Category: The Story Guides

The Story: Chapter 31 Guide

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The Story – Chapter 31: The End of Time

Introduction

Last week, we looked at Paul’s missionary journeys, and how Paul was all in. This coming Sunday, look at the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation, and we hear how the vision John sees of the victorious Jesus, and the messages to seven local churches, have much to say to us today in the 21st century United States.

If you want to read this material in the Bible, you can find it in Revelation 1-5 and 19-22. These are the most important chapters in the book and it would be well worth your time to look them over. 

Summary of Chapter 31 – The End of Time 

A prophet named John was exiled on the island of Patmos for his faith in Jesus. It was here that the glorified Christ appeared to John with a revelation of His second coming. John saw someone “like a son of man” dressed in a priestly robe and ready to judge. Jesus presented Himself as the resurrected One who has authority over life and death. And he had some messages for the seven churches located in the province of Asia Minor.

All of these seven churches are trying to figure out how to live in the midst of a culture that’s very foreign to their faith. Some were facing external persecution, others internal conflict, and a couple were feeling pretty satisfied with themselves. The messages offer hope to some and a warning to others – things are not what they may appear. Rome is not in control. By getting a glimpse of the throne room of heaven where God sits upon His throne in unimaginable splendor and beauty, John sees that God is in control. And God will soon return to establish his reign.

Revelation is filled with often-bizarre pictures and metaphors, many based on Old Testament stories that the original hearers would understand. Revelation is a specific type of writing called apocalyptic literature, which was not uncommon in the first century. We have nothing today to compare it to — a combination of super hero and science fiction stories is as close as we’ll get. But as you read, it is important to know that the purpose of Revelation is not to predict the end of the world based on current twenty-first century events; it is to provide hope (and warning) to Christians living in a Roman world at the end of the first century.

At the end of Revelation, John describes seeing a New Heaven and New Earth and the New Jerusalem. In this future re-creation, God dwells among His people where He wipes away every tear. Many themes from God’s redemptive Story find their culmination in this place where all things are made new. The water of life flows from the throne of God, the tree of life bears much fruit, and all are invited to partake. This place is the hope of all Christians, for it is where God’s Upper Story and Lower Story finally merge into one. It is here that we will enjoy the presence of God and of the Lamb forever. When we understand the genre and a bit behind the book of Revelation, it can provide the same hope to us today as it did in the first century, as we also try to live as followers of Jesus in the midst of a very different culture.

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for Chapter 31 are on page 487 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. Jesus had a message for each of the churches in Asia
(p. 459). 
As you read the letters to the various churches, what themes seem especially relevant to the church in US? What type of message do you think Jesus would give to your own congregation?
  1. How did Jesus’ assessment of the affluent church at Laodicea differ from the church’s assessment of itself (Revelation 3:15–17)? What was this lukewarm, self-satisfied church missing? How can earthly riches blind us to spiritual poverty? How does Jesus’ message to Laodicea still apply today?
  1. Review Revelation 4-5 (p. 463-465). What strikes you about this scene of heavenly worship? What do you think it would be like to be there? What glimpses of that worship do you experience here on earth?
  1. How does Revelation describe the New Heaven, New Earth and New Jerusalem? Compare that description with God’s first creation in Genesis 1-2. How are the two similar? How are they different? What emotions does John’s description of the Holy City evoke (Revelation 21:9–27)? What strikes you most about this description? Why?
  1. What did this chapter of The Story contribute to your understanding of God’s Upper Story of redemption? How might you respond to a Christian friend who sees no value in or is confused by studying Revelation?
  1. What stands out to you the most from your study of The Story? What is the next step after The Story for you?

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The Story: Chapter 30 Guide

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The Story – Chapters 30: Paul’s Final Days

Introduction

Last week, we looked at Paul’s missionary journeys, and this last Sunday we examined the good news in its most basic form as described by Paul – God loves us just that way we are, and nothing can separate us from that love. This week we look at Paul’s last days and how he “finished the race.”

If you want to read this material in the Bible, you can find it in Acts 20-23, 27-28; Ephesians 1-6; and 2 Timothy 1-4. Note that while Ephesians and 2 Timothy are both purported to be written by Paul, most scholars agree that 2 Timothy was written in Paul’s name by someone else after his death to address a situation that did not come up during Paul’s lifetime. (Writing in another’s name was a relatively accepted practice at that time.) Although not as clear, many scholars also believe that Ephesians was written in Paul’s name after his death by a student of Paul’s theology. 

Summary of Chapter 30 – Paul’s Final Days 

If one could earn frequent traveler miles two thousand years ago, Paul might hold a record. After spending nearly three years in Ephesus, according to Acts, he retraced his steps through Greece and Macedonia before docking in Miletus. There, he summoned the Ephesian elders for a tearful and final farewell. He charged them with shepherding the church of God. After a brief stay with Philip in Caesarea, Paul headed for Jerusalem, knowing that chains awaited him there.

Paul seemed to always be able to stir up a controversy. Just walking into the temple court stirred up trouble. The Jews tried to kill him in Jerusalem so the Roman authorities stepped in to arrest him. While being taken into custody, Paul gave his testimony before an angry crowd. The Roman commander brought him before the Sanhedrin to get some answers, but that only made the problem worse. Paul remained in protective custody and was transferred to Caesarea’s higher court where he remained for two years before appealing to Caesar.  

