service to the law, and sacrificial giving are the major themes of our focus today.
To a persecuted church where Christians would lose their property, their financial and physical security and even their very lives, Jesus speaks to truths that go beyond the things that we worry most about. We all understand when Jesus says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”
The question is, what things must we render to God that are God’s?
Even the crowds had recognized Jesus as the Messiah when he first entered Jerusalem at the beginning of the week of His passion (Mark 11:1-11). The crowds were “astonished at His teaching” after He had cleansed the temple.
For believers, these things were exactly what the Old Testament Scriptures had foretold, anchored in Jesus’ authority as the Son of God. Nonetheless, the next day, when Jesus arrived at the temple with His disciples, the religious rulers were waiting for Him. They were ready to challenge His authority to do such things. Jesus could have engaged them in conversation, reciting the scriptures once again to validate His righteous right to clean His house; but, these men were too blinded by their own prejudices and fear of the crowds.
And so, Jesus throws their own question back at them, forcing them to examine their own lack of faith and sinister schemes. The shadow of Jesus’ cross shortens to only a matter of a few more days as He condemns their plans with a parable (Mark 12:1-12).
As we each anticipate another Easter celebration, may we all spend this time examining our own hearts, stripping away our own prejudices and fears, to rejoice in the authority of Christ over our own lives.
The incident with the fig tree comes on the heels of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As He enters the city Jesus immediately curses the barren fig tree before He arrives at the temple. There, in the court of the Gentiles, Mark tells us that Jesus drove out the money changers and, specifically, the people who were selling pigeons.
At that point the religious rulers begin to plotting “a way to destroy” Jesus because they were afraid of Him. As Jesus and His disciples are leaving the temple, Peter observed that the fig tree had withered. Mark makes it clear that the tree had, indeed, “withered away to its roots.”
The religious rulers believed that they were the authorities on the Law of Moses which was mostly true. But, somewhere along the way their own self-interest had blinded them to their own corruption.
What warning can we take from their own self-deception today?
Our Shepherd, Dean Wolf, addressed the rich young ruler who fell on his knees before Jesus to ask “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” To a persecuted church this was an important question since many would lose everything…including their very lives…for the sake of the gospel. To them, in answer to Peter’s statement, Jesus proclaims: “I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30).
As Jesus gives more graphic details to His coming Passion and Resurrection the disciples continue to struggle to understand, arguing among each other about power positions in the kingdom. At the close of the chapter Mark tells us of a blind man asks Jesus to be able to see.
Where our treasure lies must be evaluated in the light of the cross and the sacrifices to which Christ calls us.
After Jesus tells His disciples of His upcoming Passion and Resurrection Mark tells us that they were afraid to ask Him what He meant. When they finally arrive at a house in Capernaum, He pauses to ask his disciples what it is that they are talking about and they do not answer Him. It is Mark, who then tells us that they were discussing among themselves who would be the greatest.
So, Jesus tells them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35) as he calls a little boy before them and wraps His arms around him. “Whoever receives one such child in my name, Jesus says, “receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me” (Mark 9:37). Do you want to know God? You begin the journey by receiving little children in Jesus’ name. Lord willing, our Sunday morning lesson will focus upon how this is possible.
With Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, Mark sharpens his gospel account to focus upon Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Immediately, Jesus announces His coming passion and resurrection three times (Mark 8:31; 9:9-10, 30-32). Each time we find His disciples still wondering what Jesus is talking about.
It is in the middle of these contrasts between Jesus and His disciples that we see Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus and hear the voice of God announcing “This is my beloved Son” and commanding them to “listen to him” (Mark 9:7).
As Jesus, Peter, James and John approach the other disciples they find them arguing with the religious rulers about a demon that had refused to leave a little boy. As we look at the statements made by the disciples and the father of the child we realize that they still do not understand what went wrong. So, Jesus rebukes them for their faithlessness, challenges the father to believe and casts out the demon from his son. “Why could we not cast it out?” the disciples ask Jesus. His simple response to them reveals a truth that we all must grasp as followers of Christ. The power to do great things in God’s kingdom does not rest in us or the words we use. The power to do great things in God’s kingdom comes through resting in our God through prayer.
