Mark 11:12-25

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Mark 11:12-25

                 Mark 11 begins a new section of the Gospel.  The rest of Jesus’ ministry will take place within the confines of Jerusalem.  The event known as the “Triumphal Entry” inaugurates Passion Week, the final week of Jesus’ life.  The Triumphal entry is a deliberate action on Jesus’ part indicating He is the Messiah foretold by the Old Testament prophets.  The clue to its understanding is found in Zechariah 9:9— “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!  Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!  See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Today is Palm Sunday, which commemorates this messianic act.

   Approaching Jerusalem from the east, Jesus sent two of the disciples into Bethany to retrieve a “colt”, which in this case means a young donkey that had never been ridden.  Unused animals were regarded as especially suitable for religious purposes.  Word quickly spread that Jesus was going to be entering into Jerusalem as the people of the village questioned why the disciples were taking the colt.  Soon, people began chopping down leafy branches to wave, and throwing their coats on the ground in preparation for Jesus’ entry.  “Hosanna!” means literally “God save us!”,  and is a quote from Psalm 118 that was used in worship during Passover.

During Passion Week, Jesus would spend His days preaching in the Temple.  Then, at night, He would head out to Bethany and the Mount of Olives.  On Monday morning,  Jesus saw a fig tree that already had leaves on it.  This would have been unusual, for fig trees didn’t come into full bloom until later in the spring.  Being hungry yet finding no figs on the tree, Jesus cursed it, proclaiming it would never bear fruit.    The next morning, the disciples were amazed to find the fig tree “withered from its roots”, meaning its destruction was total.  Jesus used this as an object lesson on faith for the disciples.

We don’t understand exactly why Jesus cursed the fig tree, but we know it is a key in understanding the events of the Temple.  Sandwiched between the cursing of the tree and its death is the story of Jesus clearing the Temple.  Though the fig tree was leafy and looked good from a distance, upon closer inspection it was barren.  In the same way, the disciples marveled at the beauty of the Temple, but in reality it was unfruitful, a “den of robbers” that left any looking for spiritual nourishment empty.  Jesus came to Jerusalem to freely offer what the Temple promised but failed to deliver—new life.  This new life was made available through the death and resurrection of Jesus to those who believed.

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask the discussion questions below*. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

* Do you think the disciples thought it was unfair of Jesus to curse the fig tree when figs weren’t in season anyway?  What do you think Jesus was trying to teach the disciples?

* As you read the Bible this week, what is something you noticed for the first time?

* What questions did you have?

* Was there anything that bothered you?

* What did you learn about loving God?

* What did you learn about loving others?

  • How can we pray for you this week?

 

Hebrews 4:14-5:10

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Hebrews 4:14-5:10

                 The Book of Hebrews is a sermon.  We really can’t be sure who wrote this sermon since the preacher never identifies themselves.  Tradition has attributed Hebrews to Paul, but the style of it really doesn’t match any of his other writings, and it is not like Paul to remain anonymous.  The author may have been a follower of Paul, like Apollos.  Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians living in Italy probably around the time just before, during or right after the Temple’s destruction (70 AD).  The sermon proclaims the superiority of Christ to angels and human priests, and encourages its hearers to remain faithful.

   Today’s scripture focus is the introduction to the body of the sermon (4:14-10:23) which proclaims that Jesus Christ the Son of God is our “great high priest”.  The term “high priest” is uncommon in scripture, mostly found in the gospels.  Hebrews is the only place in the Bible that uses the term “great high priest”.  It is a term that refers only to Christ.  What makes Jesus the great high priest?  He is the only one to have “ascended into heaven”.  The job of the high priest was to enter the Most Holy Place once a year and apply the blood to the Ark—the “throne of grace”.  Only Jesus was able to apply the very blood He shed to God’s true throne in Heaven.

Christ is also our great high priest because He is the only one that can truly empathize with our weaknesses and struggles.  Why is Jesus the only one who can understand our weakness?  Because He is the only high priest who has tasted death.  When a pastor delivers a eulogy at a funeral, he or she can sympathize with the departed, but cannot empathize with them since he or she has not died!  Jesus experienced the ultimate human frailty when He died.  He then approached the true Most Holy Place—God’s throne room in the heavens—and cleared a way for us to approach God with boldness, receiving not just covering for our sins, but grace and mercy.

