CG Discussion Guide (for May 10, 2020)

“A Greater Response of Love”  (Paul Yu)

Scripture: Luke 7:36-50

Sermon Summary

Jesus is invited over to Simon the Pharisee’s house. Everything seems normal, until a scandalous woman interrupts the scene uninvited by affectionately anointing Jesus’s feet. After this dramatic act, the scene sharply shifts over to the Pharisee’s self-righteous, judgmental attitude against the sinful woman and Christ. Jesus then rebukes the Pharisee by applying a parable of a lesser and greater debtor. In Jesus’s rebuke, we are challenged to see our self-righteous attitude exposed. The moral of the story condemns the Pharisee and commends the sinful woman. The woman is then declared forgiven, while Christ’s divine authority to forgive sin is displayed. All in all, this passage teaches us how a self-awareness of sin draws us to a greater love for our Savior. 

#1: The Setting (7:36-38)

As Jesus performs many mighty deeds, everyone starts to notice him as a great prophet and his popularity grows like wildfire. Simon is curious about all this hype and throws a banquet for Jesus at his house. What seems like a relaxed party suddenly becomes a conflict as soon as a sinful woman approaches Jesus. This provocative woman stands before Jesus pouring special ointment she brought, while weeping and wiping her tears with her hair as she continually kisses Jesus on his feet. This peculiar act is deemed inappropriate as it breaks all social norms. The story then shifts to the Pharisee’s judgmental reaction. 

#2  The Self-Righteous Judgment (7:39-43) 

Simon’s hateful judgment targets both Christ and the woman. For Simon, the woman’s acts were not viewed as a genuine act of love, but a scandalous act of lust. Simon’s hardened heart was unmoved by the woman’s tears, which reveals his contemptuous attitude that stems from self-righteousness. It becomes clear that Simon invited Jesus to judge whether Jesus was the great prophet everyone claimed he was. In Simon’s eyes, what was more scandalous than the woman’s act was that Jesus received this inappropriate act without stopping it. Simon strongly believed that if you associate yourself with sinners, you condone their sinful lifestyle. Thus, Simon denies in his heart that Jesus is a true prophet for being morally lax by accepting sinners. 

Like a metal detector that detects metal objects from afar, we have sin detectors preinstalled in our hearts that detect defects in others. We are all prone to have a natural inclination to detect other people’s wrong doings, but for some odd reason our sensors malfunction whenever it tries to pick up signals of our own blind spots and shortcomings. We resemble Simon as we fail to recognize our own sin, while finding fault in others. By failing to see our sinfulness, we deem the gospel unnecessary and reject Christ like Simon. 

#3 The Self-Awareness of Sin (7:44-50) 

Where the Pharisee misjudges Jesus by denying him as a prophet, the sinful woman correctly identifies Jesus to be her Savior in her self-awareness of sin. The woman’s acts of greater love are contrasted against the absence of love in Simon. We see here how self-righteousness blinds us from seeing who we truly are and who Christ truly is. It is only when we recognize our great need that we can truly see the great deed of the Savior and respond in love. The climax of the story is reached when Christ authoritatively declares the sinful woman forgiven. People immediately question Jesus’s authority to forgive sins. Knowing this in their hearts, Jesus says to the woman again, “your faith has saved you; go in peace (v. 50).” Not only was Simon’s denial of Jesus being a prophet completely mistaken, but Jesus vindicates himself to be far greater than a prophet as he possesses divine authority to forgive sin. 

Jesus not only reveals his divine authority, but he also reveals himself to be a friend of sinners and an enemy of the proud. At the end of the day, who do you see yourself to be? Are you the self-righteous Pharisee or are you the sinful woman? You can only be a friend or an enemy of Jesus, for there is no such thing as neutrality. Whether or not you admit it, there is a Simon in us all. In light of this reality, God calls you to humble yourselves and see Christ’s tender heart towards sinners, so you too can walk in the sweet assurance of the sinful woman that “your sins are forgiven.”

Group Discussion Questions

  1. Share something you found either interesting, memorable, convicting, confusing or challenging about the passage/sermon. 
  2. In what ways do self-righteous attitudes and tendencies manifest in your life? Do you tend to detect other people’s faults, while ignoring your own blind spots? Where do you think your self-righteousness stems from?
  3. How can you grow in a greater awareness of Christ’s love as you simultaneously grow in a greater self-awareness of your sin?  What’s the result of not having this balanced? 
  4. How does the gospel confront your self-righteousness and grow you in repentance? What are some instances when God’s amazing grace came to you when you were Pharisaic?  How did you respond?

