Wednesday, May 29, 2019

I Thirst - Doug Rehberg

Among the ravages of modern technology is a near epidemic level of depression and suicidal thoughts among Generation Z. As internet speeds, data storage, and the wonders of social media increase so do the feelings of anomie and worthlessness. In fact, they are multiplying exponentially. It’s so counterintuitive! It seems the advertisers would have it right: “Greater technology = Greater connectedness”; and yet, the opposite is true. The more superficially we know others, the more superficially we know ourselves.

While the problem of technology addiction and abuse may be new, what isn’t new is the principle need of men and women of every age: thirst. And the Bible knows it.

Think of the first grumbling of the children of Israel after their release from Egyptian bondage, “What should we drink?” (Exodus 15). Even Moses was subject to the judgment because of the rampant plea for quenched thirst on the part of God’s people.

The topic of thirst is at the center of the Gospel message. Remember the woman at the well? She came at noon, out of shame, to draw water. Yet after meeting Jesus, she finds a far deeper thirst quenched, in fact, John never tells us if she ever gets her water jar filled; it’s not important in light of her true thirst being quenched.

Whether it’s His first miracle, or His last supper, Jesus’ ministry is all about quenching the deepest thirst of every man or woman; the assurance of the unconditional, never-ending acceptance of God. That’s what Exodus 15 is all about. That’s what Proverbs 22:6 is talking about when he says—“Raise up a child on the way of his/her mouth...” That’s what Jesus is all about. And nowhere is that clearer than in His fifth statement from the cross: “I thirst.”

We are going to focus on those words this Sunday in a message simply titled, “I Thirst.” Just like the third word from the cross, “Woman behold your son,” this word is only recorded by John. Maybe that’s because he features water so prominently in his gospel. After decades of reflection of the Gospel he knows the depth of what Jesus is doing on the cross. Think of the timing of this statement. It’s immediately after Jesus has experienced the total separation of His Father’s favor and presence. It’s immediately after He’s been cursed of His Father and damned to hell. It’s not water He needs, it’s oneness with His Father.

There’s so much to hear in this fifth word that corresponds to the deepest need. It’s no Facebook or Instagram post. It’s no catchy tweet. It’s the cry of the Son of God to all who can hear. It’s the principle need of His life and ours.

In preparation for Sunday you may wish to consider the following:

1. How prominent is water in Scripture?
2. What ways are water used as a symbol of a deeper truth?
3. How does the New Testament reveal Jesus’ deity through water?
4. Examine the significance of water in the gospel of John.
5. What is the true meaning of Proverbs 22:6?
6. How does Proverbs 22:6 relate to John 4:10, 14?
7. What is the significance of this fifth word to John?
8. Why does Jesus instruct His disciples to drink all of the cup at the Last Supper, but He doesn’t drink?
9. What does it mean when Jesus says He won’t drink the fruit of the wine until He drinks it anew in His Father’s Kingdom?
10. How does Revelation 3:20 relate?

See you Sunday—Baccalaureate Sunday!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Darkness in Biblical Usage - Henry Knapp

Having worshipped together for the past four months now, it should come as little surprise to you that I have more than my share of little quirks. Most of them are fairly harmless as oddities go. One such is that I really enjoy winter. I realize I’m not alone in preferring winter over summer; but still, at least in my house, I’m considered a bit odd. Given the choice between sweating in the summer or being bundled up in the cold, I’ll take the bundled up every time. But, the big appeal of winter for me is how early it gets dark. Yes, I really like it when dusk comes around 5:00 pm. Some might accuse me of being “a creature of the dark”; but I’d like to think that overstates it a bit!

The imagery of light and darkness in the Scripture is well known. Obviously, most of the imagery is metaphorical: that is, light, not as a product of the sun, but as a symbol of what is good and pleasing to our Lord. Likewise, darkness itself from a scientific standpoint—as in the absence of light rays—is not a concern for the biblical authors. Rather, it is darkness as a metaphor for the absence of insight, holiness, goodness, or the divine. This imagery plays out in rich and varied ways in the Bible, and while there is a common thread—light is good, darkness is bad—the variety provides insightful nuance.

Often, darkness is used to describe the realm of Satan’s activity and general evil. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (Isiah 9:2); Romans 13:12 talks of our evil deeds as “the works of darkness”, a vain life is one of darkness (Ecclesiastics 6:4, 11:8). In 1 Thessalonians 5:5, Paul describes Christians as children of the light and day not the night or darkness. Job pictures death and what follows in these terms (Job 10). Those in the grip of Satan live in darkness, work in darkness, and further the darkness.

