Category Archives: Growth Group tips

Study 11 – Luke 18:31-19:27 (19:11-27)

The Time is Coming

Context

It was Peter, back in Chapter 9 who declared that Jesus is God’s Messiah. In that same chapter, Jesus forewarned his disciples on what to expect when they go to Jerusalem (9:22, 44). Jesus and his twelve disciples have been travelling toward Jerusalem for these past 9 chapters. A common theme in this travelling narrative has been about what kind of a person will choose to follow Jesus. Now, in Chapter 18 Verse 28, Peter declared that he and the disciples had left everything to follow him. He made this announcement because Jesus watched a rich man choose wealth ahead of the kingdom of God. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,” said Jesus, “than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

As Jesus and the twelve come close to Jerusalem, is there an example of what it looks like to follow Jesus when he calls?

Read

Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. 32 He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; 33 they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.”

34 The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

11 While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. 12 He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. 13 So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’

14 “But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’

15 “He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

16 “The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’

17 “ ‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’

18 “The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’

19 “His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’

20 “Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. 21 I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’

22 “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’

24 “Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’

25 “ ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’

26 “He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 27 But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’ ”

Observation

I suggest reading the whole passage as a Growth Group to get the big picture and then focus in on either 18:31-43; 19:1-10; or 19:11-27.

Growth Group Leader Tip: think about how much context and info is needed to deliver to your group in order to let the group discuss your selected text for themselves. As leaders, we are trying to encourage group discussions and, when the discussions have landed well, praise the group and let them know that they have done a good job. What 20% material do you need to provide in the form of context, recapping and orientation and discussion guiding SO THAT your group speaks for 80% of the time?

Structure

 

  • 18:31-43 – What has been told will be seen and praised

 

      • 31-34 – The disciples do not see what Jesus is saying
      • 35-43 – A blind man shows everybody what he sees

 

  • 19:1-10 – A little story of big faith

 

    • 1-4  – Zacchaeus investigates Jesus
    • 5-7 – Jesus meets with Zacchaeus – a sinner
    • 8-10 – Zacchaeus accepted by God
  • 19:11-27 – A Mina story of big rewards
    • 11 – 15a – The parable begins in two stages
    • 15b-19 – The faithful servants
    • 20-23 – The bad servant
    • 24-27 – Rewards and punishments

 

18:31-43 – What has been told will be seen and praised

31-34 – The disciples do not see what Jesus is saying

“…everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled.” That there is a remarkable statement! The disciples are given notice that they are about to witness the fulfillment of generations of prophecies where God promises to come to Zion and redeem it! What parts of the bible is he referencing? Well, that’s like looking at a cup of tea and asking which part has the tea flavour in it!!! The most interesting and jaw dropping lesson that a Christian can do is to sit under a teacher of Biblical Theology (God’s Big Picture is an example of this teaching) and get a handle on how the entire bible speaks of Jesus. Sometimes, the prophecies are clear and obvious (2 Samuel 7) but often the lessons are part of a greater theme that travels across the whole bible. Three key features emerge when reading all of the prophets:

  1. The ultimate solution to the problem of sin and judgment in Israel and all the world is for God himself to come and do something about it! (Malachi 3:1)
  2. When God saves, it will be through the line of David. (2 Samuel 7)
  3. This king who is promised will be a suffering servant. (Psalm 22; Isaiah 53)

One thing is certain, when the prophets spoke the word of the LORD in the Old Testament, they were not simply telling Jews how to be Jewish! They were proclaiming the works of the LORD, the sinfulness of man, the coming judgment and need to repent, and the promise of a saviour greater than Moses, David and Elijah.

“He will be delivered over to the Gentiles…” Gentiles is synonymous with Nations. In the story of God’s salvation plan (the Old Testament), the nations represent the rest of the world that lives outside the boundaries of the promised land of Israel. They were not living in direct blessing as Israel was. When God was angry with Israel, the ultimate judgment was being exiled from Israel into all the nations. When Jesus gets handed over to the Gentiles (Pilate and the Romans), this is yet another strike of shame and judgment illustrated in the person of Jesus. When he dies on the cross, he is undergoing the shame and judgment that God would deal out on Israel.

“They will…kill him…he will rise again.” We’ve been saying that Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem and knew that this would mean his death. The accounts of Jesus present us with a man who knew the future and knew why he was walking directly into it. He also knew that what he was accomplashing was not just an example to others of laying down your life for love but that it was a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophets. We put our trust in Jesus as LORD for such a deep and well founded bunch of reasons. The more we know about this man, the more convinced we become of who he really is.