When Paul wrote to the church in Rome while still on his missionary journeys, he told them that he planned to visit them. He probably did not anticipate his “fourth missionary journey” to be under these circumstances. Paul set sail to Rome in a ship but warned the crew that sailing on in bad weather would be disastrous. They continued anyway, and conditions became hurricane force winds off the coast of Crete, driving their ship every which way. Weeks later the storm had not weakened, but all thoughts of survival surely had. Food was low, gear was gone, hope was gone. What seemed like a bad episode of Gilligan’s Island became unlikely opportunities for Paul to talk about God.

The next morning they arrived safely ashore on Malta where the islanders showed exceptional hospitality. When Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake without incident, the people thought he was either a criminal or a god. Paul healed many of the locals during their winter stay there. Three months later they were finally able to set sail for Rome.

Paul was greeted by believers at the port of Puteoli, modern day Pozzuoli, about 150 miles south of Rome.  They encouraged him and he spent a week there before traveling on. When the Roman Christians heard he was coming, they joined him for the final forty miles of his trek to Rome where Paul was confined to house arrest under the supervision of a soldier. Paul invited the Jewish leaders to come to his house. There he told them about his conflict with the Jerusalem Jews and the fulfillment of the Scriptures by Jesus. Some believed, but others rejected his message.

Although not reflected in Acts, Christian tradition has it that in AD 64, the Great Fire of Rome burned much of the city, and rumors quickly spread that Emperor Nero had started the fire to facilitate a building project. Needing a scapegoat, he blamed the Christians. Imprisonments and executions followed for anyone bearing the name of Christ. In AD 67/68, Paul was beheaded in Rome.

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for Chapter 30 are on page 487 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. Review Paul’s personal testimony that he gave to the Jews from the steps of the barracks (p. 442- 443, Acts 21:37-22:21). What’s your story of God getting ahold of you? How do you feel sharing your story with others? What difficulties do you have sharing? What would help you to become bolder?
  1. Which unlikely situations did Paul use as opportunities for evangelism in this chapter? What are some unlikely situations in your own life that can be used as opportunities to share the story of God in your life?
  1. Much like in the story of Queen Ester, God is mightily at work behind the scenes in the details of Paul’s journey. What evidence of God’s grace and sovereignty can you find in Paul’s arrests, trials and travels? What does that mean for you in your own journey of faith and life?
  1. Review Ephesians 5:21-33 (p. 455). What does it teach us about the relationship between Jesus and the church? How may the image of a husband and wife be helpful to imagine Christ and the church? How may it be unhelpful? By Christ’s example, how does Ephesians challenge human notions of power and authority in relationships (see also Mark 9:35)?
  1. 2 Timothy portrays Paul as an apostle who was not only a proclaimer of the gospel but one who was willing to suffer for it. Paul is portrayed as the ideal Christian and apostle. What does Paul’s life teach you about suffering? If you, like Timothy, had been asked to suffer for the gospel, what might have been your response? 

  1. 2 Timothy also reminds its readers of the need to persevere in the work of preparing a future generation of Christian servants using the illustrations of a soldier, athlete, and farmer (p. 457, 2 Timothy 2:1-7). How might each illustration help Timothy fulfill his call while facing hardships? How might they help us serve God today?

 

 

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The Story: Chapter 29 Guide

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The Story – Chapters 29: Paul’s Mission

Introduction

This week we look at Paul’s mission to the gentiles. It involves a number of missionary journeys and a bunch of letters Paul wrote to churches he started to encourage them when he was gone and to address specific issues in these fledgling congregations.

If you want to read this material in the Bible, you can find it in Acts 13-14, 16-20; Romans 1,3-6, 8, 12,15; 1 Corinthians 1,3,5-6, 10,12-13, 15-16; Galatians 1,3, 5-6; and 1 Thessalonians 1-5. (Unlike last week, this week it’s a lot easier to read the chapter in The Story than all the chapters in the Bible.) 

Summary of Chapters 29 – Paul’s Mission 

Saul began his career as a radical Jewish scholar who was so convinced this new Jesus movement was wrong that he went around imprisoning believers himself. But after an encounter with the resurrected Jesus, he became a Christ-follower and began using his Greek name Paul.  Paul went from place to place proclaiming Christ to the Jews first and also to the Gentiles.

Led by the Holy Spirit, the believers in their home base of Antioch in Syria commissioned Paul and Barnabas and sent them out as missionaries to spread the news that Jesus the Messiah is raised from the dead. Their first missionary journey took them to the island of Cyprus where they encountered a Jewish sorcerer who opposed them and a Roman proconsul who embraced the gospel. They set sail for the region of Galatia (present south-central Turkey), and were invited to preach in the synagogue in Antioch. However, after an initial favorable reception, they faced persecution, so they turned their sights toward the Gentiles.   

Paul was joined by other helpers – among them Timothy and Silas — for his second missionary journey. They visited many cities in Macedonia, including Philippi where a church was begun in Lydia’s home. Later, Paul and Silas were thrown in jail where their faith convicted their jailer and they were freed.  In Thessalonica, many Jews and Greeks believed, but then Paul and Silas had to be sent away for their own protection. Paul then met Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth where Paul was again opposed by the Jews. But many Gentiles believed, so Paul stayed and ministered there for about a year and a half.    

After returning to his base of operations in Antioch, Paul set out on his third journey.  As he strengthened the churches in the Galatian region, Paul then went to Ephesus and stayed more than two years teaching both Jews and Greeks. Many people from the region came to hear him as the word spread. However as new believers rejected their idols, local artisans staged a riot to drive Paul out of town.   

As he was traveling Paul was also writing letters to encourage and assist the churches he had already started. (Although Paul’s longest letter (and his most theological) was penned to the church in Rome that he had not yet visited.) Paul wrote a number of letters to the church in Corinth, where he urged the believers to be united, and answered their questions about spiritual gifts and other matters. The Galatian churches were confused by Jewish Christians who insisted they practice the Jewish ceremonial rites, so Paul wrote them to clarify that they were saved by God’s grace and were called to live by the law of love and not the law of Moses.

