4 R’s of Discipleship

Reconciliation

The next four studies will focus on the 4 R’s of Discipleship, a series of Bible studies I wrote for small groups. The 4 R’s: Reconciliation/Restoration, Relationships, Renewal, Response. This is not an in-depth study series, but it is meant to encourage wrestling with the text and the issues raised, and then examine our current life in light of that.

While this is the Bible study material, I also meet with the small group leaders in the week prior to each Bible study to go over the material. In that meeting I challenge to the leaders to investigate the text and context. For instance, in this study of Luke 15, I have them back up to Luke 15:1-2 to understand the greater context of the parable. And then we read and study Luke 15:3-10 to see how those parables relate to the current one.


Luke 15:11-32 (HCSB)

11 He also said: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.’ So he distributed the assets to them.

13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living. 14 After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing.
15 Then he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from the carob pods the pigs were eating, and no one would give him any.

What attitude is shown by the younger son? (v. 12, 13)

What is the parallel in vv. 12 and 16?

What does that show about the younger son?

Do I sometimes struggle with this same attitude?

17 But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. 19 I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands.” ‘

20 So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him.

What change takes place in vv. 17-19?

How does he imagine his reception (vv. 18-19)?

How does the Father respond?

21 The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, 24 because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.

What is the Father’s response?

What does he give the younger son (v. 24)?

If I had been the parent how would I have responded?

25 “Now his older son was in the field; as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he summoned one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 ‘Your brother is here,’ he told him, ‘and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “Then he became angry and didn’t want to go in. So his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 But he replied to his father, ‘Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders; yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your assets with prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

How does the older son respond?

Would you have felt the same way? Why?

There is a key concerning both sons’ condition. What is it (vv. 12, 29)?

31 “‘Son,’ he said to him, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'”

What does he invite the older son to do?

Concluding Reflections

Reconciliation: Fact or process? What is the main point Jesus is addressing?

Attitude: Am I the younger son or the older son?

Purpose: How does that affect me today?

What gets in the way of reconciliation?

How do I handle someone who seems to get all this “free”?

What does 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 say to us (me) about our life together at this church?

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Jonah and Missions

It might be surprising to some people that Jonah is really a mission book. Many years ago at seminary a returning missionary/Bible translator spoke about his work in the mission field. He then noted that when new converts wanted a book of the Bible translated, often the first one mentioned was Jonah. Let’s pursue that a little more and see if we can discover the reason.

In Jonah 1:1-2 God commissions Jonah with these words: “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” Interestingly the LXX uses κηρυξον (“preach”), which the ESV follows, “preach against”. Such wording implies a very strong Law proclamation.

But Jonah has other ideas: But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD. At the command to go to Nineveh, Jonah heads in the opposite direction; while there is doubt about the exact location of Tarshish, it is generally agreed to be in the western part of the Mediterranean Sea, most likely Spain. In other words, Jonah tries to flee as far from Israel/Judah as he can go.

It might be easy for us to criticize Jonah, but let’s remember the situation in which he finds himself. Nineveh represented the hated and feared enemy of God’s people. They would soon swoop down and conquer the northern 10 tribes (Israel), killing many, dragging many into captivity. Consider today if God told me to go the Al Qaeda headquarters and preach against it. What would my reaction be? Probably the same as Jonah’s.

But God does not let Jonah get away. For God’s prophet to speak God’s Word, he will first have to undergo the same as the people of Nineveh. God has to “preach against” Jonah. He does so by sending the storm, then allowing the sailors to throw Jonah overboard, and finally a great fish swallows Jonah. The Law is spoken in its harshest measures. Only an intervention by God can save Jonah – and that is what happens.

Jonah recognizes in the bottom of his despair – in the bottom of the fish – that apart from God’s steadfast love/covenant love (חסד) there is no hope. Ironically Jonah adds the phrase “those who pray to idols” forsake that very hope. Thus, Jonah is setting himself up against the Ninevites (who have the idols – chapter 3). That is, it is “good, right, and salutary” that Jonah, an Israelite would be shown grace, extended God’s steadfast love, and receive hope in the midst of no hope.