The preacher of Hebrews wants his listeners to understand that Christ is not just a high priest.  Christ is a “king-priest”.   By quoting Psalm 2:7 and Psalm 110:4, Christ is compared with the rather obscure biblical figure of Melchizadek, who was both a king and a priest who blessed Abraham.  God declared Jesus to be the Son, the King, and the priest.  In Christ is everything that is needed for our eternal salvation.  This is true because Christ faithfully completed everything God gave Him to do without sinning, in spite of being faced with all the tests and temptations common to humanity.  Christ suffered perfectly n our behalf that we might receive perfect forgiveness.

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask the discussion questions below*. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

* When the author of Hebrews called Jesus the “great high priest”, he knew his readers would understand how Jesus was like a priest, only better.  What role might the author have used if Hebrews was written today?  For example, how is Jesus like a pastor only better, like a president only better, etc.

* As you read the Bible this week, what is something you noticed for the first time?

* What questions did you have?

* Was there anything that bothered you?

* What did you learn about loving God?

* What did you learn about loving others?

  • How can we pray for you this week?

 

Matthew 5:1-12

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Matthew 5:1-12

                 Matthew is often referred to as the “Jewish Gospel” because it contains many elements that would be familiar to Jewish readers, such as the frequent phrase “to fulfill what was said through the prophet”.  Many aspects of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teaching in Matthew parallel the story of Israel in the first five books of the Bible, known as the Law.  For instance, Moses’ birth was accompanied by the death of many Hebrew infant boys, and so was that of Jesus.  Israel entered the Promised Land by crossing the Jordan; Jesus began His public ministry by entering the Jordan in baptism.  Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness, and Jesus spent 40 days there.

   While the gospel of Luke is arranged geographically (Galilee, journey to Jerusalem, Jerusalem), the gospel of Matthew is arranged around five key discourses, or sermons, which parallel the five books of the Law.  Whenever we encounter the phrase “when Jesus had finished saying these things”, we know one section has drawn to a close, and another one is beginning.   The first and most famous of these discourses is known as the “Sermon on the Mount”, and is found in Matthew 5-7.  In it, Jesus talks about going far beyond the “letter of the Law”, as the Pharisees and Rabbis taught, in order to fulfill the Spirit of the Law, which was love.

The sermon opens with the Beatitudes—nine brief stanzas that describe the condition of the blessed.  The first eight beatitudes are two line stanzas, the last is lengthy and summaries all the previous ones.  The beatitudes get their name from the Latin beati , which translated from the original greek means a state of blessing, or happiness.  The term “bless” here is not something that one seeks (“bless me, father” or “Lord, bless this food”) but something that one already is (“I’m too blessed to be stressed).  It’s not that the person described in the Beatitudes will be happy one day if they just stick out the tough times—they already are happy!

The beatitudes are descriptive of a person who is humble (“poor in spirit”), compassionate (“those who mourn” and “merciful”), only seeks that which God gives rather than greedily grabbing power (“meek” and “hunger/thirst for righteousness), whose outside actions match their inner heart (“pure” and “peacemakers”), and who suffers not for doing wrong but for doing right (“persecuted”).  Is there anyone who perfectly fits all these characteristics?  In Jesus’ opening sermon, He is talking about Himself!  We often think of Jesus as serious, somber, stern, or sad.  According to Matthew 5, He  was happy and teaches His followers to be happy, too.

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask the discussion questions below*. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

* Do you think of Jesus as sad?  Serious?  Happy?  Some combination thereof or something different?

*  How does the Matthew 5 description of a happy person contrast with a 21st Century depiction of happiness?

* As you read the Bible this week, what is something you noticed for the first time?

* What questions did you have?

* Was there anything that bothered you?

* What did you learn about loving God?

* What did you learn about loving others?

  • How can we pray for you this week?

 

Romans 5:1-11

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Romans 5:1-11

                 Romans is an epistle which simply means “letter”.  Biblical epistles were written to give instruction.  Paul could not be everywhere at once and the church was still young. Paul would write letters to teach doctrine, correct false teaching, encourage those in distress, and give instructions for applying faith to everyday matters, such as marriage, meals, or worship.  Many of Paul’s epistles were written to churches he had personally planted or oversaw, but Romans is different.  Paul  hadn’t been to Rome.  He hoped to use it as a new base of operations.  Paul had traveled throughout Asia and Greece, and was now ready to take the gospel to Western Europe.