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for Chapter 29 are on page 486 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. As Paul and his companions traveled from city to city, many accepted the message that Jesus was the Messiah, but many did not. How did those who opposed Paul feel? How did they act? Why? What were they afraid of? How does fear play a role in our own culture’s experience of faith? Your faith? 
  1. Paul took three missionary journeys throughout Asia and Greece to help fulfill the mandate to be witnesses “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Locate some of the cities and territories that Paul visited using the map in the back of The Story. If you could go on a short-term mission trip to anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
  1. What differences do you find in Paul’s message to the Jews in the synagogue (p. 408-409) as compared to his message to the Gentiles (p. 411, 413)? Discuss applications we might make today for reaching different people groups with the same gospel.
  1. One of the key teachings Paul carried to each city was how we are “made free by Christ”. However, in places like Corinth, people were living quite “freely” already, believing freedom means self-indulgence. How does Paul correct this misunderstanding of freedom by teaching about the body of Christ and love (p. 426-427, 431)? What do you think freedom in Christ means?
  1. First Corinthians 13 is often called the “love chapter” (p. 427, 1 Corinthians 13). This kind of love is sacrificial and benevolent, not self-serving but doing what is best for another. Notice the list of things that love is and is not. Choose one or two to practice this week. How could your relationships with family, friends and co-workers be affected if you practiced this kind of love this week?
  1. Romans 5:1-2 (p. 433) is among the most powerful summaries of the good news of Jesus (Romans 5:8 isn’t bad either!). What does having “peace with God” mean to you? How does it feel? How do you experience it?

 

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The Story: Chapter 28 Guide

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The Story – Chapters 28: New Beginnings

Introduction

This is our first chapter on the early church. We start with Pentecost and saw the bravery of the disciples who just 50 days earlier were pretty frightened. (Pretty amazing what the Holy Spirit can do!!!) We also looked at how the church started in Jerusalem, but in part because of persecution, ended up spreading throughout the Roman Empire.

If you want to read this material in the Bible, it’s all found in the Book of Acts – Acts chapters 1-10 and 12. 

Summary of Chapters 28 – New Beginnings 

What could turn a group of gutless deserters into courageous, outspoken evangelists willing to be imprisoned and even die for their cause? Along with hundreds of others, they had seen Jesus in various places and under a variety of circumstances.

Just before His ascension, Jesus told the disciples to wait for the promised power of the Holy Spirit so that they could be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. Ten days later on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit stormed in like tongues of fire, empowering the disciples to share the gospel. Peter spoke boldly, and on that day three thousand people were baptized. The apostles were even able to perform miracles similar to those Jesus had done! The new church continued to grow rapidly, as the new community of believers embraced teaching and fellowship.

As the apostles spread the word of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem, they incited outrage and opposition from the Jewish rulers. Peter refused to be silenced and continued to speak despite orders to stop, and even a severe flogging. Stephen’s sermon before the Sanhedrin showed how the Jews had repeatedly rejected God’s prophets and resisted God’s Spirit. The Sanhedrin dragged him outside of Jerusalem and he was stoned to death. (But before he died, he saw a vision of Jesus and prayed for forgiveness for his killers.)

Sparked by the martyring of Stephen, persecution drove Christians out of Jerusalem and throughout the Roman Empire. While the opposition grew, so did the spread of the gospel message. A Pharisee named Saul made it his personal mission to defeat this movement once and for all, but as he was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians there, he was confronted by Jesus and blinded.  God was preparing Saul to be his messenger to the Gentiles (anyone who isn’t Jewish), and a few days later, when Saul’s sight was restored, he was filled with the Holy Spirit and he began to preach about Jesus. Needless to say, Saul’s turnaround was met with suspicion, but Barnabas (another Christian leader) vouched for him to the apostles in Jerusalem. Saul soon found himself on the receiving end of death threats, so he was sent away from Jerusalem.  

We had clues that God’s good news was for everyone, but this was confirmed when Peter had visions in which he was instructed to eat meat that was unclean. When he protested, a heavenly voice told him that God had made it clean. As Peter was trying to interpret the meaning of this vision, the servants of a Roman centurion named Cornelius summoned him to their master’s home. (Cornelius had earlier been told by God to send for Peter.) When Peter arrived and explained the gospel to a full house of Gentiles, the Holy Spirit was poured out on these Gentiles too!

Peter’s continued preaching about Jesus resulted in his imprisonment. But even prison bars could not stop God’s plan. As his friends earnestly prayed for him, an angel miraculously freed him. Kings, rulers, and prison guards all found themselves fighting against God and helpless to stop His plan. While the Lower Story of persecution drove believers away from Jerusalem, the Upper Story of resurrection drove many to God.

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for Chapter 28 are on page 486 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. Just 50 days earlier, Peter denied Christ and cowered in fear and shame. Now, in Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost, we find Peter preaching and facing down Jewish religious leaders and noticeably full of courage (p. 391-392). Describe the “new” Peter. How do you account for this change? When have you experienced this kind of power? Can you think of anything that may prevent you from experiencing this kind of power? 

  2. Read Acts 2:44-45 (p. 392). The Christians were giving to those who had any kind of need. Notice that the Christians weren’t giving to each other because they felt the need to “give to the poor,” but because all the believers now viewed each other as family, and what else do you do with family but take care of each other? How does being brothers and sisters in Christ transform how you view others in need? 