What Jonah forgot was something that happened early in the kingship of Israel, several hundred years before his time. Notice this critical passage: 1 Samuel 15:23, Samuel speaks to Saul: For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.” Jonah fell into the same trap; he could not see that his rebellion was in the same category as the idolatry of Nineveh. Therefore, all are under the same condemnation, whether Jew or Greek (Romans 3:9-10).

Nevertheless, God’s grace rescues Jonah, leads him to renewed faith in God.

Sometimes we as forgiven, restored Christians might think that God will change his mind about what he wants us to do. “I have been forgiven, but surely God won’t ask me to do something that I have already refused.” But not so with God. In fact, 3:1-2 we find a repeat of 1:1-2, God’s commission to preach against Nineveh. This time Jonah responds in obedience (result of faith); he goes to Nineveh and preaches against the people. Only an intervention by God can save Nineveh – and that is what happens.

The results are stunning! The people hear the judgment against them and their city, they recognize their sin, and repent in sackcloth. Even the king publicly proclaims the changed hearts, in the desire that “God may relent and turn from his fierce anger” (3:9).

Given Jonah’s prior experience of terror under the Law and the refreshing new life in the Gospel, we might expect that Jonah would rejoice at such a response. Alas, Jonah does not. Rather, he is quite put out! “It is exceedingly evil” was how Jonah considered this new situation. Because Jonah was an Israelite, he knew the promises of God to God’s people. But the Ninevites? No way! They are people who cling to their idols (Psalm 115:1-6), and in Jonah’s mind meant that meant there were two classes of people: God’s people and “them”. The people of Nineveh were part of “them” and therefore could – should not! – receive the same “steadfast love/covenant love (חסד)” that is the heritage of Israel. God shows the same compassion to the “nations” (epitomized by Nineveh) as he does to Israel. The law of God and the grace of God are not hindered by barriers set up even by the strongest of nations.

So the pattern is:

Part 1: God commissions Jonah to speak against Nineveh

  • Jonah refuses
  • God speaks against Jonah
  • Jonah repents and lives
  • Jonah rejoices in prayer
  • God’s first mission complete

    Part 2: God commissions Jonah to speak against Nineveh

  • Jonah obeys
  • God through Jonah speaks against Nineveh
  • The people of Nineveh repent and live
  • Jonah sinks into despair
  • God’s heart of compassion demonstrated and second mission complete

    Now through the lens of Jonah, let’s glance ahead to the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. Jesus sends the disciples to “make disciples” of all nations (note also the “preach” aspects in Luke, Mark, harking back to the LXX use of the same word in Jonah’s context). In the past “nations” (Hebrew: GoYiM) would have meant “them” of Jonah’s experience, now the “nations” include Israel itself as part of the “nations” (Acts 1:8, “beginning in Jerusalem”). Everyone and every nation is the missionary target of the Good News.

    Further, notice the promise in 28:20 “for I am with you always.” Jonah thought he could avoid the mission assignment by fleeing, not from Nineveh, but from God’s presence. It didn’t work; God was with him. So also, those who think that the Great Commission can be shuffled off to someone else forget that Jesus “is with them always”. No matter where they go, when they go, how far they go, Jesus is there, and the commission is in effect. Jonah becomes a precursor of both Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 12:39-41) and the Jesus’ Commission to the disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).

    Jonah truly is a missionary book – for all of us!

    Samson and “what is right”

    In Sunday morning Bible class the last two weeks Samson (Judges 13-16) was mentioned in the context of missions (and diversity). I am not teaching this particular class. However, I found a significant theme related to the entire book of Judges.

    The repeated cycle of blessings, judgments, restorations, in the book of Judges is well summarized in Judges 21:25 “every man did that which was right in his own sight.” As we read through the book, the problems arise when “every man did what was right in his own sight”, in a sense repeating the three-fold problem of Genesis 3:6 (And the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes to look upon and beautiful to contemplate).