   Since the Roman Christians had not been converted under Paul’s ministry, they needed to know he was authentic, and had the authority to lead them.  They certainly had heard of Paul, but also had heard lots of false rumors about him.  Also, the church in Rome was in conflict.  It had been mostly Jewish, with a Gentile minority.  Then, the Jews had been expelled from Rome.  In their absence, the church became overwhelmingly Gentile.  When the Jewish Christians were allowed to return, they found a church far different than they left.  Paul needed to tackle both of these issues if he hoped to find a group of believers ready to support his mission.

Paul addresses these challenges through a series of arguments with himself.  He outlines his position, anticipates the objections and misunderstandings that may result, then restates his position for emphasis and clarity.  In Romans 5, Paul has just made the argument that Father Abraham had been made right with God by faith, and not be keeping the Law.  Therefore (5:1) the same is true for Roman believers.  We (Paul and the church in Rome) have been declared not guilty before God through faith.  Faith in the Bible is not just mental ascent, but trusting obedience.  Christians are saved by Christ’s trusting obedience to the Father.

Romans 5 gives us a good checklist of what God gives us through Jesus and His sacrificial death on our behalf.  We receive peace, grace, love, and the Holy Spirit.  We have no right to take pride in the righteousness we have as a result of these gifts.  They are all freely given by God.  We didn’t earn them.  However, Romans 5 also gives us a list of things we can earn and in which we can take pride.  We get to decide on how we respond to distress.  We can let it make us weak, or use it to build endurance, character, and hope.  The astounding truth of Romans 5 is that grace is given, but hope is earned.  As we endure suffering in hope, our outside life begins to match our inside heart.  We call this “glory”!

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask the discussion questions below*. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

* Can you think of an example of someone who let a distressing situation weaken their hope in God?

*  Can you think of an example of someone who let a distressing situation strengthen their hope in God?

* As you read the Bible this week, what is something you noticed for the first time?

* What questions did you have?

* Was there anything that bothered you?

* What did you learn about loving God?

* What did you learn about loving others?

  • How can we pray for you this week?

 

Acts 14:21-28

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Acts 14:21-28

                 Our scripture focus this week is from the book of Acts.  We have been using The Books of the Bible:  New Testament to read through the entire New Testament during Lent.  Let’s share some information on Acts from this book:

                 “The second volume, the book of Acts, has six parts. Each one describes a successive phase in the expansion of the community of Jesus-followers outward from Jerusalem. The divisions between them are marked by variations on the phrase, The word of God continued to spread and flourish.
: In the first phase, the community is established in Jerusalem and becomes Greek-speaking, enabling it to spread its message throughout the empire.

   : In the second phase, the community expands into the rest of Palestine.

   : In the third phase, Gentiles are included in the community along with Jews.

   : In the fourth part, the community intentionally sends messengers westward into the populous Roman province of Asia.
: In the fifth phase, these messengers enter Europe.
: In the final phase, the community reaches all the way to the capital of Rome and into the highest levels of society. God’s invitation is thus extended to all nations”

Acts 14 takes place in that fourth phase.  Paul and Barnabas had been set apart as missionaries by the church in Antioch, and were sent into what we would now call Turkey.  In each city where they ministered, they would preach to the Jews, persuading some, until their message was rejected, then they would preach in the marketplace.  In Lystra, a man who had never walked in his life was listening to them preach when Paul, looking at him, got “in the Spirit” and commanded in a loud voice for him to stand.  The man not only stood but jumped and walked!  This is the first healing done by Paul in scripture.  This caused quite a stir in the city, and eventually attracted the attention of religious authorities who turned the crowed.  Paul was stoned and left for dead.

However, Paul was able to get up and continue his ministry.  He and Barnanbas then returned to each city where they had preached in order to organize the churches there.  They did this by encouraging the new believers to remain faithful, appointing “elders”, or leaders to oversee the work in each church, praying and fasting for these leaders, then finally reporting the new works to the sending church.  Humans have used many methods to attempt to grow churches through the ages, but twenty centuries later, the Acts 14 model of growing God’s kingdom is still works best.

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask the discussion questions below*. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

* Have you ever fasted?  Why did you fast, and what was the experience like?

*  Why is it important to pray before making decisions and choosing leaders in a church?

* As you read the Bible this week, what is something you noticed for the first time?

* What questions did you have?

* Was there anything that bothered you?

* What did you learn about loving God?

* What did you learn about loving others?

  • How can we pray for you this week?