  3. Cornelius’ conversion along with his household dramatically changed the direction of the church. What began as a Jewish messianic movement would now cross ethnic barriers. Consider the ethnic and racial barriers that exist in the Church today. What are some ways that our church can promote greater racial and ethnic integration and harmony in the church locally? Globally? Personally? 

  1. For most Christians, the Holy Spirit is the least understood person of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). What are some of the things you learned about the Holy Spirit from this chapter. What did you learn about the empowerment of the Holy Spirit for your own life?
  1. What do you think accounts for the dramatic change in Saul of Tarsus from persecutor to preacher? Do you know anyone personally who has gone from being a Christ-hater to a Christ-follower?

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The Story: Chapters 26-27 Guide

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The Story – Chapters 26-27: Jesus’ Death and Resurrection

Introduction

Jesus ministry comes to a climax, as opposition mounts and he is arrested, tried and killed. His followers think that this is the end until, on Sunday morning, everything changes. God raised Jesus from the dead and the world will never be the same.

This week, we look at Chapters 26 and 27, all about Jesus’ death and resurrection.  If you want to read this material in the Bible, you can read Matthew 26-28, Mark 14 -16, 22-24, and John 13 -14 and 19-21. (If you’re reading from Mark, note the ending in Mark. Most commentators think that the original gospel of Mark ends at Mark 16:8. That means the women told no one. Why might Mark want to end his story like that?)  

Summary of Chapters 26 and 27 – Jesus’ Death and Resurrection 

In Chapters 26 and 27, we see Jesus spending his last few hours with his disciples. The Passover was approaching so they prepared a customary feast. But this was no ordinary Passover meal; Jesus was about to change history. At His “last supper,” He taught the disciples a lesson about love and service by washing their feet.  He even washed Judas’ feet, although He knew Judas would betray Him. Then Jesus took the unleavened bread and cup of wine from the Passover meal and instituted a new meal – the Lord’s Supper. Jesus then led his remaining disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. There while his followers slept, Jesus prayed, asking his Father if there was any way to avoid what he knew was coming.  He answered His own prayer when He acknowledged that He would do God’s will and not His own..   

Then Jesus’ betrayer, Judas, arrived to betray Him. Jesus was arrested and escorted to the assembly of the Jewish religious leaders. But no one could find legitimate charges against Jesus until He affirmed His identity—Messiah, the Son of God. At that point, the religious leaders charged Him with blasphemy, sentenced Him to death, and took him to the Roman governor Pilate to carry out the sentence. Watching from a safe distance, Peter who a few hours earlier had promised never to desert Jesus, three times denied knowing Him.

Meanwhile, Pilate was stuck between a rock and a hard place – he could find no legitimate charge against Jesus, but the Jewish leaders wanted Jesus crucified. Finally Pilate gave in and condemned Jesus to death, and then Roman soldiers took him and nailed him to a cross.

Crucifixion was an exceptionally cruel way to die. The public execution drew scornful onlookers who challenged Jesus to save Himself if he was the Messiah. They failed to grasp that Jesus was there to save them.

Even the creation testified to the enormity of this event. As Jesus faced death, darkness eclipsed the whole land, and upon his death, the temple curtain was torn in two.

“It is finished,” Jesus proclaimed as He died. Jesus finished the work that the Father sent Him to do, culminating God’s plan to erase the separation between God and God’s people. Late on Friday, Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross and buried in a nearby tomb, with a giant stone rolled in front to seal the entrance.

One might have thought that was the end of the story. But early on the Sunday morning following Jesus’ burial, a small band of faithful women approached His tomb wondering who could remove the rock sealing the entrance. Imagine their shock as an angel announced to them that Jesus was not there, “He is risen, just as He said!”

Later the same day, an unrecognized Jesus approached two downcast followers on the road to Emmaus. When they expressed their dismay at Jesus’s death, Jesus used Moses and the prophets to teach them about the Messiah. Later they recognized him and when He disappeared from their sight, they ran back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples what they had experienced.  And then Jesus himself appeared to his disciples. But despite an empty tomb and other appearance reports, the disciples still cowered and mistook Jesus for a ghost until he showed them His hands and feet.

Thomas, who was not there for Jesus’ earlier appearance had to wait another week before he saw the nail marks for himself. And when he saw Jesus, Thomas confessed, “My Lord and My God.”

Sometime later, Jesus appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee. And finally, the eleven disciples met Jesus on a Galilean mountain where He commissioned them to continue to carry out God’s mission by directing them to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them to obey everything Jesus had commanded them. 

The resurrection of Jesus vindicated Him as the Son of God. It is the cornerstone of the Christian faith and the climax of God’s great story of redemption. The redemptive work was finished, but now there was more work to do to spread the good news, and this ragtag group of disciples were just the ones to do it.

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for Chapters 26 and 27 on page 485 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. While in the upper room with His disciples, Jesus knew
his death was imminent. He was with the
friends he’d spent three years teaching, yet he knew soon one would betray him, one would deny him and all would abandon him. Then he says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The disciples were anything but worthy, and still Jesus gives them this gift of life. How does reading this story impact what you experience in communion? 