“The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden…” Peculiar that although they were told bluntly with their own native language what was about to happen, with no obscure riddle or parable to veil it, and yet the meaning was hidden from them. Are we being told that they didn’t understand because of their own blindness or are we being told that even direct communication can be made muddy by the work of the Spirit? If the latter, then God may very well be protecting them and the mission of God while also laying out the plans for later revelation. Mark 9:32 gives the impression that they were confused by Jesus’ words and that they were too frightened to ask him about it. They later understood all too well what he meant (Acts 2:23).

As we leave this paragraph, notice that we are reminded that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and he knows that he must go to Jerusalem to conquer the grave but his disciples are blind to see all that he is talking about. The next story Luke gives us is of a blind man who saw more than all the crowds did.

35-43 – A blind man shows everybody what he sees

“As Jesus approached Jericho…” In the next story we will see that he arrives in Jericho where we meet Zacchaeus. Jericho was the famous location where the people of Israel first entered the promised land and defeated the city by marching around it and blowing their trumpets. I see no importance to the mention of this city other than to locate us about 27km outside of Jerusalem and on our way to see Zacchaeus.

“…a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.” Incredibly, the moments that Jesus heals blind people, are often paralleled with stories of the disciples or the Pharisees being blind even though they see.

“They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”” Well, it may not seem like much but this is a pointed moment in the story. See, the crowd refer to Jesus as the Jesus of Nazareth. This is no big deal at all. Of course, everyone knew that this Jesus was a teacher and healer but he is given only an earthly name. Jesus was a common name and so the Nazareth is added to be specific. We’ve just left the last paragraph telling us that Jesus is this ‘Son of Man’ and the fulfillment of the Old Testament! Notice how the blind man refers to him!

“Son of David, have mercy on me!” This blind man must have heard all the reports about Jesus and believed in his heart that this man is the promised descendant of David. This is a Messianic title (Luke 20:41). David was the king of Israel – God’s anointed king. His throne was promised to endure forever (2 Sam 7). The man does not name him Jesus of Nazareth as he was told, but Son of David. He cries out for the Messiah to stop and show him mercy and healing. The legend of Jesus as a healer was well known.

“Lord, I want to see.” When asked by Jesus what he wanted, he declared that he wanted to see. He did not doubt that Jesus was a healer. If Jesus willed, then he could be healed.

“…your faith has healed you.” Not the amount of faith but the object of his faith. This man believed who Jesus was and that Jesus could heal. We are told that if we believe that Jesus is the son of God and that he was raised from the dead, we will be saved (Romans 10:9). This man believed that Jesus was the son of David – the Christ – and that he could heal with his will.

“When all the people saw it…” Notice this theme of the crowd beginning to see who Jesus is rather than just the blind man receiving sight. As readers of Luke’s account, we can see who Jesus is, who sent him, what he has come to do, what he is about to do in the story, how people ought to respond and what Jesus has to offer: the Kingdom of God.

19:1-10 – A little story of big faith

1-4  – Zacchaeus investigates Jesus

“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.” Luke mentions this town for a second time and yet tells us that Jesus is passing through. Obviously he is heading to Jerusalem – we get that! But his encounter with the blind man and now with a tax collector seem almost too wonderful to be acts of ‘passing through.’ We have learned that those who have eyes to see (and ears to hear) will see that Jesus is the Christ who has come to show mercy and conquer the grave. Now, we will see the story of how the kingdom of God is open to all sinners and what a sinner will do once they have ‘seen’ Jesus.

“A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus…” The blind man was not named but we know this little man’s name. He has gone down in history as a brilliant example of the response of a saved sinner. He will show us that God is not looking for good people but that once you are saved you will no longer regard the things of this world the same again.

“…he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.” Jesus has spoken against rich as a hindrance to the kingdom of God (Luke 6:24; 8:1412:16ff; 16:19ff; 18:24-25). Zacchaeus was not just a tax collector but a chief tax collector, presumably having a network working below him. Tradition tells us that his position leant to dishonest gain but he is referred to as a sinner because of his workings with the Roman empire to collect taxes for them. When he is converted, he says IF I have cheated anybody. Not an argument for him being an innocent man but only as corrupt as he was expected to be in his occupation. We need to be able to see ourselves in this character without turning him into some Mafia thug.

“…he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see [Jesus]…” I’ve often wondered why the height of this man is important or even why climbing a tree was significant. It makes for a cute story and good children’s illustrations but what is Luke telling us this for? Although wealthy and powerful (money brings power), he was noticeably short. Not an impressive man. He was not a fast rolling Tom Selleck kind of guy or impressively awesome like King Saul was described. He was a nobody who had money. A sycamore tree was very common (1 Kings 10:27). Finally, and probably most importantly, Zacchaeus was keen to meet Jesus and went out of his way to get a look. He was beyond curious. When Jesus came near, Zacchaeus went to meet him.

