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Bible Study for the eleventh week of the Covid 19 church building closure | Barn Church Kew

Section 1:  Jeremiah 20: 7-13

Prayer:  Open you word to us, we pray, loving God.  Help us by your Holy Spirit to read, to learn, to challenge, and to understand all your ways with us.  Amen.

Read the passage through twice:

You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived;
    you overpowered me and prevailed.
I am ridiculed all day long;
    everyone mocks me.
Whenever I speak, I cry out
    proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
    insult and reproach all day long.
But if I say, “I will not mention his word
    or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot.
10 I hear many whispering,
    “Terror on every side!
    Denounce him! Let’s denounce him!”
All my friends
    are waiting for me to slip, saying,
“Perhaps he will be deceived;
    then we will prevail over him
    and take our revenge on him.”

11 But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior;
    so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.
They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced;
    their dishonor will never be forgotten.
12 Lord Almighty, you who examine the righteous
    and probe the heart and mind,
let me see your vengeance on them,
    for to you I have committed my cause.

13 Sing to the Lord!
    Give praise to the Lord!
He rescues the life of the needy

    From the hands of the wicked.

Background

Jeremiah was a priest of the Temple at Jerusalem, and God called him to be a prophet from an early age.  As a result, he saw the build up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the people of Israel from God’s point of view.  He has a tendency to complain a lot, hence the word “jeremiad”.  Jeremiah’s prophecy of the impending destruction of the nation was never accepted.  He was therefore ridiculed, imprisoned, threatened with death and all sorts of tortures in an effort to quieten him down, but to no avail.

Some questions

  • The opening  verb is variously translated “seduced”, “enticed” and “deceived”.  What does Jeremiah mean by this?  How could God have possibly enticed him or deceived him?
  • The balancing phrase “overpowered me” is more understandable – but is this a picture of God that you recognise?
  • Jeremiah’s reception is hostile, and he feels that God is hostile too.  If he ignores the prophetic voice within him, he burns up.  If he speaks God’s word, all he receives is violence and threats.  Is he justified in his complaint?
  • Have you ever felt that you had something to pass on from God, and not to speak caused you actual pain? 
  • Is it harder to speak out or to stay quiet?  Is it always God’s purpose for us to be vocal?
  • Jeremiah had an absolute conviction of God’s word within him.  Have you ever felt this way?
  • If not, should you?  And in which circumstances?
  • Jeremiah is very vivid in his language.  We can feel how his enemies are pressing in on him, watching his every move.  Why were people so opposed to his words?  What was it about his message that they refused to accept?
  • However, Jeremiah is able to turn the tables on his opponents.  In v10, they use the language that Jeremiah had used to open this section, but they are speaking in human terms, so Jeremiah the prophet is on stronger ground. 
  • God may well have deceived Jeremiah, not been totally clear about all the ramifications of being a prophet, but those who work against a prophet have to reckon with the hand of God on the prophet’s side. 
  • The message may well be painful, and the role may well be challenging and all-consuming, but Jeremiah the prophet is absolutely convinced that God is on his side, and that he will prevail. 
  • Our passage concludes with a hymn of praise to God who will deliver Jeremiah from all his accusers and who is always on the side of the poor.  Is Jeremiah justified in this?
  • Where does this depth of trust in God come from?  What is the source of Jeremiah’s confidence in his God?
  • Lockdown may well be oppressive to many, and many are calling for current restrictions to be lifted.  What is God’s position in this argument?  What are God’s priorities as we weigh up the pros and cons? 
  • Where are the poor and needy in our current crisis?  Who is looking out for them?
  • Is it at all fair to compare sceptical or cautious scientists to Jeremiah?

Read the passage through again, out loud if possible

Review

What has this passage taught you about

  • God?
  • Jesus Christ?
  • The Church?
  • Our current situation?

Prayer  Merciful God, give us the faith to rest in you, despite opposition or conflicting opinions.  Give us hope in your grace and your good purposes.  Amen.

Section 2:  Romans 6: 1-11

Prayer   Open your word to us, Lord God, so that we can understand the depth of your love for us and respond with our whole heart.  Amen

Read the passage through twice:

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Background

              Paul is developing his ideas around the grace and mercy of God. Having set out the case for divine love reaching out to sinners in their greatest need, he moves on to the human response to that love and grace.  How is our behaviour to change, given that we have received so much from God in Jesus Christ?