CG Discussion Guide (For May 3, 2020)

“Call Upon the Name”  Acts: To the End of the Earth

Scripture: Acts 2:14-21

Sermon Summary

When Peter preached his first sermon at Pentecost the Holy Spirit anointed his preaching so that three thousand souls were saved.  This was not the result of Peter’s eloquence or abilities but the Spirit working powerfully through him.  Today the same Holy Spirit indwells and empowers believers to share the hope of the gospel with others.  Christians live in the reality that Christ will return one day so we should call upon the name of Jesus and be saved.

#1: The Promise

Peter explains what’s happening at Pentecost by declaring it is a fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32 found in the Old Testament.  Joel prophesied that the Spirit would fall on all flesh, meaning all kinds of people without discrimination and distinction.  Gender, age and social class would no longer be dividing markers.  The Spirit wouldn’t distinguish people the way we do.  In fact, the Spirit falls on those whom he chooses by his will, not by our qualifications or preparations.  When the Spirit fills a person, he regenerates their heart giving them faith and repentance so that they are saved in Christ.  If the Spirit can fall on anybody and bring them to Christ, then we must not lose hope on those we think would reject the gospel or have rejected it in the past. 

The book of Acts records case after case of the most unlikely people coming to faith in Christ because the Spirit was at work in them.  This encourages those of us who are frustrated when loved ones seem to want nothing to do with the gospel.  We should not give up, lose heart or become cynical, deciding in our hearts that there’s no way they would ever believe.  It’s not our job to save, only to share.  We trust the Spirit will convict and call people to Christ.  Then everybody who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. 

#2: The Urgency

Peter reinterprets Joel 2:28 by telling us that the last days have come upon us because the Spirit has come.  We now live in the last days.  But we live sandwiched between two times.  The last days have begun and we are anticipating the day of the Lord, the day of Christ’s return and final judgment.  That day is described in Acts 2:19-20 as a day of blood, fire, smoke and darkness.  On that day all humanity will have to give an account before God.  Those who call upon Christ will be honored as they are forgiven and justified.  They will receive a crown of glory because of their Savior.  Those who have not called upon Christ will be humiliated as they stand guilty before God.  They will receive a righteous judgment because of their sins.  This is why for believers it’ll be a great and magnificent day but for unbelievers it will be one of dread and terror. 

The difference is accounted for by Christ.  In Luke 23 we see the darkness of that final judgment falling upon Jesus as he’s crucified.  This is a sign that God’s future judgment has broken into the present and Jesus takes on God’s judgment for those who look to him in faith.  This is why on the day of the Lord believers who call upon Jesus’ name will be saved.  But for those who don’t call upon his name, God’s divine wrath and anger are still awaiting them in heaven.  Because we don’t know when the day of the Lord will be, our lives are filled with urgency.  We may be prepared to face that day but how many in our lives are not prepared for it? 

If we live with that urgency we should begin sharing gospel hope regularly.  Peter spoke and shared and the Spirit used that to bring people to faith in Christ.  He saved people by using Peter’s witness.  God wants to do the same with us.  This is why Jesus sent us his Spirit, so that we would have power to be his witnesses in this world (Acts 1:8).  Would we believe that the gospel promise really is wonderful: call upon the name of the Lord and be saved.  Would we also believe that this promise has an expiration date as the day of the Lord is coming.  Until then we should share gospel hope with those in our lives that they might call upon the name of Jesus and be saved.

Group Discussion Questions

  1. Share something you found either interesting, memorable, convicting, confusing or challenging about the passage/sermon. 
  2. Is there somebody you have shared gospel hope with before and they rejected it?  How does that make you feel sharing the gospel with them again?  What are common excuses you make to not share the gospel with certain people? 
  3. How do you balance feeling the urgency of the day of the Lord while trusting in God’s sovereignty and timing?  What errors/dangers should we be aware of by emphasizing one over the other?
  4. Is there a particular sermon or book or talk or verse or quote about the gospel that you could share or have shared with others?  What is it?  Would you be willing to share it this week?

*In your prayer time, pray for one person specifically that they might call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. 

CG Discussion Guide (For April 26, 2020)

“Lessons from Pentecost”  Acts: To the End of the Earth

Scripture: Acts 2:5-13

Sermon Summary

Acts 2 and the day of Pentecost cannot be downplayed in its significance for the Church.  It marked a new era of redemptive history as the Spirit was poured out on all believers to indwell us.  Although there will never be nor does there need to be another Pentecost, we still need the ministry of the Spirit today.  From Acts 2:5-13 we learn that the Holy Spirit glorifies the Son of God and unifies the people of God. 

