Category: Bible Study

The End of Time (Bible Study)


Recap of Chp 31

“Yes, I am coming soon.” —Jesus.

Of the original apostles, only John remained to hear these words.   He had experienced the climax of salvation history, but God was not yet finished.  He had one more message to share with John and the growing churches to show His servants what must soon take place.

John was exiled on the island of Patmos for his faith in Jesus.  It was here that the glorified Christ appeared to John with a message of His second coming.  John saw someone “like a son of man” dressed in a priestly robe and ready to judge.  He fell like a dead man at His feet.  This John who had leaned against Jesus’ breast (Jn. 13:25) could not even stand before Christ’s unveiled glory.  Jesus presented Himself as the resurrected One who has authority over life and death.  He stood among seven golden lamp stands which represent the seven churches located in the province of Asia Minor on the mainland close to the island of Patmos.

Jesus had messages for each of these seven churches.  From the three churches addressed in this chapter, a pattern emerges.  First, there’s a unique description of Jesus that is related to the message.  Then each message contains both a word of commendation and a rebuke for the congregation.  He then gives an instruction or warning before an encouraging promise to those who listen and overcome the problem.  Jesus who stands among the lamp stands was carefully watching His churches.

John then saw the throne room of heaven where he was shown visions of future events.   God sat upon His throne in unimaginable splendor and beauty.  He was surrounded by living creatures and elders who worshiped Him without ceasing.  He held a scroll that no one was found worthy to open, causing John to weep.  But John’s hope was restored when he saw the Lamb standing as if slain.  For the Lamb was worthy to open the scroll and also to receive power and glory and honor and praise!

Shortly thereafter, the bride who symbolizes all faithful believers was ready, wearing clean linen and prepared for the marriage supper of the Lamb.  Then John saw heaven opened, and Jesus descended in full glory on a white horse ready to wage war and judge mankind.  The King of Kings was ready to rule with blazing eyes and a blood drenched robe, a sharp sword and filled with the fury of God’s wrath.  He was accompanied by the armies of heaven.  His appearance is a dramatic reminder of the awfulness of God’s coming judgment upon those who reject the Lord.  God’s final judgment from His great white throne is the final event of human history as we know it.  The dead stand before Him in judgment.  Those not found in the book of life are cast into the lake of fire.

Then John saw the New Heaven and New Earth and the New Jerusalem.  In this future re-creation, God dwells among His people where He wipes away every tear.  Many themes from His redemptive Story find their culmination in this place where all things are made new.  The majestic and glorious New Jerusalem will be home to all the redeemed.  Nothing impure will ever enter it.  The water of life flows from the throne of God, the tree of life bears much fruit, and all are invited to partake.  This place is the hope of every believer, for it is where God’s Upper Story and His Lower Story finally merge into one.  It is here that the redeemed will enjoy the presence of God and of the Lamb forever.  As Jesus concluded His message to John, three times He said, “Look, I am coming soon!”  No wonder we are called blessed!  Our King is coming!  Come, Lord Jesus, come!


The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Hear and Overcome

John the Apostle had a longer history with Jesus than any of the other apostles.  He was probably a first cousin of Jesus, the son of Salome (Matt. 27:56; Mark 15:40) the sister of Mary (Jn. 19:25).   John, along with his brother James, and Peter became the most trusted of Jesus’ disciples.  He had an especially intimate relationship with these three men who would later play significant roles in the life of the early church.  John was the “beloved disciple.”  He was there when Jesus healed Jairus’ daughter.  He witnessed firsthand the glimpse of Jesus’ glorification at the Transfiguration.  John and Peter were charged with preparing the Passover supper (Lu. 22:8) where he later reclined against Jesus’ breast.  Hours later, he saw the agony of Gethsemane.  John was at the cross and it was to him that Jesus entrusted His beloved mother and gave John to her as a son (Jn. 19:26-27).  After the ascension of Christ, he was a “pillar” as a leader in the young church (Gal. 2:9).  He outlived all the other apostles and is probably the only one of the original disciples who was not martyred for his faith.

Yes, John had a long history with Jesus.  They were more than familiar, they were intimately close.  But none of that prepared him for the vision that he saw on the island of Patmos many years later.  The unveiled glory of Jesus took his breath away!  He could not stand in the presence of this One who stood amongst the lamp stands.  He fell to the ground in fear like a dead man.

The One who stands among the seven golden lamp stands is none other than the glorified Jesus Himself.  John describes Him with similar details to the Ancient of Days described by Daniel (Dan. 7:9).  God the Son has the same wisdom, purity, eternity and piercing judgment as God the Father.  No wonder John fell at His feet like a dead man!  The Apostle Paul had a similar response on the road to Damascus and Peter fell on his face at the Transfiguration—a glimpse of Christ in His glory.  Jesus described Himself as the Living One, once dead but now alive forever!  He alone has the keys to death and Hades.  The Christian’s fate is not in the hands of Satan, evildoers or chance.  Our life, death and resurrection unto eternal life is at in the hands of Jesus alone—the Worthy One!

Jesus stands among the lamp stands which He interpreted for John as the churches (1:20).  He is not distant in His ascension and glorification.  He is present and watching over the churches, for they are His body.  He is the judge who has the right to encourage, admonish and correct each church community.  But He is also the sovereign ruler who has the power to reward those who have an ear to hear!

I.    Learning Activity:  Charting the messages to the churches:  Charts are an excellent way to organize the Scriptures, discover patterns and then analyze and synthesize them. 

Messages to the Seven Churches (Rev. 2-3)








If you struggle with the chart please let me know I have one that is filled out I can send you

II.    Lessons from the seven churches:

A. What relationship do you discover between Jesus’ description of Himself to each church and the message to that church?

B. What were the strengths of each church?

C. For what did Jesus rebuke them?

D. Which church would you have wanted to be a member of and why?  Not a member of?

E. Do contemporary churches experience these same strengths and problems?

F. Do you think Jesus still stands among the lamp stands (churches) today to commend, judge and correct them?

G. What lessons can we apply today?

III.    Who are the overcomers and what are they promised?

Are the promises to overcomers in these letters to the churches limited to those people in those churches at that time in history, or could we be included in these promises?  Let’s explore some other Scriptures that talk about overcomers to see who they may be. 

A. First John is a letter written by the same author—John—who wrote the Gospel and Revelation (also 2nd and 3rd John).  We should expect that the same author would use the same words in largely the same way.  Therefore, we should not be surprised that he talked about overcoming five times in this letter.

  1. 1 Jn. 2:13  I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning.  I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.  I have written to you, children, because you know the Father.
  2. 1 Jn. 2:14  I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning.  I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
  3. 1 Jn. 4:4  You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.
  4. 1 Jn. 5:4  For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
  5. 1 Jn. 5:5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

B. He who sits on the throne explained to John the inheritance of the overcomers.

  1. Rev. 21:7-8  He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.  But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. 
  2. What are “these things” that the overcomer inherits?  The New Heaven and New Earth and New Jerusalem!  The contrast between “he who overcomes” and the “unbelieving” tells us that all believers are overcomers!  All believers—you and I—will inherit the unspeakable blessings of this eternal kingdom wherein God will be our God and the overcomer will be His son.
  3. By contrast, those who do not believe and practice the sins of unbelief will be excluded from the inheritance and judged with the lake of fire that was prepared for Satan and his demonic minions (Rev. 21:8; Matt. 25:41).  This place of righteous punishment is a place of torment day and night forever (Rev. 20:10).
  • What would a person miss if he was not an overcomer?
  • Then how does someone become an overcomer?
  • Are YOU an overcomer?

IV.       Applications and Implications

A. Christ is coming back as King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

B. Jesus watches His churches diligently.  He is not absent or distant.

C. Individual churches have people in them who are redeemed believers and also some who are not.  Therefore, the message to repent and turn to God by faith must go out.

D. From Ephesus, we will continue to serve the Lord by hard work and good deeds but service does not replace a relationship with Jesus.  I will not get so busy with “good deeds” that I substitute them for the best thing.

E. From Smyrna, I am willing to suffer for Christ in this life because I know that eternal life awaits me.  When I am not suffering, I can provide prayer support and financial support to persecuted Christians around the world.

F. From Pergamum, I will test all teachings against Scripture so that the purity of the gospel is not stained by idolatry.

G. From Thyatira, I will continue to grow in faith, service and love but I will not tolerate immorality and idolatry within the church community.

H. From Sardis, some people in the church can look good on the outside but be dead on the inside because they lack the life-giving Holy Spirit.

I. From Philadelphia, I will persevere in all those things in the church and in my own life that are good.

J. From Laodicea, those Jesus loves, He reproves and disciplines.  I will honestly assess myself to see if I am lukewarm.  But blindness may not give me a true assessment of myself, so I need a trusted “hot” believer or two in my life to be honest with me in my walk with the Lord.

K. As an overcomer, I will keep God’s Upper Story in view.  I look forward to the rewards and benefits of the eternal kingdom even when the Lower Story seems overwhelming.

L. I will heed the warnings of these churches and overcome by faith any areas in my life that mirror those things that Jesus rebuked.

M. Setting my hope on the New Heaven and New Earth motivates me to holy living now.

Bride of Christ, Royal Wedding

Revelation 19:6-10; John 3:16-36; Matthew 9:14-17; 22:1-14; 25:1-13

I can’t believe this is our last Bible study of “The Story.” I don’t know about you but I have been learning just as much as I have been teaching. For the last time in this series, let’s open up the pages of Scripture and see what God is going to teach us today. We focus in on the last book of the Bible; Revelation.

The Book of Revelation is the last book of the Bible; it is God’s last inspired word to mankind, and concludes His message in a glorious shout of victory. A few snapshots from John’s masterpiece are brought together in chapter 31 which wraps up “The Story” God sent this message to encourage the Church however John uses a form of writing that is unique to the New Testament and more common to the Old Testament (Ezekiel, Daniel etc.).  Layers of repeating metaphors that intertwine make interpretation of the book very difficult.  But one thing rings clear: God’s promise in Genesis—that Satan would be crushed—comes true through the work of Christ, and God will reunite with His creation.  Then the victory party will begin “because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7).

I. The Bride.

Weddings, brides and grooms, and married love may resonate with people today.

Three women are mentioned in Revelation: the mother (12:1-17), the harlot (chapters 17—19), and the Bride of Christ, (19:8 through the end of the book).   The metaphor of the bride is not new in Revelation; it has been a running theme throughout God’s Word, and we have followed it through “The Story.” Discover what we can know about the bride.

1.  What does Paul use to teach about the relationship of Christ and his church? Ephesians 5:22-32

2.  Ezekiel 16 describes God’s love for his people in violent terms that are hard to read.  What is revealed about the “bride” and what does God do about it?

3.   How much does the groom love the bride? Ephesians 5:25-27; Isaiah 49:16

Psalm 45 was commissioned for the wedding of the king’s son but, “he felt himself commissioned by the Spirit of God to write about the heavenly King, the Messiah, taking a bride” (Elwell).

4.  How does the bride look? Psalm 45:11-14

5.  What is her wedding gown made of? Revelation 19:8

6.  In Revelation 21:2 and 21:9-21 we see two metaphors layered together. What is the bride and what is she compared to in John’s description of the “bride and wife of the lamb”?  How is she adorned in these two passages?

II. The Bridegroom.  John 3:16-36; Matthew 9:14-17, Revelation

Discover the clarification about Jesus that John gave to his disciples from John 3:16-36:

1.  Describe the actions and desires of God, the lover of mankind? John 3:16-17

2.  What terms does John use to describe his own relationship with Jesus?  John 3:27-29

3.  What terms does John use to describe Jesus? John 3:28-29

4.  How does he then explain Jesus’ superiority?  John 3:30-31

5.  What is John’s warning? John 3:32-36

Discover the clarification that Jesus made about himself to John’s disciples from Matthew 9:14-16:

6.  How does Jesus describe His followers? Matthew 9:15

7.  How does Jesus describe Himself? Matthew 9:15

In weddings of our day the bride usually steals the show.  But in Revelation, the groom is most important because he is the Lamb of God.  What do the following passages say about the bridegroom?

Revelation 5:6, 9

Revelation 7:9-10

Revelation 7:17

Revelation 19:7

Revelation 21:23

Revelation 22:1

Why is it so important to see that the lamb and the bridegroom are one and the same? (John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19)

III. The Wedding

Some familiarity with traditional Jewish wedding customs helps us understand the wedding metaphor.  The marriage begins long before the wedding!  There are four parts to the process.  The betrothal is an agreement between the groom and the father of the bride that is much more serious than our engagement.  When the agreement is made they are man and wife.  A waiting period follows during which the groom pays the dowry or provides a service equal to the amount owed to the father of the bride.  The bride is occupied as well; during this time she prepares herself for the wedding.  After the agreed upon interval the groom, along with a procession of his friends, takes the bride from her home to his home, or to the home of his parents.  At last the celebration begins with a wedding feast that may last seven to fourteen days!

Match the following scriptures that correspond to a part of the Jewish marriage:

_________________“I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” 2 Corinthians 11:2; Hosea 2:19-20.

_________________ “In my Father’s house are many rooms….I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” John 14:2-3.

_________________ “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!’” Matthew 25:6 (from the Parable of the Ten Virgins, Matthew 25:1-13, also see 25:31-33).

_________________ “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son” Matthew 22:2ff.

It’s no accident that men and women are ‘wired’ to need a loving relationship. God makes no apology for His desire to have a loving relationship with his creation. Jesus knew his role because the bride and groom are God’s idea! It is right and good to celebrate a wedding because it is the picture of the great celebration to come, when Jesus and His church can be together, face to face, for eternity.

IV. The Bride of Christ: A Saved Church or Saved Individuals?  YES!

If the church is the bride of Christ, how do we fit in as individuals?  In 1910, Scottish theologian, Peter T. Forsythe explained God’s love for the whole world as love “directed upon the world in such a way that it should be taken home in every individual experience”.   The church is the bride of Christ but we have the assurance of God’s Word that Jesus is the lover of each soul.

1.  Fill in the blanks to learn about the relationship between the lamb and His bride:

God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out and find him, though he is not far from ___________  _________ of us.” Acts 7:27

“And hope does not disappoint us, because God has                                                                                     into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:5


“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to __________  ________, just as he determines.” 1 Corinthians 12:11

“You should keep your relationship with God to yourself.” Sadly, this false teaching even confuses believers.  But we cannot simply be “satisfied with a personal union with Christ, securing our own future.  The gospel deals with the world of men as a whole” (Forsythe).

 2.  Determine how the individuals who make up the “Bride of Christ” relate to one another:

I Corinthians 12: 12-31

Ephesians 5:21

3.  Explain in your own words how the church, made up of many individuals, is the Bride of Christ.

William Hendriksen explains in More than Conquerors that the Bride of Christ was chosen from eternity and for eternity.  “And now, after an interval which in the eyes of God is but a little while, the bridegroom returns and, ‘it has come, the wedding of the lamb’.  The church on earth yearns for this moment.”

Key Question:  Are you a part of the Bride of Christ, prepared to join the lamb for the wedding feast?

For additional reflection:

1.  Paul explains in Romans 2:6 that “God will give to each person according to what he has done”. (See also, Psalm 62:11-12).  From the context and from our study of the Bride of Christ, what is the most important thing for each one of us to do? (Hint: Romans 3:21-26)

2.  How can you make more room in your heart and life for God’s Treasure?

3.  What righteous deeds will make up the “fine linen” in your wedding gown?

4.  What meaningful truth have you discovered in your journey through “The Story?”


Paul’s Final Days (Bible Study)


Recap of Chapter 30

If one could earn frequent traveler miles two thousand years ago, Paul might hold a record.After spending nearly three years in Ephesus, he retraced his steps through Greece and Macedonia before docking in Miletus. There he summoned the Ephesian elders for a tearful and final farewell. He charged them with shepherding the church of God. After a brief stay with Philip in Caesarea, Paul headed for Jerusalem, knowing that chains awaited him there.

Paul seemed to always be able to stir up a controversy. Just walking into the temple court stirred up trouble. The Jews tried to kill him in Jerusalem so the Roman authorities stepped in to arrest him. While being taken into custody, Paul gave his testimony before an angry crowd. The Roman commander brought him before the Sanhedrin to get some answers, but that only made the problem worse. Paul remained in protective custody and was transferred to Caesarea’s higher court where he remained for two years before appealing to Caesar.

When Paul wrote to the church in Rome while still on his missionary journeys, he told them that he planned to visit them. He probably did not anticipate his “fourth missionary journey” to be under these circumstances. Luke joined him on this cruise to Rome with Julius, a kind Imperial centurion, as Paul’s personal escort. Paul warned the crew that sailing on in bad weather would be disastrous, but they continued anyway. Conditions worsened to hurricane force winds off the coast of Crete driving their ship every which way. Weeks later the storm had not weakened, but all thoughts of survival surely had. Food was low; gear was gone; hope was gone. What seemed like a bad episode of Gilligan’s Island became unlikely opportunities for Paul to talk about God. The next morning they arrived safely ashore on Malta where the islanders showed exceptional hospitality. When Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake without incident, the people thought he was either a criminal or a god. Paul healed many of the locals during their winter stay there. Three months later they were finally able to set sail for Rome.

Paul was greeted by believers at the port of Puteoli, modern-day Pozzuoli, about 150 miles south of Rome. They encouraged him, and he spent a week there before traveling on. When the Roman Christians heard he was coming, they joined him for the final forty miles of his trek to Rome where Paul was confined to house arrest under the supervision of a soldier. Paul invited the Jewish leaders to come to his house. There he told them about his conflict with the Jerusalem Jews and the fulfillment of the Scriptures by Jesus. Some believed, but others rejected his message. So once again Paul pronounced his mission to the Gentiles. He spent the next two years boldly teaching anyone about Jesus who would stop by (60-62 A.D). In his spare time, Paul corresponded with some old friends.

Paul had a special place in his heart for the church in Ephesus. He had spent three years there developing the new church (Acts 20:31). He wrote to remind them of the high calling in Christ that is the basis of God’s plan to unite all believers—Jews and Gentiles alike—in one body, the Church. Therefore, those who are called are to conduct themselves in the highest of ethical standards. Although the world is hostile, believers are to preserve unity in the Spirit. During his final Roman imprisonment (67-68 A.D.), Paul wrote to Timothy to encourage him to be faithful in preserving the gospel in the midst of persecution and false teachers. Timothy faced hardship in Ephesus. So knowing he was probably facing execution soon, Paul penned a heartfelt letter to strengthen this son even from a damp, cold dungeon in Rome.

Life Lessons from the History of Ephesus

Amy Carmichael knew what it was like to suffer for the gospel.  She left her life of relative comfort in a small Irish village to pursue a call from the Lord to mission work in India.  She was born in 1867 and at the age of twenty, she heard missionary Hudson Taylor speak of his experience in China.  Shortly thereafter, she applied to follow Taylor and serve the Lord in China also.  But the Lord directed her path elsewhere when the missions board deemed her unfit due to health problems.  Amy suffered from neuralgia, a disease of the nerves that weakened her body and made her achy all over.  Carmichael spent fifteen months in Japan before she found her true call in India.

Much of her work in India included rescuing children from forced prostitution in the Hindu temples.  Mostly young girls were dedicated to the gods and then pushed into prostitution there to earn money for the priests.  Never married, she served there for fifty-six years without furlough.  She poured her life into her own organization called Dohnavur Fellowship, which became a sanctuary to more than one thousand children in three homes, a hospital and evangelistic work.  She was badly injured in a fall which left her confined to her bed for most of the last twenty years of her life.  Nevertheless, she used that time to direct the operations at the Fellowship and write some of her 35 published books.  She died at the age of 83 in India in 1951.

Amy Carmichael had much in common with Paul.  Her missionary work led her to rescue temple prostitutes from idolatrous destruction.  Paul’s stay in Ephesus included rescuing women from the temple prostitution at the temple of Artemis (or Diana as the Romans knew her).  The spiritual conditions of India and Ephesus both included god and goddess worship as well as sorcery.  Both Amy and Paul were afflicted by painful physical ailments—Amy’s neuralgia and Paul’s eye disease.  Both Amy and Paul used their confinements—her bed and his imprisonments—to serve the Lord in writing, teaching and developing other leaders.  But the thing these two saints have most in common is their perseverance to the end of their lives.  Their passion for sharing the gospel with lost souls compelled them to “fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith,” (2 Tim. 4:7).  Perhaps Amy was thinking of Paul who wrote to the Philippians that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) when she answered a letter from a young woman.  She asked Amy, “What is missionary life-like?”  Amy wrote back, “Missionary life is simply a chance to die.”

India was Amy’s Ephesus.  Neither Paul nor Amy hesitated to take Christ to a less than ideal place.  Both poured out their lives for Christ.  Paul’s special relationship with Ephesus is evidence by his length of stay there, but also by the other leaders that he must have sent there to continue to nurture the church.  Arguably no other church has had the kind of discipleship that Ephesus did.  And because of the church leaders who were there, we have a glimpse into their history that we do not have with any other early church.  Their history teaches us some very important life lessons that we would be wise to apply today.

I.       Ephesus Before—Go to Ephesus!

Learning Activity:  Brainstorming

Brainstorm a list of features that would make an ideal location to start a church. Then brainstorm a list of the features of Ephesus that you can find in chapters 29 and 30. Is Ephesus a good place to start a church?  Why or why not?

A. Paul was not afraid to get his hands dirty, so to speak.  He chose strategic cities that were often visited by travelers and whose influence stretched outside of city limits.  So it was with Ephesus.  Paul visited Ephesus briefly on his second missionary journey, but his lengthy stay of nearly three years was during his third missionary journey.

B. However, Ephesus might have appeared to have its share of obstacles for the gospel and for Paul personally.  It was the home of the temple of Artemis.  This goddess of fertility, hunting and various other assignments shaped the idolatrous culture of the community, but also the economic stability of the city.  These two factors combined to create a growing hostility toward Paul after he settled there.  Artemis (Greek) or Diana (Roman) was firmly established in this city and her worshipers were not about to give up ground to another.

Artemis temple

Temple of Artemis

Artemis statue

Statue of Artemis found in Ephesus

C. Ephesus had a great deal of wealth.  Wealthy people can often perceive themselves as self-sufficient, without need of any Savior.  There were plenty of reasons for Paul not to go to Ephesus, not to waste his valuable time going to a place where success might seem unlikely.  But he did anyway.

Life Lesson One:  Go to Ephesus!  Paul did.  Amy Carmichael did.

Discussion Question: 

Where is your Ephesus, and will you go there?

II.       Ephesus During—Discipleship Matters.

No church enjoyed the intense discipleship and leadership from such a strong lineup of early church leaders as did Ephesus.

A. Paul’s first visit to Ephesus was brief.  After spending a year and a half in Corinth, he set sail and came to Ephesus.  Paul’s typical approach to discipleship began with meeting people where they were and sharing the gospel of Christ.  But he did not stop there.  He usually continued to teach them beyond the elementary principles of the faith.  Paul taught briefly in the synagogue of Ephesus where he reasoned with the Jews, as was his habit (Acts 18:19-21).  Unlike many of his other synagogue experiences, these Jews actually wanted to hear more!  They asked him to remain longer, but he went on to his home base of Antioch.

B. Priscilla and Aquila stayed in Ephesus.  Priscilla and Aquila were strong believers.  This couple had left their home in Rome for Corinth when the emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from the city (Acts 18:2).  They were already in Corinth when Paul arrived (Acts 18:1-2).  They had shared the trade of tent making so Paul lived with them.  While it is unknown whether Priscilla and Aquila were already believers in Jesus when Paul met them, they certainly became strong and able disciples from their relationship with him.  Certainly they carried on the gospel message and discipleship process in Ephesus after Paul’s departure and should probably be credited with the real start of the church there in their home (1 Cor. 16:19).  When Paul wrote to the church in Rome in 58 A.D., they had left Ephesus and relocated there.  He described them as “fellow workers in Christ” who had “risked their own necks for my life.”  While in Ephesus, they discipled a gifted and enthusiastic believer named Apollos too.

C. Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt, whose arrival in Ephesus was noticed right away.  He was a learned man, thoroughly knowledgeable in the Scriptures.  He was a powerful and persuasive speaker.  He taught about Jesus with great enthusiasm (Acts 18:24-25).  While Apollos’ teaching regarding Jesus was accurate, it was deficient.  So Priscilla and Aquila invited him to their home where they discipled him to fill in those deficiencies.  Priscilla and Aquila were not jealous of Apollos’ gifts.  They helped him grow in the knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ so that he could be a more effective minister of the gospel in Ephesus and beyond.  The Ephesians benefitted from Apollos’ time there.  He built strong and trusted relationships with them.  “When he wanted to go to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him,” (Acts 18:27-28).  He went beyond evangelism to discipleship in Ephesus before he set out for Corinth.  These characters teach us more life lessons about discipleship:

  1. Discipleship is best within the context of a relationship
  2. Apollos’ humility gave him a teachable spirit that could be discipled;
  3. We can only disciple others to the degree that we have been discipled
  4. The mission field is big enough for all of us.

D. Paul returned for an extended stay in Ephesus (sometime between 52-56A.D).  This was during his third missionary journey.  The total time of his two visits was three years (Acts 20:31).  His reception in the synagogue this time was well received as his first visit had been.  When they became difficult, he left the synagogue taking with him the believers and his message to the Gentiles.  As Ephesus was a strategically located city, all the Jews and the Greeks in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord (Acts 19:10).  Paul took discipleship seriously and spent his time building up this church.  In his farewell address with the elders of Ephesus in Miletus (57 A.D.), he recalled how he spent his time in Ephesus discipling others.  “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia.  I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of the Jews.  You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.  I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus,” (p. 363, Acts 20:18-21).  He “did not hesitate to proclaim to you the whole will of God,” in Ephesus, (p. 364, Acts 20:27). While he was there the name of Jesus was held in high honor and many turned away from their sorcery to the Lord (Acts 19:17-19).  So many turned to Jesus that the silversmiths revolted and nearly killed Paul, so Paul moved on from Ephesus.  Paul’s discipleship of this church did not end with his departure.  He wrote to them from his house arrest in Rome, between 60-62 A.D.  By studying this letter, we discover that this church has no particular problem that Paul feels the need to address as he did to most of the other churches.  This reveals the fruit of the investment that Paul and others had made here.  He reminded them of their call in Christ and of the conduct that should result from a new life in Christ (p. 373-376).

E. Timothy spent time ministering and discipling in Ephesus.  By the time Paul wrote to his son in the faith, problems were beginning to creep in there.  Paul encouraged him to “remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines nor pay attention to myths and endless genealogies,” (1 Tim. 1:3-4).  Timothy was reminded that “the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith,” (1 Tim. 1:5).  Timothy battled those who wanted to teach the Law in Ephesus.  Paul encouraged Timothy to persevere in his teaching (1 Tim. 4:13, 16) the believers in Ephesus in doctrine and in lifestyle–discipleship.  Timothy was still in Ephesus when Paul wrote him a second time in 67 A.D.  Discipleship was on Paul’s mind when he instructed Timothy that “the things which you heard from me…entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also,” (2 Tim. 2:2).     Paul  -> Timothy -> faithful men -> others  Paul understood the necessity of discipleship for duplication.

F. Onesiphorusserved the Lord well in Ephesus.  We only know what Paul said about him—that he often refreshed Paul, that he eagerly sought out Paul in Rome and that he, like Timothy, knew very well the services he rendered in Ephesus (2 Tim. 1:16-18).

G. Priscilla and Aquila were back in Ephesus by the time Paul wrote to Timothy in 67 A.D. (2 Tim. 4:19).

H. Tychicuswas a friend of Paul’s who was with him in Corinth (Acts 20:3-6) and was from Asia minor, possibly even Ephesus.  He was a “beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord” (Eph. 6:21) who probably carried Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (60-62 A.D.) and whom Paul was again sending to Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:12, 67 A.D.).  Though it is not explicit, we can safely assume that Tychicus discipled the believers in Ephesus.

I. John the revelator probably lived and served in Ephesus in the late first century.

Life Lesson Two:  Discipleship Matters. 

It is the only way to protect the church from going astray.  It protects believers from deceivers.  It builds up the church, grounds new believers, fosters the maturation process of developing saints, and results in more disciplers.  Discipleship must be deliberate, determined, doctrinally sound and with an aim for duplication.

Discussion Question/Application: 

Will you commit to an intentional discipleship relationship?  With whom and how?  Will you seek a Paul or be a Paul?

III.       Ephesus After—Persevere in devotion to Christ.

A. John the revelator, while exiled to the island of Patmos, received the revelation of Christ.  He was told to write to the churches in Asia, including Ephesus.  Most evangelical scholars date Revelation at 95 or 96 A.D.  Extra-biblical sources place John in Ephesus in his later years serving as a bishop of sorts over the churches in the province of Asia.  Tradition holds that John the apostle who was charged by Jesus to care for His mother also took Mary with him to Ephesus where early church father wrote that she died.  The message to the church in Ephesus comes from Christ himself and gives us a glimpse into the spiritual condition of this church approximately 25 years after Paul’s death and some 45 years after its birth.  Ephesus is the only church in the Bible that we can trace throughout such a long history and glean its lessons from history.

B. By this time (95 A.D.), the church in Ephesus was made up of second generation believers who were known for their exemplary hard work.  “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake and have not grown weary,” (Rev. 2:2-3).  From this we can see the fruit of all the Christians who poured their lives into this church, growing it up in service.  They did not tolerate false teachers.  They had learned discernment.  They did not tolerate evil men of any sort.  They were a serving church.  Need a Habitat for Humanity team?—they were there.  Need to feed the homeless?—they were there.  Need to organize a Sunday School program?  They were there, and they never grew weary in faithful service in more than 40 years!   We can now know that the false teachers that Timothy began to ward off have paid off.

C. BUT.  The last thing that anybody should want to hear from Jesus is but.  “But this I have against you, that you have left your first love,” (Rev. 2:4).  In spite of all they had right, they were lacking a deep devotion to their first love—Christ.  How far they had fallen since Paul had written his epistle to them and said, “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,” (Eph. 1:16-17).   Just like in Paul’s letter, their love for one another abounding out of their overflowing love for and faith in Christ.  The two cannot be divorced one from the other.  Faith in Christ rightly produces love for His body.  Genuine believers are in view here as losing sight of the main thing.  They were doing what was right, but for the wrong reason.

Life Lesson Three:  Persevere in love for Christ. 

Doctrine is no substitute for devotion; labor is no substitute for love.  It is possible for believers to serve and sacrifice for “My name’s sake” and still lose passion for the Lord Himself.  We should evaluate ourselves personally, and we should cautiously examine the church as a community.  It was the church that Jesus held accountable for the loss of passion.  It was a problem bigger than an individual.  It was a community problem.  The last Christian generation could be us—you and me—unless we do cling to Christ and disciple new saints.  We must introduce others to Jesus. The Christian life is based upon a PERSON.  It is a relationship with Christ first and with His body.  We are to worship God and out of that flows a love that compels us to do good deeds.  It compels believers to respond as Jesus did—compassionately, mercifully and sacrificially.  The church today would do well to ask as Amy Carmichael did when she screened those who wanted to work in her ministry, “Is the cross the attraction?”[1]

Learning activity:  Design the perfect church based upon what you have learned.  What are its distinguishing characteristics?  Programs?  Values?

            [1] Elisabeth. Elliot, A Chance to Die: The Life and Legacy of Amy Carmichael (Tarrytown, NY: Revell, 1987) 198.

Dianic Wicca – The Rebirth of an Old Cult

Not long ago, Americans would have scoffed at the idea that people would return to the ancient cults of goddess worship, honoring nature as the creative force.  Yet that is exactly what has happened.  Americans and Britons—especially women—are flocking to this revival of worship of Diana. Estimates vary, but several sources say there are between 100,000 and 200,000 practicing Wiccans in the U.S. today.  Dianic Wicca is one sect of Wicca that has given rise to a new deceit from the old Artemis (or Diana) of Ephesus.  Wiccan rituals include spells, as noted in Acts 19.  But unlike Satanic witchcraft, Wiccans are forbidden from engaging in destructive or manipulative magic.  The hit television show Charmed featured young women practicing the art of magic.  Sadly, teenage girls are prime participants in goddess worship. You can learn more about this by going to, Articles about Dianic Wicca from or Wikipedia.

There is nothing new under the sun, as King Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes. How can the people of God use this info? Do you know anyone who needs to freed from these demonic forces?

Submissive: Ephesians 1:17-23; 5:15—6:3; Colossians 3:1-25, Philippians 1:27—2:11

We are on our second to last study as we have journied through “The Story” together. Let’s turn to the pages of Scripture and see what God has revealed in his Word that he wants us to know about today. Today we study a topic that no one really likes to hear or study; submission. It is a theme that we will see in some of Paul’s letters.

“Paul’s Final Days”, chapter 30 of the THE STORY, tells us how one of the most influential men in history “finished the race”.  His conversion from a murderer of Christians, to a fervent ambassador of Christ shows the great power of Christ in us.  The letters he wrote from prison to the churches he established give us a glimpse of what was on his mind: the unity of believers in the love of Christ and under the Lordship of Christ. The church is God’s plan to bring all people to Christ, but the family is not only supposed to illustrate that relationship, it is the real life workshop where the skills to relate to one another are learned.  Submission to authority is the key.  If only we would submit.

I. All Power and Authority. Genesis 3:1-13; Ephesians 1:17-23

As we near the end of THE STORY, we find ourselves returning full circle to the dilemma that faced Adam and Eve.  Perhaps Paul was thinking, “By now, we should understand submission.”  But the truth is the struggle still goes on in every life and in every relationship.  Discover what God wants people to understand through Paul:  that our best choice in life is submit to God.

1.  What was the question that Eve was forced to answer and how did it convict her? (Genesis 3:13)

2.  What had she chosen not to do? (Genesis 3:2-3)

Many years later Paul was praying for the Ephesian Christians with thanksgiving because, in Christ, they had something Eve didn’t have.  Eve didn’t have the knowledge and power of Christ dwelling within.

3. What kind of authority does Christ have in the church? Ephesians 1:22

4. Fill in the blanks:  He is seated “in the heavenly realms, far above all _____________, and

______________ , _________________, and _________________, and every ____________

that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21).

Explain what Christ’s total authority means to you in your own words. (cf. Rev. 1:8)

5.  How much power is working in the lives of Christians? (Ephesians 1:19-20)

6.  What does Paul pray that the Ephesian believers would have? What are the two things he wishes they would know? (Ephesians 1:17-18)

Sometimes we get confused because we try to “overthink” an issue.  But we don’t have the ability to think like God does.  There are some things we trust God with.  That God is the source of all power and authority- truth.  That He has placed all power and authority in Jesus Christ- truth.  That the  Holy Spirit dwells in Christians– truth.  When people submit their minds to the truths of God’s authority, God will open the door to the restoration of our relationships.  The letters of Paul that come toward the end of his life include instructions about personal and family relationships.  Discover why our best choice regarding relationships is: submit to God.

II. Power and authority in the family. Colossians 3:1-25

In light of the truths about Christ’s authority, as explained in Ephesians 1:17-22, analyze the Colossians passage about the family.

1.  What advice does Paul give as introduction to this passage? 3:1-2

2.  According to this passage, how can we allow Christ the right to control the way we relate to each other? 3:9-11

3.  List the controlling attitudes that Paul suggests for dealing with interpersonal difficulties. 3:12-17

4. Note the specific instructions about family relationships from Colossians 3:18-21.




5. Paul anticipates that each individual will hold this personal reservation in his or her heart:  “But what about my needs?”  What will we receive if we obey these teachings? 3:23-24

(Note that this assurance begins the closing thought that applies to the whole passage, not just for verse 22.)

6.  How does Paul classify the lack of submission to these instructions? 3:25

7.  Reread Colossians 3:1-25 in its entirety and find who has the power and authority in all personal relationships?

IV. Power, authority and the church.  Philippians 1:27—2:11

Bradley Blue writes “early Christianity expanded throughout the Empire house by house,” (Marshall & Peterson 474).  That was not just the early evangelist’s missionary strategy; it was God’s missionary strategy.  God has designed just two social structures: the family and the church.  The early church met in family homes. Ideally the church and home would mirror one another. The mission of each is parallel: the birth and nurturing of children.  Discover what is true about submission in the church.

1. What were the Philippian Christians facing, and can we relate to the same things today? 1:29

2.  How should we conduct ourselves then? 1:27a

3. How should we relate to one another in the church? 1:27b

4.  What would complete Paul’s joy as well as bring joy to Our Lord? 2:2

5.  What are the results if we live this way? 2:1

6.  What should our treatment of others be, and what is the motivation for it? 2:3-4

7.  Paul describes the attitude of Christ in 2:6-8.  Which concept is most meaningful to you? Explain.

8. What will be the final result of Jesus’ humbling of himself? 2:9-11

9.  Fill in the blank:  Power and authority came to Jesus through _________________ to God.

V. The Mystery explained.  Ephesians 5:15—6:3

Our human minds can’t understand how submission will ultimately give us power, or how humility will ultimately result in exaltation.  But if we demand power and if we try to exalt ourselves we will never understand.  Paul seems to portray the family as a working lab where Christians can test how the knowledge and power of Christ in us functions.

1.  What is the family structure? How should we view submission in this context? (5:22-32)

2.  How  are the children viewed? (5:1; 6:4)

3.  Fill in the blanks to find the characteristics of a healthy family (and a healthy church):

“Be ______________ of God…and live a life of (1) _______________.”  Ephesians 5:1-2

(2) ___________________ to one another out of __________________ for __________________.”

Ephesians 5:21

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be (3) ______________ to his wife, and the

two shall become ___________ flesh.  This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about

_____________   and the _________________.  Ephesians 5:22-33 (See “Who’s Who in the Family” by Carol Stine)

4.  How do we know that Eve was a part of Adam (one flesh) at the creation? Genesis 2:18-24

5.  When a man and woman are joined in marriage they are ____________    ________________.

6.  When we become Christians, who joins our spirit? Acts 2:38; Ephesians 3:14-21

7. To summarize then, write the three main characteristics of the church and of the family from the

passages above (1) _________________,  (2)_________________, and  (3) _____________. (see question #3)

The biblical teaching on marriage reveals that it is a spiritual relationship, that God designed it, and that He needs to be involved in the relationship for intimacy and unity to develop.  It’s easy to see why the world rejects God’s pattern for marriage, in fact, rejects marriage at all.  A marriage between a believer and a non-believer presents some difficulties, although that is not to say love and unity are absent.  Nor is every Christian marriage trouble-free.  But the Bible speaks to this issue as well.

8.  How should a wife influence a non-believing husband? 1 Peter 3:1-4

9.  According to Paul, should a wife divorce a non-believing husband if she is a follower of the Lord after she has already married? I Corinthians 7:12-13

The truth is, Satan destroyed God’s plan for marriage when he led Adam and Eve to rebel against God.  But an even more powerful truth is that through our marriage relationship God can purify our hearts and bring out the gold in us.

Key question:  How will you submit to the Lord in an important relationship in your life?

For additional reflection:  Answer the following questions regarding the marriage relationship from Ephesians 5:25-29?

What would indicate a husband’s submission to the Lord in his relationship with his wife?

What is the example he should follow regarding his wife?

Why should an unmarried Christian consider a prospective spouse’s relationship to God?

Paul’s Mission (Bible Study)


Recap of Chapter 29

Saul began his career as a radical Jewish scholar who was so convinced the Christians were wrong that he had them imprisoned and stoned.  After an encounter with the resurrected Jesus he became a Christ-follower.  Saul became Paul (his Greek name) who proclaimed Christ to the Jews first and also to the Gentiles.  Led by the Holy Spirit, the believers in their home base of Antioch in Syria commissioned Paul and Barnabas and sent them out as missionaries to spread the news that Jesus the Messiah is raised from the dead.  Their first missionary journey took them to the island of Cyprus where they encountered a Jewish sorcerer who opposed them, and a Roman proconsul who embraced the gospel.  They set sail for the region of Galatia (present south-central Turkey).  They were invited to preach in the synagogue in Antioch, and after an initial favorable reception, they faced persecution so they turned their sights toward the Gentiles.

Paul was joined by Timothy, Silas, and eventually Luke for his second missionary journey.  They visited many cities in Macedonia, including Philippi where a church was begun in Lydia’s home.  The evangelists were beaten and thrown in jail where their faith convicted not only their jailer, but apparently the other prisoners as well.  Many Jews and Greeks from Thessalonica believed before Paul and Silas were sent away for their own protection.  Paul then met Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth where he was again opposed by the Jews.  But Gentiles believed, so Paul stayed and ministered there for about a year and a half.  He also wrote letters to these churches to teach and encourage them.  He wrote the Thessalonians to encourage them to continue to be the model of Christianity that they had become in expectation of the Lord’s return.

After returning to his base of operations in Antioch, Paul set out on his third journey.  As he strengthened the churches in the Galatian region, Apollos showed up in Ephesus where he met Priscilla and Aquila. He was a powerful speaker and strong disciple, but needed further teaching.  Paul arrived in Ephesus, a hotbed of pagan idolatry, and as he began teaching in the synagogue, most Jews rejected his message.  He stayed more than two years teaching both Jews and Greeks.  Many people from the region came to hear him as the word spread.  Some of the Ephesians believed and left their idols and witchcraft in exchange for a new life in Christ.  This did not set well with the idol artisans who staged a riot to drive Paul out-of-town.  While in Ephesus, he penned letters to churches in Corinth, Galatia and Rome, though he had not yet visited there.

The Corinthian church had enjoyed a who’s who of early church leaders.  This privilege should have prodded them onto Christian maturity but instead they chose sides like children on a playground.  Paul chastised them for their divisiveness, corrected their immorality and answered questions that they had about spiritual gifts.  They needed to practice sacrificial love for one another.  Some were even denying the resurrection so Paul gave them a remedial lesson on the essentials of the gospel and the hope of a future resurrection.  The Galatian churches were confused by Jewish Christians who insisted they practice the Jewish ceremonial rites.  Paul’s letter is a masterpiece on Christian liberty as he defended justification by faith alone.  Paul’s pastoral desire to minister to the believers in Rome prompted him to write a letter to convey the foundations of the Christian faith.   In spite of every form of opposition, the word of God could not be contained.  God sovereignly saw to it that obstacles became opportunities for Paul and others to take the gospel “even to the ends of the earth.”

The Christian Life in a Corinthian World

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!  Just do it!  You only live once!  Our culture is marked by indulgence, immorality and self-gratification.  But as the wise Solomon once wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun,” (Eccl. 1:9c).  The parallels between ancient Corinth and contemporary America are uncanny, which makes the lessons from this letter particularly applicable to us today.  While all of the books of the Bible are best understood within their historical context, the issues addressed in this particular epistle can only really be appreciated within the broader context of the cultural influences of the time.  As we explore the challenges that Paul faced in Corinth, we will begin to see that his challenges were not so different from our own.  Therefore, we will find a wealth of practical application from this portion of Scripture.

I.       The Corinthian World

A. The Corinthian world was fraught with vice and sin, wealth and decadence.  When Paul was rejected by the Jews there, he must have thought that there was no one else who would hear the gospel, let alone believe it!  This helps explain the vision that Paul had in Corinth that Luke recorded for us.  The Lord spoke to Paul and encouraged him to be unafraid.  He said, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.  For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city,” (p. 344, Acts 18:9-10).

B. The Corinthian world was a stronghold of worldly philosophy, cultural immorality and pagan idolatry.  With Athens only 45 miles away, the Greeks prided themselves on their philosophical debates and their refined knowledge.  The Corinthians’ purposed to embrace the philosophical wisdom of her Athenian neighbors.  Because of her strategic port location, the immorality of Corinth was legendary.  The economy was kept afloat with trade, sailors and prostitution, gambling and other vices that accompanied the unsavory crowds that frequented this major metropolis.  The temple of Aphrodite was known for its temple prostitutes and the term corinthianize was coined to describe sexual immorality.  Along with Aphrodite, Apollo was also worshiped there in a huge temple.  The city was made up of both have’s and have not’s.  It had a wealthy class and it also had freed slaves who were poor which created some socioeconomic friction.

C. The ancient Corinthian world had much in common with our contemporary culture.  Many people lament that America was once a Christian nation, a beacon of freedom to worship, a society of law abiding citizens.  Now, however, like Corinth, our culture has become corrupted (if indeed it was ever a Christian nation which remains a topic of debate beyond the scope of this lesson).  A worldly philosophy permeates our educational system.  Sexual immorality has become so mainstreamed that we are desensitized to its far-reaching tentacles, and the chaste are viewed with a wary eye.  Pockets of vice provide a playground for otherwise sensible people.  We are a culture of “anything goes,” even using our own lusts a marketing tool to draw people toward decadence and self-gratification regardless of the high cost financially, morally or personally.

II.       The Corinthian Church Correction

A. It was Paul’s habit to go to the synagogue first.  Those in the synagogue would be prepared to receive the gospel of Jesus as their Messiah made ready by their knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures that anticipated the coming One.  The Jews were steeped in the Law, so they understood sin and its implications for judgment, as well as the hope that comes from the One True God.

B. While some Jews gladly embraced Jesus as Messiah, most did not.  Paul was thrown out of the synagogue so he brushed himself off and took the Good News to the Gentile population.  As already noted, the Gentile populations’ only knowledge of gods came from their pagan surroundings.  Sin was not shameful, for it was not even known to be sin!  It is from these roots that the baby church in Corinth sprung forth.  Paul had his work cut out for him.  He, along with Timothy, Silas, Priscilla, Aquila and eventually Apollos and Peter all schooled these Gentiles in the knowledge and grace of Jesus Christ.

C. Paul eventually moved on.  While residing in Ephesus on his third missionary journey, word came to him that there were big problems in the CorinthianChurch.  He had poured a year and a half of his life into them, so he had earned the right and had the responsibility to correct these carnal Christians.

D.    The Corinthian Church was marked by immaturity.

Paul said, “I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ….You are still not ready.  You are still worldly,” (1 Cor. 3:1-3).  Grow up!  They were not acting with Christian maturity but with immaturity.  Their immaturity was manifesting itself in diverse ways.

  1. Divisions in the church:  Instead of maturing in the faith under the discipleship of the great church leaders that came to Corinth, they splintered into groups around the different leaders.  Paul said, “I appeal to you…that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be united in mind and thought… One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’ another says ‘I follow Apollos’ another ‘I follow Cephas’ still another, ‘I follow Christ,’” (1 Cor. 1:10-12).
  2. Divisions in worldview:  While Paul spoke the wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit, many Corinthians were shaped by the worldly philosophical “wisdom” of the Greek culture.  (1 Cor. 2)  This caused further divisions between groups there.  Paul encouraged the Christians by showing that the Spirit provides true wisdom.
  3. Divisions in daily living:   The believers had many questions about living out their faith in the real world.  They still had to learn to navigate through decisions in daily life in a culture hostile to holy living.  So they wrote to Paul for guidance in specific areas that caused them problems.  First Corinthians 7-16 is the part of Paul’s letter that speaks to these problems.  Believers were filing law suits against one another instead of settling matters privately and justly among themselves.  They needed guidance in marriage, divorce and living singly.  They did not know how to handle dietary problems that were associated with the idolatry around them.  Christians were disruptive during worship and were failing to honor the Lord’s Supper as holy.  A mature person would have understood that God’s purpose for spiritual gifts is for serving the Body in love.  However, these immature Corinthians were arguing over whose gift was more important, more glamorous even. Paul corrected their misguided notions and admonished them to love one another sacrificially instead of elevating one person’s gifting over another.
  4. Divisions in doctrine:  Paul was aghast that some among them had apparently dismissed a crucial aspect of the gospel and its implications on the Christian life.  They were denying the resurrection!  Paul gave them a written remedial lesson in the essentials of the gospel, including the non-negotiable point that Jesus was raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3-8).  Based on Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, Paul argued that all believers should look forward in hopeful expectation of our own future redemption of our bodies.  Just as Christ was resurrected to live forever, so too can all Christians look forward to eternal life in a resurrected body.  Paul reminded them that this teaching was THE basis of the Christian faith.  If we all will not be resurrected, then Jesus Himself must not have been resurrected because He too is fully man.  If Jesus was not resurrected then we are all still dead in our sins and our faith is worthless (1 Cor. 15:13-17).