At the heart of our lesson today is Peter’s confession: “You are the Christ!” In spite of the truth of this statement, based upon everything that Jesus had said and done, he did not yet fully grasp God’s plan. And so, with Peter’s confession, Jesus begins to teach the disciples about His coming passion. Even after Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection they would still struggle with their pre-conceived ideas about the Warrior Messiah (Acts 1:6-8).
Not until Jesus would send the Holy Spirit to them on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), would they more finally comprehend what Jesus had accomplished and what Jesus would demand of His followers.
In today’s reading Jesus “sighed deeply in His spirit” over the Pharisees and scolds the disciples for their lack of understanding. Strategically, before Peter’s confession, Mark tells of the incident where Jesus heals the blindness of a man with two touches. After the first touch the man reports seeing people but that they look “like trees, walking.” After the second touch, he sees clearly.
So it is with His disciples. They see but they do not yet understand; yet, there will come a time when they will see clearly and understand fully.
In this chapter, Jesus confronts the Pharisees by pointing out their hypocrisy. How can a person uphold the law on the one hand and, on the other hand, manufacture loopholes to get around it? The answer is clear: their heart is corrupted.
In contrast, he is approached by a non-Jew who had a demon-possessed daughter. She knows that Jesus’ mission is to the Jews, which He makes clear to her, yet, falling at Jesus’ feet, she persists, pleading with Him to heal her little one. “…even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs,” she implores.
“Dogs” was the name many Jews attached to Gentiles and she assumes the role of one who does not deserve His favor. What a dramatic contrast to the hubris of the Jewish leaders! It should come as no surprise, then, that Jesus would go back into the Decapolis (a Greek/Roman area) where he had encountered Legion (Mark 5:1-20) to heal a deaf and mute man. The people there, who had asked Jesus to leave before, now flock to Him, “zealously.”
The coming storms are gathering as Jesus sends out the twelve, two-by-two, to preach repentance to the people of Israel. John the Baptist is beheaded and the disciples return to Jesus, hungry and exhausted. Jesus invites them to get in the boat and to go to a desolate place where they can rest for a while.
But, the crowds rush around the northern side of the Sea of Galilee and meet Jesus and His disciples on the other side. This is the occasion of the feeding of the 5,000 that is the singular event (besides the crucifixion) that is reported in all four of our Gospels (Matthew 14:13-33; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-21).
The crowds are convinced that Jesus is the warrior Messiah who will finally throw off the yoke of the Romans and rule the world. Immediately, Jesus sends the disciples back to the boat and sends them to the other side while He dismisses the crowd and goes up the mountain to pray, alone. From that lookout point, he sees the disciples caught in another windstorm so He walks past them, on the water. Crying out in terror, Jesus identifies Himself to them, gets into the boat and the storm stops.
Mark tells us that that they are astounded by Jesus’ power, once again, but that their hearts are hardened because they still do not understand. Nonetheless, when they arrive at the other side of the Sea, Jesus continues to heal the sick.
Jesus, as Messiah, refuses to conform to the image we make for Him according to our desires. We must conform our lives to His!
Jesus and His disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee to the eastern side. This area was known as the Decapolis (“10 Cities) that was dominated by pagan Gentiles. So far, they had not yet been impacted by Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom. As they were crossing the Sea, a sudden windstorm threatened to sink their boat while Jesus slept at the stern. Panicked, the disciples woke Jesus and asked Him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” After calming the storm Jesus asked His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
In today’s lesson (Mark 4:35-6:6) we begin by asking how the disciples might have acted if they had the faith that Jesus questioned them about. How might they have behaved if they had acted in faith instead of fear? Lord willing, we will look at several people who encountered Jesus beginning with His disciples to a demon possessed man and the people from the Decapolis; to a ruler at a local synagogue and his family; to a woman hemorrhaging blood; and, finally, to the people of His own hometown who did not believe.
