Grace Words

A Daily Bible Reader's Blog

Presented by Mike Tune, Pulpit Minister for the Church of Christ in Falls Church and Amazing Grace International

Lesson 8 – Worship

In the English Bible, the word “worship” occurs a total of 243 times. There are at least eight Hebrew and Greek words translated “worship” in the Bible. The words mean to “bow down” as a lesser would do a superior; to “serve” as a slave would minister to a master; to “respect” and hold in “awe” and to “thank.” Over two centuries ago, a man defined worship like this:

Worship comprehends all that respect which man owes and gives to his Maker. . . It is the tribute which we pay to the King of Kings, whereby we acknowledge his sovereignty over us, and our dependence on him . . . All that inward reverence and respect, and all that outward obedience and service to God which the word enjoins, is included in worship.

In English, “worship” means to “give” or “recognize” worth. God doesn’t become “worth” more when we worship Him. Our worship is a recognition of the worth that is already His.

Why Worship

Once I asked a university class: “If God had never done anything for you, would He still deserve your worship?” The class replied: “no.”

It was the wrong answer.

God is so great and mighty that to fail to recognize that greatness, respect it, and submit to it, would not only be the height of disrespect, but the height of foolishness. God deserves our worship because He is the creator of all things and the supporter of nature. Amos the prophet described Him as the one who “. . . forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals his thoughts to man, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads the high places of the earth . . .” (Amos 4:13). “He builds his lofty palace in the heavens and sets its foundation on the earth, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land” (Amos 9:6).

God deserves our worship because He is the author and director of history. Throughout the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, God repeatedly informs (22 times to be exact) His people of events to come and then says, when it happens, “you will know that I am the Lord.”

God deserves our worship because He is simply supreme. The prophet Isaiah wrote:

Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. . . The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom” (Isaiah 40:26, 28).

We worship God because of who He is. But in the Bible, one of the most important reasons for worshiping God is for what He has done – His act of salvation.

Is God A “He?” In current religious circles, it has become popular to remove gender from the descriptions of God, preferring to refer to him as “he/she” or sometimes “he” and sometimes “she” or even as “it.” The Bible is not so ambiguous. While God is said to act, at times, like a “mother,” God is virtually always referred to as “he.” We are not trying to say God has gender, or that he has the physical characteristics of a male. We are simply trying to refer to God as He refers to Himself. To do otherwise, we believe, would be making God into what we want God to be. The word for that is “idolatry,” something God condemns.

Worship in Assembly: Remembering God’s Saving Act

In the Old Testament, God’s greatest saving act was delivering His people from Egyptian slavery. He called Israel to remember that event by assembling as a people every Sabbath – see Deuteronomy 5:15. They also remembered the Exodus at the beginning of the harvest season (Passover), and at the end of harvest season (Feast of Weeks and Tabernacles) – see Deuteronomy 16. Remembering God’s saving act was done according to His directions. Israel was not given a free hand to remember this saving event when, where, and how they chose. Note the following command given to Israel at the Exodus: You are not to do as we do here today, everyone as he sees fit, . . Be careful not to sacrifice your burnt offerings anywhere you please. Offer them only at the place the LORD will choose in one of your tribes, and there observe everything I command you (Deuteronomy 12:8, 13-14).

The assemblies were to be tools not only to remember God’s great saving act, but also to teach that act to the next generation. God put it this way:

Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down. Obey these instructions as a lasting ordinance for you and your descendants. When you enter the land that the LORD will give you as he promised, observe this ceremony. And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians'”(Exodus 12:21-27).

Christian Worship In Assembly

The Lord’s Supper

Christians also remember the saving act of God in assembly. Jesus’ death and resurrection is called an “Exodus.” (This is difficult to see in the English Bible, but it is plain in the Greek text of the New Testament. On one occasion, Jesus met with Moses and Elijah, and they spoke of his “departure” which he would accomplish in Jerusalem. The word translated “departure” is the Greek word for “Exodus.”) His sacrifice on the cross is called a “Passover” sacrifice. (51 Corinthians 5:7) On the night Jesus was betrayed, he took the unleavened bread of the meal and called it His “body.” He took a cup of wine and called it the “blood of the new covenant.” He urged the disciples to eat the bread and drink the wine in memory of what he would do on the cross. The ceremony came to be known as the “Lord’s Supper” (1 Corinthians 11:20). It was observed in the early Church on the first day of the week, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection was the final proof that he was the son of God (Romans 1:4) and that happened on the first day of the week. All of the gospel writers record the specific day of the week of Jesus’ resurrection. It was important to them. On the day of his resurrection, Jesus was declared to be the Lord of the dead and the living (Romans 14:9). The Spirit of God came in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise on Pentecost, also the “first day of the week” and, not coincidently, the day the disciples were meeting together. The disciples continued to meet on that day (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).

The Lord’s Supper reminds us of the significance of God’s saving act in Christ.

The bread symbolizes Christ’s body, which we enter when we become Christians. Paul wrote that Christians are all baptized into Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:13,27). By partaking of the bread, we symbolize that we are united, that we are all members of the same body. Paul wrote: “Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). This is why the Lord’s Supper is often called “communion” or “fellowship,” because in it, we commune with one another and with Jesus.

The bread of the Lord’s Supper, like the bread of the Passover, is unleavened. Cooks in Jesus’ day and before took leftover dough and allowed it to ferment. Then, they would take a little of the fermented dough (called “yeast”) and place it in new bread dough. The fermentation made the bread rise. But unleavened dough was pure. No fermentation could take place. The unleavened bread stands for the purity of life God calls us to, and the Lord’s Supper reminds us of that. Paul wrote: “Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast–as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

The wine of the Lord’s Supper reminds us of the blood sacrifice of Christ. This blood was given for the forgiveness of sin (Matthew 26:28) – our sins. Christians are reminded of the high price of forgiveness Jesus paid for us, and should be motivated by the Lord’s Supper to live sinless lives. The wine also reminds us of the “covenant” or “agreement” Jesus made possible between us and God. It is an agreement to be God’s people and live a holy life.

In the early Church, Christians assembled to worship God and observed the Lord’s Supper as part of a meal, just as Jesus did when he first instituted it. Later, the Lord’s Supper was taken out of the context of a meal and became a ceremony, with bread and wine passed among the members. Often, Christians all drank from the same cup. In more modern times, each participant in the communion service usually has his own cup. There is a prayer of thankfulness before the eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine, just as Jesus did.

Other Acts of Worship in Assembly

Though the Lord’s Supper is the central act of worship in assembly (remembering the saving act of God), other things also go on. Even from Old Testament times, singing has been an important feature of worship. There were special choruses in the Old Testament and many songs were written to be sung on the way to assembly (Psalms 120 – 134) and also sung in groups (Psalm 136). Jesus and his disciples sang at the end of the Passover (Matthew 26:30) and Paul mentions singing as part of the church assembly in Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:26). In the early Church, all singing was done without musical instruments. In fact, by the fourth century (when some were calling for using instruments), church leaders specifically forbade their use, citing the historical precedent that they had never been used before in Christian assemblies, as well as expressing concern that it would make worship music more “worldly.”

The early assemblies of the Church also had preaching, or Bible teaching, in which all assembled were urged to live according to the Word of God. Prayer also was a part of the group assembly. History has preserved an account of an early worship service from the early second century.

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in the cities or the country gather together in one place and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the leader verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray and as we before said. When our prayer is ended, bread and wine are brought and the leader in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. Justin Martyr, Apology I.LXVII.

Christian Worship In Life

Though worship in assembly was an important part of Israel’s spiritual life, there was something that could make that worship totally unacceptable to God – even if they did everything in assembly totally right. That “something” was the way they lived their day to day lives.

In the eighth century, God said to Israel:

The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me? I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations – I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow (Isaiah 1:7-17).

Two hundred years later, God was still warning Israel. Through Jeremiah He said:

Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”- safe to do all these detestable things?” Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 7:9-11).

The point of this is, worship in assembly follows best out of a worship in life. In Romans 12:1, Paul wrote: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.”

Some have taken this text to mean that everything we do in the Christian life is worship. But God never allows people to worship Him on their own ground. Our approach to God must always be His way and in His time. In keeping with the whole Bible it is better to view this passage in as saying we should live worshipful lives. In other words, our lifestyle should bring God honor. In that way, our assembled worship will not become unacceptable to God.

Lifestyle and Assembly: A Case Study

We see how “worship in life” and “worship in assembly” come together in a case presented in 1 Corinthians. As we’ve already seen, the assembly of the early church often included a meal during which the Lord’s Supper was observed. But in the Corinthian church, the symbolism of the Supper was lost in the meal itself. The rich had plenty to eat and drink. Some even became drunk! The poor on the other hand, who had nothing, went hungry. The selfishness, self-centeredness, and undisciplined lifestyles of some of those Christians took the meaning out of the Lord’s Supper and the worship out of their assembly. (Read 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 for the whole story.)

Christian Participation in Assembly

The assembly of God’s people reminds us that we were not saved to be individuals, but saved to be part of something bigger than ourselves: the body of Christ. There is no salvation outside the body of Christ. There is no fellowship with God outside the body of Christ. It is within the body that we are to encourage and be encouraged. It is within the body of Christ that we grow spiritually and help others grow. It is in Christ that “the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16). All this makes the body of Christ, the Church, very important. It means also that it is important to be a part of a local body of Christ so that you can participate in these blessings. Finally, it means that the act of assembling together for worship with other Christians is important.

The writer of Hebrews put it like this:

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Later, the writer of Hebrews described the assembly of Christians from a heavenly perspective when he wrote:

[Y]ou have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect . . . (Hebrews 12:22-24).