Alternatively, darkness is also used to symbolize the absence of the Divine Father, playing off the imagery of God as light (1 John 1:5). So, rather than identifying darkness with evil, this slight twist links it with the lack of all that is good in God. The end-times vision of the Apostle John includes being constantly with God where there is always light—not because of the sun, but because of God’s very presence. But, to be separated from God is to be “cast into the darkness” (see Matthew 8:12, Revelation 20-22).

A further shift on the metaphor is the biblical use of darkness as revealing the horror of divine judgment and wrath. In describing the coming day of judgment, the Lord declares, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight” (Amos 8:9). Darkness is the punishment of the Lord (Proverbs 20:20). One of the plagues released on Egypt, the ninth plague preceding the Passover judgment, was darkness covering the land (Exodus 10, Psalm 105:28). A thick darkness covered the Egyptians while they pursued the Israelites who were in the light (Exodus 14). The Psalmist pictures God’s coming in righteousness and judgment as a coming darkness (Psalm 97). In this sense, darkness is not Satan’s realm, nor is it the absence of the divine, but rather the visible expression of God’s displeasure.

For three hours while Jesus hung on the cross, the land was pitched into darkness. I invite you to read Matthew 27:45-46 and consider the darkness that surrounds our Savior.

1. Why do you think Matthew gives a timeline here? What is he trying to communicate?

2. What biblical references can you think of where “darkness” appears? What are some common threads in the Bible’s use of “darkness?”

3. Read Amos 8:9-10 and the surrounding texts. What is the point here? How does this connect to our text today?

4. Both Matthew and Mark emphasize that Jesus used a loud voice when He cried out. Why do you think they mention the loudness of His cry?

5. How does Jesus generally address God? What term does He use? Notice it is missing here.

6. What is the meaning of “forsaken”? What does it feel like to be forsaken?

7. Why might Jesus have said that God had forsaken Him? What are the options? Which seems to make the most sense in context?

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Over A Thousand Years Before Christ... - Henry Knapp

The American Revolution was 250 years ago. Long time. If you’ve ever studied the time period, or seen a movie or show set during that time, you know how very different the world was back then.

The Pilgrims first landed in New England 400 years ago. Columbus sailed for the New World 600 years ago. The Crusades were 800 years ago. The Vikings were raiding medieval Europe 1,000 years ago. Rome was still standing 1600 years ago.

How different the world was back then! So much has changed, so many differences; it is hard to draw any meaningful connections between the times back then and today. But, think of prophecy. Imagine someone telling you that the most crucial events in your 21st century life were foretold with accuracy by someone living during the bubonic plague.

Amazingly, the New Testament authors seem willing and eager to connect the prophecies of centuries earlier to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. According to some counts, there are over one thousand Old Testament quotations and allusions in the New Testament. And, between 200 and 400 specific Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the New Testament. Remember, the time gap between the prophecies and their fulfillment in the first century AD is a minimum of 400 years. Many of the prophets spoke of Jesus 700 to 1,000 years before the events.

Now, it is true that some of these prophecies are pretty hard to figure—even after they are competently explained. Some “prophecies” in the Old Testament appear obscure. But, by my own figuring, somewhere between 50 and 80 prophecies are so clear that it is hard NOT to see them fulfilled in Christ: the virgin birth of Jesus, to be called Immanuel, born in Bethlehem, from Galilee, a light to the Gentiles, enter riding a donkey, rejected and despised, pierced for transgressors, numbered among the sinners, buried in wealthy man’s tomb. It is not hard to find a good long list of these prophecies, and I’d encourage you to look through them. Again, many will leave you scratching your head wondering; but, the overwhelming sense you get when you look at these is… WOW!

What is most enjoyable for me, however, is the unexpected prophecies I run across; that is, when I find myself surprised in my reading of the Old Testament. Often enough to still surprise me today, I’ll be reading the Bible when suddenly something connects so clearly with God’s work in Christ that it is hard to deny that it is intentional. We know and celebrate that our Lord has providentially shaped the world to meet His plan for salvation. Yet, often enough when I first see it, I remain amazed at His work.

One such text for me is Psalm 22. Jesus directly quotes this text when He was crucified. Hanging on the cross, Jesus calls out, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” While there is tremendous theological power behind Jesus’ words here (which we will explore in future weeks), one thing that jumps out is that this is a direct quote from the opening line of Psalm 22. And, I don’t think it is an accident that Jesus is drawing attention to this psalm. Read it, and see what you think!