Paul corrected these misguided believers and urged them to grow up in Christian maturity.

E.    The Corinthian Church was marked by immorality.

Immaturity necessarily leads to all kinds of problems including sexual immorality.  These believers were coming from a culture that accepted immorality as the norm.  In fact, temple prostitution was itself a form of pagan worship.  Not only was it accepted and normal, it was spiritual too.

  1. Paul was stunned to hear of the immorality within the Church.  In one case, a man was sleeping with his father’s wife—a sin that even the Gentiles in the community repudiated (1 Cor. 5:1).  While the questions surrounding this particular sin are beyond the scope of this lesson, the point remains that believers in the Church were participating in sexually immoral behavior. (1 Cor. 5-6)

  2. Paul was even more astonished with the Church’s failure to address the sexual immorality among its members (1 Cor. 5).  Paul knew full well that to live in the world means to live among sinners.  But sin in the Church that goes unchecked will eventually pollute the whole body.  “Your boasting is not good.  Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” (1 Cor. 5:6)

  3. Many of the believers in this Church were coming out of sexual sin and into a relationship with Christ.  They came from all forms of immorality including fornication (sexual relations outside of marriage), adultery, and various forms of homosexuality.  But, like all sinners, they had been washed and sanctified by faith in Christ Jesus and were now in the Spirit (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

  4. Sexual immorality is a unique kind of sin because it is in one’s own body.  The body is now the temple residence of the Spirit which was purchased at a very high price.  Therefore, every believer must flee from sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:15-20)

III.       Christian Living in a Corinthian World—Application for Today

A. What then should we learn from this brief overview of the Corinthians’ problems and Paul’s mid-course correction of them?  Given the uncanny parallels between our own culture and the ancient but decadent Corinthian culture, Paul’s letter gives us insight into our own church today, warns us of pitfalls and directs us for discipling.

B. The Christian life is marked by maturity.  Grow up!  It still applies to our church today.  Christian maturity would solve many of our problems.  A healthy church will always have believers at every level of maturity on the spectrum.  A healthy church should have new converts who are rightly babes in Christ.  It should have believers who are always growing, learning to navigate their faith in a Corinthian world.  A healthy church also has mature believers who serve as the church’s rudder, guiding and nurturing the younger believers in the faith.  New converts who are rightly babes in Christ are not the problem.  The problem erupts when those who have been believers for awhile continue to subsist on “milk” instead of “meat.”  Their failure to mature as believers will breed divisions within the Body, divisions in worldview, divisions in negotiating daily living and divisions in the doctrines of the faith.  Without mature believers to nurture others, a church is doomed to disunity.

  1. Christian maturity produces unity in the Church.   Some of us have experienced the painful occurrence of a splintered Body or worse—a church split.  Splintering is often a result of a small thing that could have been resolved maturely, but instead snowballed into a full split.  Maturity does not necessarily result in uniformity, but mature believers will choose unity over winning.  The mature give up their rights!
  2. Christian maturity produces a biblical worldview.   Most new converts to the faith today bring with them a secular worldview.  Many Christian homes cannot be distinguished from the non-Christian home in their approach to thinking about the world.  Paul wrote to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect,” (Rom 12:2).  We begin to view the world through God-tinted glasses, looking for His Upper Story work in Lower Story events.  We consider carefully and thoughtfully what are God’s priorities and how might we shape the world with them instead of allowing the world to shape us.  We begin to treat people with Christ-like compassion, respect and dignity instead of treating people as does the world.
  3. Christian maturity produces holy living.  In our ever-changing world we encounter new obstacles that are not necessarily addressed in the Bible.  A mature Christian learns to apply biblical principles to new situations as he or she navigates through the choppy waters of daily living.  Mature Christians respect one another’s freedom in Christ to make different decisions within the context of a biblical worldview.
  4. Christian maturity produces unity in essential doctrines and charity in the non-essentials.  The mature Christian also knows the difference.  There are some teachings that must be adhered to or else fellowship should be broken.  Here is a good place to draw out thoughts from your students.  What are the essentials?  Paul was a staunch advocate for maintaining the purity of the gospel, for salvation by grace through faith and nothing more, and sanctification by faith.  We should defend the Triune God at all costs.  We should hold to the truth of who is Jesus—fully God, fully man, fully paid the price of sin through His death and resurrection.  We stand firm on the truth and reliability of the Scriptures as the revelation of God to us.  But there are also many non-essentials that we can allow for in Christian love and freedom.  What are some non-essentials?  Instrumental music is one issue our church has dealt with.  There is considerable debate about the order of events and the timing of the Lord’s return among Christians.  This is a non-essential doctrine which warrants our gracious charity toward our brothers and sisters who might interpret it differently.

C. The Christian life is marked by morality.  Like the Corinthian Church, our converts into our church are coming out of a culture saturated in immorality, especially sexual immorality.  In years past, even non-Christians in our own culture adhered to moral standards that mirrored our own.  It was difficult to know who was a Christian and who was not from a cursory observation.  It is now sadly true that it is still difficult to know who is a Christian and who is not because our morals have been more shaped by our culture than by our relationship with Christ.  Statistically, Christians’ morality is just like our non-Christian neighbors’ in fornication (pre-marital sex), adultery, pornography use, and divorce.  It should not surprise us because our Christian converts are coming from a culture steeped in immorality.  In other words, the starting point of most new Christians begins with a moral deficit.

What are the implications?

  1. More intentional discipleship will be required than in the past.  Just like Paul’s time (and Timothy, Silas, etc.) with the Corinthian Church was more pastorally intensive, so must be our discipleship of new converts today.

  2. Jewish converts already understood sin, God, and their long history of His work in their lives.  Gentile converts began at square one.  Today most converts to the faith are also at square one and we need to take care to nurture them as babes beginning with the most basic lessons.

  3. While salvation and sanctification is by faith and the work of the Spirit in us, we must learn to walk by the Spirit through practice.  The writer of Hebrews said, “By this time some of you ought to be teachers, but you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food…But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil,” (Heb. 5:12, 14).

  4. Many Christian converts have dabbled in other “spiritual things” that amount to idolatry just like the Corinthian Church.  We must be intentional about helping these converts unlearn their former experiences and learn afresh the freedom and joy of a relationship with Christ.

Discussion questions/Issues to think about 

  1. Some of us come from a rich heritage of faith.  Others of us came to faith out of very worldly circumstances like Corinth.  In general, what are some advantages and disadvantages of both sides?
  2. Choose no more than five traits that define what it means to be a “mature Christian”. Why is maturity important in the church?  Be prepared to share your table’s five traits with the class.
  3. How does the morality of our culture shape our Church and what are the implications for evangelism and discipleship?
  4. Have you ever personally experienced or observed church infighting?  What were the consequences?

Chapter 29: Lydia

Open Door: Acts 15:36—16:40

Let’s now turn to the pages of God’s Word to see what he is planning to teach us today.

With little fanfare Luke describes how Paul arrived at Philippi, where he met a woman who opened her door for the first church in Europe!  The Story, chapter 29, summarizes the missionary work that Paul and his teams accomplished.  Upon arriving in a new area, Paul’s strategy was to connect with the local synagogue where he knew he would find followers of God.  He would introduce Jesus to them as the promised Messiah, through whom they would find salvation.  Often the doors to the synagogue soon closed to him, as well as the minds of the synagogue leaders. However Philippi was not a Jewish region, and there was no synagogue.  God led Paul straight to Lydia.

I.  Led by the Spirit.  Acts 15:36—16:10

The second missionary journey began with what might have seemed like a step backwards– a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas.  Actually, hindsight gives us the advantage of seeing that the ministry was doubled as two teams were now evangelizing.  Discover how God led Paul and Silas to Philippi.

1.  What was Paul’s desire? (15:36)

2.   Who joined them in Lystra? (16:1)                     Who joined them in Macedonia (16:10)

3.  Why didn’t Paul travel into northern Asia (Bithynia) like he desired? (16:6-10)

4.  Note that Paul’s team was redirected two times. What door was open to them? (16:12)

Christians had been scattered all over the known world during the years of persecution in Jerusalem, yet there is no record of any churches that had been established in Macedonia before Paul arrived. Now the Lord had prepared the way, and He had opened the hearts of some who would carry on the responsibility even after Paul’s team had to leave.

II. “Meet Me By the River”. Acts 16:11-15, 40

“Meet Me by the River” is a praise song that reminds us of the hope of that river of everlasting life that flows from God’s throne (cf. Revelation 22:1).  One day I’d love to sit by the ‘Eternal River’ and talk to Lydia about her life and to learn about those god-fearing people whom Paul found by the river near Philippi.

1. On the Sabbath, what were Paul and his team looking for when they headed to the river? (16:13)

2.  Describe who they found there.  (16:13-14)

3.  How did the evangelists take advantage of this open door? (16:13)

4.  What are the two distinct terms that Luke uses to explain how Lydia received the teaching? (16:14)

5.  Besides the words of the evangelist, what influenced her heart? (16:14)

6.  What was her response? (16:15)

7.  What did she persuade Paul and his team to do? (16:15)

8.  How many people do we know were travelling with Paul? (15:40, 16:10-note the pronoun “we”)

9.  Where did the church of Philippi meet? (16:40)

III. The Philippian Church.  Acts 16:14-40.

Lydia is the second woman mentioned in Acts who made an important contribution to the body of believers in her area.  Her story is similar to the story of Mary, the mother of John, about whom we studied last week.  She was a Jewess in Jerusalem who offered her home as a meeting place for believers, even during a time of persecution. Lydia was a Gentile who opened her doors to the largely Gentile Philippian believers. The first converts to the Philippian church make up a cross-section of the culture of the day.  The interesting thing is they could have come from any city in the world today!

1.  The next time Paul and his team went to a place of prayer whom did they rescue? (16:16-18)

2.  How did that good deed affect Paul and Silas? (16:19-24)

3.  As you read the story of what happened next, note the things that only God could have done. (16:25-29)

4.  How did the jailer respond when Paul taught him the Word of God? (16:30-34)

5.  After the magistrates had to apologize to Paul and Silas, what did they do? (16:39b)

6.  Where did they go before they left town? (16:40)

7.  What did they do there? (16:40b)

There is no doubt that God orchestrated the establishment of the church in Philippi.  He worked miraculously in the lives of the first three converts in Philippi.

8.  Note briefly how God opened the doors to their hearts.


The slave girl_____________________________________________________________

The jailer________________________________________________________________

9.  God also provided a benefactor for this new church plant.  Note some things that we know and that we can assume about Lydia:

Her profession and resources. (16:14a)

Her character.  (16:14b)

Her dedication. (16:15)

Her sacrifice. (16:40)

Her home. (16:15, 40)

10.  Considering the treatment Paul and Silas received, what kind of risk would Lydia and the other believers have been exposed to?

IV. Our Open Doors. 

The birth of the church in Philippi was lovingly and carefully brought into being by none other than Jesus Himself, through His Spirit.  He held their hearts and, we can almost imagine, the hands of the evangelists and their first converts.  But is the story any different today?  Is our Lord still so vitally interested in the birth of new churches around the world?  Let’s analyze.  Answer the following questions about churches you know:

1.  Prayer was a key characteristic of both New Testament churches that we know met in the homes of godly women (Acts 12:12; 16:13).  How has prayer been a key characteristic of the churches you know?

2.  Describe the details and situations that you know only God could have brought about.

3.  Tell how God has moved someone’s heart to pay attention to the teaching of the Word and to act upon it.

4.  Now that you know the story of the Philippian church, read Philippians 1:3-6.  In your own words, explain why Paul wrote that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”.

Key Question:  How is God opening the door in your heart to help you to pay attention and respond to Him in some area of your life?


For additional reflection:  List the assurances that Paul shares with the Philippian believers in his letter to them:






New Beginnings (Bible Study)


Recap of Chapter 28

What could turn a group of gutless deserters into courageous, outspoken evangelists willing to be imprisoned and even die for their cause?  They had witnessed the resurrected Christ. He had proved Himself alive for forty days to various people in a variety of circumstances and places.  Just before His ascension, Jesus told the disciples to wait for the promised power of the Holy Spirit so that they could be witnesses to His resurrection in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  Ten days later on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit stormed in like tongues of fire.  He empowered each disciple to declare the gospel.  Peter became the first mega-church preacher and that day three thousand new believers were baptized.  This new community of believers embraced teaching and fellowship and enjoyed the favor of nearly all the people.  All but the powerful Jewish rulers, that is.

The new church continued to grow rapidly.  The apostles were even able to perform miracles similar to those Jesus had done!  As the apostles spread the word of the resurrection in Jerusalem, they incited outrage and opposition from the Jewish rulers.  Peter refused to be silenced and continued to speak in spite of orders to stop.  Even a severe flogging could not curb his zealous proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah. Stephen’s scathing sermon before the Sanhedrin showed how the Jews had repeatedly rejected God’s prophets and resisted God’s Spirit.  The Sanhedrin dragged him outside of Jerusalem to stone him.  He saw a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God and entrusted himself to the Lord.

Sparked by the martyring of Stephen, persecution drove Christians like Philip out of Jerusalem and into outlying areas like Samaria. While the opposition grew, so did the spread of the gospel message.  A Pharisee named Saul made it his personal mission to defeat this movement once and for all, but his blinding come-to-Jesus moment on the road to Damascus really “opened his eyes.”  Meanwhile, God prepared Ananias to deliver God’s marching orders to Saul: he had a mission to be God’s witness to the Gentiles.  As Ananias laid his hands upon him, Saul’s sight was restored, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Within a few short days, this persecutor of Christ became a preacher of Christ.  Needless to say, his turnaround was met with suspicion and doubt, but trusted Barnabas vouched for him to the apostles in Jerusalem.  Saul soon found himself on the receiving end of death threats, so he too was sent away from Jerusalem.  The church spread throughout Judea and Samaria as God used even persecution to achieve His Upper Story purpose of spreading the news that Jesus is the risen Messiah.

God’s next move was so radical that He had to prepare both Peter and Cornelius for this new revelation.  While an angel told Roman centurion Cornelius to send for Peter, Peter was given a vision of unclean animals on a sheet. A heavenly voice instructed him to eat this meat that was definitely not kosher. What Peter called impure, God now called clean.  As Peter was trying to interpret the meaning of this vision, Cornelius’ servants arrived and summoned him to their master’s home.  When he explained the gospel to a full house, the Holy Spirit was poured out on these Gentiles too!  The Holy Spirit was now available to all who believed!  Peter now knew his vision was not about food but about God’s plan to declare all people “kosher” who would believe in Christ. Peter’s ministry continued in Jerusalem where Herod Agrippa’s persecution grew deadly.  Peter was imprisoned but even prison bars could not stop God’s plan.  As his friends earnestly prayed for him, an angel miraculously freed him.  Kings, rulers and prison guards all found themselves fighting against God and helpless to stop His plan.  While the Lower Story of persecution drove believers away from Jerusalem, the Upper Story of resurrection drove many to God.  He alone can redeem even the worst of circumstances.  After all, He alone is the God who raised the dead!

Chapter 28: New Beginnings 

The first lesson focuses on discovering more about God the Holy Spirit.  While it is not the intent of this lesson to provide a thoroughly inclusive study of the Holy Spirit, it is the goal to broadly survey the Holy Spirit in a comprehensive way.

The Trinity is rarely taught any more.  Most of us assume that all Christians have a firm grasp on the unique Triune God that we worship and serve.  However, few actually do.  And why would they?  This is one of the most crucial doctrines of the Christian faith and it is rarely taught.  Mature believers tend to assume that everyone understands the concept of the Trinity.  But unless we as teachers make an effort to explicitly do so, we are neglecting our flocks by failing to provide solid teaching that helps our learners know the God who has revealed Himself as three persons but one essence.  Perhaps we shy away from doing so because of our own inability to put a concept so profoundly mysterious into language that we know will be inadequate.  Yet, it is the Trinitarian God who sets Christianity apart from all other forms of religion.  It is the Trinitarian God who is the target of heretical, pseudo-Christian cults.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on my door yesterday.  Their Watch Tower publication states, “…God’s Holy Spirit is not a God, not a member of a trinity, not coequal, and is not even a person…It is God’s active force…”[1]  It is the goal of lesson option one to focus on the Person of the Trinity that seems the most distant but is in fact the most near to us.

[1] The Watch Tower, July 15, 1957, 432-433, cited by Walter R. Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults (rev. ed., Minneapolis:  Bethany, 1997) 102.

Who is the Holy Spirit?

I.       Who is the Holy Spirit?

A. Many Christians find the Holy Spirit to be confusing, elusive or even distant.  We are much more comfortable with the familial terms of “Father” and “Son.”  The term “Spirit” does not seem very personal, familiar or uniquely identifiable.  The Holy Spirit is mentioned infrequently in the Old Testament, is spoken of occasionally in the gospels, but takes center stage in Acts and this chapter of The Story.  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit marks a revolutionary change in God’s historical plan of redemption.  It is therefore crucial that we gain the best understanding possible of this change, diligently strive to know the Holy Spirit as He is revealed in the Scriptures and embrace Him as the One through whom we draw near to Jesus.

B. The Holy Spirit is God.

  1. Our relationship with God is through the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, how we perceive the Holy Spirit will directly impact how we relate to Him and how we understand our religious experiences.
  2. Our study of the Old Testament makes very clear that no thing should be worshiped, for that is idolatry.  God is jealous and He alone is to be worshiped.  So to worship the Holy Spirit, if He is not God, would be idolatry.  To fail to worship the Holy Spirit if He is God would rob Him of the adoration, love and surrender that He is rightly due.
  3. The Holy Spirit is closely associated to both the Father and to the Son.  He is called the “Spirit of the Father” (Matt. 10:20).  He is called the “Spirit of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:11) and the “Spirit of Jesus” (Acts 16:7).  He must be divine to be so closely associated to the Father and the Son.
  4. The Holy Spirit has divine attributes.  He does what God does.  He participated in creation (Gen. 1:2).  He convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (Jn. 16:8-11).  He is the one who reveals the word of God and inspires the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Pet. 1:20-21).

C. The Holy Spirit is a distinct person, an equal person of the Godhead.

  1. Yet the Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son.  However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.  But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. (Rom. 8:9)  He is the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11), so He is distinctly not Jesus, and He dwells in believers.

  2. The Great Commission gives the instruction to baptize in “the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).  These three are associated with the divine Name.

  3. The Spirit knows the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:10-14).  He has intelligence that is His own.  And it does not possess intelligence — a personal being does.

II.       Who is the Holy Spirit to the Church?

A. This chapter emphasizes the birth of the church and the role of the Holy Spirit.  The two are intimately connected.
B. The Holy Spirit reveals the mystery of the Church.  Prior to Pentecost, Israel had been the primary community of faith through whom God worked to reach the world with His message of redemption.  After Pentecost, the Holy Spirit marked both believing Israelites and Gentiles as “one new man” (Eph. 2-3), Jews and Gentiles as one Body, the Church, with Christ as the head (Eph. 5:23-32).
C. The Holy Spirit works to form the community of faith.  The Church is God’s idea and God’s work.  As we see in this chapter of The Story, no man can conjure up the Spirit at will.  God does all the work, even if He graciously allows the Apostles to participate in His work.
D. The Holy Spirit indwells the community of the Church in a special way.  Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor. 3:16).  The Greek “you” here is plural.  There is one body and one Spirit (Eph. 4:4)
E. The Spirit turns the hearts of believers toward one another in love.  The baby Church is marked by love, compassion and generosity because of the work of the Spirit.  The Church is called to “be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” (Eph. 4:3).
F. Although men and women received the gospel as individuals, Paul always wrote to the Church as a whole community.  This community is an organic, vibrant and living Body (1 Cor. 12-14).  First Corinthians 12-14 was written to correct the Corinthian church because they were more concerned about outdoing one another than they were about preserving unity in the Body.  The spiritual gifts that come from the Holy Spirit are for “the common good.”  (1 Cor. 12:7, Eph. 4:12)  They are not meant for personal aggrandizement, but for the equipping of the saints for service.  The good of the Church as a community should never be eclipsed by an individual’s expression or exercise of a gift.

G. The Church is now the primary community through whom God works to reach the world with the message of redemption found in Christ Jesus and is uniquely empowered through the Spirit to disciple the saved to maturity  (Eph. 4:1-16).

III.       Who is the Holy Spirit to me?

A. He is the Indwelling One.  Many of us remember our lives before we came to Christ, before our spiritual births.  When we were empty and found ourselves drawn to Christ, placed our faith in Him and experienced a new and fresh infusion of the Lord’s presence in our lives, it was the work of the Holy Spirit. The activities of the Spirit touch us directly.  The indwelling Spirit is not to be confused with our own spirit, but nevertheless, He lives and works within us.

  1. It is through the Spirit that we are born again (Jn. 3:5).  This chapter of The Story from the book of Acts shows the saving work of the Spirit on the various groups of people as they came to faith in Christ.
  2. Prior to Pentecost, the Spirit’s presence came upon believers temporarily.  We studied young king David who was anointed with the Spirit.  Judge Samson was anointed with the Spirit and then it left him without him even noticing.  The Spirit was upon John the Baptist.  The Spirit came and went rather than abided with the believers.  This Indwelling Spirit was a major transition in the program of God.
  3. The Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you (Rom. 8:11).
  4. The anointing you receive from Christ abides in you and teaches you and is true (1 Jn. 2:27).

B.     He is the Sanctifying One.  While we are justified before God by faith in the finished work of Christ, the Spirit works to transform us.  He convicts us of sin and helps us to be holy which we can never be without Him.

  1.  If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body you will live (Rom. 8:13).
  2. The Spirit leads all who are sons of God (Rom. 8:14) through Whom we are adopted as sons (Rom. 8:15) and Who assures us of our sonship (Rom. 8:16).
  3. The Spirit is the one who transforms us from the inside out into the likeness of Christ. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we , with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with every-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:17-18).
  4. He is the one who teaches us (1 Cor. 2:10-13, Jn. 14:26).  He illumines the Scriptures so that we can understand them.  He reveals the deeper truths of God.  He guides, speaks, testifies and convicts.  He tells what He hears.  These are things that only a personal agent can do.
  5. Submitting to the Spirit will prevent us from carrying out the desire of the flesh (Gal. 5:16-21).
  6. The Spirit produces fruit in the life of the believer (Gal. 5:22) so that we may exhibit Christ-like qualities and attributes.

C. He is the Helper. On the eve of His crucifixion, in Jn. 14:16, Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.”  Jesus went on to say, “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”  For those of us who wish we would have experienced the earthly ministry of Jesus, we should take notice that Jesus said we actually have it better than those who experienced His ministry then.  The Holy Spirit is a distinct advantage to us!

  1. The Greek words for “another comforter” are allos paracleton.  Jesus is also a paracletos (1 Jn. 2:1).  The paraclete had various meanings to the Greeks.  In its most literal sense, it means “one who comes along side.”  In the ancient world, it had a legal sense in which a paraclete would plead a person’s case in a court of law.  Some Bible versions use the word Advocate rather than Helper to convey this meaning.  While the judge in a courtroom sits, the Advocate stands.  Remember the stoning of Stephen?  While the earthly Sanhedrin judged him and sentenced him to death, Jesus his Advocate stood at the right hand of God in heaven to plead his case.
  2. The Holy Spirit is our Advocate and Helper too.  He helps us in our weaknesses to pray for us before the Father.  Likewise the Spirit helps in our weaknesses.  For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.  Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.  (Rom. 8:26-27).
  3. He is our Helper and Advocate before the world.  But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak.  But whatever is given you at that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speaks, but the Holy Spirit.  (Mark 13:11). 
  4. Another sense of the word paraclete is one of comfort.  He is our Comforter.  We take comfort knowing He is called alongside us through whatever trial we may face.  Certainly the Holy Spirit provides tender mercy for God’s people in their times of grief and pain.  His comfort consoles the brokenhearted.
  5. The paraclete is the one who gives strength in times of battle.  In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  (Rom. 8:37)  He is the One through Whom we receive great power (Acts 1:8)!  Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus, “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,” (Eph. 3:16).