 

Luke 18:9-14

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Luke 18:9-14

                 Today’s scripture focus takes place in the second section of Luke.  As Jesus and His followers are traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, He teaches them through a series of parables.   Parables are fables that teach spiritual principals using stories from everyday life.  In the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, two men go to the Temple to pray.  Twice a day, a service of atonement took place at the Temple.  A lamb was sacrificed and while the priest took the blood inside to sprinkle it on the altar, those gathered would offer personal prayers.  Two of the worshippers at this gathering stood apart.

The first man, a Pharisee, stood apart from the others as to not be “contaminated” by sinners.  Pharisees viewed God’s Law as a garden, and imposed practices on themselves that went well beyond the Law as a “fence” to protect the garden.  This man prayed aloud so that others might hear just how high his fence was.  Jews were required to fast once a year on the Day of Atonement, but he fasted twice a week! Jews were required to give a tenth of certain crops, flocks, and produce to the Temple, but he gave a tenth of everything he owned.  The Pharisee was confident that he had made himself righteous through his own efforts.

The second man also stood apart from the others, but for a different reason.  Tax collectors were considered about as wicked as you could get by Judean standards, for they made their living by extorting money.  This man knew he was wicked, and didn’t feel worthy to worship with the rest of the assembly.  Rather than look up and pray loudly, he kept his head down and beat his chest.  To beat your chest in the eastern culture is a sign of deepest grief.  While the priest was making the daily atonement offering in the sanctuary, the tax collector, stricken by grief as he realized how sinful he was, cries out to God to make atonement for him personally.

The lesson of this parable is stated clearly:  “Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust” (Luke 18:9 CEB).  The ending of the parable drives the point home.  One man went home justified before God, the other did not.  To be justified before God in this instance means to have a good relationship with God.  Jesus is teaching something new—righteousness before God comes not from right acts but from right relationship, and it is rooted in the atonement.  In other words, only God can make us right, and only if come before God knowing our need.

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask the discussion questions below*. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

* Have you ever known someone who bragged a lot about doing good things?  Is it ever ok for Christians to brag?

*  Do we ever get to the place where we don’t need to pray the prayer of the tax collector?

* As you read the Bible this week, what is something you noticed for the first time?

* What questions did you have?

* Was there anything that bothered you?

* What did you learn about loving God?

* What did you learn about loving others?

  • How can we pray for you this week?

 

Ezekiel 37:1-14

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Ezekiel 37:1-14

                 The prophet Ezekiel ministered to a displaced people.  His name means “God strengthens”, yet he served Israel when they were at their weakest.  Ezekiel was one of the original eight to ten thousand exiles—those among Judah’s “elite” that were taken into captivity in 605 BC by King Nebuchadnezzar when he captured Jerusalem.  Ezekiel turned 30 while in captivity in Babylon, an age when he should have begun his duties as a Temple priest.  However, since he lived as a displaced person he was unable to fulfill this role.  God had other plans for Ezekiel.  For the next twenty years God used him to speak to the other captives through starling oracles.

Today’s scripture focus takes place in “the valley”.  This is likely meant to be understood as the same place mentioned in Ezekiel 3:22, in which Ezekiel receives a word from the Lord predicting God’s glory completely departing from the people.  In the time since this vision, Jerusalem and its temple have been completely destroyed after a lengthy siege.  In this second “valley vision”, Ezekiel is spiritually transported to this valley, where he finds a horrific scene.  Nothing was more disgraceful to ancient peoples than to not receive a proper burial.  Here, Ezekiel finds an innumerable number of unburied corpses aging in the sun, indicating a mass slaughter.

God addressed Ezekiel as “Son of man”, meaning “human”, when asking if these bleached bones could live.  Ezekiel knew it would be impossible by human effort for the dead to come alive.  However, his answer shows his complete faith that nothing is beyond God’s power, for he answered “Sovereign Lord , you alone know.”  In other words, God alone was ruler over life.  God then gives Ezekiel instructions—preach to the bones!  As he was preaching, the bones became reunited and were covered in flesh.  Ezekiel is given a second task—preach to the breath!  God’s breath filled the corpses, and they were fully resurrected.