Our study will focus upon Mark 3:14-4:34 where Mark shifts his focus to the disciples as Jesus sends them out to preach about the kingdom and to grant them the authority to cast out demons. As usual, large crowds are following Jesus and the parable about the seed of the gospel and the different soils describe his audience, including a group of listeners that have gathered around Jesus and his 12 disciples.
The disciples are present when Jesus’ family wonders if Jesus has “lost His mind”, when the scribes accuse Jesus of being demon possessed, when Jesus redefines His family, and when He teaches them about the kingdom using parables. Jesus only takes the time to explain the parables to His disciples.
Key verses in this section ask a simple question: Are you listening? (Mark 4:24-25). For those who are listening and applying Jesus’ teachings to their lives, more insights and understandings are promised. For the casual listeners, however, they risk losing it all. Remember Jesus’ words at the beginning of His ministry: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
After Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John to follow Him, Mark tells us about the authority of Christ to speak for God, to command the demons, to heal the sick and to forgive sin. At the beginning of this section in Mark 2:13-3:12, Jesus Calls Matthew and he follows Jesus, too.
In chapter 2 Mark introduces us to the Pharisees who question his authority to forgive sin, to eat with sinners, and to exempt Himself from their religious practices. These practices included eating with sinners, fasting, gleaning grain on the Sabbath, and healing on the Sabbath. Jesus grieves over the hardness of heart of the religious rulers and they, in turn, begin forming alliances to destroy Jesus.
The point of Jesus’ wineskins illustration is that the kingdom of God will not be limited by the religious rulers’ rituals and practices. In contrast to the religious rulers, the kingdom of God is about meeting the needs of people who bear the very image of God. It is these people who flock to Jesus from everywhere, from south of Jerusalem to the north of Galilee. He has become so popular that He has the disciples prepare a boat in the water to relieve Him from the crush of the crowds (Mark 3:9-10).
Today’s Scripture concludes our study on Jesus’ authority. This section begins with the calling of Peter, Andrew, James and John in Mark 1:16-20 and concludes with the calling of Matthew in Mark 2:13-14. In last week’s study Mark tells us that Jesus has the Authority of Privilege because He, Himself, accurately speaks the words of God. Jesus did not seek the approval of the religious rulers (the ‘authorities’ of the day) before He spoke. Mark also shows us Jesus’ Authority of Power over the spiritual realm (casting out and silencing the demons) and the physical realm (healing the sick and diseased).
In today’s lesson the religious rulers correctly state that only God can forgive sin (Mark 2:7). And so, Jesus tells them, ”But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home” (Mark 2:10-11). Mark tells us that Jesus said this based upon the faith of the ones who brought the paralytic to Him to be healed (verse 5).
It is worth noting that the paralytic would have been powerless to see Jesus without his friends and that he allowed them to bring him before Jesus’ Authority to both be healed and to find forgiveness. We conclude that Jesus extends His authority to the hearts of those who will believe in Him and His Authority to speak for God with Power.
Jesus announces His message and selects his disciples (Mark 1:14-20). Then, in the following verses (Mark 1:21-45), Jesus begins teaching, healing and casting out demons “with authority” the crowd says.
His authority comes from God revealing His privilege. He spoke God’s word and did not need to check with the authorities of the day.
His authority comes from God revealing His power over the spiritual and physical worlds. He cast out demons from the possessed and healed the sick.
Although the crowds would gather He did not linger to enjoy their accolades. Rather, He continued His mission to teach about His Father’s kingdom to all.
The first chapter of Mark’s gospel account of Jesus is so important to understanding the rest of the book. His bold, opening statement is “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Indeed, all of the Biblical story has been pointing to this time, this man, Jesus, Messiah, the Son of God.
With this, we find Jesus immediately going by the Sea of Galilee to call his first disciples telling them to “Follow Me” which they did, of course, “immediately.” In the first chapter of Mark, we the readers are immediately challenged: Do you believe?