IV.       Applications and Implications:

A. God desires to be known as He revealed Himself through the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is therefore worthy of my worship, love, and obedience.
B. The Holy Spirit personally indwells me, empowering me to stand firm in battles against sin.
C. The Holy Spirit is to be obeyed.  I am to walk in Him so that I bear fruit in my life.
D. The Holy Spirit transforms me from the inside out.  It is His work, not my own.  But we don’t treat grace lightly.
E. The Holy Spirit indwells the Church in unique ways.  I am not to be disconnected from the community of faith.  I am to be part of the living, vibrant Body called the Church.  I will be missing a vital part of God’s best for me if I neglect the community of the Spirit.
F. I can rest knowing that the Spirit knows how to pray for me when I do not know how to pray.
G. The Holy Spirit will bring comfort and peace to me in a supernatural way when I am grieving and in pain.
H. It is through the Spirit that I have been reborn, renewed and made holy.  Praise Him!
I. It is better for me that Jesus is not here now because He sent the Spirit.

J. The Spirit assures me that I belong to God, that I have been adopted by Him.  When I doubt, the Spirit gives assurance.

Chapter 28: Mary, John Mark’s Mother

Safe House: 

Acts 12:12-17, 1 Peter 3—4

It’s that time once again this week to get your Bible’s open and take a look at what God has for us today. We take a look today at the early church and what helped them thrive as a community of faith.

Though it was not a safe time to be a Christian, the early church persevered; one of the things that helped them endure faithfully was prayer.  In “New Beginnings”, chapter 28 of THE STORY we read how the Apostles taught the gospel message of salvation and how the church began.  The early growth was explosive and impressive.  But when the Jewish leaders saw how their whole power structure was threatened, they turned on the Christians; the enemies of Christ continue the same pattern to this very day. These believers revealed the characteristics of the victorious Church when they met together at the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, to pray for the safety of a brother they loved.  May we follow their example in life and in prayer.

I.  Best of Times, Worst of times. Acts 1—12

When He established the church using signs and wonders, God fulfilled what the prophet Joel predicted, and He did this to verify the apostles’ teaching.  Peter and the Apostles explained who Jesus was and invited their listeners to become his followers.  In his sermon, Peter invited them to come to Jesus and to receive the indwelling of His Spirit to guide their lives—something the Old Testament law couldn’t offer.  In the beginning, the new believers “enjoyed the favor of all people.”  But that soon changed.

1.  Note the events from the Acts passages that show how the new believers were threatened as the church grew. (Dates are approximate).


  • 2:1-13, 41________________________________________________________________
  • 4:1-4____________________________________________________________________
  • 5:17-21,29-33____________________________________________________________
  • 7:54-59__________________________________________________________________

AD 39-40

  • 8:1-3____________________________________________________________________

AD 44

  • 12:1-2___________________________________________________________________
  • 12:3-4___________________________________________________________________

II. God Led Peter to Safety.  Acts 12:5-17

The believers saw God demonstrate His power and protection, even in the midst of severe persecution.  The Jewish (and later the Gentile) opposition used all the human power that was available—from politics to purely vicious physical attacks, including murder.  These enemies were sure they were doing the right thing, but their efforts seemed to inspire growth rather than thwart Christ’s church.  The friends who assembled to pray for Peter when he was arrested could have told them why.

1.  What was happening while Peter was in jail? (v. 5)

2.  Who woke Peter up? (v. 7)

3.  What was Peter’s state of mind as the angel led him away from the jail?  (v. 9)

4.  Where was Peter when he “came to himself”? (v. 11)

5.  When Peter finally realized he had been delivered from Herod by God, where did he “just happen” to go?  (v. 12)

6.  What was the reaction of the people when they saw Peter in person? (v.16)

7.  When Peter finally gained entrance into the home, what did he tell them? (v. 17)

8.  To whom did Peter send the message about his experience? (v. 17; Acts 21:17; Galatians 1:19)

9.  What would this testimony mean to the people who met in Mary’s home, and to the church leaders who were under persecution?


III. Mary, the mother of John.  Acts 12:12-13; Mark 14:51

This Mary is only named one time in the New Testament, but studying the events and people that surrounded her gives us some important information.  We can discover several reasons why Peter knew that Mary’s home was a safe place. Her example will still benefit those who want to serve God in our day as well.

Mary’s home: Acts 12:12-13

Though the early Christians met in homes (Acts 8:3), it was also the practice for many Jewish synagogue meetings to take place in an extra room or a home that would accommodate a group.  It would actually have been the natural thing for the Christians to meet in homes especially after the persecution of Christians by the Judaizers.  These people used what they had to benefit the Kingdom.

1.  What does an outer entrance tell us about a home, even today?

2.  How many people were gathered there?

3.  What kind of people were they?

4.  What does the fact that Mary had a maid imply?

Mary’s influence:  What we can learn about Mary’s family also gives us knowledge about the kind of woman Mary was.  Answer the following questions about Mark:

5.  Who was her son and what did he write about? Mark 1:1; Mark 14:51,

6. Whom did he accompany in ministry? Acts 12:12, 25

7.  How did the following evangelists describe Mark?

Peter- 1 Peter 5:13                                                     Paul- 2 Timothy 4:11

8.  Who was a relative of Mary and John Mark? (What was his relation to Mary?) Colossians 4:10

9.  What kind of man was he?

Acts 4:36-37

Acts 11:22-26

Acts 13:2

10.  What are fair conclusions that we can draw from this information about Mary’s home and influence?

IV.  A Safe Place I Peter 3—4

Jesus taught his followers that the world would know them by their love for one another (John 13:35).  Love creates a safe place for those who would be drawn to the church.  Later, Peter wrote two letters of encouragement and instruction to the churches.   His good friend, Mary, had lived out many of the same characteristics that Peter wanted to see in all believers.  From the selected passages in chapters three and four of 1 Peter, make a description of a brotherhood of love.  (Try to imagine Mary’s thoughts if she had read this letter.  What memories would some of these suggestions have brought back!)





3: 14








Key question:  Which characteristics will you develop in your life to create a safe haven for your family and church?

For further reflection:  Study the fellowship of the early church and note how they applied the above characteristics:

Acts 2:42-47

Acts 4:32-36

Acts 6:1-7

The Resurrection (Bible Study)

He is Risen

Chapter 27 Recap

Ashamed.  Afraid.  Absent.  Mere hours after they pledged never to leave Jesus—even to die with Jesus—the Eleven were nowhere near the cross as the sun began to set.  The Roman soldiers were still there though and pierced his side to prove Jesus was very, very dead.  Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, an unlikely duo, show up at the cross.  These two members of the Sanhedrin shed their secret discipleship and took responsibility for burying Jesus’ body.  Wrapping Him in enough spices for a king, they laid him in a nearby tomb.  Remembering Jesus’ words, the Jewish authorities and Pilate secured the tomb and posted a guard there to keep the three-day resurrection story from gaining any traction.

Early Sunday morning, a small band of faithful women approached His tomb wondering who could remove the rock that sealed the entrance.  Imagine their shock as an angel announced to them that Jesus was not there, “He is risen, just as He said!”  Hearing the news, Peter and John sprinted to the tomb.  They, too, found it empty.  As Mary Magdalene remained weeping, Jesus appeared to her.  Later the same day, an unrecognized Jesus approached two downcast disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Evidently all of Jerusalem was abuzz with the events of the last three days.  The One whom they had trusted to redeem all of Israel had been crucified, and they were disappointed.  Some silly women even had an unbelievable angelic vision, and the tomb was empty.  But what’s a guy to do except head home to Emmaus?  Jesus admonished the two for their unbelief.  Then He used Moses and the Prophets to teach them about the Messiah.  Jesus dined with them that evening.  When their eyes were opened and they recognized Him, He disappeared from their sight, but they finally got it!  So they headed back to Jerusalem at full speed and full of joy to report their experience to the Eleven.  They were interrupted there by yet another Jesus appearance.  An empty tomb and two appearance reports later, the disciples still cowered and mistook Jesus for a ghost when He spoke to them.  “Touch me and see,” He said as He showed them His hands and feet. When Jesus re-explained the Old Testament in light of all that had happened, He opened their minds so they too finally understood.

Thomas was not about to believe these second-hand stories.  He wouldn’t believe it until he saw the nail marks for himself.  A week later, Jesus graciously appeared to Thomas and the others just so he could touch the scars for himself.  Thomas confessed, “My Lord and My God!”  Yes, now he believed that Jesus was the God-man and that He was risen indeed.

Sometime later, Jesus appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee.  Having caught nothing all night, Jesus told these fishermen to cast their nets on the other side of the boat.  The miraculous catch was so great that they could hardly get the fish into the boat.  It prompted Peter to bail out and head to the Lord.  Over a beach breakfast, Jesus three times asked Peter if he loved Him.  Then He told Peter three times to care for His sheep.  The Eleven met Jesus on a Galilean mountain where He commissioned them to continue to carry out His mission by saying, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

As God, Jesus had all authority to now commission His disciples to carry out the building up of His new community of believers who would be identified with the Triune God.  They in turn could accomplish their mission because, as Emmanuel (Matt. 1:23), He would be with them to do so.  The Resurrection of Jesus Christ vindicated Him as the Son of God.  It is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and the climax of God’s great story of redemption.  The redemptive work was finished, but now there was more work to do to spread the good news, and this ragtag group of disciples were just the ones to do it, armed with the supernatural power headed their way.

Resurrection:  What Does it Mean to Me?

Paul himself had made the resurrection of Christ and, subsequently, the resurrection of believers of “first importance” in his teaching to the Church in Corinth.  Paul had ministered for 18 months in Corinth, probably in 51-52 A.D.  If Paul taught about the resurrection of believers in his 18 month pastoral ministry in Corinth and deemed its connection to the gospel of “first importance,” perhaps we too need to place greater importance on the doctrine.

I.       Resurrection Past (Old Testament)

A. Is the resurrection of the dead a New Testament concept alone?  Is there any evidence that any of the Old Testament believers considered the literal bodily resurrection of people to be in the future for believers?

B. Job alludes to such an idea.  Job is one of the most ancient books in the Bible.  He was likely a contemporary of Abraham. He said, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27)

C. Daniel was told by the angel in his vision about a future hope for Daniel’s people.  Remember that Daniel was among those nobles taken in the first siege against Jerusalem in 605 B.C. and lived in exile in Babylon for the entire 70 year period.  He was very concerned about the condition that Israel found herself in.  Was there any hope?  The angel assured Daniel, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake:  some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.  Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever,” (Dan. 12:2-3).  Here we learn a further detail about the future resurrection—it won’t be just believers.  “ALL will awake, some to life” refers to those who will enjoy the fullness of life in the presence of Christ.  Others will spend eternity in a resurrected body in shame and contempt.  While Daniel and his people were in humbling circumstances in this life, God assured Daniel that a future life in a literal resurrection of bodies awaited the faithful.  This is God’s Upper Story plan!  While our Lower Story circumstances may be bitter and painful, God’s Upper Story points to a future life even beyond the present heaven.  Daniel’s hope—and ours—is in the resurrection life. Sadly, others will be resurrected only to shame and destruction.

D. Isaiah prophesied that the Suffering Servant Messiah would both die and then live again. “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand,” (Isa. 53:10).

E. The religious leaders of Israel at the time of Christ (who only had Old Testament understanding at the time) argued over the resurrection of the dead.  The Sadducees said there was no resurrection but the Pharisees affirmed it.  This confirms that resurrection was not a foreign concept, based on the Old Testament Scriptures.  This also reveals that when the Sadducees questioned Jesus about whose wife a woman would be in the resurrection who had been married to seven brothers in this life, they were asking a bogus question.  They did not believe in a resurrection.  (Matt. 22:24-32).  Nevertheless, Jesus confirmed the resurrection of the dead by noting Moses’ burning bush conversation with YHWH who was the God of Abe, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the living and not the God of the dead (Matt. 22:32).  When Jesus arrived at the home of distraught Mary and Martha, Martha knew that Lazarus “will rise again in the resurrection on the last day,” (Jn. 11:24).  Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter were not resurrected in the same way that all believers will be resurrected in the future.  They died again.  Perhaps it is better to say that they were resuscitated then than resurrected.  Nevertheless, Jesus point in resuscitating them was to prove He has the power over death and therefore prove the resurrection hope to be true.

F. David the Psalmist wrote, “For You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay,” (Ps. 16:10).  Peter later referred to this passage in his powerful Pentecost sermon.  Although David wrote it, Peter argued that David looked prophetically ahead to Christ’s resurrection (Acts 2:25-32, especially verse 31).  Peter reasoned that David’s tomb was still with them and he had indeed undergone decay.  Christ, however, had not been left in His tomb.

II.       Resurrection Present (Jesus)

A. In spite of all the warnings that Jesus gave His followers to prepare them for His death and resurrection, they still did not get it.  They were surprised by the empty tomb and they were astonished by His appearances.

B. In John’s vision of Jesus in Revelation, John describes Him as the “firstborn of the dead,” (Rev. 1:5).  He describes Jesus as “a Lamb standing, as if slain” (Rev. 5:6).  Why do you suppose that Jesus in heaven looks like a Lamb slain?  Perhaps because His resurrected human body—which He will spend eternity in—still bears the marks of the cross.  What else do we learn about Jesus’ resurrected body from this chapter in The Story?

  1. He eats and drinks.

  2. He can appear and disappear at will, with no need for doors.

  3. He still speaks and communicates with people who do not seem to sense Him as anything other than fully human, like on the road to Emmaus and on the beach.

  4. He still has flesh and blood.  He made sure the disciples did not think he was a ghost by having them touch His hands and feet (Lu. 24:36-40).  His body was not a ghostly spirit.  It was fully materially real.

  5. He still bears scars.

III.       Resurrection Future (Believers)

A. Nearly every Easter season, magazines, newspapers and various television specials analyze the Christian assertion that Jesus was resurrected from the dead.  Reporters look for other explanations for the empty tomb.  Why?  Perhaps it is because resurrection is such an outlandish idea that some other more plausible explanation must account for the empty tomb.  More likely, though, is the millennia-old attempt to undermine the deity of Jesus and the authority of Scripture.  The resurrection of Christ is, after all, a must-have for the gospel.  Without it, the gospel crumbles into just another hyped up tale of a guy who claimed to be a god.

B. The resurrection is more than the cornerstone of the gospel.  It is the inheritance of every believer.  Many Christians look toward the present heaven as a future blessing, and indeed it is.  When we die, we will be absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8).  But God has something even better for us—our own resurrection when our disembodied soul will be reunited with our resurrected, imperishable bodies.  While heaven is good, the resurrection is better!   The Church in Corinth had been planted and nurtured by the great apostles.  Peter, Apollos and Paul had all spent time there teaching.  But the Corinthians began to question the truthfulness of the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:12).

  1. The denial of the resurrection is a denial of the gospel.  Paul reiterated the main points of the gospel to the Corinthians.  ( 1 Cor. 15:3-4)
    1. Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3)
    2. He was buried (1 Cor. 15:4)
    3. He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:4).  What Scriptures?  Probably the ones we looked at earlier—Ps. 16:10, Isa. 53.
    4. He appeared to so many.  Paul’s argument is this:  Yes, Jesus appeared to the disciples, but He appeared to more than just them.  While a small group of super-loyal followers could conceivably perpetuate a fraud, He appeared to over 500 people at one time and most of them are still living.  Paul basically challenged the Corinthian doubters to ask any one of them if they did not believe him. He appeared to James and to Paul, neither of whom were followers of Jesus until He appeared to them.
  2. Consequences:  If Christ was not resurrected then your faith is worthless and you and I are still dead in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17).
  3. The resurrection of Christ confirms the resurrection of all the dead (1 Cor. 15:12-13).
  4. Order of resurrections:
    1. Christ the first fruits (1 Cor. 15:20)
    2. Those who are asleep in Christ (1 Thess. 4:14—16) will come with Him at His return.  The disembodied spirits of believers will be reunited with their resurrected, imperishable, immortal bodies (1 Cor. 15:52-53).
    3. Those alive when Christ comes will be caught up to meet Him in the clouds (1 Thess. 4:17) and their bodies will be changed instantly and immediately into imperishable, immortal bodies (1 Cor. 15:51-52).
    4. This is known as the first resurrection.  “Blessed and holy is the one who has part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years,” (Rev. 20:6).  Believers will enjoy eternity not in the present heaven, but in the New Heaven and New Earth in new resurrected bodies.  The joy of the New Heaven and New Earth is that there is no longer any death (Rev. 21:4).  Why?  Because death is a result of sin (Gen. 2:17;  Rom. 6:23) and it is an enemy of Christ (1 Cor. 15:26).  Death was in the power of Satan (Heb. 2:14) and enslaved people through fear (Heb. 2:15).  But Jesus’ death and resurrection now makes Satan powerless (Heb. 2:14).
    5. By contrast, the wicked dead, the unbelievers are also raised to life in resurrected bodies, and will be then given a final judgment and second death (Jn. 5:25-29; Rev. 20:11-15, 21:8).  Jesus taught this to the wicked Jewish leaders who persecuted Him.
  5. The Corinthians had lots of questions about our future resurrected bodies.  Many believers today have similar questions.  Though we do not have too many details, we can put a few Scriptures together to draw conclusions.
    1. “But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, but the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body,” Phil. 3:20-21.  Jesus’ resurrected body is our best model for understanding our own future resurrected bodies.
    2. The resurrected body will be infinitely more glorious and better than our present body, yet organically connected.  It is new but not altogether new.  Paul compares it to the difference between a seed sown and the plant it becomes (1 Cor. 15:37).
    3. The body now is perishable, but raised imperishable (1 Cor. 15:42).
    4. The body now is dishonorable, but raised in glory (1 Cor. 15:43).
    5. The body now is weak, but it is raised in power (1 Cor. 15:43).
    6. The body now is natural, but it is raised spiritual (1 Cor. 15:44, 49).  This does not mean that it is not material, but like Christ’s who had Thomas touch His scars (Jn. 20:20, 27).

IV.       Applications and Implications

A. He is risen!  I worship a risen, living Savior.  The leaders of all other major religions are still in their graves.

B. The great numbers of eyewitnesses strengthen my faith in the validity of the resurrection story.

C. After writing a whole chapter on the resurrection, Paul concludes that in light of our future resurrection, we should “stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord,” (1 Cor. 15:58).

D. The future hope of resurrection should deepen our faith and our resolve in the present.  It should motivate us to persevere in the work of the Lord.

E. A better understanding of death and resurrection should help us cope with the grief of passing loved ones, and to prepare for our own death.

F. A better understanding of death and resurrection should help us minister more effectively and sensitively to others who are experiencing grief (1 Thess. 4:13).

G. Because sin changes everything, my body is subject to decay and death.  All the aches and pains that I experience are the result of living in a fallen world and sin.  God’s plan of redemption reverses that.

H. Although when I am absent from the body I will be present with the Lord, I look forward to the full redemption of my salvation that includes the redemption of my body (Rom. 8:23).

I. While my outward change is yet future, my inward transformation is in the present.  I should purify myself in anticipation of Christ’s return (1 Jn. 3:3).

J. Paul concisely emphasized the main points of the gospel.  I too can make them “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3).

K. Knowing that unbelievers will experience a resurrection that leads to eternal judgment and “second death,” I should be more motivated to share the good news of the gospel.

L. While I may have “scars” because of choices I have made, Jesus kept His scars as a reminder to me of the choice He made.

Mary Magdalene: Released                                             Luke 8:1-3, Matthew 27:55-56

Now is the time in our lesson today to take your Bibles out and explore the Word of God. We will be taking a look at Mary Magdalene, as Christ made a big impact on her.

Mary Magdalene became one of Jesus’ disciples as his popularity reached its peak.  During his last year of ministry, she and the other women who followed Jesus witnessed the opposition against him grow to a deadly force.  Chapter 27 of THE STORY relates what very well could have been Mary’s testimony of what occurred three days after Jesus was unjustly crucified.  Mary knew from personal experience that Jesus had the power to release one from cruel bondage; surely she also knew how Jesus had released Lazarus from the bonds of death.  As she remained at Jesus’ side throughout his ordeal she might have been waiting to see if he could also release himself from those bonds of death.  Jesus did not disappoint her (Luke 7:37-39).

I.  The Women Disciples of Jesus.  Luke 8:1-3, Matthew 27:55-56

The New Testament writers openly discuss women who had a part in Jesus’ life and in the life of the early church. Most represent excellent examples of Christian living.  Mary was never mentioned in a negative light in Scripture. It is only a supposition that she is the un-named “Sinful Woman” who anointed Jesus (Luke 7:37-39).

1.  From the above passages in Luke and Matthew, list each woman who is mentioned as a follower of Jesus and how she is described.

2.  What was their service to Jesus and what does this service imply about their resources?

3.  Fill in the blanks. In Luke 8:2, Mary is described as one ‘from whom seven demons had

____________   ______.’

The Greek for ‘went’ is exerchomai.  Another understanding of this wording is: to flow out from, to come forth, to cast out.

The Greek for ‘demons’ is diamonian.  It is also translated as ‘devil’ or ‘god’ and refers to a spiritual being that is inferior to God, or ministers of the devil.

“The Devil, or Satan, is the chief enemy of Jesus and the establishing of the kingdom of God. In his ministry, especially in his exorcisms, Jesus engages in the first stage of the defeat of Satan in casting out his evil minions. Jesus’ complete defeat of the Devil and his demons is expected in the eschaton” (the end of history). (Green, McKnight & Marshall 163).

4.  Explain the kind of oppression you think Mary Magdalene endured, and the relief that you think she would have experienced when she was released from the oppression from seven demons.

II. The Loyal Women. 

We can learn who of Jesus’ followers were present at Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection from the four gospel accounts.  Each report differs, not because of discrepancies because the four accounts do not conflict. They are however from different points of view and shared within the context of to whom the writer is speaking and what each writer wants to bring out through his account of Jesus’ life. There are key people and events that do not change.

1.  What did the disciples do when Jesus was arrested?  (Matthew 26:56)

2.  We know that Judas had betrayed Jesus to the authorities, and Peter denied him when he waited with bystanders to see what would happen.  To see which followers stayed with Jesus, review the four accounts and note the names that are mentioned.

At the Crucifixion and Death

Matthew 27:27—55 Mark 15:16—41 Luke 23:26—49 John 19:16b—42


At The Burial

Matthew 27:61—28:8 Mark 15:42-47 Luke 23:50—24:1—11 John 19:30—42


At the Resurrection Morning

Matthew 28:1-20 Mark 16:1-9 Luke 24:1-12 John 20:1-18


3.  How many of the 12 disciples remained at the scene until the resurrection?

4.  To whom did Jesus appear first?                          To whom did Jesus speak first?

5.  How does Jesus demonstrate his compassion for Mary Magdalene?

6.  What does he commission her to do?

The outstanding loyalty of the women followers may have come from the natural caring nature of women.  It may have also come from the fact that most of these women had nothing to lose in being identified as a follower of Jesus.  They may have seen Jesus as a person, where the men might have seen Jesus as their leader.  However the fact is, Jesus first spoke to a woman, and the good news that JESUS IS ALIVE, was told first told by a woman.


III. Bondage is Our Choice. Romans 6:15-23

Freedom and slavery are used to explain the purpose of Jesus’ life and death on earth.  We can join Mary Magdalene in rejoicing in the resurrection because slavery and freedom are not just a metaphor, but the reality we live with as human beings. Deepen your understanding by examining the following passages.