God’s people had become just like the dry bones.  Their nation had been destroyed, with no hope of ever achieving greatness again through human effort.  Yet, in the same way God resurrected an entire army, Israel would live again!  Nothing is impossible to the Sovereign Lord.  We “holiness” people draw upon this key chapter in our theology of entire sanctification, or being entirely filled with the Holy Spirit.  God has done all the work of creating us and forgiving us of our sins, but our true life begins when the Holy Spirit is “breathed” into us.  No matter how hopelessly broken  our lives become, we are promised through Christ that the pieces will be put back together.  These bones will live again!

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask the discussion questions below*. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

* Ezekiel spoke to a displaced people.  Can you think of a time that you felt really out of place?  Did it make you uncomfortable?  How did you deal with being a stranger?

*  In what ways is becoming a Christian similar to coming back from the dead?  Do you feel our world needs a new start today?

* Did you have any questions about the scriptures you read this week?

  • How can we pray for you this week?

 

Daniel 3:15-30

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Daniel 3:15-30

                 Daniel was a part of the small band of Jerusalem’s “elite” that was carried off after battle to Babylon by the young, new, and powerful king Nebuchadnezzar in 606 BC.   Daniel was active until the third year of the Persion King Cyrus, when he would likely have been about 100 years old.  Therefore, Daniel has a unique perspective of the entire Babylonian Exile.  The first half of Daniel’s book tells stories relating to Daniel and his companions’ time in Babylon.  Daniel soon rises to prominence due to his ability to interpret dreams and visions.  The second half contains the visions of Daniel.

King Nebuchadnezzar plays a big role in today’s scripture focus.  The Bible mentions Nebuchadnezzar by name over 90 times. He was Babylon’s most prominent and powerful king, reigning from 605 to 562 BC.  His successes as a general in the Babylonian army prepared him to ascend the throne at his father’s death.  He continued to expand the empire over his long reign, pushing its boundaries to modern-day Turkey and Egypt.  Such conquests brought great wealth to the city of Babylon and provided for major building projects such as the famed Hanging Gardens.  He was a worshiper of Marduck, the patron god of Babylon, as well as other gods.

One of Nebuchadnezzar’s building projects was a golden statue in the plains.  At 90 feet tall, if it were build in the United States today it would be the second largest statue in the country, surpassed only by the Statue of Liberty.  This statue was likely a representation of Nabu, for whom Nebuchadnezzar was named.  The king commanded the top seven layers of leadership in the nation to come to the dedication of the statue.  This should have been a simple civic ceremony, but in the fervor of the occasion, all in attendance are required to bow and worship the statue, and thereby worship Nebuchadnezzar himself.

Attending the event was ok for the young Jews who had risen to prominence in Nebuchadnezzar’s court, but worshipping anyone but God was forbidden to them.  Therefore, they took a courageous stand, literally, and refused to bow.  A furnace nearby—perhaps the one used to forge the golden image—was heated with seven bellows instead of the normal one, rendering it an inferno.  In a rage, the king commands the young Jews to be thrown into the furnace.  Imagine the shock of the king when he saw not only the three young men unharmed, but a fourth standing with them!  A national event intended to honor a man-made god ended up proving to the king and all his court the power of Jehovah!

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask the discussion questions below*. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

* Have you ever had to take a tough stand for something you knew was right, even though you were in the minority?  Did you feel like you were “in the fire”?  How has God shown you that you weren’t left alone in the tough times?

*  As Christians, how do we draw the line in being good citizens and obeying the laws of the land, but not following ungodly laws or supporting immoral policies?

* Did you have any questions about the scriptures you read this week?

  • How can we pray for you this week?

 

Isaiah 11

Today’s Scripture Focus:  Isaiah 11

The Book of Isaiah is undoubtedly the greatest prophetic book in the Old Testament.  Both Judaism ad Christianity regard this book as a highly significant theological work.  The New Testament quotes this book more than any other Old Testament book.   The opening statement of the book labels the content of the book as a the visions of Isaiah, son of Amoz, of whom the book gives few details.  The name “Isaiah” means “the LORD is salvation.”  The book tells us that he was married and had two sons.  He gave his sons symbolic names that conveyed God’s message to Judah.  Isaiah received the call to be a prophet in 742 BC.

Isaiah’s book begins with a description of rebellion against God by His covenant people.  God’s judgment resulted in the destruction of all the cities of Judah except Jerusalem, the “daughter of Zion”.  “Zion” is the city where God’s presence lives.  The prophet announced God’s willingness to be reconciled with His people and remove the deep stains of their sins if they would repent and live a transformed life.  Those who continued to live as God’s enemies were destined for total destruction.  Isaiah proclaimed that God will redeem Zion, and out of Zion will go forth God’s Law to all nations.

