By God’s grace, we want to see Jesus transforming lives and renewing the South Bay. But how?
As most clearly demonstrated on the cross, the love of Jesus meets us in our weakness.
That love was evident throughout his entire life, death and resurrection.
And that love transforms how we think, feel and live.
The Devil’s Schemes
We’ll be talking about the reality of evil and how Scripture calls us to fight it (Ephesians 6:10-13). Some of us doubt evil truly exists, but the greater problem today seems to be the opposite - how our society identifies evil and especially how we fight it. After all, isn't that how terrorists think? Reduce your enemy to an "us-them narrative" so you can justify heinous acts against them? It seems a given of our current society that we identify our ideological opposites as evil incarnate. In the face of that, the Gospel reminds us there actually is such evil, but it is not merely an "us vs them" problem. So what does the cross tell us about who we fight and how we fight - especially when the problem is often within us? Let's talk about "the Devil's schemes."
Restoring the Word
We're looking at a sharp exchange between Jesus and the Sadducees. They set a trap for Jesus, and he purposefully springs it. What's the use of heaven, especially right now? How is it not just pie in the sky, a crutch for people without resolve? Jesus makes it clear that heaven is not a silly, esoteric concept, but what we think about heaven matters on earth. It changes how we live right now. What would make him tell the Sadducees "you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?" Let's see how Jesus is restoring life through “Restoring the Word” (Mark 12:18-27).
The Bible says we’re dead without Christ, yet we’re trying to reconnect with eternal life in so many ways. What has been an example of this in your own life?
The Sadducees didn’t believe in miracles, angels, or the spiritual nature of things. They reduced life down to ethical norms. Obviously, we observe a similar world view in today’s society. But how have you acted like a Sadducee?
When you build your own god, like children “Build-A-Bear” in the mall, you end up with a comfortable god that doesn’t confront you or change you. In what ways have you built your own version of God - incomplete and partially biblical? What have you emphasized and what have you omitted? What are the consequences (to you) for such discriminating choices?
Explain what you remember or understand about a “kinsman redeemer”. In the book of Ruth, Boaz had to “show up” to buy-back Ruth. The parallels to Jesus are intentional and meaningful. Explain how Jesus is our kinsman redeemer, like Boaz was to Ruth. If one doesn’t allow Jesus to “show up” or “come down” to them, what high-cost alternatives are sought? In other words, how do we look for salvation, apart from Jesus?
We severed our connection with the author of life. Now we are grasping for eternal life and we can’t get it. It’s about connection with God - not an extension of this life, we’re hoping for transformation. Is there any beauty, art, music, or movie that focuses on this kind of transformation?
Gospel: As there are better things than chocolate, so also there is more than we can imagine that awaits us in Jesus - and it can start now. He lost so that we would not lose permanently. Jesus wants to connect with us through a much more powerful bond than our strongest relationship now.
What did you need to hear in the sermon or during this discussion?
We are looking at the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee. Jesus tells this parable because "some trusted in their own goodness." The 'good' man thanks God he is not like all those 'bad' people, while the 'bad' man simply begs God to have mercy on him. In a society full of "us-them" narratives (in which we so often assure ourselves "they" are the problem, not "us"), Jesus' words could not be more relevant. The current vitriol and animus in our society have a very tangible solution... that almost no one wants to embrace. Let's talk about Jesus restoring our joy through “Restoring Humility” (Luke 18:9-14).
Should we judge or not judge? Give examples of good judging and bad judging. The Apostle Paul judged people and that was good. The Pharisee in our parable judged people and that was bad. What’s the difference?
Heroes in movies and literature have flaws and weaknesses. Which hero is one of your favorites, and do you identify with them in some way? Is that why you’re drawn to them?
Pharisees were considered ‘the good guys’ in their day. What were some of the reasons for this, listed in the sermon? What are the features of today’s so-called ‘good people’? Would Jesus call-out these people if he were here today, like He did of the Pharisees in Matthew 23? Who exactly would He affirm as ‘good people’ today? Recall the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12.
How have you used your apparent goodness as a weapon to smash other people?
How does the Pharisee in the parable show a self-centered relationship with God? What does a YOU-centered relationship with God look like versus a GOD-centered relationship, in your own life?
We tend to point out particular forms of ugliness in people, like selfishness, deception, arrogance, indulgence, insecurity, incompetence, etc. What forms set you off the most? Can you confess an ugliness about you that you’re embarrassed or ashamed about?
Rather than weaponize your goodness to rise up over others, what does the opposite look like? What does God want you to do in the presence of those you don’t want to be like?
Gospel: Jesus wept over our ugliness. There was no spec on Him, but He took on the weight and freight of the log in our own eye. He loved us rather than smash us.
We're looking at Mark 9, where a child's father pleads for help: "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" How does Jesus respond to people with doubts? How about weak faith? Can we be this honest? Is weak faith enough? Even as Jesus encourages those with 'weak' faith, he challenges those with 'strong' faith. This entire event occurs precisely because his 'strong' disciples have failed. So what should a maturing faith look like? Doubtful, weak, or strong... Regardless of which way you'd describe yourself, let's consider how Jesus is "Restoring Belief."
To what lengths has this child’s father gone to seek the child’s healing (v.17-18)? Why might he be reserved in his expectations for what Jesus can do for his son (v.22)? How does Jesus respond (v.23)? What do you think Jesus means by everything is possible for the one who believes (v.23)? How might this statement be misunderstood? Is this a question about the quantity or quality of our belief? Why does that matter?
The man confesses, Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief! What is he saying? How would you put that in your own words? Is this man presenting the quality of his faith as a basis for Jesus to act? If not, what is the basis? This is a raw, honest statement of his own weakness. What does that imply he thinks about Jesus’ character? In your job or relationships, why might you be hesitant to make such a bald statement about your weaknesses or failures?