  1. What was Jesus trying to teach the disciples when he washed their feet? What does this tell you about God’s kingdom? Would it be easier for you to wash someone else’s feet or for someone else to wash your feet? What is it, for Peter and for us, that makes the servant life of Jesus hard to accept?
  1. What can we learn about prayer from Jesus’ prayers at the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross?
  1. The Sanhedrin could find no evidence to charge Jesus (Jewish Law, Deuteronomy 17:6, required two witnesses.) Three times Pilate declared, “I find no basis for a charge against him” Why is this important? Why was Jesus crucified?
  1. Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion and death are also known as the “Passion.” Describe your most dramatic experience of the Passion. What was it? Scripture? A movie? A play? A Good Friday worship service? What did you think, and how did it make you feel? How does it feel to know that Jesus knowingly did all of this for you?
  1. By caring for Jesus’ body after his death, Joseph and Nicodemus publicly declared they were followers. What were they risking? What are ways you let people know you follow Christ? Is there anyone from whom you’ve been keeping your discipleship a secret? What can you do to change that?
  1. As the risen Jesus talked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, they later reported that “our hearts [were] burning within us while He talked to us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us” (Luke 24:13-35)? Has your heart ever burned with insight into God’s word? What did you learn?
  1. Thomas is frequently referred to as “doubting Thomas” because he refused to believe his fellow disciples’ testimonies. Then, a week after the resurrection, he confessed, “My Lord and my God!” Do you think Thomas’ reputation is justified, or do you think he has been labeled unjustly? Why or why not? How has doubt played a helpful role in your spiritual journey? 

  2. What does Jesus’ Great Commission on the mountain in Galilee require of all his disciples? What are the various ways you can obey this command? What is involved in making disciples? What is a disciple anyway?
  3. In what ways does the resurrection of Jesus turn the world upside down? In what ways does the resurrection of Jesus turn the world right side up?

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The Story: Chapter 25 Guide

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The Story – Chapters 25: Jesus, the Son of God

Introduction

As Jesus continues his ministry, his followers realize he is no ordinary man. However, he must now reorient them to understand exactly who he is. Meanwhile, opposition among those who support the status quo continues to mount. A confrontation is inevitable, as everyone must respond to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”

This week, we look at Chapter 25, Jesus, the Son of God. The material in Chapter 25 comes from Matthew 17, 21; Mark 8-12, 14; Luke 9, 22; and John 7-8, 11-12. 

Summary of Chapters 25 – Jesus, the Son of God 

In Chapter 25, we pick up the story about 2½ years into Jesus’ ministry. Jesus knew the time for him to complete the work for which he’d come was drawing near, and he began preparing the twelve disciples for it. Three times, he explained that the Jewish leaders were going to kill him and that he would rise from the dead. The confused disciples thought about what he could possibly mean. Peter even took him aside and rebuked him.

But it wasn’t just the disciples. Many people didn’t not know what to make of Jesus. He was like no other rabbi. His claims about Himself were outrageous and way out of line if He were merely human. Two thousand years had passed since God promised Abraham that through his seed all nations would be blessed. A thousand years had passed since God promised David that his descendant would rule forever. Now, in Jesus, God’s marathon plan of redemption was sprinting toward its culmination.

Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain and gave them a glimpse of His future glory. When He was transfigured before their very eyes, they fell face down in fear. Jesus had often made “I Am” statements connecting Himself to the name YHWH or “I Am.” Then a voice from heaven stated that Jesus was the Son of God, thereby confirming His assertions. 

Despite getting word that His friend Lazarus was on his deathbed, Jesus delayed His journey. By the time He arrived, Lazarus had been in a tomb for four days. Sisters Mary and Martha mourned their brother’s death, disappointed that Jesus had not arrived in time to heal him. But at Jesus’ command, Lazarus walked out of his tomb, vindicating Jesus’ assertion that He alone is the Source of life.

The march toward Jerusalem continued. Jesus’ time was fast approaching and He had to prepare the disciples for what lay ahead. He told them that the kingdom of God is accessible to those with childlike trust and humility.

As Jesus began the last week of his life, He sent His disciples to find appropriate transportation for his final entry into Jerusalem. The colt was just where Jesus said it would be. He mounted the donkey and triumphantly rode into Jerusalem as people laid down their coats and branches on the road and hailed Him as the long awaited King, son of David! 

Jesus was preparing to glorify the Father’s name. He continued to offer eternal life to all who trusted he was who he said he was. The incensed Pharisees instilled fear in many; some who did trust in him kept quiet. But Jesus’ claims were non-negotiable; He was the culmination of God’s redemptive plan. Who do you say I am? It is the single most important question that everyone must answer.

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for Chapter 25 on page 484 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. Jesus’ audience thought he was going to establish an earthly kingdom by force, but Jesus had in mind a much different kingdom – one built on love and sacrifice. Can you think of a time when God’s way of doing things was not at all what you expected? What happened?
  1. Jesus said we must “deny ourselves” and “take up our cross;” and if we seek to save our lives we will lose them. (p. 353-354). What do you think this means in your life? How, if at all does it impact your own life goals?
  1. Three times Jesus predicted His death and resurrection (p. 353, 354, and 362; Mark 8:31, 9:30-31, 10:32-34) and followed each with a lesson on discipleship (p. 353-354 [Mark 8:34-38], Mark 9:33-37, Mark 10:35-45). What principles of discipleship did Jesus teach and why do you think Jesus related them to His Passion?
  1. Despite confessing Jesus to be the Christ and witnessing the transfiguration, Peter continued to struggle to be faithful. What miracles has God done in your life that you sometimes forget? Have you ever struggled, like Peter, to be faithful?
  1. Those who opposed Jesus “loved human glory more than the glory of God.” Honestly evaluate yourself: whose glory do you pursue most often? Whose approval do you seek?
  1. After Jesus entered Jerusalem as the rightful King of Israel, he cleansed the temple because some had turned it from a house of prayer into a “den of robbers.” Suppose Jesus walked into our church building. With what would he be most pleased? What changes and corrections might he make?