Conclusion

Since Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden, God has been planning a homecoming: a time when He will welcome us back into His fellowship. On earth, that fellowship is entered through Christ, and it is celebrated by holy living and in Christian assembly. Those two serve to ready us for a heavenly fellowship when God will usher us into His physical presence, and give us the keys to the home his son Jesus has prepared for us.
During his ministry, Jesus anticipated that great day with these words:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:1-3).

It will be a prepared place for a prepared people.
Are you preparing?
Are you a Christian?
Are you living the Christian life?

Lesson 7 – Living The Christian Life

In the New Testament, God’s people are called by a variety of names. In speaking of their relationship to Christ, they are called “Christians.” In speaking of their relationship to one another, they are called “brothers” (“sisters”) or “brethren.” In speaking of their relationship to God, they are called “children.” In speaking of their place in the world, they are called “saints.”

In modern culture, “saint” carries with it the idea of “perfection.” But in fact, the word “saint” in the Bible simply refers to one who has been separated from everyone else. The “saint” lives a “holy” life, not a perfect one, but one different from everyone else, one that pays close attention to what God wants. All Christians are saints. They may not all act the way God wants them to act, but that is their failing. That failing does not change their status.

Christian Living and Eternal Destiny

According to the book of Ephesians, Christians have a high calling. We are “chosen” and “adopted” by God, “redeemed” from and “forgiven” of our sins, “sealed” by the Holy Spirit and given a position by the side of Christ in the heavenly realms. Notice how Paul mentions all these in the first two chapters of Ephesians. It is an exalted position, a heavenly calling. We are expected to live up to the position we have received. We do not live to get that position. The position is given by God’s grace. But once received, we are supposed to make adjustments in our lives to live up to what God has made us. Paul, having outlined the blessings of being a Christian in Ephesians 1 – 3, then turns to the expected lifestyle with these words: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (4:1). What follows are three chapters on the Christian lifestyle.

Every letter written by Paul is addressed to Christians. Every letter Paul wrote was written for the express purpose of dealing with Christian lifestyle. You can see this most plainly in the last five chapters of Romans or the last three chapters of Ephesians. All of 1st Timothy deals with behavior. Paul writes: “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15 emphasis added).

It matters how Christians live.

It matters because we carry within us the Spirit of God. To Christians in Corinth Paul wrote: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!” (1 Corinthians 6:15).

It matters because unacceptable conduct shows disrespect for the Church we have become. Christians in Corinth abused the Lord’s Supper, turning it into a common meal where the poor went hungry and the rich gorged themselves and became drunk. Paul wrote: “Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not!” (1 Corinthians 11:22).

Our behavior matters most of all because it affects our eternal destiny. James cautioned: “Above all, my brothers, do not swear–not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your ‘Yes’ be yes, and your ‘No,’ no, or you will be condemned” (James 5:12). A few verses later he wrote: “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20). At the end of the Bible, Jesus addressed these words to Christians in Sardis:

I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels (Revelation 3:1-5).

Christians, and only Christians, have the hope of an eternal inheritance and dwelling with God in heaven. But even though there is nothing a Christian may do to cease being a Christian, he can live in a way to lose his inheritance.

How Should We Live?

The entirety of the New Testament is given to the issue of personal conduct; so it is difficult to condense into a few pages. We know, however, that the Christian life is one of growth. God doesn’t expect those new to the faith to live immediately like mature people. Fortunately, there are two books in the New Testament addressed to new Christians. These books (1 & 2 Thessalonians) give us a basic understanding of the nature of Christian living.

Faith

First, Christian living requires that our trust be placed solely in God. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia–your faith in God has become known everywhere. . . They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:8-9). Christians do not entrust their lives to luck, education, connections, job, or family.

Purity

Second, Christian living requires sexual purity. Paul wrote:

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).

Sex has a place only within marriage. All sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful. If you are married, and you have sex with someone other than your spouse, you have committed “adultery.” If you are not married and have sex, you’ve committed “sexual immorality” (or “fornication” in older translations). Adultery and fornication are both sinful. This category includes homosexual activity, which is always forbidden in the Bible.

Christians should note that what is condemned is improper sexual activity. We all wrestle with improper desire. The desires alone are neither the problem, nor the issue; they only become sinful when we nourish those desires or act to fulfill them. Pornography is a way to nourish those desires. Jesus said: “Whoever looks at a woman for the purpose of lusting after her has committed adultery already in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Homosexuals are not those who have sexual desire for members of the same sex, but those who actually have sex with members of the same sex.

Love

Paul wrote: “Now about brotherly love we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other” (1 Thessalonians 4:9). The word most often translated “love” in the New Testament is not a feeling, but an action. Love actively seeks the well-being of others. It is this love that prompted God to give Himself for the world (John 3:16). It is the kind of love Jesus commands, and the sort of life that identifies us as Christ’s disciples. Jesus said: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

This kind of love doesn’t require us to feel good about everybody. It doesn’t even require us to like everybody, but it does require us always to look out for the welfare of others – even our enemies. Jesus said: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). God has always required love. Even in the Old Testament God said: “If you come across your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, be sure to take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen down under its load, do not leave it there; be sure you help him with it” (Exodus 23:4-5).

It is this kind of love that prompts moral behavior. Paul wrote: “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:25-29).

Respectability

Christians must be concerned about how we are viewed by non-Christians. They may not always agree with what we believe, but they must never be able to speak against us for dishonorable behavior. Paul wrote: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).

Peter wrote: “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:11-12). In the next chapter he wrote: “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Peter 3:15-16).

Hope

The Christian lives his life knowing that one day, Jesus will return. Our goal is to live lives of honor so we will be ready to greet him without shame. Near the end of 1 Thessalonians Paul wrote:

Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (5:1-9).

Peter wrote:

Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming (2 Peter 3:8-11).

Prayer and Study

Prayer is talking to God, and without it, our relationship with Him cannot grow. Bible study is where God talks to us, and without that, we can never know His will for our lives. Bible Study is where we learn how to live. Prayer is where we receive the power to live God’s way.

Is It Doable?

Is this kind of life possible?

If I have to do it on my own, the answer is “no.” Fortunately, God hasn’t left me on my own. A popular gospel song puts it this way: “He [God] didn’t bring us this far to leave us. He didn’t teach us to swim to let us drown. He didn’t build His home in us to move away. He didn’t lift us up to let us down.”

Again from 1 Thessalonians, Paul put it like this: “May [God] strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones. . . May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it” (3:13; 5:23-24).

Conclusion

When he left the last time, Jesus promised to go and prepare a home for us. In his father’s house, he said, were many rooms. He was going to prepare one for each of us. That’s what we are looking for: our room in God’s house. Christians are never really at home in this life. We are foreigners here, travelers just passing through. Like other people of faith we long “for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called our God, for he has prepared a city for us” (Hebrews 11:15-16). Because of Christ’s promise, “we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).

Lesson 6 – Being Saved, Becoming A Christian

Salvation is, first and foremost, a matter of relationship with God. In his New Testament book of Ephesians, Paul contrasted the life of the Christian before salvation with the life afterward. ‘Before you were saved,’ Paul wrote (in chapter 2), “you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (2:1-3).

But, Paul continued, all that changed at salvation: ” Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (2:4-9).

A few verses later, Paul made the contrast again: “Therefore, remember that formerly … you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ” (2:11-13 emphasis added).

Then, he concluded the chapter with these words: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (2:19-20).

In his first letter, Peter made the same contrast. He wrote: “[Y]ou are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10 emphasis added).

Salvation is a matter of:

  • being made a citizen of God’s kingdom.
  • being brought near to God.
  • becoming a member of God’s household.
  • receiving God’s mercy.

Note that all of this is accomplished by God’s grace, through Jesus and our faith.

What it Means to be Saved

In the first chapter of Ephesians, Paul helps us to understand Salvation. To be saved means:

  • We have been given spiritual blessings (vs. 3).
  • God has adopted us into His family (vs. 5).
  • God has redeemed us (vs. 7). Once we sold ourselves into slavery to sin. God has bought us back. That’s what it means to be redeemed.
  • God has forgiven us (vs. 7).
  • We have been marked by God with a special seal – His Holy Spirit (vs. 13). In lesson 5, we saw that God always marked His people. He marked the descendants of Abraham with circumcision. He marked the Israelites with Sabbath observance. He marks Christians with His Spirit. In giving us His Spirit, God takes up His residence inside us. In the same letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote: “[Y]ou too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
  • We have hope. The Holy Spirit in our lives, and the personal presence of God within us, are God’s personal guarantee that He has something else awaiting us, God’s possession, in the future – an inheritance (1:14).

How Salvation Is Possible

Salvation is possible only because of God’s Grace. God was not obligated to grant us a relationship with Him. He owed us nothing. But He made it possible simply by His grace.

God made salvation possible by sending Jesus. It was Jesus:

  • who showed us what it meant to be a child of God.
  • who showed us humans could live a holy life if they were empowered by God’s Spirit.
  • who died for our sins.
  • who showed us that a resurrected life was possible through his own resurrection.
  • who went to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of all who chose to be saved.

In Ephesians, as Paul listed all the things involved in salvation, he was careful to note that all of them come through Jesus. Every spiritual blessing is available in Christ (1:3). We are adopted through Jesus Christ (1:5). We have redemption and forgiveness of sins in Christ (1:7). In Christ we are marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (1:13).

If all this happens in Christ, then somehow, we must connect with Christ – be united with him.

Connecting with Christ – Being Saved

We are saved by grace, through faith. Faith is trust, and when we have faith in Christ, we trust that Jesus makes possible all the blessings we’ve mentioned above. We trust that what he said, and who he claimed to be is true. We then entrust our lives to him, being willing to follow him no matter what that takes. Jesus said if we did not believe he was all he claimed to be, salvation was not possible (John 8:23-24). Later he said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).

