Thursday, February 27, 2014

Peter's Question

One of the most famous conversations in Scripture is about forgiveness.  Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone.  Then he followed up his question with his own suggested answer of seven times.  Many believe Peter thought he was giving a magnanimous figure since Rabbis taught that you should only forgive someone three times.  They based this on the Old Testament book of Amos (Ch.1-2).  Amos told how God was going to punish various nations for three sins and for four.  The Rabbis believed that it was that fourth time that brought God's judgment and that people need not go beyond three times.  Some Rabbis felt to do so would be trying to be more forgiving than God!  Thus Peter thought he was going way beyond what was expected!

The Lord Jesus then gave His famous answer of forgiving seventy times seven (KJV) or seventy-seven times (NIV, ESV).  What did Jesus mean?  Was He saying that there is never an accounting for wrong? Matthew 18:15-17.  Was He teaching that we keep track of how many times we forgive someone?  I don't believe so...He consistently challenged the Pharisees for living by the "letter of the Law".  It would appear that Jesus is teaching that forgiveness ought to be abundant and even "lifelong" in a Christian.  We must avoid becoming hardhearted and unforgiving in our spirit and actions. 

The parable that Jesus taught after His conversation with Peter puts this forgiveness in perspective.  The King represents God and His GREAT forgiveness of us.  We are represented by the servant who was forgiven MUCH. 

Will we like that servant be unforgiving toward others whose earthly wrongs toward us DO NOT compare with our sinfulness toward God or will we forgive because we have been forgiven?  We struggle with this because we often don't consider our sins to be that bad!  And as far as repeated many times have we asked the Lord to forgive us???  We ask for that EVERY Sunday in the Lord's Prayer!!!

Speaking of Sunday...see you then!

1.  Read Amos 1:9-15 to appreciate the concept of three sins forgiven and then the fourth brings judgment.

2.  What Old Testament character did Jesus possibly have in mind when using 77 as a number of emphasis?  Genesis 4:23-24

3.  When reading the parable in our sermon text there are two amounts of money owed.  Do some research to find out what they might equate to in today's economy and you get a greater appreciation for God's forgiveness and our need to forgive others.  "Nothing that we have to forgive can even faintly or remotely compare with what we have been forgiven." - William Barclay

4.  Our wrong toward God (our sinfulness) is far greater than we can truly comprehend.  Read Romans is NOT a pretty picture.  And the cost of our wrong and consequent forgiveness is far greater than we can truly comprehend as well.  Read Isaiah 53:4-6

5.  Read again the last verse of our sermon text, Matthew 18:35.  On a scale of 1-10, rate the importance Jesus places of forgiving others.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Casting Stones

This week marks the eighth week of our series on forgiveness, “The Heart of the Matter.”  The number eight in biblical numerology represents “new beginnings” and that’s exactly what we see in this eighth message from John 8.  The richness the new beginning provided by forgiveness is on livid display as Jesus stoops and writes on the ground, and then pronounces the first of His two judgments, “You who are without sin, cast the first stone.”  Then He follows that judgment with another, “Neither do I condemn you…”   And it’s this second judgment He renders that seems to be more than many Christians can take.

Nearly 30 years ago Lloyd Ogilvie asked Roger Fredrikson to author a commentary of the Gospel of John for his Communicator’s Commentary Series.  Now Fredrikson is a Baptist who has pastored churches in Kansas and South Dakota. He’s one Ogilvie describes as possessing excellent scholarship, knowledge of the original Greek and Hebrew, a sensitivity to people’s needs, and a vivid illustrative ability.  However, when Fredrikson gets to John 7:53-8:11 he seems afflicted with the same myopia that has afflicted many throughout the centuries.

When St. Augustine came to these 12 verses he concluded that they were “subscriptural”.  He recommended that they be excised from sacred writ because they may encourage women toward infidelity.  Others like Fredrikson see this story as strangely out of place in the flow of John’s intense tabernacle dialogue.  Fredrikson notes, “…the account is inserted with somewhat artificial transitional language.  It is almost certain that this account was not written by the Apostle John, for neither the language nor the style of writing are his.”  And he’s not alone.  There are an abundance of Bible scholars who would agree with him.