1.  How does sin enslave us? Galatians 5:18-21; Romans 8:5

2. If we sin more don’t we show how much grace Jesus has? Romans 6:15

3. To what or to who are we enslaved if we are disobedient? Romans 6:16

4.  What is the end result of sin? Romans 6:16b

5.  If we voluntarily present ourselves as slaves to God, what is the pay-off for us? Romans 6:17-18, 23

6.  Since sin must be paid for by death, whose death covers the cost of our sin if we are slaves to God? Romans 6:23

IV. Release From Bondage is Our Choice

We are created to enjoy friendship with God in His world.  Our sin not only took us out of the perfect place He had created, it prevented God from enjoying His creation.  Through the following passages, discover how God’s solution gave us an even better relationship with Him.

1. What is set free from the bondage of decay through Jesus Christ? Romans 8:19-21

2.  What did Jesus have to share in to set us free?  Hebrews 2:14-15

3.  Since we are no longer slaves, what is our relationship to God?  Galatians 4:4-7

4.  What does our freedom in Christ allow us to do?  Galatians 5:13-14

“For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men” (1 Corinthians 7:22-23).  Freedom isn’t free; Jesus paid the price.  We can use our freedom to return to bondage, or we can use our freedom to remain loyal to Jesus until He returns for us.

Key Question:  How will you use your freedom in Christ?

From the following passages note what things will not set us free from sin:

Philippians 3:9

Romans 7:18, 24

Revelation 3:17

Matthew 19: 24-28

1 John 2:15-16

The Hour of Darkness (Bible Study)


Chapter 26 recap

Knowing that His time had come, Jesus spent His last few hours with His disciples.  The Passover was approaching so they prepared a customary feast.  But this was no ordinary Passover meal; Jesus was about to change history.  At His “last supper,” He taught the disciples a significant lesson by washing their feet.  He even washed Judas’ feet, although He knew Judas would betray Him.  Then Jesus took the unleavened bread and cup of wine from the Passover meal and instituted the New Covenant, the Covenant that Jeremiah and Ezekiel had promised centuries ago.  Aware of His God-ordained destiny, Jesus clarified His relationship to the Father so that His disciples might understand what lay ahead.  He promised them that an advocate, the Spirit, would come and help after His own departure.  After a lengthy prayer to the Father for His glorification, Jesus led this rag-tag group through the night to the Garden of Gethsemane.

What Peter lacked in judgment, he made up for in zeal.  Peter pledged to even die with his Lord rather than abandon Him.  But Jesus knew that He would go through His ordeal alone.  He told Peter that he would disown Him three times before dawn.  Jesus’ anguish for what was to come drove Him to agonizing prayer.  Peter and his companions quickly exchanged fidelity for forty winks while Jesus prayed, searching to see if there was any way to avoid what was awaiting Him.  He answered His own prayer when He acknowledged that He would do God’s will and not His own.   Then Jesus’ betrayer and conspirators arrived to arrest Him.  They escorted Him to Caiaphas’ kangaroo court.  No one could find legitimate charges against Jesus until He affirmed His identity—Messiah, the Son of God.  The Sanhedrin charged Him with blasphemy and sentenced Him to death.  The religious henchmen beat and belittled their legitimate King.  Watching from a safe distance, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.  Stunned and ashamed, he left in bitter humiliation. Judas, in a sudden moment of remorse, returned the blood money and opted for a rope.

Meanwhile, Pilate was stuck between a rock and a hard place.  The Jews wanted Jesus crucified, and he wanted Caesar’s sustained support.  What’s a governor of a no-name, backwater region of Rome to do?  Interrogating Jesus himself, he found no legitimate charge to pin on this man. Yet the pressure was escalating from the crowd as they threatened to turn him in to Caesar as a rebel sympathizer.  Pilate’s thug soldiers clothed, beat and crowned Jesus with contempt before they marched Him to the cross.

Crucifixion was an exceptionally cruel way to die.  The public execution drew hordes of scornful onlookers.  Their jeers challenged Jesus to save Himself.  They failed to grasp that Jesus was there to save them.  One of the two criminals crucified with Jesus, however, got the picture.  His faith secured his place in paradise.  Even the creation itself testified to the enormity of this event.  As sin overcame Jesus, darkness eclipsed the whole land.  For the first time in eternity, Jesus was forsaken by His Father.

“It is finished,” He proclaimed.  At that very moment, the temple curtain was torn, an earthquake split rocks and tombs were opened.  It was finished.  What could compel the Son of God to endure such torture?  Finishing.  Finishing the work that the Father sent Him to do.  The debt of all sinners was put on Jesus who alone could pay it in full.  God is holy, loving and just.  His love compels Him to pursue His people, but His holiness requires justice for sin.  The mob of mockers witnessed a Lower Story drama.  A few faithful disciples witnessed a Lower Story injustice.  But God witnessed the Upper Story culmination of a plan prepared before the foundation of the world.  It was no surprise.  It was justice.  And it was finished.

Abiding in Covenant with Christ

In the film Titanic, passengers and cruise crew members react to their impending doom in various ways.  The orchestra continues to play in the dining room, for example, while others panic.   How would you spend your last twenty-four hours on earth? 

Knowing full well that He would be going to the cross in mere hours, how did Jesus opt to spend His last day?  He spent it enjoying relationships, and loving and serving His disciples to the end.  He spent it shoring up His teachings so that these men would be prepared to carry on the work He began.  He spent it inaugurating the New Covenant and drawing His disciples into a covenant relationship with Himself.

I.       The Covenant Customs

A. Often we miss the full richness of the Scriptures because our 21st century cultural experiences are so far removed from the ancient customs of the Bible.  Therefore, it is beneficial and even necessary to understand these ancient customs in order to fully understand the subtle nuances of events.  Today we’re going to look at the customs of an ancient covenant to better appreciate the import of the New Covenant that Jesus provided.  In addition, a better understanding of the Hebrew wedding will give us fresh insights into the language Jesus used, His imminent return, and the security of every believer.

B. For many of us, our experience with a covenant is limited to a homeowner’s association agreement.  Most of us know that a covenant is like a contract.  But for the ancients, a covenant was a solemn, binding agreement – a pact or pledge – that carried with it dire consequences for breaking.  A covenant was “cut” rather than “made” because it involved passing between pieces of flesh.  We still use the term cut a deal to describe an agreement that we expect to honor.

C. Ancient covenants had common elements.  Jonathan and David’s covenant is a good example and included most of these elements (1 Sam. 18).  The covenant between God and Abraham is another good example (Gen. 15).

  1. Promises or oaths:  The promise or the oath laid out the expectation of each party in the covenant relationship.

  2. Exchange of robes (clothing) and belt:  The clothing represented one’s identity. When two parties enter into a covenant, they assume one another’s identity in the sense that one agrees to care for his covenant partner in the same way that he would care for himself.  The belt of an Ancient Near Easterner functioned differently than a belt does today.  Back then, the belt held the sword and other instruments for protection.  Therefore, to exchange belts symbolized the exchange of protection for one’s covenant partner.

  3. Blood sacrifice:  The blood sacrifice was usually a large animal cut into two mirror slices from head to tail.  The parties dug a shallow trench for the blood to flow and laid the pieces of flesh on either side of the trench.  The two covenant partners would then lift their robes and walk through the blood-filled trench to symbolize the gravity of their commitment.  They essentially declared, “May God do to me (death) what has been done to these animals if I break this covenant.”

  4. Sign or witness:  It was common to build a memorial, an outward reminder, of a covenant.  In the Old Testament, this was often a pillar of stones.

  5. Sharing a meal:  After the covenant was cut, the parties would enjoy a meal together (usually of the sacrificed animal).  It nearly always included bread.  When two or more people shared a meal together, it meant that they shared a trust and an intimacy.  It would be unthinkable to betray someone with whom you had dined.

  6. Name changes:  It was not uncommon to change one’s name to reflect the “oneness” of the covenant relationship.  We saw that God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, and Sarai to Sarah.

II.       The Covenant Couple

A. A marriage is another covenant with which we are all familiar.  However, it is certainly debatable whether or not we grasp the gravity of the covenant commitment that should accompany the blessed wedding ceremony.  In Ephesians 5:22-33, the apostle Paul compares the relationship of Christ to the Church with the relationship between a husband and his wife.

B. The Hebrew wedding ceremony differed significantly from our own present-day experience.  The Hebrew wedding had three distinct parts or phases.  It was a joyous celebration filled with food, friends and music and dancing.  But more importantly, this custom is rich with spiritual truths that are expressed in the Upper Room when Jesus was with His disciples the night before He died.  As we look at this ceremony, see if you can see elements of covenant.

  1. Stage 1:  The shiddukhin:  This first step in the marriage process refers to the arrangements before the legally binding betrothal ceremony.  The father of the groom was responsible for selecting a bride for his son.  Sometimes he did it himself, but other times he designated a matchmaker—usually a servant—to do the selecting on his behalf.  This was the case with Abraham who sent his servant to fetch a bride for Isaac.  The concept of romantic love that precedes marriages today was not a part of this ancient tradition.  Brides were often selected for political reasons or for good family connections.  Nevertheless, it is important to note that the father chose the bride for his son.  Often times this step included a written contract that delineated both parties’ provisions for the new couple.  The groom promised to support and care for his wife-to-be while the bride stipulated her dowry contents.  It should not be overlooked that the bride gave her consent, even in arranged marriages.  After the terms were agreed to, the bride and groom each participated in a mikveh, a ritual immersion bath to symbolize spiritual cleansing and to prepare for the next stage, the betrothal ceremony.

  2. Stage 2:  The eyrusin (betrothal):  The second step in the marriage process took place shortly after the first.  After the mikveh, the couple expressed their intentions to marry in a public ceremony under a canopy.  The canopy symbolized the future household being planned. While under the canopy, the couple exchanged an item or items of value, i.e. rings, bracelet.  Vows were exchanged and a cup of wine was shared to seal the commitment.  At this point they are engaged or betrothed.  But it is important to note that the Jewish engagement was taken far more seriously than ours today.  It was legally binding, requiring a divorce to break.  Even then, only the groom had the option of a divorce.  The bride did not.  (Mary and Joseph are referred to as “engaged” in one gospel and “married” in another – both are correct.)  After the formal ceremony, the bride and groom each returned to their respective homes for about a year.  During this time, they were expected to prepare for the final stage of their nuptials.  They each had responsibilities.  The groom was to prepare a room for his bride.  He often built an extension onto his father’s house to prepare a place for his new wife and hopefully children.  Likewise, the bride had her tasks to do.  She sewed her wedding garments for her joyous day.  But more importantly, she consecrated herself through contemplation.  She was to keep herself always ready for her groom.  They did not engage in sexual relations during this time.

  3. Stage 3:  The nissuin (marriage):  The third step in the marriage process took place approximately a year later.  This word in Hebrew literally means, “to carry.”  The anticipation of her groom kept the bride anxiously awaiting him to “carry her” back to her new home.  The time of the groom’s arrival was to be a surprise.  The whole wedding party was in fact a surprise.  While the betrothal period was about a year, the exact day and hour were up to the groom’s father.  The bride and her maidens kept their oil lamps burning in the evening just in case the groom would arrive.  When the groom’s father determined it was time, he sent his son and the groomsmen to fetch the bride.  One member of the groom’s party would shout, “Behold, the bridegroom comes!” and then sound the shofar, the ram’s horn.  Then the groom would lead his party through the city streets inviting all who wanted to come to the home of the bride.  Then the groomsmen carried the bride back to the father’s house for the final ceremony.  Again under a canopy, the couple shared a cup of wine and said blessings.  The vows are renewed and the marriage is considered consummated.  The couple usually then fully consummated their marriage in the new room addition while the friends began the feasting and celebration. (Without being too graphic, God created this covenant to include the shedding of blood and the tearing of flesh within a woman’s body in this first sexual encounter.)   This was no ordinary party either.  It was commonly a 7-day non-stop bash!  After dancing, celebrating and eating, the couple lived together in their new home in his father’s house, enjoying the full covenant of marriage.

III.       The Covenant Language of Christ

While we are keenly aware of Christ’s initiation of the New Covenant, the wedding language that He used and that is used throughout the New Testament reveals the deep spiritual truths that the Hebrew wedding symbolizes. The wedding ceremony and resulting covenant relationship is an awesome illustration of Christ’s relationship with His disciples.

A. The shiddukhin:
The bride of Christ has been chosen by the Father.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.”  (Eph. 1:3-4)  Sometimes the Father uses a matchmaker such as Paul to seek His bride, “I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that.  I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy.  I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him,” (2 Cor. 11:1-2).  Yet the prospective bride can or cannot give her consent to the relationship with Jesus.  The stipulations of the New Covenant were expressed by the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, which basically stated God would put His law in hearts; He would be their God and they His people; He would forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.  He would do this by removing the heart of stone and replacing it with a heart of flesh and put His own Spirit within (Jer. 31:31-34, Ezek. 36:24-28).  The groom, Christ, promised to pay the price for His bride.  “You are not your own; you were bought at a price,” (1 Cor. 6:19c-20a).  The bride, His Church, has nothing to offer our Groom except a life of obedience.  “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments,” (Jn. 14:15).

B. The eyrusin:
In the Upper Room, on the night He was betrayed, Jesus initiated a covenant with His disciples.  This New Covenant included elements common to the betrothal ceremony of the Hebrew wedding.  He shared a covenant meal with them, including bread and wine.  He blessed the cup and said He would “not drink of it again until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom,” (Matt. 26:27-29).  While some Christians do not hold to the eternal security of the believer, the Hebrew wedding symbolism should shed light on the issue.  The New Covenant assures the Church that she is as good as married to her Bride, although she does not yet live with Him.  The bride, which is the Church, cannot get a divorce and Jesus said that “no one will snatch them from my hands,” (Jn. 10:28).  From the time a believer enters into the covenant, he/she is to prepare for the Groom’s return through diligent preparation of wedding garments, living a holy life set apart for her husband.  “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless,” (Eph. 5:23b-27).  She is to be always ready for His coming.  Meanwhile, the Groom Jesus has His responsibilities.  Like the ancient Hebrew groom, Jesus is busy preparing a place for His bride.  He said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am,” (Jn. 14:1-3).  Like brides before, the Church waits anxiously for her beloved.

C. The nissuin:
The last two thousand years have been a long betrothal period for the bride.  The Groom Himself said He did not know when He will return.  In speaking about His return He said, “No one knows about the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” (Matt. 24:36).  But when the Father sends the Son to get His bride, it will be an event unlike any other in all of history.  “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will always be with the Lord.”  (1 Thess. 4:16-18)  Do you see it?  The Son continues to prepare a place in the Father’s house.  When the Father gives His “go ahead,” then the Bridegroom will return to earth to fetch His beloved bride, the Church.  This event is called “the rapture,” which means “caught up.”  The bride is “carried” away.  While Christians might disagree about the exact sequence of events surrounding the rapture, the promise of being “caught up” to the Bridegroom at some point remains a sure promise.  After all, we’re engaged!  After this event, we can look forward to a blessed wedding feast.  It is called the “marriage supper of the Lamb,” in Rev. 19:7-9.  “Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.  It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”  Are you ready?

D.    Covenantal elements:

  1. Promises or oath:  The New Covenant promises are given to the bride.

  2. Exchange of robes and belt:  Believers are to take on Christ’s identity and He took on ours.  “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him, (2 Cor. 5:21).  “All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Gal. 3:27).”  “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, (Rom. 13:14a)”  Jesus, the Good Shepherd, protects His sheep.  “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep,” (Jn. 10:11).

  3. Blood sacrifice:  Christ Himself was the sacrifice.

  4. Sign/witness:  Christians celebrate communion or “The Lord’s Supper” as a sign of our covenant relationship.  Jesus said it was a remembrance of Him (1 Cor. 11:25).

  5. Sharing a meal:  The Last Supper that Jesus shared with His disciples was a meal that we repeat with the bread and the wine at communion.

  6. Name changes:  The exalted Christ said of the Churches in Revelation, “To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it,” (Rev. 2:17).

IV.             Application and Implications

A. Have you taken your relationship with Christ as seriously as the ancient covenant relationship indicates He calls for?  Stop flirting and commit to the relationship.

B. All who hear the invitation should receive it.

C. I am eternally secure because my Groom is faithful to His promises.

D. I should be preparing for His coming by living a set-apart life, holy and blameless.  Live in a way that is befitting such a Groom.

E. If the Church is the bride, then I am also in a covenant relationship with my fellow church members.  I should honor them as such.

F. What a beautiful picture God has provided for us with the Hebrew wedding.  I can know that Jesus is preparing me a place and He will return.

G. The Father has chosen me as part of the Bride by grace alone.

H. The bride has to consent to the relationship with the groom.  All who are invited should accept the invitation.

I. The only way to the Father’s house is through the Groom, His Son.


This lesson on covenants has implications for both our relationship with Christ and, if you are married, your relationship with your spouse.  Here are a few questions to stimulate discussion.

  1. How might your marriage benefit from a better understanding of covenant?
  2. If a Christian marriage is designed to represent to the world the commitment of Christ to the Church, how are we doing?  How could we do better?
  3. What are the implications of the Hebrew wedding covenant picture to your relationship with the Lord?

Chapter 26- Mary of Bethany: Worthy Worship

We will now turn our focus to the pages of God’s Word. You will need your Bibles for this as you look up and read the passage and answer the questions.

Chapter twenty-six of THE STORY, “The Hour of Darkness”, begins with the preparation for the Passover feast which took place the night before Jesus was crucified.  To give Christians everywhere a vivid reminder of His suffering and death, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. He also revealed that one of his friends would betray him.   Only four days before this Jesus was at another meal during which Mary’s act blessed Him so much that he announced she would be remembered every time the Gospel is proclaimed.  As we read the story of Jesus’ death, it would be good to consider how Mary acknowledged Jesus with a beautiful expression of love—worship that was worthy.

I.  One thing.  Luke 10:38—42; John 11:1—46

How can we offer worship that is worthy of One who suffered and died for us on that dark day?  To understand the background we will return to the two passages of scripture from Martha’s story, but this time we will appreciate Mary’s part in them. There was a connection between Jesus and Mary of Bethany, but it is the same connection that we can also have with our Lord, the worship connection.

Our first introduction to Mary in Luke 10 gives us three clues about her heart of worship.  Fill in the blanks to discover them:

“(Martha)…had a sister called Mary, who ______________ at the Lord’s feet, ____________________ to what he said” Luke 10:39.

Jesus said “… only _________  _______________ is needed.  Mary has _________________ what is better and it will not be taken away from her”  Luke 10:42.

1.  What is the attitude of heart when one sits at the feet of another?

2.  What does “listening” mean to you?  How might the heart be involved?

(The Greek word used here is akouo.  It is translated as hear, listen, understand, listen and respond.)

3.  What choice did Mary make?

The story in John 11 of the raising of Lazarus, give us more insights into Mary’s heart of worship.

4.  When Martha ran to meet Jesus as he approached their home, what did Mary do? (v. 20)

5.  What was Mary’s response when she heard that Jesus was asking for her? (v. 32)

6.  What do you think her words imply:  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”?

7.  How did this experience affect Jesus?  (vs. 33-38)

8.  Read John 11:38-44, and put yourself in Mary’s place.  Remember that Mary had taken the time to listen attentively to Jesus’ teaching in the past. Mary had heard Jesus’ and Martha’s conversation at Lazarus’ tomb. Describe what Mary’s faith and feelings might be at this point.

III.  Mary Anoints Jesus at Bethany.  Matthew 26:6—13; Mark 14:3—9; John 12:1—11

As Jesus’ time on earth drew to a close, we know that Mary was one of the few who understood, at least in part, what Jesus had been telling them about himself.  John’s account reveals what Jesus had been teaching as that dark hour approached.  Only a few days before the crucifixion, when Mary anointed Jesus’ head and washed his feet, she would have understood the following things about Jesus:

Luke 18:31-34


John 6:45-48


John 7:17-19


John 8:23-24


John 8:31-32


John 8:51


At the Last Supper Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Complete the chart to compare the two foot washings.

The Supper in Bethany

Matthew 26:6; John 12:1—11

The Last Supper

John 13:1—30;  Luke 22:14—38

Who was present? 
What happened immediately before the foot washing?
Who acted as a servant?
Whose feet were washed? 
What items were used to wash the feet? 
What was the reaction of the recipients of the foot washing? 
What was the purpose of the act? 

These two beautiful acts teach us different things.  From Mary we see a heart of worship.  From Jesus we see the why He is worthy of worship.

IV. Worthy Worship

The truth is, we must worship.  “The need for worship is as natural as the need for protection and love, (but) God does not accept pretend worship” (Benson 49,51).  To worship like Mary we need to know what is acceptable to our Lord. As you answer the following questions, allow God to lead you to worthy worship through His Word.

1.  Worthy worship can only happen when the worshipper is able to worship.

We are not worthy to worship. Read Hebrews 9:1-14 and fill in the blanks to note how we are able to worship God. (Note that the Greek word latreuo, translated as “serve” in the NIV, also means worship—as a slave worships or serves a master.)

“How much more, then, will the ___________   _____                     ____, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve (worship) the living God!” Hebrews 9:14.

How did Jesus make it possible for us to worship?

2.  Worthy worship can only happen when the object of worship is worthy.

Meditate on the following passages and consider Whom we worship.

Read 1 Timothy 1:15-17 and note God’s attributes from verse 17.

“Now to the _____________  _________________, immortal, invisible,

the ____________   _____________, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen” I Timothy 1:17.

“Worship   ____________!” Revelation 19:10 (See Psalm 46:10-11).

3.  Our worship must be based on Truth, Who guides us through His Spirit and His Word.

What Jesus told the apostles that night in the upper room, about the sacrifice of his body and blood, happened in real time and in a real place. Worship is not only in our hearts and minds. Hear the Truth through these passages.

Jesus said, “I am the ____________, the ___________ and the ______________.  No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6.

“This is the one who came by water and blood, ______________   _______________.

He did not come by water only, but by water and the blood.  And it is the Spirit who testifies because

the _______________ is the ________________” 1 John 5:6.

4.  To worship in a worthy manner we reflect the One we worship.  Mary had understood the lesson Jesus taught when he raised Lazarus—that he had power over death. She knew that Jesus would sacrifice Himself, so she sacrificed herself in the only way she knew how.  Her sacrifice told Jesus that she understood what He would do, and that she would honor Him with her whole life.

Discover how our life of worship reflects Jesus’ life of sacrifice:

John 7:38-39.  “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will

____________   ___________  ______________  __________.  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those

who believed in him were _______________ to _______________.  Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified”.  (See Acts 2:36-39).

Romans 12:1.  “Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to ________________ your

____________ as _________________   _________________, holy and pleasing to God—which is your

________________         _______     ___________________”.

Key Question:  What is your holy and pleasing sacrifice to God?


For Additional Reflection:

The subject of worship takes a lifetime to examine. A good next step is to consider what the Word teaches in the following passages.

Deuteronomy 6:13a:  “You ________________ _________________ the Lord.”

Psalm 29:2: “ Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to his name:  ______________ the LORD in the splendour of his holiness”.

Matthew 4:10:  Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan!  For it is written:  ‘________________ the

Lord your God, and ______________ him only’”.

Revelation 14:7b:  ______________ him who made the ________________, the_______________ ,

the _____________ and the ______________  of  _________________”.

Jesus, the Son of God (Bible Study)


Recap of Chapter 25

Who do you say I am?  It was the most important question Peter was ever asked.  People did not know what to make of this Jesus.  He was like no other rabbi.  His claims about Himself were outrageous and way out of line if He was merely human. Two thousand years had passed since God promised Abraham that through his seed all nations would be blessed.  A thousand years had passed since God promised David that his descendant would reign forever.  Now, in Jesus, God’s marathon plan of redemption was sprinting toward its climax.  Peter’s answer to the question would change his life forever.

“You are the Messiah,” Peter confessed.  Then Jesus began to teach His disciples that this messianic mission included suffering, death and a resurrection from the dead.  They objected to this idea of a Messiah, but Jesus rebuked them.  His mission was set, and no one could come between Him and the cross.  In fact, He taught His disciples that they too would need to lose their lives to save them.