In preparation for worship this week, read Psalm 22 and ask:

1. How many direct references can you see to the crucifixion?
2. Why do you think Jesus called attention to this text?
3. Assuming that the surrounding crowd knew their psalms (and I think it is a fair assumption), what do you think they might have thought hearing this crucified One point to this psalm?
4. If you were to summarize this psalm to another, how would you do it? Try summarizing it in a short paragraph, a short sentence.
5. What might have been going on in the original author’s world that led him to write this psalm? Just speculate on what might have been happening.
6. The psalms are often used by modern Christians to capture their current mood or experience. Why would a modern Christian be attracted to this psalm? What mood/experience does this psalm capture?
7. What is the emotional sense of the psalm—is the author happy? Sad? Angry? Depressed? And, does that emotional mood change throughout the psalm?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Woman Behold Your Son - Doug Rehberg

In 2010 Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer was speaking at Fordham University Law School when she said that seeing the 1957 movie 12 Angry Men influenced her to pursue a career in law. She noted that juror 11’s monologue (no names are used until the last three minutes of the film) on his reverence for the American justice system inspired her. She told the audience of law students that, as a lower court judge, she would sometimes instruct juries to learn from the film. Over the last 62 years 12 Angry Men has been used throughout the corporate world to school executives and decision-makers on group dynamics, consensus-building, and effective listening.

But the reason I cite it is because of the early scene when Henry Fonda (juror #8) says excitedly, “Okay, let’s take two pieces of testimony and put them together!” Now he’s talking about the sound of the passing L Train and the sound of a body of a dead man hitting the floor. But the two pieces of testimony that fascinate me are the ones John gives at the opening and closing of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Amazingly, he is alone among the gospel writers in giving us these crucial pieces of testimony.

The first piece of testimony comes in John 2 where Jesus, His mother, and His disciples are at a week-long wedding feast in Cana. It’s apparent from the account that Mary has some connection with the bridal party, because when the wine runs out she hurries to Jesus to urge Him to fix the problem. Remember what He says to her? Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” Then, like many mothers I know, she ignores His biting retort. Instead, she turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever He tells you to do.” Now there are a number of reasons why John includes this miracle in his gospel. It’s the first miracle Jesus performs. Wine to the Jews was a symbol of joy. The Jews used to say, “Without wine there is no joy, and without joy there is no life.” So what John’s telling us is that Israel was out of both. Their religion was dry, empty, and lifeless. They were trusting in everything but God and His work. So what’s Jesus do? He turns the water in the foot bathing troughs into the best wine they’ve tasted all week.

The second piece of testimony is found in John 19:25. Here John says, “but standing by the cross of Jesus was his mother…” Now John is the only one to tell us this. Why? There are several reasons: 1) it’s the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy in Luke 2:35; 2) while nearly everyone else runs from the cross, she stands; 3) Jesus establishes His spiritual family (the church) as more important than His biological family, etc.

But there are many more profound reasons than all of those when you take the two pieces of Johannian testimony and put it together. Think of it. 1) It’s the end of His earthly ministry; 2) He’s already established that wine is the symbol of His own blood; 3) the miracle at the cross is not turning water into wine as a source of joy for the remainder of a party, but He’s shedding His own blood to gain life and joy for billions of people for all eternity.

There is so much in this third word from the cross! How appropriate that we will be digging into all of it on Mother’s Day.

In preparation for Sunday’s message entitled, “Woman, Behold Your Son,” you may wish to consider the following:

1. How would you describe Mary’s life as the mother of Jesus? Rosy or troubled?
2. The gospels refer to Mary only occasionally. What is similar in these instances? Hint: The first five are: The Annunciation, the visit to Elizabeth, the birth, the flight into Egypt, the presentation of Jesus in the temple.
3. How does this third word from the cross show Jesus as the perfect Son?
4. What is so baffling about John’s inclusion of this word?
5. What does this word say to us about Jesus’ ability to meet every need?
6. How is Jesus here the greater Adam?
7. How does His attention to the needs of His mother reveal a perfect portrait of His sinlessness?
8. How does John 19:26-27 prove the truth of Mary’s declaration in Luke 1:47?
9. How does this third word prove that Jesus alone can meet our deepest human need?
10. What can you conclude when you compare John 19:27 to John 20:10?

See you on Mother’s Day!