However, there is excellent scholarship that takes a contrary view.  A.W. Pink, for instance, suggests that the reader try to read chapters seven and eight without the benefit of 7:53-8:11.  It is awkward at best.  But far more important than that is the fact that this encounter with this woman, and the scribes and Pharisees who maliciously use her to entrap Jesus, can only be properly understood within the context of John’s “tabernacle dialogue”.  Indeed, the context of the passage is critical for anyone attempting to grasp the significance of Jesus’ words and actions here in the early morning hours of a Jerusalem autumn.

Last week, in our examination of Jesus’ encounter with the scribes and Pharisees, at that packed house in Capernaum, we noted the importance of not missing the forest for the trees.  We noted that the tile roof, the ownership of the house, the presence of the four friends, and the posture of the scribes and Pharisees are examples of trees.  They are the details that often put the focus of the interpreter on the trees rather than the good news of divine forgiveness.

This week’s story, however, is equally loaded with detail, and yet every detail seems to enhance one’s view of the power of forgiveness. While the essence of this encounter is the same as that of Luke 5:17-26, Jesus’ dealings with this unfaithful woman dramatically sharpen our understanding of how Christ’s forgiveness alone can meet our deepest need. 

How does Jesus’ response to the challenge of the scribes and Pharisees shine the light on the heart of the Gospel, forgiveness?  And how does His forgiveness of this woman in the wake of His profound and penetrating use of the law free us to live with satisfied, glory-filled hearts?  Those are the questions we bring to our study this Sunday.

In preparation for Sunday’s message, the eighth in the series of thirteen, you may wish to consider the following:

  1. Why would any Christian want to excise this story from the Scriptures?
  2. How true is it to say that for most Christians their default position is their own righteousness?
  3. What is the Feast of Tabernacles and how does it play into this encounter?
  4. How do the enemies of Jesus, the scribes and the Pharisees, demonstrate their own sin by bringing this woman to Jesus?
  5. What is their charge against her?
  6. How does their question put Jesus on “the horns of a dilemma” (vs. 4-5)?
  7. What is the significance of Jesus bending down and writing with His finger in the ground? (See Exodus 31)
  8. What is the Old Testament parallel to Jesus bending down and writing twice?
  9. Why do the enemies walk away from the oldest to the youngest?
  10. What does Jesus mean when He says to her, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more?”
  11. How does that mirror what He’s said to you?

 See you Sunday!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Diagnosing the Problem

There are few people I’ve known longer or loved more than my friend, Mike.  Mike and I met in Washington, D. C. at the end of the Carter Administration.  He was at the Department of Education and I was at the Environmental Protection Agency.  He loved to play golf and I did too, so we became fast friends.  We played golf all around the D.C. area and beyond.  When the Kemper Open was held at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland for several years, we both caddied.  In fact, he had Doug Ford’s bags, the former PGA champion and Masters champion. 

In the early days of our friendship I remember him saying things that I’ve never forgotten, like his dream was to open a bar one day and call it “Tired of Trying.”  (He’s never done it.)  I remember once sitting around with a group of friends and we were talking about the hardest thing we ever had to do.  One woman talked about the struggles she went through when her best friend died.  Another said, “When I was ten my mother got sick with a terminal illness and I remember all the pain it caused my father and siblings.”  Another said, “I think the hardest thing I ever experienced was the betrayal of my friend.”  Then, after all the reflections of carnage, it was Mike’s turn and he said, I think the hardest thing I ever experienced was driving to Florida without my glasses!”  After the stares and muffled laughs subsided he told about hitchhiking home from college for Spring break and falling asleep in the back of a stranger’s truck.  When the driver got to the “drop spot”, he shouted for him to wake up and get out; and Mike did, without his glasses.  I think he said his glasses went to Rochester and he went to Bethlehem, picked up a car, and drive to Florida.