Through a parable in chapter 5, the prophet portrayed the twin nations of Judah (the southern kingdom) and Israel (the northern kingdom) as unworthy to be kept as God’s vineyard.  God’s people were guilty of bloodshed, violence, greed, self-indulgence, materialism, perverted moral thinking, pride, and bribery.  God had provided the “vineyard”  (Judah and Israel) with everything needed to prosper, and yet the vineyard produced only worthless grapes (works of wickedness).  Therefore, God would completely uproot the vineyard.  This foretold the nation’s coming destruction from Assyria and Babylon.

However, we find hope for the vineyard in today’s scripture focus.  There are two major sections to chapter 11.  The first part (verses 1-9) describes the “Davidic king” or Messiah, a “shoot from the stump of Jesse”.  Jesse was the father of David, Israel’s greatest king, and a future Spirit-filled ruler who would rule with righteousness would come from David’s family line.  The second part (verses 10-16) reiterates the theme of the return of the “remnant” – the small group of those who have remained faithful to God—to live in complete peace under in Zion.   We believe the “shoot” from Jesse’s “root” points to Jesus, who was descended from David’s family line.  Today’s scripture reminds us that in the midst of total meltdown, God gives peace through Jesus.

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask the discussion questions below*. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

* Today’s scripture promises that under the rule of the “shoot of Jesse”, all wrongs will be made right.  Can you think of ways that life seems unfair in today’s world?  Can you think of a time you were wronged?

*  How can Jesus “right the wrongs” in our lives now?  What unfair and unjust things must wait until Christ’s return to be made right?

* Did you have any questions about the scriptures you read this week?

* How can we pray for you this week?

 

I Samuel 3

Today’s Scripture Focus:  I Samuel 3

                 The story of how there came to be kings in Israel begins with the birth story of Samuel, the last ruling judge of Israel.  This story somewhat reflects the birth accounts of other key figures in the Bible, such as Isaac and Jacob.  A woman named Hannah was unable to have children.  She was harassed by her husband’s other wife.  At that time, the city of Shiloh served as the main center of worship in Israel.  During an annual trip there, Hannah made a vow to God that if He would grant her a son, she would consecrate him to God’s service.  She returned home with an assurance from Eli the priest that God would answer her petition.

Soon, Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son whom she called Samuel, meaning “God has heard”.   She returned to Shiloh later and offered her son back to God for His service.  This was a selfless act of worship.  During this time Eli was the high priest.  His sons, Hophni and Phineas, were wicked.  Samuel grew up assisting Eli, and as a young boy found favor with both God and the people.  At the same time, they resented Eli’s sons, who took advantage of their positions.  It was prophesied to Eli that his sons would die and his descendants would be removed from the priestly office.

One night, while Samuel was lying down in the Tabernacle, God’s call repeatedly came to him.  Each time, Samuel responded to Eli thinking that his mentor was calling him.  Recall the scripture says hearing the voice of God had become “rare”, so it took a while for the spiritual leader of Israel to realize what was happening.    Finally, Eli understood that God was calling Samuel and gave him instructions as to what to say when God called again.  When Samuel responded, God revealed to him the downfall of Eli’s house. From this point on, Samuel assumed increasing responsibilities of leadership, and he became known as a spokesperson for God.

The story of Samuel’s call reflects two concerns of the Old Testament.  First, God would not abandon the people.  They would be provided with proper leadership.  God would choose leaders to guide them through the dark days.  Second, each generation is responsible for the faithful transmission of faith to the next.  Although God was calling Samuel, it was his mentor Eli who directed Samuel to be attentive to God.  Eli was not a perfect leader, but the faithfulness of Eli opened the way for the young prophet to respond to God’s call.  As we journey through the Bible together, we can celebrate that God continues to lead us along, and allows us both the privilege and responsibility to lead others.

  • Go around the table and share prayer requests. Have someone lead in prayer.
  • Let everyone who would like to share anything exciting from their week.
  • Ask the discussion questions below*. Let as many answer each one as they would like.

*  Have you ever sensed God was trying to tell you something?  How did you know it was God, and how did you answer?

*  Who is a spiritual “influencer” or mentor in your life?  How are you working to be a spiritual influence in the life of others?

*What is something you really “took away” from the scripture readings this week?

*Did you have any questions about the scriptures you read this week?

*How can we pray for you this week?