The opening sentence of Mark’s account is a bold announcement. It proclaims to be “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1, ESV).
The word “gospel” is literally translated as “good news.” The name “Jesus” was a common Jewish name in the first century.
However, the name “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew title, “Messiah” or “Anointed One.” He is, Mark declares, “the Son of God.” Indeed, a voice from heaven will announce this in Mark 1:11.
With this, the first words of Jesus appear only a few sentences later. He says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15, ESV). Therein lies the challenge to the reader: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, The Son of God?
The pages that follow will challenge us to personally answer this question, right up to the final paragraph of the book.
Last Sunday (August 29, 2021) we closed our study of the book of Philippians. Next Sunday our hope is to begin a study of the life of Jesus in the gospel of Mark.
This Sunday, September 5, 2021, we will bring together two specific requests that we received under the title of Discipleship.
On the one hand one of our members requested that we have a lesson about obeying the Gospel. Paul defines the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Jesus tells us that following Him requires counting the cost in Luke 14:25-35. Paul tells us what happens when we obey the Gospel in Romans 6:3-14.
The second request was to focus upon what it means to become living sacrifices as Paul details in Romans 12. Here he calls us to become ‘living sacrifices’ who live lives that are being transformed.
Bringing these two suggestions together means talking about what obeying the gospel truly means as we both count the cost to follow Jesus and lives for the Lord with every day.
On Sunday, June 27, we began a new sermon series on Paul’s prison letter to the Philippians. Paul is imprisoned in Rome. There, he writes to the members of the church in Philippi about things like joy, humility, sacrifice, unity and the daily walk of the Christ-follower whose citizenship is in heaven. “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Paul says. “I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:4-5, NIV).
A guiding principle through our study in Philippians finds its core foundation in Christ based upon the following assertion:
This morning we are talking about Contentment based upon Philippians 4:10-23. Hard wired into every human being is DIS-contentment. In the garden, Adam and Eve enjoyed evening walks with God along with every pleasure He provided. In fact, they joined with all of creation , pointing back to God as the source of life and wonder, bounty and pleasure.
Blessed with the ability to choose to be content, however, Adam and Eve become discontented, wanting to “be like God’ (Genesis 3:5). So, they ate the forbidden fruit. Now the joy we were intended to find in God, declaring His glory with all of creation, gets diverted to lesser idols. These idols promise contentment, but, in the end, always leave us wanting more.
Our true contentment only finds its complete satisfaction in our Creator through His Son, Jesus Christ. And it is only then that we truly glorify God with our lives, no matter what we face in life (Psalms 63:3).
In Philippians 3:1-4:1, the apostle Paul presents himself as an example of what it means to truly ‘know Christ.’ Our shepherd, Dean Wolf, will be leading us in our study. Nothing in this world comes close to the precious value of knowing Christ, even to the point of suffering and death.
Paul now turns to two examples of Christ-following that are fresh on his mind and heart: Timothy and Epaphroditus in Philippians 2:19-30 (NIV). Working from Paul’s references to Timothy‘s life in Acts and his letters, we read between the lines to construct the person. In the end, the lives of these two examples reflect our own personal development in following Christ, knowing Him and living out His life in the world and among each other.
At the core of Philippians 1:27-2:18 (NIV) is Paul’s discussion about Christ’s example and his encouragement for us to adopt His mindset in verses 1-11. Bookending this central premise is Paul’s admonition to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” in Philippians 1:27-30 as we deal with the world around us. On the other end, he stresses that we must “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” as we deal with each other in Philippians 2:12-18.
In Philippians 1:12-26, Paul talks about his own imprisonment, concluding that his desire is for God to be glorified in both his life and his death (Philippians 1:20). For Paul, living means that his life is all about Christ. Dying means finally falling into Jesus’ arms (Philippians 1:21). Convinced that he must remain for a little longer, Paul looks forward to watching their “joy in the faith” continue to grow (Philippians 1:25-26). Indeed, this joy of which he speaks is centered upon knowing Christ and seeing Him blossom in the lives of those whose faith is in Him.
