The Heart of God vs the Hardened Heart

There’s a scene from the first Incredibles movie that reminds me of the text we’ll be reading this Sunday. Mr. Incredible is a superhero forced into retirement who had taken on a job as an insurance salesman. He keeps looking after his customers best interests, which gets him called into his boss’s office. Rather than describe the scene to you – let me just put it here for you to watch:

This Sunday we’ll be reading Mark 3:1-6 in our study of this gospel.
Do you see the parallels between a puny and petty boss trying to exert authority over a superhero?

As you read this passage, think about the contrasts. Who is Jesus looking at? Who are the religious leaders looking at? Following that, contemplate this question: what is the main concern of the religious leaders and what is the main concern of Jesus?

Answering those questions will unlock the lessons of this text.

What is it about the religious leaders that made Jesus both angry and sad? How does Jesus’ reaction to this help us to identify the priorities God intends for us to live by?

In a fast changing world we, as followers of Christ, often struggle to know how we interface our Christian values with this morally fluid society. Sometimes we’ve fallen into the same snare that the Pharisees did. In what ways has the church been blinded by a commitment to what might be considered necessary rules that we miss God’s overarching value of compassion? How can we keep that from happening while still holding to a conviction?

Those are the topics we’ll consider – it should be a thought provoking text to explore!

The Folly of Mere Religion

Image result for elephant at a parking meterDid you know that according to a law in Orlando, if you leave an Elephant at a parking meter, you have to pay the full fee that you would pay for a car? Some insist that no such law ever existed, but others are adamant about it. It’s hard to say, but we do know that strange laws like that still remain in the layers of various states legislation. I love trying to imagine the context for coming up with laws like Missouri’s ban on driving with an uncaged bear in you car. It would be hard to discern the original intent behind a law like that.

Still, with any law, original intent is important. One of the constant themes of the New Testament, and especially the gospels, is this conflict we witness between those who insisted on pressing the letter of the Old Testament law, and Jesus who administered the spirit, or intent of it.

That’s something we’ll be considering in our text this Sunday as we read Matthew 12:1-21.

In v 1-8 Jesus defends his disciples against accusations of breaking the commands of Oral Law, the Talmud, which forbade harvesting and threshing wheat – which they applied to the actions of the disciples in this section. What do you think Jesus’ point is in referring to David eating the showbread of the Tabernacle? When Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” – what does that mean to you? How does this apply to your life of following Jesus? What do you think he means by calling himself the Lord of the Sabbath?

In the second story, the same issue of Sabbath keeping is at the center. Jesus responds to the inquiry about healing on the Sabbath with a hypothetical situation where someone’s sheep falls in a ditch – common sense dictated that it was a necessity to come the animal’s aid. Jesus states his point quite clearly – people matter more. But by going ahead and healing on the Sabbath, we realize what he means – people mean more than _______ – what?

V15-21 act as sort of a summary of these two events. They give us a picture of Jesus that is very different from the religious leaders and Pharisees of his time. Their emphasis was on domineering people through their religion. Based on these verses, what is Jesus’ emphasis, and what sort of atmosphere surrounds his triumph?

This is a great section of the gospel to explore! Hope to see you this Sunday!


Deeper Than the Skin

Do you remember playing “opposite day” when you were a kid? It could be sort of fun at first, but it always devolved into an annoying game of contradictions. There would usually be one kid who would take it too far and drive everyone around him to the brink of violence. I really should apologize for that.

Anyway, we’re going to be continuing our study in Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount this Sunday – we’ll be reading chapter 5:17-48. So far, Jesus has been turning popular concepts on their heads, and it could be tempting to think that he’s just doing his own version of “opposite day”, until we get to this section.

Jesus is trying to make it clear that he’s not starting some new religion, and he’s not just trying to contradict the Old Testament Law, but his intention is to fulfill it. His coming on the scene is a continuation of the story that was developed in the Old Testament and he is the fulfillment of the promises made to Abraham and David.

While he intends to fulfill the law, he also warns that our righteousness has to exceed that of the Pharisees. What do you believe he means by that? How do we apply that in our present world and time? If adhering to a moral code doesn’t produce righteousness, what do you think will?

Jesus has something else he wants to make clear: the deeper intention behind the Law of Moses. So from v21-48 he presents what have become known as the antitheses’ of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus reveals a contrast by putting two different ideas side by side. It will be in the form of “You’ve heard it said…but I say to you”.

He will cover themes of murder, lust, adultery, oaths and how to treat our enemies. What is the common thread that you notice to all these themes? Jesus is describing real righteousness that is more than the outward expression of the Pharisees – so how do you think real righteousness expressed based on the themes Jesus presents?

When Jesus tells us to present the other side of our face when struck on one side, do you believe he’s telling an abused wife somewhere to just take it? If not, then what would be a good way to understand the nature of Christ’s instructions here? What difference do you think there is between self-defense and retaliation and revenge?

What Jesus is describing is certainly no way to get ahead in this world. We know the rules of this world. If getting ahead in this world isn’t on Jesus’ agenda, what benefit do you think living out this kind of righteousness provides?

This is going to be a challenging study – Hope to see you Sunday…if you dare. 🙂

Against the Grain of Legalism

Hey…you know what?  15 years ago today, we had our very first Sunday meeting under the moniker of Eastgate Christian Fellowship.  A handful of broken misfits sitting around in a converted dress shop in the Promenade Mall, which has grown into a larger gathering of broken misfits sitting around in a converted gym.  I can remember the trepidation I felt that morning…concerned that I didn’t really know what I was doing.  After 15 years, I’m still waiting for that feeling to subside.  Nevertheless, HAPPY BIRTHDAY Eastgate…I think some good things have come of this experiment, in spite of us!

This Sunday we’ll be reading Luke 6:1-11.

In this passage, Jesus is confronted about the keeping of the Sabbath in two different stories.  V 5 and V9 seem to be the bottom line to each of the encounters.  What do you take from these vignettes?  What is Jesus trying to convey to the religious leaders about the law, Himself and what it means to please God?

When we  think about the Pharisees’ application of the law, what warning can we take to ourselves in our own application of the Gospel?

It should be an interesting study, hope you can make it!