In Jerusalem a diverse, international crowd of diaspora Jews were gathered.  The Spirit came upon the disciples and supernaturally spoke through them in the language of those gathered.  The miracle was that the disciples spoke a language they did not know, not that the people heard a language that wasn’t being spoken.  The Spirit was using the disciples to witness the gospel.  In this way God was reversing the curse of Babel (Genesis 11).  In that story, mankind tried to reach God on their own by building a tower up to heaven.  In response, God judgment was not only to scatter them but to confuse their language.  But at Pentecost God sent his Spirit to overcome that language barrier.  The curse at Babel was that people were divided but the blessing at Pentecost was that people were unified by the Spirit, being called to Jesus. 

From this event we learn at least two lessons about the ministry of the Holy Spirit that we can still expect today in the 21st century. 

#1: The Spirit’s ministry is to glorify God’s Son

The Spirit’s ministry is primarily Christ-centered, not Christian-centered.  It’s about shining the spotlight on Jesus, not on us.  He fell on the disciples and gave them the gift of tongues not for their own edification or experience but to exalt Christ.  Through their utterance, many were able to hear about the mighty works of God which climaxes in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:19-20).  Jesus attests to the Spirit’s role and ministry in John 16:13-14 when he tells his disciples that the Spirit glorifies the Son.  The Spirit is honored not when he gets the glory but when Christ gets the glory.

The Spirit continues his ministry to us and in the church by constantly directing our thoughts and our affections back to Christ.  He turns our eyes to see and savor the Savior.  We should then pray and plead with the Spirit to work in our lives so that we make much of Jesus and fall more in love with him.  We should ask the Spirit to magnify and exalt Christ in our lives through our speech, actions and thoughts.  Then the Spirit will give us incredible experiences and deep emotions that are centered on Jesus and not himself or ourselves. 

#2: The Spirit’s ministry is to unify God’s people

The Spirit united God’s people not by removing diversity nor by conforming everybody to a certain culture and language.  He united people by preserving their diversity and uniting them to Jesus.  This shows that our unity is not based on uniformity.  Christ unites us by including our diversity, differences and distinctions.  The curse of Babel was division, not diversity.  So when the international crowd hears the gospel in their own language, it’s a glimpse of heaven.  Revelation 5:9-10 and 7:9 both attest the vision of the redeemed from every tribe, language, people and nation worshiping Jesus.  God is pleased with the diversity of his people.  It’s naive to dismiss this because God doesn’t.  In fact God celebrates it as he unifies his people by the Spirit to his Son. 

When we understand God’s heart, we need to grasp two truths.  First, there are no second-class citizens in the kingdom of God.  Often minority groups feel less valid to the majority, dominant groups.  As a result we may resent our status and envy another’s.  But the gospel has never been about shedding off our unique identity and adopting another one.  Rather the gospel says Christ loves the diversity of his Bride so he purchased each unique person with his blood.  This truth elevates those who think they’re second class and it humbles those who think others are second class.  Second, we are all necessary citizens in the kingdom of God.  The Spirit reversed Babel’s division, yet maintained Babel’s diversity because this was God’s plan.  He wants to display his glory through the diversity of his redeemed people.  Because God is not colorblind we should not be.  Rather we acknowledge how we’re necessary for the beautiful mural of God’s people that he is painting. 

Group Discussion Questions

  1. Share something you found either interesting, memorable, convicting, confusing or challenging about the passage/sermon. 
  2. How does it make you feel to say that the Spirit doesn’t seek attention for himself but drives it to Christ?  Can you think of any other part of the Bible that affirms this truth? 
    • Have you ever had a Spirit-given extraordinary experience or intense emotions of deep love and longing for Jesus?  Could you describe it?  Were you able to tell it was Spirit led?  How? 
  3. In your experience do you feel like churches tend to emphasize “unity in diversity” or “unity through conformity”?  What do you think about this statement: In the church we shouldn’t see color (i.e. we should be “colorblind”) but only see each other as Christians?  What could be harmful about such a statement? 
  4. Is there something from another person’s diverse background that helped you learn something new about God, the gospel, the Christian life, etc?  What do you think your particular diverse background can teach or help others learn about God, the gospel, the Christian life, etc?