Jesus took Peter, James and John up a mountain and gave them a glimpse of His future glorification.  When He was transfigured before their very eyes, they fell face down in fear.  Jesus had often made “I Am” statements connecting Himself to the name YHWH or “I Am.”  Then a voice from heaven stated that Jesus was the Son of God, thereby confirming His assertions.

I AM the light of the world.  I AM the bread of life.  Jesus declared that failure to believe in Him would have eternal consequences—you would die in your sins.  But the Pharisees knew full well the weight of the “I AM” statements – and Jesus’ claims to be God were, to them, nothing short of blasphemy.  From then on, their hatred of Him ripened into an assassination plot.

I AM the resurrection and the life.  Despite getting word that His friend Lazarus was on his deathbed, Jesus delayed His journey.  By the time He arrived, Lazarus had been entombed for four long days.  Sisters Mary and Martha mourned their brother’s death, disappointed that Jesus had not arrived in time to heal him, but Jesus assured the women that His delay was for divine glory.  At His command, Lazarus walked out of his tomb, vindicating Jesus’ assertion that He alone is the Source of life.

The march toward Jerusalem continued.  His time was fast approaching, and He had to prepare the disciples for what lay ahead.  He told them that the kingdom of God is accessible to those with childlike trust and humility, not through performance.  Along the way, Jesus met a rich young man, who had performed well since childhood.  Jesus told him that discipleship, for him, would mean giving away his riches.  Unable to part with earthly wealth, the young man walked away from Jesus’ offer.  So strong is the lure of riches that, as far as the gospels record, this is the only time Jesus’ offer was refused.

For the third time, Jesus told them that His work included suffering, death and a resurrection after three days.  Now, it was time for Jesus’ grand entrance.  He sent His disciples to fetch appropriate transportation, and a colt was just where Jesus said it would be.  He mounted the donkey and triumphantly rode into Jerusalem as people laid down their coats and branches on the road and hailed Him as the long-awaited King, son of David!

Jesus was preparing to glorify the Father’s name.  He continued to offer eternal life to all who would believe.  The incensed Pharisees instilled fear in many; some who did believe kept quiet.  But Jesus’ claims were non-negotiable; He was the only Source of eternal life, the climax and culmination of God’s redemptive plan.  Who do you say I am?  It is the single most important question that everyone must answer.

Conversing with Cultists

The video below is a 6:00 min video that has a mix of people talking about who they think Jesus is. This will help us as we dig into our lesson today.

Our lesson aims to uncover the heresies of the past and their fashionable, recycled presentations today promoting a misleading characterization of Jesus.  Then the lesson provides ideas to keep in mind when learners are trying to develop the necessary skills to address cultists and other deceived people more confidently.  The most important thing to remember here, is that we need to seek understanding before we push to make people understand. We should emphasize the true identity of Jesus as He revealed Himself two thousand years ago as the Son of God, uniquely and fully God and fully man.

I.       First Cries

A. Who do you say that I am?  Jesus asked Peter this crucial question some 2000 years ago (Mark 8:27) and how one answers it is a matter of life and death—eternal life, that is.  For “unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins,” (John 8:24).  Does it really matter what we believe about Jesus, or just that we believe Jesus was a historical figure who indeed existed.  YES!  Emphatically, YES! It matters!  A false Jesus is a false gospel, and a false gospel leads to false salvation.  If the person of Christ, His nature (fully God and fully man) and His work (on the cross) are altered, then it follows that the eternal life that He provides is likewise invalidated, cancelled, made null and void. This begs the question, Exactly what does Jesus say we need to believe about Him so that we may not die in our sins? Few people will argue that Jesus existed as a historical figure, a good teacher and a compassionate humanitarian.  However, many will not go so far as to affirm His divinity.  Yet His divinity, His equality with God the Father, is at the core of what Jesus taught.  He claimed full authority and eternality as the Self-existent YHWH with His many “I AM” statements (Ex. 3:14).  His assertion of divinity and oneness with the Father was not lost on His original Hebrew audience, for they nearly stoned Him for it.  The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.”  (Jn 10:33)  Jesus is the full revelation of God, the Word and the Sin-bearer.

B. The serpent in the Garden prompted Eve to doubt and distort God’s revealed Word.  “Indeed, did God say…?” asked the serpent (Gen. 3:1).  Perhaps all sin can be summed up as such.  Nevertheless, it was still within the lifetimes of the original apostles that people began to distort the person and nature of Jesus.

  1. Paul’s wrote his first letter to the Galatians, probably around 48 A.D.—just 15 years after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  He was astonished that they would so quickly abandon the gospel that he had preached to them in exchange for another gospel.  This was not just a matter of splitting hairs—to follow another gospel was to desert God Himself (Gal. 1:6).  I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. It is particularly interesting to note that Paul warned that even if an angel from heaven preached a different gospel, he would be accursed (Gal. 1:8).  It is interesting because much of the gospel of the Mormon Church came through an angel named Moroni.  Similarly, it was an angel that visited Mohammad to deliver to him the Koran.

  2. The Church at Corinth was also in danger of being led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (2 Cor. 11:3-4).  Paul warned, For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you bear this beautifully.  Paul called these preachers of another Jesus “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness…” (2 Cor. 11:13-15).  This should make us all sit up and take notice.  The people who preach another Jesus look like servants of righteousness, they look like apostles of Christ!  We must be alert!

  3. The apostle John appears to have been battling an early form of Gnosticism in his first epistle.  This form of Gnosticism is called docetism and denies the true humanity of Jesus.  They maintained that Jesus only appeared to be human, but was not actually human.  When he walked across the sand, he left no footprint.  Why?  Because anything spiritual was good but anything material was necessarily evil.  Therefore, Jesus’ humanity—his material self—had to be only an illusion.  John countered this heresy by emphasizing that he and other apostles had “seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled,” (1 Jn. 1:1).  “By this you know the Spirit of God:  every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God;” (1 Jn. 4:3).  Though Gnosticism was still in its infancy, the basic principles of separation between spirit and material, and a so-called higher knowledge available to only a select few had already taken root.

II.       Old Lies / New Guise

A. The Old Testament clearly maintained monotheism.  God is One (Deut. 6:4).   People did not have a category to think about Jesus.  As the unique God-man, He just did not fit into existing language, existing thought.  New categories had to be formed and articulated to explain Him and His exclusively unique relationship to the Father.  We have the benefit of centuries of thought and reflection, but the early church was just formulating a framework to answer Jesus’ question, Who do you say I am?  There really is nothing new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9).  The heresies of the past are repackaged and resold under new names.  The outcome is still perilous—a false salvation with eternal consequences.  It was not long after the birth of the Church that different heresies began to spring up, answering Jesus’ question with distorted versions of the person, nature and work of Jesus Christ.

B.     Old Lies/New Guise #1: Gnosticism and the Cult of Christian Science

  1. In the first and second centuries AD, Gnosticism took hold and flourished.  Gnosticism has two basic tenets:  separation of the spiritual and the material; and a higher knowledge for the enlightened few.  The Gnostic Jesus was only thought to be crucified.
  2. The “new guise” of Gnosticism shows up today in the cult of Christian Science.  Following in the steps of Gnosticism, the Jesus of the Christian Science cult was not really human at all.  He was spiritual but not material.  Its 19th century founder was Mary Baker Eddy who wrote, “The spiritual Christ was infallible; Jesus, as material manhood, was not Christ.”[1]  Adherents to Christian Science actually deny that any of us are flesh and blood.  The material world is an illusion.

C.    Old Lies/New Guise #2:  Arianism and the cult of the Jehovah’s Witnesses

  1. Where Gnosticism erred in denying Jesus’ humanity, Arianism taught that Jesus was the first creation of God the Father.  It denied the eternality of Jesus, declaring that “there was a time when Christ was not.”  Neither the Son nor the Spirit were of the same nature as God, but had “similar natures.”  The Arian Jesus was not God, but he was a semi-divine god.
  2. The Jesus of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is very similar to the Arian heresy. Charles Russell Taze founded the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the late 19th century.  He described Jesus as formerly the Archangel Michael who separated himself of his angelic nature and appeared in the world as a perfect man.  He is a god, but not equal to, or of the same nature as, God the Father.  “In other words, he was the first and direct creation of Jehovah God (The Kingdom Is at Hand, 46-47, 49).[2]  They deny the full deity of Jesus Christ, and therefore deny the Holy Trinity.  “The plain truth is that this is another of Satan’s attempts to keep God-fearing person from learning the truth…No, there is no trinity.”[3] They are commonly known for their evangelistic door-to-door efforts passing out their literature from the Watchtower Society.  Although they affirm the Bible alone as their only source of scripture, they maintain that classical Christianity has been seriously tainted with paganism.  They use their own translation of the Bible called “The New World Translation.”  They are frontally antagonistic about the Trinity and, with the shallow understanding of many Christians about the central tenants of the Faith, Jehovah’s Witnesses deceive shaky Christians.  The Jesus of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is definitely what Paul would call “another Jesus.”

D.  Old Lies/New Guise #3Polytheism and the cult of Mormonism (Latter-Day Saints):

  1. After studying The Story like we have, one thing should be very clear—many peoples have worshiped many gods.  Polytheism means many (poly) gods (theism).  The pagan cultures of Egypt, Canaan, Moab and other nations mentioned in the Old Testament assure us that a whole pantheon of gods have attracted the worship of men.  The plagues brought upon Egypt under the leadership of Moses were designed specifically to repudiate the many gods they worshiped.  The Baals of the Moabites and Canaanites were destructive to God’s people and to the nations themselves.  Elijah’s demonstration of YHWH’s power over the Baals’ power proved again that there is only One God.
  2. The Mormon view of god the father and Jesus is complex, but nevertheless, polytheistic.  Their God the Father is himself an exalted man, created by a sexual union of his divine heavenly mother and father.  Jesus was the firstborn son of God the Father, through a sexual union with Mary.  They view Jesus as the spiritual brother of Lucifer and of all mankind.  Jesus, like all of us, was pre-existent before birth, though not eternal.  He earned his godhood through perfection, which all men can attain to.  Mormons deny the Oneness of the Trinitarian Godhead, but would affirm a tritheistic, 3-gods with a single purpose model.  In addition to the King James Bible, they build their doctrines upon additional writings including the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the book of Doctrine and Covenants.  These “revelations” came from various sources including the angels Moroni and Nephi.  Does this sound like the warning of “another gospel” from “even an angel” that Paul gave to the Galatians (1:6)? 

E. These are just a few of the various views of Jesus.  Sound the alarm!  Souls are in peril!  It is not enough to believe in a form of Jesus.  We must believe that He is who He said He is—the great I AM.  Necessarily, if He is God, then all He said is utterly and completely true making Him worthy of worship, faith and humble obedience.

Old Lies

New Guise

Another Jesus

Gnosticism / docetism

Christian Science

Separated Jesus from Christ;

Man (flesh) was not infallible because material is evil


Jehovah’s Witnesses

A created demi-god


Mormonism (Latter-Day Saints)

A created son of God and exalted man

[1] Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults, (Bloomington, MI:  Bethany House, 1997 ed.),  435-436.

[2] Ibid., 436.

[3] Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, “Let God Be True,” (rev. ed. Brooklyn:  Watchtower and Bible Tract Society, 1952) 111.

III.      Future Tries

How do we talk to cultists or others who have a distorted view of Jesus?

A. The content of our faith is founded upon the person, the nature and the work of Jesus Christ.  As a person, He is one of three persons who together are One God.  He alone is God the Son whose nature is equal in every way with God the Father, yet His human nature is as fully human as is yours and mine.  He is no less God than the Father, and no less man than are we, except without sin.  As a sinless man, His work on the cross secured the redemption of all who put their faith in Him as fully God and fully man.  This atonement for sin is sufficient for salvation by His imputed righteousness by grace through faith.  Yet His saving work was also sufficient for all those who do not yet believe.  He died for them too!  It is incumbent upon believers, as ambassadors of Christ, to be prepared to converse with cultists.  1 Pet. 3:15 exhorts us to “be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” 

B. Ron Rhodes, founder of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries, suggests the following principles for dealing with cultist.  In your future encounters, you will feel more skilled and less defensive if you are prepared for them.

  1. Don’t neglect your people skills.  Notice Paul said, “with gentleness and reverence.”  How do you open the door when a Mormon or JW knocks?  Do you meet them with anger and venom, or with compassion and kindness?  Be nice.  Be respectful.  Be Christlike.  It is right thing to do, for one thing; and secondly, it lowers their defenses so that they might become receptive to you and the true gospel.
  2. Don’t assume all members of a group believe the same thing.  Like Christians, there are various levels of their understanding of their own religion.  They may adhere to parts and reject other parts.
  3. Always define your termsWho do you say that I am?  Many people defined Jesus as John the Baptist resurrected, as Elijah and the Pharisees even accused Him of being under the control of Satan himself.  How Christians define terms like Jesus, God, and salvation is very different from how cultists use the same terms.
  4. Don’t get flustered.  They are trained to have an answer to your objections.  They practice weekly, so don’t get flustered.  Bring the conversation back to Scripture.
  5. Check the Scripture references.  What they do use is often taken completely out of context.
  6. Share your testimony.  While you may not be an expert in countering cultists and their theologies, you are an expert in what knowing Christ has done for you personally.  A few weeks ago, we talked about the power of personal testimony. If you have had time to think about your own testimony, now is the time to use it.

C. Who do you say I am?  It is the question that every individual must answer.

Martha-Busy Believer: Luke 10:38—42; John 11:1—44

This is the portion of our study that we turn our attention to the reading and opening up of God’s Word. We have a familiar story that we can often times find ourselves commiserating with one woman or another. We are talking about Mary and Martha story. Two different women with two different personalities, finding their own ways to serve their master, Jesus.

We read about several events during the third year of Jesus’ ministry in chapter 25 of THE STORY. At this time Jesus was still popular with the people, but his enemies went from opposing Jesus to planning how to stop him.  Meanwhile, Jesus had openly declared who he was and had openly taught the disciples about his soon coming suffering and death.  After an intense period of travel, teaching, and healings, Jesus arrived at the home of his friends, Martha and Mary for some R&R.  There, the two women served Jesus in their own way.  However Martha discovered what kind of “help” that was not helpful.

I.  Martha served Jesus.  Luke 10:38-40

If we want to see a Martha, most of us need only to look in a mirror.  Even though we have deep belief, sometimes we try to hide a controlling spirit with a breathtaking busyness that takes away our peace and joy.  Not only that, we get irritated when others choose a different path.

1.  Who “opened her home”?

2.  Who else was present?

3. Use the following chart to contrast the attitudes and actions of the two women from Luke 10:39-40.

  Mary Martha
Effect of actions, attitudes and words.

4.  Considering Jesus’ activities of the preceding days, describe what might have been Jesus’ needs?

5.  Write a one word description of the way Martha reacted to her situation.

6.  Write a one word description of the way Jesus reacted to his situation.

II. Jesus ministered to Martha.  Luke 10:41, 42

Jesus was surrounded by people who did not understand him, and sometimes their efforts at serving him were off-track.  His mother and brother tried to ‘rescue’ him when they thought he was delirious or misguided in his teachings.  His disciples wanted to protect him from clingy mothers and children.  Martha thought that a hearty meal at her table was what would serve him best.  Each of these assumptions might have been correct from an earthly perspective, but Jesus had a different perspective.  That is what he tried to help Martha understand.

1.  What showed that Jesus was thoughtful of Martha in his response?

2.  What do you think was the “one thing” that was needed?  (Was it something he needed or something she needed?)

3.  What had Mary chosen?

4.  How would that have helped Jesus?

5.  How would that have helped Martha?

6.  As Jesus took the opportunity to make something clear about Mary, what did he teach Martha? (42)

III. Martha believed without understanding.  John 11:

Believing God doesn’t always mean that we understand His ways.  Until we see Him work in our lives, it’s impossible to even begin to see things through His eyes.  Though we will never have perfect knowledge in this life, as we walk with Him we build a bank of experiences upon which to base our understanding of His work in our present circumstances.  Jesus helped his disciples, Martha, and us to understand how to believe Jesus.

1.  Why did Jesus delay his response to the sisters’ plea for help for Lazarus? (11:14)

2.  Who was the first of the sisters to meet Jesus as he approached?  (11:20)

3.  What did Martha say that she believed about Jesus?  (11:21-22)

4.  In the next interchange Jesus pressed Martha.  What was the disconnect between what Jesus said and what Martha said? (11:23-27)

5.  When Jesus called for the stone to be removed what did Martha’s comment reveal? (11:39)

6.  Here was another teaching moment between Jesus and Martha.  What was Jesus’ reminder to this friend? (11:40)

7.  Why was the raising of Lazarus an experience for the disciples to put in their ‘spiritual bank account’?

IV. What is admirable?

Right answers and a hectic schedule of ministry will not help our belief any more than Martha’s frazzled way of serving helped Jesus that day in Bethany.  Martha used her service as a cover for her desire to control those around her.  Mary was not the only one who had to do things her way; she even expected Jesus to see things her way. While service is admirable, another thing is more admirable.  We release the control of our lives when we have allowed Jesus to possess our hearts, minds, and our schedules.  This is admirable.  Then we can begin to understand and truly believe.

1.  As human beings it is impossible for us to fully understand God’s ways.  How are God’s ways described in the following verses?

Psalm 145:17

Isaiah 55:9

Romans 11:33-36

2.   When did the disciples finally understand? (Luke 24:44, 45)

3.  List the ways that God provides help to understand His ways?

2 Timothy 3:15-17

Romans 8

James 1:5

Key Question: What are you trying to control with busyness that hinders your ability to understand and believe?

No Ordinary Man (Bible Study)


Chapter 24 recap

One thing about this Jesus:  He never invited neutrality.  His followers called Him the Christ.  His contenders called Him a blasphemer.  Some were drawn to Him, while others could muster nothing in His presence but contempt.  His teachings were revolutionary and His miracles undeniable.  He claimed nothing less than equality with God and proclaimed Himself as the long expected Messiah.  Jesus never left sitting on the proverbial fence as an option.

He attracted criticism in spades, but He also drew crowds.  He often taught the people in parables, pithy stories that drew spiritual lessons from everyday life to reveal the “secrets” of God’s kingdom. With simple illustrations, Jesus taught that in Him, God’s kingdom had come, while exposing the religious leaders’ misguided view of religion.  Jesus’ trilogy on lostness told of a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son and demonstrated the value God places on a repentant heart.  In the story of the lost son, Jesus exposed the hard-heartedness of the Pharisees as the older brother’s indignity, angered by his father’s compassion.  Like this father, Jesus’ concern for sinners created an ever-widening rift with the Pharisees.  His popularity increased and so did His opposition.  Yet Jesus’ teaching ministry to the masses continued, and in the Sermon on the Mount, He taught them how to live by faith in close relationship with God.

Jesus was a great teacher, but even His closest disciples struggled to grasp His true identity and purpose.  He authenticated His words with miracles that made His authority irrefutable.  The disciples were awestruck when Jesus calmed a raging storm at sea.  The people were confounded when he expelled demons from a possessed man into a herd of pigs, who promptly drowned themselves.  Who was this man?  He certainly wasn’t looking or sounding like a Messiah should.  The desperate came to Him for healing, and weren’t found wanting.  Jesus healed a woman with a bleeding disorder, while pausing to restore her dignity and commend her faith.  Meanwhile, the daughter of a synagogue leader named Jairus died.  Jesus established His authority over death by raising her back to life.  He healed two blind men, and the Pharisees exposed their own desperate lack of vision by crediting such miracles to the prince of demons.

News about Jesus spread through villages and cities, homes and institutions.  Even King Herod grew interested.  He was haunted by the fear that John the Baptist might have returned from the dead, for he had ordered John’s execution. Wherever He went, people gathered around Jesus.  After one especially long day, Jesus fed more than 5,000 with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish.  The miracle was meant for more than filling empty stomachs.  He had come to fill empty lives; the real point was that He is the “bread” of eternal life.  As a result of his teachings, the people were divided.  Many turned away, but those who truly believed remained.  In one of His finest moments, Peter announced, “You have the words of eternal life…you are the Holy One of God.” 

Many came to Jesus with Lower Story needs, but Jesus’ mission was greater than any had imagined. He’d come to offer an Upper Story life, to fulfill the promises that began centuries ago with Abraham and David.  He’d come to offer a life of faith – faith in unseen realities, faith in who He is, and what He could do for them eternally.  The offer still stands.

Jesus’ Authority:  His Teaching and His Tests

Jesus preached the gospel of God, saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  (Mk. 1:14-15)  As people watched and listened to Jesus, they responded, “What is this?  A new teaching with authority!” (Mk. 1:27)  No one could argue that Jesus was a controversial figure.  From the beginning, He opposed and exposed the religious establishment who despised Him.  He shattered Jewish paradigms by declaring that relationship to God is based on faith and obedience rather than flesh and blood (Mk. 3:35, Jn. 8:39).  He challenged the crowds.  He even confounded His closest disciples.  As we study the gospels, we find ourselves digging through Jesus’ teachings and in wonder of His miracles.  Many times we have been taught or studied these gospel stories in small bites because the big picture is hard to grasp.  But Jesus’ message and His miracles are not independent of one another.  His miracles do not prove that He is anything more than a great prophet or even a false one (Deut. 13:1-3).

Moses and Elijah worked great wonders too.  Even Pharaoh’s magicians were able to duplicate the first three plagues that Moses did.  The key is the combination of words and works, the message and the miracles.  Moses himself taught Israel that a wonder-worker whose words betrayed his God was not to be followed (Deut. 13:1-3).  But Israel should look for a prophet like Moses.   This Prophet must be listened to for He would speak God’s words (Deut. 18:15-19).  Moses warned that those who refuse to listen to this unique Prophet would be judged for rejecting God (Deut. 18:19).  It is within this context that Jesus’ message and miracles must be understood.  His miracles authenticate His message.  That is the situation we find in Mark 4-5.   This lesson aims to help us understand the relationship between Jesus’ teaching and His tests, and it aims to help us develop better Bible study skills so that we can better comprehend what Jesus did, why He did it, and what is the message of the gospel writer.

I.    Jesus taught…   (Mark 4:1-34)

The parables

A. Much of Jesus’ teaching was in parables.  Parables are short stories that draw comparisons to spiritual truth.  These stories come from common experiences that the original hearers would have easily understood—farming, shepherding, kings, banquets, and commercial elements such as money, debts and builders.   There are at least 35 parables in the synthesized gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.  All of His parables teach something about Himself, about His kingdom or about His followers.

B. In Mark 4:1-34, or p. 277-278, Jesus taught a large crowd by the lake, so large that He actually had to get into a boat in order to teach them many things in parables.  He urged them to listen carefully, presumably because He expected a response afterwards.   Jesus’ teachings were never haphazard or random.  They always served a purpose that contributed to His overall mission.

C. Parable of the Soils—He described the various soils upon which the farmer scattered his seeds.  Not all the seeds produced a harvest.  Some were scattered and eaten up by birds.  Some sprouted quickly and were scorched and withered.  Others were choked out.  But some fell on good soil and produced an amazing bounty.  Jesus provided an explanation to His disciples privately explaining that the farmer sows the word and the soils represent the various responses of the hearers of the word.  And what is the word?  Mark 1:14-15—the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel!  This parable explains why so many Jews rejected Jesus.  It reveals God’s gracious and universal offer of salvation as preached by Jesus alongside the mixed responses and results.   The truth is timeless—people today reject Jesus for the very same reasons.

D. Every teaching of Jesus anticipates a response.  He had expectations that hearers would respond to His teaching either by faith or rejection.  And indeed they did.  Because He understood the eternal gravity of His teaching and peoples’ responses, He encouraged everyone to listen carefully.