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The Story: Chapter 24 Guide

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The Story – Chapters 24 – No Ordinary Man

Introduction

Jesus has been baptized, tempted in the wilderness and begun his ministry. He has selected his key followers and has already amazed and angered people with his healings and challenges to the religious elite. This week we hear some of Jesus’ radical teachings that comforted some and challenged others.

This week, we look at Chapter 24, No Ordinary Man. If you’d like to go right to the source, you can read Matthew 3-4, 11; Mark 5-7, 14; Mark 4-6; Luke 10, 15; and John 6.   

Summary of Chapters 24 – No Ordinary Man 

One thing about this Jesus:  He never invited neutrality. His followers called Him the Christ. His contenders called Him a blasphemer. Some were drawn to Him, while others could muster nothing in His presence but contempt. His teachings were revolutionary and His miracles undeniable. He claimed nothing less than equality with God and proclaimed Himself as the long expected Messiah. Jesus never left sitting on the proverbial fence as an option.

He attracted lots of criticism, but He also drew crowds. He often taught the people in parables, pithy stories that drew spiritual lessons from everyday life to reveal the “secrets” of God’s kingdom. With simple illustrations, Jesus taught that in Him, God’s kingdom had come, while exposing the religious leaders’ misguided view of religion. Jesus’ trilogy on “lostness” told of a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son and demonstrated a God who celebrates when what was lost is found.

Jesus’ concern for sinners and those on the outside created an ever-widening rift with the religious leaders. His popularity increased and so did His opposition.  Yet Jesus’ teaching ministry to the masses continued, and in the Sermon on the Mount, He taught them what it means to live as his follower – someone in a close relationship with God, who lives out God’s Kingdom.

Jesus was a great teacher, but even His closest disciples struggled to grasp His true identity and purpose. But He authenticated His words with miracles which gave everyone little glimpses of what God’s kingdom looked like. His disciples were awestruck when Jesus calmed a raging storm at sea, and the people were confounded when he expelled demons from a possessed man into a herd of pigs.

Although Jesus wasn’t looking or sounding like the Messiah the people expected, the desperate came to Him for healing, and were made whole. Jesus healed a woman with a bleeding disorder, while pausing to restore her dignity and commend her faith. He also established his authority over death, by raising back to life a synagogue leaders daughter who died. He healed two blind men, and the Pharisees exposed their own desperate lack of vision by crediting such miracles to the prince of demons.

News about Jesus spread through villages and cities, homes and institutions. Wherever Jesus went, people gathered around Him. After one especially long day, Jesus fed more than 5,000 with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish. The miracle was meant for more than filling empty stomachs. He had come to fill empty lives; the real point was that He is the “bread” of eternal life. As a result of his teachings, the people were divided. Many turned away, but those who truly believed remained. In one of His finest moments, Peter announced, “You have the words of eternal life…you are the Holy One of God.”  

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for Chapter 24 on page 484 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. In Chapter 24, we see Jesus teaching through parables. Sometimes a parable can be comforting and reassuring; sometimes it can be unsettling. Which of Jesus’ parables in in Chapter 24 did you find comforting? Which were unsettling or challenging? Why?
  1. When you read the parable of the lost sons (p 337- 339), which character do you most identify with – the father, the younger son, or the older son? Why? Imagine yourself as one of the other characters. Does that change how you hear the story? If so, how?
  1. The parable of the Good Samaritan (p. 339-340) is one of Jesus’ most famous parables. Have you ever found yourself in a situation like the man beaten on the road? What happened? Have you ever had an opportunity to be a “Good Samaritan” to someone else? What did you do?
  1. It is important to know that Jews and Samaritans in Jesus’ day were NOT on friendly terms. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, what does Jesus do by using a Samaritan to demonstrate the ideal neighbor? What type of people are hard for you to imagine God using to demonstrate his love?
  1. As you read the Lord’s Prayer (p341), what do you find most challenging? How does that language about forgiving which follows immediately after the prayer impact how you understand the prayer? What does the Lord’s Prayer mean to you?
  1. Jesus’ miracles were not random; they showed his power over different forces in this world. What forces did he conquer? What areas of your life do you need to surrender to Jesus’ care and victory?
  1. In what ways did the crowds misunderstood Jesus’ description of their need for eternal life (p. 349-351). How is Jesus’ message different from most people’s idea of salvation? What do you think Jesus means by “eternal life”?

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The Story: Chapters 22-23 Guide

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The Story – Chapters 22 and 23 – Jesus’ Birth and Early Ministry

Introduction

After taking the summer off, we’re back into The Story for the next 8 weeks, looking at Jesus life, death and resurrection, and then focusing on the early church. We’ll first consider Jesus ministry and teachings and then see how this carpenter from Nazareth who was killed as an enemy of Rome, started a movement which changed the world and continues to this day.

This first week, we look at Chapters 22 and 23. Most of us know the Christmas story, but do we know about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry 30 years later. If you’d like to go right to the source, you can read Matthew 1-4, and 11; Mark 1-3, Luke 1-2 and 8, and John 1-4. Note how Matthew and Luke each tell us part of the traditional Christmas story, while Mark and John mention nothing about Jesus’ birth.

Summary of Chapters 22 and 23 — Jesus’ Birth and the Beginning of his Ministry

Heaven had been very quiet for 400 years. No burning bushes. No splitting seas. No visions. No dreams. No prophets. No message from God . . .

Then, in a magnificent yet inauspicious way, a word – but not just a word, The Word came. At the time, the event seemed inconsequential to all but a blue-collar carpenter and his teenage bride. But in fact, God had taken on flesh and blood and was first heard in a baby’s cry. His birth was unspectacular, yet His presence dispelled darkness and cast an inescapable ray of light across history, past, present, and still unwritten. God’s promises to Abraham and David found fulfillment at long last. Jesus would bless all nations and would take His rightful place on David’s throne. It is this event to which everything thus far in The Story has pointed and the climax of God’s redemptive plan, which first began in the Garden of Eden.  Jesus, God in human flesh, was born.

