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

Section 1:  Jeremiah 28: 5-9

Prayer:  Lord God, help us to read your word with open hearts and enquiring minds, that we may learn your ways and understand the extent of your love.  Amen.

Read the passage through twice:

 Then the prophet Jeremiah replied to the prophet Hananiah before the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the Lord. He said, “Amen! May the Lord do so! May the Lord fulfill the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the Lord’s house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon. Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms. But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true.”

Background

              There were many prophets at the time of Jeremiah, and Hananiah was one of these.  He had prophesied that all the problems between Israel and Babylon would be over soon, and the plunder from the Temple that Nebuchadnezzar had taken away with him, and the Israelites that he had enslaved would all be restored within two years.  Our text takes up the story at the point that Jeremiah answers Hananiah’s prophetic claims.

Some questions

  • Jeremiah speaks in public, with a loud voice, ensuring that everyone in the Temple precincts can hear what he has to say.  There is great courage in his stance.  Last week we read about his agony as a prophet – consumed by the word of God, on fire within if he does not speak, mocked if he does utter God’s message.  What is his mindset as he takes on Hananiah?
  • There is savage irony in Jeremiah’s reply to Hananiah.  Is this acceptable in a prophet?
  • How does Jeremiah know that Hananiah is making it all up?  What if he is wrong?
  • Hananiah’s prophecy is entirely understandable – it reflects the desires of the nation as a whole.  How easy is it to delude ourselves about God’s plans?
  • Is Jeremiah prepared to be proved wrong?  Does he leave open the possibility of God overturning the current crisis?
  • Jeremiah’s lesson from history is not very promising.  What is he really getting at?
  • Which is easier – to prophecy war, or to prophecy peace?  And which, if the prophet is making the whole thing up, is most likely to come true?
  • How credulous were people in Jeremiah’s time, if there we so many conflicting ideas coming from prophets?
  • Who or what is the equivalent of Hananiah today?  Are they in the Church?  If not, where are they and how do they get their message across?
  • Who or what is the equivalent of Jeremiah today?  Are they in the Church?  If not, where are they and how do they get their message across?
  • Have you ever believed that you have a message from God to give to people?  If yes, how did you go about it?  If no, why not?
  • Jeremiah is a classic “prophet of doom”, but he is preaching God’s truth.  Can there be any joy in the life of prophet?
  • Should we be looking for modern-day prophets amongst our community?  If so, how will we spot them?
  • There is vitually no “good news” in anything that Jeremiah says.  The people of his day longed for good news, as we do today.  Is there anything positive that we can garner from this passage?
  • How does this passage address our current situation?  Does it provide any comfort?

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, your purposes are deep and your plans run for generations.  Give us patience to see you at work over a long period of time, and grace to rejoice in your good outcomes.  Amen.

Section 2:  Romans 6: 12-end

Prayer  

Read the passage through twice:

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.  Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Background

              This text continues directly from the passage we read last week.  Paul is hammering away still at the notion of grace which, he says, transforms a negative slavery to sin into a positive slavery to righteousness.  He explores other possible objections to what emerges from these words, and finishes with a fine flourish.

