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

Section 1:  Exodus 19: 1-8

Prayer:  Open your word to us, Lord God, that we might read with understanding, and so walk closely with you day by day. Amen

Read the passage through twice:

On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.  Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”  So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.  The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” Then Moses told the Lord what the people had said.

Background

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This map shows the route taken by the People of Israel, from leaving their homes in Goshen in the north of Egypt to the crossing of the Red Sea, their arrival at the foot of Mt Sinai and then their movement northwards to the Promised Land (eventually).  Today’s passage relates to their time at the foot of Mt Sinai, just before God gives Moses the Law.  In those previous two months they had got used to the presence of the fiery pillar of God at night and the pillar of cloud during the day.  They had run out of water, and God had provided them with it.  They had cried out for food, and God had sent quails and manna for them to eat.  Now they are gathered as a free nation in the middle of the desert at a critical moment in their relationship with the God who had liberated them from slavery.

Some questions

  • After two months of travel, how must the people of Israel have been feeling at this moment?
  • How are the people feeling about their God?
  • Is confidence high or low at this point?
  • There is a lot of interplay between God and Moses throughout this passage.  Some of it seems a little repetitive.  Can it be sorted out into a coherent narrative, or is something else at play?
  • Why does God only speak through Moses?  Why doesn’t he speak out loud so that all the people can hear?
  • The words that God gives to Moses to relay to the people are extraordinary.  What insight do they give into the heart of God? 
  • Why should God choose one set of people to be his own?
  • What is a “priestly kingdom”?  Can a kingdom be priestly?  At this time Israel did not have a king
  • What is a “holy nation”?  What does “holy” mean in this context?
  • “if you obey me fully and keep my covenant” is all that God asks of his people.  In return for obedience, they will become God’s treasured nation.  Who gains more – God or the people of Israel?
  • Which is the harder part – to obey God and keep his covenant – or to make a nation holy?
  • Does this relate to us at all, today?  If so, how?
  • Is our God the same as the God who spoke to his people in these words at Mt Sinai?  If so, what more have we learned about him since this point in history?
  • Have any of these promises been made to the Church?  If so, where, and how?
  • What part does obedience play in our discipleship?
  • Which is harder – to love God, or to obey God?

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:  Give us obedient hearts, good Lord, and loving souls, that we may live as kings and priests in your kingdom and show forth your glory in the world.  Amen.

Section 2:  Romans 5: 1-8

Prayer  Loving God, as we read your word, may we hear you speaking to us.  Make us responsive to all that you have to say to us.  Amen.

Read the passage through twice:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Background

              Paul has been working through the nature of humanity’s relationship with God from the beginnings of time until the present.  He has discussed what does not work between us and God – sin, disobedience, confidence in our own ability to make ourselves right with him – and what does work – God’s initiative of grace and forgiveness, and faith, especially as exemplified by Abraham.

Some questions

  • The “therefore” which opens this passage relates to Paul’s example in the previous chapter of Abraham’s faith, and how he gained righteousness because he trusted God to provide an heir.  We are included in that same “therefore”, because it is by the same faith that we are made right with God.  Do you believe that?
  • The main thrust of Paul’s argument is that God takes the initiative, and all that we are asked to do is respond in faith.  God has granted us righteousness with him if we believe and trust in him, so out of that comes peace between God and us.  Is that peace a reality for you?  Do you feel “at peace” with God?  If yes, how?  If no, why not?
  • Christ is the means by which God makes peace with us – how?
  • We spoke last week of grace meaning undeserved favour.  Paul will develop this further in this passage, but he becomes a little distracted by boasting – which does not sit well with our current sensibilities. 
  • “Boasting” and “glorying” are effectively the same thing.
  • Have you ever boasted of the hope of God you have?  If so, to whom?  What was the reaction?  If never, why not?  And why shouldn’t we?  Or more pertinently, why should we and how do we go about it?
  • Boasting about hope that God has granted us is one thing, but boasting about suffering is quite another.  How well do you feel this sits with your current understanding of your faith?
  • Have you experienced any suffering for Christ that you could boast about?  Would you boast about it, given the opportunity?
  • Paul is a lover of lists and sequences – “suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope”,  Firstly, is this sequence true?  If it is, what help does it give us in our Christian life?  If Paul is barking up the wrong tree, where has he gone wrong?
  • In vv 5-8, Paul returns to his theme of the gift of God to us, and his language expands as he warms to his task.  The love of God is “poured” into our hearts, not just given.  It speaks of excess, of abundance, of generosity.  And it is the Spirit’s role to make us aware of that.  Is that an everyday reality?
  • Now Paul can really let rip.  It is in the death and resurrection of Christ that all of God’s extraordinary generosity and grace is revealed.  He posits the possibility of men and women offering to die on behalf of another – there have been numerous examples in history and literature – is Paul right to do so?  Might one human being genuinely offer themselves to die if it spared another human being?  Would you do this, if the circumstances offered it?
  • But Paul can demonstrate that God, in Christ, dies for us when we were the least deserving of such love and favour.  We were “powerless”, “ungodly” and “sinners”, the very antithesis of righteousness, holiness and love which characterise God. 
  • Paul has reached the high point of his argument – “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
  • Why is this such a radical statement?
  • Paul is visibly amazed at what God has done for us in Christ as he writes these lines, and he wants us to be too.  Are you amazed?
  • We are left hanging at his point by our prescribed reading for this week.  Feel free to read on – there is more to come, as Paul is heading towards the extraordinary statement that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
  • This passage ought to be both comforting and challenging. 
  • What comfort do you take from it?
  • How does it challenge you?