CG Discussion Guide (For April 19, 2020)

“What’s a Spirit-filled Christian?”  Acts: To the End of the Earth

Scripture: Acts 2:1-4

Sermon Summary

Acts tells the story of Christ’s ministry through his Church by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  This means we should desire to be God-glorying, Christ-centered and Spirit-filled.  As the Church is its members, Christians are to be Spirit-filled as well.  Although Pentecost will never occur again, Luke draws our attention to three things that Spirit does when he falls on the disciples for the first time.  His description is rich and full of Old Testament themes and images that he uses to highlights these truths.  We see the Spirit helps believers live out ordinary gospel realities every day.  Spirit-filled Christians live in the realities that they are a new creation, never alone and needed by others. 

#1: Being Spirit-filled, you’re a new creation (2:1-2)

The mighty rushing wind that came upon the believers came to breathe new life into the disciples.  God was giving birth to the New Testament Church.  The imagery is similar to that found in the creation of Adam in Genesis 2 and the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37.  In Acts 2:2 there is a new creation happening by the Spirit’s presence.  Believers today who are filled with the Spirit are reminded that in Christ they are a new creation.  They no longer have to live enslaved and chained to their old sin masters because Christ has freed them.  It’s easier to continue to live under sin’s influence and the accusation of guilt than it is to live in the reality that we have been set free and are declared righteous.  So we need the Spirit to remind us that we have forgiveness, freedom, adoption, and victory in Christ as his new creation. 

#2: Being Spirit-filled, you’re never alone (2:3)

The tongues of fire that rested on the disciples was a sign of God’s presence come to be with them.  Fire was a common Old Testament image that represented God’s presence as can be seen in the many examples in Exodus.  By coming to rest on each disciple, the Spirit was symbolizing that he had come to be with them permanently.  No longer temporarily as in the Old Testament but with us always as the seal of our redemption.  Because Christ was cast away on the cross for us, we can be sure God will never cast us from his presence.  The Spirit never abandons us.  God never turns his back to us.  When we sin or seek after other loves we may not feel the presence of God but God will never leave us or forsake us.  We need the Spirit to remind us that even in the deepest valleys and the darkest alleys we are never alone.

#3: Being Spirit-filled, you’re needed by others (2:4)

The Spirit filled all the disciples and gave them the gift of other languages.  This was the firstfruits of what God would do to every believer.  In the Old Testament the Spirit only came upon certain people but it was always the hope he would fall on every member.  Because of Pentecost every Christian is filled with the Spirit and as a result is given a spiritual gift.  God has entrusted and equipped every Christian with gifts because that is his plan for growing and edifying his people.  Every Spirit-filled Christian is given a gift to use because it is needed by others.  To have a gift and not use it to serve is to rob people!  We all have a ministry to do, a role to play and a responsibility to fill because we are needed by others.  That role may vary people to person but we need to find out what it is and serve.  The Spirit reminds us that every believer has a gift that others need because by it we build each other up. 

Group Discussion Questions

  1. Share something you found either interesting, memorable, convicting, confusing or challenging about the passage/sermon. 
  2. What did/do you typically envision a Spirit-filled Church and a Spirit-filled Christian to be like?  What are the common things that are associated with being filled with the Spirit?  How did you come about those ideas? 
  3. Please explain which of the three gospel realities you most easily or regularly forget.  Or put another way, which of the gospel realities do you need to be reminded of the most? 
    • What do you think are the reasons you forget these daily truths? 
    • What difference would it make in your Christian life if the Spirit kept these gospel realities daily on the forefront on your mind and heart? 

CG Discussion Guide (For April 12, 2020)

“Christ’s Victory is the Christian’s Victory”  Easter Sunday

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:50-58

Sermon Summary

Now more than ever we are confronted with death all around us.  We cannot escape the reality of its presence in our lives and in our world.  What is a Christian supposed to do?  Where is our hope?  When death seems to loom so large over us, Easter reminds us that Christ is still bigger and stronger.  1 Corinthians 15 assures believers that Christ’s victory over death is the Christian’s victory over death. 

#1: The Trumpet (15:50-53)

Death is referred to as sleep because death is not final for the Christian.  Because Christ resurrected from the dead, he defeated death.  One day he will sound forth the last trumpet signaling his final victory over death and when he returns he will raise the dead to resurrection life.  At the sound of that trumpet, all those united to Jesus by faith will undergo a change where their perishable bodies will become imperishable and their mortal bodies will become immortal.  When this happens, we will share in Christ’s resurrection life for eternity in God’s kingdom.  There, we will dance in the king’s banquet hall, dine at his table, and when it’s over we’ll retire to our own room in the castle because his kingdom will be ours. 