The “Gospel” or “Good News” of Jesus Christ is the foundation of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Our Shepherd, Dean Wolf, shares his reflections on how Paul weaves this into every aspect of his life. Dean also shares a simple graphic that helps us communicate this to others based upon Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 (NIV).
Early in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, on the heel of his usual greeting, Paul prays for them (Philippians 1:1-11, NASB95). When someone says or writes, “I’m praying for you that….” we should pay special attention. For, included in that prayer will most likely be the purpose of the communication: “that your love may abound still more and more,” Paul says. This is “the fruit of righteousness” that he will mention at the end of the prayer. As we consider this fruit of righteousness, we are reminded that Paul identifies its source in God, conveyed through Christ on the basis of our faith in Him (Philippians 3:8-11). This righteousness is all about relationship.
There can be no doubt that Christ Jesus is at the center of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. Occupying center stage is the hymn that, I suspect, many were familiar with at the time in Philippians 2:6-11 (CEV). Here is the gospel message in a nutshell. For a survey of the book of Philippians, I heartily recommend The Bible Project’s outline of the book.
Our study begins with a review of Acts 16 and Paul and Silas’s visit to Philippi. Our shepherd, Dean Wolf, highlights the significant passages of Paul’s letter to the Philippians from his prison cell in Rome. Paul had every right to be discouraged. Yet, he focuses upon the opportunity to find joy even in the midst of struggle and hardship.
And so, on this special day, we begin a brief series to remind us of the things that we know to be true. Absolutes that guide us. Absolutes that help us discern those things for which it is worth living each day. Absolutes for which we know to be worth dying. Eternal truths that reach beyond our suffering and the grave to our ultimate destiny before God.
This Memorial Day we begin our series by remembering those absolutes that are anchored in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Absolutes that shout to the the glory of God’s Name in His creation, our consciences, His word, His people, His Son, Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit.
John 14-16 (NIV) – In John 14:16-17, Jesus tells his frightened disciples that he is going to send then “another Advocate” which He identifies as the Holy Spirit. Of course, the first Advocate would be Jesus, Himself. In our final lesson on ‘Absolutes’, we address the five activities of the Holy Spirit–the second Advocate–as Jesus describes them. These activities are not limited to the disciples to whom Jesus is speaking because He tells them that it will be with them ‘forever’ or, literally, ‘into the ages.’ They are available to us as well as is made plain in the remainder of the New Testament. Those activities include:
Our primary texts today are John 1, 5 and 14-16 with a sharpening of focus upon John 5:31-40. When we speak of Jesus as an Absolute in our lives, we are saying that we put our full faith and trust in Him alone. The historical evidences confirm what we already know to be true from the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (see Lee Strobel’s book, The Case For Christ). In John 5, Jesus heals the lame man at the pool of Bethesda (see video below). This draws the attention of the religious rulers who question Jesus’ testimony about Himself. In his response to them, Jesus details 5 sources of evidence that validate His testimony about Himself as God’s Son, the Messiah: John the Baptist, Jesus’ miracles, Jesus’ teachings, Jesus’ Father and the Scriptures themselves.
Romans 11 and Genesis 12:1-3; Romans 4:13-16 (NLT) – God’s promise to Abraham persists over the centuries through the Jewish people. And it is through them that God brought the whole world a Savior in Christ Jesus. The new Israel now seals God’s promise to those who put their faith in Him so that Paul could say “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26-27). The remnant of the Jewish people who trust in God now unite with the followers of Christ to create a new people who have been fully included in God’s promise to Abraham (Galatians 3:26-29). Their presence through the ages is undeniable evidence that God’s purposes will not fail (Ephesians 1:12-14).
Hebrews 4:12-16 (NLT) – Seeing God in His creation is a simple question for mankind. Is there a God? The answer is either a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’. When someone chooses not to choose, they still have made a choice.
We choose “Yes” with passion and conviction.