To have faith we must hear the message of Jesus. We cannot believe in Him if we don’t know about him. Paul wrote that faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). Coming to God is a matter of personal decision. We must decide to yield to God. No one can decide for us, and we must make an informed and deliberate decision. Jesus called it “counting the cost” (Luke 14:25-33).

Faith cannot be a secret decision. Allegiance to Christ must be openly confessed, and professed. That is why, before baptism, the person being baptized is often asked, in the presence of witnesses, “Do you believe Jesus Christ is the son of God?” Jesus said: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

“Confession,” however, includes deeds. That brings us to “repentance.” Jesus preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). To “repent” is to “turn,” to begin to live differently. Specifically, it means to turn from our past way of life and adopt a new lifestyle patterned after Jesus. Jesus said: “Unless you repent, you will perish” (Luke 13:3). God has chosen us to be “holy and blameless in his sight,” and to be “to the praise of his glorious grace.” That cannot happen if we do not turn from a lifestyle that does not honor Jesus.

Finally, there is baptism. The verb “to baptize” means “to immerse.” When Jesus was baptized, he was immersed in the Jordan River. When Jesus’ disciples baptized people, they immersed them in water. Sprinkling water on someone will not do. “Sprinkling” is not immersion.

Baptism is a participation in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Paul wrote: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3-4). Notice that baptism unites us with Christ’s death which paid the price for our sins.

Baptism is the way to enter Jesus and become a child of God, part of His household. Paul wrote: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27). Notice how it all comes together in this passage. We put our faith in Christ. In baptism, we clothe ourselves with Christ and we become sons of God.

Being Saved: An Example

(Read Acts 2:1-39 before reading this section. Then, read this section with your Bible open to that text so you can follow along.)

Ten days before he ascended into heaven, Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit would empower them as it had empowered Jesus to do the work of God. The Holy Spirit would also help them to live holy lives. The Spirit would help them pray and identify them as the people of God.

The Old Testament announced this work of the Spirit. God had promised: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). And so, Jesus said: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about” (Acts 1:4).

The disciples waited. Ten days later, the Holy Spirit arrived and empowered the apostles to speak the message of God to everyone (Acts 2:1-4). It happened to be the Pentecost festival for the Jews, and Jerusalem was crowded (vs. 5). As the disciples spoke, people began to gather in amazement (vs. 6). Here were twelve men, recognized as plain, country, uneducated folk. How could they speak so many languages (vss. 7-12)?

Some dismissed the apostles as drunk (vs. 13). But that didn’t make sense because people don’t know languages they have not studied just by getting drunk! Besides, it was too early in Jewish society to be drunk (verse 15).

Peter, assisted by the other disciples, began to explain: All this was the fulfillment of God’s promise to provide a new and intimate relationship with Him. Peter quoted the promise from the Old Testament prophet Joel (2:16-21). Then he explained that Jesus, a man of God (vs. 22), and an innocent man they had put to death (vs. 23), had sent the Spirit in fulfillment of God’s promise (vss. 33).

The people could not deny the miracle of the apostles. They could not deny Jesus was sent by God. They could not deny they had killed Jesus. They also could not deny that Jesus was resurrected, for all Jerusalem knew Jesus’ tomb was empty. The apostles had to be telling the truth. But if it were true, then they were all guilty of killing the promised Messiah. How could they ever hope to have a relationship with God now?

In fact, that’s precisely what they asked (vs. 37). In asking the question, they admitted their belief that Jesus was who he claimed to be. Faith was beginning in them! Peter then told them what they must do: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (vs. 38). Luke tells us the people accepted those terms and that day, 3000 people were added to the number of disciples. All of these accepted God’s grace. God took up residence in them through His Spirit, and they became Christians.

Notice this was exactly what Jesus told his disciples to do: “Therefore go” he said, “and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Conclusion

This is the way all people became Christians in the New Testament. A similar story can be found in Acts 8:26-38 and Acts 22:3-16. It is the only way to become a Christian today. If you believe Jesus was who he claimed to be, if you are willing to stop living according to the ways of the world, and if you are willing to yield your life to God’s direction, then you are ready to be baptized and be saved.

How are you baptized? The New Testament seems to indicate that it is an accompanied act. Jesus baptized people. His disciples baptized people. No one ever baptized himself. Though the reason for this is never explained, perhaps it is because you cannot save yourself. You must be saved. The assistance of someone else may symbolize this truth (just remember that the person doing the baptizing isn’t actually saving you). The New Testament doesn’t specify who it is that must do the baptizing. We believe anyone can assist you. Their job is simply to lower you into the water and raise you up again. When I baptize people, I have them kneel in the water. Then, I usually remind them and all who are watching of what we are doing by saying: “In obedience to the command of Christ, and for the forgiveness of your sins, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” Having said that, I put one hand on his or her back, cover their nose and mouth with the other hand, and gently lay them back until they are covered by the water, then bring them up again.

In reality, the person doing the baptizing is not important at all because the real work is being done by God. Paul wrote: “We are all baptized by one Spirit into one body, and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). From beginning to end, salvation is a work of God, all in an effort to bring us home to Him.

Lesson 5 – Jesus, His Kingdom, and the Church

From the beginning, God intended to have a close relationship with all people. That intention never changed, but the reality did change. Every one and every thing belongs to God. There is a difference, however, between belonging to someone and having a relationship.

When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, they broke mankind’s relationship with God. It was not a break-up God wanted. From that time forward, God set about to repair the relationship.

God’s People in the Old Testament

The first thing God did in the Old Testament was to show that breaking up with Him was serious business. Adam and Eve were removed from the garden and separated from the tree of life. Then, because mankind’s wickedness increased and every thought of his heart was only evil all the time (Genesis 6:5), God destroyed nearly all humankind in a flood, keeping alive only eight people to preserve the human race.

The second thing God did was to select one person for a special relationship with Him. That person was Abraham. God made an agreement (called a covenant) with Abraham. Because of that agreement, Abraham and God entered into a special relationship. Abraham was marked as belonging to God. The “belonging mark” was circumcision. Through Abraham, God began to reveal what a wonderful thing it was to be chosen by God and to be in relationship with Him.

Third, over time, Abraham’s family grew into a nation called “Israel,” and God called the whole nation of people to be in relationship with Him. He called her His “kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). He entered into agreement with Israel and the sign of that agreement was Sabbath observance (Ezekiel 20:12). Over the next 1500 years (from Exodus to Matthew in the Bible), God used Israel to show what how blessed it was to be in a relationship with God. Israel became God’s “light to all nations” (Isaiah 49:6), a means by which God could be introduced to other nations.

God’s Plan in the Old Testament

But Israel was never a very good light. Every time she had an opportunity to share God with other people, she refused. Not only that, she didn’t value relationship. The temptation is to think God made a mistake in choosing Abraham and Israel, but the fact is that the result would have been the same no matter whom God chose. The message of the Old Testament is not how great Israel was, but how great God was in continuing to have patience with Israel and loving her and giving her grace.

God, His Plan and Kingdom

God promised that, one day, He would establish a new kingdom of His people, a kingdom that would never be destroyed or taken captive by other nations. That kingdom would:

  • endure forever (Daniel 2:44).
  • be made up of all people (Daniel 7:14).
  • have a king who would reign forever (Daniel 7:14).
  • have a king whose rule would be characterized by justice and righteousness (Isaiah 9:6-7).
  • have a king who would be a descendant of Israel’s greatest ruler, David (Daniel 9:6-7).

But who could possibly fulfill those requirements? >From the time of Israel’s first king to her last, not one of them qualified to rule this kingdom. In fact, considering the king’s need to be totally righteous and just, and the need to be able to live forever, only God Himself would qualify. But that’s what God wanted all along. He wanted to be king in the hearts of His people.

The final part of God’s plan was to come to earth as a human. He would live the kind of life God wanted all His people to live to show them it could be done. He would sacrifice Himself for the sins of mankind, and He would ascend to rule over a kingdom of people who had entrusted their lives to Him.

Jesus and the Plan of God

In the first century AD, God completed his plan to provide a relationship with Him for all people. He did it through the coming of Jesus. In Jesus, God came to earth as a human, born in a human way. Jesus preached that the promised Kingdom of God was coming (Matthew 4:17). He preached that those in the Kingdom would be great. They would not be in the Kingdom because they were great. They could be great because they were in the Kingdom – in God’s favored relationship (Luke 7:28). He taught that being in the Kingdom required a special kind of life – a life of trust and obedience to God the King (John 6:35,40; 14:23-24). He taught that being in the Kingdom involved special blessings from God. He lived a righteous life. Though he was put to death, there was never a substantiated charge brought against Him for wrongdoing. He rose from the dead, showing He would live forever. He ascended to sit on David’s throne, ruling eternally over all who entered the Kingdom of God. He promised His Spirit to all those who belonged to Him (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Joel 2:28-29).

God’s Kingdom and the Church – The Same

In Matthew, Jesus connected his Kingdom with the Church (Matthew 16:18-19). The word “church” meant “assembly,” but in Jesus’ day, it wasn’t just any assembly. The word had a very special meaning. It was used most often to refer to the legal assembly of free property-holders for the purpose of voting on community affairs. In the mind of Jesus and his early followers, the people of God were the only truly free people. Because they were God’s people, they owned the world. In the first century, “Church” was a word that immediately conveyed to the people of Jesus’ day what it meant to be a part of God’s Kingdom.

In many ways, the Church and the Kingdom are identical in the New Testament.