And then after hearing little of Jesus for about 30 years, he bursts on the scene when he comes to be baptized in the River Jordan, and God himself declares his divine approval. The Spirit then drives Jesus into the wilderness, where like the Israelites so many years ago, he is tempted by Satan and formed by God.

We then see Jesus begin his public ministry as he gathers disciples, and provides his followers and others with little glimpses of who he was and what God’s kingdom looks like – a party in which the best wine is saved for last, a new birth which begins an eternal relationship, living water which never leaves one thirsty. Most people knew Jesus was something special – a miracle worker who could heal and make people whole. And although his disciples had an inkling that he was from God, it was only the demons who truly understood that Jesus was God, come to live among us.  As Jesus traveled the area, taught in the synagogues and healed the people, the crowds following him grew.  But so did His critics, as Jesus continually violated Sabbath rules and flouted religious traditions by reinterpreting God’s commands in new and challenging ways.

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for Chapters 22 and 23 on page 483 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. A period of approximately 400 years elapsed between the Old and New Testaments. During this period there were no prophets or leaders whose words or lives were recorded in Scripture. These years are sometimes referred to as “the silent years” because people say there was no voice from God. Have you experienced a time in your life when you felt God was silent? As you look back, was God really silent, or was something else going on? If so, what?
  2. The beginning verses in the Gospel of John reveal one of our most important Christian beliefs. How does John 1:1-14, 18 (p. 309), help clarify the relationship between God and Jesus? Why is this so important? What does it mean to you that God came to inhabit human flesh in Jesus?
  3. Jesus’ birth was pretty unusual. The Bible tells us that Mary “pondered these things in her heart” (p 313, 316). Surely her understanding of who Jesus was grew and matured over the years. How has your understanding of Jesus grown through this study of The Story?
  4. When Jesus was twelve, he spent some time in the Jerusalem Temple, talking with the religious leaders. The text tells us “everyone who heard [Jesus] was amazed” (p. 315). What do you suppose it was that surprised them? In what ways has Jesus amazed you this week?
  5. Jesus was constantly interacting with different types of people: curious Jews, antagonistic Pharisees, tax collectors, and society’s castoffs. What can you learn about the heart of God from Jesus’ interactions? What can you learn about how to respond to different types of people from observing Jesus?
  6. Two very different people Jesus encountered were Nicodemus and the woman at the well (p. 326-329). Why do they represent such a contrast?
  7. John the Baptist and Jesus frequently had conflicts with the religious leaders. What issues characterized these conflicts? What lessons can we draw from these encounters?
  8. What sign does Jesus give John’s disciples that Jesus is, indeed, the Messiah? What does that mean for the nature of God’s Kingdom on earth, and for us?

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The Story: Chapter 21 Guide

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The Story – Chapter 21: Rebuilding the Walls

The Story – Chapter 21

Introduction

This week is our last week in the Old Testament and we look at Chapter 21 in The Story, all about the efforts to rebuild the people and the walls around Jerusalem after  the exiles returned to Judah. If you’d like to go right to the source, you can read Ezra 7, Nehemiah 1-2, 4, and 6-8 and Malachi 1-4. 

Summary of Chapter 21 – Rebuilding the Walls

Chapter 21 opens nearly 60 years after Zerubbabel led thousands of exiles carrying temple treasures, gold and silver back to Judah to rebuild the temple. The majority of the displaced Jews did not return, having settled well in their new communities.

As at all times in history, some people had hearts fully set on God, and some didn’t. Later, God sent three people with very different gifts to help and strengthen those in the Persian province of Judah who wanted to know him. The first was Ezra, who had been serving the king in Babylon.

Ezra brought 1,500 men and their families with him to Jerusalem, along with lots of gold and silver donated by the king and others. However, Ezra soon discovered that the city’s leaders had been unfaithful to God. Ezra mourned, fasted, prayed over the situation, and led the people into confessing sins and repenting. Then he taught them about God, his laws about loving God and loving people, and God’s purpose for the descendants of Abraham. Ezra ministered to the people’s spiritual needs.

Nehemiah, another gifted leader, helped those in Jerusalem with other needs. In particular, Jerusalem’s walls were broken down, and in those days, a city needed walls to protect its inhabitants from raiders and other enemies. Nehemiah also led thousands of exiles back to Jerusalem. His first order of business was to assess the condition of the walls and he quickly rallied the city leaders to rebuild. 

However, the leaders of nearby territories were not pleased with the rebuilding project. They were threatened by the prospect of Jerusalem’s comeback. They retaliated with intimidation and made repeated attempts to out-maneuver Nehemiah and his rebuilding project. But Nehemiah was undeterred. He encouraged his leaders and armed his people. Some worked while others stood guard. Even when Israel’s enemies enlisted an Israelite as a false prophet to undermine the progress, Nehemiah was not shaken. He refused to entertain empty lies, and the wall was rebuilt in record time—only 52 days!

Although for a time the people returned to the worship of God, old habits die hard, and the people’s fervor soon dwindled. The priests and the people became apathetic, so God commissioned the prophet, Malachi, to speak God’s words of divine warning.

Malachi prophesied the return of the prophet Elijah as sign of things to come. God had restored His people and protected His faithful remnant. He had protected Judah’s royal line in keeping with His promise to David. He spoke His final words of warning and promise through Malachi and then God was silent. God’s people would not hear from Him again until the promised Elijah would step forth as God’s new messenger. God’s redemptive story, for now, was quietly marching toward history’s climactic event. 