#2: The Taunt (15:54-55)

Paul teaches Christians this saying which is kind of a taunt against death.  He strings together two verses from the Old Testament (Is. 25:8 and Hos. 13:14): “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”  When death tries to bully us and corners us into fear and anxiety, we remember we can taunt him because Christ’s victory over death gives us power to stand up to it.  Death has no victory or sting because Christ defeated it and rendered it powerless.  This is why death is likened to sleep for the Christian.  When we close our eyes for the last time here on earth in the midst of pain and suffering, we will open our eyes for the first time in heaven and it’ll be eternal glory and life. 

#3: The Thanks (15:56-57)

Our lives then should be marked with gratitude and thanksgiving in praise to God because Christ has given us this victory over death.  Jesus entered the ring to fight death on Good Friday and he left the ring victorious on Easter Sunday.  But Jesus wasn’t fighting for earthly riches or glory.  He fought for you as his prize.  But in order to win you and defeat death, he had to “lose” as he took death’s sting in your place on the cross.  But in his ultimate triumph, Christ was raised the third day in declaration that even death could not hold him down.  We give God thanks for Christ’s and now our victory. 

#4: The Therefore (15:58)

If we believe that every Christian shares in Christ’s victory, this hope isn’t reserved for heaven but affects us now.  We become steadfast and immovable.  The coronavirus pandemic is shaking the foundation of the world and so many idolatries and false hopes are being exposed.  But Christians have their sure footing in Christ.  This means when the world shakes, we don’t shift with it.  Our hope allows us to grieve and lament without being destroyed by the hopelessness that arrests the world.  We refuse to be discouraged because we believe that Christ’s victory over death is our victory over death. 

Group Discussion Questions

  1. Share something you found either interesting, memorable, convicting, confusing or challenging about the passage/sermon. 
  2. How have you been handling the statistics about all the coronavirus related deaths?  How do you tend to respond (overwhelmed, shut it out, numb, etc)?  What about death in general?  How do you tend to respond to it? 
  3. What changes when you begin to view death for the Christian as nothing but “sleep”?  Is that an insensitive view of death?  Why or why not?  What hope does that stir or what comfort does that bring?
  4. Make the connection: how does Christ’s resurrection in the past and the promise of our resurrection in the future affect us in the present?  How is this different than a worldly perspective on handling pain and suffering?
  5. The Christian life should be marked with thanksgiving.  This Easter season, share with one other a very specific reason you are thankful to God. t

CG Discussion Guide (For April 5, 2020)

“How God Reveals His Will”  Acts: To the End of the Earth

Scripture: Acts 1:20-26

Sermon Summary

The book of Acts is not a book of prescriptions, it’s a book of descriptions.  This means Acts doesn’t tell us what the church today should be like but what the church back then was like.  And yet if we keep an eye out for how God worked then, we can get a sense of how he may be working in our own lives now.  From this passage we learn that God leads his people today by his Word, wise counsel and prayer in the Spirit

#1: God’s Will for the Early Church

God made his will clear for the early church in his Word.  Psalm 109:8 says that another apostle was to replace Judas’ place, thus restoring twelve apostles in Acts 1.  The twelve apostles symbolized the twelve tribes of Israel and this meant the church was to be God’s New Israel.  God was preparing them to receive the gift of his Spirit.  Peter discerned God’s will because he knew God’s Word.  But God did not reveal who or how to replace Judas.  This was decided by the early believers as they used their collective wisdom to come up with criteria and candidates.  It seems God was more concerned that a replacement be found than necessarily who or how that replacement was identified.

After two candidates are chosen, the believers pray and cast lots.  Casting lots was the way the believers entrusted the process to God’s leading.  Matthias is identified and God’s will is done.  But Matthias is never mentioned again not only in Acts but the rest of the New Testament.  Although Matthias was important, God doesn’t tell us anything more about him.  The focus of the passage describes the process of following God’s will more than it does the significance of Matthias.  Although Acts was not written as a manual for how we can know the will of God, we still see three principles at work that may be instructive for us. 

#2: God’s Will for Every Christian

Christians want to know the will of God concerning many different things in their lives such as relationships, family, career, and church.  But is it even possible to know his will for every decision we need to make?  Do we need to know it?  Here are three principles we see at work in Acts that may translate to our own lives.

First: Follow what the Bible makes clear.  Everything we must absolutely know for our lives, God has made clear in the Bible.  Too often we’re trying to figure out what the Bible doesn’t specifically address all the while losing focus on what the Bible has made clear.  Know what God has made clear and follow that. 

Second: Receive wisdom from others.  Many of the decisions we need to make in our lives are not ethical or moral decisions.  So what’s at stake is not a matter of obedience or disobedience but wisdom and foolishness.  God gives his people spiritual community by which they can depend and lean on the counsel and wisdom of godly believers.