5-7 – Jesus meets with Zacchaeus – a sinner

“…[Jesus] looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus…’” It seems like Jesus knew that this sinner was ready to become a Christian. Zacchaeus was curious and made a move but Jesus already knew him, calling him by name, and said, it’s time that we spoke. What an amazing picture of a Christian’s conversion moment. It’s not that we come to Jesus but that he comes to us. He sees us from afar. He knew Zac before he was even born. Ephesians 1:4.

“…the guest of a sinner.” Jesus did not come to save the righteous but sinners. How often we fall into the headspace of the people in this story though! We may get that God saves sinners and we are all sinners, but what about THAT guy?!! No, God shows no favouritism.

8-10 – Zacchaeus accepted by God

“But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord…” The ‘But’ in Verse 8 ties Zac’s response to the remarks of the people in Verse 7. Although they were poo-pooing what they were seeing, Zach says No way man! I’m changed and I’m for the Kingdom of God now!

“…half of my possessions to the poor…” Remember the parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-15)? Zach has put money in its place! He is not selling everything but he has taken his account and shown generosity – radical generosity. Like, maybe instead of sitting on $1M, he will now live of $500K, or whatever. If he was a very wealthy man, then 50% of his wealth is probably still a good amount to live off – practical and still able to continue to do good in his position.

“…I will pay back four times the amount.” His repentance is certainly not half-hearted. What a turn-around for this guy! What a difference Jesus makes to people! We cannot serve both God and money.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house…’” It is not his generosity that has saved him but this is the outworking of his faith. All of his hope is in Jesus now. His hopes and desires are for God and his Messiah. He is no longer to be called a sinner but a son of Abraham. His title and reputation in the sight of God has been changed.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” He is like the shepherd who travels to find his sheep. Our God is compassionate and abundant in mercy. We remember that Jesus also said that this Son of Man will arrive in Jerusalem to be handed over to the Gentiles to be mocked and killed and three days later rise again. Salvation will be via the cross but salvation will be personal too, like this intimate story of Jesus and a lost sinner. Zac was lost, but now he is found.

19:11-27 – A Mina story of big rewards

11 – 15a – The parable begins in two stages

“While they were listening…” I think it’s kinda cool to picture the teaching of Jesus happening in the presence of Zacchaeus, in his house, knowing that he is approved by Jesus because of his faith. This story is not a Zacc attack.

“…because…people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” Jesus is about to reach Jerusalem and many thought that, if Jesus is the Son of David, then this is the time for God to fulfill all prophecy and usher in the kingdom of God. A kingdom where the whole world will be in awe and come from the ends of the earth to see the Messiah ruling. Jesus is going to show them that the fulfillment will not happen so neatly.

“…A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.” As the parable continues, it seems clear that Jesus is the appointed king. But, to map the details too neatly onto Jesus becomes tricky. Parables are like an artist’s impression of something and is given to make a point. In history, Herod the Great travelled to Mark Antony to receive his kingship over the Jewish region. So, the hearers would understand this principles of this parable. Jesus, however, left which place to be appointed King? Which servants in the place that he left, did he leave a task to be good stewards? This parable is dealing with the time between Jesus first and second coming. Before His kingship is totally realised, he will leave his stewards to manage in his absence.

“But his subjects hate him…we don’t want this man to be our king.” Historically, Archelaus was appointed ethnarch, rather than king, of Judea, Samaria and Idumea because the Jews sent a delegation to Augustus protest his rule. This is true of Jesus’ kingship and will be a reality when he arrives in Jerusalem. Although he is destined to be the King, he will be rejected and mocked and sent to the cross to be killed – eliminated from kingship.

“He was made king, however, and returned home.” Jesus will not be stopped as king and his kingship is a reality now (Hebrews 1:3; 10:12; 12:2; Rev 3:21). His crowning moment was at the resurrection (Romans 4:1). His return is the second coming. Recall the parable of the shrewd manager who had to give an account of his management. This parable shares a similar tone. The emphasis, in this parable, however, is on the servant who failed to be faithful.

15b-19 – The faithful servants

“…he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money…” The ten minas that ten of his servants had received was about 4 months worth of wage. Not an amazing amount. On Jesus’ return, he first deals with the servants that he had given responsibility to manage while he was gone.