I could regale you with such stories for hours.  He was one of my groomsmen.  I officiated at his wedding.  But the reason I tell you all of this is that a few weeks ago my dear friend was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and he’s scared to death.  I’ve never seen him so scared.  And one of the reason’s is that he doesn’t know Christ, yet.  For Mike, and so many others,  this world is a “closed system.”

Last week I was able to take some time to visit with him and his wife.  For two days I engaged in their new routine, including a trip to Cleveland for a radiation treatment.  Throughout our time together there were laughs and tears, and something we’d never done – praying together, holding hands.  Interestingly, and understandably, every time I’d pray, Mike would convulse in silent sobs.  Mike’s desperate.  The all-consuming focus of his life is the terror of this tumor.

I will refer to an incident that happened last Friday night with Mike and his wife in the message on Sunday, because it closely parallels the story Luke tells us in 5:17-26.  Just like the paralyzed man and his four friends who carry him to Jesus, Mike needs the same encounter with Jesus they had.  Like the paralytic, he needs to hear those same words from Jesus.  Here in a house on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus instantly diagnoses the problem and offers the perfect remedy – Forgiveness.  As we will see on Sunday, just as forgiveness is the heart of the Gospel, forgiveness is the heart of the cathartic healing we all need.

In preparation for Sunday’s message entitled “Diagnosing the Problem,” you may wish to read Luke 5:17-26 and Isaiah 6:1-7 and consider the following:
  1. How important is the “paralytic” story?
  2. How important do you think it is to Luke?
  3. What parallels do you find between Luke 5:1-9 and Luke 5:17-26?
  4. You’ve heard the expression, “Missing the forest for the trees.”  What is the forest here?  What are some of the trees?
  5. Why does Jesus address the man as “man” and not “son”, or “my child”?
  6. Whose faith prompts Jesus’ statement of forgiveness?
  7. Why does Jesus focus first on the man’s sins rather than his suffering?
  8. What do you think of this statement?  “I think that when God wants to play a really rotten joke on you, He grants you your deepest wish?”
  9. Whose thoughts does Jesus perceive in verse 22?
  10. What is easier - to forgive sin or heal paralysis?  Why?
  11. How does this story inform someone like my friend Mike?
See you Sunday! 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Loved by the Lord

Years ago there was a commercial on TV about a President of a company who had called in his sales department to tell them he wasn’t satisfied with the way the company was doing their business, and things were going to change.  The company had forgotten the importance of face-to-face interaction,  and were dependent on letters, phone calls, and faxes to create new and maintain former clients.  Things needed to change and he passed out airline tickets to different cities (it was a commercial for an airline), and everybody was returning to personal interaction.  At the the end of the commercial the President had a ticket for himself to use, and someone asks him where is he going.  The President replied, “to see an old friend.”
Our scripture for this week is the conclusion of a familiar story in the Old Testament, David’s night of interrupted sleep with Bathsheba which included lust, adultery, deceit, murder, a cover-up, and long term family turmoil.  This is a type of story CNN, Fox News, or tabloid papers fight to report first and embellish, not something we like to read in the Bible.  However, many of us know this story and I encourage you to re-read 11 Samuel chapters 11 and 12.  Maybe our “symptoms” of sin are different than David’s, but regardless of what our sin is, we have learned through this sermon series even when our sin is “bad to the bone,”  forgiveness is the heart of the matter of the Gospel.     
Some other familiar passages you may want to read before Sunday are Psalm 51, Romans 3:9-31, II Corinthians 5:16-21, and I John 1:5-10.   The following questions may help us as we prepare for receiving God’s Word.
  1. Is there anything that stirs your imagination in the parable Nathan told David when he confronted David with his sin?
  2. How seriously did God look at David’s sin, and was there any judgment or punishment handed out when Nathan declared to David, “The Lord has taken away your sin.”
  3. At the end of II Samuel 12 the servants were afraid to tell David his son had died, and obviously they didn’t understand the change in David’s behavior after hearing of his son’s death.  What do you think are some of the reasons for their fear and confusion?
  4. When we read Psalm 51 today, is there any conviction, comfort, or promises which stir you to come before the Lord?
  5. Is there anything unusual you don’t see in Psalm 51?