In the sermon, Russ said: when we come to Jesus, “the only thing you need is need.” What does that mean? How can that be good news? By contrast, what would it mean if our faith required FUAGNEM (i.e., “Fired Up And Going Nuts Every Minute”). Why is that sort of approach unsustainable? Where is all that energy supposed to come from? How is that source directly opposite from the Gospel?
Consider the bear story. What is the difference between the friend on the rope bridge and the one who jumps to the ledge? What does that reveal about faith? In this passage, which type of faith is this man confessing? How is good news for us? What is so dangerous about ‘rope bridge’ faith?
Read Ephesians 2:8-9. How is faith described here? Who is the source of our faith? Where do you see that in this father’s plea to Jesus? Tim Keller has said: “helplessness, not holiness, is the first step to accessing God’s presence.” What do you think he means? How is this father demonstrating that? Is his weak faith enough? How could what feels like weakness actually be our strength?
Aside from Jesus, who in this passage should represent a more mature faith? How is this a moment of failure for them (v.18-19)?
Jesus says “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you?” (v.19) To whom is he speaking? Considering what he does next, is our faithfulness required for God to act on our behalf? How does that encourage you?
Jesus has just come down off the mountain of Transfiguration, where some of the disciples saw a glimpse of his glory. They are coming off of a spiritual high and immediately fall into a low place of failure. Can you think of a time that has happened in your life? How did you respond? How do the disciples respond here (v.28)?
As soon as this man confesses his weak faith to Jesus, Christ calls for the boy. What happens here (v.20)? Notice how the father describes his son’s suffering (v.17-18,21-22). What happens when Jesus intervenes? Do things get better or worse initially? Put yourself in his shoes. What must the father be thinking and feeling when they tell him the boy is dead (v.26)? How might that make you fearful to bring your most precious things to Jesus?
If God messes with our most precious things – by design – when he comes into our life, how might that lead us doubt his goodness? Is that a lack of faith or a greater trust in something else?
This is a passage where Jesus picks a fight over tradition - including and especially when it comes to the Scriptures. Is tradition a good thing or a bad thing? Is Jesus conservative or progressive? As is often the case with Jesus, he does not so easily fit into our pre-existing grids.
Is there a church or Christian tradition that bothers you - What’s the point!? Is there a tradition you know is only tradition (no clear biblical basis), but you would hate to lose it? Are you OK with worship services or something like Christmas looking completely different than what you know?
In our passage, Jesus uses the word “tradition” (in Greek) mostly in a negative sense (vs. 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 13). But it’s used positively elsewhere, in places like 1 Corinthians 15:3 (i.e., passing on what is important). What makes some traditions justified and others meaningless, or even wrong?
“Nostalgia” is a powerful force because it gets at our sense of identity through memories. When do your practices override your beliefs, because it brings you back to your past or heritage? What does it look like to have our beliefs override and change our practices? If Jesus wants to do a new thing in you, to what degree are you open to that?
Originally Pharisees had a good goal: to remind God’s people of God’s laws through tangible practices, which they forgot during the Babylonian exile. However, these efforts resulted in empty religion. How can you know if you’re just coasting on what know, versus growing in faith and practice?
God’s agenda is to get your heart, not have you follow rules. Can you explain or pinpoint a moment when He got your heart and it changed your behavior?
The Scriptures are a means of passing on or handing down Jesus. The Word of God thus takes on this metaphor of a meal (i.e., “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4). Are you getting a steady diet of Jesus, or are you feasting on too much junk food? What kind of junk food, and how does that affect you? Do you have any tips or recommendations about getting more of Jesus into your spiritual diet?
Gospel: Jesus tradition-ed Himself to us. He handed Himself down so we could get more of Him into us. We don’t get His blessings when we are good - like earning presents from Santa. Getting more of Jesus is only a gift - The Gift - and makes us more like Him.
What did you need to hear in the sermon, or during this discussion?
This week we consider the healing of a paralytic, whose friends lowered him through a roof to get him to Jesus. And then Jesus... forgave his sins? I can imagine his friends saying, "No, Jesus - his legs!" We often come to Jesus to have what we believe are our biggest needs met. What happens when he disagrees? Let's talk about Mark 2: "Restoring Priorities."
When have you felt like you’re not hitting your potential, spinning your wheels, or not making as much progress as you should be (i.e., languishing)? How has this last year of COVID forced you to reprioritize for the better?
In the sermon, Sam was paralyzed, but it helped him move forward in ways he wasn’t necessarily pursuing before the accident. When has a trial, setback, or an infirmity changed your life for the better?
Just being honest, what is your biggest felt need right now? For the man lowered through the roof, it was for his legs to be healed. Are you as disconnected from your sin-need as described in the message? (Jesus, it’s the legs, not the sin that need your attention!) What are some of your preoccupations? Are those your idols?
Have you ever had people, even strangers, start confessing their sins to you because they know you’re a churchgoer or a Christian? Why do people tend to spill their guts like that?
Jesus did miracles to point to His Word and to Himself. We don’t see Jesus just doing magic tricks to wow or impress. In fact, miracles always met a human need. Would miracles today draw more people to God, or would the results be pretty much the same as we see during the ministry of Jesus? There were about nine resurrections in the Bible – would a 10th one today really lead to more sincere believers today?
Gospel: Jesus is pursuing His paralyzed bride. We are the one in the wheelchair. But Jesus was lowered so we could be raised up. He’s really focused on our deepest need; a bigger fix than we may be pursuing.
What did you need to hear in the sermon, or during this discussion?