Sunday, May 29, 2016

This week's lesson (May 28-June 3): Jesus in Jerusalem

To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: "We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn."

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, "He has a demon." The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, "Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners." But wisdom is proved right by her actions (Matthew 11:16-19, NIV).
This week gives you the chance to talk about some of the times when Jesus wasn't very nice.
As you study these incidents, you'll might want to ask yourself two questions:
  • Why did Jesus behave the way he did?
  • Should we do the same?
In dealing with the first question, you'll find it helpful to study the background of each text -- and to help you do this, I've linked each text to the relevant section of the InterVarsity Press New Testament Commentary .

As you study, you'll notice how Jesus was absolutely intolerant of anything that got between people and God . . . and this will lead you to the question of why we so often tolerate these things -- especially when other people are inconvenienced, and not ourselves.

When Jesus cleared the Temple, for instance, he did this so that Gentiles would have a place to worship -- one of the first examples, I suppose, of a "seeker-sensitive service." Likewise, he ate with tax collectors and "sinners," even at the risk of his own reputation -- a standing rebuke to churches that would rather look good than do good.

In short, Jesus was loving. Jesus was kind. Jesus gave his life for us.

But Jesus was not always "nice."

Why not?

And what should you do about it?

-This is adapted from a post that appeared on May  9, 2008

Sunday, May 22, 2016

This week's lesson (May 21-27): Idols of the Soul (and other lessons from Jesus)

Once upon a time, there was a roofer.

A roofer on a deadline.

A roofer on a deadline with a BIG penalty-clause that will kick-in if he doesn't finish the roof by sundown tonight.

That's why he swung by the lumberyard this morning (which is always a good place to find roofers who need work) . . .

He pointed at the guys who were hanging around the parking lot . . .

And he said, "I need three roofers!"

"What will you pay?" he was asked.

"A hundred dollars!" he said.

"Good enough," they said -- and three roofers climbed into the back of his pickup, and spent the day banging nails.

But by noon, it was clear he needed more help -- so he swung by the lumberyard again, and pointed at the guys who were still hanging around the parking lot.

"I need three roofers!" he said.

"What will you pay?" he was asked.

"I'll make it worth your while," he said -- and with that, three more roofers climbed into the back of his pickup, and spent the four hours banging nails.

But by 4 PM, it was clear he needed even more help -- otherwise, he'd miss that decline for sure! So he swung by the lumberyard one last time, and pointed at the guys who still hadn't managed to find work.

"I need all the roofers I can get!" he said.

"What will you pay?" they asked.

"Never mind -- just get in the truck!" he said -- and with the help of those extra workers, he managed to finish the job on time . . .

But just barely -- I mean, we're talking just minutes to spare.

So now it's time to pay his workers . . .

And the first thing this roofer does is call over the workers he hired at 4 PM -- the ones who worked for just one hour. "Here's a hundred bucks," he says . . .

And with that, all the other workers look at each other, and start rubbing together their thumbs and forefingers like you do when you're talking about REAL money. "If they got a hundred bucks for an hour's work," they say to each other, "then just think how much WE are going to get!"

But when he called over the people he hired at noon -- the people who worked five hours . . . then they each got a hundred bucks.

And when it came time to pay the people he hired that morning -- the people who worked all day . . . then all they each got was the same, lousy hundred bucks that everyone else received.

"That's not fair!" they said. "We worked all day -- but got no more pay than the people who worked for just one hour! What kind of a boss are you?"

"I paid you exactly what I said I would," said the roofer. "And it's no skin off your nose if I feel like being generous to someone else -- so quit your bellyaching!"

"So the last will be first," said Jesus, "and the first will be last." -- Matthew 20:1-16

Sunday, May 15, 2016

This week's lesson (May 14-20): Peter and the Rock

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" 
They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" 
Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" -- Mark 8:27-29, NIV.
Just prior to these words, Christ had performed one of his most puzzling miracles: the healing of a blind man in Bethsaida. Rather than heal him outright, however, Jesus had spit on the man's eyes, placed hands on him, and then asked, "Do you see anything?"
"I see people," the man replied, "but they look like trees walking around."
And so, like a TV repairman fiddling with the picture until it looks right, Jesus put his hands on the man's eyes once again -- and only then was the man's sight restored; only then does the Bible say "he saw everything clearly."
As I said, it's a strange story; it's often made me wonder why Jesus could not have healed both sight and understanding at one and the same time.

Then again, it's no more puzzling than what follows . . . for in the verses quoted above, Peter sees who Jesus really is. "You are the Christ," Peter says -- and as Matthew 16:16ff points out, this declaration was just as much a gift from God as any miracle Jesus ever performed.

Yet just like the blind man from Bethsaida, Peter sees but he does not understand; he knows Jesus is the Christ, but he has no idea of the cross.

[Jesus] then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men" -- Mark 8:31-33, NIV.
It is only with time that Peter -- like the blind man -- will both see and understand.

Likewise, this week's lesson asks, "Who is Jesus?" And just like Peter, the members of your class will be quick to answer: "He is the Christ -- the Son of the Living God."

No, they will see the right answer, sure enough.
But learning to understand this answer . . . 

That takes a lifetime.

This week's lesson first appeared April 4, 2008.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

This week's lesson (May 7-13): Lord of Jews & Gentiles

[Jesus said,] "Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean.' " 
After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. "Are you so dull?" he asked. "Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean.' For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean.")
-- Mark 7:14-19, NIV
Some things are just "icky."
My wife, for instance, is from New Zealand -- and like many Kiwis, she enjoys nothing more than a peanut-butter and catsup sandwich.
What's more, she thinks peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches are disgusting. "It's like putting maple syrup on a hamburger," she says.
(Which actually sounds pretty good, now that she's mentions it!)
Fortunately, Matthew 14:1 - 16:12 covers situations like this: I like to think of it as an extended commentary (or midrash) on Psalm 23 -- one that tells us Jesus is the Good Shepherd of both Jews and Gentiles). An outline of these verses might looks something like this:
A. A Bad Shepherd (King Herod) - 14:1-12
   B. The Good Shepherd of the Jews (Jesus) - 14:13-21
      C. Miracle: Jesus saves his unfaithful disciples - 14:22-26
         D. Argument: clean/unclean - 15:1-20
      C. Miracle: Jesus saves a faithful Gentile - 15:21-28
   B. The Good Shepherd of the Gentiles (Jesus) - 15:29-39
A. More Bad Shepherds (the Pharisees & Sadducees) - 16:1-12
As you can see, the center of this section is the argument about clean and unclean -- and Christ's conclusion is pretty much the same one that's kept my wife and I together for 31-years.


Here it is: some things are more important than others.

And yes, that's just as true in churches as it is in marriages.
You see, the things that unite us are more important than the things that divide us.
No matter how "icky" they are.