The purpose

A.    To reveal

  1. To those who believe, Jesus revealed the “secret of the kingdom of God,” that is in Christ Jesus.  God’s kingdom or rule was taking on a new form.  While scholars may debate what exactly is that form, there can be no arguing that Jesus’ assertion of the change in the kingdom was a “secret” or “mystery,” which means it was not previously revealed.  God allowed His believers to see in Jesus this secret, for they too would become “farmers” or “sowers” of the seed.  Those who heard and believed would receive more reason to believe in Jesus, while those who were in unbelief would continue in their unbelief.
  2. Nevertheless, even these believing disciples struggled to understand Jesus’ parables.  While the stories are simple, the spiritual truths that they teach are not.  They are quite deep and require thoughtful consideration.

B.     To conceal

  1. This idea is difficult for us to understand.  Why would Jesus deliberately conceal His teaching?  But by understanding His Isaiah reference, we are enlightened to this concealment.  At the time Isaiah prophesied, Israel was given the word of God to repent and return to the LORD.  They were spiritually blind and deaf.  In spite of all the words of the many prophets, they refused to really “hear.”

  2. Jesus is saying that the people of His day were like the Israelites of Isaiah’s day—spiritually blind and deaf. They were not denied the possibility of understanding and believing in Him.  But they persevered in closing their minds of His message and continued in their rejection.

II.    Jesus tested.  (Mark 4:35-5:43; The Story, p.283-286)

A. While The Story has inserted material from the gospels of Matthew and Luke, Mark’s account is continuous.  Jesus followed His teaching that day with miracles.  These two chapters are one continuous story and one continuous message. These Lower Story truths also convey Upper Story truths.  But the sheer volume of material of these four “tests” makes it difficult to apprehend the big picture.  Gospel writer John tells us that the works of Jesus were so numerous that all the books in the world could not contain them (Jn. 21:25).  Therefore the good Bible student must ask himself or herself why were these particular events selected to be written down.  An analysis of the four miracles will help to answer that question.  A chart is an excellent Bible study tool.  It helps us organize material so that we can take a big picture view of it to discern its meaning.

B. These miracles serve as tests for what Jesus has already taught. He just explained that on good soil, the words are heard, accepted and fruitful.  This is not new.  God tested Abraham with Isaac AFTER He had promised Abe a seed.  God tested Israel in the dessert AFTER He had spoken to them and demonstrated His power in such a grandiose deliverance. Now, Jesus authenticated His teaching by demonstrations of His authority.
I have a blank chart and a filled in chart right after this lesson to show you what it would look like to take a story and chart it out. If you have any questions about this, please ask.

  1. People:  Who is involved?  Is there a connection between the people involved and the sphere in which the miracle occurred?
  2. Method:  What method did Jesus use to carry out the miracle?
  3. Sphere:  What sphere(s) was involved in the problem and the miracle?  Was it a physical problem?  Emotional?  Or spiritual?  Was it a combination thereof?
  4. Result:  This is a Lower Story category.  This looks at the details of the Lower Story event.  What was the result of Jesus’ actions?  Could the result be explained in another non-miraculous way?
  5. Faith:  What elements of faith show up in the people involved in this story?
  6. Authority:  This is the Upper Story category.  It gives us insight into the bigger picture and helps convey the author’s reason for including the Lower Story event.  Over what does Jesus demonstrate His authority?

C. After filling out the chart, we can see horizontally that these elements or categories help us break down each individual story into manageable parts.  Vertically, we can use it to maximize our study time as it helps us draw conclusions.  Is there an increase in intensity in the problems?  In the miracles?  In the faith response?  In authority?  Is there a message that these trends help communicate?

D. Application questions to gain from this exercise:  What practical issues do these passages deal with?    Which person’s faith response is most like my own?  Is there a change required of me from this lesson?  Can I better trust Jesus because of these things, and if so, why?








Calming the Storm


The Demon-possessed Man

Woman with the Bleeding

Jairus’ Daughter

















Calming the Storm




Disciples (fisherman used to storms)

Spoken word Physical Perfectly calm waters What faith?  None


Over the natural world



The Demon-possessed Man





Pig herder



Spoken word Mental


Man became normal (right mind), clothed, Man wanted to follow Jesus,

People fearful and reject, care more about $ of pigs than man

Over the supernatural realm, ruinous kingdom of Satan–death and destruction



Woman with the Bleeding






Touch Physical

Emotional (unclean outcast)    Lev. 15:25-30

Instant healing Her faith healed her in that it caused her to seek Jesus Over sickness










3 Disciples



Spoken word and touch Physical



Instantly revived, stood, walked and ate Jairus’ faith in 2 stages, showed great faith Over death—the climax of the set of miracles

III.       Applications

A. I can develop better Bible study skills so that I can mature in my faith.

B. Like the original hearers, I must consider Jesus’ message and miracles and make a decision to believe.  Jesus is expecting a response of faith.

C. I can trust Jesus in the midst of my storms—emotional or physical.

D. Jesus is sovereign over the natural world.  Even the worst of storms has been filtered through His hand.

E. Jesus is sovereign over the supernatural world of demonic forces.  I can trust Him to protect me.

F. Jesus is sovereign over sickness and death.  I can know for certain that He can heal but there is no promise that He will heal.  While He raised Jairus’ daughter, He allowed John to remain dead.

G. I can trust that Jesus is who He says He is because He has authenticated His message with miracles.

H. Like Jairus, I can cling to Jesus even when the Lower Story appears hopeless.  When it is hopeless, I need to cling even more to the only One who holds the power of life and death

I. Like the woman, I should seek Jesus in my desperate times.

J. Like the disciples, I may now “get it” all the time, but as I continue to follow Jesus and know Him more and more, my faith and understanding will continue to grow.

K. Like the farmer, most of the seeds I sow will not be fruitful.  But God is in charge of the harvest and has entrusted me with the task of sowing.

Chapter 24: The Unclean Woman

A Touch

We are now at the point in our study when you will need to open up your Bibles and look at the Word. Today we will be studying the woman with the uncontrollable bleeding. Jesus in his earthly ministry dealt with many issues of the flesh and he never turned and ran from anyone. Jesus wasn’t ordinary; He didn’t run, and He didn’t hide. Real-life suffering touched Him to the core.

I. What happened?

Any investigator will talk to every witness to get to the truth. There are three different points of view in this story. We can learn much by investigating the events that took place from the viewpoint of the unclean woman, of Jesus, and of the disciples.

The Unclean Woman. Matthew 9:20—22; Mark 5:25—29, 33-34; Luke 8:43-44, 47-48

1.  What was her problem and how serious was it?

2.  How did she know who Jesus was?

3.  What did she do to have the courage to approach him? Matthew 9:21; Mark 5:28

4. What did she do and what happened to her body?

5. How did she react when Jesus revealed that she had touched him?

6. What made her well?


Jesus.  Matthew 9; Mark 5; Luke 8

The Gospel accounts give Jesus’ itinerary for approximately 48 hours before the encounter with the woman.  He had maintained a grueling schedule of healing and teaching, including the press of the crowds that were following him.  Remember, the Apostle John wrote that “the whole world would not have room to contain the books that would be written” about all of Jesus’ activities (John 21:23).


1.  Go to the three passages that record this event and glance back at Jesus’ activities just before he encountered the unclean woman; briefly list what Jesus had been doing in that short time.

2.  Try to imagine the strain and pressure Jesus would have endured from this crowd.  Explain what you think the toll was on Jesus.

3.  What was on Jesus’ mind when this incident occurred? (Where was Jesus actually heading next?)

4.  What did Jesus realize the moment the woman was healed?

5.  What question did he ask?  Explain what he did as he asked the question.

6. Did Jesus pay any attention to the apostles’ comments?  Explain his attitude toward them.

7.  What did Jesus say to the woman?  Explain his attitude toward her.

8.  From Matthew 9:35-38, describe how Jesus viewed the people around him.


The Disciples. Matthew 9:37; Mark 5:31; Luke 8:45-46

1.  Describe the reaction of the disciples to Jesus’ question, “Who touched me?”

2. What do you think the disciples thought as they observed Jesus and heard his teachings during this hectic period of time?

3.  From Jesus’ ‘debriefing’ with his disciples in Matthew 9:35-38, what could the disciples have perceived about their question in Mark 31?

In the space of a few seconds, a woman was healed; Jesus knew it; he was chided by the disciples; and he responded to them, as well as to the woman.  No angry reaction to the stress—to the questioning—to the presumption of the woman.  For Jesus it was business as usual.  The biblical accounts describe a kind and compassionate man, calm in the midst of a whirlwind.

II.  Conclusions.

1.  What can the actions of the unclean woman teach us?

2.  What can the actions of Jesus teach us?

3. What can the actions of the disciples teach us?

III.  Touching Jesus.

The real-life story of the unclean woman is also a real-life story of every person who comes to Jesus.  What we experience when we come to Jesus is not unlike what the woman experienced.  Not only does faith lead us into a saving relationship with Christ, faith leads us to cling to Him in order to faithfully walk with Him every day. With the metaphor of the unclean woman in mind, meditate on the changes in our lives when we draw near to Jesus.

1.  Fill in the blanks: (The first letter of each word is provided from the NIV)

Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came t___________________ and

f__________ at his feet.  In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how

she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her “Daughter your f____________ has healed you.

Luke 8:47

2.  Sin brings every kind of suffering.  Make a note of some of the suffering that has brought you to Jesus with fear and trembling. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

3.  What is the proper response to the spiritual healing and freedom that salvation brings?

4.  What knowledge do we have to base our faith upon?

5.  How much faith do we need to respond to Jesus?  (Luke 17:5-6)

Key Question:  What courageous thing will require you to cling to Jesus in faith?

For additional reflection:  The unclean woman was not the only person who summoned the courage to reach out to Jesus.  In each of the examples below note what qualms they might have had to overcome in order to ask Jesus for help.

Mary- John 2:1-22

Nicodemus- John 3:1-21

The Official- John 4:43-54

Jesus’ Ministry Begins (Bible Study)


Recap of Chapter 23

If God’s prophets were meant to be peculiar, John the Baptist did not disappoint. Eccentric is too mild a description for this wilderness dwelling preacher who wore odd clothes and lacked both a sense of tact and a balanced diet.  His message, though, was right in step with a long line of prophetic predecessors.  He called for Israel’s repentance and baptized the penitent in the Jordan River.

John was awestruck when Jesus came to be baptized by him.  Then he watched in amazement as heaven opened wide and the Spirit of God came to rest on Jesus. John and those with him were astonished to hear the voice of the Father Himself broadcasting His divine approval.  The community of God had gathered to bear witness to their incarnation. The Spirit then led Jesus to a lonely wilderness, where he spent the next 40 days in one-on-one combat with Satan, the enemy of God. He confronted Satan’s evil allurements and proved Himself obedient to the Father and triumphant over sin.

John the Baptist denied claims that he was Messiah, pointing to Jesus and announcing, “Look, the Lamb of God.”  Andrew heard John’s message and rushed to tell his brother, Simon Peter, and others that Messiah had come.  Jesus gathered His band of followers and began training them with marvelous words and miraculous ways.  His first miracle took place when He went to a wedding in Cana with his mother, Mary, and his disciples.  The wine ran out, so Mary turned to Jesus to remedy the embarrassing state of affairs.  Jesus simply instructed the servants to fill six jars with water and serve the guests.  When they did, the guests marveled that finest wine had been kept such a secret until now, and Jesus’ disciples caught their earliest glimpse of the One who shared creative power with His Father.

The disciples became increasingly aware that Jesus was indeed their long-expected Messiah, but others were not so sure.  A religious leader called Nicodemus had a clandestine encounter with Jesus to find some answers.  Jesus’ simple reply was, “You must be ‘born again’….of the Spirit.  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Jesus had a similar conversation with a Samaritan woman who had come to draw water from a well.  With her, he spoke of ‘living water,’ but the message was the same:  receive His gift and be saved.  When she mentioned the Messiah, Jesus confirmed His identity.  She believed and shared the news with her entire village, as the second missionary of the new Messiah.

Jesus traveled the area, taught in the synagogues and healed the people.  He ousted demons and cleansed socially exiled lepers.  The crowds grew and so did His critics.  On one occasion, four men dug through the roof of a house so they could bring their paralytic friend to Him.  Before he healed him, Jesus forgave the man, while the religious teachers grew indignant over such claims.  But Jesus validated His authority by commanding the paralytic to get up and walk. The Pharisees missed the miracle and were incensed that Jesus had violated tradition by healing on the Sabbath.

This Sabbath infringement, coupled with his absurd claim to be the Messiah Himself, on top of his questionable social circles, quickly turned the establishment against Him.  And so the conspiracy to kill Jesus began.  While many debated, questioned and wondered about Jesus’ identity, one thing was certain: Jesus was controversial.  Some saw hope, but others hated Him and wanted only to be rid of Him   John the Baptist had loved Him from the beginning but now, languishing in prison, he began to doubt as well, demonstrating that even the best of us have our faith tested under difficult circumstances.  But throughout this chapter, His baptism, His triumph over temptation, His miracles and His message confirm Him as the long expected One who confounds expectations, is drawn to the least and the lost, and whose message is indeed for all, from the graduate professor to the immoral woman to the leper – the Anointed One indeed.

Jesus travels

This is a map of the journey Jesus went on and his encounter with the Samaritan Woman

Woman at the well

A woman at a well

The Power of the Testimony

Never underestimate the power of your testimony. Brian “Head” Welch was the lead guitarist for the nu-metal rock band Korn.  He had all the worldly fame, money and success that anyone could want.  But he also had a methamphetamine addiction, alcoholism and frequent suicidal thoughts.  His personal life was out of control.  In 2004, he got invited by a friend to church and they took him in.  He went home, started snorting drugs and prayed to the Lord that He would reveal Himself.  Within a couple of weeks, Brian’s drug addiction was healed.  In 2005, he startled the music world when he left Korn.  People thought he was crazy—and probably still do.  But he had an encounter with Jesus.  He went to Israel with a group from the California church and got baptized in the Jordan River.  Like the woman at the well, he cannot stop talking about God.  He continues to use the medium of nu-metal rock to share his testimony so that others might experience an encounter with Jesus.  He now has three Christian music albums and has written a book entitled Save Me from Myself.  Brian told Christianity Today magazine, “My prayer is that people would realize how real God is and want to hunger after Him more than anything in this world.  I just pray that eyes will be opened.  He’s lovable, man.  He’s so awesome.  It’s like I’m so content with everything…And I want the whole world to be saved.  I know that’s kind of an immature Christian, but ‘why me, you know?  Why do I get this goodness, Lord?’  I’m saved by grace only.  I didn’t do anything except just ask Him.  He led me into that church…He’s a big God.  I pray that it [his book] imparts a hunger to Christians and others.  And if tons of drug addicts get set free from their drugs, that’s awesome.”  Brian gets it!  He understands the gospel.  He understands the redemption and new life that Jesus offered to him and to the world.  He so loves the LORD that he cannot refrain from sharing the good news of who Jesus is.[1]

Brian is a modern day “woman at the well.”  In this week’s chapter, we see her and the cleansed leper share their testimony about their encounter with Jesus.  Brian, the woman and the leper all point others to their Savior with their short but powerful testimonies.  Never underestimate the power of your story.

Feel free to check out Brian’s story on YouTube,

Brian is not the conventional looking Christian, he still wears dark eye make-up and has long braided hair. We are reminded once again that there is no one beyond the gracious redemptive work of God.

[1]   Jeremiah Gregier, “Interview:  Former Guitarist of Korn Reflects on Conversion, Freedom from Drugs,” Christianity Today, July 2007.

I.    The woman at the well

A. Three Problems. The woman at the well had three strikes against her from the standpoint of Judaism.  She represented everything that the religious leaders despised.  She was the marginalized and not worthy of someone’s time and attention.
  1. She was a Samaritan.  Samaritans were a mixed race, a people who resulted from the intermarriage of the Northern Israelites and foreign captives who were imported by their Assyrian captors after the Assyrian invasion in 722 BC.  They were “unclean” and “impure.”  Their religious practices were also a mix between Judaism and foreign pagan gods.  They only accepted the Pentateuch, or the five books of Moses, as Scripture.  They rejected all the other sacred writings.  The Samaritans had threatened Nehemiah when he tried to rebuild the Jerusalem walls.  These things all led to constant hostility and hatred between the Jews and Samaritans.

  2. She was a woman.  It was stunning for a man to speak to a woman in public like Jesus spoke to her.  The cultural norms of the day prohibited men from speaking to women in public, prohibited Jews from speaking to Samaritans, and this was particularly astonishing since they were strangers.

  3. She was a sexually immoral sinner.  She was the quintessential outcast.  It was unusual for a woman to come to get water by herself and during the heat of the day.  Perhaps her immorality led other women to avoid or despise her.  She may have been at the well at this time of day to avoid experiencing their rejection and humiliation.  She represents the person that we Christians might look at and consider too hopeless, too mired in sin, to ever respond to the message of Jesus.

  4. She is the typical human being.  The woman at the well is me and you.

B. Personal Encounter. The woman experienced a personal encounter with Jesus.  He met her at a point they both had in common—the need for water.  He then tapped in to her curiosity by implying He had something greater to give her than she could give Him—living water.  This began a conversation about spiritual things.  Then He stunned her with His knowledge of her marital status.  Notice that He did so tactfully, not to bring further humiliation upon her, but to reveal something about Himself and God.  He revealed Himself as the Messiah, opening the door for her to come to Him for salvation.

C. Evangelistic Effort. The woman’s encounter led to her excited, evangelistic effort.  She left her water jar (Jn. 4:28) indicating that she rushed back to the village to tell about her discovery.  She believed Jesus to be the Messiah based upon both His words and His works.  His claim was supported by His ability to know her past.  Not willing to keep her encounter to herself, she simply told them what He had done in her life to convince her that He was the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior (Jn. 4:29).  “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.  Could this be the Messiah?”

D. Testimony. The woman’s testimony led to the Samaritans’ personal encounter with Jesus.  John records her testimony in only two simple sentences but it was effective enough to cause some to initially believe (Jn. 4:39).  God uses the testimony of all kinds of people to bring others to faith in Jesus.  It caused others to seek Him to find out more (Jn. 4:40-41).  Her testimony opened the door for others to seek and believe.  The woman was not responsible for the people’s response.  She was only responsible for inviting them to experience Jesus for themselves.

E. Message. His message was the cause of their faith.  Their faith grew into their own because of their personal encounter with Jesus.  His two days worth of teaching caused more to believe.  Their faith could not rest on her testimony alone.  It needed to be combined with His words.

F. Personal testimony + Jesus’ message -> salvation by faith   The combination of a personal testimony and the Word of God is a powerful evangelistic means.  The woman at the well provides us with a wonderful example of the effectiveness of a simple testimony.  Nothing “big” changed in her life—no miraculous healing, etc.  She discovered Jesus and based on His works and His words, she believed.  A dramatic testimony is not necessary for effectiveness.  God can use our simple encounter and our simple faith to plant seeds and reap a harvest.

II.    The Leper (p. 272-273, Mark 1:38-45)
A. Two Problems. The leper had two major problems:  leprosy and leprosy.  Physically, leprosy was a general term that encompassed a wide range of skin diseases.  In the hot climate of Israel, it would have been very painful and incapacitating.  Spiritually, leprosy made this man ritually unclean.  Therefore, lepers were required to live outside of the city and avoid contact with anyone including family members.  Leprosy was associated with sin.  In the Bible, people are not “healed” of leprosy, they are always “cleansed.”  Leprosy was regarded as incurable.  The Bible only records two people who were cleansed of leprosy by God—Miriam (Num. 12:10-15) and Namaan (2 Ki. 5:1-14).

B. Personal Encounter. The leper had a personal encounter with Jesus. The leper broke the Jewish Law and all social rules when he approached Jesus.  But Jesus touched the leper and cleansed him.  Jesus demonstrated that He was willing to become “unclean” to make someone else “clean,” perhaps alluding to His mission on the cross.  “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him,” (2 Cor. 5:21).  However, Jesus instructed the leper to keep the encounter to himself (Mk. 1:44).  Why?  Perhaps Jesus wanted to avoid becoming known as a miracle worker, drawing people to the miracle rather than the Worker.

C. Evangelistic Effort. His witness led to others’ personal encounters with Jesus.   The leper’s news spread quickly and had a powerful effect.   People came from everywhere to Jesus.  But the leper’s disobedience actually hindered Jesus’ work.  Sometimes we think our way is better than God’s way.  Our good intentions can still be contrary to God’s plan.  Jesus could no longer enter a town openly (Mk. 1:45).  His primary mission was not one of healing but one of redemption, which He later emphasized with the paralytic who was let down through the roof (p. 273).  While his testimony led others to Jesus, he still hindered the work of God by his disobedience.

D. Testimony. The results are unknown.  We know that many came to Jesus from everywhere, so in that sense, his testimony was effective.  However, we do not know if anyone actually believed because of it—and that is OK!

  1. The outcome is not the responsibility of the leper.  Nor is it the responsibility of a Christian’s testimony—for that work is left up to the Holy Spirit.  This truth should free the Christian to scatter seeds and know that the Lord is responsible to bring the growth.
  2. In another sense, one must keep in mind that redemption rather than reward was and is God’s plan.  The leper seems to have had the Lower Story in view and may have missed the Upper Story.  If the leper focused on the miracle rather than the Miracle Worker, he might have missed the main thing.

E. The woman at the well and the leper show us how effective a simple testimony can be to draw people to encounter Jesus.  What was true then is still true today.  God still uses unlikely people to fulfill His story of redemption.

III.       Applications and Implications
A. A personal testimony can be an effective means to invite others to encounter Jesus.
B. I do not need a dramatic testimony to be effective.
C. Jesus meets all kinds of people where they are at.  So should I.
D. The woman and the leper were marginalized outcasts.  I should never assume that someone is beyond the reach of Jesus.
E. Jesus’ compassion compels Him to touch the untouchable.  I should cultivate that kind of compassion.
F. If we limit our evangelistic efforts only to those with whom we are comfortable, we will fail to reach very many people.
G. I am not responsible for whether or not someone else believes—that’s the role of the Holy Spirit.  I am just responsible to be a witness to others that they can get to know Jesus.
H. I don’t have to have all the answers.  I just have to have one.

A Savior for All People

The greatest thing about a sandwich is rarely the bread.  Some artisan breads are rich, robust and hearty, adding texture and taste to the sandwich.  These designer breads are the pride and joy of bakers.  They are pretty and tasty and more expensive.  They are proud breads that others notice.  Then you have your dollar-a-loaf, ordinary, lackluster white bread.  This hum-drum bread is pasty, limp and cheap.  It’s mass-produced so it goes unnoticed.  It’s just there.  Whichever way you slice it—pardon the pun—it’s all just bread.  The point of the sandwich is what’s in the middle.  The bread is not there to conceal the middle.  The bread serves to showcase what is in the middle.

John the Apostle used two characters in this week’s chapter of The Story to “sandwich” the message of John 3:16.  It is the best-known verse in the whole Bible.  It appears on posters at sporting events.  It makes its way onto T-shirts and bumper stickers.  Someone even wrote a book recently, simply titled “3:16.”  Today we’ll take a fresh look at this familiar message by looking at Nicodemus and the woman at the well.  The gospel writer used these two characters to make his 3:16 point—Jesus really is a Savior for all people.

I.    The top slice:  Nicodemus

A. Nicodemus represents the best of the religious Jews.  He was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council.  He was an educated man who was also a great teacher. (Jn. 3:10)  He was a man with the right pedigree, position, prestige and power.  As a Pharisee, he would have had great respect for the Scriptures and paid careful attention to observe and obey the Law.  Obedience to the Law was the way of salvation for the Pharisees.  He came to Jesus by night, probably to avoid conflict with the Pharisees who were already beginning to oppose Jesus.

B. Whenever John refers to nighttime in his gospel, it has spiritual and moral allusions to darkness.  Bible study note:  The biblical authors rarely include details that are insignificant.  The stories they choose and the details they include are there to make more than a historical record.  They are part of their theological point.  Nicodemus, even as moral and religious as he was, remained in spiritual darkness.