Third: Take it to the Lord in prayer.  Believers never again cast lots in the Bible because God sends his Holy Spirit to guide and lead believers.  When we pray, we commune with the Spirit who exposes hidden motives, gives wisdom to cover folly, brings to mind Scripture, gives peace when we’re too anxious and disrupts us when we’re too complacent.  When we pray, God leads us by his Spirit. 

Word, counsel and prayer should be the habits of the daily Christian life.  But living this way does not ensure we won’t make foolish or even sinful decisions.  Our confidence is not in avoiding such things but in God who leads every one of our decisions toward his perfect purposes.  The God who purchased his people with the blood of his Son has our lives and decisions in his protecting hands.

Group Discussion Questions

  1. Share something you found either interesting, memorable, convicting, confusing or challenging about the passage/sermon. 
  2. What are some reasons you or others are so concerned with discerning the will of God?  What are the areas that you most want to know God’s will concerning? 
  3. When it comes to Word, counsel and prayer, which do you tend to gravitate toward the most?  Which do you gravitate toward the least?  Why?
  4. What are your fears of making a “wrong” decision in life?  How does the gospel give you confidence to make decisions even without a clear and strong sense of “this is from the Lord”?

CG Discussion Guide (For March 29, 2020)

“How We Hope in Uncertain Times”  Acts: To the End of the Earth

Scripture: Acts 1:15-20

Sermon Summary

Acts 1:15-26 is the only place in the entire Bible that records the events between the ascension and the day of Pentecost.  It’s worth slowing down and taking our time reflecting on these verses.  From our story today we learn that Christians should draw hope in uncertain times from God’s right purposes and his righteous anger.

#1: God’s Right Purposes

Peter addresses the gathering of believers and brings their attention to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and the subsequent arrest.  Judas not only betrayed a man he lived with and followed for three years but he betrayed the Son of God.  His actions led to the death of the Author of Life!  What could be more evil and treacherous than to sell the Savior of the world for a bag full of coins?  And yet Peter says about this “the Scripture had to be fulfilled.”  He then goes on says it fulfilled the psalms which are ascribed to King David.  This means Judas’ betrayal was predicted and planned almost a thousand years before Jesus.  But Peter goes further and says the ultimate author and originator of this was the Holy Spirit.  This is because it was God who sovereignly and mysteriously purposed this to happen.  Even Judas’ incredibly wicked act was all God-ordained. 

It is tough for people to accept that God not only allowed this tragic and terrible event to happen, but he purposed it.  Yet out of something so evil, God was able to work out something very good.  Out of his own suffering and loss he worked out our salvation and life.  It is not easy to believe that even the most confusing and chaotic things in our lives are part of God’s good and right purposes.  But we must remember that God worked something out of the worst and most evil act in history so he can and will work something out of whatever we’re experiencing in our most uncertain times.  Things do not happen in God’s world because he has let go of the reigns of history or because he has fallen asleep on his throne.  He has purposed all things and although not always clear and understandable to us, they are always right and for good. 

#2: God’s Righteous Anger

When Peter’s speech ends, Luke inserts his own authorial remarks.  He chooses to describe a part of Judas’ death that differs than Matthew’s gospel.  Luke does this in order to make a connection with the story of Ahab who murdered innocent Naboth and acquired a field.  Ahab received God’s judgment and died.  The point of this connection is to show us that just as God judged Ahab in righteous anger, so too God judged Judas in righteous anger.  This is a theme Luke develops in Acts.  It appears in the stories of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 and King Herod in Acts 12.  God does not let sin and evil go unpunished but he acts against it.  We need a God who is not only kind and tender but who also gets righteously angry at sin. 

To say that God has righteous anger against sin and evil is only good news to those who have their hope in Jesus Christ.  Through Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross, we know that God’s anger against our sin is satisfied and turned away.  Now when we behold the face of God we know he is smiling down upon us.  But God’s face is not always smiling!  When he sees the sin and its effects running rampant in his world, he is righteously angry.  God responds.  In John 11 Jesus is at the funeral of his good friend Lazarus.  Coming to the tomb, he is deeply enraged at death because death is an intruder and unwanted guest in his world.  Jesus is angry enough at sin that he goes to the cross in order to defeat it.  By doing so, he conquers sin and death through his resurrection and promises us that on the final day death, mourning, crying and pain will be no more.  This gives us incredible hope that God is at work to eradicate and exterminate all sickness, suffering and sin from his world.  There is incredible hope in knowing his righteous anger against sin. 