Some questions

  • “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” is surely a rhetorical figure.  Nobody would actually advocate that, would they?  Or had Paul encountered it amongst some of his audiences?
  • Paul resists that idea by going back to the basics of our salvation.  The death and resurrection of Christ, which are mirrored in our baptism, transform human behaviour, just as they are the mark of the transforming love of God and his intervention in our sinful world.
  • How literally do we take Paul when he says that in baptism “we are buried with Christ”? 
  • He goes further, “our old self was crucified with him”.  Literally?  Metaphorically? Spiritually?
  • Our new life must somehow reflect the resurrection life of Christ.  What exactly does Paul mean by that?  Was Christ’s resurrection life any different from his life before the cross?  If yes, how?  If no, what is Paul trying to say?
  • What does it mean to be “united with him in a resurrection like his (Christ’s)”?  Have we been raised from the dead?  Do you feel resurrected? 
  • How much of this is spiritual language, and how much has actual physical meaning?
  • There are two images of the old self – a body “ruled by sin” and a nature that is “enslaved to sin”.  Does this suggest that sin is an external force to which we are subjected? 
  • What is the difference between being “ruled” by sin and “enslaved” to sin?  Is one image stronger than the other?  If so, which one?
  • We have heard a lot recently about slavery – is it a helpful image to describe our fallen state?
  • Paul argues that after death a person is freed from sin.  How does this work? 
  • Paul can take that very Jewish theology – remember that in the Graeco-Roman world there was a strong belief in the continued presence of wrongdoing with souls in the underworld – and transform it into the Christian theology of eternal life, with Christ, now.  Resurrection is the touchstone – death is death, but resurrection gives us Christ’s life immediately, as we emerge from the waters of baptism, as our faith becomes real, as we live our new life in Christ.
  • Christ’s death is a one-off event, Paul very clearly states.  Why then do we have to confess our sins every time we gather for worship?
  • “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” – how do we do that? 
  • Do you feel “dead to sin”? or is it simply a theological nicety?
  • Do you feel “alive to God”? or is that simply a theological nicety?
  • How might a true understanding of Christ’s death and resurrection enable us to live a life liberated from sin?
  • Is it possible to live a sinless life?  Is this what Paul is suggesting?  Or is he after something else?
  • Just how challenging is this passage?  Can it be dismisssed as high-flown theology, or does it have something deeply personal to say to us?
  • What changes to your way of life, your way of thinking, might this passage provoke?

Read the passage through again, out loud if possible

Review

What has this passage taught you about

  • God?
  • Jesus Christ?
  • The Church?
  • Our current situation?

Prayer:  Gracious God, you demonstrate your amazing love to us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Enable us to live in the power of his resurrection, that we might reject sin and cling closely to our loving Saviour.  Amen.

Section 3: Matthew 10: 24-39

Prayer:  Loving God, as we read these words of Jesus, open our hearts to the truths that he is telling us.  Open our minds to the challenges he lays before us.  Open our souls to the extent of your love.  Amen.

Read the passage through twice:

Jesus said to his disciples, “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household! 26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.  34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— 36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ 37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

Read the passage through again, out loud if possible

Background

These verses continue Jesus’s charge to his disciples as he sends them out to preach the Kingdom of Heaven and to heal the people they meet.  They lay out an uncompromising vision of the life of a disciple, and are some of the hardest verses in Matthew’s Gospel.  They possibly are an amalgamation of teachings about the life of the disciple and the life of the early Church, as one section does not necessarily flow into the next.

Some questions

  • Does Jesus really mean all this to be taken literally?
  • Is this Jesus foretelling the future or the Gospel writer describing the present?  Or something else?
  • Is it enough for us to be like Jesus, our teacher?  And how are we meant to be like him?  Can we ever have the authority and power that he had?  Or the depth of concern?  Or the insight into people’s hearts?
  • Is Jesus being realistic when he states that his followers will be equally badly treated as he was? If so, how did Jesus cope with the name-calling and rejection?  So how should we?
  • Are we afraid of anyone, as we live out our Christian lives?  If so, who?  And why?  And how can we get over that fear?
  • Is it helpful for Jesus to say that all secrets will be revealed? 
  • Who can “destroy both body and soul in hell”?
  • The images of the sparrows are supposed to be comforting, yet the birds are either being sold for food or falling to the ground dead.  What encouragement is there for us in these verses?
  • Do we really believe that we are of more value than sparrows?  If so, what does this say about God’s attitude to his creation?
  • Can we infer from this that human beings are superior to the rest of the created order?  If we can, what do we do about it?  Does that change the way we think about nature?
  • How do we “acknowledge Jesus”?  Do we do it verbally, physically, out loud, every day?  If not, why not?  If we do, to whom and why?
  • Have you ever denied Jesus?  How did this verse go down with the Apostle Peter?
  • How has Jesus brought “a sword” to the earth?  Why hasn’t he brought peace?
  • Jesus seems to suggest that he deliberately sets members of a family against each other – is this really the case?  If it is, how?  If it is not the case in your household, could it happen there?
  • How are we to deal with division, such as Jesus foretells?  Does he give us any help at all?
  • Does Jesus really mean us to love him more than our family?  Can we?  Should we? 
  • What is the real meaning of “take up the cross”?  Simon of Cyrene carried Jesus’s cross, but he wasn’t crucified with him, and history has always spoken well of him for his actions.
  • Is it possible to live in the expectation of imminent persecution?
  • How might we “find our life”, and so, lose it?
  • How might we “lose our life” and so, find it?
  • How do you imagine these sayings were received by the disciples?  Were they necessary, as they set off on their mission?  Were these sayings helpful for them?
  • Does anything in this passage echo with our current situation?  Are the challenges of living Christ’s life during lockdown in any way a reflection of Jesus’s words here?
  • Does this passage have anything practical to teach us for our daily lives?
  • Would it not be wiser discreetly to ignore these verses?  Would our life as disciples be any the less if we didn’t read these words?
  • “Gospel” means “Good News” – is there any good news in this passage?

Review

What has this passage taught you about

  • God?
  • Jesus Christ?
  • The Church?
  • Our current situation?

Prayer:  Loving God, your Son, Jesus Christ, faced hatred and rejection for us.  Give us courage by your Holy Spirit to live outs