  • The Bible insists that the Kingdom and the Church belong to Christ (note the Kingdom in Luke 22:29-30 and the Church in Matthew 16:18).
  • Both the Kingdom and the Church are heavenly institutions.
  • Both the Church and the Kingdom belong to God (compare 2 Corinthians 1:1 and Luke 9:1-2).
  • Those in God’s Kingdom are the same as those who are in the Church. To the Christians in the Church in the city of Colossae, Paul said God had rescued them from the kingdom of darkness and brought them into the Kingdom of His son (Colossians 1:13). John called the members of the churches in the cities of Asia Minor his “companions in the Kingdom” (Revelation 1:9).
  • Those people in the Kingdom of God are called “brothers” and “saints.” Those people in the Church are called “brothers” and “saints” as well.
  • We enter the Kingdom and the Church precisely the same way: by being “born again” (John 3:3 and 1 Peter 1:23).
  • Christ is both the head of the Church and the head of the Kingdom (Ephesians 1:15-22).

Those in the Church are the same as those in the Kingdom. Paul wrote to the Church in the city of Colossae and told them God had placed them in the Kingdom (Colossians 1:13).

The Church and the Kingdom – Different

But though the Church and the Kingdom of God are pictured as the same in the New Testament, there are two important points to keep in mind.

The Kingdom of God is where God rules. Those in the Kingdom are those who have been brought under the rule of God. And yet, it is possible (certainly you’ve seen it) for a person to be a Church member and for God not to rule his life. The New Testament book of Matthew was written for this very purpose. It teaches: If you are in the Church, God must be your Lord. Anything less and you’ll only be deceiving yourself.

There are some people in the Kingdom who, because God doesn’t rule in their lives, don’t belong there. Since it is God’s Kingdom however, only He can remove them. This is what Jesus was talking about in one of His stories in Matthew 13. He talked about God’s enemy planting weeds in God’s field of wheat. God’s servants were concerned and they recommended pulling up the weeds. God said: “No, because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn” (Matthew 13:29-30). Ultimately, at the final judgment, God will remove everyone from his Kingdom who has not submitted to God’s rule.

Why “Church” and “Kingdom?”

Jesus seldom used the word “church.” However, He used the word “kingdom” over a hundred times in the gospels. In speaking to Jewish audiences who were expecting the coming Kingdom of God, Jesus spoke using a term they expected and understood. Non-Jewish people would not like the idea of a new kingdom, however. It would seem almost treasonous to talk about replacing the Roman empire with another kingdom. And anyway, Jesus himself had said that his Kingdom was unlike earthly kingdoms. Jesus then, speaking to Jews, used the term “kingdom.” But when Jesus’ followers spoke to gentiles (non-Jews), they used a term gentiles would understand and welcome. They talked about the “church.” Interestingly, “kingdom” occurs 114 times in the gospels, the word “church” only twice. But after Jesus’ death, the word “church” occurs 75 times, “kingdom” only 35 times. By the way, the word “church” is used in the New Testament to refer to Christians everywhere, and also to Christians in a specific place. Thus you find Paul writing to the church in Corinth or Thessalonica. These were not different denominations, believing different things, but simply God’s people in two different places.

Importance of the Church

When Bible writers wrote about those under God’s rule, they used the term “kingdom.” When they wrote about citizenship in the Kingdom, they used the term “church.” When they wanted to describe the relationship of the Church to Jesus, they used the term “body.” The Church is Jesus’ body and He is its head (Ephesians 1:22-23). When New Testament writers wrote of the relationship of God’s people to God, they called them God’s “family” (Ephesians 3:14-15) or “household” (Ephesians 2:19). When writing about the organization of God’s people, they are called a “building” whose foundation is the Apostles and prophets and whose cornerstone is Jesus (Ephesians 2:19-20).

The Church is important precisely because of these relationships with God, but it is also important for other reasons:

  • To be “in the Church” is to be “in Christ” or “in His body.”
  • All the spiritual blessings God has for mankind are found “in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).
  • Those “in Christ” are those who have been marked as God’s people with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13,14).
  • The Church is the realm of those who have deliberately entered Christ’s rule (Ephesians 1:22-23).
  • The Church is given the task of revealing to the world God’s plan for unity with Him (Ephesians 3:4-6, 10-12).

God first intended that Israel be a light to the world, revealing God. In the Church, God intends that the world see Jesus. This is, most of all, why the Church is important. It is also why it is so important for the behavior of members of the Church to reflect the life of Jesus.

Entering the Kingdom, Entering the Church

From the beginning of the Bible to the end, the story is one of reconciliation. God was, and is, determined to have a relationship with you. But that relationship must be on His terms and under His rule. It may only be had in His Kingdom, the Church. In our next lesson, we will see how entering that relationship is accomplished.

Lesson 4 – The Life of Jesus Christ

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher. He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself.

While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth — His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress. I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has this one solitary life!
(Phillips Brooks, cited by H.I. Hester, The Heart of the New Testament (Liberty, MO: The Quality Press, Inc., 1963) p. 9.)

The historian Will Durant wrote that Jesus’ life, character, and teaching, “constitute the most fascinating feature in the history of Western man.”

In this lesson, we will examine the life of Jesus and see precisely what made him such a central and important figure.

His Pre-existence

The Bible teaches that the coming of Jesus was actually the coming of God. Before Jesus was born, he existed in heaven as God. Jesus, in his ministry, claimed to be older than Abraham, who by that time had been dead for over 1500 years (John 8:58). He claimed to have come down from heaven (John 6:38) to complete the mission of God and he claimed to be equal to, and one with, God (John 5:18; 14:6-11). One of the most concise explanations of this is found in the writings of the Apostle Paul. He wrote that Jesus, though “in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!”(Philippians 2:6-9).

His Birth

Jesus was born about 6 or 7 B.C. in the town of Bethlehem (See discussion info for more information on dating Jesus’ birth). The story of his birth is nothing less than amazing.

Birth stories in the Bible are important. They convey a turning point in the history of God’s people. Isaac was a turning point in God’s promise to Abraham. Moses was a turning point in Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery. Jesus’ birth was the turning point in the salvation history of the world.

Jesus’ birth was in fulfillment of a number promises God made hundreds of years before.

  • He would be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23).
  • He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2; Matthew 2:6).
  • His birth would bring an occasion of mourning (Herod, a local king, tried to have Jesus killed by destroying all the male children in Bethlehem and its vicinity – Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 2:18).
  • Growing up, he would spend time in Egypt (Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15) and in Galilee (Isaiah 9:1-2; Matthew 4:12-16).

The only way for these prophets to have known with such precision the details of Jesus’ birth (600 – 800 years before) would have been for God to have been in control all along.

Jesus lived in Bethlehem with his parents for a couple of years, was taken by his parents to live in Egypt, and eventually settled down back in Israel in the region of Galilee in the town of Nazareth, where he grew to manhood. Like Samuel, he grew in “wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52; 1 Samuel 2:26).

Jesus’ Temptations

The next significant event in the life of Jesus is his temptation by Satan. Jesus is tempted to rely on the ideas of the Devil. He is tempted to take an easy way to fame and power. He is tempted to doubt God (see Matthew 4:1-13). Throughout all the temptations, the Spirit of God remains with him and Jesus replies to each temptation with quotes from the Word of God. Though it was not the first, nor the last time Jesus was tempted, the event helps us to understand the claim that Jesus was “tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). It also assures us that, since he knows what we are going through, he “is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).

Jesus’ Ministry

As we saw in our last lesson, none of the gospel writers set out to write a biography of Jesus. That’s why trying to outline Jesus’ ministry is so difficult. John connects Jesus’ ministry with three “Passovers” and outlines his ministry in that way. We will use that outline to create the following sections of Jesus’ ministry. “Passover” was an annual festival of the Jewish nation. It was commanded by God for the Jewish people and served to remember the great deliverance God had given them from Egypt during the days of Moses. On its background see Exodus 12:1-13. On the observance itself see Deuteronomy 16:1-8.

Jesus’ Early Ministry did not last long. It was during this time that Jesus called his first four disciples: Peter, Andrew, James and John. He also performed his first miracle, the changing of water to wine. You can read the story in John 2:1ff.

This miracle was one of seven special miracles the Apostle John used to tell us about Jesus’ relationship to God. Three points stand out: First, Jesus performed this miracle at a friend’s wedding, even though it was not an appropriate time. Second, the miracle demonstrated his power over matter – a power only God could have. Third, the miracle illustrates the lengths to which Jesus is willing to go to help his friends.

One of Jesus’ most notable acts during this period was to “cleanse” the temple. The Lord’s house of worship had been turned into a city market as merchants changed money and sold animals for sacrifice. Jesus single-handedly drove out the shopkeepers, much to the displeasure of the temple authorities. Having provoked the religious leaders in Jerusalem, Jesus traveled north to Galilee. On his way, he preached in Samaria, a perfectly radical thing to do. Jewish people had no dealings with the Samaritans, but Jesus’ willingness to go there and offer salvation was an early indicator of how accepting he was of all people.

The Great Galilean Ministry was the longest and most successful of all Jesus’ ministries. There were three ministry tours of this area; and during this time, Jesus chose 12 men he called “Apostles” to accompany him. Eleven of the twelve would constitute the leaders and foundation of the early Church. During this time Jesus also preached what we call the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7). The message of this sermon summarizes the content of all Jesus’ teaching about how his followers should behave. It is also during this time we find the greatest collection of Jesus’ parables. These were colorful stories Jesus used to point out the seriousness of living under his rule. The Great Galilean Ministry is where you learn most about how Christians ought to behave.

It was also during those days that Jesus healed a man who had been lame for 38 years, demonstrating his power over time. He fed 5000 people from a few biscuits and some small fish. The “leftovers” filled twelve baskets, demonstrating his power over resources (John 6). He also walked on water, demonstrating his power over the forces of nature.