Group Discussion Questions

  1. Share something you found either interesting, memorable, convicting, confusing or challenging about the passage/sermon. 
  2. How are you processing and handling all the news and updates concerning the coronavirus pandemic?  What has been helpful and what has been unhelpful? 
  3. What are you thinking about God in the midst of all of this?  Is your hope in him increasing or decreasing?  What idols (false hopes) are being exposed at this time?
  4. Which do you think you need to meditate on more at this moment: God’s right purposes or God’s righteous anger?  How can you continue to hope and trust in God more at this time?

CG Discussion Guide (for March 22, 2020)

“The Fast that God Chooses”  Mission and Mercy March

Scripture: Isaiah 58:1-7

Sermon Summary

We often evaluate our spiritual health and the vitality of our spiritual lives through individualized acts of devotion to God like Bible reading and prayer.  But is this really the best way to assess your walk in faith with the living Lord?  Isaiah 58 offers a critique against such a way of evaluating your spirituality.  It shows us that God doesn’t desire religious performance or piety but righteous practices of mercy and justice. 

#1: What we think God wants

God calls Israel out for fasting and humbling themselves, pretending these are deeds of righteousness when they are nothing more than external, outward religious performances.  Ultimately the people did these things for themselves, not the Lord.  But God saw right through it.  He knew that their deeds were self-serving because the people hoped to receive a reward from God because of what they did.  That was exactly their problem.  They thought they knew what God wanted but they really had no idea.  The same may be true of us.  When we focus so much on our performances and our piety, our motions and our emotions, we lose sight of what God has made clear. 

#2: What God really wants

God says that the fast chooses is for Israel to pursue lives of mercy and justice.  Justice is not only about giving punishment to the guilty but also giving protection to the vulnerable.  The reason God is so concerned that everybody is shown mercy and justice is because he has made us all in his image.  Every single creature, whether covenanted to him in faith or not, are image bearers of God.  And this image is what assures each person value, worthy and dignity.  This is why we should work for and care for the justice of all people.  This is why it is our cause and our concern to speak against practices and attitudes that promote injustice, inequality and inhumanity. 

But who specifically are those in need?  From Isaiah 58:6-7, Isaiah 1:16-17 and Zechariah 7:9-10 we see that at the very least God identifies seven groups of people: the hungry, the homeless, the naked, the orphans, the widows, the immigrants and the poor.  The point is that God has a heart for those who are disadvantaged and disenfranchised, deprived and destitute.  To look after the interests of such people is at the heart of God.  This is the way we obey the fast that God has chosen.  Christians need to ask who the needy are and what their needs are.  Until we start asking these kinds of questions, we won’t begin looking to answer them. 

#3: How we do what he wants

We do what God wants when we begin identifying with those in need.  But how can we do that?  We must first understand the lengths God went to identify with us.  In Isaiah 58:7 God tells his people to do three things: to feed the hungry, to provide hospitality to the homeless, and to clothe the naked.  Later in Matthew 25 Jesus picks this up and says that those who feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and clothe the naked have done it to him.  He says, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”  Jesus identifies himself so closely with those in need that to serve them is to serve him.  The God of the Bible is a God who identifies with us! 

Now remember that in ancient religions such a thing was unspeakable.  The gods always identified with the rich and powerful, not the poor and lowly.  And yet the Son of God does the very opposite.  In fact he goes even further and does something even more outrageous and offensive.  The gospel is that the Son of God identified himself with mankind so intimately and so personally that our sins and our guilt actually became his.  Our trespasses and failures were cast on him as if they were his all along.  And in exchange for what we gave him, he gave us his righteousness so that we could be forgiven.  When we believe and understand that Jesus identified himself this closely with us, it begins to change us.  We start to identify with others and minister to them in mercy and justice.  In fact, we desire to identify with them because Jesus identified with us.  This is when it becomes clear to us that what pleases God is not religious performance and piety but righteous practices of mercy and justice.  Then it becomes the fast that we choose. 

Group Discussion Questions

  1. Share something you found either interesting, memorable, convicting, confusing or challenging about the passage/sermon. 
  2. Why do we tend to evaluate our spirituality based on things like religious performances and piety rather than practices of mercy and justice? 
  3. Spend time reflecting aloud on these questions: What does mercy and justice look like in the relational spheres you’re connected to? What does mercy and justice look in your community?  In your country?  In the world? What does mercy and justice look in light of the coronavirus and those suffering in so many ways around the world? 
  4. How can you begin to identify with those in need and be changed to live a life of mercy and justice?  What’s the difference between doing acts of mercy and justice and becoming an agent of mercy and justice? 