“Sir, your mina has earned ten more.” The first servant has doubled the kings property. His reward is to be given the command of ten cities. Luke 16:10, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much…”

“Sire, your mina has earned five more.” The second servant increases the kings wealth by 50% of what he received and is rewarded with a proportion worthy of his stewardship. He is still congratulated. This reward is not a punishment but a proportional reward. Do we get different rewards in heaven (I hear people asking in Growth Groups)? What the rewards in heaven equate to is unclear and not important. We know that all Christians are promised to be co-heirs with Christ to share in His glory. What else could we want on top of that?! The language of rewards and great rewards is an earthly way of motivating us to persevere in the faith. In this life, Christians will seem to not gain much or any credit for their works. But they do not go unnoticed by God. We are not saved by grace in order to be slothful for the kingdom. God has saved us in order to mature fully in Christ. Be for the kingdom and be active for the kingdom. Whether we double what God has given or if we are small workers in the kingdom, we are sure that the God who graced us with salvation will continue to bless us in the age to come.

20-23 – The bad servant

“…here is your mina…I was afraid of you.” This poor servant has done nothing with the King’s riches. He will also be judged for his slothfulness due to his disengagement with the king’s work. He gives a pathetic excuse for doing nothing for the king.

“…you wicked servant!” It is true that a person is either for Jesus or they are against Him. Many who believe they are safe because they believe in God will be judged as wicked by Christ because they did not pursue Him, serve Him, love Him, or know Him.

“Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit…” Remember that a parable is a story in it’s own right – obeying it’s own storyline rules – that we don’t need to pair everything up with everything else – that is not a parable but allegory. Having said that, I wonder if a disciple of Christ who loves Jesus but doesn’t know how to grow the kingdom, is shy to speak with people, feels inadequate to evangelise, but invests in their church and in others who are gifted to expand the gospel – would that fit the scenario of the servant who at least put the mina in the bank?

24-27 – Rewards and punishments

“Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas…even what they have will be taken away.” He is no longer treated as a trusted servant at all but is treated like the wicked. Can Christians lose their salvation? A true Christian reveals their conversion by their response to serve. The false Christian – one who mimics the saved without actually having a renewed heart – will reveal their true colours too by what they do. Their fruit will prove their faith. The Holy Spirit encourages us to persevere through the word of God as we are encouraged with rewards and warned of consequences. Some may read this parable and declare that the last servant has not lost their salvation but is simply shamed in the kingdom. Well, I suspect that this is not the case but that this parable is given as a warning to us to invest in the kingdom of God and not to be lazy or wicked.

“But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king….kill them in front of me.” The kingdom of God will not be established when Jesus enters Jerusalem. At that point he will inaugurate his kingship and return to his throne to intercede for us. But when he returns, he will reward his faithful servants and remove all of his enemy. We live now in that time between the first and second coming – where Jesus Christ is King, and we are left to be faithful while we await his return.

Meaning

Jesus of Nazareth, born and lived 2000 years ago, is the appointed King of God’s kingdom as foretold by the prophets. He is the Son of David who has come in the first place to invite people into the kingdom of God. The first stage is to go to the cross. The true servants of God – his disciples – you and me – are given responsibility to manage what is his. The faithful will be rewarded while the wicked will be rebuked and excluded from the kingdom. We are to be like the blind man who, although he did not see Jesus, he knew who he was. We are to be like Zacchaeus who, although had worldly wealth, surrendered it all to Christ in joy because he was lost but now is found.

 

Application

Topic A: Calling Jesus LORD. The crowds were referring to Jesus as the man from Nazareth. But the blind man referred to him as the Messiah (Son of David) and Lord. Where are you with Jesus. He is still a strange figure of history, is he a character in the bible stories, or is he, in your mind, the Son of God, King of kings and LORD of Lords? When did you come to see that? In what ways do you acknowledge this in your life?

Topic B: The faith of Zacchaeus. This little man expressed his joy in becoming friends with Jesus by making radical reductions to his worldly wealth. He didn’t get rid of everything, which is a helpful bit of detail, but he was radically generous. I wonder how far we can stretch our generosity as a direct response to belonging to the kingdom of God?

Topic C: The work of a king’s servant. What is it that Jesus left his disciples to do while he was gone? Matthew 28:18-20 and Luke 24:47-48 give the leaving commands of Jesus to his disciples. The teaching of the kingdom of God which is about Jesus being king, calling people to repent and enter the kingdom today and to testify across the globe that Jesus Christ is Lord. Well, where do you find yourself in that order? What is your plans for serving Christ with this call?

Ezekiel 37:15-28 – One King and One Temple

Context

TIP: When you pick up a book and read it from where you last left off, say chapter 10, you want to recall all that’s happened previously otherwise chapter 10 won’t make any sense. You don’t begin reading a book at chapter 10! But you don’t need to recall everything – you only need to recall the things pertinent to chapter 10. So, recalling context for a bible passage doesn’t require spewing out every fact you know about the book so far, but to recall the bits that will shed light on the section you are looking at. That’s why we start with context and choose to talk about the bits we do.