The Judean Ministry was initiated by Jesus when he went to Jerusalem to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. It was a deliberate “in your face” ministry. Throughout his ministry, Jesus claimed to be the only way to God. This exclusive attitude brought him many enemies and ultimately, a number of assassination attempts were made on his life. Jesus escaped all the attempts and publicly rebuked the Jewish authorities for attempted murder with the following words: “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. . . You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. . .” (John 8:42-44). During the Judean Ministry Jesus healed a man born blind – demonstrating his power over misfortune (John 9).

At the end of this period, Jesus demonstrated his power over life by raising his friend Lazarus from the dead (Luke 11). Other than his own resurrection, this is the final miracle recorded in the gospel of John. In order to perform it, Jesus went to Judea even though there was a contract on his life. The disciples felt like his death was assured (verse 16). The raising of Lazarus is perhaps a final statement about the love of God before the final example: “Jesus is willing to give his life in order to provide life.”

Because it was so difficult for him to minister in Judea, Jesus traveled to the east side of the Jordan River and ministered there among a largely gentile audience. A “gentile” was anyone not a Jew. This is known as the Ministry Beyond the Jordan and served as a period of intense instruction for Jesus’ disciples. Though he had mentioned it to the disciples before, during these last weeks, Jesus concentrated on reminding them of his impending death and the importance of being willing to sacrifice everything to follow him. A wealthy young man asked to follow Jesus and Jesus required him to give all his belongings to the poor first. The young man refused, showing that possessions came first with him (Mark 10:17-31). On the other hand, a wealthy tax collector demonstrated a tremendous willingness to do more than anyone would expect to follow Jesus. Jesus welcomed him as a true son of Abraham (Luke 19:1-28).

The last section of Jesus’ life was his Final Week in Jerusalem. During this time he observed his final Passover and instituted what would later be known as the “Lord’s Supper” (which we will discuss in lesson 8).

Jesus’ Death

In his Gospel account, John devoted nearly half of the book to this final week of Jesus’ life. Jesus was betrayed by one of his disciples, Judas. He was put on trial three times. The first trial was before a Jewish court. Though it was not a civil crime, Jesus was condemned for claiming to be the Son of God. The second trial was before the Roman governor Pilate where Jesus was falsely accused of telling people not to pay taxes and claiming to be King of the Jews (Luke 23:2-3). Pilate pronounced Jesus innocent, but sent him to the Jewish King, Herod Agrippa I, for a third trial. Herod also found Jesus innocent (Luke 23:13-18). Jesus was returned to Pilate where his accusers insisted that he be killed. Pilate once again pronounced Jesus innocent, but because the crowd was so insistent that Jesus die, Pilate gave orders for him to be crucified (John 19:2-16).

After Jesus’ crucifixion, he was buried in the tomb of one of his followers, Joseph of Arimathea. This was on Friday. On Sunday, Jesus rose from the dead. Throughout his ministry, one of the amazing statements of Jesus was that no one could kill him (John 10:14-18). His death would be the result of laying down his own life. He also said that three days after his death, he would come back to life. He said this so often that many people, including the Jewish authorities were aware of it. It was one of the reasons his enemies asked for a guard for Jesus’ tomb – to keep his prediction from coming to pass (Matthew 27:62-64).

But nothing could keep Jesus dead, and on the Sunday after his crucifixion, Jesus came back to life. For the next 40 days he busied himself with his disciples, teaching them, and getting them ready for his ascension into heaven and the work he was leaving them to do. The death of Jesus is important because:

  • It demonstrated how horrible sin is. Jesus didn’t just die. He died by crucifixion – one of the most horrible punishments ever invented.
  • It demonstrated how serious sin is. It is so costly that only God Himself could pay the price.
  • It demonstrated the love of God. He was willing to pay the price.

Conclusion – The Importance of the Jesus Story

The story of Jesus is important because it is the greatest proof for the existence of God. Jesus claimed to be God. He demonstrated the power of God in his miracles and his power over life and death by his own death and resurrection. If he was God, then there must be a God. But not only that: Since Jesus claimed to fulfill the promises of the Old Testament, then the God of the Old Testament is really the God of the universe. No other god qualifies.

The story of Jesus is important because his life amazed people. Jesus was no ordinary man, and the gospel writers make over 30 references to the amazement and astonishment of those who heard him speak and witnessed his deeds.

The story of Jesus is important because it is true. The gospel writers do not just tell what Jesus did. They provide evidence for the truthfulness of the story. They note the multitudes and crowds of witnesses (150 times) sometimes numbering in the thousands (Luke 12:1). They give the names of participants who could be easily located for verification: Jarius, the head of a synagogue in Galilee; Joanna, the wife of Herod’s second in command; Zacchaeus, a wealthy and prominent official in Jericho (Luke 19:2) and Jewish leaders such as Annas, Caiaphas, and Herod. Will Durant, a prominent historian wrote of the truthfulness of the gospel story in these words: “That a few simple men should in one generation have invented [this story], would be a miracle far more incredible than any recorded in the gospels.”
Will Durant, “Caesar and Christ” in The Story of Civilization (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1944, 1972) p. 557

With his ascension into heaven, the work Jesus began was to be continued by his followers. We will look at that work more closely in lesson 6.

Important Subjects for Additional Study:

Dating Jesus’ Birth

We do not know the exact date of Jesus’ birth – not even the year. But the Bible and other historical sources help us to narrow it down. We know that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great, at least two years before Herod’s death. Herod died in 4 B.C.; so Jesus must have been born about 7 or 6 B.C. Jesus began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberias when Jesus was about 30 years of age (Luke 3). The 15th year of Tiberias would have been about 27 A.D. Jesus would have been 34 or in his early 30’s.

Jesus and the Oneness of God

The Old Testament is very plain: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4). How then can Jesus be God, have a heavenly father, and they both be God, if there is only one God?

Jesus helps with the explanation. On the night he was betrayed, Jesus prayed for his followers with these words: “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name-the name you gave me-so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11). In no way could Jesus’ followers ever be just one being. They could, however, be united. Jesus’ relationship with the Father is one of perfect unity. What one thinks, the other thinks. What one does, the other approves.

In a polytheistic culture, the gods of ancient people (both in Old and New Testament times) were thought of as being separate, independent, and often competing. The God of the Bible, however, never falls into this category. Since both Jesus and the Heavenly Father have exactly the same goals, agree on everything, and know what each other is thinking and agree perfectly, they can be said to be “one God.”

Samaritans

When King Solomon died, his kingdom was divided into two parts: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The northern empire lasted until 722 B.C. when most of the population was carried off by Assyrian invaders. The Assyrians repopulated Israel with foreigners, and their intermarriage with the remaining inhabitants produced a people known as the Samaritans (whose capital city was Samaria).

Feast of Tabernacles

A Jewish agricultural festival commanded by God and designed to emphasize unity and celebrate the blessings of God at the end of the harvest season. It was the most popular of the three festivals requiring the presence of all Jewish males in Jerusalem. For detailed information see Leviticus 23:33-44.

Lesson 3 – The New Testament

The Old Testament introduces us to four subjects:

1. It introduces us to God, the creator of all things.

2. It introduces us to the people of God, Israel. These were the descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac and Isaac’s son Jacob. Though God created all mankind, only Israel was chosen to be His treasured possession (Deuteronomy 7:6).

3. The Old Testament introduces us to the blessings and responsibilities of being the people of God.

4. The Old Testament introduces us to the promise that one day, God’s special people would no longer be composed of just Israelites. Anyone from any nation could be part of His special people. He spoke of all nations “streaming” to Him (Isaiah 2:2), “rallying” to him (Isaiah 11:10), and realizing the salvation offered by God.

The New Testament tells us that all this was made possible by Jesus. Perhaps that is why the story of Jesus, found in the first four books of the New Testament, is called the “gospel.” The word “gospel” means “good news.”

The story of Jesus will be more fully explored in lesson 4, but in summary form it is as follows: God left heaven and was born as a human on the earth. His name was Jesus. He lived as an example the kind of life God always wanted his people to live, showing that living that way could be done. He taught about how God wanted mankind to live. Then, he offered himself as a sacrifice so that whoever would place their trust in Him and live His way might become one of God’s people, receiving special blessings, care, and a home with Him.

The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) and Acts

The first four books of the Bible relate stories of Jesus’ life and teachings. Each book uses the life of Christ to make a point to its first readers. They are not biographies because they relate so little of Jesus’ thirty years. Written after Jesus’ death, each with a different purpose and audience in mind, the gospels are named for the men who wrote them.

The first gospel was penned by a tax collector named “Matthew” (also known as “Levi”). He was one of twelve men chosen by Jesus to follow him. Matthew was written to Jewish Christians. It focuses on Jesus’ teachings, and refers often to the Old Testament to show how God’s promises there find fulfillment in Jesus. Matthew often mentions the “Kingdom of Heaven.” The Kingdom is where God rules, and when a person is in God’s Kingdom, the rule of God in their life is seen in the lifestyle Jesus describes in Matthew.

The second gospel is Mark. Mark was a young man during the life of Jesus and later became a helper to two of Jesus’ early followers: Peter and Paul. Mark focuses on Jesus’ life and the way his early followers (the twelve – sometimes called the “apostles,” at other times called “disciples”) responded to him. Unfortunately, the disciples didn’t always respond well. By highlighting those times, Mark says ‘this is how not to be a follower of Jesus. Mark’s gospel served another purpose as well: By the time Mark wrote, less than 30 years after Jesus’ death, most Christians knew how the early followers turned out. Despite the fact that they didn’t act very well during Jesus’ life, Jesus never gave up on them and, eventually, they developed into respected people of holiness. Using their example, Mark says to his reader: Following Jesus isn’t easy, but it can be done.