Because we answer “Yes”, we also believe that He wants us to know Him. So, we search for those additional ways in which He would choose to show Himself.
Today, we begin with His Word, The Bible. No book in all of the world compares to this one collection of 66 books, composed over 1,500 years, on three continents (Africa, Asia, and Europe), in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek), by 40 authors, most of whom never met. People have tried to ban it, destroy it and damage the Bible over the centuries, yet it still survives with superlative attestation. Indeed, more than 7,000 ancient manuscripts verify its accuracy!
The Bible is internally consistent, pointing to one central point in history: a cross. The Bible is externally verified by the creation, nature, and historically, by modern-day archaeology and science. And the Bible is experientially verified in those who devote their lives to understanding it’s words and living out it’s teachings. They focus upon obeying its commands and living by it’s principles as embodied by The Central Character: Jesus Christ of Nazareth, Son of God, Savior of the world.
At time when God-given inspiration of the Bible was under severe criticism in our Christian Theological Universities (begun in the 1800’s and continuing to our day), the Dead Sea Scrolls surfaced in 1947. Many theological books must be evaluated by this one historical point in time: are they pre- or post-Dead Sea Scroll discovery?
God’s perfect timing! He verifies and validates the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament forever as pre-Christian evidence, fully realized in the Son of God Himself, Jesus Christ.
In times like these it is important to anchor ourselves in that which we know to be true.
In the first century Roman world there were many forces at work. Many of these facilitated the spread of the gospel. At the same time there were elements of Roman government, religion and society that reacted against the exclusive teachings of the early Christians.
Over the centuries governments have come and gone. Meanwhile the writings of those first-century authors have provided a touchstone for believers in the gospel (literally, good news) of Jesus Christ. This good news has been historically verified. It is internally consistent with the Old and New Testament Scriptures. The prophecies of the prophets have been fully realized in Jesus Christ and will continue to unfold until His return.
These Scriptures point towards a common goal that centers around God becoming uniquely both human and divine. Christ dwelled among us, was crucified, arose from the dead, and ascended to heaven. He now guides the forces of history towards its final consummation with His return one day.
THE GOSPEL DEFINED
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Since the time of Jesus Christ the words of the Bible have provided solid ground for His followers in times of crisis and upheaval. The answer to Pilate’s question to Jesus, “What is truth?” was, indeed, standing in front of him. Jesus answered him, “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth” (John 18:37, NIV). Jesus would tell His disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NIV).
In the midst of tumultuous times the apostles would point believers to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit within them. These emerging qualities of character would weather the winds of change. Their heavenly citizenship would became increasingly obvious validations of the gospel message. Indeed, these qualities have always permeated the lives of Christ’s people with hope when the world around them seemed to be falling apart.
The message of the gospel still rings true today. So, our lessons on Virtues is intended to remind each other of the qualities and characteristics of the citizens of Christ’s eternal kingdom. We will be exploring the following key passages: 2 Peter 1:3-11, Galatians 5:13-26, and Colossians 3:1-17.
Click on the links below to follow our Facebook Live worship services as we focus upon Christian Virtues in Times of Uncertainty and Change.
Paul’s Letter to Philemon – “He [Tychicus] is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here” (Colossians 4:9). In our closing lesson on Virtues we review the concluding words of encouragement of Paul in Colossians 4:7-18. This provides a launching point for Paul’s accompanying letter to Philemon which beautifully encapsulates the virtues that Paul had listed in Colossians 3:12-17.
Colossians 4:2-6 – “Live wisely…and make the most of every opportunity” (vs. 5). Dean Wolf is our speaker today, addressing the importance of being ready to tell others what Jesus has done in our lives. Focusing upon prayer, he notes Paul’s description of the prayer of Epaphras for the church in Colossae: to make them “strong and perfect, fully confident that you are following the whole will of God” (vs. 12). Unfortunately, the Facebook Live session cuts short of Dean’s concluding prayer–the highlight of his sermon–in which he prays for the Shoreline church as Paul and his co-workers prayed for the church in Colossae.