Abraham had a son named Isaac who, in turn, had a son named Jacob. Jacob came to be known as Israel, therefore, Jacob and Israel are the same man. Jacob/Israel had twelve sons (and a daughter) who later made up the twelve tribes of Israel. So, the nation of Israel consisted of twelve regions. See Genesis 35:23-26 for a list of the twelve sons including who their mothers were. It might help if you draw up a family tree.

While David served to rule as king over all of Israel, David’s grandson, Rehoboam, created a division in the kingdom which resulted, under God’s sovereignty, in two kingdoms: the Southern Kingdom and the Northern Kingdom.

The Southern Kingdom contained two tribes: Judah and Benjamin.

The Northern Kingdom contained the other ten tribes including Joseph whose son was Ephraim. (Small confusion: the twelve sons included Levi and Joseph but the land division excluded Levi, since his was the priestly line and was given no land – Joseph had no land named after him but his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, were given land each. So there are 12 sons and 12 land divisions but Levi and Joseph are substituted with Manasseh and Ephraim.)

The Southern Kingdom was known as Judah and followed the kingly line of David while the Northern Kingdom was known as Israel and followed the kingly line of Jeroboam, an Ephraimite (1 Kings 11:26).

The Northern Kingdom (Israel) was destroyed and scattered in 722BC. The Southern Kingdom (Judah) went into exile in 586BC and this is who Ezekiel is speaking to.

Ezekiel 25 and 33 marked the day that the Southern Kingdom with the Temple was destroyed by Babylon.

I see that this is a lot of info to digest but it makes the reading of Ezekiel 37:15-28 much easier to understand. Judah and Joseph became heads over two divided kingdoms. But they were both brothers under Israel.

Observation

  • Verses 15-17 – A visual prophecy
  • Verses 18-23 – The visual prophecy explained
  • Verses 24-28 – One King and One Temple!

Verses 15-17

“Take a stick of wood…” Earlier in Ezekiel, the prophet was instructed to perform various tasks which would be a sign to the people he prophesied to. They were all for the warnings against Israel and their idolatry. Now, the prophet is asked to make a sign which is for the blessing of Israel. As an exercise to get people in your group talking, you might ask for a list of things Ezekiel has previously been asked to do.

“Belonging to Judah/Belonging to Joseph…” See the context for the explanation of how this refers to the Southern Kingdom and the Northern Kingdom respectively.

“to Ephraim…” again, see the context above.

“…and all the Israelites associated with him…” In both cases, both sticks ultimately represent two halves of the one kingdom: Israel! Whether Northern or Southern, all have family ties back to Israel (Jacob).

“Join them together…” The conclusion of Ezekiel’s demonstration is for the two sticks to become one stick. The visual prophecy is pretty straight forward: there will no longer be two kingdoms but one. The rest of the passage will amplify this simple message by expanding on the implications.

Verses 18-23

The first few verses here, 18-20, are straight forward. Given the context above, I see nothing to add to these verses.

“I will…” Firstly notice who will make this happen: The Sovereign LORD. Simple point worth making.

“…take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone.” Both sticks are a representative of Israel as a whole. Both the North and the South have been taken one way or another – by being scattered abroad, by taken captive in exile in Babylon, by a very small remnant fleeing from attack. But God will see them as two kingdoms no more!

“…back into their own land…” This brings back the covenant made by God to Abraham which included both a great nation and a promised land. God is not changing his mind but remembering his covenant.

“…one nation…one king…never divided…” Verse 22 is the key verse I suppose. Taking up the heart of what will happen as well as the key to the unity – they will be under one king. Verses 24-28 will take up this further.

“…I will save them from all their sinful backsliding and I will cleanse them. They will be my people and I will be their God.” This is a wonderful promise but raises the question of how God will do it. These are exactly what went wrong with Israel to begin with. They backslid and became mixed with the other nations and defiled by their practices. They let go of the covenant relationship and committed adultery with other so-called gods. How will God prevent this from happening again?

Verses 24-28

“My servant David will be king over them…” Without declaring that Judah was right, God sets straight that the kingdom that he had established was David’s. So, the heir to the throne is in the line of David and not Jeroboam. But more importantly, we are told that David will be the king. Now, since he has been dead for hundreds of years, what could this mean? It is to do with the promise to Judah (Genesis 49) and to David (2 Samuel 7) that there will be a forever king on the throne. When he comes, the throne will never be taken away from him. It is impossible for the kingdom to divide once the true Davidic king comes. His name is Jesus (Philippians 2).