CG Discussion Guide (for March 15, 2020)

“Go and Do Likewise”  Mission and Mercy March

Scripture: Luke 10:25-37

Sermon Summary

Mercy and justice are not optional components of the Christian life.  They are not varsity level Christian concerns that you mature your way up to.  They are foundational, core elements of being a Christian.  To follow Jesus and call him Lord and Savior means you must walk in the path of mercy and justice that he did.  From the parable of the Samaritan we learn that glorious mercy received in Christ spurs generous mercy toward others

#1: Mercy is a tangible way of loving your neighbor by meeting felt need through deeds

The religious lawyer asks Jesus a question about loving your neighbor and Jesus responds with a parable about a man who showed mercy.  Jesus then makes a connection between neighborly love and mercy.  This encounter makes it clear that mercy is a tangible expression of neighborly love.  The parable itself helps us understand more concretely what it means to show mercy.  Whereas the two religious servants (the priest and the Levite) see and pass by the Jewish man in need of help, it’s the Samaritan who sees and draws near.  This is because he didn’t see an enemy as others might have expected him to.  He didn’t see skin color, a language difference or any of the other barriers we often focus on.  He simply saw a person in need and a person made in the image of God.  The other two men saw a body but not a person.  They saw an inconvenience and a threat to their own safety so they were able to ignore the man and his needs. 

When the Samaritan sees the physical, felt needs of the man, he responds immediately with many merciful deeds.  According to the parable he responds in at least seven ways.  First is physical presence as he drew near.  Mercy begins just by showing up and being present with a person.  Second, he got involved.  The man’s problem became his problem and he began serving the man by washing him.  Third and fourth, he provided transportation and shelter.  He brought the man to an inn and made sure he had a roof over his head and food in his mouth.  Fifth, he gave financially.  He had no idea how much his mercy would cost him but he was willing to make the sacrifice, regardless of how the man would respond or repay him.  Sixth, he promised a visitation.  Rather than being one and done, the man decided to return to follow up and check in on the man.  Seventh and last, he gave of his time.  Time is often the most difficult currency to be generous with because time cannot be replenished.  Once spent, time is gone forever. 

#2: Mercy is the mark of a true Christian who has been shown mercy in Christ

Jesus responds that people should go and do likewise as the Samaritan did.  The Bible is clear that true saving faith leads to mercy and justice.  Consider passages like James 2:15-17 and 1 John 3:17-18.  A Christian who loves God and neighbor cannot have mercy very far from their heart.  Those born again by the Spirit and given a new heart have a powerful dynamic at work in them.  The gospel is power that makes you somebody who lives in generous mercy.  This is the dynamic that Jesus intends for the lawyer to see and experience.  But the lawyer is too proud to sense his own need of God’s mercy.  He doesn’t realize he cannot obey God’s law to love the Lord your God and love your neighbor.  Therefore Jesus tells him the parable to expose his need.  This is why Jesus identifies the man in need as the Jew, not the man who extends help.  Jesus was helping the lawyer see how much of God’s mercy he needed.  If the lawyer really understood that he was a recipient of mercy then and only then could he “go and do likewise” as Jesus commanded.

The gospel is the only dynamic at work in our hearts that’ll change us to do more than a few acts of mercy and justice.  It’ll shape all of our life to be lived in such a way.  We have access to this power only when we realize the parable is not meant to be a manual teaching us how to be a good Samaritan.  The parable points us to a true and better Samaritan.  In the same way, Jesus came for the very people who rejected and despised him and yet still showed us mercy through his death on a cross.  But Jesus is better.  The Samaritan put himself in harm’s way but Jesus subjected himself to certain death for us.  The Samaritan bound up the wounds of this man but Jesus healed us by being wounded in our place.  The Samaritan was generously willing to pay the cost no matter how much denarii it cost but Jesus generously paid all of our debt with the very cost of his life.  Jesus showed us ultimate mercy and when that grips our hearts, then and only then will we be transformed to show generous mercy to others.

Group Discussion Questions

  1. Share something you found either interesting, memorable, convicting, confusing or challenging about the passage/sermon. 
  2. Do you think mercy and justice are a natural, organic part of your life?  Do you normally consider these things to be “spiritual” or “unspiritual”?  Why?
  3. What are the biggest obstacles or things that prevent you from showing neighborly love in tangible ways to others?  How does the gospel transform you to not just do some acts but live a life of mercy and justice?
  4. Seven things we see the Samaritan offer are: physical presence, involvement, transportation, shelter, finances, visitation, and time.  Have you ever received any of these from somebody else?  What else would you add to this list?