Colossians 3:22-4:1 – “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (vs. 23). The expression, “All men are created equal” may not be a direct quote of Scripture; but, it does express a biblical truth of the kingdom of God (Galatians 3:26-28). Indeed, Jesus humbled Himself and became a slave (Philippians 2:6-8, NLT) in order to make us free (Ephesians 1:7, NLT); to serve, not to be served” (Matthew 20:26-28, NLT). Involuntary slavery, in whatever form it takes, is one of many forms of human oppression in our world of trafficking, persecution, abuse and more. For the Christian in who must endure suffering in all of its forms, the Bible encourages everyone: “keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Colossians 3:18-21 & Ephesians 5:21-33 (NLT) – When Paul says “Whatever you say or do should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus” (vs. 17, CEV) he briefly addresses what this means in families. Husbands, wives, parents and children that have been brought under Jesus’ Name begin to live their lives very differently than the world around them. In the first century, this was counter-cultural instruction that would set Christian families apart. This is true as well in 21st century America. To understand this passage better we will quickly survey the Bible’s teachings, including Paul’s parallel instructions to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 5:21-33).
Colossians 3:12-17 (CEV) – “Whatever you say or do should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks to God the Father because of him.” Today’s lesson begins with Jesus’ prayer for Himself, for His disciples and for us in John 17 (NIV). God glorified Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection where Jesus glorified God. This initiated a glorifying feedback loop which Jesus extended to His disciples and to those of us who would believe. So, when Paul speaks of “whatever you say or do” in the Name of Jesus he is pointing to this continuing cycle for “the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:5-6, 12, 14, NASB95).
Colossians 3:12-17 (CEV) – “With thankful hearts, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.” Someone has said that music is “the window to the soul.” When God commands His people to sing, He is encouraging us to thankfully explore how the good news of Jesus Christ resonates with our hearts and minds.
Colossians 3:12-17 (CEV) – “Let the message about Christ completely fill your lives, while you use all your wisdom to teach and instruct each other.” Our Shepherd, Dean Wolf, discusses the centrality of Christ in our lives and how Paul calls us to share our stories about how Christ has changed us.
Colossians 3:12-17 (NIV) – “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” On Easter Sunday we celebrate the source of the power that works in us to produce these virtues which is the cross of Christ (Colossians 1-2).
Colossians 3:12-17 (NIV) – “…clothe yourselves with…humility, gentleness and patience.” These virtues are characteristics of kingdom people because these virtues begin with the Father and the Son; necessary traits for the unity of the Body of Christ, the Church (Ephesians 4:1-3).
Colossians 3:12-17 (NIV) – “…clothe yourselves with…kindness,” says the apostle Paul to the church in Colossae. This virtue is a characteristic of God the Father, illustrated in Jesus, His Son, and planted in the Christian as a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
Colossians 3:12-17 (NASB95) – “put on a heart of compassion” – God defines compassion, His Son illustrates His compassion and we reflect His compassion to the world. Compassion is an emotion that moves us to action.
Colossians 3:1-17 – “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Reaching back to Colossians 2:9-23 we set the context for Paul’s list of the Christ-follower’s virtues in Colossians 3:12-16. Rooted in the cross of Jesus Christ, these virtues will guide our studies until Easter Sunday (April 4, 2021).
Galatians 5:13-26 – “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” What walking by the Spirit does look like. There is no law against these characteristics; so, we are free to exercise them without restraints.
2 Peter 1:3-11 – “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature….” The divine power of Christ Himself makes us participants in His divine nature; present tense promises.
2 Peter 1:3-9 – “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him….” Knowing Christ (vss. 3, 8) is the beginning and end of our every effort to become effective and productive, the apex of which is agape love.
Ephesians 1:3-4, 5:25-27 – “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. ” The presence of the Lord in your life makes you holy, too. Wherever you go, whatever you do, with whomever you encounter, you are standing on holy ground.