“…they will live in the land of Jacob…” Remember that it is no longer two kingdoms called North and South but one kingdom now – the whole land of Israel.

“I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant.” God promises peace that is eternal. Jesus will be the king and peace will be the flavour of the kingdom.

“…and I will put my sanctuary among them forever…” Now, if this promise were literal, then we would find King David being the king – risen from the dead and seated on his throne. We would also see the Temple or sanctuary of God rebuilt and forever remaining. Neither of these things have come to pass in a literal sense. But the purpose of the sanctuary was to illustrate that God is dwelling with his people. Therefore he says, “My dwelling place will be with them…” Ezekiel 10 described the withdrawal of God from the Temple to show his disgust with the people of the promise. Now he promises eternal peace, with an eternal king ruling the one kingdom forever. And in this kingdom, God himself will dwell with the people. And there will be no end to this promise.

Meaning

God promises to reverse the many years of idolatry and rebellion by recovering his people into one nation with one king and the return of the sanctuary with God dwelling there forever. God will gather his people from everywhere to be the holy people of Israel.

New Testament Perspective

Now, in 2015, Jews are scattered all over the world, Israel is a war zone, no king is seated on any throne in Israel, the Temple is torn down and peace is quite unlikely in any age. But there is one man who is descended from David (Matthew 1) who is called Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6), God With Us (Matthew 1:22), and who John spoke of as “the Word become flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).

When Jesus spoke about the kingdom of God he said that it is here (Mark 1:15) and called people to repent. He spoke with a Samaritan woman from the northern region of Israel and said, “Woman, believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” In saying this, Jesus declared that no mountain or building will be the sanctuary of God but that every true believer will know the presence of God. The fulfilment of Ezekiel 37:15-28 is not to be found north, south, east or west of here but with the Spirit of God dwelling in us. This was the promise of Ezekiel 37:14. This is how God will cease the backsliding and rebellion. It will not be the kingdom of God based on human descent but by the Spirit. See Paul’s words on this in Romans 9! “…it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.”

The promise goes beyond the nation of Israel and into the whole earth. Anyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved. The people of God will be one people with one King and one eternal destiny which is called ‘peace’.

Application

  1. Ezekiel 37:15-28 is a key passage used by the Mormon church (Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints) to show that the book of Mormon is also part of God’s word. They say that one of the sticks represents the scriptures of Judah and the other stick represents the scripture of Ephraim and those Israelites who ventured to America. By telling Ezekiel to perform this prophecy, he is letting us all know that these two scriptures are part of the one word of God. Do you think they have a good argument? Which makes more sense: that the sticks represent two books or two kingdoms? One lesson from this passage is that the true people of God will come together because of the one king, one shepherd, one promise. The Mormon church does not represent this kingdom. Their church claims to be part of the Christian faith but their teaching discredits them. One commentator on Ezekiel, Iain Duguid writes, “We are not to welcome all professing Christians indiscriminately, as if what you believe was a matter of small importance. Instead, the New Testament teaches us that we are to refuse to have anything to do with those who teach false doctrine (2 John 10-11).”
  2. Jesus and the believer as the Temple. John 1:14 tells us that God became flesh and dwelled among us. It says that God “tabernacled” among us. Jesus compared himself to the Temple when he told the Jews to tear down the Temple and he would rebuild it in three days. We know that he was referring to himself (John 2:19). Jesus was transitioning our thinking away from bricks and mortar and to himself as the very place where God dwells since he himself is God. Believers are said to be the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) because the Spirit has made us alive in Christ. As we read through the book of John later this year, we will hear Jesus promise the coming of the Holy Spirit to dwell within the believer. This all points to the incredible closeness between God and his saved people. Our backsliding and rebellion can indeed be stopped because God is working in us to be his new creation (Ephesians 2:8-10). We don’t need to worry about what is going on in any particular place in the world as if God will recreate something special there because God is recreating something tremendous right here in our hearts.
  3. Jesus as our King. This is where our unity is found and where division flees away. When the true body of Christ looks to the head, then we can be united and get busy building one another up in Christ! We don’t find unity in common language or social backgrounds. Not in personal likes or hopes to make a better world. No, our unity comes when we call on the name of Jesus as King. Is Jesus your King? Do you salute him, listen to him, talk wisely about him, share the good news about him, rejoice with others who also call him their LORD. Every small obstacle is laid flat when we stand together to call Jesus the King. Our opinion on matters is not what is king – Jesus is King. Our connections with people is not what defines us as a people – King Jesus calls you to live in peace with him. The activities we do at church do not make us the people of God – Jesus is our King who saved us to gather as the people of God and worship him in Spirit and in truth. Knowing how to serve Jesus and how to know him in truth is the only way to inherit eternal life.