Some questions

  • The imagery of sin continues to evolve.  Now Paul talks of sin “reigning” in our mortal bodies, as if it were a monarch of some sort.  Does this suggest that sin is an external force that can take us over?
  • Paul also suggests that “any part of yourself” could be used as “an instrument of wickedness” – what does he mean by this?
  • Paul instantly reverses his image, as he has done throughout this passage, from sin to righteousness, from death to life.  As a result, he suggests that “every part of yourself” can be offered to God as an “instrument of righteousness”.  What does he mean by that?
  • If “sin shall no longer be your master”, what has replaced it?
  • What exactly does Paul mean by “you are not under the law, but under grace”?
  • This is a recapitulation of the argument he has dismissed earlier in the passage – that we could sin so that grace may abound.  Just because we are no longer subject to the strictures of the Mosaic Law does not mean that we can abandon all notion of righteousness and carry on as we were, because our sins have been forgiven in Christ.
  • Paul returns to the condition of a slave – we are either slaves to sin, or slaves to righteousness – those are the two options.
  • Obedience is at the core of Paul’s argument here – obedience to what?
  • How are we “set free from sin”?
  • There was a process by which slaves could be freed – they could buy their freedom, or their owner could set them free, which is known as “manumission”.  Which of these is Paul thinking of here?
  • Paul is very matter of fact about slavery – he does not question it, and is happy to use it as a means of explaining our transformed state in Christ.  In our current situation, how helpful is that?
  • The language becomes ever more lurid from this point on – “you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness” – is this purely rhetoric, or is Paul highlighting something fundamental about the human condition?
  • As he has consistently done throughout this passage, Paul inverts the slavery to sin into slavery to righteousness once again, only this time he adds “leading to holiness”.  This is a big step up from simply “doing the right thing”.  How?  
  • How can holiness be the result of being a slave to righteousness?
  • Paul is looking for a complete rejection of the Roman Christians’ former life – it is something of which they are to be “ashamed”, and the result of such activity is death.  Is Paul being a little harsh on ignorant pagans?
  • When he gets to the alternative that is offered in Christ, Paul is expansive: “you … have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness and the result is eternal life”.  Slaves could benefit from their owner’s generosity, but it was wholly dependent on that movement from owner to slave: it could not happen the other way round.
  • Paul finishes this section with one of his most celebrated aphorisms: “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.  The contrast could not be starker.
  • Go through this sentence carefully, balancing off wages/gift, death/eternal life, self/Christ Jesus our Lord, to understand fully the enormity of what Paul is suggesting.
  • What is the difference between gift and wage?  Which would you rather receive?
  • What reaction is Paul expecting from his readers?  How do you react?

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:  God of grace and mercy, open our hearts to the extravagance of your gifts to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.  May we be ever grateful to you, and strive for righteousness and holiness all our days.  Amen.

Section 3: Matthew 10: 40-end

Prayer:  

Read the passage through twice:

Jesus said to the twelve: “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

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.  In them, Jesus offers encouragement to them in their mission, with the promise of rewards for services rendered.

Some questions

  • These verses start off well – Jesus is being very clear – to welcome a disciple of Christ is to welcome Christ, and to welcome Christ is to welcome God the Father.  However, that is a big claim to make – do the disciples really understand what Jesus is saying?
  • How frequently do we see God at work in Christ, as distinct from Christ at work?  Is there a difference?
  • Once we have got through these complexities, Matthew’s Jesus becomes increasingly runic.  What is a prophet’s reward?  And how does it differ from a righteous person’s reward?
  • What is the difference between a prophet and a righteous person? 
  • How might God use a prophet rather than a righteous person?  And why might God send a righteous person rather than a prophet?
  • Would you ever use one of those terms of yourself?  If yes, when, how and why?  If not, why not?
  • The section on giving a cup of water is particularly obscure.  There has been no mention previously of “these little ones”.  Who are they?  They appear to be restricted to Matthew’s Gospel, and so possibly relate to people within the community to which he is writing. 
  • Why would these “little ones” even require “a cup of cold water”?  What does that suggest about their living conditions? 
  • What else might be going on here?  There have been suggestions of groups of mission workers who were known as “the little ones”.  Some have argued that “little ones” only refers to children in the gospels, but how could that be true of this context?
  • Many commentators suggest that Matthew’s readership is suffering persecution of some sort – might that be a reasonable explanation?
  • Clearly we would rather be those handing out relief rather than needing the support of others.  However, in these strange and changing times, perhaps we are more in need of the intervention of others than we think. 
  • Given the whole tenor of this passage is about reward, how would we reward someone who was either a prophet, or a righteous person, or a disciple, who came and offered us their support?
  • Really, this entire chapter is about mission.  Matthew’s readership are involved in mission, and the writer supplies them with examples of the early disciples’ involvement in mission.  What does it say for us today?
  • Is this passage, and the preceding verses which we have read over the past two weeks, an encouragement to mission?
  • Is there anything you would do differently to extend the mission of the Church after reading this chapter?

Review

What has this passage taught you about

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

Prayer:  Gracious God, you send us out into the world with your message of love and acceptance.  Enable us each day to take each opportunity you put before us, that we may demonstrate your love and your generosity in every department of our lives.  Amen.