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, we cannot fully comprehend your love for us, and all you did to bring us back to yourself.  Help us by your Holy Spirit never to leave you and always to trust you.  Amen.

Section 3: Matthew 9: 35- 10:8

Prayer:  Loving God, may your Gospel word come alive as we read it, and may your Holy Spirit inspire us as we understand it.  Amen

Read the passage through twice:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.  These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.  These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come  near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

Background

              It takes some time in Matthew’s Gospel before Jesus’s ministry really gets going.  After the temptations in Chapter 4, the next 3 chapters are taken up with the Sermon on the Mount.  Chapter 9 is therefore when things take off in earnest, with healings and parables, debates with pharisees and the call of some of the remaining 12 disciples.

Some questions

  • The passage opens with a generic list of Jesus’s activities.  However, it becomes much more personal when Jesus’s reading of the crowds becomes clear, “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”.  What exactly does this mean? 
  • Who is harassing them?  Why are they helpless? 
  • Why don’t they have a shepherd?  Who should be their shepherd?  Remember, this is written for a predominantly Jewish readership
  • What is Jesus’s reaction to this assessment of the crowds?
  • Is the task that great that he has to recruit his disciples to do some of his work?
  • How does this compare to Moses having to speak God’s words to the people? 
  • Who is the “Lord of the harvest”?
  • What is the answer to the request for more workers in the harvest?  Is this still the answer today?
  • The group of 12 disciples is set from this moment on.  Why is the phrase “who betrayed him” appended to Judas’s name?  Is this not a bit of a spoiler?
  • The call of some of these people has been narrated earlier, but most of them are simply named here for the first and only time in Matthew’s Gospel.  Why?
  • What is the range of skills present in this group?  Are any of their abilities and range of knowledge particularly useful for the task Jesus gives them?
  • Jesus gives his disciples authority “to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness”.  How and why? 
  • Does he still give people that authority today?  And does he give it to everyone?
  • Why are the disciples told not to go to the Samaritans or the Gentiles?  Why shouldn’t they?
  • Does that set a precedent for our ministry?
  • Who are the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”?  Do they still exist?
  • What does their message, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” actually mean?
  • Would people have understood what they were talking about?
  • Do their message and their healings necessarily go together?  ie. could they do one and not the other, or must both be present for the one to be effective and the other understood?
  • The phrase “Freely you have received; freely give” is well known.  Why is it here?  How does it fit in with the rest of the disciples’ mission?
  • Does any of this still apply to us today?
  • If so, how do we carry this out in a time of lockdown?
  • Are we to be selective of those to whom we take Christ, in word and practical support?
  • Are words enough?
  • Do you believe that you have the authority to do any of the things that Jesus sent his disciples out to do?  If not, why not?  If you think you have, why?  How?  And do you use them?

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:  Loving God, you called us to be your disciples at our baptism, and you equip us to carry out your kingdom mission with you Holy Spirit.  Help us today to be faithful to our calling, and lead us always in your ways of compassion and love.  Amen.