Prayer for the week

Father of all creation, we give you thanks and praise for your promises to all mankind – that in Jesus Christ your Son, we can know and find peace. Please teach us to live in peace and unity with each other in the church because we call on the name of Jesus to be saved.  Thank you that Jesus is our peace, our saviour, our shepherd and the very presence of God. Teach us to love and obey you, through your word, by your Spirit and through your Son. Amen.

Acts 2:42-47 – The growing church

We have fewer verses to cover today but I’m sure that there’ll be plenty of discussion coming from them in your groups. What are we to take from this section as a description of what happened and which parts are we to adopt as a prescription for us?

Context

Jesus was exalted to the right side of God and sent the Holy Spirit to be poured out on all who believed (2:33). Peter convinced about 3000 people to repent and turn to Christ to be saved. They were all baptized into the name of Jesus and so the age of Christianity began. Jesus had chosen 12 men (including Matthias) to be apostles – his witnesses to take the good news into all the world.

Observation

The whole section (42-47 and even including verse 41!) seems to give a snapshot of the church following the sermon by Peter. It reads like a Segway to the next scene in the book of Acts or of the Luke-Acts narrative. In particular, the phrase: ‘the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’ There are no speeches in this section or details of events but a broad brush stroke of what was happening at this stage of the account – a little like a montage in a movie. There are several ‘transition’ texts like this in the book of Acts: 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:30-31. Not only do they provide a Segway but also move the story further along the Acts 1:8 progression.

Verse 42 – the heading for this montage!

‘They devoted themselves…’ This devotion captures the idea that the hearers of Peter’s message, the ones who were then baptized into the name of Jesus, they were not just idle Christians now. They threw themselves into this new teaching. They were ‘devoted to’/’persisted obstinately in’ four things: 1) the apostle’s teaching, 2) the fellowship of believers, 3) the breaking of bread and 4) to prayer.

1) Apostles’ teaching: it was Jesus himself who appointed the apostles. Matthias was appointed through godly discussion and prayer with God having the final say on who will be part of the 12. The apostles main project was to bear witness to the risen Jesus (1:8) but this was done through the teaching of scripture as we’ve seen Peter do. Jesus himself had time to take the apostles through the scriptures to show how they speak about him (Luke 24:27; 44-45).

Notice that the new believers were listening to all of the apostles’ teaching and not just to Peter. We too, today, are to devote ourselves to the apostles teaching. This is what we do when we open our bibles to read from both the old and new testaments. We read the New Testament to listen to the apostles teaching directly (perhaps not their own hands but their very teaching). And we open our Old Testaments with the lens of the New teaching us.

Verse 44 describes how God continued to accredit the apostles as working in his power. Just as Jesus had been approved by God through signs and wonders (2:22) the apostles were being given a similar support from on high. These powers and wonders were strong with the apostles and there is no encouragement in the later New Testament pages that Christians are to look for these powers past on to future leaders of the church.

2) The fellowship: this reflects the common unity the believers had. They were not in conflict with one another – something that Paul would need to remind the church to embrace and work hard at doing later on.

Notice that they embraced the idea of being together. They were devoted to it. And Hebrews 10:24-25 gives us the charge to not stop doing this.

Verses 44-45 describes the type of fellowship enjoyed: They were together and shared everything in common. The ‘fellowship’ was so strong – the community was so real – that possessions and material things were placed secondary. Is this prescriptive or descriptive? Should we take this as a lesson for how we enjoy fellowship together? Mi casa es su casa? Well, wouldn’t it be great! I think the answer is yes and no – the reality is that it’s too complicated. But what a beautiful picture of true fellowship! Stuff does not matter! What matters is being together in the name of Jesus! Sounds like heaven.

It seems that they didn’t really just throw everything into one corporate pool and live collectively but that they had the heart to look out for one another. Those in need were helped. It’s still amazing to read how things were sold in order to give to those in need. Note that the ‘anyone who had need’ were those enjoying this fellowship and who were in need – not just a broad giving to the needy. We may touch on this more in chapter 3.

Verse 46 tells us that they met daily in the Temple courts. This tells me a couple of things. Firstly, that they didn’t just meet in private but openly. They wanted their fellowship to be known and ideally, to grow as it describes in verse 47. Secondly, they met in the Jewish Temple courts. They were not seeing themselves as a religion. They aligned their worship with the Jewish teaching. Thirdly, the Temple was still standing at this time and while it was there, the apostles saw no reason to remove themselves from it – once the Temple was destroyed at 70AD, the Christians had no trouble continuing to spread the word since the presence of God was now with them and not in the Temple.