John is the fourth gospel. Written by one of Jesus’ closest friends (Jesus asked him to take care of his mother, Mary, before he died), John tells stories about Jesus found nowhere else. These are astounding stories that highlight Jesus’ power over time, space, misfortune, matter, nature, and even death. They also emphasize Jesus’ deep desire to use that power in behalf of his followers. John’s purpose was to get his readers to entrust their lives to Jesus in every way.

Luke not only wrote the gospel that bears his name, but also the book of Acts. Luke was a physician and though not an eyewitness of Jesus’ life, carefully researched Jesus’ life and documented it to prove to his readers the story was true. In telling the story of Jesus and his followers, Luke relates names, dates, places, events, and witnesses to back up his account.

Acts helps us put the years following the life of Jesus into perspective. After his resurrection and before his ascension, Jesus told his disciples they were to spread the gospel from Jerusalem to the rest of the world. To aid them in this task, Jesus promised the presence of God through his Spirit. In the first ten chapters of Acts, through all kinds of difficulties, people from all walks of life and nationalities become Christians – just as the Old Testament promised. In chapters 13 to the end of the book, covering nearly forty years, the message of Jesus is taken from Jerusalem to the capital of the Roman empire itself. We are also introduced to the greatest writer of the New Testament, a man named Paul. The books of Luke and Acts are so long they occupy nearly half the space of the New Testament.

Paul

Paul is important in the New Testament because he penned so much of it. His Jewish name was “Saul.” A Jewish rabbi, trained in the Jewish faith in Jerusalem by the greatest of Jewish rabbis, Saul is introduced in Acts as an enemy of Jesus’ followers. As things progress, Saul is confronted by the resurrected Jesus and as a result becomes a Christian. He went on to become the best known Christian missionary.

Besides being the most prolific writer in the New Testament, Paul was the most successful missionary. The book of Acts tells of three specific mission trips. The first one (Acts 13 and 14) took him to Turkey. The second took him to Greece and while there he wrote letters to the Galatians (in Turkey) and the Thessalonians (in northern Greece). His third journey was spent mostly in Turkey and from there he wrote his letters to Christians in Rome (Romans) and Corinth (First and Second Corinthians).

At the end of Paul’s third journey he traveled to Jerusalem. There, he met violent opposition to his work from the Jews. He was arrested, falsely charged with a variety of crimes, and, because he was a Roman citizen, was transported to Rome to stand trial. Acts 21-28 details those events.

While awaiting trial in Rome, Paul wrote letters to Christians in Ephesus (Ephesians) and Colossae (Colossians), both major cities in Turkey. He also wrote to Christians in Philippi (Philippians), a city in northern Greece and a personal letter to Philemon, an old friend. Paul finally stood trial in Rome, was found innocent, and was released to do further mission work. It was during that time he wrote his first letter to Timothy and his letter to Titus.

After some travel, Paul was again arrested. We are never given the details of this arrest but he ends up in Rome once again. While in prison this time he wrote his last letter, his second letter to Timothy.

General Letters

During these later years Peter wrote the two letters which bear his name. History records that both Peter and Paul were killed as martyrs in Rome.

We do not know who wrote the book of Hebrews, but it would have been written about the time of Peter’s death (about 68 AD). Timothy, a traveling companion of Paul, had been released from prison and the author of Hebrews hopes he will accompany him to visit his readers.

Jesus’ two brothers, James and Jude, probably wrote their two books at this time also, late in the 60s of the first century.

Around 70 A.D., when the Romans were about to destroy Jerusalem, the Apostle John moved to Ephesus. There, late in his life, he wrote his letters, First, Second, and Third John.

Drama

The apostle John wrote the last book of the Bible, the Revelation. This book is addressed to Christians in seven cities of Turkey. Many of them had suffered persecution. The book differs from the others in the New Testament because of its dramatic style. The book tells Christians how to live in difficult days, and, in the most colorful language of the Bible, details God’s ultimate victory over the world. That victory alone was reason enough to be faithful to God.

Conclusion

God loves mankind so much He would rather die than live without them. That’s the theme of the Bible. But God is good, and just. He cannot fellowship lives that are dishonest, immoral or lives that care nothing about Him. Rather than give those lives what they deserve, God, as revealed and promised in the Old Testament, provides forgiveness and a way to a changed life. The story of how God did that is revealed in the New Testament.

Additional Information

Terminology

Apostle: Means “one who is sent on a mission.” Jesus appointed 12 apostles to carry on his ministry after he returned to heaven. After his death, Jesus also selected a man named Paul to be an apostle with the special ministry to taking His message to non-Jews.

Disciple: One who follows another to the extent you can see the life of the leader in the life of the follower. Jesus’ followers were called “disciples.”

New Testament Summaries

Matthew: What the rule of God should look like in the lives of Christians.
Mark What it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
Luke/Acts: Evidences for the truthfulness of the Christian story.
John: Proof that Jesus is God.
Romans: A letter of Paul to Christians urging a lifestyle of dependence on God (faith).
Corinthians: Two letters of Paul addressing cultural issues dividing the church in Corinth.
Galatians: A letter of Paul criticizing Christians for leaving the life of faith to find fulfillment in religious traditions.
Ephesians: Paul maintains that being a Christian cannot be separated from living a Christian life.
Philippians: Paul’s letter urging a divided Church to find unity in following the self-sacrificing example of Christ.
Colossians: A letter urging Christians to place Christ first in their lives.
Thessalonians: Two letters written to new Christians dealing with Jesus’ second coming.
Timothy and Titus: Personal letters to first century preachers about how to conduct their lives and ministries.
Philemon: A personal letter to a slave-master.
Hebrews: A letter to persecuted Christians urging them to stay true to Jesus.
James: A letter to weak Christians urging them to live pure lives and away from worldliness.
Peter: An encouraging letter to Christians going through difficult times.
First John: You can’t claim to be a Christian if your life isn’t Christ-like.
Second John: A personal letter to a Christian woman struggling with an issue of hospitality.
Third John: A personal letter to a Christian man struggling with church leadership gone astray.
Revelation: An epic story of the ultimate triumph of God over evil, with directions on how to live on God’s side.

Inspiration

In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul wrote: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Throughout this lesson we have referred to different writers of the New Testament. The books of the Bible were penned by humans. All the books were prompted by human needs and difficulties. But the message in each of these books was guided by God. This process, known as “inspiration,” is nowhere defined in the Bible. Perhaps Peter came closest to it when he wrote: “No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). “Inspiration” is God’s guarantee that the message of the Bible is actually the one He wanted to preserve.

Persecution

A number of books in the New Testament refer to the persecution of Christians. This persecution came about for a number of reasons. Sometimes it involved non-Christians misunderstanding what Christians believed. But most often persecution came about for two reasons: First, Christians lived in a world where you could believe in any god you wanted. Christians believed there was only one God, denied all the rest, and refused them any allegiance. This made people angry that Christians could be so “narrow-minded.” Second, Christians believed and held to a high standard of personal conduct. This made them stand out in cultures that overlooked sexual immorality and poor business ethics. Christians, by their refusal to live according to the standards of the world, made the world feel condemned; and the world didn’t like it. Peter wrote:

“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do-living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:1-5).

Chronological Arrangement of New Testament books

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey 48-54 AD
Galatians
1 Thessalonians
2 Thessalonians

Paul’s Third Missionary Journey 54-59 AD
1 Corinthians
2 Corinthians
Romans

Paul’s Roman Imprisonment 60-62 AD
Ephesians
Philippians
Colossians
Philemon
Luke
Acts

Paul’s Release through his second Roman Imprisonment 63-70 AD
1 Timothy
Titus
2 Timothy
1 Peter
2 Peter
Hebrews
James
Hebrews
Mark
Matthew
Jude

70 – 100 AD
John
1 John
2 John
3 John
Revelation

Lesson 2 – The Old Testament

The opening verses of the Bible begin with only one subject: God. He is the creator of all things, and the greatest of his creations was humanity. Of all creation, only humankind was created in God’s image.

Being made in God’s image has nothing to do with physical features. Being made in God’s image means we were created to be like God in the way we think, act, and respond to the events of life. Since freedom and choice have always been a part of God’s nature, we were also created with freedom of choice. Since God is sinless, mankind was created sinless too.

When Satan appeared, however, and successfully tempted the first man and woman to sin, God’s image in humanity was disfigured, and the relationship between mankind and God was ruined. This story is covered in the first three chapters of the first book of the Bible, Genesis. The rest of the Bible deals with God’s work to restore that image. Again, this image has to do with our inward nature. Jesus was said to be the “image” of God (2 Corinthians 4:4). Paul wrote that Christians, as they live their lives in relationship with God, are being “transformed” into his “likeness” (or image – 2 Corinthians 3:18).

Perhaps the best text to help us understand this “image of God” is in the New Testament book of Colossians. There, Paul urges his Christian readers to stop living like people of the world. He writes: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:5-10).

Note that last line: You are being renewed in the image of the Creator. When sin entered the world, the image of God in mankind became corrupted. The Bible is the story of God’s work to renew His image on His creation.

Recreating God’s Image: The Message of the Old Testament

To restore God’s image in mankind, several things would have to happen.

  • Man would need to know how special it is to have that kind of close relationship with God.
  • He would have to know the blessing of being special in God’s sight.
  • He would need to know the kind of life God would want him to live.
  • He would need to know how seriously God viewed sin, how much God wanted mankind to turn from sin, and the lengths to which God would go to bring man back to him.

All of this is revealed in the Old Testament.