II.    The bottom slice:  The woman at the well

A. This woman does not even rate having being named.  She represents the opposite extreme from Nicodemus.

  1. She was a Samaritan, which means she was of mixed race between the Northern Israelites and the foreigners imported by the Assyrian captors.
  2. She would have had a mixed religion—part Jewish and part pagan.
  3. She was a woman.  In those days, it was culturally unacceptable for men to speak to women in public, especially strangers.
  4. She was the worst kind of woman (by religious standards)—a sexually immoral woman.  Though we do not know the circumstances of her first five husbands, we know that the man with whom she lived was not her husband.

B. Jesus approached her in the middle of the day, out in the open for anyone to see.

Let’s compare and contrast these two people:



Race/Ethnic group

Social status

Time of day









Jerusalem / Judah


Highly respected, ruler, teacher

Darkness, night

Pre-planned visit


Dialogue became monologue

New birth – didn’t “get it”

Not mentioned

No witness to others

Samaritan Woman-no name



Samaritan (mixed)

Immoral, discarded

Light, daytime



Dialogue continued to the end

Living water – didn’t “get it”


Witnessed, others believed


III.    Between the slices:  Jesus

A. These two characters represent the whole spectrum of people in the world, from super-saint to super-sinner.  And the one thing they had in common was their need for Jesus.  It’s not about the people, it’s about the Savior.  “Sandwiched” between these two characters is John’s famous 3:16.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  John’s point between the Samaritan woman and Nicodemus is that they represent “the world.” They both need salvation which could be found only in Jesus.

B. While Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about needing to be “born again” to Nicodemus and “living water” to the Samaritan woman, neither one of them understood initially.  But they both came to realize that Jesus’ words were about eternal life.  They both needed salvation by faith in Him.

C. Jesus really is a Savior for all people.

  1. All need a Savior—Jew and Gentile, the moral man and the sinner.  Paul’s argument to the Romans is that the pagan, the moral man and the religious man are all in the same sinking boat.  “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  (Rom. 5:23).  “For we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one.”  (Rom. 3:9b-10a)
  2. Salvation is equally available to all by faith.  “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  (Rom. 10:12-13)
  3. Paul affirms equality in Christ in his letter to the Galatians.  Those who are moral or religious get no more brownie points than the filthy sinner.  Once saved, our new identity is in Christ. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  (Gal. 3:26-28).

D. Jesus is worth sharing with others.  One big difference between these two characters is their response to Him.

  1. We do not have a response from Nicodemus.  If he did believe after his conversation with Jesus, he did not rush out to tell anyone.  At some point in time, it seems that he probably came to faith in Jesus.  He defended Jesus against the Sanhedrin’s irrational hatred (Jn. 7:50).  More importantly, the next encounter we see between Jesus and Nicodemus is at the cross.  Nicodemus helped Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus’ body for burial.  Nicodemus supplied a large amount of spices and a linen cloth for the body, showing his deep respect and regard for Jesus (Jn. 19:39-40).  This he did in the light of day.

  2. The Samaritan woman immediately believed and ran back to her village to evangelize all her neighbors.  Her testimony brought many others to faith in this Jesus, further proving John’s point—Jesus is the Savior for all people.

IV.    Applications and Implications

A. Jesus is the Savior for all people.  I should not consider any sinner beyond His redemptive reach. 

B. Religious people need to be born again.  Being a religious, moral person is not synonymous with faith in Christ alone.
C. Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman represent the whole range of mankind.  Where was I on the spectrum when I first encountered Jesus?
D. An encounter with Jesus is worthy of sharing with others.  I need to develop the ability to share my faith with joy like the Samaritan woman.
E. Faith doesn’t necessarily come with the first encounter with Jesus.  Like Nicodemus, it might take some time.  I should not give up on others.
F. Jesus, the Son of GOD, is the ONLY Savior.  There is no other way to have eternal life.

Conversation to Conversion: John 4:1-42

We have come to the point once again this week to take a look a the pages of Scripture with our own eyes. You will need your Bibles open (in whatever form it comes in). We will go through the Samaritan woman story to see how Jesus interacts with others and what that interaction does to others.

Jesus’ ministry on earth is introduced in Chapter 23 of The Story.  His words and his work revealed who he was.  As he went about preaching and performing miracles people began to follow him, as well as  those twelve men he had chosen to mentor and train for his ministry.  They would tell his story to the world.  However, men were not the only followers.  In fact God’s word reveals that many women were among his followers and even some of the most broken women experienced his acceptance. One day in Sychar, Jesus’ own thirst brought him to satisfy her spiritual thirst. It was a tender, yet honest, conversation that led the tainted Samaritan woman to worship.

I.  A Simple Drink of Water.  John 4:1—9

1.  Why was Jesus passing through Sychar in Samaria?  (vs.1-4)

2.  What was significant about the place he chose to rest?  (vs. 5-6; Genesis 33:18-20; Joshua 24:32)

3.  Why did it surprise the woman that Jesus initiated a conversation with her by asking for a drink of water? (vs. 7-9)

4.  What does this show about Jesus’ priorities?

II. More Than a Drink of Water.  4:10—18

1.  What insights can we gain from the way Jesus directed the conversation to spiritual things? (v. 10-12)

2.  What did the woman’s response in vs. 11 and vs. 15 indicate?

3.  From this passage, we know she was aware of the religious history of her people.  What was she thinking about Jesus’ identity at this point? (vs. 12)

4.  What was Jesus really saying to the woman when he talked about living water? (See John 6:35)

5.  Explain the significance of the underlined words from verse 14: “a spring of water welling up to eternal life”.

Up to this point Jesus had been conversing with the woman about spiritual things, yet it seems that she was only hearing an enticing offer provide water.  Perhaps she realized that he could be a prophet; she may have even heard of a teacher who was been traveling around the region doing miracles.  Now Jesus made the conversation personal to make his meaning clear.

6.  What did Jesus’ comments about her husbands reveal to this woman?  (vs. 18-19)  Hint: Do you think there was more conversation than we have recorded in the passage?

7.  Describe in your own words the kind of life that Jesus knew this woman had experienced.


III. From Words to Worship.  4:19—42

1.  In the following passage, underline the word “worship” in any form it appears.

 “‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’

Jesus declared, ‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.  Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  God is spirit, and his worshipers, must worship in spirit and in truth.’”  (John 4:19-24)

2. Who brought up the subject of worship?

3.  According to Jesus, what is true worship? (vs. 23)

4.  What change in thought did Jesus force the woman to make? (See vs. 15 and 23)

5.  What startling announcement did Jesus make? (vs. 25-26)

6.  What was the woman’s response?  (vs. 28-30)

We know that Jesus had many more conversations with the Samaritans.  In fact, he stayed with them for two more days.

7.  Note the key dynamics of fruitful evangelism that we can observe from this story? (Hint: try to experience the range of emotions the Samaritan woman would have felt.)

8.  Describe how the woman’s worship was in ‘spirit and truth’ after she was convinced Jesus was the Messiah.

IV. From Conversations to Conversions.

Jesus cared about the Samaritan woman. His conversation with her resulted in the conversion of many Samaritans.  This was more than just talk; Jesus touched her life in meaningful ways.  Both Jesus’ approach to the Samaritan woman, and her response, provide us with a powerful example.

1.  Note the instructions about our conversations

Ephesians 4:29-

Colossians 4:6-

2.   If you had been the woman, would you have been offended by Jesus?  Why or why not?

3.  What was the true solution to the woman’s problems?  To ours? (vs. 23-26)

True worship that is “in spirit and truth” brings blessing to the worshipper and to the world around him.  Mark Moore explains worship in his book How to Dodge a Dragon: “It is not what we do, but what we are aware of…it’s fair to say that you have not worshiped until you get a clear vision of God.

4.  When did you really see God?  Were you aware of who he is and what he has done?” (vs. 34, 35).

5. The Samaritan woman heard Jesus’ claim, and she realized who he was.  It changed everything.  Soon the whole town knew.  Explain how this might happen in your town to show that your worship is ‘in truth’?

6.  One of the reasons Jesus is worthy of worship is because he was the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a Messiah.  Note the promises to us that are found in Revelation 22: 7, 10, and 12.

Key Question:  What things will you remove from your life that block your vision of God and hinder your worship?

The Birth of the King (Bible Study)


Recap of Chap 22

Heaven had been very quiet for 400 years. No burning bushes. No splitting seas. No visions. No dreams. No prophets.  No message from God…just silence.

Then, in a magnificent yet inauspicious way, a word – but not just a word, The Word came.  At the time, the event seemed inconsequential to all but a blue-collar carpenter and his teenage bride.  But in fact, the Word of God had taken on flesh and blood and was first heard in a baby’s cry.  His birth was unspectacular, yet His presence dispelled darkness and cast an inescapable ray of light across history, past, present and still unwritten. God’s promises to Abraham and David had found fulfillment at long last.  Jesus would bless all nations and would take His rightful place on David’s throne.  It is this event to which everything thus far in The Story has pointed.

Mary was the first to hear the news.  In the midst of wedding plans and setting up house, the angel Gabriel pronounced that she had been chosen to give birth to the Son of God.  Nothing could have been further from her mind…or her to-do list.  Mary was engaged and a virgin. The power of the Most High would take care of everything, he said. So Mary rejoiced.  She accepted her position as God’s servant and praised Him with purest trust in His plan.  Joseph was the next to know. He considered pursuing a legal dissolution of their relationship to save them both from the humiliation of an illegitimate pregnancy.  But he received his own angelic visitor, who confirmed Mary’s innocence and gave his blessing on their marriage.  Joseph married Mary and soon after made the journey to Bethlehem to pay his taxes as required by law. The town was bustling, and the inn was full – so the Son of God was born in a stable.

Angels delivered the birth announcement, and shepherds became the welcoming committee for the King of Kings.  They hurried to see for themselves, and found a surprisingly unassuming setting for a king:  a baby in a feeding trough, accompanied by his mother, earthly father, and the local livestock.  God also sent signs in the stars, and faraway wise men charted their course with gifts in hand.  King Herod felt threatened by the birth of another monarch, so he ordered the massacre of all the baby boys in the surrounding areas.  God sent angels again so His redemptive plan would stay its course.  They warned Joseph in a dream to flee to Egypt until it was safe to return.

Joseph, Mary and Jesus returned to Israel only after Herod’s death, and they made their home in Nazareth. Jesus grew up there as the precocious son of pious Jews. He and His family traveled to Jerusalem every year to celebrate Passover.  When Jesus was 12, He stayed behind in the temple unbeknownst to his frantic parents.  They found Him sitting with the teachers who were amazed at His words.  Jesus grew up as all boys do, and Scripture tells us that He increased in wisdom and favor with God and with people.

God’s Upper Story intersects with His Lower Story at the birth of Jesus Christ, the God-man.   God’s redemptive story approaches its climax as the Son of God from eternity past becomes the Son of Man for eternity future.  The Messiah has finally come.

Travel of Mary and Joe

The Nativity of Jesus

Numbers indicate approximate order of events. Arrows indicate direction, but not specific routes, of travel.

Mary, A Woman of Faith

In the old TV game show To Tell the Truth, a panel of celebrity contestants questioned three people who all claimed to be the same man or woman.  One guest was who he said he was and he had usually done something notable or held an unusual occupation.  After some often humorous questioning, the celebrity panel had the difficult task of guessing which of the guests was the authentic and eliminate the imposters.  The host then asked the now-famous question, “Will the real __________ please stand up?”   The identity of the authentic person was then revealed.

Her face can be found in the alcoves of cathedrals, to the humblest of nativity sets, and even on a 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich that sold for $28,000 on Ebay.

So today we ask a similar question, “Will the real Mary of Nazareth please stand up?”

I.       Mary the Maiden

Mary the young maiden must have had faithful parents as her model.  Very little is known about Mary before we meet her in Scripture.  Nevertheless, her actions and her words betray a young woman steeped in humble faith.

A. Mary was a descendent of King David on her father’s side through David’s son Nathan.  Although all Israelites were aware of the connection between the royal line and the coming Messiah, her anticipation may have been heightened because of her genealogical lineage back to David.

B. Mary’s mother would likely have been a Levite, or indirectly tied to the Levites.  Mary’s close relative Elizabeth was a Levite from the family of Aaron.  Her husband was a priest in the temple.

C. It is likely, then, that Mary’s home would have been deeply influenced by the faithful remnant of her mother’s family.  They would have participated regularly in the annual feasts.  They would have observed Sabbath worship.  They knew the Law of God, probably read or sung Psalms, and discussed faithful obedience with Mary as she grew up and matured, for the Law instructed faithful parents  to do so (Deut. 6:7, 11:19)

D. The proper education of children was highly valued by the Hebrew community and it was considered to be a community responsibility.  Many Psalms and the Proverbs were composed as teaching tools.  Ps. 78:1-8 captures the vision of the faithful who looked toward teaching their children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren “that they should put their confidence in God, and not forget the works of God, and keep His commandments,” (Ps. 78:7).

E. Mary would have been taught the necessary skills to manage a household.  She had to learn to prepare meals, weave fabric, and other domestic work.

II.       Mary the Model of Faith

Mary responded to the angelic visitation by faith, making her a model for all believers, but especially for other women.

A. Most scholars estimate that Mary was likely in her mid-teens, perhaps 14-16 years old when she was engaged to Joseph.  Hebrew marriages had two stages:  the betrothal and the wedding.  The betrothal was legally binding and usually lasted about a year while the groom prepared a proper abode for his new bride.  It was during this period that Mary would have been preparing for her new role.

B. The first time we meet her in Scripture, she is visited by Gabriel who tells her that she is the recipient of God’s special grace (Lu. 1:28).

  1. The angel said Mary was “highly favored” and “blessed among women.”  Yet Mary did not perceive herself as special.  “She was very perplexed at this statement and kept wondering what kind of greeting this was.”  (Lu. 1:28-29).  Instead, she simply saw herself as a “servant.” (Lu. 1:38)
  2. God always sees us differently than we see ourselves.  For He alone has perfect sight.

C. He then tells her she will bear a child, and five things about Him (Lu. 1:32-33)

  1. He will be great
  2. He will be called the Son of the Most High.  This term indicated that her son would be equal with YHWH.  In Hebrew thought, a “son” was exactly likened to his father.  He possessed the qualities that his father possessed.  This son would be deity—God in human flesh.
  3. He will be given the throne of His father David.  Mary would have understood that the angel was referring to the Messiah who had been promised to Israel so long ago (2 Sam. 7:16, Isa. 9:6-7).
  4. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever.
  5. His kingdom will never end.  Again, Mary knew her Scriptures so she must have immediately thought of the special promises to King David (2 Sam. 7:13-16).

D. What is remarkable is Mary’s response!  Mary models true faith for us.

1. She trusted the Lord to make it happen.  She does not seem at all surprised that the Messiah was to come.  She does not need any clarification about the uniqueness and divinity of the child she would bear.  She never doubted the angel’s words but simply asked, “How?” since she was a virgin.

2. She was willing to serve the Lord.  She humbly responded, “Behold, the servant of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”

3. She was willing to suffer for her obedience and service to the Lord.  The angel came to her alone.  What she did not ask is also remarkable.  She did not ask how she would explain this to her family.  She did not ask questions about herself.  An unwed pregnant woman in Israel was a big deal!  She would surely lose her husband.  The angel did not tell her that he would speak to Joseph.  She had no guarantee that it would all work out.  She simply obeyed.  She was willing to suffer the loss of her husband by obeying God.  She never lived down her reputation for an illegitimate pregnancy.  When Jesus faced off with the Pharisees, they self-righteously pointed out the stigma of his birth.  “We are not illegitimate children!” (Jn. 8:41)

4. She faithfully obeyed knowing that perhaps no one but God Himself would ever know the whole truth.  Obedience always has a cost.

III.   Mary:  The Magnificat  (p. 256-257, Lu. 1:46-55)

After the angel left and the shock wore off, Mary needed the support of another woman of faith.  So she turned to Elizabeth, her mature, older mentor and cousin.

A. Elizabeth affirmed the blessedness of the child which must have given Mary great joy and comfort.

B. Mary broke out in a beautiful song, often called her Magnificat, which comes from the Latin which means “magnifies” or “glorifies.”

C. Her song reveals much about Mary.

  1. She recognized her own need for a Savior. (Lu. 1:46)
  2. She recognized her part in God’s Upper Story (Lu. 1:48)
  3. She had an intimate relationship with God, as she praised him for His work on her behalf personally (1:48), for His holiness (1:49), for his mercy (1:50).
  4. Her song reveals her knowledge of the Scriptures.  It is very similar to Hannah’s song (1 Sam. 2:1-10) and it quotes a couple of Psalms.  She praises Him for His faithfulness to Israel.  Again, she realizes that she is part of God’s Upper Story of redemption based upon the promises He made to Abraham and others throughout Israel’s history (Lu. 1:55).

D. Mary’s example of praise serves as yet another model for us today.  We cannot praise like Mary if we do not know God like Mary did.  Her praise was God-focused.

E. The Magnificat tells us that Mary’s faith was not based on emotion but on the knowledge of God’s purpose and faithfulness in the past as recorded in the Scriptures.

IV.       Applications

A. Never underestimate the spiritual influence of your home.  Mary was the product of faith-filled parents (and probably teachers, role models, grandparents, etc.) who prepared her to trust in God in the face of difficult circumstances.

B. Likewise, never underestimate the faith of a young person.  Mary was just a teen but she exercised extraordinary faith, character and strength.

C. Mary, like Abraham and all other chosen ones, was not chosen because of her own righteousness, but by grace.  That God allows us the privilege of participating in His work and His plan is always by grace.

D. Like Mary, I can trust the Lord to work out the impossible details of life.

E. I can be willing to serve the Lord when He calls me.  I should pray like Mary, “Behold, the servant of the Lord!  Let it be to me according to your word.”

F. Mary “pondered these things in her heart.”  She had a devotional life of meditating on the events and incidents that she did not fully understand.  But she wisely pondered them anyway.

G. I can learn from Mary to be obedient in the face of ridicule, suffering and personal loss.

H. I will not be like the Pharisees by looking down my nose at illegitimate children or others who experience less-than-ideal family situations.

I. Obedience always has a cost.  Am I willing to obey faithfully even at great personal expense?

J. Purity is still honorable, even if our culture fails to recognize its virtue.

K. Mary turned to Elizabeth for support.  I, too, need mature, Christian support from friends or relatives when faced with difficult circumstances in life.

Mary: Giving up a Son

This is the portion of our study that you will need to get those Bibles out and open them up. We will continue with our study as we take a look at Mary, the Mother of Jesus. There are polarizing views based on this woman and because of it we have not spent time looking at the faith of this young girl. Although we hear the birth story of Jesus retold each and every Christmas, few Christians embrace the lessons that we can learn from this brave woman.  The focus is always on Mary’s Son (for good reason) so the richness of Mary’s faith, courage, and humble obedience is easily overlooked.  Yet very few Bible characters exhibit the selflessness and trust that she models.  She is indeed worthy of more study, for all of us should strive for such a fullness of faith.

Imagine, the Savior would be born to an insignificant young Jewess, Mary.  However she was not insignificant to God.  Four hundred years after Malachi urged the people to honor God through faith and obedience, God introduced the world to one who did—Mary. The difference between the Old and New Testaments is the difference between light and dark.  A light was coming into the world that would lift the burden of the law  and of sin from God’s people. Luke specifically connected his story to Malachi’s last prophesy about the Messiah, in which he announced that one day the people would be “prepared for the Lord” (Malachi 4:5; Luke 1:13-17). Soon Israel would meet this son—Mary’s son—face  to face.  And Mary would be required to give up her son.

I.  Mary found favor with God because of her faith. Luke 1—2

Sometimes we hear about Mary’s “simple faith”, but there was nothing simple about Mary’s faith, even though she was a young teen.  We get confused and make faith about us. The strength of faith is found in the object of our faith. Look at the kind of faith Mary had from the information we find in the biblical accounts.

1.  What was Mary’s state of mind when the angel appeared? (1:29-30)

2.  What kind of questions did Mary have? (1:34)

3.  What did the angel’s comment in verse 37 reveal about Mary’s thoughts?

4.  What women from Israelite history might have come to mind as the angel reassured her?

5.  To whom, or what, did the angel point as the answer to Mary’s fears and questions? (Is Mary’s faith in question?)

II. Mary’s faith was built on fact. Luke 1:46-55.

Read Mary’s Song, Note the historical events that might have been referred to: (The passages given are only a suggestion).

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.” (1 Samuel 2:1-2; Isaiah 61:10)

From now on all generations will call me blessed for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.” (Genesis 3:15, Isaiah 7:13-14; Malachi 3:12)

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.”  (Genesis 17:1-14; Exodus 1:5-8; Psalm 103:17)

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.”  (Exodus 15:3-21; Psalm 89:11-12)

He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.”  (1 Samuel 17; Daniel 4:28-36)

He has filled the hungry with good things but he has sent the rich away empty.” (Isaiah 11:1-5, 55:1-5; Psalm 107:9)

He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.”  (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 31:3)

III. Mary was faithful to God through joy, doubt and sorrow.  Matthew 27-28

1. Name the two who greeted Jesus, and note the messages that amazed Mary and Joseph when they presented Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem?  What might have been troubling to Mary?

Luke 2:25-35

Luke 2:36-38

2.  What would have pierced Mary’s heart, even though they had escaped to Egypt shortly after Jesus was born? (Matthew 2:7-18)

3.  What worried Mary when Jesus disappeared and was later found with the teachers in the temple?  (Luke 2:41-51)

4.  What “things” do you think Mary hid in her heart?

5.  What did Mary see Jesus do at the wedding in Cana?  Who believed in Jesus? (John 2:2-11)

6.  Why did Mary and her sons try to restrict Jesus? (Mark 3:20-35; Luke 8:19-21; Matthew 12:46-50)

7.  Did Jesus disrespect Mary in this incident?  Did Mary and her sons disrespect Jesus? Explain.

8.   Jesus specifically pointed out that obedience to the Word brings favor (Luke 11:27-28). Why could Mary be included as one who was blessed?

IV. Mary’s sorrow turns to belief.  Matthew 27—28; Acts 1

1.  From the following two passages, note where Mary was and what she saw?

Matthew 27:32-61.

Matthew 28:1-10; Luke 24:1-10.

God gave his only Son for you and me.  But Mary also gave up her son. Mary’s faith came from the teachings she had received about God.  Those teachings had to have originated from the scriptures that the Jewish people trusted as God’s Word.  The messianic prophesies were hidden in the heart of every Jewess.  However, the prophecies explained his suffering and death.

2.  Read Psalm 22 and note what Mary must have realized on some level.

3.  What do we know about Mary and Jesus’ brothers from Acts 1:12-14?

God called upon Mary because he knew her heart of faith and obedience.  He was able to ask great things of her, knowing the pain and suffering that she would have to endure.  The idea that faith and obedience protects us from sadness and suffering in this life is erroneous. When the angel announced God’s will to Mary, she had to give up her own personal plans and ideas about almost every area of her life.  As Jesus grew into a man, she had to give up her right to control and protect him.  In the end, she had to completely give her son away to suffering and sacrifice.

V.  Faith that gives up.

1.  Fill in the blanks:

For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by _____________ from

first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by ___________________ ”  Romans 1:17.

Whoever ________________ and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not ______________ will be condemned Mark 16:16.

The Greek word for both faith and believe are two different forms of the same word.

Faith or belief is the noun form: pistis.   Believe is the verb form: pisteuo.

When faith is taught correctly, the natural progression is from belief to faith to belief to faith to belief.  In other words, once we hear the gospel message and believe it is true, we have faith in the truth.  Then as we mature and experience the Christian life a pattern develops where faith helps us to believe, which increases our faith, which increases our belief, which increases our faith…

2. Can faith exist without belief?  James 2:14

3.  Can we have questions and still have faith?  How?

4. Is it wrong to consider the cost of faith?  Why or why not?  (Matthew 13:44-46; Luke 25:33; Acts 1:3)

5.  How did your faith increase when your belief brought you to the point of godly choices or actions?

Key Question:  What is it in your life that the Lord is asking you to believe Him enough to give up?

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