3) The breaking of bread: our minds might go straight to the Lord’s Supper (Communion) at this point but the passage has in mind the simple idea that they ate together! See Acts 2:46! Putting food on the table is always an ingredient for fellowship. Some growth groups enjoy this every week as part of their routine – not just a supper but a meal! It’s not the same thing as sharing communion together.

Verse 46 describes the breaking of bread as a cheerful and enjoyable time of fellowship. Homes were opened to meet together and eat and praise God. I worry about the place that communion can be elevated to and structured which misses the real joy of meeting together in the name of Christ. One application to correct this is for us all to devote ourselves to inviting people to our places for lunch on Sundays! And when we meet, how good would it be that we praise God for our fellowship and common faith in the risen Lord.

4) Devoting themselves to prayer: Verse 47 says that they praised God in their prayers. It is a great habit to thank God in our prayers but it is also excellent to simply praise him! The difference between thanking him and praising him lies with one being for specific things that God has done and the other being who he is! It’s a good practice to lead into our prayers, especially in Growth Groups, with praises to God for who he is before we throw our anxieties at him.

The other aspect to prayer in the bible is that we shape our prayers around the promises of God. Of course, we can ask God for whatever we dream of, but do we call on God to fulfill the things that he has already promised. Things like returning soon! Like working in us to create new hearts and minds that love like God loves (Eph 2:8-10). Like praying for God’s kingdom to come and for our daily bread.

Prayer has come up quite a few times already in the book of Acts (1:14; 1:24 and presumably in 2:1). Prayer demonstrates a dependence on God where only God can help. To put off prayer is to be devoted to our own courage, strength and power and to deny the need for God to be with us and to be our God.

Verse 47 – the church grew

With all the positive activity of the early believers – apostle’s teaching, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer – it is the Lord who added to their number. It’s not the actions of the church that drives it but the Lord who adds to the number.

‘The Lord’ is the one who has been exalted to the right hand of God! His name is Jesus! The Lord Jesus Christ is actively growing his church.

‘those who were being saved’ – there is a sense of progression here. Not so much that salvation is a progression (although this could be playing into the idea of perseverance and purification that Hebrews and other books address) but that the number of people saved kept growing. They were not saved until they were confronted with the apostle’s teaching and called on the name of the Lord.

Meaning

The gospel exploded into the first church – people with one mind, one heart and one Lord. The message of the gospel was expanding through both the teaching of the disciples and the actions or response to the gospel of the first believers.

The Christian church has begun.

Application

  • The early church were fanatics. This is not a negative term or an insult! They responded to the message of salvation through Jesus Christ like it was their lifeboat – no other thing would do. How deep do people need to go before they recognise your devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ and his teaching?
  • The pouring out of the Holy Spirit did not create a church filled with ‘spiritual gifts’ as some might know them, but a church growing through the apostle’s teaching – affirmed by the power of God among them. It’s the apostle’s teaching that people were devoted to, not their powers and wonder.
  • Nothing seemed to matter any more to the believers except to understand God’s word and meet together in cheerfulness and sincerity. This is what a revival looks like. If you want to be part of a revival, then devote yourself to what the early church devoted themselves to. And don’t let material things get in the way.
  • Hospitality. What would it look like to be meeting together in homes and enjoying food and good Christian company? What should it look like at church to be cultivating this further. It’s not more rosters and scheduled programs that we need but a heart to share time and conversation together.
  • The early church prayed. How can you cultivate the prayer time in your group better? Ask your group directly how you can improve in this area. Here’s a few ideas to help:
  1. get everyone to write down a prayer that they would like prayed and then hand the paper to someone else in the group (to their left?) and then everyone pray the prayers on their paper;
  2. break into pairs and pray;
  3. as leader, write out a prayer or print out the prayer of the week below and get everyone in the group to pray that together;
  4. ask someone in your group to take ‘ownership’ of the prayer time and see what they do with it!
  5. explain to your group that you are going to pray through a set format like the A.C.T.S. prayer and then during prayer time, direct the group through that format – ie, everyone pray only for ADORATION – praising God for who he is; then CONFESSION where we admit that we are not living like today’s passage suggests; then THANKSGIVING where we thank God for things we can name and finally SUPPLICATION when we ask God for help with various things.

Prayer of the week

Our Lord and our God, we praise you for growing your church through calling people to be saved. You have shown us what a great heart you have for the lost and we confess that we often think more about our own survival and lifestyle than we do for your glory. Thank you for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We ask that you would help us to practice the closeness of the gospel that your early church experienced. Amen.