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for each chapter beginning on page 473 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. Ezra “devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (p. 292). How has your own devotion to the study of God’s word changed since the beginning of The Story? What have been aha moments along the way?
  1. Why would the leaders of neighboring nations have felt so threatened by the return of the Jews? What kind of character and faith would these returning Jews need to make the journey and stand against the intimidation of those neighboring nations? 
  1. One of my favorite quotes from Pope Francis is, “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.” Nehemiah seems to agree, as he demonstrates that faith is a partnership with God involving both prayer and action (i.e., Nehemiah prayed for God’s protection and also posted guards). What similar experiences do you have where you both depended on God’s work and also working yourself?
  1. Years after the walls had been rebuilt, the prophet Malachi was sent to correct the priests and the people (p. 302). What were they doing that dishonored God? Why does it matter whether we honor or dishonor God? Have you ever had someone confront you when it appeared that you were dishonoring God? What happened?
  1. Which of the major characters in this week’s chapter do you most relate to: Ezra, Nehemiah, or Malachi? Why?
  1. A period of approximately 400 years elapses between the Old and New Testaments. During this period there were no prophets or leaders whose words or lives were recorded in Scripture. These years are sometimes referred to as “the silent years” because people say there was no voice from God. Have you experienced a time in your life when you felt God was silent? As you look back, was God really silent, or was something else going on? If so, what?
  1. As you think back on all the Old Testament stories you’ve read over the last four months, what have you learned about God? What have you learned about humanity? Do you think the patterns that seemed to continually play out during these Old Testament stories continue to play out today?

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The Story: Chapter 20 Guide

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The Story – Chapter 20: The Queen of Beauty and Courage

Introduction

This week is our second last week in the Old Testament and we look at Chapter 20 in The Story, the story of Esther. Like Daniel, this story describes the intrigue and conflict involved as the Jews live in foreign courts. One of the fascinating things about this book in the Bible – it is the only one that never explicitly mentions God. And yet we see God all over this story.  If you’d like to go right to the source, the entire story of Esther is found in the biblical book of Esther, chapters 1-9. 

Summary of Chapter 20 – The Queen of Beauty and Courage

Zerubbabel finished building the second temple in Jerusalem in 516 BC, and the Jews who returned to their home continued building their lives in the Persian province of Judah. However, most Jews remained in the places to which they’d been exiled, including the family of a man named Mordecai.

Our story begins with King Xerxes of Persia hosting a huge party, which his queen Vashti refuses to attend. Her refusal results in Xerxes banishing her and necessitates a search for a new queen.

Beautiful women throughout the kingdom and auditioned, and one of them is a Jewish woman named Esther (who has been raised by her cousin Mordecai). Esther won everyone’s heart, including the king’s. Xerxes made Esther queen, but he did not know she was Jewish.

Soon after, Esther became queen, Mordecai learned of a plot kill the king. He passed the news to Esther, and the plot was foiled. Xerxes’ scribe recorded Mordecai’s service in the annals of the king. 

However, the story has a villain. King Xerxes’ right-hand man, Haman reveled in his high standing and enjoyed having all the other royal officials kneel to him. When Mordecai refused, Haman was enraged. To exact his revenge, Haman deceived the king into issuing a decree to exterminate Mordecai and his people, the entire Jewish population of Persia.

Mordecai sent word to Esther asking her to beg the king for mercy on behalf of the Jewish people. Mordecai argued that she too would be destroyed and that God may have placed her as queen for a time such as this.  Overcoming her fear, Esther spoke to the king. Ultimately it was Hamen who ended up dying, instead of Mordecai (as Haman had planned). And while  Xerxes could not repeal his original edict declaring the destruction of the Jews, he did allow the Jews to defend themselves. 

Jews to this day celebrate this turn of events in the feast of Purim.  

Discussion Questions

As you read, remember there are discussion questions for each chapter beginning on page 473 of the book and also questions that can be found on The Story bookmark (which is also on our website). Also, feel free to consider some of the questions below:

  1. What life lessons does Haman teach us about pride, self-centeredness, and hatred?
  1. Queen Esther was willing to risk her life to save her people. Can you think of a time when you took a risk to do what was right?
  1. Esther is not the first Hebrew that God positioned in a place of influence to be a source of deliverance for God’s people. Who are some other deliverers we have studied in The Story and what common threads connect Queen Esther’s story to theirs?
  1. Although God is not actually mentioned in the book of Esther, can you think of some ways God worked invisibly throughout the book? Are there times in your own life when God worked behind the scenes to accomplish God’s purposes? Looking back, how do you know it was God working?
  1. Think of some of the major characters in this story: King Xerxes, Esther, Mordecai, and Haman. What motivates their behavior? In what power do they trust and root their identities? What traits do you have in common with the characters in this story? What motivates your behavior? In what is your identity rooted?
  1. Once again, there is a lot of violence in this story – and the celebration of that violence is again disconcerting. How do you come to grips with a God who seems to encourage this violence, in light of what you know of Jesus in the New Testament?
  1. This story of the attempt to eradicate the entire Jewish population was not the first time other nations have moved against the Jews; nor was it the last. Acts of anti-Semitism have gone on for centuries, many perpetrated by people who call themselves “Christian”. What steps can we take to counter anti-Semitism in our own communities?
  1. The book of Esther is read every year as part of the festival of Purim, celebrating God’s deliverance of God’s people. Where have we seen other examples of God’s deliverance as we’ve read The Story? Where have you seen examples of God’s deliverance in your own life?
  1. What questions came up for you while you were reading these chapters?

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