    Samson becomes a miniature view of that cycle, but with some interesting twists in terms of God’s judgment. In Judges 14:3b we read: And Sampson said to his father, “Take her for me, for she is right in my eyes,” which is repeated in 14:7. Now in between those two verses, Samson is empowered by the Spirit of Yahweh to kill the lion. As an Israelite he was not to touch a dead animal (Leviticus 11:39-40), but if he did he was to offer sacrifices for his uncleanness. Also, note that Samson does not tell his parents about his encounter, and therefore leads them to be unknowingly unclean (Judges 14:6). On top of that, as a Nazarite Samson was not to have contact with a dead animal, which likewise causes even his parents or siblings to be unclean (Numbers 6:6-8). Samson compounds his problems when later he kills the Philistines (Judges 14:19), again empowered by the Spirit of Yahweh. However, when the Nazarite has contact with a dead person he is to shave his head (Numbers 6:9). Samson does neither (offer sacrifice nor shave his head).

    And yet God accomplishes his cleansing purposes with Samson, but through the Philistines. While the Philistine woman “was right in his eyes”, the Philistines gouged his eyes out (Judges 16:21). And his hair was indeed shaved, by trickery (Judges 16:19), seemingly in retaliation of his own arrogance and his ability to deceive (Judges 14:12, 14, 18, 15:16).

    And finally, after he suffers these humiliations, he is now where God can work his greatest work through him, that is, to bring judgment upon the Philistines themselves for their role in conquering some of the tribes of Israel.

    So the structure of Samson’s episode is:

    A: right in his own eyes
    B: uncleanness not taken care of by head shaved
    B’: uncleanness resolved by head shaved
    A’: right in the eyes of God

    Other ideas can be gleaned, but this was an key insight for me today.

    Mission, Isaiah, Acts, and Romans

    To continue the thought of the previous post: the book by David Pao is Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus, Biblical Studies Library, J.C. B. Mohr, 2000 (Baker Academic, 2002). The key point of his study relative to Acts 1:6-8 is the framework of Acts in light of Isaiah 49:6. This is the second Servant Song in Isaiah and focuses on the mission objective (Isaiah 52:13-53:12 focuses on the how):

    Isaiah 49:6
    he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

    Notice that the Servant has two objectives: 1. restore Israel, and 2. be a light to the nations. When these are achieved, then salvation goes to the end of the earth.

    In Acts 1:6, the disciples ask “Is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus does not rebuke them for their question, nor does he say that their theology is mistaken. Rather, their theology is incomplete. Jesus focuses the disciples on the two fold objective (Israel and the nations), and they will be guided in that objective by the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit who guided him when he began his ministry (Luke 4:16-30). Their ministry will be begin in Jerusalem, then to Judea/Samaria, and finally to the end of the earth.

    Pao notes that the phrase “to the end of the earth”, “the exact form of the phrase (with the singular εσχατου) appears only five times in the LXX, and twice in the Lukan writings, and nowhere elsewhere in ancient Greek literature not influenced by either Isaiah or Acts” (pg. 94). Thus, the mission outlined in Acts 1:8 is more than a geographic mission, rather a theological mission, and more particularly an Isaianic mission. Pao adds to this perspective by noting that Isaiah 49:6 is quoted in Acts 13:47. Barnabas and Paul had been commissioned by the church in Antioch, receiving the Holy Spirit for the mission ahead. The pattern of Barnabas and Paul (now Paul and Barnabas) has been to go to the Jews, but when they reject the message, to turn to the Gentiles, in fulfillment of Isaiah 49:6.

    Now, what is interesting is that the restoration of Israel only happens as the second part (light to the nations) happens. And this bring us to Paul’s thematic phrase in Romans, “first to the Jews and then to the Greeks”. One can not happen without the other. Paul emphasizes this in Romans 11, when he writes:

    Romans 11:25-26a
    Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved;

    Thus, Paul’s missional understanding in Romans parallels the missional understanding of Acts – and both reflect the Isaianic mission (“restore Israel, bring light to nations – and bring salvation to the end of the earth”).

    As always this post leaves many unanswered questions and raises even more. It is not definitive, but a starting point for further investigation.