Recreating God’s Image: The Message of the New Testament

Man would also need to know God’s image could be renewed in his life. He would need to know forgiveness was possible and at what cost. He would need to know how to live to show God’s image, and he would need to know that God would help him. All this is revealed in the New Testament.

The Pentateuch – Genesis through Deuteronomy

Genesis

The first five books of the Old Testament were written by Moses, a man of God, about 1400 B.C. The first book, Genesis, covers time from the creation of the world to about 1800 B.C. In Genesis, we are introduced to God.

  • We learn about His power from the creation.
  • We learn how seriously He regards sin from the story of the flood.
  • We learn how important it is to be in close relationship with God through the stories of Abraham, his son Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob. We learn about the great protection God provides His people through the story of Jacob’s son, Joseph. Though God created all mankind, He identifies a special group he calls “His own.” These are the descendants of Abraham and they become the “people of God.” Genesis ends with the people of God living in Egypt.

Exodus

Exodus picks up four hundred years after Genesis ends. During that time, the people of God (called “Israel” or “Israelites” after Abraham’s son Jacob – who was also known by that name) had become slaves in the land of Egypt.

In Exodus, we see the great power of God and His love for His people as He delivers them from slavery and leads them to a promised land of their own (called “Canaan”). In Exodus we also learn the importance of paying attention to the will of God.

Leviticus

In Leviticus, God specifies how people are to approach Him in worship and daily life. The message is that God cannot be approached on one’s own terms, but one must come to God on God’s terms.

Numbers

The book of Numbers recounts the journey of Israel from Egypt to Canaan, and once again emphasizes the need to be obedient and to trust the Lord.

Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy consists of five sermons through which Moses reviews the material in the first four books and urges the people to be obedient to God.

These five books are called the “Pentateuch.” The term comes from a Greek word meaning “five scrolls.” As the Bible develops, these five books are often referred to as “the law.” One writer summarizes the Pentateuch like this:

Genesis is a book of origins. It describes the beginnings of the universe and traces the origins of God’s people. Exodus traces the salvation of God’s people, who are helpless to save themselves. Leviticus calls for holiness as the only natural lifestyle for the Israelites and as the only proper response to God’s grace. Numbers is a book of wanderings in which God’s people suffer the consequences of their unbelief. But the story ends on a positive note, when Deuteronomy presents a program for renewal. Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998) p. 66.

God’s People, 1400 – 900 B.C. – Joshua through Second Samuel

The story of how God empowered His people to enter the land of Canaan and take it for a homeland is recounted in the book of Joshua. The book of Judges covers the next 400 years, during which God continues to show His care for His people through special rulers called “Judges.” It also emphasizes mankind’s continued weakness for sin, despite the blessings of God.

All is not bad however. The book of Ruth offers a bright spot in the story, as God uses a woman who is not even part of His people to bring a special King into the world – David.

Though David was not the first King of Israel (Saul was first), he was the greatest. The books of 1st and 2nd Samuel focus on how David became King and recount his rule. David was not a perfect man and Samuel does not gloss over his failures. What is brought out, however, is David’s constant dependence on God. He serves as a model for the kind of relationship mankind could have with God. You see a lot of this relationship in Psalms, David’s book of poetry.

God’s Divided People, 900 – 722 B.C.

When David died, his son Solomon became King. Though David had a heart for God, Solomon did not. He wanted greatness for God’s people, but did not find greatness in the Lord. As a result, he achieved a measure of worldly stature, but was a failure as a spiritual leader. His failure was to haunt Israel for hundreds of years. God gave him great wisdom, passed along to us in his books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon. Unfortunately, Solomon seldom followed his own wisdom.

By the time Solomon died, Israel had become more of a political nation than a spiritual one, and her political interests caused her to divide into two factions: a northern nation which kept the name “Israel,” and a southern nation which came to be known as “Judah.” This began the “Divided Kingdom” period.

The Northern Kingdom (sometimes called “Israel”) renounced her spiritual heritage totally. In order to preserve her difference from the Southern Kingdom (called “Judah”), she abandoned God in favor of idols. God did not give them up easily however and 1 & 2 Kings tell of two great prophets God sent to them, Elisha and Elijah, urge them to return to God.

Though the North was worse than the South, neither kingdom presented an example of faithfulness to God. It is an incredibly sad story as God continues to chase after His people and they continue to reject Him. God Himself described the situation as follows: “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations-a people who continually provoke me to my very face” (Isaiah 65:2-3).

During those days, God sent numerous writing prophets to His people. Their books are Isaiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, and Micah.

Why A Chosen People?

With results like these, you have to wonder why God had a chosen people at all, or at least, why did he choose those people?

Actually, the results would have been the same no matter whom God had chosen to be His people. The power of sin is equally present in the lives of all people. But by choosing a particular people to be special, God illustrated to all people the great value of belonging to Him.

That God still had a heart for all people is illustrated by two other prophets during this time: Jonah and Nahum. Jonah was told to urge the Assyrian nation to change their behavior. He did, and they did. But only for a while. Eventually, Assyria returned to her old habits and God destroyed them, just as he had promised through the book and prophet Nahum.

Though the books of 1 & 2 Kings actually extend further in history than this, the story of the Northern Kingdom during this time is recounted in these books.

The People of God, 722 – 586 B.C. – A Reduced Nation

Finally, God’s patience wore thin. In 722 B.C., God brought the Assyrian army against the Northern Kingdom and had them carried off as captives. The northern nation ceased to exist. The Southern Kingdom continued until 586 B.C., but their behavior was only slightly better than Northern Kingdom’s had been. God sent prophets to the Southern Kingdom as well: Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah urged Judah to renounce the ways of the world and return to God. God used these prophets to remind the people of their special relationship with God, a relationship which required a higher standard of behavior from them. The people would not listen.

God began to promise a day when He would bring better leadership into the world, a life changing leadership. The books of Kings and Chronicles also cover this period, though Chronicles focuses entirely on the Southern Kingdom of Judah.

In 586 B.C., God’s patience wearing thin again, the Lord sent the nation of Babylon against his own people in Judah and had them carried off into captivity.

God’s People, 586 – 500 B.C. – Captives

During their captivity, God sent the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel to remind His people of three things:

  • They had brought their difficulties on themselves. God wanted to bless. All He required was that they trust and obey Him. They had refused.
  • The loss of the blessed life was the fault of their own rebellion.
  • God had only punished them. He had not abandoned them. He would, once again, come to their rescue.

Ezekiel and Daniel also reaffirmed a promise made many times by the other prophets: God was promising a new age. The days of learning were about over. At a time to come, God Himself would become a man. He would offer Himself for the sins of the world as a final magnificent demonstration of his love and longing for mankind. In doing that, He would demonstrate the possibility of living a holy life, and He would provide His personal power in a way never before available to make a holy life possible.

Incidently, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are sometimes called the “Major Prophets.” The last twelve books of the Old Testament are called “Minor Prophets.” Major Prophets are “major” only because they are longer than the minor ones. All of them, however, are equally important.

God’s People, 500 – 400 B.C. – Free Again

After decades of hardship, in 539 B.C., God’s people were freed to return to their homeland. The task of reconstruction and restoration began, and that story can be found in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, books named for the main leaders of that period. God also sent other prophets to motivate and instruct the people. Their names were Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi and their books comprise the last three books of the Old Testament. Malachi (like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel before him) spoke of a time to come when God would bring to an end the time of learning and bring about a time of decision. Those who decided to follow the Lord could expect a life overflowing with blessings. Those who decided against the Lord could expect the kind of punishment so often illustrated in the Old Testament. Malachi wrote:

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,” says the LORD Almighty. “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel. See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:1-5).

The New Testament (next lesson) continues the story and tells us of the fulfillment of God’s promise.

The Remaining Books of the Old Testament
Two books have gone unmentioned. The book of Job is probably the oldest book in the Old Testament. Likely written by Moses, it reminds the reader that what is seen is not always the whole story. What looks like a blessing may be a curse. What looks like a curse may in fact signal the presence of God. Regardless of the situation, God calls His people to trust Him totally. He will always be on their side.

The book of Esther comes near the end of the Bible story. It is the account of those who did not return to the homeland in 539 B.C. Though the name of God is unmentioned in that book, His presence is seen in the amazing turn of events. Esther’s point is that no matter where God’s people find themselves, He will be watching out for them.

Books of the Bible

Chronological Arrangement

Beginning to 1800 B.C.
Genesis
Job

1400 – 1300 B.C.
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy
Joshua

1300 – 1000 B.C.
Judges
Ruth

1000 – 722 B.C. – United Kingdom
Books of Samuel
Psalms
Proverbs, Ecclesiastes
Song of Solomon
Books of Kings
Books of Chronicles
Isaiah
Hosea
Joel
Amos
Jonah
Micah
Nahum

722 – 586 B.C.
Books of Kings
Books of Chronicles
Jeremiah
Lamentations
Obadiah
Habakkuk
Zephaniah

586 – 400 B.C.
Daniel
Ezekiel
Haggai
Zechariah
Esther
Malachi

One of the challenges to Bible students is keeping the perspective of the books of the Bible. Kings and Chronicles, for example, all deal with the time period from 1000 to 539 B.C. They were not written during that time period however, but after. In other words, these books were written to people after the events took place to provide a perspective on their past.

The same thing will be true when we get to the New Testament. The Gospels were written about Jesus’ life, but they were written after Jesus lived. They provide the readers with a perspective on Jesus’ life and teachings.

Lesson 1 – The Bible: An Overview

Dr. Paul Maier, Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University has written:

“No other religion, philosophy, teaching, nation, movement – whatever – has so changed the world for better as Christianity has done … Civilization itself was transformed by Jesus Christ. In the ancient world, his teachings elevated brutish standards of morality, halted infanticide, enhanced human life, emancipated women, abolished slavery, inspired charities and relief organizations, created hospitals, established orphanages and founded schools. … It was Christians who invented colleges and universities, dignified labor as a divine vocation, and extended the light of civilization to barbarians on the frontiers.”
Alvin Schmidt, Under the Influence (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing Company, 2001) pp. 8-9.

Where did this religion come from? What is it all about? What has made it such an incredible influence in history? These are just some of the questions we will be studying in this course. Our study will take us through the following study areas:

1) The Bible
2) The Old Testament
3) The New Testament
4) The Life of Jesus the Christ
5) Jesus, His Kingdom, and the Church
6) Being Saved, Becoming A Christian
7) Living the Christian Life
8) Worship

Basic Facts About the Bible

The ultimate source book for everything important about Christianity is the Bible. Other documents may tell us about Christians, and may have been written by Christians telling us how to live, but the only book that is from God and deals with these things is the Bible.

The word “Bible” comes from a Greek word meaning “a little book.” But the Bible is not just one book, and it is far from little.

The Bible is composed of 66 separate books. It is divided into two sections. The first section is called the “Old Testament” and contains 39 books. The second section is called the “New Testament” and contains 27 books. These books were originally written in three languages. The books of the Old Testament were written in Hebrew and Aramaic. The books of the New Testament were written in Greek. They were all written over a period of 1500 years (from about 1400 B.C. to 100 A.D.) by about 40 different authors. Some of these writers were political leaders. Others were religious leaders. Most were just ordinary people with a heart for God through whom God did extraordinary things.

The Story of the Bible

Though these 40 men were separated by time and geography, the Bible tells just one story: God’s great love for mankind and his determination to build a relationship with humanity.

The story begins with God creating all things, including the first man and woman. Though God gave the first man (Adam) and woman (Eve) everything necessary for a happy life, the Devil, God’s enemy, made them dissatisfied with their blessings and tempted them to disobey God.

God is a perfect moral being, totally just, but all loving and merciful. God could not overlook their sin, continue their fellowship, and be just. He could not kill them and be merciful. So from the moment mankind disobeyed, God set about creating a way to bring mankind back into fellowship with Him. All of this happens in the first three chapters of the first Bible book, Genesis. From that point on, the story is about God’s on-going effort to help man deal with His sins and live the kind of life God had in mind for him from the very beginning.

Testaments

God chose to work with mankind through agreements called “covenants.” There are a number of these agreements mentioned in the Bible, but there are two main ones. The story of the first main covenant is found in the Old Testament. The story of the second covenant is found in the New Testament. One of the Latin words for covenant is “testamentum.” When the Bible was translated into Latin in the 4th century A.D. (the “Vulgate” translation), the translator divided the books into “Old Testament” and “New Testament.” Before that time, the Bible had no such divisions.

Literature

The books of the Bible are not all alike. In our own time, magazines are different from newspapers. Newspapers are different from comic books. Novels are different from biographies. So in the Bible you will find different kinds of literature.

Historical Narrative Literature tells a true story for the purpose of making a point. The books of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther are all examples of historical narrative in the Old Testament. The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts are examples in the New Testament. In Joshua, the story is told to show what happens to people who don’t have good, moral leadership. The Gospel of John tells about the ministry of Jesus with the goal of convincing the reader to entrust his life to Christ.

Legal Literature presents laws, given from God to man. You will find examples of this literature in Deuteronomy, Exodus, and Leviticus.

Most people think Prophetic Literature simply foretells the future. While it does refer to events to come, its purpose was to remind the reader what it means to be in an agreement with God. It calls them to keep their part of that agreement, warning them of hardships if they do not, and reminding them of blessings if they do. This literature is most like “preaching.”

A fourth kind of literature is Poetry. These books are expressions of the heart. Sometimes the expressions are to God. At other times, the expressions are just about life and contain wise lessons on living. Examples of these books are Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, and the book of Job, though you will find a lot of poetry also in prophetic literature.

Drama presents its message through vivid pictures and scenes. In literature like this, the presence of God is sometimes described as a windstorm surrounded by brilliant light. You also find animals with both human and animal characteristics (see for example, Ezekiel chapter 1). The judgment of God is described as hail, fire, and blood falling on the earth. This literature is not intended to be read as literal. But the author is making a point and using grand and impressive pictures to convey his meaning. Examples of this literature can be found in Exekiel and Revelation.

Correspondence, or “letter literature” makes up most of the New Testament. Written mostly by men named Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude, all followers of Jesus. The letters were written to Christians to help them deal with spiritual problems in their lives.

Who Put the Bible Together?

The Bible claims to be the Word of God. The process of God giving the Bible to mankind is called “inspiration,” and the clearest definition of inspiration is found in 2 Peter 1:21

“For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Inspiration involved study and research on the part of the writer, but it also meant that whatever the writer wrote, God would make sure it was true.

Who picked the books to go in the Bible? The easy answer is to say that God did. No religious council ever met to choose the books that would belong in the Bible and no Church made that decision either. As each book was written, the hand of God was so present that people began almost immediately to regard that book as being from the Lord. The first books were written by Moses. They were immediately accepted as being the word of God. As time went on, other great men of God wrote and their books were preserved. By the days of Jesus, the Old Testament as we know it was in existence and even the number of books was known. In the New Testament, Paul’s letters were probably collected first, then the other letters, and finally the Gospels. Sometimes, people met and questioned whether a book already in the Bible ought to be there, but no book was ever removed and no book ever added to the list of accepted materials that had developed over the 1500 years of the Bible’s development.

Translations

Though the Bible was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, it did not stay in those languages. The process of taking a document in one language and placing it into another language is called “translation.” The Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek between 284 and 247 B.C., and that translation was called the “Septuagint.” The Old and New Testaments were translated into Latin in the late 300s A.D. by a scholar named Jerome. The first English translation was completed in 1382 A.D. and is attributed to an Englishman named John Wycliffe. It has been followed by numerous translations since then.

Each translation is an effort to put the Bible into a language ordinary people can understand. In fact, the Latin translation, called the “Vulgate,” comes from a Latin word meaning “common,” referring to the fact that it was created for the common man. William Tyndale, who gave the world the first printed English New Testament in 1525 A.D., was criticized for making a translation everyone could read. Tyndale replied that if God would spare his life, he hoped to see a time when even a plow boy could read the word of God and know more about it than the preacher.

How Do We Study the Bible?

First, read the Bible. Read it often, and, at least once a year, read it all the way through. No one book in the Bible is more important than another. All fit together to be known as the word of God. Because it contains the mind of God and his will for mankind, it must be read in its entirety.

Second, remember what kind of literature you are reading. Poetry should not be read like law. Letters should not be read like historical narratives.

Third, ask yourself why each book was written. When you read a historical narrative, ask yourself what main point you think the author is making. Then see how the whole of the book fits into that main point. Look for clues in the book itself as to why it was written. Luke tells us why he wrote the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. John also specifically tells us why he wrote his book. All books were written under the oversight of God, but they were written to speak to the needs of those who first received them.

Fourth, ask yourself how the message of that book applies to you. With few exceptions, it is usually important to make sure you know the message of the entire book first before you can know the application. Sometimes, there is no direct application. The Bible contains commands that never applied to everyone. God told Noah to build and ark and to build it as God directed. Because Noah did that, he and his family were saved from a flood. You and I are not told to build an ark. But there are things we are told to do. Failing to do them as God instructed can lead to punishment or destruction.

One Final Help. Citations from the Bible are usually given as the Bible book, the chapter, and the verse. John 11:32 refers to the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verse 32. The abbreviation “vs.” stands for “verse,” so “vs. 3″ simply means “verse 3” and “vss.3-10″ means “verses 3-10.” John 11:32ff refers to the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verse 32 and the verses that follow in the immediate context.

Books of the Bible

USUAL ORDER

Old Testament
Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Deuteronomy
Joshua
Judges
Ruth
1 & 2 Samuel
1 & 2 Kings
1 & 2 Chronicles
Ezra
Nehemiah
Esther
Job
Psalms
Proverbs
Ecclesiastes
Song of Solomon
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Lamentations
Ezekiel
Daniel
Hosea
Joel
Amos
Obadiah
Jonah
Micah
Nahum
Habakkuk
Zephaniah
Haggai
Zechariah
Malachi

New Testament
Matthew
Mark
Luke
John
Acts
Romans
1 & 2 Corinthians
Galatians
Ephesians
Philippians
Colossians
1 & 2 Thessalonians
1 & 2 Timothy
Titus
Philemon
Hebrews
James
1 & 2 Peter
1 & 2 & 3 John
Jude
Revelation

BY LITERARY TYPE (Note some overlap)

Historical Narrative
Genesis
Exodus
Leviticus
Numbers
Joshua
Judges
Ruth
Books of Samuel
Books of Kings
Books of Chronicles
Ezra
Nehemiah
Esther

Matthew
Mark
Luke
John
Acts

Prophecy (Sermons)
Deuteronomy
Isaiah
Jeremiah
Ezekiel
Daniel
Hosea
Joel
Amos
Obadiah
Jonah
Micah
Nahum
Habakkuk
Zephaniah
Haggai
Zechariah
Malachi

Legal
Leviticus
Deuteronomy

Poetry
Job
Psalms
Proverbs
Ecclesiastes
Song of Solomon
Lamentations

Letter (Correspondence)
Romans
1 & 2 Corinthians
Galatians
Ephesians
Philippians
Colossians
1 & 2 Thessalonians
1 & 2 Timothy
Titus
Philemon
Hebrews
James
1 & 2 Peter
1 & 2 & 3 John
Jude

Drama
Ezekiel
Daniel

Revelation